Re-reading Blackest Night in single-issue order

Monday, July 25, 2011

As constant readers know, I read the Blackest Night event for the first time in its individual collected hardcovers -- Blackest Night all at once, then Blackest Night: Green Lantern all at once, Green Lantern Corps, and so on. This was not, as many people advised me, the best way to read these stories, but it would be the way that some unsuspecting person might read them if they picked up just Blackest Night at the bookstore, and that was the way I wanted to experience and review them.

As I prepared to continue reading Brightest Day and a number of other books that spin-off from Blackest Night however, I wanted to take an opportunity to read the Blackest Night saga again -- and this time, in order. Using the Blackest Night Reading Order as a guide, I lined up just my Blackest Night, Green Lantern, and Green Lantern Corps hardcovers, and dug in.

It is a different, interesting, better, and worse experience reading Blackest Night in issue-by-issue order. By the time I finished reading the three hardcovers individually, I wasn't confused about any plot points that reading issue by issue illuminated; that is, I didn't gain any greater understanding of the story reading it in order than I did by series. What I felt were unrelated tangents in the individual books still seem to be unrelated tangents read intersected; the places I felt the story marked time book by book it still marks time read together.

It did, however, seem a bit more fluid.

[Contains spoilers]

For instance, the Spectre makes an early appearance in Blackest Night, and then never appears again in that series. He returns for a fantastic two-part story in Green Lantern (well-written by Geoff Johns and moreover magnificently drawn by Doug Mahnke) that's never mentioned in Blackest Night, and as such while the Spectre issues in Green Lantern fit between the pages of Blackest Night, it's clear they're just using up Green Lantern pages while Blackest Night's going on. But whereas the Spectre's appearance in Blackest Night seems incomplete and his appearance in Green Lantern seems unnecessary, read together they make a loose whole that mitigated the problem. Worse, in that it's more obvious, but better, in that it works more cohesively.

In a similar way, Green Lantern John Stewart appears early in Blackest Night and then all but disappears until the end, without much role to play. He gets a single issue all to himself in Green Lantern that doesn't quite work in that, with all the attention on Hal Jordan and Barry Allen and the DC Universe heroes throughout the book, a single issue focusing on just one character right in the middle is too strangely quiet and disconnected. However, reading Blackest Night and Green Lantern interspersed, the John Stewart chapter again serves to unify the two series, and specifically this is an instance where the cliffhanger at the end of the John Stewart Green Lantern issue picks up at the exact same moment in Blackest Night. If it's a little jarring, it's also nicely fluid.

Another example is a late sequence in Blackest Night where Sinestro gains White Lantern powers, proceeds in Green Lantern to lose them, nearly die, and then regain them, and then continues back in Blackest Night as if nothing happened. That issue is strange in Green Lantern because Sinestro doesn't have the White Lantern powers in the chapter before, and then the issue ends with "Continued in Blackest Night," part of what makes the Green Lantern book an awkward reading experience on its own. Now at least, even if the White Lantern Green Lantern issue still seems obviously inconsequential, it does at least gain some context sandwiched between Blackest Night issues.

Indeed, these were the parts of the Blackest Night saga I liked the best -- when Hal left Barry in Blackest Night to seek out additional Lanterns in Green Lantern, when the Indigo Lantern Munk leaves Green Lantern to provide help elsewhere in Green Lantern Corps, and when the Corps abandons their own title entirely to appear in one of Blackest Night's many eye-popping two-page spreads. Though I'm undecided whether the entire Blackest Night saga ought have been collected by series or by issue, there's a unique joy that comes from reading these issues in separate books and have the characters jump -- as if by magic or osmosis -- from one volume to the next and back, something that can only be replicated otherwise by actually reading the separate periodical issues. Maybe there's too much continuity and crossover in comics, but I maintain this kind of overt celebration of a shared universe is the key thing that makes comics distinct from any other media.

There was some discussion on the Collected Editions Facebook page as to whether Green Lantern Corps was quite necessary for an issue-by-issue reading of the Blackest Night saga. Though I myself decided initially that it wasn't necessary -- recalling from my Green Lantern Corps review that Corps only intersects with the main action of Blackest Night toward the end of the book -- I made a last-minute decision to include it in my re-reading. This was influenced largely and subjectively by my remembrance that Munk goes from Green Lantern to Corps and that Corps later re-intersects Blackest Night; I felt no such compunction to trade Dove from Blackest Night to Titans and back, but as the ties between the main series, Lantern, and Corps were so strong (and that Peter Tomasi writes Corps and then Brightest Day with Geoff Johns, and that I'd be reading the new volume of Corps not long after this), I ended up looping it in.

It does inevitably make for some unusual cliffhangers -- Kyle Rayner dies, there's a bunch of action with Barry and Hal in the other books, then we rejoin the struggle to revive Kyle; and also Guy Gardner becomes a Red Lantern, we leave Corps for the two-issue Spectre story in Green Lantern, and then we return to Corps right in the same place.

This latter loop is especially strange (Corps #44, Lantern #50-51, Corps #45), but has more to do with Blackest Night #6 coming before the other issues and Corps #45 dove-tailing right into Blackest Night #7 than it does with any real reason that Lantern should interrupt Corps. Personally, I rather liked reading Lantern #50 and #51 in one sitting, rather like an "extra-sized episode," but probably one could put the two Corps issues together before or after the Lantern issues here and understand the story about the same. Essentially, there's a little wiggle room for re-organization based on personal preference here and elsewhere.

I am still undecided whether I'd have wanted DC to collect Blackest Night as one volume with the main series, Green Lantern, and Corps interspersed. The answer with Corps is likely "probably not," given difficulties like the one above and given that book largely stands on its own. With Blackest Night and Lantern, the answer is closer to "maybe" because interspersing the books benefits Lantern considerably, though not necessarily the main series. Still -- as I might have said the first time around -- the uniformity in the art of the Blackest Night and Green Lantern volumes individually gives each one a distinct identity, and I would find it distracting to be reading one volume where the art kept changing, much like it's distracting in the Sinestro Corps War volumes; that's an argument in favor of DC collecting Blackest Night the way they did.

Overall, I've been impressed with Geoff Johns's "event" writing over the past five years. Infinite Crisis and Blackest Night are significantly more readable than Zero Hour or Final Night, due in large part to Johns focusing the story within the event series, rather than the event series being just a through-way to the events' various crossover titles, as was DC's previous custom. But Johns and company's inter-title crossovers never quite work for me in collected form, as is the case with Sinestro Corps War; even as the different parts lead in to one another, there's such an artificial emphasis on Hal Jordan or the Corps in every other chapter as to seem unnatural (not to mention radically shifting artists).

The same is true, for instance, of the Batman crossover Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul; the general quality of that crossover aside, the necessity to have each chapter focus on a different specific character when numerous titles are involved comes off as artificial when read in a collection (see also Cataclysm, Contagion, and so on). I'd like to see Johns and company write an inter-title crossover more like 52, where each character gets an ongoing subplot, than the current piecemeal approach; in that way, Green Lantern Corps might've fit more naturally with Blackest Night and Green Lantern because they all would've been telling the same story (and if the artists could follow a certain segment of the story across titles, as they did for Batman: No Man's Land, even better).

I like Blackest Night as a story different from the way I like Final Crisis; Final Crisis is cerebral and meta-textual and layered with double-meanings, while Blackest Night is great because it's just the opposite, a DC Comics superhero story not caught up for once in streamlining or correcting DC's continuity. Reading it in single-issue order is not essential, I don't think, but it increases the number of explosions and thrills and near misses, and I think that's worth experiencing. Flashpoint differs from both Blackest Night and Final Crisis in that it has no intersecting series or miniseries whatsoever, just tertiary titles -- if that holds true for DC's next crossover event, somewhere down the line in the newly relaunched DC Universe, maybe we can interpret that as some lesson DC learned from the collection difficulties with Blackest Night.

Don't miss our official Blackest Night review, back when the books first came out, in which I consider among other things the rather strange nationalist sentiment inherit in the Blackest Night story.

We'll continue from here to the Green Lantern and Corps Brightest Day tie-ins, and then Justice League: Generation Lost and more. Don't miss it!
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6 comments:

  1. I started reading Green Lantern with Rebirth, but started loving it with the Sinestro Corps hardcovers. They were easy to navigate and worked well for me.

    I read Blackest Night book-by-book and don't regret it. I liked seeing how things folded out - the feeling of putting together the puzzle.

    Mind you, if this were my first foray into the series, I don't think it would have worked out so well.

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  2. Interesting account of your experience. I have only read BN in single-issue form - I bought them all (well, except for a few like the Superman-Batman issues that I had just no interest in) and had them hard-bound into two volumes in what seemed like the best reading order based on a lot of debate on some of the Comic Binding message boards (without some of those guys' obsessive splitting up issues to intersperse pages even!). So I don't have the comparative experience that you do, but I will agree that it does make for a sometimes smoother, but often jumpy reading experience in issue order. I don't mind that, though - in something like this I consider the various issues to be chapters in a larger story, and I can remember getting used to reading such chapters that seem to jump back and forth in time even in prose novels. Most distinctly, I remember being confused and having to figure out the narrative jumping back and forth chapter by chapter in Burroughs' The Return of Tarzan and Beasts of Tarzan.

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  3. I tend to do the opposite of CE when reading a massive crossover; as I often don't feel like I "get" (i.e. understand or notice) everything until the second time I read it, I'll do the first read with all the tie-in issues, in whatever recommended order I can find, and then later on I'll go back and read just the core book (or books) and be able to appreciate it more the second time, as I already know the little side-pieces from the first read so I don't feel like I'm missing anything, but I'm also getting the full concise story together. As CE said, this works better with the more recent crossovers than with the 90's stuff; I read Final Night without any of the crossovers, and while there didn't seem to be missing plot points or anything, it felt like there should be so much more to the story. Armageddon 2001 is another one; Zero Hour wasn't quite as bad (if I remember correctly), and I think Underworld Unleashed can stand on its own for the most part.

    What I'd like to see regarding Blackest Night is a reading order that sort of compromises between the issue-by-issue or book-by-book approach; something that focuses on reading the trades, but will switch between them for major link-ups. Like, read the first chapter or two of Blackest Night, then go read all of the BN: Flash issues, etc. Don't suppose someone wants to take a shot at that and post it here in the comments? :-)

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  4. Thanks for reassessing this! I actually just finished all three of the main BN paperbacks last night (I'm a "no HC" kinda guy so I usually I've to wait an extra year or so). This was my first time reading issue by issue per your list and I thought it was excellent. I plan on rereading the trades by themselves soon as well. I really felt that the GLC trade was kind of unnecessary to read with the pterosaur two since the overlap wasn't as striking. They were all great though.

    I read Final Crisis and absolutely hated it. I only read the countdown books and then the solo Final Crisis trade and felt like I was reading every third issue of a collection. Things were so choppy and didn't make sense. Especially the superman issues. I would have liked to know why I missed in the tie ins.

    Thanks again for the list. Any plans on a Brightest Day or Flashpoint list like your Blackest Night list? I don't even know if it's needed since I know nothing of those two events. I'm very excited to read Brightest Day soon...I might just jump the gun and buy ten digitally. Is there any essentials between BN and BD? Thanks again!

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  5. What a rookie mistake...my first post and it's full of iPhone autocorrect errors.

    I meant to say that I felt GLC was unnecessary to read with the other two...

    ...and that I may just buy THEM digitally then...not ten :-)

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  6. Surprised to hear you felt lost with Final Crisis, Chris. Granted the series itself was a little wonky, but I thought it was the most self-contained of the recent DC event miniseries. Maybe you have to know there's been a major war between the New Gods (in Countdown to Final Crisis, Death of the New Gods, and/or Seven Soldiers of Victory), but once you start everything you need is right there -- Final Crisis: Submit and Superman Beyond as well as the main series. But irrespective I grant Final Crisis was pretty dense.

    I got your note that you found the Brightest Day reading order list; you'll also see even more Brightest Day updates on the timeline soon. Only thing I would recommend reading between Blackest Night and Brightest Day, with some caveats, is Justice League: Cry for Justice and/or Justice League: Rise and Fall. There's a bit that happens in one of the DC Universe's prominent cities in those books, which is picked up in Brightest Day -- however, those books received mixed reviews and they're pretty dark, and they're not essential. So, there you go.

    Thanks for commenting!

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