Sunday, July 17, 2011

Tangent To The Brightest Day: The Black Ring - Volume 1 Finds Lex Luthor On A Quest!

The Good: Engaging story, Interesting character development, Decent artwork.
The Bad: Uses the same reversal several times, Incomplete story.
The Basics: The Black Ring - Volume 1 has Lex Luthor discovering the universal links between the Black Lantern rings in an opening of a story that makes Lex Luthor look like a courageous explorer!

Regular readers of mine know that it takes a lot for me to read a Superman book. I am just not interested in virtually invincible heroes and Superman lacks a lot of complexity that I like in my heroes. Ironically, the two Superman books I had read before today were Superman: Sacrifice (reviewed here!) which had Superman manipulated as a mind-controlled killer and Luthor (reviewed here!) which has Lex Luthor surprisingly reasonably attempting to save the world from the alien influence of Superman. Similarly, the DC Online Universe Legends - Volume 1 anthology (reviewed here!) focuses more on Lex Luthor than Superman. Regardless, when I saw The Black Ring - Volume 1 in the bookstore recently, I was surprised by two things. The first was that it did not have the Brightest Day banner on it and second that I was actually interested in it!

I've been reading all of the various Brightest Day volumes I can find because I've been enjoying where the DC Universe has gone with Blackest Night and Brightest Day. From the other volumes I have read, I knew that Lex Luthor was off trying to find any remaining Black Lantern Rings and that was an intriguing idea to me. So with The Black Ring - Volume 1 I figured I would finally get my chance to understand why Luthor was after them and how that search went. Unfortunately for me and other readers, The Black Ring - Volume 1 only sets up the story and does not have much in the way of results.

One week before he is hung upside down by three of his adversaries, Lex Luthor is at LexCorp trying to find what might have happened to the Black Rings following the Blackest Night. Lex Luthor fires an employee for talking over him and kills the man's family in front of Lois. After going through a meditation in an Isopod, Luthor has a map that has him prepared to search for the Black Lantern energy. As Luthor prepares to go off with his Loisbot, Mister Mind - a telepathic alien caterpillar - attacks and tries to get Luthor to stop his search. But Luthor overcomes him and heads to Antarctica where he and his team find a giant black orb of altered space, where the very act of scanning it causes its nature to change again.

Believing that the key to life and death might well come from altering all of the spheres on Earth, Luthor and his team head for Busindi National Park, home of Gorilla Grodd. Extracting the Loisbot from Grodd results in an unfortunate encounter with Death for Luthor and sets him up for a meeting with Vandal Savage, who has waited thousands of years for Luthor to come and alter the two spheres he has in Czechoslovakia.

The Black Ring - Volume 1 has its moments of cleverness, but it overuses the same technique far too many times. The revelation that the Lois Lane Luthor is keeping company with is a robot comes early enough to make it a nonissue for most new readers (myself included). But her getting attacked is mirrored by an attack on Luthor with similar results that falls flat for the readers. Paul Cornell has a few decent ideas when it comes to gimmicks, but the revelation that characters are robots is presented in a surprisingly lame way in this book. Unfortunately, the coolest idea Cornell has on a plot and character level comes in the book's last few moments and would spoil the thrill for readers. Sufficed to say, Lex Luthor is the smartest villain in the DC Universe and Cornell has a good grasp on that.

Moreover, Cornell has a decent idea on how to keep Luthor's character fresh and surprisingly cool. The Death segment is little more than a character discussion that brings back a very minor DC Universe character with no consequences, but Luthor palling around with the Loisbot so he has alternate opinions rings as very true for how smart people act. The Mister Mind segment is both psychologically revealing and psychologically smart, which makes Cornell seem very clever as a writer. Mister Mind is a lackey and the visions of Lex Luthor as Dr. Frankenstien, Prometheus and a Sheriff are all clever, but that Luthor is able to see them for what they are is refreshing. Luthor is a smart character and his ability to be metaconscious while under psychic attack is a great idea.

The Mister Mind sequence gives artist Pete Woods a lot of room to have fun and it works out nicely. Woods has fashioned a book that looks great and has a playful quality to it. The colors over Woods' inks are rich and there is a generally good sense of movement to the art. That Woods is using Zooey Deschanel as his Lois Lane model is not a surprise to those with a good eye because he is a talented artist.

Unfortunately, The Black Ring - Volume 1 is hampered some by the feeling that this is a cashgrab. DC Comics has been anthologizing stories and some of the Brightest Day books have eight or more issues in them. The entire Black Ring search could have been a single, larger book which would have been a real character journey for Lex Luthor and been an intriguing chapter for fans looking for a real decent follow up to the Blackest Night. Instead, DC went for the release of a hardcover volume that they can follow up with another one which will add up to more dollars instead of a single story. That's disappointing.

But for what it is, The Black Ring - Volume 1 has what readers of graphic novels want; the sense that the characters are on a journey, not just a series of bizarre encounters that are resolved every 24 pages. This book leans a little too close to the latter idea, but it is satisfying enough to recommend.

For other Brightest Day works, please check out my reviews of:
Brightest Day - Volume 1
Brightest Day - Volume 2
Brightest Day - Volume 3
Brightest Day: Green Lantern
Brightest Day: Green Lantern Corps - Revolt Of The Alpha-Lanterns


For other book reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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