Coming out of DC’s Sinestro Corp War, which was a surprisingly organic event, I had high hopes for Geoff Johns’ followup Blackest Night. The Sinestro Corps War was a fairly self-contained Green Lantern story, bringing both Johns and Ivan Reis’ Green Lantern and Dave Gibbons, Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s Green Lantern Corps together for an old fashioned crossover. Sure, after DC realized the popularity, they rushed to get some one-shots and a crossover or two out but The Sinestro Corps War worked because it wasn’t a huge, company wide event. After that success, I wonder why DC felt the need to tinker with a working formula when it came to Blackest Night?
Ever since Crisis on Infinite Earths, with the first major deaths of the modern DCU in both the Flash and Supergirl, death has been a transient game in DC comics. It looked like Barry Allen was going to be one of those deaths that lasted while Superman, Hawkman, Green Arrow and Green Lantern were all going to be merely story points that were as meaningful as a momentary bump in sales could be. The better part of the last 10 years at DC has been spent both killing off more characters while trying to undo the “mistakes” of the past like Hal Jordan’s vilification and death. After seeing an endless cycle of death/rebirth/death/rebirth, Geoff Johns tries to make sense of it in Blackest Night by killing and bringing back even more characters.
Now packaged in a spiffy looking hardcover (even if it has a hideous airbrushed-looking cover,) DC’s Blackest Night is a poor sampling of what DC Comics can be. Obstinately, Johns and Reis’s Blackest Night is a Justice League story featuring second-string JLAers like Atom, Mera and Firestorm while the Flash and Green Lantern run around just thankful to be alive as dark and horribly obscure forces in the DC universe raise the dead as the zombie-like Black Lanterns. Johns brings characters in as he needs them and tosses them out of the main story as their own spinoff series call for. Blackest Night Teen Titans? Blackest Night JSA? The main Blackest Night book functions both as a jumping off point for those other books and as the clean-up batter as plot points wander aimlessly into and out of Johns and Reis’s main book. This collected presentation of Blackest Night isn’t complete; it’s an half-constructed idea of a story. Maybe if you read all of the Blackest Night books (7 hardcovers at this point according to DC’s website,) you can get a full story but with only this one book, you are left with half complete scenes with no idea where characters come from or where they disappear to.
Maybe the choppy plotting would be easier to overlook if Johns ever satisfactorily built up the threat in this book. He starts out using Black Hand, a Green Lantern villain that he’s been keeping around, but I still have no idea what Black Hand’s role in this story was. A herald, I guess. He seems mildly creepy and ghoulish but never really dangerous. His one act was to kill off a couple of characters whose whole shtick is to be killed and resurrected over and over. Then not to let the late Doctor Light (you remember him from his role in Identity Crisis, yes?) left out, they resurrect a bunch of dead villains to go along with the dead heroes as Black Lanterns. There’s Doctor Light, Maxwell Lord, some snake looking dude and… a guy with a big forehead (Big Foreheadman?)
At almost every turn in Blackest Night, Johns basically tells us that we need to feel the importance of these things but never tells us why. Or worse yet, he just assumes we know who everyone is and how they relate to one another. Big forehead guy? These things are important to Geoff Johns so, by his supreme will, they’re supposed to be important to us? Johns spends so much time coming up with new and different ways to torture, maim and resurrect characters that he doesn’t have any time to make the reader care. A bunch of dead villians rise. Why? A bunch of colorful Lantern warriors show us with Green Lantern. Why? The big bad is some dude named Nekron. Why? The friggin’ Anti-Monitor show us just because I think Ivan Reis likes drawing him. There’s no purpose given to any of the actions in this book.
If you’re going to plunk down the $30 retail for the Blackest Night hardcover, then you need to also get the $25 Blackest Night: Green Lantern, a book that can be best described as the deleted scenes of Blackest Night. In BN: Green Lantern, Johns and penciler Doug Mahnke fill in a lot of the gaps from the main Blackest Night book. It follows Hal Jordan, Carol Ferris and Sinestro as they gather the various spectrum Corps together. In these stories, Johns somehow more effectively creates a sense of threat and doom that was missing from the main series. The opening story of this book, the “origin” of Black Hand, makes him a truly creepy and frightening character, a killer who could do anything at any moment. It was a fantastic set up for Johns to use and, instead, he turned him into some mopey servant of death in Blackest Night.
The other stories reprinted in BN: Green Lantern feel like plot points that should have been in the main series but were dropped. Ideally, you should read a chapter in Blackest Night and then a chapter in Blackest Night: Green Lantern. With the two books working together, Johns manages to tell something that feels like a complete story. Hal Jordan disappears in the page of Blackest Night and his story is picked up in BN: Green Lantern. When he finally reappears in Blackest Night, there’s no explanation to how he suddenly has a small team of different Lantern corps with him. There’s also a 2 part story in BN: Green Lantern that brings the Spectre into the grand Blackest Night tale, nicely echoing Green Lantern: Rebirth. Blackest Night: Green Lantern has almost everything that’s missing from Blackest Night, except it’s still as choppy and incomplete as the main book.
Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corp by Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason gets to be the complete story that the other books cannot. The only problem (if you want to call it that) is BN: GLC exists purely as a side story to Johns’ books. In terms of the overarching story of Blackest Night, BN: GLC is pretty inconsequential but Tomasi makes up for that by telling the story of the attack on Oa, the planet that’s the Green Lanterns’ base of operations. He actually shows the emotional attacks and consequences of the Black Lanterns, much better than Johns did in either of his series. Tomasi makes the Black Lanterns a real danger to the universe.
While it’s not always been the better book, Tomasi’s Green Lantern Corps has been a consistently stronger book than Johns’ Green Lantern. As he shows here, Tomasi is able to bring together a large cast, a ton of different concepts and a pretty good sense of pacing. The threats to Kyle Rayner and Guy Gardner feel much more insidious than anything that Atom or Mera face in the main series. There’s a sense of the true danger in BN: GLC with the threat of Oa falling into the hands of the Black Lanterns. Tomasi has a lot of the same story concerns and plot elements to use as Johns does but while Johns is telling the big picture story, Tomasi gets to tell the smaller and more personal stories. Ultimately, Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corp is the most satisfying read to be found in these three books.
The one thing that’s consistently good between these three books is the art. Ivan Reis, Doug Mahnke and Patrick Gleason are three of the best artistic storytellers DC has right now. Reis’s art is the most classical of the three, a blend of John Buscema and Alan Davis. Simply put, he draws really nice superhero comics. Mahnke is a clear storyteller like Reis but he can pull of the alien creepiness of the Black Lanterns better. I wonder if the story would have been better served by switching the books Reis and Mahnke worked on? Gleason fits in great on BN: Green Lantern Corps because he draws some of the best looking aliens. Like Mahnke, Gleason creates a nice blend of superheroics and horror.
Between these three books, Blackest Night is one of the better events that DC has attempted lately. It’s more coherent than Final Crisis, more interesting than Infinite Crisis and less questionable than Identity Crisis. At its core, Blackest Night was a superhero zombie tale. The idea and concepts were there for this one; it’s just too bad that the execution ultimately is weak and fractured. You don’t get a complete story in the main Blackest Night book. You don’t get a complete story in any of them, though BN: Green Lantern Corps comes the closest to providing one. In the end, Blackest Night feels like a series of missed opportunities and plot points that go nowhere except into other books.