Writer Scott Snyder promised that Dark Nights: Metal, DC Comics’ huge summer crossover event, would be a big, crazy story — one full of strange dimensions, dinosaurs, lasers and “Nightmare Batmen” — a story about a fantastic and mysterious metal responsible for the supernatural flavor of the DC Universe, and a story that feels like going to a huge rock concert.
Batman: Metal is the crossover’s core title, which Snyder has tried to write so that it can be read as a stand-alone series. Batman: Metal #1 is out today, and it does indeed feature dinosaurs, lasers and even seven Justice League robots combining to form one giant robot. But a Justice League-themed mechazord is miles from the comic’s biggest reveal.
[Warning: This rest of this post will contain spoilers for Batman: Metal #1]
Snyder has already used Metal’s prequel issues to feature some characters not seen since DC’s poorly-received New 52 continuity reboot, and Batman: Metal #1 has just added another. He’s arguably one of the most powerful characters in the DC Universe, but one that people often forget is even in the DC Universe.
The very end of the comic reveals Dream of the Endless, the lead character of Neil Gaiman’s superlatively influential The Sandman, come to the Waking World to warn Batman of an oncoming inter-dimensional storm.
What dreams may come
The Sandman, published under DC’s Vertigo imprint from 1989 to 1996, has always been set in the DC Universe, if relatively subtly. Though not every Vertigo series was set in the DCU, DC Comics and Vertigo characters would occasionally cameo in The Sandman — including the Martian Manhunter, Element Woman, the Scarecrow and John Constantine — but rarely would they be involved in the core plot of the series for more than an issue or two.
The series itself took its name from a Golden Age DC Comics character, a vigilante who would put his enemies to sleep with gas and sprinkle sand over them, earning the name of the Sandman. The Sandman diverged from that concept, following Dream of the Endless, the anthropomorphic personification of dreams, creativity and stories, and his clashes with mortals, gods and his own ancient siblings — Destiny, Death, Desire, Despair, Destruction and Delirium.
Gaiman wrote the 75 issues of the core run of The Sandman into comics history, producing a series that remains among Vertigo and DC Comics’ most popular, enduring and critically acclaimed work ever. Ask a bunch of comics fans how they got into reading them, and the odds are good that many of them will say The Sandman. Gaiman has occasionally returned to the setting to produce more stories, and, in an industry that is all about keeping characters going after their creators move on from them, there’s very little out there that concerns Dream that isn’t written by Gaiman.
Which is all to say that readers have been given very few reminders, over the years, that The Sandman is canon in the DC Universe — and that when other writers choose to involve Dream in a story, it’s a big deal. Polygon has confirmed with DC Comics that this is the first appearance of a core Sandman character in the main DC Universe since before the New 52 continuity reboot — making this is our first confirmation that the series and its characters survived the multiversal upheaval that created the new setting.
Scott Snyder told The Washington Post that he reached out to Gaiman as soon as he realized that Dream would be a good fit for Dark Nights: Metal, and that he was surprised to find that the best-selling writer loved his idea.
“[Gaiman] couldn’t have been more generous,” Snyder told The Post. “... It’s literally one of the best moments of my career, to be able to get to write a character that meant so much to me growing up and still does.”
OK, but what is the Sandman doing in Wayne Manor?
Well, we’ll have to wait and see how the story turns out — but there are some hints here and there. The major threat of Dark Nights: Metal is the Dark Universe, a huge, unknowable place that exists beside DC’s own multiverse, in the same way that dark matter, though so far unobservable, is theorized to make up 84.5 percent of the mass of our universe.
And we know that the first attackers from the Dark Universe will be what Snyder calls seven “Nightmare Batmen” born from Bruce Wayne’s darkest fears about how he could cross the moral event horizon into super-villainy.
A realm of nightmares sounds right up the figurative alley of the DC Universe’s embodiment of dreaming itself.