Review: Blackest Night: Green Lantern hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Between writer Geoff Johns's Blackest Night and Blackest Night: Green Lantern hardcovers, the former is obviously the "parent" volume. Blackest Night has a handful of holes where events happen in other titles, but can more or less be read as a complete story beginning to end; the Green Lantern volume, however, is basically a collection of scenes and supplementary "tales" tied loosely together with text pages that summarize the events of Blackest Night. That said, however, I found the Green Lantern volume to be the stronger of the two, both in surprises and in widescreen action, helped mightily by the art of Doug Mahnke.

[Contains spoilers]

If the Blackest Night event weren't momentous enough, the Green Lantern volume sees this latest Green Lantern series arrive at issue 50. As such, the anniversary issue must serve double-duty, furthering Blackest Night while also celebrating what a momentous occasion it is that a comic starring Hal Jordan -- once considered an untenable part of the Green Lantern franchise -- should have reached the half-century mark and be as popular as it is. Johns accomplishes both with "Parallax Rebirth."

The two-part story picks up from a brief scene in Blackest Night where a black ring possesses the Spectre; the Spirit of Vengeance never appears in Blackest Night again, but suddenly attacks Hal and the multi-hued Corpsmen here. In a flashback to Green Lantern: Rebirth, Hal recognizes that the Spectre didn't help him fight the freed fear-entity Parallax because the Spectre is afraid of the raw emotion that Parallax represents; in order to stop the Black Lantern Spectre, Hal willingly chooses to let Parallax enslave him once again.

The story's parallels to Rebirth are exactly what they should be; Hal fought to free himself of Parallax in Rebirth, and here he chooses to bind himself again -- what ought be his greatest fear -- for the greater good. This time around, in the most significant sign of the ground Green Lantern has covered in fifty issues, Hal's arch-nemesis Sinestro tries not to bury Hal in Parallax, but rather to save him from it; there's also a lovely scene where Hal's on-again-off-again girlfriend Carol Ferris helps to dispel the last of Parallax's influence. The freed Spectre agrees to help Hal fight Blackest Night villain Nekron, making up for the Spectre's quick exit a few years ago.

Between Hal's re-possession by Parallax and freeing the enslaved Spectre is a fantastic fight between the two giant entities, complete with crushed city blocks and plenty of supernatural gore. The double-page crowd scenes of Blackest Night were impressive, but Mahnke's spreads of just these two behemoths towering over Coast City had me gaping far more than Blackest Night did. Johns's fight contains a bunch of twists, including the Spectre becoming at one point a Red Lantern; I didn't know about any of this going in to Green Lantern, and I loved the surprises page after page.

Aside from "Parallax Rebirth," most of the rest of the Green Lantern volume basically profiles the main representatives of the other Lantern corps, with each narrating a different page or issue. In just a couple scenes, Johns gives the berserker Red Lantern Atrocitus a great amount of depth, and he could now be the Green Lantern character I'm most eager to learn more about. Johns also hints that Indigo Lantern-1, as she's called, has an untold history with Sinestro, Hal's predecessor Abin Sur, and the Green Lantern Corps; whereas this character was too mysterious for me to care much about before, these tidbits tie Indigo-1 to the ongoing action in a way I'm excited to see explored.

There's also a couple chapters here, mainly disconnected from the immediate action of Blackest Night, that follow Green Lantern John Stewart and his guilt over the destruction of the planet Xanshi. I like John, mostly from his portrayal on Justice League Unlimited, but he recovers so quickly from his shock both at the resurrection of Xanshi and of his former wife Katma Tui that these chapters aren't very gripping. In another scene Hal ignores the taunts of a resurrected Abin Sur, recognizing that the Black Lanterns aren't the deceased souls they appear to be; indeed, one place I felt Blackest Night didn't work is that after the heroes (and the readers) get the "trick" of the Black Lanterns, the villains lose much of their shock value. It's in this way that I liked the Parallax/Spectre fight better, in that it had some real stakes as opposed to John fighting a not-quite-resurrected Katma.

Alternatively, the pages in which Sinestro fights the resurrected Arin Sur, newly-revealed sister of Abin Sur, are second-greatest only to "Parallax Rebirth." By Johns's hand, Sinestro has become perhaps the best-realized villain in the DC Universe, and this story goes to show there's still more we have to learn about him. Sinestro having scoffed at Abin Sur's "Blackest Night" prophecies becomes increasingly tragic when we learn that Sinestro was nearly Abin's brother-in-law; there's so much wrapped up in Sinestro's hate for Hal Jordan and how it stems from Sinestro's guilt about Abin that it sizzles on every page. The last shoe to drop is whether this makes Arin the mother of Sinestro's daughter, Green Lantern Corps's Soranik Natu, which would make her Abin Sur's niece. Here again, Johns both surprises and builds toward the future in interesting ways, and all of that gave the Green Lantern volume more heft for me than Blackest Night itself.

[Contains full and variant covers, sketchbook pages, Blackest Night text pages before each chapter]

Blackest Night continues to bring with it some surprises; reading the main volume, I had no idea that the characters fought the Spectre, and even after reading the Green Lantern volume, the flow-through is still a bit confusing (if not just inexact on its own). I'll be curious to read the Green Lantern Corps volume next to see if the third part fills in the gaps, and if it's as much a "companion volume" as Green Lantern was. Stay tuned!
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5 comments:

  1. Yep, it reads like a collection of deleted scenes really - shorter stories that tie into the action (particularly the formation of the "rainbow rodeo"). It really can't be read independently and needs to browsed in tandem with the main series. on the other hand, with the exception of the first and second-to-last issues, Green Lantern Corps actually reads well independently. You just never get an idea of why this is happening or the final confrontation.

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  2. Agreed; if I were going to read two Blackest Night hardcovers simultaneously, it would be Blackest Night and Green Lantern, and one might as well just leave Green Lantern Corps out until the end.

    That said, even as it was "deleted scenes," I thought the Green Lantern volume was a stronger book overall than Blackest Night. It's like one book is the fighting, and one book is the talking.

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  3. Well this series grew into a DC event out of what was originally a Green Lantern story.

    It might be overly simplistic, but it's hard not to think of the BN: GL chapters as being many of the main story points relocated to the GL series, to accomodate a more JLA-centric main miniseries. Part of the reason a little less happens in Blackest Night is that it handles a the recap of recent DC history and a lot of exposition, and the reintroduction of a several characters (Mera, Firestorm, etc.)

    It's a strange structure, but I do think the main miniseries and the BN:GL book were really strong.

    The rest of the tie-ins didn't interest me very much. From the outside, it just seemed like BN was an excuse to have every DC character/team fight against some zombie copies of their most famous dead. Cheap angst, really.

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  4. Yeah, but no. There's been a fair bit of discussion on the other reviews how the tie in minis didn't go the obvious route with predictable zombie angst - particularly Flash, Wonder Woman and Superman. I haven't read Rise of the Black Lanterns yet, but the other companion volumes have been pretty good.

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  5. I lean a bit toward David's take on the "cheap angst." Some of the tie-ins were good -- Blackest Night: Flash, and many of the "resurrected titles" including Question, Catwoman, and Starman -- but outside the main series and the Green Lantern and Corps books, I was oftentimes disappointed by somewhat generic stories.

    Blackest Night: Batman barely touched on Dick's guilt when faced with a resurrected Blockbuster, the man he let be murdered; beyond Donna Troy and her family, most of the resurrected Titans were so much window dressing; Wonder Woman's encounter with Maxwell Lord barely scratched the surface of what that death meant to the DCU as a whole; and the modern JSAers hardly exchanged two words with their dead counterparts. Many parts of Blackest Night were exceptional, don't get me wrong, but (in my opinion) I understand the "predictable" charge.

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