Review: Blackest Night: Rise of the Black Lanterns hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, September 02, 2010

In contrast to the second volume of Black Lantern Corps, where Geoff Johns's Blackest Night: Flash was the strongest of the stories collected there, his Atom and Hawkman chapter in Rise of the Black Lanterns is easily and surprisingly the weakest. Fortunately, a number of the other stories are quite good, including strong outings in the Catwoman and Question issues that bring about some of what I feel has been missing from other Blackest Night tie-ins.

Rise of the Black Lanterns collects seven of the eight cancelled titles that DC Comics "resurrected" for one issue in the midst of Blackest Night (plus an issue of Green Arrow and Adventure Comics). With this premise, I hoped for fairly accurate "final issues" -- books that could actually read as the new last issue of the series.

[Contains spoilers]

I grant this is my (perhaps unrealistic) expectation, and not something DC necessarily promised; to this criteria, however, neither Atom nor Phantom Stranger served as true "final issues"; Catwoman, Starman, and The Question all succeeded; and while Power of the Shazam had little to do with that original series, it did serve well as a bridge to future storylines (as, potentially, does Weird Western Tales)

Of these, I liked the Catwoman issue best of all. Writer Tony Bedard sets the story in the midst of Selina Kyle's current status quo in Gotham City Sirens, but the action is all about the old Catwoman series, and not just because of Selina's resurrected enemy Black Mask. Bedard focuses on one of the most emotional moments of Ed Brubaker's classic Catwoman run, when Black Mask tortured Selina's sister Maggie, and asks "What happened next?" The story is just as much about Maggie's anger and Selina's guilt as it is about Black Lantern zombies -- which, in my opinion, is how it should be -- and it makes for a fitting close to the Catwoman series in addition to functioning in Blackest Night.

The Starman and Question issues take a similar tack. I'm not as familiar with the old Question series, but I know one long-standing issue was Tot secretly being Vic Sage's father; writer Greg Rucka had Vic he acknowledge he knew this as Vic died in 52, and in this issue, faced with a Black Lantern Question, Tot admits it, too, while new Question Renee Montoya fights Vic's old enemy Lady Shiva. Starman Jack Knight, rightly but a bit disappointingly, doesn't appear in writer James Robinson's Starman issue, but the story is a pleasant enough Shade story. Both of these issues speak to events of their previous series, occupied but not too occupied with Blackest Night, and accomplished what I expected from the resurrected titles.

Surprisingly, Geoff Johns's Atom chapter is rather weak. This is a completely miss-able Atom story in which Ray Palmer basically gets knocked around by the Black Lantern version of his ex-wife Jean Loring, including being subjected to a gruesome recap of Identity Crisis and attacked by some former miniature allies. By stalling Jean, we're lead to believe, Ray saves the universe, but he's considerably more heroic in Blackest Night (and less of a punching bag) than he is here. Peter Tomasi's Phantom Stranger issue is more substantial but still struck me as filler; it's good to see Blue Devil here and I liked the idea of Blackest Night hits long-time DC Universe monastery Nanda Parbat, but given that this issue, like Atom, uses characters specifically involved in Blackest Night (here, Deadman), I expected more than this generally flat story that hardly affects the Stranger himself.

The Power of Shazam and Weird Western Tales issues lead in to forthcoming stories in Titans and Outsiders respectively. The former is the more obvious; Eric Wallace, whose work I increasingly enjoy, writes about Osiris, soon to appear in Titans -- while this had little to do with Jerry Ordway's Power of Shazam series, I did like Wallace's take on how the Shazam magic interferes with the Black Lantern ring. DC Comics Publisher Dan DiDio writes Weird Western Tales, where both the art by Renato Arlem and an appearance by the Ray make this seem like a Freedom Fighters issue. The Ray, however, and Simon Stagg -- a long-time Metamorpho character -- both next appear in Outsiders, which DiDio writes, so consider this a lead-in to that. DiDio's issue is at its core a Jonah Hex story, and fans of the Justin Gray/ Jimmy Palmiotti series might want to glance at this part.

The final two chapters, each from a "regular series," are the closing issue of Green Arrow by J. T. Krul (before he relaunches that series) and an Adventure Comics (Superboy) issue by Tony Bedard. I liked Krul's Blackest Night: Titans, and his Green Arrow story -- if essentially just crossover filler -- has some moving moments in Arrow's struggle against the Black Lantern ring's influence; as controversial as Green Arrow's new direction is, most everything I've read by Krul has been satisfactory so far. Bedard's Superboy story is wonderfully trippy, applying some unique time-travel issues to Blackest Night, and also taking a fond look back at previous incarnations of the Superboy Kon-El. Nothing Earth-shattering here, but at the same time each story displayed more emotion that some of the more uneven tie-in miniseries collected in the Black Lantern Corps volumes.

[Contains full and variant covers, Black Lantern sketchbook section]

Indeed, whereas the "resurrected issues" in Rise of the Black Lanterns are farther removed from Blackest Night than the specific three-issue tie-in miniseries collected in Black Lantern Corps, I enjoyed the former far more than the latter. Perhaps it's because Rise of the Black Lanterns, with its dual crossover and single-issue focus, is able to expand in character-focused ways more than the rather formulaic miniseries. If you were only reading one Blackest Night tie-in volume (and really, who's doing that?), I'd recommend this volume first.
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6 comments:

  1. Starman was the only issue of Blackest Night I picked up. Mainly because I was along time fan of the series and was not dissapointed at all. It was a nice where are they now feel to that series. I knew going into Jack probably was not going to appear. But his brother was probably going to be central since it was about the raising of dead heroes. I really like the fact that it will be included in Starman Omnibus Vol 6.

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  2. What is a bigger question....which resurrected title does NOT appear here....is it the Ostrander penned SUICIDE SQUAD....which if I remember correctly overlapped with SECRET SIX?

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  3. And...where are the other issues tying in into BLACKEST NIGHT collected....like ADVENTURE COMICS featuring SUPERBOY PRIME? Those issues were trippy..

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  4. It's unfortunately been so long since I've read Starman, Bruce, that I don't quite recall how the end matches up with this Blackest Night issue -- did we know about Shade and Hope before now? Maybe because I wasn't sure of the context -- was it a surprise, or was it a continuation -- it didn't grab me quite as much as I hoped (though I still enjoyed it). I'll be glad, as you said, to read it again at the end of the Starman Omnibuses.

    Aalok, the Suicide Squad issue isn't included here, only in Secret Six: Danse Macabre. The Superboy-Prime issues finish out the next Blackest Night volume, Tales of the Corps. Cheers!

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  5. Thanks for that clarification,CE.
    This gives me an excuse to check out SECRET SIX.
    Dint really follow Simone after VILLAINS UNITED & BOP......

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  6. Hope and Shade was from what I remember not mentioned. Maybe it was hinted at towards the end. But as the issue pointed out even Hope's family had no idea. I know what you mean about not grabbing you. I thought of it as more as an expanded epilogue to the whole series. It was just really nice to see these characters again. Since Starman was what really got me into comics after a long hiatus.

    And I've reread the omnibuses now about three times each. The last time because I was lending them out to a friend who never read the series.

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