Comic Review: Blackest Night

Blackest Night, like FEED, is something that I never expected to own but am very glad that I now do. MizzeeOH and Kirr Mistwelder are both awesome, by the way.

A Galaxy Not So Far Away: Blackest Night

In Brightest Day, in Blackest Night, no zombies shall escape my sight. Let those who worship passion’s might, beware my power, Reviewer’s might!

For once, this is the first thing I came up with for this review. After all, it’s the reason I did the review- there are zombies. Amazing how I’m not a huge zombie fan, but two of my favorite pieces of literature from the past couple of years are FEED and Blackest Night.

Happy 10th Anniversary NJOE!

For anybody who missed it, this Christmas Eve was the 10th Anniversary of NJOE and the New Jedi Order Encyclopedia. If you’re not already a member there, check it out!

With the upcoming release of Red Harvest, we’re going to take a look at a different collision between space opera and superpowered zombies: Blackest Night, the DC comic saga written by Geoff Johns and given form by Ivan Reis, Oclair Albert and Joe Prado, among others.

This could have been the teaser, but really, isn’t Hal Jordan’s the Green Lantern oath much cooler?

Since 2004, when Geoff Johns ostensibly finished work on The Flash and became the writer for Green Lantern, DC comics have been building toward one point: Blackest Night, 2009 and 2010′s event that became the next DC Crisis, mainly because you can’t call a Crisis two years after Final Crisis a Crisis.

Honestly, I can’t definitively say this is true. For all I know, John’s first volume of The Flash may have been entirely focused on Blackest Night. I honestly can’t say. I’ve also come across some Green Lantern comic arcs that have nothing to do with the emotional spectrum, although they always seem to be forworded and followed by arcs that do.

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.

The more I read, the more I realize I don’t really know much about Crises and modern comics. Most of the comics I read before I received Blackest Night had been from the early 90s- it was all about the death and resurrection of those such as Superman and Magneto. Of course, it’s not really any more or less confusing than it was then, although 2000’s collections and comics don’t seem as inclined to force readers to buy five different series just to keep up with the storyline. It doesn’t help that, rather than change being a gradual and meaningful thing, to quote Wikipedia, “Crisis on Infinite Earths ushered in a popular trend of “rebooting”, “remaking”, or seriously reimagining the publisher wide universes every 5–10 years on varying scales.” 5 years ago, we had Green Lantern: Rebirth. Now we have Blackest Night and Brightest Day.

Remember when the death of your favorite character was meaningful?

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). If you really want to see how much exposition is just skipped over, take a look at this image:

Inserting this into a review really doesn’t portray the impact this image has as a two page spread. Even if you’ve read every comic written since Death of Superman (which, by the way, it says something when of the volumes Death of Superman, World Without a Superman and The Return of Superman, each newer volume is about twice as thick as the one before it), this forces you to take a step back and really look at all the mayhem and destruction and dead heroes since the first Crisis. I guess that’s what three Crises will do to a universe. Guess it’s time for two more.

As you can probably tell, I have a love/hate relationship with these series.

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). Green Lantern Hal Jordan and original Flash Barry Allen share much of the page time as the stars of the book, and 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.

I mention Brightest Day here because in the context of only Blackest Night, a lot of these moments just seem like filler and exposition. In reality, Hawkman and Hawkgirl are not random heroes killed for the sake of drama- they’re killed to be resurrected later. Aquaman and Ronnie Raymond, one of my favorite childhood heroes, are both pivotal to 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 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.

Reading this, it’s startling just how good a horror mood Geoff Johns and his artistic team set here when horror authors like Joe Schreiber seem to at times struggle to create and maintain a mood. Red Harvest did better than Death Troopers, but I don’t think either of them were quite at the level of Blackest Night, which is a testament to Geoff Johns, not to mention a convincing argument in favor of a Death Troopers comic, which would hopefully be able to overcome some of the shortcomings of the writing with visuals.

If you haven’t guessed it by now, as far as DC-wide events go, this is pretty much a Green Lantern/Flash event. The Atom and Mera feature prominently, and there are other, smaller plots with other heroes, but the alpha and omega of this miniseries are Hal and Barry. 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. Those more focused on the Supermans and the Batmans, you might be a little out of luck here.

This statement is one that I doubt sometimes, and I think even by the time I wrote my Brightest Day review I was starting to reconsider it. Blackest Night features Green Lantern (both versions), The Flash, The Atom, Mera, Firestorm (both versions), the Justice League, Martian Manhunter, and is in general a story akin to The Sinestro War in the way it takes the Green Lantern mythos and slams it into the rest of the DC Universe, sort of the way Death and Return of Superman slammed the Kryptonian’s history into the rest of the DC Universe.

Blackest Night continues by following through with its premise: super-powered zombies that feed on the emotional spectrum. And you know what? This is definitely a worthwhile take on zombies. The undead have a single personality, all designed toward drawing out an emotional response in their victims so that they can eat their hearts and use it to power their central power battery. By the way, the battery is at zero power when these super-powered monstrosities start killing their friends. Imagine what it could do at full power.

Another reason why Blackest Night prevails over Red Harvest. Both sets of zombies are run by an over-riding intelligence. We saw in Death Troopers that the zombies were capable of using that intelligence, even if they never actually spoke. Sure, in Red Harvest we see those in the throes of infection use some intelligence as they degrade to madness. But compare that to Brightest Day, where the Black Lantern Firestorm threatens to destroy the incarnation of life itself of its own will. Slightly more menacing zombie, don’t you think?

As the general story unfolds, you get the impression that scenes are being skipped. Why is this? Well, as a main DC event, Blackest Night had several spin-off series, in addition to touching close to every main title that DC carries. So while the most relevant things are explained as part of this series, sometimes you get things like groups of Lanterns leaving or returning to Earth for unexplained reasons.

I didn’t really opine on this, but it is what it is. I can bitch all I’d like, but in the end, when you have one of six books- particularly relating to monthly comics- you’re not going to get the whole story and they’re not going to explain themselves in every version of the same story. Do I think they could have grabbed an extra panel from another comic and put it in? Yes, but I don’t think there was that much editing involved in any of these collections- they took the pages they wanted, put them in order, and published that.

Honestly, while this is a lazy tactic, the art here is amazing, and this would have been even longer to review if they hadn’t been used. When splash pages and two paged spreads make things confusing and hard to read, they can be extremely aggravating, but when you have a good artist and you’re showing him or her off like this, it can really be a treat.

The heroes of Earth can’t do much, as Hal Jordan leaves to collect the people that actually have a chance against the black rings, and they fight a war of attrition with the unkillable until the black Central Power Battery, which has been brought to Earth, reaches 100% power.

More new characters are introduced to the Saga. We get Nekron (insert “because poor literacy is cool” joke here), the disembodied voice that’s been guiding Black Hand throughout the miniseries. Despite the patronage of former Guardian Scar, Nekron is the Black Lantern Corps’ true Guardian- or if not, he’s potentially their version of Parallax (which makes him death incarnate and the avatar of the black lanterns). He closes off an issue with a semi-dramatic appearance, ordering the non super-powered dead of Coast City to rise.

That’s right, I just made fun of the spelling of a character older than I am. On that note, had I done a bit more research (or, should I say, known where to look) I would have commented on the fact that Nekron’s makeover looks awesome. Rather than being a giant skeleton that looks ridiculously Silver Age despite being uber powerful, he looks like a real demon and adversary.

As the next issue begins, Blackest Night is introduced to Saint Walker of the Blue Lanterns, Sinestro of the Sinestro Corps, Carol Ferris of the Star Sapphires, and Larfleeze, aka Agent Orange along with the returned Hal Jordan and Indigo-1 (who appeared earlier to bid Hal join her in finding these… characters) of the Indigo Tribe. Together, they represent the seven Corps of the emotional spectrum, often with cartoony caricatures to distinguish their emotion of choice. We have only a few pages’ montage to introduce these characters to those who have not been following the past few years, making them behave more cartoonishly than normal.

This sequence introduced me to a lot, and combined with the introductory glossaries in several trades (and Black Lantern #0) this was the highlight for me. This is almost definitely the first time the seven Corps (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Star Sapphire (Violet) and Black) would be shown together, but it wouldn’t be the last. Having met Larfleeze (the “breakout hit” of Blackest Night, as somebody mentioned in the creator commentaries included in the Omnibus) and seen the various Corps in option, I was definitely interested in checking out the various Prelude tales. Moreso than I was Infinite or Final Crises, which they probably should have sold more here.

The Lanterns are on Ryut in Sector 666 (where all the bad things in Green Lantern come from), where the Black Lantern had spent its time charging ever since the Sinestro Corps War, but is not now. We therefore cut back to dramatic goings-on on Earth which are obviously waiting for the main characters to show up before explaining Nekron’s deal, and the cavalry arrives. Scar mentions that she considers Nekron her Lord, which potentially makes her just another Black Lantern, despite the role she’s played in events, and the Lanterns show off their combined powers by destroying her.

You know what, I’ve always wondered how there is a Green Lantern from Sector 666. I mean, think about it- Atrocitus and the Five Inversions are supposed to be the only survivors of the Massacre of Sector 666, right? So where does Morro come from? Is he one of the Five Inversions?

Carol Ferris, the Star Sapphire, makes a Captain Planet joke when they combine their beams to attempt to destroy the Black Power Battery; neither of these have much impact. Bruce Wayne is raised from the dead, causing an emotional link to the members of the Justice League that allows Nekron to send black rings after those who have been resurrected in the past and kill them while Nekron narrates that all they’ve accomplished in the past (at least as far as beating death) has been according to his will. Sort of like when you’ve been beaten time and again in a video game and when you get your rematch claiming that it’s because you’ve let them win a dozen times in the past, despite not having any good reason to have ever let them win.

Apparently, this quote has been taken into canon. Apparently some returns to life- such as Superman’s, I think- were never explained in a sufficient way, and were written off as someone (I forget the name) having interfered with the fabric of life and death or some related concept. Officially, this is now ret-conned as Nekron having let them free for the sake of Blackest Night. Interesting note- all of these resurrected heroes are killed, become Black Lanterns, are resurrected by white or other rings, but are not considered part of the White Lantern Corps put together by The Entity.

“Bruce Wayne” (quotes being Nekron’s, not mine, and you can guess what that means) is dismissed as The Flash helps Hal Jordan escape their two rings by running several seconds into the future. Nekron summons his reinforcements from across the universe, which prompts the other six Corps (not counting Larfleeze, whose entire corps lives in his ring) to call for reinforcements. Before they can arrive, however, Ganthet, fallen Guardian-turned-Blue Lantern leader, commands each of the seven rings to duplicate for the sole purpose of giving fans a chance to see such things as a Star Sapphire Wonder Woman, Blue Lantern Flash, Orange Lantern Lex Luthor, and so on.

This actually isn’t done as well as it could be, because it’s rushed. I have to wonder if somebody following the Justice League comic, for instance, would have had a better look at some of these changes. They’re all in character and they could all be put to good use, but none of them really last long enough to be relevant.

Other than the unique looks and comments on each hero and villain’s personality, there are two comments I have to make on this. The first is that the Star Sapphire ring would not pick anyone other than Wonder Woman because “nobody loves this planet more than her”, which is as close as they’ve come so far to saying that only women can be Star Sapphires (Superman’s name wasn’t even brought up). The second is that we don’t really get to see the benefit of this. Scarecrow turns into a powerful Yellow Lantern, sure, but otherwise the only real outcome is demonstrating the downsides of each ring, such as stopping Mera’s heart and overwhelming Luthor with power lust. I understand that each ring requires training and experience, but the whole point was that they would be of more use in the fight, not to make them useless.

I want to comment on the image here. Normally, I don’t point out funny, unintentional things in a comic (unless it’s just that it’s terrible and that in itself is funny). Then I opened up this page and saw “LOL” on Indigo-1’s forehead. Yeah.

As for what I said in the review… yeah. I’d love to fill this spot with fan fiction about Barry Allen as a Blue Lantern, comment on the implications of Ray Palmer as a member of the Indigo Tribe in light of both Brightest Day: Green Lantern and Cry For Justice, which together paint a very different picture from his being chosen than Blackest Night does. You know, looking at that statement, combined with Black Hand being referred to as “William Hand” about three times as much as “Black Hand”, makes me think that’s yet another fundamental change to the writing of the universe- it’s like we’re past the age of superhero names an secret identities. We just want to see Peter Parker in a Spider suit fighting crime. I think part of this is the fact that… well, how many Flashes, Green Lanterns, Atoms, Super-people, so on and so forth have we had? It gets hard to keep track of them. That, and Wikipedia articles talking about “The Elongated Man and Sue Dibny” make their scenes seem much more confusing than they really are.

As part of Nekron’s final solution, Black Hand uses the heart of a Guardian that Nekron killed to summon The Entity (known to Nekron as The Intruder), the embodiment of white light and life itself. The idea is to kill it, but it’s sort of like when a mage summons a demon in order to take its power and is slaughtered by the emerging demon. While the “Blackest Night” prophecy is almost proven to be true by the existence of this series, what happens next proves it impossible: it’s impossible to kill Life itself, even for Nekron.

I’m really looking forward to reading more about The Entity and its fellows. I don’t follow comics monthly, per se, but lately every time I’m at Borders I check for new issues of all of its Brightest Day series- Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps, Emerald Warriors, The Flash (as far as my Borders carries) and read anything new. I may not be thrilled about the main Brightest Day storyline, but I can’t stay away from the related ones.

Sinestro takes the Entity into itself, much as he had forced Parallax, the embodiment of fear, into Hal Jordan, and kills Nekron. For a moment. Just like a few other baddies Star Wars fans might know (and others, I’m sure), Nekron takes the body of one of his servants to return himself to life, pulling the Entity out of Sinestro. Hal gives a Patrick Stewart speech about life and resurrection before taking the Entity into himself and using it to turn all of the heroes turned into Black Lanterns two issues ago into White Lanterns, who target Nekron.

What, does Zemanta not offer a link to “Patrick Stewart Speech” on tvtropes? I might have had something to say about Dark Empire or Hath-Set, but it’s gone now. They can link to home pages of anything you bring up, Wikipedia, IMDb, Amazon, but not TVtropes?

While all this was going on, it was decided that Black Hand was Nekron’s link to the world of the living, and returning him to life would end Nekron’s cycle of reanimation. The Entity knows this too, apparently, and leaves Hal so that it can lean over Hand dramatically and resurrect him. At the same time, it resurrects the freaking Anti-Monitor, trapped within and powering Nekron’s Central Power Battery.

This isn’t exactly a surprise to anybody who’s been following Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps since The Sinestro Corps War, but to somebody like me who hadn’t picked up a GL comic since forever, this was about to become a crowning moment of awesome. Then Nekron hand-waved him away, and I was dumb-founded.

This is one of the weakest moments of the series. I understand this is halfway through the finale and time is short, but you don’t resurrect the most deadly villain in the history of DC Comics and then have Nekron dismiss him with a hand wave. Sorry, it just doesn’t work that way. No epic battle? None of the heroes even react to this? It’s a cool looking two pages, sure, but ultimately, it was forgotten.

Even with the history, there still should have been some sort of lead in. It took a huge battle involving all of Earth’s heroes and the Green Lantern Corps to defeat him the first time. There should have at least been some reactions from everybody else to his being resurrected and how simply Nekron resolved him. But we don’t even get that.

The Entity destroys Nekron with a badass “LET THERE BE LIGHT”, and then resurrects twelve heroes and villains to set up for Brightest Day. Among these is Deadman, who was seen earlier begging to stay dead before Nekron made his corpse into a Black Lantern, causing there to be two Deadmans for the duration of the miniseries. From here, we go into closure. Everybody is returned to their normal state, except for the resurrected, who are either alive where they were dead before or, in the case of the Hawks- are un-cursed where they were cursed before.

After having researched Nekron, I realize it’s probably about as possible to kill him as it is The Entity (or any other comic hero), but at least he was returned to his own realm between life and death.

Deadman was very interesting here. I had no idea who he was, but the idea of a hero that could possess bodies- while, at the same time, a Black Lantern of him walked the Earth- definitely caught my attention. Unfortunately, when I actually got to see him in action in Brightest Day Volume 1, I was rather disappointed.

We get a hint of the drama to come in Brightest Day, such as Gen, the second half of the new Firestorm, still being dead, and several deadly supervillains having been returned to life. Deadman laments over being forced back to life, the fact that the real Bruce Wayne was apparently not dead to be reanimated is discussed, and a white lantern appears in a crater. But as they say, it is now tomorrow, which means the Blackest Night is over.

It is time for Brightest Day. And if it’s anything near as good as Blackest Night, we’re in for a good ride.

The same question that stuck out to me when I wrote this stands out to me now: is Gen short for something? Genesis? Gennifer? Couldn’t she have been Jen? Gwen? Maybe Brightest Day will tell us.

That said, if there’s a Brightest Day: Firestorm out, that’s definitely what I’m buying.

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