Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Blackest Night Has The Potential To Be One Of DC's Greatest Graphic Novels (Just Not This Form!).

The Good: Intriguing story, Great artwork, Good character conflicts
The Bad: Severely lacking in story coherency (missing pieces)
The Basics: Blackest Night, one of the latest DC Universe crossover events is now released in graphic novel form, but is woefully misassembled in the Blackest Night graphic novel.

As part of my Wonder Woman year, whereby I explore everything I can get my hands on having to do with the superhero Wonder Woman, I have been getting sidetracked periodically. Lately, my sidetracking has come in the form of being intrigued with the Blackest Night Saga. Blackest Night is a DC Universe crossover and I was immediately grabbed by the concept of it when I first learned of it. The dead begin to rise in the DC universe as part of a malevolent force and Green Lantern and the Green Lantern Corps must rise to stop the spreading evil.

Before I begin making it sound like I do not like Blackest Night, it is important that I note a few things. First, I loved reading the Blackest Night Saga. Unfortunately, Blackest Night, the single graphic novel is not the whole story and, in fact, it is one of the most fractured graphic novels in the Saga. I wrote an article on how to read the Blackest Night Saga (click here for that!) which illustrates just how fractured the storyline is. “Blackest Night” arguably has the most pieces missing from the main graphic novel anthology and as a result, readers are more likely to be lost or feel like they are being cheated out of a great story. That said, the only real preparation one might need to get into Blackest Night comes at the very end of Green Lantern: Agent Orange (click here for that review!). Despite the overwhelming, DC Universe-engaging nature of the Blackest Night event, the single graphic novel anthology Blackest Night is somewhat more fractured and myopic than the entire saga.

Hal Jordan (Green Lantern) and Barry Allen (the now-resurrected Flash) are discussing the dead among them. Aquaman, Martian Manhunter and Bruce Wayne have all been recent casualties and while the pair discusses their own mortality and returns to life, Black Hand comes to Gotham City and robs Bruce Wayne’s grave. Removing Wayne’s scull from his grave, Black Hand summons a great power from Sector 666. The power takes the form of black power rings which have the ability to raise the dead. As Earth celebrates Heroes Day, a Guardian of the Universe turns on the other Guardians and slaughters them for the Black Lantern. As the rings begin reanimating the dead, the Black Lantern battery begins powering up.

As Green Lantern and the Flash work to save Coast City and the world, they are hampered by the black rings, which not only raise the dead, but turn the oft-resurrected Hawkman and Hawkgirl into Black Lanterns to work for the coming lord of the dead. But when the mysterious Indigo Lanterns, whose power comes from compassion, appear and tell Hal Jordan his time for greatness has come, the Flash is left on Earth to work to save anyone he can from the rising dead. As the undead friends and villains of humanity turn on the Flash, Green Lantern must make peace with his greatest enemy to save the universe from a new evil, Nekron!

Geoff Johns wrote the primary narrative of – and the eight chapters in – Blackest Night. He has a good eye both for character and rising action and his story is a compelling one. While Blackest Night focuses most on Green Lantern, he rightfully starts the graphic novel off with two characters who had been dead discussing the importance of life. The theme, of course, has to be well-established that life is worth living and worth fighting for. Hal Jordan and Barry Allen are good focus characters for that, especially as Allen spent over two decades lost to readers.

That is something very much worth noting. Blackest Night is intended to be a story for fans of the DC Universe. The characters are dealing with life and death on virtually every page and this comes after decades of stories, many of which Johns and his team assume readers have read. From the first major crossover event, Crisis On Infinite Earths, DC has annually done a crossover like the Blackest Night Saga. The thing is, because stories like Identity Crisis and Final Crisis had lasting consequences, characters – like Ray Palmer – mention the outcome of certain stories which will ruin those stories for readers. In other words, Blackest Night comes at a very specific time and place in the DC Universe and the sense of consequence to the massive event is not lost on characters within this graphic novel.

That said, Blackest Night works wonderfully because the graphic novel is overcome with a sense of consequence. Ray Palmer, who has lost many people close to him, is tormented by their return as ghastly creatures who want to kill him and the psychological aspect of him being hunted by people like his dead ex-wife make for a good story. But the focus of the graphic novel Blackest Night is a little more on Green Lantern than anyone else. So, while Geoff Johns and his team must explore just how Wonder Woman, Superman and Aquaman deal with being turned to evil, it is more the struggle of the Lanterns and the rings that preoccupies Blackest Night.

Hal Jordan rises to the occasion in Blackest Night and the real disappointment is how many chapters are missing from the book. Because Blackest Night is simply the eight issues of Blackest Night comic books rebound in a beautiful hardcover edition, readers have chapters that begin with monumental events – like Hal Jordan rescuing and teaming up with Sinestro – presented as mere synopsis. Thus, there is frequently the feeling that the reader is being cheated of the whole story and they are. Blackest Night tries to encapsulate a more universal feeling of what is happening on Earth during the Blackest Night.

In addition to a good story, no matter how fragmented it is, Blackest Night succeeds because the artwork is excellent. Ivan Reis penciled the pages and Oclair Albert inked them and the team has a great sense of style. The pages of Blackest Night pop with both vibrant colors (when appropriate, the Black Lanterns are appropriately black and their skintones are all muted gray) and a great sense of movement, which makes the book come alive as a story. All of the characters are presented in recognizable fashions with none of the artwork appearing to be simple thumbnail sketches. This is clearly a project DC wanted to highlight and they do it expertly by putting a wonderful team of artists on it.

But for as much as I enjoyed Blackest Night, it is simply a component in a larger story and those who want to truly get the most out of it will require other volumes to read between (which is where my article on how to read the Saga comes in handy!). Hopefully, DC will not shy away from an Absolute Blackest Night which puts the entire story, in order, in one immaculate volume. Until then, though, Blackest Night remains one of the essential books for readers to understand the Blackest Night Saga.

For other DC Universe graphic novels, please check out my reviews of:
Kingdom Come
JLA: Secret Origins


For other graphic novel reviews, please visit my index page!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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