Blackest Night #1
Writer: Geoff Johns
Pencils: Ivan Reis
Inks: Oclair Albert
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Nick J. Napolitano
Cover artists: Reis & Albert/Ethan Van Sciver (variant cover)
Editor: Eddie Berganza
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US
Fans of recent Marvel crossover events Civil War and Secret Invasion should enjoy DC’s latest foray into the Big Super-Hero Event because Blackest Night actually has something in common with those other stories. Civil War and Secret Invasion basically saw heroes fighting heroes (or in the case of the latter, heroes fighting doppelgangers of fellow heroes), and those big, flashy physical conflicts seemed to please super-hero genre readers. Blackest Night offers a similar take on the hero-versus-hero concept, pitting the protagonists against undead, corrupted incarnations of fallen friends. Fortunately, Johns delivers an accessible story, and I don’t just mean in terms of plot. Most of this issue is about setting up the emotional resonance of what’s to come, which brings a grounded tone to the cosmic conflict and consequences.
As people across the United States, on a nationally recognized day of remembrance, take some time to honor the memories of super-heroes who died in the line of duty, members of the Justice League, Green Lantern Corps and other fraternities of superhumans naturally mourn the loss of friends and family members. Little do they know that those deaths are literally about to come back to haunt them, as the Black Hand triggers the release of thousands of Black Lantern rings, which scatter across the universe to raise an army of the dead to wipe out the living. And as the Guardians of the Universe realize that the War of Light has begun, paving the way for the apocalyptic event they call the Blackest Night, one of their own turns against them to ensure the prophecy of doom comes true.
Given that this is a Green Lantern story at its core, it’s fitting that the former GL art team of Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert were assigned to this event book. They were the artists who illustrated a good number of the storylines building up to this one, after all. It’s also fitting because Reis’s style is in the same vein of that of Neal Adams, and some of Adams’s best-known work was the stuff he did on Green Lantern/Green Arrow in the 1970s. Reis’s linework is fairly dense; there’s a lot of detail at play and despite the simple premise, there’s a lot of information to convey. That’s because there are so many characters involved in this story. Fortunately, he and Albert seem equal to the task, handling the crowd scenes nicely. Hal Jordan’s ring construct depicting so many dead DC heroes is something that commands the reader’s close attention, for example.
The art takes on a darker, grislier tone that’s reminiscent of the style of another key contributor to Green Lantern storylines in recent years, Ethan Van Sciver (who also provides the variant cover art). Given the nature of the Black Lantern characters that play such prominent roles in the later pages of this issue, that shift in the approach works well. The only real disappointing element of Reis’s contributions to this book is the cover, which fails to capture the emotion and the diverse array of characters that are such important elements of the story.
There’s a lot of DC history that comes into play in this story, as there are so many references to deceased, out-of-use characters that Johns has to establish who they all are and why they’re significant to the living players in the drama. He does so succinctly and clearly (as far as I can surmise, since I’m approaching this material as someone who’s quite familiar with the history and the characters). I was also surprised to find that the “dead” characters return with their personalities intact despite the fact that they’ve been corrupted and drafted into an enterprise they would have vigorously opposed in life. I’m not sure if that approach will work, but for now, it seems to enhance the tragic nature of seeing heroes perverted into forces of evil.
The notion of a national day of remembrance for fallen superhumans (and ordinary citizens killed in superhuman conflicts) is one that makes a lot of sense in the context of the DC Universe. Johns has given some thought as to how a society with super-heroes would deal with death. Furthermore, it has the added benefit of giving all of the characters logical reasons to visit various graveyards at the same time and to pause to think about friends and love ones they’ve lost along the way.
Some have criticized Johns for the shock factor he’s often employed over his comics career to grab readers’ attention, and I think there’s some merit to it. This issue definitely boasts a couple of grisly moments and surprises, but I don’t view them as being gratuitous. This is a story, after all, about death and the dead rising to attack the living, so some shocking deaths makes sense in that context. Furthermore, it gives the villains of the story some credibility and creates the illusion that this Big Event is going to bring change to the DC Universe (even though the readership knows that in the long term, the status quo will eventually be restored).
Johns has been writing that the colors of the various lantern-wielding forces throughout the DC Universe represent different emotions, and he definitely drives that notion home here, especially in the final scene in the issue. However, the real focus of this issue is the emotions associated with the various colored lanterns, but on the emotions that the characters experience as they relive their grief. Johns brings so many of these larger-than-life, god-like characters down to earth by focusing on their feelings rather than on their superhuman feats. It’s incredibly effective, not only when it comes to setting the stage for the larger story but in getting the audience to relate to and sympathize with the unsuspecting protagonists. 8/10
Follow Eye on Comics on Twitter.