09 May 2012

Review: Blackest Night

Blackest Night
Geoff Johns - Writer
Ivan Reis - Penciller
Oclair Albert - Inker
Rob Hunter (Prologue), Julio Ferreira (Part Two), Joe Prado (Parts Three-Eight) - Additional Inks
Alex Sinclair - Colorist
Nick J. Napolitano - Letterer
Ivan Reis & Oclair Albert with Alex Sinclair - Covers
Date of Publication: 13 July 2010 (hardcover collected edition)
Cover Price: $29.99
304 pages

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was a regular reader of DC Comics from 1989 through 1994. By the end of those five years, I was simply exhausted from having to buy upwards of ten comics monthly just to keep up with Batman and Superman. Then came the "Zero Hour" event, marketed as a jumping-on point for new readers. I instead jumped off. I had become interested in Green Lantern right around that time, though, and there was just the one book to read. Plus, the story arc at the time was "Emerald Twilight," in which Hal Jordan snapped and killed all the other Green Lanterns to use their rings to kill Sinestro, and that set up newbie Kyle Rayner as the lone Lantern. It was accessible to me, so I kept reading. Eventually, though, I bailed on that, too, around 2000.

Since then, DC decided that they didn't really want Kyle to be the only Lantern so Geoff Johns was tasked with resurrecting not just Hal Jordan, but everyone. This kicked off a sort of sprawling space opera in the GL mythology the last several years and I kept hearing about it but, just like the 90s, there didn't seem to be an easy jumping on point. Last year, I picked up DC's Free Comic Book Day offering, presenting Johns's update of the origin of Hal Jordan. There was an ad in the comic for an assortment of recent collected editions of all that has taken place in the comics since those mass resurrections. I was briefly interested, but then I realized I would have to start at the beginning and work my way through eight volumes just to know what was happening and why. I passed.

Yesterday, though, I happened to find the Blackest Night hardcover at my local library. I decided to just read it and see what made sense. I was able to keep up just fine, but what I couldn't find was a reason to care. The plot amounts to "ZOMG! You know what would be awesome? If the whole DC Universe had to fight zombies with the Care Bear stare!" It's not without potential, but at no point did I ever feel this needed to be a DCU event. It could very easily have been confined to the Lanterns, and if they had gone that route, enough attention might have been paid to enough characters that I would have cared about them.

I did read the Identity Crisis mini-series when it was first published, so I got the subplot about Ray Palmer, Sue Dibney, et al but for casual or new readers, that's all treated as assumed knowledge. It's a microcosm of everything that has alienated me from mainstream superhero monthlies for about 17 years: The storytellers have often been so far down the rabbit hole that they forget not everyone is down there with them. There's a promotional piece for this story on the Green Lantern: First Flight Blu-ray, and Dan DiDio just gushes over what he got Geoff Johns to do with this. Both that promotional piece and the work itself smack of glorified fanfic. There should be a better reason for a sprawling storyline besides, "Wouldn't it be really cool to have lots of splash pages with all these characters?!" (Admittedly, Ivan Reis's art is gorgeous and the guy has a terrific talent for such large scale imagery.)

Johns does imbue the story with some nice character moments, most of which take place between Hal and then-recently-resurrected pal Barry Allen (The Flash). There's some nice stuff with Mera, Aquaman's wife; Ray Palmer (The Atom) and a small flicker of stuff with Hawkman and Hawkgirl. There's some nice humor, too; the Firestorm zombie genuinely made me chuckle a few times. But, much like the Star Wars prequels, all the reasons I was supposed to have for actually caring about the fate of most of the characters was outsourced or assumed and not in the story itself.

Maybe it played different in the frenzy of so many issues in so little time, especially since there were concurrent Blackest Night stories woven in the pages of other comics not included in this volume. I don't know. But this collected edition just felt obvious and uninspired, and rather than leaving me excited for more, I was more or less just grateful to have finished slogging through it.

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