It’s no surprise that Dark Nights: Metal was one of the top-selling comics of 2017. The series featured the long-awaited reunion between writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo on a Batman epic bigger than any they had worked on before. But the series also had another major element working in its favor. The first issue ended with the reveal that Batman had turned to none other than Dream of the Endless for help in his massive new case. As exciting as the prospect of a Batman/Sandman crossover was, that’s one area where Metal failed to deliver.
Neil Gaiman’s Sandman saga may technically be set within the DC Universe, but actual crossovers between DC’s heroes and characters like Dream and Death are extremely rare. The Endless are very high up on the cosmic hierarchy in the DCU, and the struggles of heroes like Batman and Superman are generally beneath their notice. What importance is the fate of a city or even an entire world when you have all of reality to worry about? That’s what made Dream’s surprise appearance in Metal #1 such a big deal. If the threat of the villainous Barbatos was so dire that even a member of the Endless felt obligated to become involved, that’s an ominous sign, indeed.
Now that Metal has concluded, though, it doesn’t feel as though that early setup was given much payoff. Dream and his allies played a very minor role in the remainder of the series, mainly via a sequence in issue #4 where Dream explains how the nightmarish worlds of the Dark Multiverse came to be. In the end, Dream serves little purpose in Metal other than as a brief source of exposition. The promise of the DCU and Sandman franchise mingling in profound, meaningful ways was never realized. At best, Metal became a catalyst for future Sandman stories, ending with a revelation that one of the book’s in Lucien’s library (which contains all stories never written) has suddenly vanished, a mystery that will likely be explored in the new line of Sandman comics curated by Gaiman.
It’s not hard to understand why Snyder and Capullo wanted Dream to be a part of this story. There are clear thematic ties between Metal and Sandman, and drawing those characters into the conflict shows that this story truly spans the width and breadth of the DCU in a way few event comics have delivered. But that speaks to the larger flaw in Metal’s execution. This story ultimately became too grand and ambitious for its own good, juggling a cast of characters and conflicts that was too much for one miniseries (even with all its tie-ins) to properly contain. With so many moving pieces, it simply became impossible to give Dream and his allies the attention they deserved.
Given the venerated status of Gaiman’s original Sandman run, any DC/Sandman crossover needs to be treated with the utmost significance. The Endless should be the crux of any DCU story in which they appear, as was the case with Death’s guest role in Action Comics #894. If the door remains open for future DC/Sandman crossovers, taking full advantage of that crossover needs to be the first priority.