Chances are, if you've been poking around the DC Universe lately you've probably stumbled across the name Barbatos. He's been a pretty big-ticket item lately (you know, in like...a horrifying sort of way), with a nice big boost in prominence thanks to the epic events of DARK NIGHTS: METAL. But the truth is he's actually far from a newcomer to the DCU.
I don't mean that in the Lovecraftian "he's an ancient evil" sort of way, either. The truth is while Metal did invent the Dark Multiverse, it didn't invent the idea of Barbatos. Instead, Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo and everyone else involved with that series added to a story that has been in progress for almost thirty years, dating all the way back to the early ’90s. And if you thought Barbatos was weird and scary now, just wait until you learn about his history.
The first time Barbatos was mentioned in a Batman comic was back in BATMAN #452, in a Peter Milligan story that—and I'm not making this up—involved none other than Thomas Jefferson (yes, the Hamilton villain) coming together with a cabal of other historical figures to summon a demon. (See, Lin-Manuel Miranda KNOWS!!!) Named "Barbathos" in the story, the demon was supposed to be a sort of giant bat creature that could not be controlled without a sacrifice. In the present day, the Riddler uncovers the records of the summoning and becomes obsessed with completing it.
I’m sure Ed’s friends probably thought he’d finally slipped from being a crazed genius to just plain crazed, but the Riddler wasn't crazy. Jefferson and his followers really had summoned a demon and trapped it in Gotham. It was slowly revealed that Barbatos's influence in Gotham had, in effect, crafted it into the city it is today. It even implied that its powers had orchestrated the Wayne family tragedy that set Bruce down his path to becoming the Bat, almost as a sort of "avatar" of Barbatos himself.
For as revelatory as that moment may sound, it didn't actually make a huge impact on Batman's stories in the following years. If you stay in Gotham long enough, even the idea of an ancient demon summoned by a former president pushing your city towards darkness doesn't seem all that out of the ordinary, apparently. Also, this was a time when DC's continuity and timeline were in flux following the events of CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS and the approach of ZERO HOUR, so Bruce certainly had more things to worry about.
Barbatos faded into relative obscurity for a while, until the rise and subsequent fallout of Grant Morrison’s FINAL CRISIS. After "dying" during the Crisis, Bruce found himself unstuck in time and launched through the past pursued by a monstrous weapon of Darkseid's creation called the "Hyper-Adaptor," which in all the time-traveling shenanigans was also revealed to be an aspect (or maybe even the inadvertent creator) of Barbatos back in the past. The specifics are left pretty ambiguous and open ended, which probably isn't surprising all things considered. An ancient evil mixed with the technology and power of Darkseid is a pretty potent mix.
Across all of the overlapping timelines, Barbatos even became the fixation of one of Bruce's ancestors, a man who would eventually become known as the evil Dr. Simon Hurt. Dr. Hurt went on to become a real thorn in the side of Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne, both while they worked as Batman and Robin during Bruce’s death and also during the Rebirth era, when he teamed up with Professor Pyg to continue working on his Barbatos obsession in the present day. You can read that whole story in the ominously named NIGHTWING VOL. 3: NIGHTWING MUST DIE.
Since then, the endless looming power of Barbatos and his relationship to both Batman and Gotham City itself has been threading through the background of the DC Universe. He's evolved into a sort of demonic boogeyman, always just out of reach and just out of sight but never really gone.
Now that you’ve read Metal, or if you’re planning on reading it when the collection is released next month, it’s a great time to start exploring these threads, both old and new. When you appreciate how long ago these seeds were planted, and how Metal really brings them all to a head, it enhances Snyder and Capullo’s already pretty epic story immensely. Even better, it’s easy to do. Just pick up DARK DAYS: THE ROAD TO METAL, which gathers up the clues and starts to pour fuel into the fires. This new collection actually includes issues from Final Crisis, BATMAN: THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE and NIGHTWING that touch on everything I mention above, along with the two “Dark Days” prequel comics that were released prior to Metal. Together, they show that the seeds of the DCU’s recent events were planted quite a while ago, and that Barbatos has been waiting for this moment for a long, long time.
DARK DAYS: THE ROAD TO METAL by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Jim Lee, Andy Kubert, John Romita Jr. and more is now available in print and as a digital download. Look for the deluxe graphic novel collection of DARK NIGHTS: METAL everywhere on June 12, 2018.