Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Blackest Night (comics)

Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Ivan Reis
Collects: Blackest Night #0-8, Directors Commentary, sketches, scripts for deleted scenes and other bonus material

Ahh, Blackest Night. The culmination of the first five years of Geoff Johns run on Green Lantern and his third big event for DC. Thing is, I'm not a big Green Lantern reader. By all rights, Geoffs run on Green Lantern has a lot of things I generally like in comics - as much as it's been derided by the smarmy corner of internet reviewing, the mutli-colored corps are a hell of a way to throw color around and history will show I like that - but I've long had difficulty really caring*.

To tell the truth, that's been a bit of a problem for me in general regarding Geoff - I'm generally fond of his work, but Teen Titans aside he has quite the affinity for characters I couldn't care less about - but in this case, he threw zombies into the equation. I'm not a rock; I had to get around to this one eventually. It certainly helps that I loved the idea. After all is said and done, this one didn't sell me on the Green Lantern, but I have to admit that this is probably the most accessible - even if it isn't the smartest - event he's done to this point.

So, basically, lots of dudes in neon spandex like killing each other in space with rings that produce colored light. Of course, differences need to be put to the side when, holy crap, black rings show up and start reviving dead bodies. While on Earth, heroes and civilians are celebrating their own day of the dead, honoring the fallen in the line of superheroics. What a lucky coincidence that some black rings are around to raise dead loved ones and have them eat some hearts, right? This looks like a job for... some second stringers!

I'm being snarky, sure, but the idea is pretty sound. Basically, the black rings revive dead heroes and loved ones who could get a rise out of our heroes, causing them to feel emotions. They need these emotions to power up the Black Lantern battery, at which point they could really smack around our heroes. You can see why this was retooled from being just a Green Lantern story to a full on event; there's a lot of potential here for mining the storied DC history - which, at the time, was played as one of DC's defining elements - for emotional drama.

As you can tell by the contents, this was an eight issue event, not including the short zero issue that served as a prologue. That's a hell of a lot of room to work with, arguably too much for an event. These things are sold largely on hype, so somehow you need to keep wowing people each issue, in this case having to do so for eight issues.

To Geoffs credit, he pulls it off. The stakes are high early on and manage to keep going up. Even when you think "this is it, the good guys have it in the bag", Geoff will have one more trick to pull. As such, the book is filled with big moments that will stick in your mind, even if the general story does not. These alone hold your attention very well even in the collection; it must have been really exciting month to month.

It's a good thing Geoff knows how to wow you though, because his writing in this book is not always the sharpest. Some exchanges vary from either hammy to corny, while some of Green Lanterns cracks about "lite bright" and "rainbow brigade" are a little too wink wink, nudge nudge to fan grumblings to really work. For every moment that works - there's some speechifying Flash gives Mera and Atom about halfway through that I thought was effective - there's another that isn't.

Worse still, the book feels like a jigsaw puzzle with a few of the pieces missing. There are some quick cuts that are obvious setups for the tie-ins, but in the process the main story suffers somewhat. Green Lantern is spirited off a third of the way through the book to round up the rest of the corps and doesn't appear again until a while later, the whole recruitment bypassed. Similarly, you could be forgiven for forgetting the Lanterns in space are in trouble too, because after some quick setup early on showing them besieged by black rings, we almost never see them again until the end.

Sloppy, confusing and stupid. Probably easily fixed too with a bit of trimming.

All that said, if you ignore these moments, the book IS readable. Like I said, it's pretty accessible even if you don't care a whit about Green Lantern. This was clearly what they were shooting for. Of course, the fact that "readable" and "genuinely great" aren't the same thing happens to be lost in the process. Still, I'm not sorry I read it, which is a hell of a lot better than some other events I've read.

The event is bolstered by the presence of Ivan Reis, who is on art duties from start to finish. His work is great as always. The coloring isn't quite as lush as Brightest Day - considering this is a story dealing heavily in death, it probably shouldn't be - but the actual linework is still top notch. No artist changes midway through either, which really bolsters the book. Better written events were practically sunk by art shifts partway through; had the same fate befallen Blackest Night I think it would have joined them. Never underestimate the value of a consistent look.

The Score: 7 out of 10

Not as great as I hoped it would be when it was in the midst of monthly serialization, but it's definitely a solid seven. It might have fared better if the Green Lantern issues were included in their proper place; at times it felt like I was only getting half the story. I imagine I will get to that collection eventually. In the meantime, the core event is worth a read at the least. But unless you're a fan of Geoffs ongoing Green Lantern saga I hesitate the recommend an outright purchase.

* Actually, that's not entirely fair. There was a point during Blackest Nights publication where I had honestly considered trying to get into Geoffs Green Lantern starting from Rebirth on. The trade collection plans are what changed my mind. I wasn't happy when I heard the Green Lantern tie-in issues were to be collected separately, as what I'd heard made it sound like they easily slotted in the issues of the event and added a lot of depth. A lot of folks would have just sucked it up and switched off between the two books, but I'd hoped DC would eventually collect Blackest Night and the GL tie-in issues in a big ol' "Ultimate Collection". So far, it hasn't happened.

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