[7 November 2011]
PopMatters Comics Editor
Garage Inc. wasn’t an easy album. It didn’t work in the way that metal should, it didn’t hit the right notes with the fans. Ask any commentator and the verdict was clear; Metallica was on a backslide since the Black Album. What could have possessed them to put out a metal album that didn’t scan with metal fans?
And therein lies the strange resilience of Metallica. There’s a reason your Uncle Farnham’s next-door neighbor, Buck has heard of Metallica without knowing about Trivium. Knows he will be buying a Ferrari, without ever having driven one before. Buys an iPhone and not a smartphone.
In a culture defined by nothing more than the polarities of sellout-versus-authentic, Metallica simply demolished expectations. Black demonstrated that they could put out a metal album that appealed to a mainstream audience hopped up on pop melodrama. Black worked, and in working, disavowed the expectations that were drilled into us by the Music Biz in the 80s. That we could have authentic heavy metal, that appealed to a mainstream audience and still didn’t sellout.
DC’s New 52 definitely embraces the notion that in a 21st century fraught with unparalleled opportunity and danger, comics can yet again be a vibrant medium that focuses the energies of collective life.
It’s the things we choose to choose, as Woody Allen reminds us. A New York Observer piece penned by Allen, “Confessions of a know-nothing fan”, appears contemporaneously with the release of Garage Inc.. “When asked why it is so important the Knicks win”, writes Allen, “since at the end of the game or even the season, nothing in life is affected one way or the other, I can only answer that basketball or baseball or any sport is as dearly important as life itself. After all, why is it such a big deal to work and love and strive and have children and then die and decompose into eternal nothingness?… In short, putting the ball into the hoop is of immense significance to me by personal choice and my life is more fun because of it”.
Garage Inc. was supposed to be the comeback album. Not in the sense that Metallica had been away languishing for some time. And not in the sense that they’d grown old and set in their ways. But in the sense that some good PR was really called for. And buried deep on the first disc is “Whiskey in a Jar”, the one tune that carries forward that same tradition begun by the band with the Black Album. It is the sensibility of metal, overlaid onto something else entirely. “Here’s how to understand metal”, the band seems to be telling us. “It’s as brutal as anything, as metal as anything. And it belonged to a different tradition first”. This is what Thin Lizzy would sound like as metal.
Garage Inc. answers a problem that appears at the edge of Woody Allen. It’s the the things we choose to choose, sure. But how to we arrange encounters with the things beyond ourselves? Garage Inc. opens onto the worlds of Bob Seger and Blue Oyster Cult, Diamondhead and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Bands and performers that might not be part of the musical education of the average metalhead.
So how do we encounter the rich world of DC history and heritage? It helps that Demon Knights is arranged like a Western. Protagonists are drawn together, they’re not necessarily heroes at first but their context and their actions push them along that road.
I’m not sure where Demon Knights is going. But I know it’s vibrant and vital and an easy parable for a new kind of society. A society that couldn’t have been imagined when Jack Kirby first created the Demon Etrigan, but one for which the character still stands as a secret signature. It’s easy to trust in a writer the skill of Paul Cornell, and he’s working with a great team. Demon Knights not only works because we choose it, but because, like Garage Inc. it helps us make further choices. So when I put my money down on the counter this Wednesday and pick up issue three, it’s an action animated by my choice. But for right, enjoy the preview.