Green Lantern #43
“Blackest Night Prologue: Tale of the Black Lantern”
Writer: Geoff Johns
Pencils: Doug Mahnke
Inks: Christian Alamy
Colors: Randy Mayor
Letters: Rob Leigh
Cover artists: Mahnke & Alamy (regular)/Eddy Barrows & Nei Ruffino (variant)
Editor: Eddie Berganza
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US
Despite the fact that this issue is billed as a “prologue” to Blackest Night, the storyline that Geoff Johns has been setting up for almost five years finally gets underway in this issue. I imagine it’s going to be a hard-to-find issue, not only for the event connection but because it’s a well-crafted comic book as well. Not perfect, mind you, but good. As I made my way through this book, I had some concerns about the thoroughly macabre elements, and there’s a shocking, graphically violent climax that’s a little unsettling. But this is a story setting up the existence of an army of zombie Black Lanterns, so it’s not like this stuff is coming from out of nowhere. While we probably can’t expect such a character-driven focus in the event book itself as we have here, the chilling tone of the writing and the novel simplicity of the core premise ought to make Blackest Night the major success that DC’s been after for several years.
William Hand wasn’t like other children. Death never frightened him. In fact, he was fascinated by it, and he was surrounded by it all of the time, as his father operated his own mortuary. It soon became apparent that William was obsessed with the dead, preferring to spend all of his time with the stillness of stuffed animal corpses than real people. His entire life, he felt driven by an unseen, dark force, leading him to a particular moment. That moment has arrived, as he’s approached by a scarred immortal from outer space to become the first and most important member of the Black Lantern Corps.
Well, it’s easy to see why Doug Mahnke landed the gig as this title’s regular penciller. He’s already proven himself to be one of DC’s go-to artists, but the nature of the story about dead bodies plays to his strengths as an artist. His hyperdetailed, organic style brings the gruesome, gory ideas to life perfectly here. This is one of the strongest, most polished efforts I’ve seen from Mahnke in recent years; it’s leaps and bounds better than his work on Final Crisis: Requiem #1, for example. He’s paired here with his frequent collaborator, inker Christian Alamy, and they mesh perfectly as an art team.
There’s a full-page splash toward the end of this book that’s quite shocking, and I wasn’t sure if it was too shocking, if it was gratuitous. I mulled it over, and I kept changing my mind. Finally, I showed the page to my wife. Now while she didn’t have the context of the story or character as a filter through which to view it, she didn’t find it objectionable despite the graphic death depicted. She explained that the glowing green color in the visual made it more palatable for her, that the absence of a splash of red to represent blood and tissue kept it from crossing a line. I see her point, as the sci-fi element in that pivotal scene maintains a certain fantastic tone despite the detailed gore that’s included there as well. The flashes and splashes of red follow on the next page, but the initial blow is slightly softened while still maintaining a significant impact.
Johns’s choice to focus on Black Hand as a character as a means set the stage for the cosmic crossover event is a smart one. It brings the immensity of the scope of the event down to earth. We’re given a person — albeit a disturbed one — to serve as a gateway for the cosmic/supernatural plot. Johns has completely overhauled the Black Hand character, and while some may not appreciate retcons, it’s merited in this case. He’s transformed the character from a C-list villain into a disturbing, riveting antagonist. The first half of this issue focuses on his origin and history, and it’s not entirely accessible. the events that led to the radical changes in his powers are glossed over far too quickly. I’m pretty sure I’ve read all of the stories referenced here, and even I was a bit confused for a couple of pages. Furthermore, newer readers aren’t going to pick up on the significance of all of the dead characters that Black Hand “sees” through the veil of death.
It occurred to me today that “Blackest Night” isn’t just the latest super-hero event to hit the stands. Johns is blending genres here, and therein lies the success of the concept. He’s creating an amalgam of the super-hero epic and a zombie apocalypse. It’s a wonderfully simple and natural merging. Both factions of fantastic fiction are enjoying a surge in popularity in the public consciousness, and bringing them together looks as though it’s going to be entertaining for readers and lucrative for those presenting it to them. 7/10
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