Thursday, July 16, 2009
Writer: Geoff Johns
Pencils: Ivan Reis
Inks: Oclair Albert
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Story Rating: 6 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 9 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 7.5 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: We begin with Black Hand digging up Bruce Wayne's grave. Black Hand holds Bruce's skull. The mysterious voice from the Black Lantern talks to Black Hand about how everyone must succumb to death. We cut to the main Black Lantern batter. Suddenly, thousands of black power rings explode from the Black Lantern battery. We cut back to Black Hand licking Bruce Wayne's skull. (Really? This character is such a joke.)
We zip forward to twenty four hours later in Coast City. The people are celebrating the day that Superman came back to life. It is a national holiday where people celebrate the good works of super heroes and the super heroes who have fallen in the line of duty as well as the innocent lives they have failed to save.
Hal narrates how brave people sought to re-populate Coast City after everyone said that no one would ever move to Coast City again. Hal gives the entire back-story of Coast City which I am not going to repeat once again.
We then see Hal streaking onto the scene with John Stewart, Guy, Kyle and a couple of Air Force fighter planes. Hal introduces himself and talks about how he is an officer in the Air Force and he is also an officer in the Green Lantern Corps. Hal introduces John, Guy and Kyle and gives a quick synopsis of each guy.
Hal narrates how death is an accepted possibility in for men in the military. And that Green Lanterns all know that their careers will end in death. That Green Lanterns don't live to retire. Hal says how death has surrounded him in his life. Hal's father died. Abin Sur died. Coast City was destroyed. Hal says that you never learn to live with death. It becomes a part of who you are. And your only choice is to keep playing or fold. Hal says that he never folds. (I believe that I am already getting tired of this theme of death.)
We see the Green Lanterns lighting up a monument honoring fallen heroes. The Lanterns inscribe "No Fear" at the base of the monument. Hal then gives the back-story on Katma Tui and how she was a Green Lantern who was close to John. That a Star Sapphire killed Katma Tui. That John made a mistake trying to prevent the destruction of Xanshi. That Kyle's girlfriend, Alex, was killed by Major Force and stuffed into a refrigerator. Another woman that Kyle loved, Jade, was also killed. Only Guy had a happy ending as Ice came back to life.
We see our Green Lanterns posing by the monument. John tells Hal that he wishes he could rebuild Xanshi the way that Coast City has been rebuilt. Hal says that he and John built Coast City together. (We built this city on rock n' roll! Thank you, Jefferson Starship!) Guy says that they rebuilt the entire Green Lantern Corps. Kyle says that they will keep the torch burning. The four Green Lanterns then take off in different directions. (Bored. I am getting bored.)
We zip to Pittsburgh where Professor Stein, Jason and Gen are visiting Ronnie Raymond's grave. Jason tells Gen that Ronnie was like a son to Stein. Stein comments how everyday he says a prayer for Ronnie. Jason wonders what it must have taken to get a man of science like Stein to pray. Gen then points out to Jason that the rain is making the flowers die.
We zip over to the Titans memorial in the Titans Tower. The Titans comment that they have taken Bart's statue down. Bart wishes that they could take all of the statues down.
We hop over to Avenus in Central City which is the hidden graveyard of the Rogues. The Rogues and Boomerang have gathered at Captain Boomerang's grave to get drunk and honor him.
We pop over to Chicago and see Booster Gold, Guy, Fire, Ice and Black Canary at Ted Kord's grave. Black Canary tells Booster if he has anything to say then he should say it now. Black Canary says that they have a lot of graves to visit today. We see the flower placed on Ted's grace beginning to die. (Oh Dios mio, how many variations of the same scene are we going to get?)
We slide to Valhalla Cemetery in Metropolis. There is a huge crowd of citizens and super heroes present to honor the dead super heroes. We see Atom Smasher standing in front of Al Pratt's grave. Damage has his back to Al's grave. Atom Smasher spits that Damage could at least face his father's grave. That Damage could at least pretend that he gave a damn.
Damage barks back that he was not turning his back on his father's grave. Instead, Damage was facing the graves of the Freedom Fighters. Damage said that he was part of the Freedom Fighters when they were all killed. That he saw them all die. That Damage's face was forever scarred in that battle. Damage spits that he can't face anyone anymore.
We cut to Amnesty Bay where Mera and Tempest are visiting Aquaman's grave. Tempest believes that Aquaman should be buried in Atlantis in a great tomb and not here in dirt on the surface world. Mera retorts that Aquaman felt save here. That this is where Aquaman would want to be. Mera says that the Atlanteans are prejudiced and superstitious and they never accepted Aquaman because of his blonde hair and they never accepted Tempest because of his violet eyes.
We shift to the graveyard in Gotham City. Alfred arrives to place flowers on Bruce's grave. Alfred sees Bruce's grave dug up. Alfred is horrified and screams that he made a mistake.
We cut to the JLA's Hall of Justice. Hal narrates that after the ceremony at Valhalla Cemetery that he came to the Hall of Justice to meet Barry Allen. We see Hal and Barry in the lower levels of the Hall of Justice where they are storing the bodies of dead super villains.
Hal tells Barry that they have had to resort to storing the villains' bodies here because Nightwing uncovered an operation that was harvesting the super villains' bodies for re-use. Hal says that this is the type of sick and twisted things that they have had to deal with since Barry was lost to the Speed Force.
Vibe!!! We officially have a Vibe sighting!!)
Barry reaches out to Firestorm and says "Ronnie." Barry then sees Ralph and Sue Dibny. Barry is horrified and cries out "Oh no. God, please no. Not them." Barry asks how they died. Hal tells Barry the story about Jean Loring killing Sue. Hal tells Barry about how Ralph died during the events of 52. (Thank god for the Vibe sighting. I probably would have fallen asleep by this point.)
Hawkgirl tells Hawkman to calm down. Hawkman barks that Ray wanted him to come with Ray to visit Jean Loring's grave. Hawkgirl says that this is not about Jean. That Ray needs closure. Hawkman says "He has it. Jean's dead." Hawkman says that unlike him and Hawkgirl that Jean will not be reincarnated in the next life.
Hawkman says that Jean destroyed a love that was as strong as the love that he and Hawkgirl are destined to have. Hawgirl is still resistant to her destiny of being Hawkman's love. Hawkman says this is difficult on him that Hawkgirl does not have the centuries of memories of the two of them together like Hawkman still possesses.
Hawkman says that Jean did something that in all his years with the JLA he never say anyone do. Hawkman says "She made the Atom feel small." We see Ray sitting with his head in his hands as he tries to dial through to Hawkman's disconnected phone. The Last Will and Testament of Jean Loring is on his desk.
Yeah, still bored.)
Suddenly, Alfred calls and tells Hal and Barry that something terrible has happened. We then cut to Oa where the Guardians are meeting. The Guardians say that they have failed and that the War of Light has erupted. The Guardians say that Ganthet was correct. That the Blackest Night could not be prevented. That is can only be confronted. The Guardians decide to call a Code Black and recall all Green Lanterns back to Oa.
Scar then interjects that the Lanterns will never get their signal. Scar then lunges forward and chomps down on one of the Guardians. Scar then rips out the Guardian's heart. (Really? What is up with the cannibalism that we keep seeing in comic books recently? It just is not a big event until someone gets eaten! I wonder who tastes better, Ultimate Wasp or the Guardian?)
We then cut to the black power rings arriving on Earth to the graves of all the various dead super heroes including Martian Manhunter and Aquaman. We cut back to Oa and see all the dead Green Lanterns rising again as Black Lanterns.
We hop back to Bruce's graveyard where Hal and Barry are investigating what happened to Bruce's grave. Suddenly, zombie Martian Manhunter arrives on the scene and says that both Hal and Barry should not be alive. That they should both be dead.
We shift back to Hawkman and Hawkgirl arguing. Hawkgirl says that Hawkman is all that Ray has now and that Hawkman should call him. Hawkman comments that he guesses that Ray is all that he has now, too. We see someone from the shadows watching. Hawkman glows red and the mysterious person says "Rage." Hawkgirl glows pink and the mysterious voice says "Love."
Hawkman rages about why he should even talk to Hawkgirl. That Hawkgirl has not accepted their destiny and their love. Hawkgirl says that in each of their previous lives once they admitted their love for each other that they both would meet untimely deaths. (Well, gee, Johns. Could you telegraph it anymore that both Hawkman and Hawkgirl are about to get killed in this issue?)
Hawkgirl says that she refuses to give up control over her life to destiny and curses. Hawkman says that he never wanted to force Hawkgirl to feel anything that she did not truly feel. Hawkgirl starts crying and says that Hawkman did not force anything. Hawkgirl says that he loves Hawkman.
Suddenly, Hawkgirl is stabbed through her gut. Hawkgirl collapses to the ground. We see zombie Ralph and Sue Dibny. Ralph and Sue then attack Hawkman. They proceed to beat the hell out of Hawkman. Hawkgirl says "I love you" and then dies. Hawkman then dies. (Shocking! Not! That dialogue read like something out of a cheesy telenovela.)
Black Hand appears on the scene and says that Hawkman and Hawkgirl will not escape death this time. We see two black power rings fly into the room. Hawkman and Hawkgirl become Black Lanterns. End of issue.
The Good: I found Blackest Night #1 to be a serviceable read. Do I think that Blackest Night #1 lived up to all of the massive build-up and hype? No. And were there defects with this issue? Absolutely. Having said that, I know that I am in the extreme minority in my views of this issue. I fully recognize that Blackest Night #1 possesses tremendous mass appeal and that the average comic book fan will almost certainly enjoy this issue. There is definitely plenty about Blackest Night #1 to praise. However, I simply could not look past the defects in this issue which seriously impinged upon my enjoyment of this story.
Johns impressed me with the majority of the dialogue in this issue. Yes, there were some moments where the dialogue veered into the realm of cheesy melodrama. But, at the same time, there were some moments where the dialogue was downright beautiful. Johns manages to pack an incredible amount of emotion into this story. The chemistry between the characters was crackling with energy. The main reason for this is Johns' wonderful knowledge and understanding of the various characters in this story.
The character work from start to finish was well done. Big events often lack quality character work. Not Blackest Night #1. Johns effectively impressed upon the reader Hal's tough never say die mentality that makes him such a good military man and cop. Hal is hard as nails as he refuses to bend or break no matter how much life throws at him.
Hawkman's angry reaction to Ray's request was perfectly delivered. The best line in this issue was when Hawkman tells Hawkgirl how Jean made the Atom feel small. Ray is such a sympathetic character and Johns manages to get the reader to feel for all the pain and misery that Ray has been put through since Identity Crisis. Ray's story spinning from Identity Crisis is still unresolved. Hopefully, Johns will be able to give Ray the necessary closure on this long dangling plotline.
I liked the classic picture of Atom standing on Hawkman's shoulder that we saw on Ray Palmer's desk. Little details like this make me appreciate Johns' knowledge of the various characters and their relationships with each other. Johns does such a fine job with the relationship between Atom and Hawkman. Too bad we will not get to see anymore interaction between these two characters. I certainly feel bad for Ray. Everyone close to Ray has been taken from him. It seems like Ray has replaced Ralph Dibny as DC's whipping boy.
The strongest aspect of Blackest Night #1 was how stunningly new reader friendly this issue was. I have not read another big event in a long time where such a premium was placed on making it so incredibly accessible to readers who have never read a single DC comics book before.
While the result may lead to a dull and boring read for long-time readers like me; I must applaud Johns for making the conscious effort to make Blackest Night have as much mass appeal as possible. This is a big event and the main purpose is not to crank out a work of art or to re-invent the super hero genre.
No, the only purpose of a big event is to make the publisher large stacks of cash. And Johns crafting a debut issue that allows readers who have never picked up a single DC comic book to pick up Blackest Night #1 and receive all the pertinent information in order to enjoy this big event was exactly what must be done to make this big event as appealing to as many readers as possible. And the result should be large sales numbers.
What is also impressive is the incredibly succinct manner in which Johns was able to give the necessary background information on each character in this story. Johns effectively introduces John, Kyle and Guy so that readers who have never read Green Lantern or Green Lantern Corps before got the basic essence of each character.
Johns also does an effective job giving the back-story on the Freedom Fighters, Damage and Atom Smasher in just a couple of panels. Johns also effectively gave the back-story on Hawkman and Hawkgirl as well. It is extremely difficult for a writer to condense so much background information into a few panels in order to give only the pertinent information on a character or older plotline.
As always, Johns does his usual excellent research and the result is that Blackest Night #1 effectively pulls in older plotlines from various titles outside of Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps. Johns builds off the plotline from Nightwing about the harvesting of parts from dead super villains. Johns also builds off of plotlines from Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis and 52.
The result is that Blackest Night appears more of a DCU event than just a Green Lantern event as Johns is making this story an extension of what has been going on in the DCU since Identity Crisis. This approach by Johns gives Blackest Night such a cohesive feel as it fits as seamlessly as possible into the DCU's continuity and all the events that have taken place before.
In the scene where zombie Ralph and Sue attack Hawkman and Hawkgirl, we see the auras of both characters. We see Hawkgirl glowing pink for love. Hawkman glows red for rage. Then Hawkman turns pink for love as the conversation progresses. This was a neat little wrinkle. I will be interested to see why only the Black Lanterns are capable of seeing auras.
In the end, my favorite part of Blackest Night #1 was the gorgeous artwork turned in by Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert. These two gentlemen hit it out of the park with this issue. No matter how bored I got with the story I still had the beautiful panels from Reis and Albert to entertain me. I appreciated the emotion that Reis was able to bring to each of the characters. The facial expressions were perfect and injected plenty of life into this story.
The Bad: Blackest Night #1 had its fair share of warts that prevented me from enjoying this issue as much as other readers did. The biggest defect on Blackest Night #1 was the pacing and the plotting. The pacing was just awful. And the plotting was average. Blackest Night #1 creeps along at such a slow and dull pace for the first twenty-five pages. Absolutely nothing happens at all. Nothing new takes place. There is absolutely zero plot progression at all in the first twenty-five pages of this issue.
The downside of Blackest Night being insanely new reader friendly is that it bores long-time readers like me. I think Johns went overboard with how new reader friendly he was trying to make this issue. The first twenty-five pages were crammed full of narration by Hal that felt like him going through a laundry list of events that have happened in the DCU over the past several years. This was basically a history lesson in everything that has happened in the DCU since Identity Crisis. It bored me to tears.
The five page scene in Coast City was nothing more than Hal's narration introducing the back-stories to himself, John, Guy and Kyle and re-telling past events that have taken place in Green Lantern. Then Johns gave us five pages of the same scene over and over with people visiting graves. This was far too repetitious and only furthered to slow down the story. I did not need five pages of people visiting graves and basically have the same discussion over and over again. It felt so mechanical and perfunctory. I got the point after just two pages. This could have been trimmed down to just the scene at the Valhalla Cemetery.
In the final fifteen pages Johns gives us Scar attacking one of the Guardians, the assembling of the Black Lantern Corps and Ralph and Sue killing Hawkman and Hawkgirl. Scar revealing herself to be a traitor and attacking a Guardian was not plot progression. We have known forever that Scar was aligned with the Black Lantern Corps and we have simply been waiting for this moment for quite some time.
The assembling of the Black Lantern Corps was not plot progression, either. Again, thanks to Blackest Night #0 and Green Lantern #43, we already knew exactly who was going to be in the Black Lantern Corps. So, this was merely delivering the obvious. The result was practically zero plot progression in this double sized debut issue.
Out of forty pages, Johns gave the reader only three pages that contained any actual plot progression at all. The final three pages where Hawkman and Hawkgirl were killed and then became members of the Black Lantern Corps. That is it. Other than those three pages, we got nothing in the rest of Blackest Night #1 that we did not already know. Other than those last three pages, the reader was in practically the exact same position with this story that they were at the end of Green Lantern #43.
This is exactly what I said Johns had to avoid. Johns wastes practically an entire double-sized issue doing nothing more than providing endless back-story and set-up even though he has had two titles in Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps and several one-shots like Blackest Night #0 to perform all the necessary set-up for this big event over the course of the past year and a half. Blackest Night #1 is lacking any plot progression until arriving at the very end of the issue. And then at that point, Johns slaps together a "shocking" and "surprise" ending that actually progresses the story in an effort to trick the reader into thinking that the story has moved forward in this issue.
Again, I am sure that Blackest Night will read wonderfully in trade format. But, I have a hard time reconciling the fact that Johns continues to show a disregard for the monthly format when writing his stories. Johns has had over a year to lay a foundation for Blackest Night in not just one title, but two. There was absolutely no need for this complete lack of plot progression in Blackest Night #1. Nobody can draw out a story more than Johns can. This is exactly the same approach that we got over in Justice Society of America with the interminably long and drawn out Kingdome Come/Magog story and also what we are currently getting in Flash: Rebirth.
Also, this scene made me think about how great it would be if we could put to rest the entire cannibalism theme that has run through comics as of late. I believe it started in 52 with Sobek eating Osiris. And it has continued through several other DC and Marvel titles. How about we don't have characters eating each other for at least a little while? It really is not that "kewl" or "shocking." It is just lame.
The "surprise" ending of Ralph and Sue killing Hawkman and Hawkgirl did very little for me. First, it was telegraphed from a mile away. Second, the dialogue was ham handed and cheesy. That lessened the impact of this moment. It felt more like a low budget horror flick. Also, I question the decision to kill off Hawkman and Hawkgirl. Again.
These two characters are a total mess. The reason for that is that DC has incessantly picked at the scarred and scabbed continuity of these two characters. And it is at the point where I am not too sure if any reader really understands their continuity anymore. Every time I turn around it seems that DC is either adding or deleting or giving a new spin to Hawkman's continuity. Hawkman and Hawkgirl have become the DCU's answer to Kenny from South Park with the rate that they kill them off.
These deaths do nothing to help either character. Nor do these deaths do anything to help clean up their fractured and messy continuity. Maybe Johns has something grand plan in mind and can give these deaths meaning other than pure "shock" value. I hope so. Otherwise, this final scene was a waste of two classic DC characters that both possess plenty of untapped potential.
I cannot say that seeing zombie Ralph and Sue Dibny killing their former friends and teammates did anything for me at all. Sorry, but having to see poor Ralph continually getting drug through the mud from Identity Crisis on up to the present is just not entertaining. I am also curious to see how Ralph and Sue being Black Lanterns meshes with the ghost detective angle that DC had been working with these characters since the end of 52. Hopefully, Johns will address this issue rather than ignore it and pretend that it never happened.
Johns veered into the realm of melodrama during the scene with Hawkman and Hawkgirl talking to each other just before they were attacked by zombie Ralph and Sue. And the melodrama continued with Ralph's "eeeevil" dialogue. And as always, if Black Hand is present then the melodrama is sure to follow. The rising of the Black Lanterns felt a bit like a scene from a cheesy low budget horror movie.
The Black Hand continues to be a miss with me. This character comes across as a joke. Black Hand is so over the top that he nearly ruins every scene he appears in. Black Hand licking Bruce Wayne's skull is exactly the type of over the top melodrama that is totally unnecessary. It does nothing at all for Black Hand's character except to get the reader to laugh at him.
Another problem with Blackest Night #1 is that Johns engages in too much spoon-feeding of the reader. And when this happens it can come across as the writer talking down to the reader as if they are too stupid to understand anything on their own. Johns tells the reader everything. I much prefer it when the writer shows the reader rather than tells the reader everything. I much prefer the writer to try and engage the reader's mind and get the reader to try and piece things together and figure out what it going on.
Blackest Night #1 is the opposite of that. Every single move is telegraphed from a mile away and fully explained. The fact is that Blackest Night is not a complex story. It is rather basic. Blackest Night #1 was a one note story. Death. I got it in the first two pages. It is not that novel or deep of a concept.
And this leads me to another problem I had with Blackest Night #1. With everything that Johns has been giving us in Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps concerning the religious aspects of the Book of Oa and the different colored Corps, I thought that we were going to get some unique, grand and interesting sci-fi space opera. I was expecting a complex and unique epic tale on a cosmic scale.
I hope that Johns has more in store for us than just another kill-fest where he gets to mow down characters left and right as if he was in some sort of competition with Jeph Loeb about which writer can pull off an event with more meaningless and purposeless deaths. All of this takes no creativity.
Overall: Blackest Night #1 was a better than average read, but it suffered from some serious defects. Having said that, I do think that Blackest Night #1 has mass appeal. I do believe that your average comic book reader will enjoy this story. Johns is not delivering a story that requires the reader to put forth much effort. Blackest Night #1 offers the same easily consumable fun that your typical zombie movie or death porn horror movie possesses. If you like movies where characters are randomly killed in bloody fashion and if you like zombie flicks then I strongly suggest that you give Blackest Night #1 a try. You will not be disappointed.
Also, Blackest Night #1 is extremely new reader friendly. I cannot stress this enough. Seriously, you do not have to have ever read a single DC comic book in your entire life in order to understand and enjoy what happens in this issue. So, if you were hesitant to hop aboard Blackest Night because you have never been a DC comics reader then do not worry. This big event was made with you in mind. Blackest Night is the perfect opportunity for non-DC fans to give a DC big event a try. Blackest Night is the exact opposite of Final Crisis in terms of being new reader friendly.
Still, if you have are a long-time reader of Green Lantern or DC comics in general then you might find Blackest Night #1 to be a slow and unexciting read. If you have been following the road leading up to Blackest Night #1 then be warned that nothing of any real substance happens in this issue.
If you are still on the fence about picking up Blackest Night #1 after reading this review then I would suggest that you wait until the trade comes out. Blackest Night should read much better in a collected format. And I am sure that DC will rush out a collected edition of Blackest Night the second that this big event concludes.