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From A Library: Blackest Night

Blackest Night #0–8
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Ivan Reis

Wow, Geoff Johns really loves Hal Jordan, doesn’t he? There is no other hero more super: he’s the greatest because everyone keeps saying he’s the greatest, and no one else can do what he does. At least according to Johns. This is the equivalent of literary fellatio and it can sometimes feel too intimate to read.

This also reads as rather depressing because of the inherent morbidity. To paraphrase, let’s talk about death, baby: Batman (at the time this came out), J’onn J’onnz, Aquaman, Katana, Tim Drake, Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend Alex, Jade (daughter of Alan Scott). DC, and to an extent its Chief Creative Officer, developed an unhealthy obsession with killing off characters or at least mutilating them in a bloody fashion in the years running up to the Nu52 reboot. Now, I’m not going to proselytise that superhero comic books should be devoid of death and grimness, because firstly that would make me a hypocrite (when I started reading comic books, I read 2000 AD and my first adventures in mainstream superhero comic books had the Mutant Massacre storyline, and I’ve turned out all right, relatively speaking), but secondly I’m not going to tell people how to do their jobs which they have earned (which I realise is an unusual attitude for a blogger). If stories are going to reflect a certain level of reality, then death is part of that reality and can’t be ignored. However, the obsession with violent deaths of characters for sake of sensationalism, headline grabbing or just to shake up the status quo is disturbing and doesn’t do anyone, not the readers or the writers or the industry as a whole, any good now or in the long run.

This book makes the unhealthy fascination with dead characters its central premise and almost fetishizes it: it visits the graves of Pa Kent, Ronnie Raymond, Ted Kord; the Teen Titans memorial, the Valhalla cemetery in Metropolis, the morgue of dead supervillains in the JLA headquarters (there is a double-page spread of dead heroes as Hal shows off the dead) – DC kills a lot of characters for the sake of stories, and it’s rather wearisome.

It’s not long before the bloody violence appears in this book: a Black Ring-controlled Guardian bites out the throat of another Guardian and pulls out his heart – there should be a warning on the front of DC books: ‘Please read our disturbingly violent comic books responsibly’ – and Hawkgirl is stabbed through the heart with a spear, because that’s the sort of thing that DC wants to publish for youngsters today, apparently. Johns comes across as a person at conflict with himself, because he loves DC’s superheroes but he also loves to kill them off in graphic fashion.

The sad thing is that the idea of this book is actually interesting – a Black Lantern power battery sends out thousands of rings that bring back to life all the dead heroes, creating a Black Lantern Corps decked in funky black uniforms, and sets them out to kill all the live heroes, which brings about drama and conflict as well as an examination of a character after death brought about by living a heroic life. It’s just a shame that the central conceit requires so much death for the story to work; it demonstrates how cheap death is in comic books and how regularly it is used (thus losing the intensity of the dramatic reason of death).

Blackest Night #8 coverJohns is a good writer, despite his psychopathic tendencies, and he does set up the premise of the book well and escalates the tension before introducing the potential saviours in the form of the spectrum of the power rings (red=rage, orange=greed, yellow=terror, green=will, blue=hope, violet=love, indigo=compassion), which is an admittedly silly idea but then this is comic books and Johns knows how to sell it in the writing.

As a story, there is a minor glitch between the end of issue four and the start of issue five (did I miss an important tie-in issue that isn’t collected?) because the Lanterns of all colours are together – Hal (green), Sinestro (yellow), Star Sapphire (violet), Larfleeze (orange), Saint Walker (blue), Atrocitus (red) and Indigo-1 (indigo) – looking for the Black Lanterns (there’s a nice double-page spread of them reciting their individual oaths, except for Larfleeze). There are other nice twists, such as the Black Rings affecting those heroes who died and come back (Wonder Woman, Superman, Superboy, Bart Allen, Green Arrow) except for Barry Allen and Hal (Barry runs to avoid them). Another nice touch is for Ganthet, one of the Guardians of the Universe, to become a Green Lantern and activate the other colours to deputise like-minded individuals, turning Barry Allen into a Blue Lantern, Lex Luthor into an Orange Lantern, Scarecrow into a Yellow Lantern, Ray Palmer into an Indigo Lantern, Wonder Woman into a Star Sapphire, Mera into a Red Lantern; I thought this was pretty cool, which shows how much of a sucker I am for these things in comic books.

The art in this book is impressive from Reis – there are some great ‘Fuck Yeah!’ double-page spreads throughout, drawn spectacularly by Reis, such as the full complement of different Lantern corps arriving behind John Stewart and the spread of all the heroes arriving for the big fight at the end, but particularly the when the heroes turn into the White Lantern Corps – there is something especially cool about seeing Hal and Barry and Superman and Wonder Woman in white costumes that tickled the superhero-loving side of my brain something special. I’ve always thought that Reis was an above average exemplar of the current DC house style, but he does a great job here, and I shall have to upgrade my opinion; he has a strong style, good storytelling skills, sharp anatomy, a good line and a perfect choice for this sort of company-wide book.

Enjoying the book despite myself and the constant cheerleading for Hal Jordan, I did find the ending a bit weak after all the build-up and the hand-waving to return some heroes to life at the end was very flimsy. However, Blackest Night is an entertaining read and enjoyable while it lasts; if you love Hal Jordan as much as Johns does, you’ll probably enjoy it even more.

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