Blackest Night #1

The creative writing has been slow going recently. Nearly done part four, but I’ve been distracted by many things. This is one of them.

I do not consider myself a fan of Geoff Johns. There was a time when I first started reading DC books that I was reading everything Johns wrote except Action Comics. Then, in about a six month period, I dropped every single Johns book I was reading. Booster Gold, JSA, and Green Lantern all got kicked to the curb. I didn’t even consider ordering books like Final Crisis: Rogue’s Revenge or Final Crisis: Rage of the Red Lanterns. I haven’t even bothered with Flash Rebirth. I should mention that I have since picked up Green Lantern again; I dropped it during the Secret Origin story arc that I thought was a gross waste of time considering they had already announced Blackest Night at the end of the Sinestro Corps War in Green Lantern #25. Even still, I think Johns’ issues of the Green Lantern saga have been weaker than what Pete Tomasi has been doing with Green Lantern Corps during the build to Blackest Night. I understand why folks love Geoff Johns. I see him as a sort of modern age Roy Thomas, a guy that is obsessed with the characters of the silver age, and treats those characters with great care. The problem I have with that is I haven’t read those characters. Since I started reading books later than most, I’m also not necessarily in the camp of those people that believe Johns is muscling their characters to the side to bring back these older heroes. I have no attachment to Kyle Rayner or Wally West, so I don’t have the same reaction when Hal Jordan is brought back to life and pushes Kyle to the side, or Barry Allen is brought back to push Wally to the side. From my perspective, it’s more of an example of recursive storytelling and a fear of breaking new ground. You’ve had hundreds of stories with these characters over 25 to 40 years, and the new blood comes in to shake things up, but yet we still end up with Kyle Rayner as a secondary character that was neutered by Johns during the opening salvo of the Sinestro Corps War (he goes from being Ion, the ultimate embodiment of the Green Lantern Corps to having the Parallax entity take him over for about three months to just being another random supporting Green Lantern character in the Green Lantern Corps book). It’s frustrating from the perspective that you have the feeling that more could be done, and Johns is just moving backwards, regardless of whether the stories he writes are good.

And yet, despite all this, I sure did love the hell out of Blackest Night #1. I’m wondering how much of that is because this event is predominantly dealing with comics that I’ve actually read. I think it’s safe to claim that the DC Universe’s obsession with death began with Brad Meltzer’s Identity Crisis, which was in fact the first DC book I ever read. At the time, I didn’t know who a good chunk of the characters were, but that did not diminish my love for the series. In truth, Brad Meltzer is the sole reason why I have any interest in the DC Universe as such. There’s a good chance the buzz surrounding the Sinestro Corps War would have led me to read it anyway, but I had already been reading the DC Universe for a little while at that point, making the transition into the Green Lantern books easier. Much of the subject matter of Blackest Night has to deal with the events of Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis, 52, The Sinestro Corps War, and a bit of Final Crisis, as well as events from tie-in books that spun out of those crossover events. I haven’t read everything associated with these books; I heard rumblings about the return of Bart Allen and Conner Kent, I just wasn’t aware these things had already happened. Even still, I know the players and I know the game, which is making this infinitely (bad pun) more entertaining than either Infinite or Final Crisis.

What I like about the concept of Blackest Night is the idea that Johns is not exactly pulling any punches here. He’s never been known to pull punches in the past, and the beginning of this story is no different. We all speculated leading up to this event as far as who could be a Black Lantern. We talked about Abin Sur (and, prior to Final Crisis, Barry Allen) as possible members of the Black Lantern Corps. I think, for whatever reason, we all thought Johns would be selective in who became a Black Lantern. Turns out, it’s EVERYONE. Just about every possible person you could think of that recently died in the DC Universe is being brought back all zombified. Ralph and Sue Dibny, Arthur Curry, Batman (maybe), Martian Manhunter, Captain Boomerang, most of the Freedom Fighters, Katma Tui, the Golden Age Atom, and the list goes on and on. The issue ends with the Hawks being pretty brutally murdered by the corpses of Ralph and Sue (this is where Ivan Reis absolutely blows me away; Black Lantern Elongated Man is this wondrously twisted visage that is very reminiscent of some of the character designs we saw in Coraline) only to be brought back to join the fight of the Black Lanterns. And the reasons why the Hawks are taken down is really why I have so much interest in this series beyond being a simple zombie horror story.

We don’t have a full picture of the Black Lanterns yet. We know that Black Hand is the “Hal Jordan” of the Black Lantern Corps, the leader and physical embodiment of the zombie horde. We also know that Scar, the Guardian of the Universe that was disfigured by the Anti-Monitor (who, upon his death was resurrected as the Black Lantern Central Battery) during the Sinestro Corps War, is the keeper of the Book of the Black, and has some sense of why the War of Light is happening. The gist is this: death (as such) is pretty annoyed that all these heroes keep coming back to life after their deaths. It happens pretty often in the DC Universe to the point of ludicrous comedy (I’m thinking of the “pray for a resurrection” line from Superman at Martian Manhunter’s funeral during Final Crisis), and it sure seems to be the case from the first issue of Blackest Night, that death is royally pissed off about this and wants some payback. The sheer number of people in the DC universe that are currently on their second (or more) lives is immense. Just off the top of my head, you’ve got Superman, Hal Jordan, arguably all the Flashes save Jay Garrick (Barry, Wally, and Bart, though Wally might never have actually died per se, other than being absorbed into the Speed Force for a while), Jason Todd, Donna Troy, Green Arrow, and those are just the few I could remember without thinking hard.

What I like about this is that it gives the Black Lanterns meaning. It’s not simply just some by-product of the other color lanterns coming to the forefront and fighting each other. The sense is that the Black Lantern rising would have happened regardless of the color war, and that it simply has set the stage for the true apocalypse in a way similar to the death of Baldur heralding the coming of Ragnarok. The Black Lanterns are simply trying to reclaim balance in the metaphysical universe. They want to make death mean something again. And for a universe like DC, this is an incredibly important ideal to uphold. And in a way, from my perspective, that makes the Black Lanterns the good guys. Well, they’re about as good as reanimated zombies that enjoy ripping the hearts out of superheroes and Guardians can be. Their motivations are right at least.

Each major comic universe has its flaws. DC does not take death seriously enough. At the same time, you could make the simple claim that superhero comics in general do not take death seriously enough; I think it’s funny that Marvel gets a lot of credit for achieving the Herculean task of actually keeping Steve Rogers dead for a little over two years. Two years! That’s an incredible achievement! And he’s already coming back! I just can’t imagine the intestinal fortitude of Joe Quesada for having the balls to actually keep Steve Rogers out of the picture for a whole 28 months! I’m sarcastic of course, and there is a sense of bitterness, because when you have a great death like Captain America #25 these days, there’s such a sense that it doesn’t matter and it won’t last, and no one takes it fully seriously. It took months before it sunk in for the Marvel fans that Steve Rogers would not be coming back and there was a new Captain America coming, and they (we, really) would talk about how this was a death that mattered, and here we are in July 2009, and it means nothing. Steve’s coming back and nothing has changed in any fundamental or lasting way. But this is the way of the world. This is the way of superhero comics. My hope is that Blackest Night will put DC on the right foot as far as death in comics is concerned, and there’s a decent chance that it will. Such a move could make the DC universe a lot easier to swallow, especially after the callously handled death of Martian Manhunter, and the not-at-all death of Batman in Final Crisis. The sad thing is even if DC does right the ship, what’s to stop them from fucking it up again two years later like Marvel is doing with Cap Reborn?

Here’s hoping that for once something actually changes. Is that so much to ask?

This post was written to the tune of Muth Math’s self titled album


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