Review: Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 1 hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The first volume of Black Lantern Corps is my first real disappointment with Blackest Night. These are not terrible stories, mind you, and as a matter of fact the "Titans" chapter by J. T. Krul is good enough to make me optimistic about Krul's upcoming run on Teen Titans. But unfortunately, neither the "Titans" nor "Batman" or "Superman" chapters amount to much; having just read Blackest Night, Green Lantern, and Green Lantern Corps, I can certify that this book is entirely skipable. Indeed, while there's a miniscule amount to be had from seeing your favorite dead hero or villain back on the screen for the moment, none of the Black Lanterns retain enough of their old personalities to even make that worth it.

[Contains spoilers]

I just raved about Peter Tomasi's Green Lantern Corps volume, so perhaps my biggest surprise reading this book was how unremarkable Tomasi's Blackest Night: Batman story is. The first page, where artist Adrian Saef mis-draws new Robin Damian in Tim Drake's old costume, seems an omen; Tomasi can't seem to get Batman Dick Grayson nor Damian's voices right, neither when Dick tells Damian to "shut up" (too harsh) nor the handful of times Damian gets scared (too weak). I'm not even quite sure that guest-star Deadman's ability to see a person's life when he possesses them is quite kosher -- it's not something I remember Deadman being able to do before.

All of this speaks to an uncustomary carelessness on Tomasi's part (even having written Nightwing before) that lessened my enjoyment of the story. Tomasi does echo well at one point the death of Tim Drake's parents in Identity Crisis, but I feel I have to credit that story more than this one.

James Robinson's Blackest Night: Superman is better, in that Robinson is one of the driving voices of Superman right now and the characters seem more in-character. Whereas Tomasi works with so many dead Bat-villains that most tend to fade to the background, Robinson uses just the Earth-2 Superman and Lois Lane, and the Psycho Pirate, and this is a riff on Crisis on Infinite Earths which, if not addressed directly, at least gives the story an additional ironic layer.

Robinson's trademark stilted dialogue is perhaps more noticeable here, however, because of the brevity of the tale; it's also especially strange how the Superman story would seem to make a great change to the overall "New Krypton" tale, when Blackest Night is all but ignored over there. I was also sorry not to see New Krypton's Nightwing, Flamebird, or Mon-El make any appearances.

But the biggest problem with these two stories is that they have ultimately no bearing on Blackest Night. Each ends on a vague "let's go join the fight" note, neither bringing to nor suggesting anything about the crossover. The Black Lanterns are completely one-dimensional; Dick shows no great emotion when faced with the Black Lantern Blockbuster, in whose murder he's complicit, nor is Superman ever convinced the Earth-2 Superman is the real thing. Most notably, Robinson never pulls the most emotional trigger and resurrects the newly-deceased Jonathan Kent, which really would have pained Superman. Basically, the two miniseries are long fight scenes that don't amount to anything in the end.

Krul's Blackest Night: Titans is only a little better. There's a good arc here in Beast Boy accepting his complicated feelings for Terra; also, Krul demonstrates he can write a flip-but-not-silly Kid Flash, which is a good sign to me about his forthcoming work on Teen Titans. But, if you've read Blackest Night then you already know Dove has some kind of power to stop the Black Lanterns; in this way, while the "Titans" chapter has a greater bearing on Blackest Night, you could pick up most of this from the miniseries itself. Krul as well seems to sidestep some of the easy emotional territory of this story, keeping Red Star off-screen even as his adopted family Pantha and Wildebeest return from the dead.

I would say, however, that Black Lantern Terry Long -- still with the mutton chops even more hopelessly out of style than they were when Terry was alive -- gets the award for about the most frightening Black Lantern I've encountered so far. Krul writes some nicely emotional scenes when Donna Troy has to fight her dead husband Terry and, especially, her dead infant son Robert, though this is marred only slightly by what a huge continuity quagmire it is -- I had thought Robert, especially, was just a construct of the Dark Angel creature who tortured Donna some years ago thinking she was Wonder Woman, and that Donna having a son had been retroactively removed. This reminds that, even post-Infinite Crisis and with stories like DC Universe: Legacies ongoing, DC still doesn't have a standing origin for Wonder Woman and Donna Troy, and they probably should.

[Contains full and variant covers, Black Lantern sketchbook pages (note King Snake referred to as "King Cobra," with an incorrect origin)]

If you're looking for a Blackest Night volume to skip, then, this is my first suggestion. These are not terrible tales of "your favorite hero fights zombies," but neither are they remarkable. With Dick Grayson face-to-face with a resurrected Blockbuster, or even Azrael for instance, I would have hoped he'd have something to say, some coda to those previous stories, but it's not the case. In this outing of Black Lantern Corps, I think DC has a missed opportunity.

Coming up, the review of Black Lantern Corps volume two!
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10 comments:

  1. At this point, I think DC's just given up on giving Donna a standard origin. Every time they have in the past, it's just gotten screwed up in some way. So I guess they just figure "here's Donna Troy, she's related to Wonder Woman and you to know anything else" right now.

    To be honest, it's probably the best course of action, because until they get one that will stick, the only folks who really clamor for it will be those of us who care about Donna and her origin woes.

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  2. Exactly; for most people, I think Donna is "she who was once Wonder Woman's sidekick (somewhere, sometime)." The larger issue, for those in the know, is that Donna's lack of origin speaks to Diana's lack of origin -- that is, what should be the third leg of the tent that holds DC Comics in place has no in-continuity origins to speak of these days. Likely the fan-base should be madder about this than they are.

    Easiest thing would be, in something like DCU Legacies, work out in short order how George Perez's origin can still stand. Second best, a Geoff Johns Wonder Woman: Secret Origin miniseries.

    There's lots of potential for, say, a Phil Jimenez special re-establishing early adventures of Wonder Woman and Wonder Girl, if DC would only lay the groundwork.

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  3. For Wonder Woman, I think they should just go with the simplest option and gloss over the details. You mention a Geoff Johns style Secret Origin; way I look at it is you stick with them having a contest, Diana wins the right to be the Amazon ambassador and goes to Mans World. Do this in one issue. Have the rest setting up her villains and worlds.

    Where things go wrong seems to be when DC tries to explain just how Diana came to be, which isn't really as necessary.

    Though honestly... I've never really cared for Wonder Woman's trappings or world. Honestly, it puts me to sleep. The purists may despise it, but the story JMS is telling sounds far more interesting to me than anything that's ever happened to Wonder Woman normally.

    Sometimes I think she's considered a tentpole in the DCU more "just because" than because she earned it, though that's probably not a popular opinion.

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  4. I don't know, I was disappointed with Blackest Night: Superman.

    If Blackest Night is essentially a giant group therapy session with the characters confronting the deaths that defined their lives (Robin and Tim confronting their parents for example, Wonder Woman and Max Lord), then surely the most famous death by origin has to be included? I'm not talking about Bruce and Martha Wayne, but Krypton itself. Superman, last child of a dying planet. I though that the return of Krypton could easily have sparked some fantastic drama (especially with New Krypton).

    I though Blackest Night: Batman was entertaining, but not essential.

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  5. I hadn't thought of Krypton; that's a great point. Frankly I was continually surprised by the potentially emotional zombies that didn't rise from the dead -- neither Krypton nor Jonathan Kent, nor Barry Allen's mother nor (if I'm remembering correctly) Hal Jordan's father. Maybe the focus was meant to be more superhero-y, but each of these seemed like easy Black Lanterns.

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  6. Blackest Night: Batman is the reason why I wasn't thrilled when Tomasi was announced as Morrison's successor on Batman and Robin. While other writers got Damian's sophisticated speech pattern right in books like Streets of Gotham and Red Robin, in this mini series he talks just like a stereotypical pre-teen brat, which really annoyed me.

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  7. I think the coming situation with Batman & Robin is a case of DC not learning from Marvel's mistakes. We won't get into Dick still having the cowl; there's going to need to be a good reason for that though, considering Dick hasn't really wanted to be Batman, but was thrust into it out of necessity. The problem is more that they're keeping the series going at all.

    Batman & Robin is a book that was created for a specific creator to tell a part of his long form story. It's not really a status quo that was meant to last. As such, it should technically end.

    This is something Marvel mucked up in the past. Both Astonishing X-Men and Punisher Max should have been rebooted, but instead they continued on with their previous numbering, despite the creator it was made for having already departed. As is obvious, this didn't really work out and Marvel ended up canceling and relaunching both of them anyways. It feels like DC is making the same mistake here in trying to have their cake and eat it too, while Marvel seems to have learned (note that Marvel now uses Astonishing for miniseries).

    Obviously, most ongoings go on past creative teams, but B&R, to me, is like the other two. A special case, not truly necessary in it's current iteration. Not like typical ongoings. It's kind of like, say, if Batman: Oddessy went on past Neal Adams finite story for the book, just to give an example; could anyone REALLY see that working?

    TL&DR: I can't see that ending well; the things I heard about Blackest Night Batman don't really help that feeling.

    @collectededitions: This is just a guess on my part, but I'd wager that James Robinson didn't go for Pa Kent or Krypton because it would be too easy. That would really be what you would expect to happen; and honestly, if it did, I think it would then be categorized under the "Black Lanterns coming back to terrorize has worn out it's welcome" thing. It's probably a good thing he didn't go for that.

    Besides, the Black Rings bring a body back with it's powers and... well, I honestly can't see Pa Kent posing a real threat to Superman.

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  8. @dl316bh: I don't know, all Black Lanterns have regenerative characteristics and stuff. I just figured since they fed off emotions, resurrecting his dead planet would certainly bring to the fore all the emotions that New Krypton was supposed too.

    I actually liked the psychological aspect much more than he pounding superhero aspect. As I said, the best aspects had heroes confronting the deaths in their past and the losses which made them heroes. I thought Superman Prime (and Lois Lane) were much more interesting as Power Girl foils in the JSA segment (which I liked better than most - what's more fascinating than a legacy team being judged by those who came before them?)

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  9. I guess I rate this one a bit higher than some of you. The Superman mini was one of my favorites, precisely because it didn't show the obvious conflict. The Smallville horror vibe was a welcome addition and who didn't love Ma Kent smashing faux Lois with that torch. Plus, the best use of the emotional spectrum of all the Blackest Night books.

    The Bat one had some inconsistent characterization, sure, but it bothered me less than Battle for the Cowl and any other cross book effort. It is sadly par for the course. But, I was entertained, and hey, bonus Deadman!

    Titans continuity breaches doesn't bother me too much either. Those 80's Titans books have dated really badly compared to other titles of the same era, so it is easy to pretend they were another time.

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  10. Ditto on the psychological conflicts being the most gripping -- I think the very first encounter between Mera and the Black Lantern Aquaman, talking about their son, was one of the main series' high emotional points.

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