Friday, July 17, 2009

The Comics Page #24: Blackest Night #1

Blackest Night #1 Cover
I’m not entirely sure reviewing BLACKEST NIGHT #1 is a good idea. The event is just starting up (albeit after an irritatingly prolonged runup) and just the first part doesn’t offer as much to chew on as the full series will once it’s finished (in theory.) Also, I usually review things on which I have a strong opinion, and that’s just the thing- at this stage, I am very fervently of the impression that BLACKEST NIGHT #1 is undoubtedly, unquestionably, without question, a comic book.

Seriously, this thing has been polarizing. And it’s surprising, because it’s so... adequate. The art is nice. The dialogue is solid. The pace isn’t too bad. The story makes sense. It’s not a spectacular misfire, but that’s because it doesn’t try anything. It is, thusfar, what you would expect from Geoff Johns writing what’s effectively DC ZOMBIES without the humor.

So, you’ll notice that in the past few years, the casualty rate in the DC universe has gotten a little ridiculous. Second-stringers, supporting cast members, even what is technically the original Superman, all piled up like firewood. Of course, there have been a lot of resurrections too, from Hal Jordan to Barry Allen to Conner Kent and Ice. Most of the issue is just going through the casualty rate, as explained through the inner monologues of various characters on a national day of remembrance for fallen superheroes and the ones who’ve come back.

But all is about to change. You see, a few competitors to the Green Lantern Corps- the willpower-driven space police force, have sprung up- you’ve got, let me see if I can recall this, the fear-driven Yellow Lanterns or Sinestro Corps, the hope-driven Blue Lanterns, the rage-vomiting Red Lanterns (and that’s not a metaphor), the love-driven Star Sapphire Corps who are sorta pinkish and all hot chicks for some reason, there are Orange dudes who represent greed, Indigo is compassion which seems to overlap a bit... anyway, motivated by some unseen force and aided somehow by Black Hand digging up Bruce Wayne’s grave, a bunch of Black power rings appear, slip themselves on the fingers of various corpses and turn them into superpowered zombies whose basic mission is to kill everyone.

I’m starting to move towards the side that says this isn’t very good.

Now, that’s not fair. This story has potential, and it’s a follow-up to the extremely well-done SINESTRO CORPS WAR, which was much better than anyone expected. And who knows? This could go somewhere. Most of this issue is exposition, and in theory it’s not a bad idea to fill everyone in on the state of play. Granted, if your plot requires this much backstory you may want to prune it down a bit, but the exposition is handled relatively painlessly. And it’s not all that happens. We see the zombies start to rise, we find out that the JLA has been keeping the bodies of supervillains in a giant morgue and there is no way that could possibly backfire, and there is a major death.

Skip the next two paragraphs if you don’t want to be spoiled.

So, Hawkman and Hawkgirl, who we thought maybe died in FINAL CRISIS but didn’t because editorial said so I think, are lounging about somewhere and talking about how they always seem to die just after they admit their feelings for each other (which is kind of weird since I have it on good word that they were married in the Silver Age). Needless to say, Hawkgirl is on the very cusp of telling Hawkman he loves him, when- they are attacked and murdered by the zombies of Ralph and Sue Dibny.

This is supposed to be very shocking. It’s something that Johns likes to do a lot, have a gruesome death at what should be a happy occasion, as when he had Nazi supervillains murder an entire family reunion picnic in JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA #3 (which, coincidentally, was the third and last issue of the series that I read.) And though I’ve complained about this kind of Romero-esque carnage in superhero comics before, here I was not offended. I was not shocked. The killing is telegraphed for several pages, drawn out for a few more, and is so in line with every horrible ironic death in the DC Universe that it completely fails to register. It’s a bad scene, not because it’ll destroy your childhood or anything, but because it just kind of sucks.

The major difference between this and MARVEL ZOMBIES, apart from being in-continuity, is that, as far as I can tell, this has no sense of humor whatsoever. The concept is ludicrous, but Johns handles it with utter solemnity, which is something that bugs me about him as a writer- he comes across as afraid of the genre’s sillier side, and tries to shore up its serious nature with blood and entrails and sad ironic deaths. Where the SINESTRO CORPS event was an exciting action adventure, this is marking itself as dark and grim from the start, and though this can be made to work, this is not an inspiring direction. It’s not bad, but...

You know what? I just noticed that in one of the big splash panels, one of the Black Lanterns is Ch’p. The cartoon squirrel Green Lantern who used to antagonize Salaak and got run over by a car for not being serious enough.

That does it. This is not a good comic. It’s not horrible, but there’s just nothing in it that leaps out at me. There is nothing that says, “This is a great comic story that will thrill you at every turn.” There is nothing that says, “This will make you weep, first with sadness, then with joy.” There is nothing that says, “You will gladly pay $4 for this every month.” I can see others finding something that interests them, but I’m not sure why the praise thusfar is so effusive. Even if you’re a big Geoff Johns fan- and the man has done good work, do not get me wrong- this is pretty average for him. The art by Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert is pretty solid, but again I don’t see how it stands out from the pack.

It is a superhero comic that kicks off a big event, and, well, that’s it. Not the worst thing in the world, but I see no reason to stick with it.

Grade: C

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