Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Lex Luthor Strives For Unlimited Power In The Black Ring - Volume Two!

The Good: Decent artwork, Engaging plot, Decent resolution
The Bad: Oddly unsatisfying catharsis, Light on character development, Secret Six interlude
The Basics: Lex Luthor rises to his greatest heights as he searches for the power behind the Black Power Rings in The Black Ring - Volume Two!

Last year, for a time quite a bit shorter than I would have liked, I worked for a comic book shop. At that time, it was when Action Comics #900 was released. I thought it was hilarious and ridiculous when the store’s owner only ordered three copies of comic book and had no ability to get more in (and was seriously distressed when he did not have any for the shelves when it was released). At the time, I had no idea that that issue would be part of a story I actually cared about. That storyline was a tangent to the Brightest Day Saga and I enjoyed The Black Ring - Volume One (reviewed here!) quite a bit. It almost surprises me that it has taken me this long to pick up and read The Black Ring - Volume Two. The Black Ring - Volume Two is the volume that includes Action Comics #900.

The Black Ring - Volume Two is a good book that does the heavy lifting of explaining the biggest niggling mysteries left from the Blackest Night Saga (reviewed here!). As well, one of the exceptional aspects of the book is that it does not simply degenerate into a standard “kill the villain” style plot. Writer Paul Cornell does a decent job of making a more cerebral than obvious climax and The Black Ring - Volume Two has a decent steady progression toward the inevitable climax that pits Lex Luthor and Superman against one another for yet another epic turn.

Picking up where the first volume ended, Lex Luthor’s quest to find the lingering Black Power Ring and manipulate the twelve orbs that are associated with it, has met with a serious snag: Vandal Savage. The immortal Vandal Savage has arrived at Lex Luthor’s offices where he menaces everyone because he believes Lex Luthor will fulfill a prophecy that states that Luthor will bring Vandal Savage his first joy in eons. But Luthor has a trick up his sleeve: he has hired the Secret Six to protect him, including Scandal Savage, Vandal’s estranged daughter. Surviving the attack on his offices, Lex Luthor renews his quest to find the remaining black energy pockets and tap the power he is convinced is associated with them.

After reviewing his personal history, which includes his thwarting of Darkseid and his tutelage under Ra’s Ah Ghul, Lex Luthor is attacked by Larfleeze (the Orange Lantern) and interviews the Joker for possession of another orb. Luthor’s quest takes him and his Lois Lane android into space where he confronts Brainiac and the power behind the Black Lanterns, culminating in a conflict with Superman that gives him the opportunity to change the entire universe.

The Black Ring - Volume Two is clever and was well worth the wait, if for no other reason than the artwork is largely incredible. Outside the narrative digressions – the inclusion of the Darkseid/Ra’s Ah Ghul section which does not progress this plot, but does fill in quite a bit of Lex Luthor’s backstory – are generally all right, but the best parts of The Black Ring - Volume Two are the ones that focus on Lex Luthor’s insatiable quest.

Paced exceptionally well for the primary story, The Black Ring - Volume Two is an escalation that pits Lex Luthor against several of the more powerful villains in the DC Universe. In many ways, this is the “Best Of Lex Luthor” as he works his way through the final powerful individuals with whom he has had associations in the past. What is surprising is how Paul Cornell manages to make what could be very canned reversals seem natural and sensible. Cornell plays off the intelligence of Lex Luthor to make such reversals seem plausible.

One of the biggest issues with The Black Ring - Volume Two is that it includes a chapter that focuses on the Secret Six, a chapter written by Gail Simone. I like Gail Simone’s work on Wonder Woman and Birds Of Prey, but I am not a fan of Secret Six. As much as I tend to enjoy the narrative voice Simone possesses in her other works, it is a huge distraction in this more serious, focused work. The chapter she contributes is necessary for having the plot progress and ensuring that the story ends appropriately with issue #900, but it is a serious, distracting, digression in terms of plot and (more importantly) narrative technique and character focus.

In graphic novel form, The Black Ring - Volume Two includes alternate covers and production sketches, which enhances the value of it. While The Black Ring - Volume Two does not have the Brightest Day banner on it, this is the culmination of an important story that is relevant to fans of the Blackest Night and Brightest Day Sagas. And for those who want a powerful resolution to the conflict between Superman and Lex Luthor, The Black Ring - Volume Two actually delivers enough to please readers.

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
Green Lantern Corps: The Weaponer
Green Arrow: Into The Woods
Justice League: Generation Lost – Volume 1
Justice League: Generation Lost - Volume 2
The Flash: The Dastardly Death Of The Rogues


For other book reviews, check out my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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