Thursday, April 1, 2010

Blackest Night Review

"The dark things cannot stand the light." So we were told at the end of the first eight-page Green Lantern story back in 1940. It's one of the world's most basic metaphors. The evil we fear is darkness; good is the light that makes it go away. Hal Jordan's oath borrowed the idea from Alan Scott's, stretching his responsibility to include even the "blackest night". For the heroes of the DCU, with Green Lanterns front and center, Blackest Night has come and passed.

For DC Comics itself, Blackest Night has been anything but. In February 2010, DC's seven top-selling comics had at least some link to the event, with the series itself easily outdistancing Marvel's top offerings. Fan reaction has been positive to glowing. Particularly given the grousing that crossover events can generate, Blackest Night has been one of the standout success stories of its kind. The second major event built around Geoff Johns' longer opus magnum run with Hal Jordan as Green Lantern, this series will live fondly in many readers' memory beyond the eleven months it dominated the comic book stores.

The story clearly does a lot of things right to get readers happy: There is big action, mystery, and surprises. Because this was a story where characters could actually die (for good, as well as temporarily), suspense meant more than in a typical issue where the hero has to survive. Encounters between heroes and Black Lanterns were full of emotion -- with the emotion being an important plot element, no less. While the biggest DC characters got their own crossover miniseries, minor characters who had not been seen in years or even decades made appearances. And besides all of the flashbacks, the Flash was back, with Barry Allen seeing some of his first action in years. While the "Trinity" and others had their crossovers, Blackest Night was frequently a buddy flick, the Hal and Barry Show. Barry had the best lines, telling the second-stringers that they were now Superman and Wonder Woman, and staring resolutely ahead when he tells us what we had to know -- that the Black Lantern rings may be fast, but he's faster.

For all of that, the story delivers on its thematic promises in odd or erratic ways. Remarkably, though Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps ranged across many star systems, almost fifty percent of the main series takes place in one fixed spot in Coast City, no bigger than a baseball field! The identity of the villain was withheld for a while, then revealed in an interview; when he arrived, he was almost without personality, a point the story itself asserted. The "rules" of the Black Lantern conflict, as they were revealed, absolutely defined the course of events, but were arbitrary, unforeseeable, and unexplained. Why did the Bruce Wayne clone's skull provide the black power rings? It just did. Why did Dove have the ability to dissolve Black Lanterns? She just did. Why did the seven beams of the seven lanterns have no effect on the Black Central Power Battery? They just didn't. That many prophecies (such as Sinestro saving the day) were fulfilled was never mentioned. The story ran its course and ended with all of those questions unanswered, most of them surely never to be answered, and no reason left for us particularly to care what their answers would have been.

This sort of disconnect was a serious liability in Johns' previous company-wide crossover, Infinite Crisis. That story began with the "Trinity" airing grievances aimed at one another. It ended with that superest of trios walking happily off into the sunset (and a year's furlow) together, with the grievances forgotten, not resolved.

Blackest Night, however, has a deeper meaning, one not rooted in the superheroes of the DCU. What plagues the heroes in this story is the way they remembered their lost loved ones, a concern we all face in real life. The "hearts" that grieving tears out in the real world are the metaphorical ones, the emotions of those left behind in a pain that can occupy and weaken the survivor for however long, until the living turn back to life. This meaning was implicit by the time the series had hit issue #2, but was never developed further nor explained for the benefit of all readers. So the deep meaning with real-world relevance -- a rarity among comic books -- came early and then the action and unpredictable twists driven by rules we learned as we saw them took over.

For the meaning inside the world of the DCU, we find out the upshot in the final pages. Death, for now, really means death again. And the future for the living is bright: Geoff Johns (and Dan Didio) have finally gotten the band back together: The Satellite Era of the Justice League has all [but the Dibnys] of its members alive and well (or will as soon as Bruce Wayne climbs out of the past). Kendra Saunders has been replaced by the Hawkgirl who joined the JLA in the Seventies. Aquaman looks like he hasn't looked since the early Eighties. The Martian Manhunter's two years off have ended (he was sidelined for longer than that in the Seventies just from lack of interest). And with the return of the original Firestorm, it looks like the Justice League, deemed untouchable by Hal in Blackest Night #0, has had their clock reset. At least those individuals have -- whether or not they reform the team remains to be seen. But it's clear that a larger design, restoring all of the figures of DC's shining years of the Bronze Age, has been completed. Getting there came from a hot-selling, fast-moving series that kept us all entertained for almost a year. The world has been refigured into the Satellite Era's image. Now, how is that going to go?


  1. I personally never thought the ripping of hearts could have a greater meaning. Pretty neat if you're right. =p I found the event satisfying, BUT i did find the tie-ins more exciting than Blackest Night itself. It's just that Blackest Night was more about a story with a twist at the end and learning the secrets and whatnot whatnot. Wheres the tie ins (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and GLC) we're just alot more action packed and so forth. Not really saying Blackest Night sucked, but i found the tie-ins alot more exciting. #8 conclusion is both satisfying, but then again it just gives the feeling "ah here it opens for the next big thing" which really ends up being each for their own. Whenever or not youre hyped or "eh okay" about it. :)

  2. I loved the story (just look at my username)