Thursday, July 16, 2009

Blackest Night 1

I don't read Green Lantern Comics pretty much at all, and Geoff Johns is not one of my favorite comic book writers. I read a chunk of his JSA and was unimpressed, I do not remember why -- I don't remember any of the issues. I read Infinite Crisis, which I think has the Johns hallmarks -- deep continuity callbacks and over the top violence. It was sort of serviceable, but had a lot of foolishness in it. Like JSA I don't really remember it too well. I was so interested in Blackest Night as an idea -- that preview so many wagons ago really go my attention -- that I read Sinestro Corp War. I loved the idea of the Anti-Monitor and Cyborg Superman as members of the Sinestro Corp because it is so ballsy and insane, but much of the Space War / Space Cop stuff I found pretty dull. Matt Fraction said that nothing puts him to sleep faster than elves on horseback and I think that is how I feel about seeing tons of throwaway designs for various aliens with little captions that say "Ring at .002% power" and whatnot. Twists like the Lanterns being able to kill lead to the most obvious moral discussions and violence. The rainbow corps is one of those ideas you have to love because it is so unashamedly what it is -- the product of a 12 year old imagination, taken as far out as you can think it.

Blackest Night is a fantastic idea, especially at Didio's DC. Marvel had Marvel Zombies, but that was for the most part a kind of throwaway gag, a chance to see all the characters mashed up in a totally different genre. Blackest Night is able to so something quite smart -- make a plot point out of DC's massive body count, a body count that comic books kind of demanded by the "Event" climate of the moment, where comics are made important by major characters dying, hopefully in such a way as to get press like Captain America did. Superboy dies at the end of Infinite Crisis, and Ralph and Sue die in Identity Crisis. Plus the general violence of DC comics as symbolized by Kyle Rainer girlfriend being stuffed in a refrigerator and the "women in refrigerator" site that sprung up around it. Johns puts that image right in the first issue here.

But the other things comics are famous for is bringing dead characters back to life. Morrison made this point more than a dozen years ago in JLA when Superman goes to the grave of Metamorpho: he is distressed that no one is there to pay respects but the guy at the grave tells him "you people come back all the time." Even the two sacred cows of superhero death -- Bucky and Jason Todd, the only characters who you thought were really going to stay dead -- came back, as did Barry Allen in Final Crisis. Comics are more and more driven by nostalgia, and that nostalgia means people want to see the things they knew come back; if they are dead, they have to come back to life. They will never accept anyone other than Hal Jordan as the Green Lantern so back he must come -- the reason Johns got the Green Lantern gig in the first place, I think.

So Blackest Night makes perfect sense. It is able to take advantage of the exhaustion and body count of Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis and Final Crisis -- an exhaustion that could have been counted against it as just one more DC event -- and turn it to a virtue. And it takes advantage of the great visuals Marvel Zombies has been enjoying for years, but with the added fun that they are totally in continuity. And the images are fantastic -- the black swarming rings like flies swarming through the universe, licking Batman's Skull, a Guardian chomping on a Guardian, the dead heroes being chosen and rising, Black Martian Manhunter, Ralph and Sue, realizing that Hawkman and Hawkgirl are next -- hilariously after being back for like five minutes (they died at the end of Final Crisis right?). Jonathan Kent -- could he be among the returned? Awesome. Interesting that the Enlongated Man is so important as a Black Lantern -- not only is he from the first of the violent crisis sequels but it was Reed Richards that set the zombie thing in motion over at Marvel. The hungry jaw dislocated open is such a horrific image, and so many movies use it for horror -- I guess you can't resist it when you have characters like Mr Fantastic and Ralph Dibney around.

As a system for image deployment this is great, but as a story -- not so much. There is no sense of place at all -- where are those Black Lantern's rising from? Establishing the back-story of the Green Lanterns of Earth -- a story I, unlike a lot of the readership, actually needed -- seemed really badly done, just uninteresting, and unclear (what is the story with Ice?). Damage and Atom Smasher -- are these real characters? There whole conversation seemed really silly. The JLA morgue -- what? A splash page of dead heroes for Barry after pages and pages of graveyards? And this conversation between the Hawkpeople was dreadfully hitting the nail on the head again and again and again. You just can't create this sense of epic doom by in a handful of pages if you are going to also have the image of Hawkman on a phone WITH A CORD in that group of pages.


James said...

Morrison wrote the Hawkpeople as dying at the end of Final Crisis, but Dan Didio did(io) some in-interview retcons, saying that those were Hawkpeople from another Earth, and the main Hawkpeople were fine.* I guess so they could die far more graphic deaths in Blackest Night #1.

*This had the hilarious side-effect of Dwayne McDuffie having to re-write a JLA scene at the lettering stage, so instead of visiting Hawkgirl's grave, Red Arrow makes gay sex jokes while looking sad in a cemetery.

Marc Caputo said...

I feel that with this comment, I may anger the legions of geeks and continuity porntsers that I share an allegiance with, but even I winced when I read in Tales of the Lantern Corps tie-in miniseries (see?) - "A blue ring can charge a green one and can also de-charge a yellow one."

Hoo-boy - that's a little D&D for me...

Jason said...

So is the premise of "Blackest Night" that there are black power rings re-animating corpses and turning them into "black lanterns"? I think I figured it out by the end of the post, but I was a bit confused at first.

You did not establish your premise properly in this post, Geoff. You just assumed your readers already knew.

You're as bad as Johns!

(I am teasing, of course. You probably didn't need the disclaimer, but, well, ya know -- Internet.)

scott91777 said...

I've said it before, I'll say it again, Geoff Johns writes glorified Fan-fiction... However, given the fan driven nature of comics I'm not sure its entirely innappropriate.

However, he is over-the-top, not only in his violence, but in his characterization. People (including you Geoff) accused Claremont (sorry, Clairmont) of being maudlin... but this issue? Man, the whole thing with Barry Allen finding out everyone who had died with Ralph and Sue, supposedly, being some big emotional moment? It just rant hollow to me. And the line about "She made the atom feel small"? Was this supposed to make me laugh or cry? Both? It did neither, it just made me groan.

I'm, once again, reminded of the Mark Twain bit about how (in good fiction) "Living persons should always be distinguished from corpses" and "all persons, living or dead, should present significant purpose for being there". With Blackest Night it seems like Johns has created a tale where he can unabashedly ignore these rules.

Also, what does it say DC thinks about the average comics fan that the promotional 'Black Lantern' ring they were giving out was too big for me, a grown man, and STILL had room to be FURTHER expanded?

scott91777 said...

Oh, and Geoff,

as a matter of fact, I just so happenned to come up with the idea for a Yellow Lantern Corp, plus a couple of other colors when I was 12 years old.... Johns owes me royalties :)

Andy said...
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Andy said...

Some of your confusion at the end of the review is clear to people who have been reading GL since Johns came to the title. The Black Lantern is powered by the corpse of the Anti-Monitor (end of Sinestro War) and you only have to go back 2 GL issues for another explanation of this. As for "elves on horses", it just depends on you're familiarity to the subject matter. Marvel's Annihilation event was completely lost on me, yet I'm on board for this event.

I know many comic readers are crying "event overload" but I'm hoping Blackest night becomes a commentary on the revolving door of Death in the DCU and that by the end, Johns has setup a strict policy for editors to fall back upon.

As for Johns' writing, yes there are times when his his inner child takes over, but for the most part I think he writes great superheroes. In actuality, mainstream superheroes have been written by fans ever since Stan Lee moved up to management. Roy Thomas, Jeph Loeb - these guys were in the letter columns of 60's Marvel books. Bendis, Fraction, these guys grew up on '70's Marvel so they dust off Luke Cage and Iron Fist out of the mothballs.

Oh and the Atom scene made me sad and it's one of my favorite scenes in the book, but I liked Identity Crisis.

speedreeder said...

I liked it, I mean it's not great literature, but it's a fun and interesting romp, and there does seem to be some commentary of the high body count DC has accumulated over the years. There was some funny commentary on the state of superhero comics in the book, especially the scene with the Flash and GL talking about how twisted the villains (and comics in general) have become in the last 25 years. I also appreciate the fact that the undead aren't mindless zombies, but are more of a thinking person's zombie.

I think I agree that Geoff Johns writes glorified Fan-fiction, because he still seems like a big fanboy, that said, maybe that's why his books do well, he seems to know what the fans want. That said, he doesn't seem to be in his element writing big epics with a beginning middle and end. Johns is pretty good at delivering a pretty-good comic every month for years on end. His other talent is his ability to update any given character and incorporate all kinds of weird continuity, and make the character work for a modern audience.

speedreeder said...
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speedreeder said...

Geoff, I just wanted to add, that this is a DC fan's dream come true, Damage and Atom Smasher are real characters; Damage is the illegitimate son of, and Atom Smasher is the protegé of the golden age Atom. I thought the JLA morgue was a kind of funny take on the state of superhero comics since the grim and gritty days. I thought is was kind of funny that Johns would just spell out what always happens to the Hawks, and of course kill them off.
I thought the undead Elongated Man made a few points, he was the focus of the first of the Violent Crisis sequels, but if a lightweight character like EM is able to take down a heavyweight character like Hawkman, this is going to be a massacre.

Two explanations of Hawkman with a cord phone, he has to still use a land line so his best-bud, the Atom, can travel through the phone line, or his old fashioned sense of weaponry extends to his choice of home appliances, he's probably got a black and white TV tucked away somewhere.