Review: Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, September 06, 2010

As the last Blackest Night hardcover published, Tales of the Corps would seem the most tertiary of the books. Indeed, if you've read all the others, there's not much here that you don't already know, but I was surprised at just how strong some of these short stories are. Writers Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi give a sharp outing to Agent Orange, the Blue Lanterns, Indigo Tribe, and Star Sapphires in particular, followed by a cogent re-explanation of the war between darkness and light that underpins Blackest Night. The book -- and the crossover as a whole -- closes with a two-part Superboy-Prime tale that's a worthy meta-epilogue to the event.

[Contains spoilers]

Short Green Lantern Corps "tales," often as backups to other stories, have sometimes been dangerously repetitive -- a Lantern faces a situation, it doesn't go as planned, the Lantern learns something. Indeed, there's a couple of stories in Tales of the Corps that follow this pattern; Tomasi's Kilowog story, though it ties in to Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corps, is rather predictable, and Johns's Red Lantern story doesn't reveal anything about those Lanterns that we didn't already know.

In the majority of the Tales of the Corps stories, however, I appreciated how the writers complicate the Lanterns or otherwise plays them against type. In Tomasi's Agent Orange story, the alien Blume (before he's subsumed by the Orange Lantern) travels between planets stealing and eating their riches; in a painful scene, a civilization seemingly sacrifices their children to Blume -- but, since Blume is only interested in material wealth, he later gives the children back. This is a complicated idea of avarice, escaping some of the parody of Agent Orange Larfleeze, and it makes the Orange Lantern concept richer overall.

Similarly, in Johns's story about the Indigo Tribe, leader Indigo-1 suffocates to death an injured Green Lantern, and then sends a member of the Sinestro Corps away free. The Indigo Tribe represents compassion, though their motivations remain mysterious even after Blackest Night; here, too, we have a complicated interpretation of this "emotion," in that the most compassionate thing to do for the Green Lantern was to end his life, and the most compassionate thing to do for the Sinestro Corpsman was to let him go. Rather than something one-sided, these stories suggest both the good and bad that can come from otherwise simple emotions.

Honorable mention goes to the Blue Lantern and Star Sapphire chapters by Johns. In the former, future Blue Lantern Saint Walker faces the destruction of his home planet by taking his family on a quest to seek their Messiah; the results are tragic, perhaps predictably so, but benefits from Johns's take on both the benefits and drawbacks of faith and hope. The Star Sapphire story, remarkably, entirely involves a conversation between Carol Ferris and a Sapphire ring in the cockpit of Carol's airplane; the story features art by Gene Ha and is both a good look back at Carol's history as the Sapphire, and also a prime example of a cogent comics story that doesn't require punching and kicking.

The book closes with Adventure Comics #4-5, the return of Geoff Johns's controversial Superboy-Prime (Johns co-writes the two issues with Sterling Gates). After Legion of Three Worlds, Superboy-Prime lives on the reconstituted Earth-Prime (DC's version of "our" Earth), aware of the DC Universe through comic books; Superboy learns he might die in Blackest Night just as a Black Lantern Corps of heroes that he's killed arrive on Earth-Prime seeking revenge. Superboy proceeds to DC Comics, of all things, to save himself by changing the next issue or otherwise destroying the company.

For a series that has knocked off a number of characters with even more alacrity than DC is generally known for, there's a great self-parody in this final story. Superboy-Prime, reminiscent of Grant Morrison's Animal Man, decries being a plaything to the DC Comics writers who decide whether he lives or dies. In Blackest Night, Johns must realize, he's used the characters as playthings even more than usual, even as the lasting point of Blackest Night is that, potentially, death won't be used as such an easy stunt any more.

The story would seem to end with Superboy-Prime getting a measure of peace from the writers in the return of his dead girlfriend, but ultimately it's another Black Lantern trick. The message, perhaps, is that it's just comics, or else that Superboy-Prime is the Charlie Brown of the DC Universe, doomed always to fail no matter what he might try. It's a flip moment where Johns simultaneously takes responsibility for the carnage of Blackest Night and also downplays it, and that seems a worthy two sentiments to go out on.

Tales of the Corps also includes a fascinating two-page essay by artist Ethan Van Skiver discussing the creation of each of the various Lantern symbols, and villain Black Hand's creepy "Book of the Black" diary by Geoff Johns (creepy not just for the murders Hand describes, but also for the hint, again, that the Indigo Tribe may not be as benign as they seem ...)

[Contains full and variant covers, Black Lantern sketchbook]

Coming up next, some closing thoughts to finish out Collected Editions' series of Blackest Night reviews.
Collected Editions 2014 Comic Book Gift Guide
Get the Collected Editions scoop before anyone else -- on Facebook!

8 comments:

  1. I really liked this one, too, because it's pretty manageable in the midst of this big sprawling epic crossover. I liked how some background characters finally got a story, which is one of Johns's strong suits. There did seem to me a qualitative difference between Johns and the other writers in here, but perhaps that's just me being a diehard Johnsian.

    Interesting reading of Superboy-Prime as Johns's admission of guilt in the crossover casualties. I've always read Superboy-Prime as an indictment of the fanboy mentality - always shouting for something different, destructively so, and never happy with the status quo because how it "used to be" is somehow intrinsically better than "how it is now." I thought this really came out in BL Alexander Luthor's speech about how Superboy-Prime wants to control something he has no role in creating. One wonders, then, if this two-parter is Johns's way of condemning to death the greedy fanboy.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I dug this collection because it is just a scrap book, basically. Things that don't fit anywhere else. As you said, the stories are entirely predictable, but I appreciated the texture. And the Book of the Book is a wonderful bit of shading on the event (filled with all sorts of little connections that I missed the first time around).

    And I have no problem with Johns' parody of fanboy-ism in Superboy-Prime, because it's a parody of a very particular type of fanboy.

    What did you make of the event as a whole, in comparison to Final Crisis or Infinite Crisis?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Agreed that Johns pokes a bit at the fanboy mentality in his use of Superboy-Prime (here and elsewhere); in this instance, and with the use of the DC creators, I thought he implicated himself a bit in giving his characters too hard of a time. Certainly the end upholds your interpretation, in that Superboy-Prime, as the fanboy, is soon to learn the danger of getting what he wishes for ...

    Darren, I'll talk a bit more in tomorrow's post how I felt Infinite Crisis was more layered than Blackest Night; Blackest Night had strong points, no question, but ending Infinite Crisis I had a better sense of how the crossover would change the tone and characters of the DC Universe, that I did not have with Blackest Night. Though, my sense is that more readers liked Blackest Night than Infinite Crisis?

    As for Final Crisis, I think it's hard to compare; Final Crisis is only a crossover event in the most liberal definition of the term; more like a self-contained miniseries that happened to have an effect on the DC Universe. I have great affection for Final Crisis as its own thing, whereas it's more difficult to separate Infinite Crisis or Blackest Night from what surrounded them.

    ReplyDelete
  4. The fanboy prodding is part of why I love the Superboy Prime character. For the most part, I've grown to despise fandom in general over the years. So seeing the fanboys lampooned? Hell yes, sign me up.

    I do hope this is the last we see of him for now though; if they go too much further with him right now there's the risk of the joke wearing thin.

    @CE: It's kind of funny, because there were quite a few people who bashed Final Crisis simply BECAUSE it was self contained. Cut to right before that and everyone is complaining about how they have to get drawn into the events and why can't they be self contained. They do that and they catch flak for the event "not mattering". Ugh, fans.

    ReplyDelete
  5. For me, Final Crisis mattered just the right amount -- didn't derail every series, but continues on in Batman, Justice League, Titans, etc. I'm actually not sure Blackest Night mattered enough, at least initially (not necessarily counting the Brightest Day crossovers), but admittedly I'm only just now starting to read those tie-ins.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Blackest Night doesn't seem to be having a lot of long term effect on much of anything. Most of the effects seem to be from Brightest Day. Any series that tied to Blackest Night seemed to move on from it relatively simply, not calling back to it much.

    ReplyDelete
  7. @ collectededitions & dl316bh: I think you're both right with Blackest Night not seeming to make as big an impact as, say, Infinite Crisis and not being quite as disconnected as Final Crisis. In your retrospective, you make the observation that the event has huge, and that it might have done better to remain more tightly focused on the Green Lantern books (like Sinestro Corps War) and I agree.

    I still got the impression, though, that this wasn't intended as a "rule changer" type crossover. Sure, the "no more resurrections" is a strong statement, but I felt reading it that Blackest Night was more about closing one book than opening another one. It was a belated goodbye to the "dark and edgy" DCU (which is something that has been said goodbye to countless times since Kingdom Come, but series like Cry For Justice demonstrate it's never really gone). I thought Blackest Night was just a really, really, REALLY overstated full stop at the end, an attempt to tidy things up for a new direction, without commenting too much on that direction. And, in fairness, I think Johns concedes as much - although it obviously ties into coming events (obviously Brightest Day), it does seem like it's too obviously a piece of set up. Which is odd in a medium like comic books.

    I hope, but the reviews aren't helping me believe, that Brightest Day might offer more of a mission statement.

    ReplyDelete
  8. "No more resurrections" sounds to me like "no more mutants" -- we all knew that would only last so long, and no longer.

    My post-Blackest Night resolution is to pick up the books that matter (or matter to me) and leave aside the ones that don't -- that is, bypassing the umpteen Batman books or the second JSA title. Unfortunately, I keep thinking I really ought pick up the Brightest Day hardcover ... *sigh*

    ReplyDelete