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Blackest Night #8

Blackest Night #8

Blackest Night, written by Geoff Johns and pencilled by Ivan Reis, is the culmination of at least five years’ worth of Green Lantern storylines, not to mention elements from DC’s recent Big Events. It sets up several more storylines, both in the GL books and throughout DC’s superhero titles. It also lays out a new way to look at the very nature of life in the DC universe.

These are all elements of what I’ve called “process” stories: vehicles for taking characters from one basic setup to another, many times without much more depth than that. Process is a big part of Blackest Night — these rings work together thusly, these beings power the rings like so, etc. I haven’t had much use for process stories. Indeed, if BN were merely a process story, it would be an eminently appropriate way to cap DC’s perpetual-crossover period. One more cog in the four-color Rube Goldberg device.

Thankfully, Blackest Night aims higher — and that ambition saves it from the tedium of pure process. BN isn’t perfect by any means: it’s a gruesome spectacle of ripped-out hearts and (literal) emotional manipulation, Geoff Johns’ dialogue can be clunky, and Ivan Reis’ pencils are sometimes overwhelming. Ultimately, though, the miniseries is an engaging diversion with its own point of view, and I ended up liking it well enough.

SPOILERS FOLLOW

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Blackest Night postulates that all of life is a rebellion against nothingness. If I had paid more attention in my humanities classes (or, probably, if I’d read more of Action Philosophers!), I could tell you more about that particular worldview. For our purposes, it’s enough to frame the conceit of an “emotional spectrum” whose most well-known aspect is the green energy of willpower. Like the Green Lantern rings themselves, BN’s premise is as simple or as complicated as it needs to be. The core Green Lantern concept is pure wish-fulfillment: you, plus the most powerful piece of jewelry in the known universe. No spending your personal fortune over years of training, no happy accidents involving chemicals and/or radiation, no being born into a fantastic civilization. Instead, the ring just falls out of the sky and picks its successor.

Similarly, Blackest Night is sometimes simple, sometimes not. Its plot isn’t terribly sophisticated, mostly involving the use of various combinations of emo-spectrum energy to dispatch the Black Lanterns. I would say it’s like a videogame, but I have a feeling that videogames are more complex these days. That’s not necessarily a criticism, either: Blackest Night appealed to me on a visceral level, inviting “audience participation” (of a sort) and/or armchair quarterbacking. Because BN was fairly easy to follow, and its premise wasn’t that hard to grasp, I’d say that helped endear it to readers. At least, that’s a big part of what I take away from all those Lantern Corps T-shirts and ring giveaways.

Consequently, readers may have been challenged more by BN’s esoteric, continuity-intensive aspects. I want to say that most of these (including a Krona reference, a Pariah cameo, and the surprise return of Driq, the original zombie GL) were sequestered in Green Lantern, whose readers might presumably have been more dedicated, and thus more hip to such things. However, BN proper spends a decent amount of space on Firestorm, Damage, and especially Mera, none of whom are arguably as familiar to casual fans as the Atom or J’Onn J’Onzz. As if that weren’t enough, the all-important four-page spread — a great, well-executed reveal, even if we all saw it coming — includes such luminaries as Osiris and the first Captain Boomerang. There is such a thing as too much foreshadowing, and I’m sure no one wanted to spoil the revivals which weren’t completely obvious, but still: a little more context couldn’t have hurt.

To be sure, I’m probably imagining more wet-behind-the-ears DC readers than are actually out there. Boomerang’s death was a big part of Identity Crisis (as was Sue Dibny’s at the hand of fellow JLA spouse and future Black Lantern Jean Loring), and Osiris’ death likewise figured prominently in 52. If you’d been following DC’s events over the years, you’d probably at least heard about those characters, and you might well have gotten some closure from their return.

(That said, Osiris may be A-list next to Hank “Hawk” Hall, who died as the time-themed villain Extant in the pages of one of Johns’ early JSA issues, over ten years ago — several years after Hank was shoved into being Monarch, another time-traveling villain. I wonder if the casual DC event-follower remembers all of that.)

Of course, DC wants you to be more excited than mere closure, since BN leads into Brightest Day and its affiliated titles. In that regard, BN does provide context for the future adventures of its featured characters, but it doesn’t feel unfinished. Once the heroes figure out how to destroy the Black Lanterns, the cathartic moments follow one another quickly (and often violently): John Stewart and Xanshi, the Atom and Jean, Kyle Rayner and the infamous refrigerator. I said before that BN was full of process, but I’m not sure that DC’s other events devoted quite as much to this sort of fanservice. Bringing characters back from the dead is one thing, but addressing character flaws which go back over twenty years is something else.

Earlier too I mentioned that Blackest Night has a very visceral appeal; and I would say more specifically that it is set up to keep both its characters and its readers reacting. The carnage in other big-event comics took place over days or even weeks, but BN pretty much lives up to its name, going from dusk to dawn in Coast City and elsewhere. There’s no time for the heroes to strategize, so the fact that the two big plot twists — “cross the streams” to destroy the Black Lanterns, and dogpile on Black Hand to take out Nekron — are gift-wrapped for the good guys. We never really find out why Dove is so effective and Alan Scott isn’t (although we might in Brightest Day), nor do we learn how one becomes a White Lantern (including why Boston Brand gets to keep his white ring). Again, it would work well as a multiplayer videogame, where all you have to do is fly around and shoot at whatever your differently-colored buddy is shooting.

For that reason I recommend reading the concurrent issues of Green Lantern alongside BN proper, because they offer more spectacle and a little more insight into Sinestro, Star Sapphire, and even Atrocitus. Sinestro reclaims leadership of his Corps from Mongul in GL #46, the stories of Xanshi and Driq are told in #49, and the big Spectre-vs.-Parallax fight (a callback to Green Lantern: Rebirth) happens in #s 50-51. Doug Mahnke’s pencils are also a good complement to Ivan Reis’s. The eight issues of Blackest Night hold together reasonably well, but the miniseries works much better with its parent title.

Readers looking for more insight into the characters might also be well-advised to check out the various ancillary miniseries like BN: Wonder Woman, BN: Flash, or Tales of the Corps — because all the mayhem in BN proper doesn’t leave much room for characterization. It’s almost like the characters are too busy reacting to react in unique ways. If I didn’t already read these books, I wouldn’t have much sense of GL, the Flash, or the Atom as characters, beyond what they tell each other about themselves. In fairness, the characters tend to be defined by their emotional affiliation; so when Hal makes his big “we chose to live!” speech at the end, it is very much in the mold of the willful James T. Kirk-type into which he’s developed. Since the white light of life has intruded on the dark matter personified by Nekron, I suppose the various Lantern Corps each reflect that spirit of assertiveness-slash-rebellion in their own ways — but Hal is our hero, so he gets to lead the charge. (His spirit of rebellion is probably more egalitarian than Sinestro’s, although the GL issues do show Sinestro in a halfway sympathetic light.)

Blackest Night’s biggest asset has to be penciller Ivan Reis, who I lauded back when issue #1 came out.  By and large he organizes the story well, although he has a little trouble keeping up with the super-speedsters and his crowd scenes don’t invite one’s eyes to linger upon them. He does quite well with figures and expressions, especially his lithe, wide-eyed Barry Allen. His Black Lanterns are suitably scary, even in those crowd scenes where their masses can overwhelm one’s gaze. The early issues’ moments of horror are also balanced nicely by issue #8’s understated reunions — and yes, I was moved not only by Aquaman and Mera, but also by Carter and Shiera (she was a pleasant surprise). What with all the Black Lanterns, the energy beams, and the morbid nighttime settings, I’m sure much of Blackest Night is meant to have a wearying sameness, but Reis and his inkers did a good job keeping things moving.

It’s not really fair to say that Blackest Night works best for those who bring the most to it, because that takes a lot of the storytelling burden off the people who are telling the story. Indeed, I’d say Geoff Johns was burdened significantly by his own reputation, both in the buildup to BN and in its execution. BN had been hyped since before the first issue of Final Crisis, and it had to satisfy those DC fans unsatisfied by 2008’s big event. However, with its promise of violent death, BN also risked alienating readers who might have gotten tired of DC going constantly for shock value. Thus, giving the Black Lanterns the ol’ rip-your-heart-out-and-show-it-to-you bit as their signature move was, on one level, pretty bold. (Granted, it might also have been pretty easy. I don’t know how many DC fans really get into such things.)

In the end I think most of us knew generally where Blackest Night was headed, but I for one didn’t expect it to speak so directly to the readers. I see Douglas Wolk’s point about BN being “profoundly reactionary,” but I don’t see DC going as far as he does. Outside of the characters killed in Blackest Night itself, DC didn’t 86 any of these folks just so it could bring them back here. It killed J’Onn and Aquaman and Captain Boomerang and Osiris and most of the rest for reasons arising out of their particular stories. Those reasons may have ranged from simple shock value to setting up a successor, but for the most part they had nothing to do with Blackest Night. Therefore, I doubt seriously that DC wants us to forget how or why Max Lord or Professor Zoom died. To do otherwise would make their deaths meaningless, and if there is one thing which DC appears not to want, it’s accusations of meaningless, capricious death. (It’s sure had enough of those in the past few years.) Put more bluntly, DC saw value in killing those characters, and now it sees value in bringing them back.

From that perspective, BN isn’t erasing the publisher’s mistakes as much as it’s creating new opportunities. (DC isn’t reviving all the martyrs, either — at least not yet — so Ted Kord won’t be reclaiming the Blue Beetle name anytime soon, and Ralph and Sue Dibny are still ghost detectives.) Blackest Night has also revealed a whole new Earth-centered aspect of DC cosmology, expanding Geoff Johns’ earnest conception of multicolored avatars across the range of human experience. Sure, much of it is setup for Brightest Day, Green Lantern, and the rest, but so far it comes across unobtrusively. On its face Blackest Night is a process story painted in lurid, emotional strokes — a zombie story made marginally more lively by Lantern Corps trappings. There’s no hard sell of the next big thing …

… because the next step is for those hypothetical new readers to explore DC’s superhero line on their own. Teases aside, Blackest Night #8 really did give me the sense that a page of DC history had been turned, and that readers were free to walk away if they wanted. Considering DC’s recent practices (especially relying on Final Crisis anticipation and 52 goodwill to sell Countdown), that’s a tremendous step in the right direction. Rather than selling plot twists or continuity tweaks, DC sold Geoff Johns, and apparently trusts readers to follow him into Blackest Day. That’s a pretty good strategy, I think: not only does it let him conclude Blackest Night satisfactorily, it lets him evangelize for DC’s superheroes, which clearly he loves, loves doing.  That love comes through pretty clearly in Blackest Night, and if you don’t run screaming from Johns’ emo-spectrum theories and differently-colored avatars, BN gives you a lot to ponder.  That sense of something deeper, something yet to be revealed, is what I think makes BN more than mere process; and the fact that Johns knows how much to dole out makes BN a tighter story.  The Gospel According To Geoff will no doubt be a vast, intricate work when it is fully realized, and it doesn’t need to be thrust upon an unsuspecting reader all at once.

Overall, then, I’d say Blackest Night was pretty successful. It used traditionally B- and C-list characters as headliners, it allowed readers to get in on the ground floor for a number of reintroductions, and it told a reasonably complete story. BN probably won’t be remembered for its piercing philosophical insights, and I’m not so sure the ideas behind the various Lantern Corps will become cornerstones of DC’s cosmology — but for once I think a Big DC Event has left the superhero line in a good place.

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Comments

25 Comments

I do agree that though Geoff Johns did a great job with Blackest Night, the story itself does give readers a nice closing point, and therefore a chance to walk away…

I think I agree with most everything you said here. Reading Siege and Dark Reign alongside Blackest Night, I felt that Blackest Night respected the B/C-list characters… Marvel still seems to be interested iin slaughtering the ones writers don’t like.

Great review/analysis of Blackest Night and DC under John’s direction.

That was actually a very well thougth out and interesting article on BN, i’ve been reading a ton of reviews and this is probably the best articulated one i’ve read yet. BN to me represented everything I wanted in a big epic event, it succeeded in ways that sadly other big events failed and not only shipped on time but delivered a great bang for the $4 bucks month in and month out. Also I agree that GL is neccessary to truly get the big picture and everything Johns laid out in this story, as far as Brightest Day goes I went from half way interested in it to very interested that 4 page fold out was glorious and showed that Ivan Reis is the new generations George Perez. In the end Geoff was able to end on a high note his Green Lantern trilogy of stories and as someone who’s been along for the ride since day one I can only say bravo and well done for the quality and respect he’s show the GL mythos and Hal Jordan over these years and I also can’t wait to see what he’s got in store for his next trilogy.

Loved the analysis. When left to spearhead these crossover events, Johns does a great job of bringing the event to a satisfactory conclusion. While certainly their are teases to entice fans into reading “Brightest Day”, they are “soft” teasers. He manages to leave fans with a jumping off point, while still providing a complete story in “Blackest Night.” That really is the mark of someone who is not only a great writer, but someone who has faith in his confidence in his work and faith in his readership that fans will want to see what happens next.

That all said, “Brightest Day” seems like another “52” where B and C list characters get their moment, but then will fade back to obscurity after the event ends. I don’t see any of these revived secondary characters carrying a full-time ongoing series, so it dampens some of my excitement for “Brightest Day.” Still, if anyone could make me care about these characters, it’s Johns.

As a story, I didnt think it was very good. Certainly, the Green Lantern tie ins were a better read than the actual Blackest Night books.

A clearly articulated article. Thanks. But I don’t agree. I felt that there was very little “story” month in and month out. It may have meant more to those steeped in DCU mythology to see these C level characters revived as zombies, but it was tiresome to me. There were no real twists and turns, no unexpected reveals or new levels of character development. Yes, it was a reboot of certain ideas, a streamlining, if you will, but the endless pages of new-age philosophy followed by someone’s heart being ripped out was boring after several issues. This could have been done in four, but was, instead, stretched into eight issues. It was repetitive in its story-telling and full of exposition that went nowhere. Your noting of the Dove plot line in particular: she is revealed to possess an incredible weapon in the tie-in book that would turn the tide of the battle, and it ultimately goes nowhere. And Mera? Does anyone really care? There were tons of strands like this, too many to mention, that may lead into future storylines, but I bought this book for a good story THIS month, not for a promise of “maybe” somewhere down the line.

I love how the main premise of Blackest Night is basically a dumbed down rip off of Superman Beyond.

It wasn’t bad considering it was just Avengers vol 3 #10 & 11 stretched out over 8 issues. However, Siege has been much better as it hasn’t been decompressed and having pointless crossovers as BN did. I would agree that the GL & GLC issues were much better than the main book. Maybe next time Johns should keep the story contained to those two books like he did with the excellent Sinestro Corps crossover. Fireboy was right on target with his comment also.

Great review of a great series. I’d be down to read your thoughts on some of the tie ins and the January books that rose from the dead.

@ Bart K

It takes a real marvel zombie to bring up Seige as being worthy of comparison to the epic that Blackest Night was. Seige could never sustain the level of layered analysis that this atricle displayed. Seige failed to receive both the critical acclaim and the sales figures of Blackest Night. Your welcome to your opinion, but it seems silly to bring it up here.

Matter-Pooper Lad

April 10, 2010 at 1:31 pm

I enjoyed the way Barry Allen Flash and Hal Jordan GL were handled in Blackest Night — True to their characters! However, I felt there was much “story” missing between the panels of Blackest Night. Perhaps this is because I did not read Green Lantern or any of the other BN tie-ins. But I feel an 8-issue mini-series should stand on its own.

DC has two big problems. (1) They don’t have many original/special characters. Instead they have ARMIES of Flashes, armies of Green Lanterns, armies of Supermen/boys/girls, armies of Bat-people, Justice Leagues, Societies, All-Stars, Titans, Teen Titans, on and on and on. DC suffers from super-hero diarrhea!

And (2) Every “crisis” tangles up continuity worse than ever. DC was much simpler and better with Schwartz’s Earth One and Earth Two. Two separate continuities.

The event was good, just hope the aftermath will be good too, sometimes ( who am I kidding. MANY times), after the event everything goes wrong: big last-page-cliffhanger-changes are destroyed in a single page in some forgotten book, good characters are wasted, etc. Fingers crossed . . .

Peace.

There are no bad characters, just bad writers. Johns takes things that never held my interest in the slightest (Barry Allen, Aquaman, Hawkpeople, LOSH) and makes me beg for more. Good job.

I don’t know that the Green Lantern issues are required reading. I picked up some of them to get a fuller picture of the story, but I didn’t get all of them. Frankly, I didn’t feel like I was missing anything without them.

On the other hand, I could see somebody who reads Green Lantern only get annoyed at having to read BN. I imagine that when the collected editions come out, the BN collection will read like a single story, while GL will read like a bunch of clumped-together tales with no internal resolution (other than the John Stewart storyline, which is only half the picture).

This is a really good analysis. I’ll be referring to this in the paper on Geoff Johns I’m currently researching, to be sure. Thanks!

Oh, and I don’t know if this has been done, but why not put Ralph and Sue Dibny, now that they are detectives and all, in Detective Comics? Just a thought.

Yeah, I really hope there are some plans for Ralph and Sue.

I really thought the series started out great and ended good. I’m happy Hawk, Firestorm, Aquaman and J’onn are back. And wow, what’s up with Deadman? I’m very intregued.

Zodiac Firebroom

April 11, 2010 at 2:36 am

Thanks for the interesting article. Let’s not kid ourselves about “new readers” though, shall we? Comics of this nature are reward for years of commitment to an increasingly hermetic narrative, a dose of the hards stuff for all the guys that have built up their tolerance since pre-puberty. Green Lantern will gain popularity soon enough, but you can thank the upcoming film and doubtless spin-off computer games for that.

All due respect to Johns…
Ivan Reis made “The Blackest Night” worth buying.

The story wasn’t bad, per se, but these “events” can be tiresome in that to get the FULL story, you have to read so many tie-ins.

Ivan Reis reminds me of Neal Adams, and Adam Hughes (with a dash of John Byrne circa 1981). I’ll definitely be buying whatever he draws next.

@ Matter-Pooper Lad
“DC has two big problems. (1) They don’t have many original/special characters. Instead they have ARMIES of Flashes, armies of Green Lanterns, armies of Supermen/boys/girls, armies of Bat-people, Justice Leagues, Societies, All-Stars, Titans, Teen Titans, on and on and on. DC suffers from super-hero diarrhea!”

Isn’t this true of all major comic book characters, regardless of companies? Look at the fact we now have 3 versions of wolverine, two captain americas, secret avengers, new avengers, dark avengers, west coast avengers, avengers, deadpool diarrhea from marvel, billions of hulk characters- Marvel do thuis just as much as DC.

In regards to continuity problems this is true, but i would rather that this was the case than every event leading into the next maor event – Marvel’s Civil War led into the Skrull crossover, then Dark Reign, now Seige – it seems endless! At least DC do limit the amount of mini series they attempt to tie in.

Anyone else think Ted Kord got shafted big time? My apologies to anyone who may have read or overheard me bitching about this for the last two weeks, but it has to be said. While I’m interested in seeing how Max Lord’s return plays into the upcoming issues of Booster Gold and Justice League: Generation Lost, I still take his resurrection over Ted’s as a slap in the face.

On an unrelated note, seeing the Black Lantern fridge was one of those moments that just made me burst out laughing.

I thought BN had a lot of great ideas which it unfortunately abandoned too quickly. I wanted more Orange Lantern Luthor and White Lantern Sinestro. And no, I don’t want to read the tie-ins. If they’d spent less time on two-page Where’s Waldo? spreads, they could have told more story in the series proper.

I also think the book was at odds with itself at times. Issue #1 is a great example of internal contradiction: it starts off with Hal and Barry talking about how all the heroes seem to come back from the dead, which tends to take the piss out of the Hawks dying at the end of the issue. Similarly, all the back-from-the-dead heroes becoming White Lanterns was a great moment, but it took the piss out of Sinestro becoming the sole WL and standard-bearer, which was probably the single greatest twist of the series.

All in all, I’d say I liked it, but too many big action shots and not enough focus on character.

I’ll pick up at least the first couple Brightest Days and see how I feel about it. I’m cautiously optimistic. I really would like to see a return to the kinder, gentler, more heroic era of superheroes, but DC’s been promising us that since before Infinite Crisis, so I’m not exactly holding my breath either.

Blackest Night has been my favorite event since the original Crisis, and one of the most beautifully drawn as well.

I always had a soft spot for Mera (much moreso than her more famous hubby) and to see her shine in this mini was amazing -so in response to Fireboy up above -I CARE. When she took on Black Lantern WW, I cheered out loud! Wonder Woman’s change from a Black Lantern to a Violet Lantern was ingenious and very believable.

The individual moments of the resurrected heroes at the end was another highlight, my favorite being the very short yet poignent exchange between Supes and J’onn. The subtle visual of Mera comforting Jason once he split up Firestorm just based on what they went through together in this event. There are so many subtleties in this book by both Geoff and Ivan. I couldn’t be more pleased with the ending.

Now something that that hasn’t been discussed so much… who we lost. I remember Tempest and female Hawk (of course, both Titans) being killed and not returning, but who else?

The highlight of the series had to be the BL uniforms. The spin on the original uniform was unique in almost every case (with masses animated in #7 and #8 it wasn’t as good). J’onn in the uniform with the “hand” symbol being his cloak? Brilliant and amazingly creepy in a subtle way. Firestorm’s hand went sideways, replacing the atomic symbol. Every one was unique, yet preserved the theme.

The story felt a bit rushed at the end, and I really disliked the few VERY open plot holes at the end (why Max and Boomer Sr?) but overall I thought it was probably the best crossover DC has had since DC 1,000,000.

The thing I don’t like about DC is event comics lead to another event comic series, Marvel is no different. Marvel has said they are going to get away from it but as someone previously mentioned we are going to be left with Superman line of books, the Batman line of books, the Green Lantern line of books and at Marvel it is the Avengers line, the X-men line, the Wolverine line, and the Hulk line of books. What does a writer do then. I want to take the character in this direction, but in the parent book they are doing something different or the parent writer is already going in that direction. And the events have tie-ins to the regular series and now extra mini-series that also tie-in. Collecting comics was so much more gratifying in the 70s. And Marvel keeps dunking into the stories from the past: Avengers Origins, Wolverine Origins, Spider-Man and the Secret Wars. It’s one thing to go retro in fashion but in comics???
I love re-reading comics of old which is probably why both companies are producing them in paperback editions like Essentials at Marvel and Showcase at DC. Do you think the creators are getting any royalties from these? They should if they aren’t. If you think you will re-read these comics 10 years from now, then keep buying them, but it you don’t, maybe it’s time to pick up a book or move onto something else.

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