Dark Nights: Metal writer reveals how he got THAT Neil Gaiman character for the DCU
WARNING: This post contains BIG spoilers for Dark Nights: Metal #1, out this week from DC Comics. Proceed with caution!
DC Rebirth, the comic initiative that launched last year to reinvigorate the publisher’s beloved superheroes, began with a bang. The one-shot issue that kicked off the initiative ended with the almost unbelievable sight of Batman picking up the bloody smiley face button from Watchmen. Though the famous Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons graphic novel was published by DC in 1987, its darker, more ‘realistic’ superheroes had never interacted with their more mainstream counterparts before. On top of everything else Rebirth did, that reveal — whose consequences will be fully explored later this year in the miniseries Doomsday Clock — proved that DC creators were going to break previously untouchable taboos and confront their influences and predecessors head-on in a totally new way.
As it turns out, DC was just getting started. After months of build-up, the first issue for the publisher’s latest big event — Dark Nights: Metal — finally premiered this week. Written and drawn by the fan-favorite creative team of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, Metal is a celebration of the wackiest, craziest, most outright fun elements of the DC Universe; within the first few pages, members of the Justice League have formed their own Voltron-style robot to battle monsters in an intergalactic gladiator arena. But the wildest twist of all: in the prelude issues Dark Days: The Forge and Dark Days: The Casting, Batman started to uncover an ancient mystery that pointed to the existence of a cryptic and dangerous ‘Dark Multiverse.’ In the final pages of Metal #1, a mysterious figure appears to confirm Batman’s suspicions — and that figure is none other than Dream, the protagonist of Neil Gaiman’s iconic Vertigo miniseries The Sandman.
Though Dream, the metaphysical embodiment of dreams and stories, met DC characters like the Martian Manhunter and Dr. Destiny in the early issues of The Sandman, as the series progressed and grew into its own phenomenon, his mystical world was severed from the larger DCU. Now, Snyder and Capullo have fully brought him back into the mainstream DC universe at a time of great need.
EW caught up with Snyder to process this jaw-dropping revelation and discuss what else the Metal creators have up their sleeve.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Sandman is one of my favorite things ever. I was walking around my office screaming after I read this issue. What inspired you to bring Dream into this story, and how did it come about?
SCOTT SNYDER: When I was developing the story a year and a half ago, it centered on the Justice League discovering the Dark Multiverse, which is this primal subconscious realm beneath the multiverse where all these other worlds are possible. They’re sort of created or destroyed based on our dreams and nightmares. So anything you fear or hope for materializes down there for as long as you potently fear or desire that thing. It’s really a world that’s reactive to the things we don’t want to admit we want or don’t want. It’s a realm of dream, of the subconscious. I started thinking about which character in the entire DCU would make the best guide for the concept, and who would be affected by that place being completely shaken up. I started approaching the idea of pitching to Neil, who I’ve been lucky to meet a few times and hang out with over the course of my time at DC, the possibility of Dream appearing in the story. I worked myself up to it. Even though we’re friendly, to ask that of him was hugely intimidating. I braced myself and then wrote this very long tearful email that I did like three drafts of, explaining what Dream’s role would be, why it matters, and how it figured into the story. I also asked for any questions or points of discussion; I was prepared for this back-and-forth, or for him to just say no. Instead, he wrote back and said, “I love it, go for it.” That was the whole exchange. I was like, “Are you serious? Just to be clear, this is how I’m going to use him.” He was like, “Oh no, go ahead.”
He’s been incredibly generous with his creation. For me, that character and series, The Sandman, was one of the things that made me want to write in the first place. I know it back to front, I’ve reread it a number of times over the last couple years. To be able to write Daniel in any capacity is just one of the great highlights of my whole life. I couldn’t be more grateful to Neil and more inspired by his generosity in general with his own work in that regard. It really is something to see and learn from, for me, in the way he’s so giving to other writers with his own special characters.
It’s so crazy seeing Dream interact with Batman. I’m a Sandman fan, you’re a Sandman fan — what does it mean for you bringing Dream face to face with DC superheroes, and does writing this ever get old, or are you still in shock?
Oh no, it never gets old. You don’t even know — when I got the okay from Neil, I called like every friend at DC just being like, “I think I’m gonna pass out.” It wasn’t just writing Dream, it was doing what you said, it was making something connective. Dream is interacting with Bruce, Clark, and Diana and having this connectivity and this sense of overlap in the DCU. At its core, Metal is really about celebrating bonkers comic storytelling, past and present, and then building out from that and trying to do things that are equally bonkers going forward. It really is about connecting all the new stuff that we’re doing to our favorite material from the past. To have that interconnectivity between things like Neil’s work and Grant’s work in the same issue (Multiversity, Sandman, Final Crisis, Darkseid War, all these different elements) is the thrill of writing a book like this. I hope it comes through on the pages, how much fun Greg and I are having, in particular, not just getting to use all the toys but getting to use them together and show our own love for some of the great tales of the past and build on them to create new material that forges brand new territory for the DCU. Getting to write Dream interacting with DC characters is sort of the pinnacle of the project in that regard – doing new things with concepts we love and characters we love to open new possibilities in the DCU.
What can you tease about what he’ll be doing in the series?
I don’t want to spoil anything, but it really is a big DCU story. Not just the Justice League – it’s got Dr. Fate, Steel, Plastic Man, Mr. Terrific, and the whole cosmos. For Dream, I would say there isn’t a more important role in the story than his. I don’t want to give the impression that he’s fighting people, I would never do something that was off-character in that regard. He plays the role of a guide and a messenger from the Dreaming, where he comes and warns the characters about what’s coming, but he has an active role once everything sort of goes to hell. Without giving anything away, his role is central to the story, but I don’t want to give people the impression he’s in every issue and every page. He comes and goes.
It’s interesting, your phrasing about combining old material and making new stuff with Metal sounds a lot like the terms in the story itself, about metals and forges and casting. How do you interpret the title?
There are three angles I’d take on that in terms of the title Metal and what it means to me in terms of the recombinant aspects of this story. On the one hand, it has this literal meaning. Back when I was working on Batman and the Zero Year arc, I had this idea for a mystery Batman would begin to investigate that would span ancient history and he’d realize it pointed to him, and then it would be the first case he didn’t want to solve. I started thinking, who’s been the detective of history in the DCU? Hawkman came up for me. He’s a character I’ve always loved, so I started thinking about what would be the best literal plot hook out of that mythology to use as the first clue? What if dark energy is coming through this material in Hawkman’s mythos, Nth metal? Because Nth metal is this really strange metal that gives different characters wildly different powers for no reason. So there was a great reason to call it Metal in that regard, and it combines these two detective mythologies in a way we haven’t seen before. There’s that ‘alloy’ of characters that way.
The second thing was the feeling that we wanted to connect it to a larger periodic table of the DCU. All the strange substances, from Kryptonite to Prometheum to Hephaestus’ forge. We wanted to connect them, so it became this big project where I was like, what if we use metal as a way to show how this story is gonna affect the DCU, because they all depend on these different substances. What if this crazy message starts coming through these substances and affecting this world?
Then the third way, the biggest, is we want it to be fun. The world is stressful. My political leanings are obvious on my social media but I understand it’s stressful for everybody, regardless of your political affiliation. It’s been a rough year. The story is deeply personal, it’s largely about waking up and finding out that the story you thought you were a part of, with Batman for example, actually points back to you and says you’re the villain, and every way you go you’re gonna fail. I’ve certainly felt like that at different times in my life. So it has a very personal core, but the flip side of that is we want it to be something you pick up and reminds you of the crazy event comics you read as a kid. The bonkers, over-the-top energy you get when you pick up a comic that can connect the Source Wall to Dr. Fate’s helmet to Plastic Man egg to all of these different crazy things – to lean into that fun. This story is in no ways an escapist fantasy. It deals with the feelings we have toward each other and toward ourselves, but it’s meant to be celebratory. It’s like, look, come on, we can go to a rock concert together this summer and rock out and enjoy ourselves and say this is why, no matter our differences, this is why we love comics. This is a way to celebrate the comics we loved in the past, make something new together, and in doing so explore some of the common ground and some of the things we’ve experienced together.
Also, Greg Capullo is a huge metalhead and plays metal guitar, so he got me into it over the years. I love that early stuff, Black Sabbath, and the musicality of it. It was kind of just throwing up horns and saying we’re gonna rock out and have fun and defy conventions and say regardless of what the rules are, we’re gonna break them. This is also meant to be a little irreverent – we want you to pick up the issue and go, wait, they formed a what? A Voltron? And then we have these fun editorial notes like “see the ’90s.”
Before doing Metal, you and Greg spent years creating a hugely popular Batman run. How does Metal come out of those previous stories?
It’s funny you should mention that because I just sent in the script for issue 2, and it has a sequence explaining how our whole run connected to this. Superman has Batman and is like, “What are you doing? What is happening?” He’s like, “You don’t understand, Clark, they’ve been preparing me for this my entire time as Batman. They’ve been secretly infecting me with different metals.” And you see all the different points in our run, like “Remember this?” It goes through the Court of Owls, Death of the Family, and then brings you up to the present with Tom King’s run, stuff we did in The Forge and Casting, and what we’re doing right now. It totally connects for me. The seeds of the story emerged from when we were working on Zero Year, that’s where it first started, but once we get to ‘Endgame’ and ‘Superheavy,’ there are clues/words/phrases that come right into play here. Things like “The Mantling” and “Strigidae” that are in there; they’re things from this story we knew we were going to do even back then. All that stuff is pretty connected. If you’re a fan of our run, it connects to every aspect of everything we ever did: The machine that brought Batman back, the fight with Joker in the pits, the Labyrinth and the Court of Owls, all of those things are mentioned in issue 2. But again, the story is really about connectivity between the whole DCU, so we don’t want to focus all on our run. But if you enjoyed what Greg and I did together, it pays forward and was deeply conceived as a culmination or crescendo of everything we did. It’s meant to take all those threads and say, “You thought Batman was in charge but he wasn’t.” All of those stories were actually just a prelude to this.
Dark Nights: Metal is available to purchase now.