Dark Days: The Casting By Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Andy Kubert, Jim Lee and John Romita Jr.
Plot
Characterization
Art
Summary
Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV offer a mind-shattering epic that rewrites the Dark Knight's history and lays the groundwork for his dark future.
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A Masterpiece of Light and Shadow
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DARK DAYS: THE CASTING #1: Spoilers Ahead

I admit, when I finished reading DARK DAYS: THE FORGE I was skeptical that Scott Snyder could resolve the many mysteries left wide open in just one more issue. But resolve them he did, and DARK DAYS: THE CASTING #1 proves to be a mind-blowing read. It’s chock filled with puzzle pieces expertly fitting together. Of course, the comic lays the groundwork for even more tantalizing questions, that will resolve in DARK NIGHTS: METAL, but this two-part prelude comes to a satisfying conclusion. It proves to be Snyder and co-writer James Tynion’s most expansive and canon-altering event yet.

Dark Days: The Casting #1
Image Courtesy of DC Comics

As with the previous entry, DARK DAYS: THE CASTING #1 plays out in two time periods with Batman following the century-old journal of Carter Hall, aka Hawkman. With hundreds of years between them, Batman and Hawkman both attempt to track down the exact same substance, a metal of unspeakable power called Dionysium. Batman believes this substance to unlock the secrets of dark and light that shape the universe. The intricate narrative throws in the Joker as Snyder’s wild card. He corners Duke Thomas and Hal Jordan in the bowels of the dark prison where Batman locked him away. Joker warns that Batman’s quest is dangerous, and his attempts to solve this mystery might unleash a new wave of darkness across the cosmos.

Batman’s obsession to track down the metal borders on insanity, and Joker’s attempts to stop him sound strangely sane and logical; the tables are turning. The result is a mind-shattering conclusion revealing that all of history was shaped by a war between birds and bats, between light and dark. The darkness is about to unleash its greatest pawn — Batman.

READ: For a refresher on all things DARK DAYS, read our review of the previous entry in the saga: DARK DAYS: THE FORGE #1!

Snyder uses DARK DAYS: THE CASTING #1 to entirely reshape his take on the DC Universe. He combines history, mythology, psychology, and conspiracy to form a Batman story unlike any we’ve previously seen. Snyder impressively casts new light on Batman himself and on stories from his NEW 52 run. Snyder has completely altered these stories.

The Court of Owls were the grand conspirators of Gotham. They were Batman’s greatest manipulators and deadliest villains, but this comic now recasts the Court of Owls as the secret saviors of Earth. Snyder describes the bats as protectors of the dark, and the owls as protectors of the light. He narratively re-purposes both the Thanagarians and the Court of Owls as guardians of light and justice. This is everything we thought Batman was supposed to be. Looking at the Owls in this new light (pun intended), we suddenly learn the reason the Owls were manipulating Gotham against Batman.

This story ultimately reveals that Batman’s mission to find the truth of the Dionysium is both misguided and completely manipulated. Even the Joker realizes the truth of this. Joker narrates some of his past to Duke and Hal, giving us many answers to plot threads left over from DEATH OF THE FAMILY and JOKER: ENDGAME. Most prominent is the Joker’s discovery of an ancient hieroglyph in the caves beneath Gotham. The hieroglyph reveals a dark shadow, much like Batman — it stretches over the wall, looming over all.

In Hawkman’s narrative, we see hieroglyphs like this etched throughout history. All of these hieroglyphs – not to mention the cover of DARK DAYS: THE FORGE, which depicted a giant imperial Batman statue – all point to one truth; Batman, despite his intentions, is not destined to be a light in the dark or to be Gotham’s savior. He’s destined to unleash the dark and bring about humanity’s destruction.

Dark Days: The Casting #1
Image Courtesy of DC Comics

It’s not easy to create a story of vast conspiratorial proportions dealing with mythology and cosmology. It’s even harder to cast Batman in the center of it. The Dark Knight requires storytelling that’s necessarily more insular, more localized and less cosmic than other DC heroes. While Batman does become embroiled in huge cosmic events due to his membership in the Justice League, such stories don’t usually include him in ancient prophecies from the dawn of humankind.

It’s certainly strange to see Batman at the center of a conspiracy that turns him into a prophetic figure, strange almost to the point of serious cognitive dissonance. But this mind-shattering effect gives the comic its power. One revelation after another takes the form of puzzle pieces fitting satisfyingly together. The comic’s structure marvelously builds until the very end, when the implications of Batman’s journey into the dark finally materialize in all their horrific glory.

READ: For a glimpse into writer Tom King’s take on the Dark Knight, read our review of last week’s BATMAN #26!

This isn’t simply a case of Snyder taking his old stories and imaginatively repackaging them. Clearly, this mystery has really been building since the beginning of Snyder’s Batman run. This two-part prelude gives answers to those leftover mysteries, answers we never knew how much we needed. Again, Snyder’s subversion of the Owls shines with brilliance. Because of the events of DARK DAYS: THE CASTING #1, it’s now possible to re-read THE COURT OF OWLS from the complete opposite perspective.

We now know the Owls’ plans acted to protect humanity from the possibility of Batman straying too far down the rabbit hole. It’s difficult to comprehend the Owls from this perspective. It’s even more difficult to swallow that the Joker is the good guy here — even though he straight-out says it. But Snyder was hedging his bets on that difficulty; it’s what makes the revelations genius.

Snyder laid out his groundwork so well that even the most impossible realities make sense. The Joker doesn’t want to lose humanity to the darkness, so he plays the good guy. Sure, why not. The Owls don’t want to lose their guardianship of the light to a new wave of darkness, so they’re really the good guys. Okay, that works. And Batman? Well, he thought he was the good guy, but he’s actually just the unwitting gatekeeper to the Dionysium’s ancient power base, comprised of literal Dark Knights who want to send the Earth to hell. Where the safety of the universe is concerned, Batman’s really the bad guy. In Snyder’s hands, I can accept it.

Dark Days: The Casting #1
Image Courtesy of DC Comics

DARK: DAYS plays out as the spiritual antithesis of THE COURT OF OWLS and THE CITY OF OWLS. The Night of the Owls saga dealt with a vast ancient conspiracy guided by the light. DARK DAYS deals with a vast ancient conspiracy guided by the dark. The Owls were a group of conspirators taking after their bird deity. The Dark Knights are a group of conspirators taking after their bat deity — with Batman as their ultimate weapon. So the Court of Owls serve the light of the birds, and the Dark Knights serve the dark of the bats. Who would have thought? Snyder uses this dynamic to cast brilliant new light on his earlier work. He adds depth and gravitas that turn Batman’s world completely upside down – just like a bat.

Artists Andy Kubert, John Romita Jr. and Jim Lee create a fascinating complement to the narrative of DARK DAYS: THE CASTING #1. Their design work possesses a quality that looks almost archaic. The artists sketch all the characters lightly, allowing them to blend in with one another. It’s almost as though they’re relics in an ancient drawing. There’s a roughness to these images, as though they’re worn down from the wear and tear of time. I’m convinced this is deliberate. Historical passages of Hawkman and Hawkgirl investigating the darkness match identically in tone and color with modern day images of the Joker fighting Hal and Duke in the Batcave. Though separated by centuries, the artwork manages to weave all the images together stylistically. They’re all part of one overarching, timeless narrative.

Where the story of  DARK DAYS: THE CASTING #1 goes from here is anyone’s guess. Snyder and Tynion have laid the groundwork for an epic event that looks to reshape the history of the DC Universe and Batman himself. Even with the mind-blowing revelations from this comic, it seems unbelievable that Batman will turn out to be the destined bringer of darkness upon the world. Then again, Batman does live in the dark. He always has.

Obviously, Batman doesn’t know what he’s doing in this cosmic chess game, and he will surely fight back against the Dark Knights. But he’s no longer just fighting bad guys — he’s fighting the course of destiny itself. That’s the true mark of Snyder’s accomplishment. He’s created a new possible destiny for Batman, one much darker than we ever expected. But it makes sense. Batman has always cast a dark shadow. Now the casting of that shadow is truly black as night.

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