Comic Review: Blackest Night

Even as other creative teams focused on Infinite Crisis, Countdown and Final Crisis, Geoff Johns’s comics in the five or more years leading up to 2009 built toward one point: Blackest Night.  While the title of Crisis was finally gone thanks to  Final Crisis, Blackest Night would nevertheless be one in every other aspect.

With all of the Crises DC has had, it makes sense that much of the first part of this omnibus details exposition about Final Crisis. For many comic readers like me, characters like the Justice League of America seem to live in a constant limbo, their lives unchanging with events due to rarely reading about a single character in a linear manner and television shows that seem to be focused on the early 90s (as well they should be). Not knowing the precise nature of how modern comic events worked, the first time I read Blackest Night #0, I was operating under the impression that the mountains of dead were killed just for the opening of Blackest Night the way they might be in an Infinities one-shot (and I don’t mean just because Final Crisis knew Blackest Night was going to follow up). Over time, I realized this was not the case.

If you look at these pages, though, you might understand why. Blackest Nights #0 and #1 are like a DC obituary. Most of this is exposition, and if this weren’t a nine-issue omnibus, it would get pretty tedious. And it’s all relevant for this volume (and would have been awkward anywhere else). Hours of hours of what could have been tedious exposition is condensed into an extraordinary two page visual in Hal Jordan’s wordless answer to the Flash’s question of “Who else died while I was gone?”

The setup issues aren’t all backstory, however, as they bring us into the current plots as well. Mera, one of the main characters of the saga, discusses the fallen Aquaman with Garth, while the new Firestorm attends a memorial for the old (one of my favorite DC heroes). The Atom narrowly misses being part of the deaths of Hawkman and Hawkgirl. More characters are involved, more setup takes place; this issue is the foundation for both Blackest Night and Brightest Day.

Without spending too much time on each issue’s plot, I do want to address how the tone for the series is set here. We see the undead Black Hand licking a skull, acid rain at a funeral, memorials and crypts, defiled graves, cursed lovers being slain by their dead friends, a multi-species horde of zombies the likes of which Star Wars: Death Troopers and Red Harvest should have sported, and bloody hearts being pulled out of still-screaming bodies for a feast of the dead. Pretty much the only thing that’s not black in this issue is the light of green rings, which sets the tone in a different way.  It’s somewhat startling just how good a horror mood Geoff Johns and his artistic team set here, when even some professional horror authors seem to at times struggle to create and maintain the same mood.

While many DC crossovers are led by Superman or Batman, this is largely a Green Lantern and Flash event, supported by the Atom and Mera. I don’t mind this – Hal Jordan has long been one of my favorite heroes, and when I’ve read about Wally West emulating Barry the Flash seems like a hero worth learning about. These are characters whose popularity has waxed and waned over time, and if you’re not as interested in them as other members of the Justice League, you might be out of luck here.

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