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Blackest Night

November 21st, 2012
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My read-through of Geoff Johns’ run on Green Lantern continues!  Click here to read my comments on Mr. Johns’ re-launch of the Green Lantern universe with Green Lantern: Rebirth, here for my thoughts on the epic Sinestro Corps Saga, and here for my thoughts on Secret Origin and the set-up for Blackest Night, in which the other color/emotion-based Lantern Corps were revealed.  Now at last I have arrived at Blackest Night.

Blackest Night — The emotional spectrum created by all living things has been revealed to be powering not just the Green Lanterns, but seven different color-based corps.  Some are altruistic (the Green Lanterns, the Blue Lanterns), some villainous (the Yellow and Red lanterns), and some could go either way (the Star Sapphires, the Indigo Tribe).  But all are menaced by the rogue Guardian who has unleashed an eighth corps: the Black Lanterns, composed of dead men and women from across the universe, including many familiar DC heroic characters.  This volume collects the nine-issue Blackest Night miniseries.  Though it spins directly out of the events in the Green Lantern comic, this series spans the DC universe and was thus told as a separate mini-series, rather than as issues of the regular GL comic.  Helping maintain precise continuity with the events in Green Lantern that fans had been following, Blackest Night is told by the regular Green Lantern team: writer Geoff Johns and Artists Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert.

It’s a tour de force saga, huge and epic.  The story contains universe-spanning action, but also remains tightly focused on the characters.  Yes, I’m interested in watching all seven corps fight a Guardian gone mad, but I was far more riveted by the emotional character stories being told.  Mera’s feelings towards her dead husband Arthur (Aquaman).  The tragic ends of Hawkman and Hawkwoman, and the young kids comprising Firestorm.  (I couldn’t believe how powerful I found Gen’s final scene to be, considering I’d never heard of her before reading this series.)  I loved the strong focus on Hal Jordan and Barry Allen (the Flash)’s friendship.  This story is steeped in DC comics lore, and it brings in heroes and villains outside of the regular Green Lantern characters.  (The Flash and the Atom both have major parts to play, as does Lex Luthor, the Scarecrow, and more.)  There’s a lot of drama and pathos to be wrung from watching the DC characters deal with the return of their friends and allies thought long-dead, and that is without question the meat of the story.  There’s also a lot of super-hero versus zombie action.  It’s all great fun.  The three main villains (the Guardian nicknamed Scar, The Black Hand, and eventually the embodiment of death, Nekron) are all great villains, and together seem to represent a nearly insurmountable series of foes for our heroes (the way the bad-guys in any great adventure story should).  (Although I will comment that Nekron reminded me quite a lot of Mandrakk, the out-of-nowhere villain of the last issue of Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis…)  In the end, and rightly so, the focus returns to Green Lantern, and the standard-bearers for the other six-colored corps.  Some really crazy stuff goes down in the final two issues, leading to the discovery of yet another colored lantern: a White Lantern.

I have a few quibbles about the very end of the story.  There’s a revelation that the first life-form in the universe was born on Earth, rather than Oa, which seems a little silly.  Yes, the humans always save the day in these Green Lantern stories, but the Green Lantern universe is based on the idea of the galaxy being FILLED with life, and that humanity was a fairly young and un-advanced species (at least in the eyes of many aliens, including the Guardians of the Universe).  Learning that in addition to Earth always being at the center of these stories, and the humans always being the heroes, all of the life in the universe began on Earth is just a bridge too far for me.  I also wasn’t in love with the much-ballyhooed resurrections at the end.  It’s a good way to bring some good characters back into the DC Universe, I guess.  But while it’s suggested that there is some reason for those particular characters having been resurrected, I doubt we’ll ever be given a convincing reason.  We all know those characters were picked because the DC editors/writers felt they’d be the best fodder for new stories.

Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert turn in career-defining work on the art in this series.  Page after page they absolutely blew me away with the detail and complexity of their drawings.  Absolutely stunning stuff.  I loved Mr. Reis’ occasional use of the horizontally laid-out double-page spread.  It started to feel like an iconic device for the series.  There are some incredibly insane splash pages in this book, particularly in the later issues, as we see, for instance, Guy Gardner leading hundreds of multi-colored Lanterns into the fray on Earth, or Hal Jordan leading all of the DC super-heroes AND all of the Lantern corps into battle with Nekron and his undead minions.  My jaw was on the floor with the beauty and the George Perez-level detail of those pages.

This was a fantastic story, in many ways the culmination of all of Geoff Johns’ work on Green Lantern to this point.

Green Lantern: Blackest Night — Unlike many crossovers, Blackest Night felt like a complete story to me.  I didn’t get the sense that big chunks of the story were missing, that I had to go read various cross-over issues to understand.  So when I arrived at this collection of all the Green Lantern issues that were published during the Blackest Night event, I was a bit dubious.  Were these stories going to feel like time-wasters, just killing time while the main Green Lantern story was told over in the pages of the Blackest Night mini-series?

Not at all!!  I was dazzled by these Green Lantern issues.  These were absolutely critical, compelling stories, exploring an entirely different layer to the events of the Blackest Night story.  In many ways, I feel like these issues should have been combined with the Blackest Night issues into one larger collection, with the story moving back and forth between Green Lantern issue to Blackest Night issue and so on.  It is a bit weird to get to the end of reading Blackest Night, and then sort of start the story over at the beginning of this collection, to work our way back through the Blackest Night saga.

But regardless, Green Lantern: Blackest Night feels like an entirely new epic.  Geoff Johns really doubles down, in these stories, on the multi-colored Lantern corps, and the various characters who have been introduced as the standard-bearers for their respective corps (Sinestro, Saint Walker, Atrocitus, Larfleeze, Carol Ferris, and the Indigo Tribeswoman).  Suddenly the Green Lantern comic has turned into a team book, with Green Lantern forced to work with these different characters — some of whom are rather vicious villains — in an attempt to defeat the Black Lanterns.  Each one of these characters gets significant time in the spotlight in this collection, and I was astonished by how much depth Mr. Johns is able to give them all, and how hooked I was by the complex interplay between these very different characters.  The book gets so much energy from just watching these characters bounce off of one another — it’s great!!

The stories in this collection weave seamlessly in and out of the events of Blackest Night. I appreciated the concise text captions at the start of each issue in the collection, explaining what was going on in the corresponding Blackest Night issues.  Not surprisingly, this volume is more of a choppy read that the Blackest Night collection was, since often the key events took place in those pages, rather than here in Green Lantern. But I could easily follow the events, and there was so much great new stuff introduced in these issues that I couldn’t possibly complain.  I loved the Spectre’s role in the story (that was a big surprise to me), and I was shocked to see the return of Parallax (I really hadn’t expected that).  I loved the focus, in the final issues, on the various powerful entities that seem to manifest from the various colors of the spectrum.  Here again, this is a perfectly logical extrapolation of previously introduced ideas by Mr Johns.  We know of Parallax (the fear entity) and Ion (the green will-powered entity), so why wouldn’t all the other colors have their own entities??  Fascinating, and great seeds for future stories.

I wrote in my last post about how I felt Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert seemed like the perfect Green Lantern art team.  But Doug Mahnke’s spectacular work on these issues of Green Lantern made me miss them not at all!  I absolutely adore Mr. Mahnke’s work.  His characters are so bold and well-designed, and I love his precise line-work.  Mr. Mahnke seems to be able to draw anything and make it gorgeous, from Black Hand throwing buildings around to Sinestro and the Star Sapphire fighting Black Lanterns in space.  Just phenomenal work.  I hope Mr. Mahnke sticks around!

These two collections together tell a fantastic saga.  In many ways, this story feels like the event that all of Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern stories have been building towards (and, by the way, I adore the clever title that plays on the Green Lantern oath), but it also has me supremely excited by the stories yet to come.  I feel that Blackest Night was a complete, fully-satisfying story, and yet I am excited and tantalized about the hints as to where the Green Lantern story is going next.  That is a rare feat.  On to the next collection!!

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