Happy 10th Anniversary NJOE!
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.
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.
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). If you really want to see how much exposition is just skipped over, take a look at this image:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Another focus of this book is on splash pages and two-page spreads. Every issue has at least one of these. Many of these exist to focus on the drama of the unfolding zombie apocalypse (in a very real sense- Black Hand and his Corps seek nothing less than the end of all life), with the rest giving Alex Sinclair space to show off his coloring for the other seven Corps. Thankfully, all of the visuals in this volume are phenomenal, from the pencils and inking to the colors and lettering. If you buy comics for eye candy, these splash pages will sell the whole book to you.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.