Review: Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 2 hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Geoff Johns has an unfair advantage in that he conceived of the Blackest Night crossover, and therefore the tenets of the story are nearest to his imagination. It remains, however, that his Flash story rules the second volume of Black Lantern Corps; it achieves what I feel most Blackest Night stories (including Johns's own) have been lacking, letting alone that it includes fantastic art by Scott Kolins. I was rather hard on the first Black Lantern volume, and the Wonder Woman and JSA stories here are only slightly better, but the Flash story alone makes this book worth it.

[Contains spoilers]

The Black Lanterns, it's been established elsewhere, are not the loved ones of the DC Universe's heroes, they just look like them. This makes the Black Lanterns one-dimensional; once the hero figures out the trick, it's no different than fighting any other shapeshifter. What I've hoped for in Blackest Night are instances of real emotional resonance, where the fact that an entity arrives with all the deceased's memories actually has some bearing beyond a superficial fight scene -- something that actually builds upon the relationship between the living and dead characters. Batman fighting the Black Lantern Ventriloquist had no such resonance, while Mera revealing to the Black Lantern Aquaman that she never wanted children did.

The Blackest Night: Flash chapters of this book also had that resonance. Even suspecting that the Black Lanterns are constructs, Captain Cold and the Rogues set out to find Cold's deceased sister and eliminate the Black Lantern Rogues because, of course, the Rogues take care of their own. At the same time, the new Captain Boomerang supplies his Black Lantern father with victims in an effort to bring him back to life.

Johns bucks the typical Blackest Night tropes in two ways here: Cold hunts the Black Lanterns (instead of vice-versa) even though he knows they're constructs, and Boomerang falls under the thrall of a Black Lantern rather than just meeting and fighting it. What follows is another of Johns's trademark deep stories about the Rogues, as Cold must re-acknowledge that abandoning his sister predicated her death; though Cold pretends to be emotionless, we learn this isn't entirely the case. Cold's path crosses with Boomerang at the end of the night and in a horrifying scene, Boomerang's desperation to save his father costs him his life.

The Flash Barry Allen is present, too. I'm enjoying Johns's take on him, though his part is less interesting mainly because it's mostly covered in Blackest Night itself. I did like experiencing the Blue Lantern "hope" ring from Barry's perspective, and experiencing Black Lantern possession through Wonder Woman's eyes later on.

What's notable is that Johns explains Barry's character here perhaps better than in Flash: Rebirth (Barry's mom died, he was emotionless; he became the Flash, met his wife, and had emotions again; he died, came back, started out without emotions but then regained them) -- and that in this, Johns finds a way to make Cold and Barry foils much like Cold and Flash Wally West were; Barry's constant struggle is to express his emotions and "be in touch," while Cold's struggle is to bury his emotions and remain aloof.

(Though why Johns avoided having Barry meet his resurrected Black Lantern mother, I don't know.)

Regarding the other stories:

As a fan of Greg Rucka's Wonder Woman run, I had high hopes for his Blackest Night: Wonder Woman. Yet, even with the promise of a face-off between Wonder Woman and Maxwell Lord, whom she killed, the story was surprisingly bland. The Black Lantern Lord is a laughing devil, far more like Dr. Psycho than Lord, and appears mainly in the first chapter; in the second and third, Wonder Woman fights Mera both as a Black Lantern and as a Star Sapphire.

Ragnell can articulate far better than me why Wonder Woman as a Star Sapphire is a questionable choice; I was more puzzled by Rucka's proposal that Wonder Woman holds unrequited love for both Batman and Superman, which seems rather easy territory already well-mined by other writers. While again, Rucka's portrayal of Black Lantern possession from Wonder Woman's perspective is nicely terrifying, this story is for most part a fight scene, without the politics or moral ambiguity of Rucka's Wonder Woman work. Though Wonder Woman affirms her decision to have killed Maxwell Lord, there was none of the revisiting or re-examining of the event that I expected.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that James Robinson's Blackest Night: JSA picks up from the end of his Blackest Night: Superman story; neither of these add much to the Blackest Night mythos, but the stories gain scope in duplicate. Even as we know all Black Lanterns are evil, Robinson turns this well in having the Black Lantern Damage do good for a bad purpose, and indeed Robinson had me half-believing he'd changed the rules before the story ended. Liberty Belle/Jesse Quick's emotion over the Black Lantern Damage and Johnny Quick is convincingly moving.

This almost makes up for Blackest Night: JSA's end, where the Black Lantern-killing super-weapon that Mr. Terrific created, in a bit of comic book ridiculousness, can only have worked that one single time. In addition, whereas Robison follows in great detail the life and deaths of the Golden Age Sandman, Mr. Terrific, and Dr. Mid-Nite at the beginning of the story, none of them ever really fight or interact with their counterparts; again, it's an instance of the Black Lanterns looking like familiar figures, but there being nothing to the story beyond the resemblance.

[Contains full and variant covers, Black Lantern sketchbook]

Still, inasmuch as I liked Francis Manapul's work on Superboy and I'm looking forward to Flash, I believe I'll always think of Scott Kolins as the definitive artist drawing Geoff Johns's Rogues, and that -- along with the demonstration of what a Blackest Night tie-in could be -- makes this volume worth it for me. With the seemingly more personal "cancelled issues" in Rise of the Black Lanterns coming up next, I hope that's more what I was looking for.
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5 comments:

  1. I agree, much stronger collection than the first Black Lantern Corps volume. Johns and Kolins are, again, worth the price of admission - DC need to collect that run, bad. I was also disappointed with Wonder Woman, it was just... disjointed for lack of a better word. It was the first miniseries which couldn't stand entirely alone - sure Flash and Teen Titans have (considerable) overlap, but not like Wonder Woman. And I enjoyed JSA more than I expected.

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  2. You guys are starting to make me regret picking up the BLC trades. I wanted to limit what I bought with BN and I started out ok; I just got BN, BN:GL and BN:GLC. But then I broke down and got the rest of the tie-ins. I haven't even read any yet. I'm making my way through all the GL and GLC trades so I can get caught up and better enjoy and understand BN.

    Reading the trades again, I am getting excited as I draw near BN. I've been waiting for this since I jumped on board with GL and GLC and it has been a fun ride.

    I've bought so much these last couple months that I'm falling behind. BN came out at the beginning of July and I still haven't got to it yet. But I'm almost there; just finished the SCW.

    Switching gears now, sry to go off topic, after reading the SCW I wonder if it would of read better if the GL and GLC issues were collected separately, like how BN is collected.

    On the DC boards and here it's been debated whether or not BN should have been like the SCW. Like I said earlier, I haven't read BN yet so I can't say too much but I wanted to give my opinion now before I started and see if my thoughts would remain the same after reading BN.

    I've read SCW a few times and this latest read struck me how it would of been nice to have each title in its own trade. I know both tie in to the same event but they still each had their own story going and I felt it would of been nice to give people the option to just follow GL or GLC. I felt there was some going back and forth and at times I would be into what the GLC's were doing and then the next issue would just be Hal story.

    I'll come back after reading BN and see if I still feel the same. Off to the post-SCW trades.

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  3. Blackest Night: The Flash was fantastic alone for concluding the story of Captain Boomerang Jr. Owen Mercer has been a member of the Outsiders, a companion for Supergirl, a colleague to Robin and a Suicide Squader. All of those memberships and ties ignored the fact that as a rogue he murdered the scientists who were experimenting on his father's corpse in Flash: Rogue War. It always bugged me that everyone wrote him as if that never happened. Trust Johns to use that as a foreshadowing of the depravity he was capable of in the quest to know his father. Chilling stuff and some real long range planning by Mr Johns.

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  4. Own Mercer has been one of my favorites, and I was sorry to see him go but thought Johns wrote him off impressively well -- Owen's desperation trying to resurrect his father, knowing he's doing wrong, is heart-wrenching.

    That said, it's too bad that Johns never had a chance to confront the idea that Owen is Bart Allen's half-brother; maybe, through the wonders of Flashpoint's time-travel, that'll still be addressed.

    With some reservations, abu, I think the collection scheme for Blackest Night worked. I know that's controversial, and I'll address it again at the end of the Blackest Night review series.

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  5. I finished reading BN and GL last night; it was good. GL wasn't vital vital to understanding BN but it is important to fleshing out the story and letting you (the reader) enjoy it more and watch how heroes/villians get from a to b.

    I would have liked to seen the BN event go away and just have GL be 8 more issues. Or BN could of been collected like SCW in two volumes.

    I sat down and was set to read all the trades according to Hixes reading order but when I got all the books out I was like, screw this; it's too much of a hassle to flip thru seven books and then I think that would of taken away from the main story. I didn't mind flipping thru BN and GL though, that was bearable.

    I'm reading ToTC now and plan on tackling GLC and BLC v1-2 over the weekend.
    I have to read it again but the ending of GL 52 didn't seem to mesh with BN 8.

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