Closing thoughts on Blackest Night

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Hope you've enjoyed Collected Editions' look at DC Comics's seven collections of the Blackest Night miniseries and tie-ins.

Given the extent to which this crossover event excited both regular and new comics readers; how the symbols and paraphernalia associated with Blackest Night have grown in the comics zeitgeist nearly to dwarf the miniseries itself; and the weight which DC themselves put behind the event's collections especially, releasing seven large hardcovers all in the same month, we felt it worth a detailed look at each of the books in the series.

Along the way, what we found is that we liked some, really liked others, found a couple to be mostly unrelated to the main event and skip-able, and found some others mostly unrelated but worth reading anyway.

What I'd like to do now is offer some loose final thoughts about the Blackest Night event as a whole, and then open the floor to any additional thoughts you had on Blackest Night that might not have fit with the reviews themselves. There are plenty of in-series Blackest Night crossovers still to be reviewed by Collected Editions, so we're not by any means done with the conversation.

Be sure also to vote in our poll of the best Blackest Night collected volume. Results to be released in a future post.

[Spoilers abound]

* We see in retrospect, marketing-wise, how the Blackest Night collection program builds from the Final Crisis collections program; we saw a number of Final Crisis collections within months of one another, and we can inuit that was successful enough that DC published all the Blackest Night hardcovers right in the same month. I can't imaging how DC could "go bigger" with their next event, Flashpoint, but I think we should expect a similar number of collections, and most certainly hardcovers -- with almost every major DC title being released first in hardcover these days (not to mention twice-monthly series Brightest Day and Justice League: Generation Lost), I think the days of any part of a major event in paperback first are over.

* The major controversy of the Blackest Night collections has been DC's decision to split Blackest Night, Green Lantern, and Green Lantern Corps into separate volumes. In general ... I think I approve of this. Yes, the Green Lantern book doesn't stand on its own without Blackest Night, and Green Lantern Corps falls apart a bit at the end -- but Blackest Night itself does stand alone fairly well.

We could have used a short scene here and there of Hal Jordan with the multi-color Corps, but Johns is deft in shifting the focus to Barry Allen when Hal isn't there. Blackest Night on its own is by no means perfect, but it's good enough that I think the benefit of having three books each with a uniform art team throughout outweighs the implicit confusion; having the separate books, perhaps, gives the illusion that each is a graphic novel, whereas combined volumes might've seemed like collections of issues. (I do see how this can be argued vice versa.)

Hopefully, what we find is that Johns and DC take Blackest Night as a lesson in more cohesive storytelling that benefits Flashpoint later on.

* I remain intrigued by Blackest Night's thesis, reinforced in Tales of the Corps, that we (you, me, the DC heroes) are invaders in our own world, having crowded out the "darkness" that existed before us. I'm reminded of Zero Hour, where despite her protestations the time anomaly Batgirl had to die because she wasn't from the "original" timeline -- in essence, no one on the DC Earth is now "original," but still they exert their right to live.

And indeed, one wonders why the darkness and light can't just get along (perhaps to be explored in Brightest Day), whether Nekron is the entirety of the darkness or whether the darkness has a sentience outside of him, and whether there will ultimately be some recognition of the irony of it all -- that we're the invaders, we're the quote-unquote bad guys, even as we're not the ones trying to kill the other side. (Even as I type that, I recognize the magnitude of issues for which that could be a metaphor.) In short, Geoff Johns has reduced "good versus bad" to its very basic elements, for the most part, and next I'd like to see him complicate it a little.

* One thing that surprised me about Blackest Night was just how many characters died. In a book about zombies rising from the dead, maybe that shouldn't be so startling, but whereas in Infinite Crisis, I accepted the death of dear Pantha as a necessary demonstration of Superboy-Prime's ironic excesses, and Superboy Kon-El's death as a call-to-arms for DC's big three, I couldn't quite find the same justifications in Blackest Night's deaths.

Hawkgirl Shiera Hall returns, but where was the mourning for Kendra Saunders, a near ten-year-old character gone in an instant? What was the significance of the gory death of Holly Granger, other than to clear the way for the return of Hank Hall? What should we take from the rather blithe death of fan-favorite Damage Grant Emerson, except another horrific notch in Jean Loring's belt? It all seems like so much deck-clearing (and maybe it is).

Ostensibly (though not quite stated in the series itself), Blackest Night was meant to be the end to both deaths-as-impermanent and deaths-just-for-shock-value in the DC Universe. If that's the case, I think Blackest Night is indeed the end of that trend and not the beginning of the solution, because Blackest Night is just as guilty of these things as the books that came before. This is perhaps intentional -- I noted that Geoff Johns seemed to lampoon the ideas of character deaths as meaningful or as meaningless in the Blackest Night Superboy-Prime story -- but strange nonetheless.

* That said, I'm curious to see how the DC Universe is affected by Blackest Night going forward. Infinite Crisis, to be sure, had a tonal quality that resonated through the DCU (kinder, gentler Batman, anyone?); so far, hearing about the carnage in Blackest Night and the recent death of a certain legacy character, it doesn't seem that Blackest Night heralded an era of less death nor less mayhem. For me, what we are meant to take from Blackest Night is less clear, and that's OK -- I don't need a story's lesson plastered on the last page -- but if Blackest Night changes the DCU in some way, I'm still looking to find it.

If you missed any of the Collected Editions Blackest Night reviews, here's a handy list:

- Blackest Night

- Blackest Night: Green Lantern

- Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corps

- Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 1

- Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps Vol. 2

- Blackest Night: Rise of the Black Lanterns

- Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps

We return Monday with a review of Wonder Woman: Warkiller. Thanks for reading!
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  1. I thought the BN event wasn't bad; I too have read all the trades. I think there was too much dad people rising. The idea of having here's past rise is interesting to see how they would react but it can be too much if every hero had there own zombie to deal with. I think they should of just focused on past green lantern corps members and there families.

    I found the "Rise of the BL" one the weakest though a couple of the issues I did liked. I do wish GL was collected with BN and then it could of been a two volume set. But I agree that BN by itself is readable and you won't be completely lost. I was surprised by the BLC trades, I thought I wouldn't like them as much but they turned out to be good reads.

    When I re-read this series I'm going to try and focus more. I read all the trades over a period of two weeks so at times I found I forgot some things. Next time, I'll just red them back to back with no long breaks between.

    But overall, it was a fun event.

  2. You mentioned maybe the event should have just focused on Green Lantern Corps members, and I think that's an interesting idea. If DC had kept Blackest Night within the Green Lantern titles as with Sinestro Corps War, maybe there wouldn't be as much mixed feelings about how the books were ultimately collected. Of course, that would keep DC from fully riding the current wave of Green Lantern popularity; to some extent, it seems like Blackest Night just didn't affect the DC Universe that much, but maybe that will change with Brightest Day.

    Next time I'm going to read the main three series interspersed, and I wonder if that'll reveal anything to me (the head or tail of a conversation, etc.) that I didn't "get" the first time around.

  3. The release of Blackest Night collections, while certainly financially daunting, was a chance to experience the excitement of the event. 7 inter-related collections in 3 weeks is unprecedented. Unlike, most of the board commentators here, I read the most of the books in reading order and it certainly enhanced the experience. The Tales of the BLC have much more gravitas when the story is unfolding through the early encounters with the risen foes.

    The central Mini and the two Green volumes were everything I hoped for. Of the rest there was none that truly dissappointed and many other highlights -

    BL Flash
    BL Superman
    the Superboy Prime 2 parter
    BL Titans

    Another side bonus is getting to read Flash: Rebirth before Blackest Night, something the issue readers missed out in.

  4. If I were to break up reading of a book (read half early, and half late), indeed the "tales" in Tales of the Corps adds something to the reading of Blackest Night. I'm reminded, in thinking about the different colored Lanterns, of the scene between Atrocitus and Saint Walker in the Green Lantern hardcover ... I'll be curious to see what Johns does with these characters.

    Ditto on Flash: Rebirth/Blackest Night; I had forgotten about the delays. I'm still confused at the end of Blackest Night: Flash; how could they see Reverse Flash's reflection in the frozen Black Lantern, and what was the significance? I get that the Reverse Flash is around, but I wasn't sure about that particular moment.

    An exciting event, I do agree -- the final fight was by far more explosive than Infinite Crisis, certainly.

  5. In India, we have this typical genre of films called 'masala movies',which is awash with stereotypes from indian cinema,like a hero from a very poor family,complete with a widowed/single mother,struggle to get rich,falls for a rich girl,whom the bad guy also loves,the final fight climax & a happy ending...a complete 'formula'

    I can't help but think of BLACKEST NIGHT as something such,even the main event. The final fight though more explosive than IC seemed to lack emotion,and that in a series about the emotion spectrum....a bit careless. The interesting bits came in the TALES OF THE CORPS, BLACKEST NIGHT SUPERMAN / JSA /WONDER WOMAN & RISE OF THE BLACK LANTERNS' STARMAN, WEIRD WESTERN TALES & THE QUESTION.

    Granted, a majestic & sprawling event,but that's because none of the crossovers were collected in events before INFINITE CRISIS. What would the length of COIE be if ALL the crossovers were collected? Same goes for LEGENDS, MILLENNIUM, INVASION, ZERO HOUR ,UNDERWORLD UNLEASHED & THE FINAL NIGHT. So I think it's unfair to call it a huge crossover if it spans 7 HCs. INFINITE CRISIS had 4 lead ins & a companion (all in paperback),FINAL CRISIS had 3 other volumes apart from the main (4 if you include RAGE OF THE RED LANTERNS) with a companion,strangely the companion was the only one in paperback.

    COIE, LEGENDS, MILLENNIUM, INFINITE CRISIS were all 'masala movies',while ZERO HOUR & THE FINAL NIGHT were the same,but done right & kind of nicely. FINAL CRISIS & UNDERWORLD UNLEASHED wre brilliant series,and deserved more praise than what they got.

    I'll still buy the titles in HC but I'll still hope that in the future crossovers/summer blockbuster events are something better than masala movies. Though sometimes even the aftermath can surprise you, like after IC there was 52, I'm looking forward to BRIGHTEST DAY offering something better.

  6. Slightly off-topic, but I found your blog a couple months ago and I've been hooked ever since. I really enjoy your writer retrospectives (actually got me to read some Wonder Woman and Flash, some of which I actually really enjoyed) and I was wondering when we'd get to see your look at Morrison's work on Batman (can't seem to get into most of his other work, but All-Star Superman and his whole Batman run were both insanely brilliant).

    I imagine you wouldn't do so until after the Time and the Batman TPB comes out, but I don't know if you'd want to wait on his second Batman & Robin run to end, not to mention his Return of Bruce Wayne arc (or even his upcoming Batman Inc stuff!).

    Anyway, great site, totally hooked, and I can't wait to read more!

  7. The Flash/Geoff Johns and Wonder Woman/Greg Rucka retrospectives are both very dear to me; thanks for your compliments on them.

    I'm about 50/50 as to whether I'd write a retrospective of that type on Morrison's Batman work. I like Morrison's work, no doubt, and I think I covered Final Crisis and Batman RIP in considerably detail, but I didn't like the first volume of Batman & Robin all that much; it was too on the nose, too obvious that it was trying to say something, and what it was trying to say (or trying not to say, through irreverence) I thought had already been said too much -- in my opinion. Certainly I'll have an eye on Return of Bruce Wayne and Time and the Batman toward how they agree with, disagree with, or complicate what Morrison put forth in Batman RIP, but Batman & Robin left me a little cold and I don't know that I feel strongly enough about the whole thing for a "retrospective" review (though, I grant, plenty of other people liked it more).

    So glad you found the site, however, and certainly there will be a review of the second Batman & Robin book, so I hope you chime in there and elsewhere.

    What am I reading right now that would warrant a retrospective review? Hmm ...

  8. Honestly, I wasn't all that keen on the first Batman & Robin arc either (mostly, I've just gotten really annoyed with what DC is doing with Jason Todd post Under the Hood, with the singular exception of The Lost Days miniseries going on now which is fantastic). However, I gotta say, the current B&R arc (Batman & Robin Must Die!) which Morrison is writing is a superb return to form and it's definitely something you'll want to check out once it gets collected.

    I'm also really interested in what your review of The Return of Bruce Wayne is going to be like, because to me it seems fairly boring and somewhat confusing so far (though Morrison's recent RIP Lost Chapter thing in the Batman books has me really wanting to like it).

    I loved your RIP review (one of the only reviews I generally agreed with about the trade actually) and didn't mean to short change it by requesting the retrospective. I just wanted to see what you thought of Morrison's Batman as a whole. Personally, I do believe he has created his own self-contained version of Batman in spite of the fact that it all takes place in continuity, simply because his take on the character is so different than what came before (the kinder, gentler Batman era seemed to have diverged, leading to a more fundamentally disturbed and possibly insane Batman, which is a fact demonstrated in large part by Long Shadows).

  9. Hmm...a BATMAN PAUL DINI retrospective would do,I'd say a MANHUNTER, but I don't know whether Andreyko continues his brilliant second can also do BUSIEK'S or JOHN'S SUPERMAN

  10. Thinking of significant contributions to DC now concluded, I think a retrospective of the Batverse tales of Greg Rucka could be on CE's mind - from No Man's Land to New Gotham to Gotham Central to Batwoman.

    Personally, I'd like to do a series on the best trades that don't exist.

  11. Hey, another reader from India here... been following for your blog for some time and appreciate your viewpoints..Personally, i thought Blackest night lacked the personal touch. I am a huge Green Lantern Fan (admittedly i like Kyle more than Hal), but i have been following Hal's adventures since the rebirth series. the buildup to blackest night was great, but somehow i just didn't enjoy the end game product itself. Go figure!

    And as you rightly pointed out, the Sensless deaths were probably what put me off the most. Now I am on two fence about Brightest Day!..

    Btw.. why dont you write about Marvel comics here? Just wondering!

  12. @Manks: CE seems to be more of a DC guy. Kind of like me, honestly. I stick to some series over at Marvel, but the greater universe stuff never pays off.

  13. DC is cool. But i would definitely recommend getting into other available comics as well.. Some series at Marvel, some at Dark horse, Image, IDW.. you get the idea.. lo.. am such a comic freak that way...
    and i would have to agree, the greater universe stuff never pays off.. your blog too.. nice stuff..

  14. @Manks: The way Marvel almost never keeps all parts of its back history in print is one of the factors of me deciding to favour DC,which I suspect CE notes as well. Of the 750 trades/HCs I own,409 are DC while only 151 are Marvel,the rest belonging to odd publishing houses like Dark Horse/TopShelf/Pantheon/Fantagraphics etc
    Though Marvel is currently doing a bang up job with their ULTIMATE COLLECTIONS(400+ pages) & the MARVEL PREMIERE CLASSIC hardbacks.

  15. Personally, and I release this goes against conventional wisdom, but I find that the DC series generally stick to their own continuities. I can read Green Lantern without Final Crisis, New Krypton can be read without Blackest Night, and so on. Marvel's top books are so tied into their central continuity. Good luck trying to understand Matt Fraction's Iron Man with Civil War and Secret Invasion or Brubaker's Captain America without Civil War.

  16. Yah that's also a problem with the Marvel Universe proper....previously big tier titles either seemed to be independent of the events or worked out a great way to further their own storylines, like DAREDEVIL by BENDIS,PUNISHER by ENNIS as an example of the former & FANTASTIC FOUR by WAID & AMAZING SPIDER-MAN by JMS as an example of the latter. I have stopped trying to follow the universe as a cohesive whole & just buy stuff I find cheap,or really like so much so as to ignore everything else, like DAREDEVIL by BENDIS, UNCANNY X-MEN by AUSTEN & FANTASTIC FOUR by WAID.
    Another thing one can follow in MARVEL is the classic MARVEL MAX series,especially PUNISHER, SUPREME POWER & BLACK WIDOW.

  17. Thats strange... i follow both universe storylines and feel that both companies are fairly alike, only marvel is better at marketing their stuff..
    Although, if you wanna follow marvel on the periphery try : X-factor (excellent series by Peter David), Deadpool, secret warriors , shield , The always excellent Incredible hercules, fantastic four (Jonathan Hickman) and their space books are excellent as well , Nova , Thanos Imperitive..and i am sure there are others as well.. Also marvel seems to be having "HERO SPECIFIC" Events - Captain america's death , Daredevil's Shadowland , Punisher's Frankesitein...

    Didnt speak much about DC as i figured people here are quite aware about DC.. :) :)

    So in summary, to me both companis are about the same with their products..

  18. I pick up some Marvel here and there, but it can be difficult keeping a split focus with two comics universes. The Collected Editions cadre of guest-bloggers have been great in filling in some of the Marvel gaps.

    No worries, Anon; I took your compliments in the way intended. How do you find that Long Shadows reveals an insane Batman?

    In my considering what DC series deserve retrospectives right now, I think I was venting a little frustration that there isn't anything really dynamic from DC at the moment -- nothing like Johns building a world in Flash or Rucka examining warrior morality in Wonder Woman (though Gail Simone is doing a bang-up job).

    I'm overlooking many things, I'm sure -- Green Lantern, though that's become maybe too mainstream, and what Johns may say in Flash the same or differently than what he said in Flash before; Morrison, of course, but ditto on the mainstream.

    I just lament that, at this particular second, there's nothing really good just under the radar like Johns' Flash or JSA was, or really genre-bending like Gotham Central or Starman. It's coming, I'm sure -- Batwoman is coming, and ... Jeff Lemire's Superboy, maybe? But that's what I'm saying: I don't see the groundbreakers like I did a few years ago.

    At the same time, no doubt the conclusion of New Krypton will warrant some careful study when I'm there, and also the various parts of Bruce Wayne's return.

  19. I felt Long Shadows really cemented Morrison's insane Batman by showing the incredible dichotomy between Bruce and Dick's Batmen (one that I honestly believe shouldn't have been nearly as major in the world of the "kinder, gentler Batman" post-Infinite Crisis). This might seem baseless or like I'm grasping at straws but hear me out.

    During the whole Lost Year event, Bruce went on a quest to "kill the Bat." He came back refreshed, with renewed purpose. He cracked a few jokes and was seen smiling on more than one occasion (it's starting to bother me how every writer has to make a huge deal about every single time Batman smiles). During the Face the Face arc, he understandably lost a little of that more lighthearted (for Batman at least) flair because of his disappointment with Harvey's fall.

    However, from the begining of Morrison's run onwards, we return to the more "messed up" version of Batman. Morrison has stated in interviews that he loves the idea of a legitimately insane version of Batman because it's much more fun to write. Batman suddenly has back all the baggage he had prior to his Nanda Parbat days, returning to his ever-prepared, super-paranoid, man-who-knows-everything-and-everything-is-scary-and-depressing phase. Except now it's even more extreme. Now there is meaning to everything that happens, symbolism in every action, and a Batman who may have been insane all along.

    Essentially, this is my roundabout way of saying that Morrison's Batman is crazy (mostly because that's what Morrison loves to write), and the craziness is self-contained in that after Morrison's run, it's unlikely that insanity will be referenced again for a while. Where Long Shadows figures in (for me at least), is that Morrison seems to posit that a man who dresses up like a bat and fights crime and does all the things Batman does, must be insane. Whereas Dick Grayson can dress up like a bat, do everything Batman did before with a smile literally on his face, deal with the fact that he lives in a world of superpowered heroes and criminals as well as the fact that his mentor/father is on a trip through time courtesy of an archetypal evil alien God who got killed with a magic bullet, and still be perfectly all right.

    You could argue that Dick is his own man, far removed from the insanity that plagues Bruce. However, shouldn't Dick be arguably more messed up than Bruce having not only seen his parents die before his eyes but also having taken up the fight against crime from a much younger age than his mentor, spending his formative years in the company of psychopaths and superpowered beings in tights?

    I'm surprised Morrison hasn't moved over to The Flash or Superman, to posit that both are insane due to their mastery of superspeed (as their minds must operate faster in order for them to run at those speeds while avoiding obstacles and therefore the "normal" world must drag endlessly for them especially considering how many times each must have gone insane (because if their minds go as fast as they do then running still seems to take as much time for them as it does for regular people))... but that's all going off-topic even more.

    Basically, Morrison's Batman is insane (he has stated it himself), and a retrospective wouldn't be so much about the plotlines, but rather about the era in which there existed a Batman who simply HAD to be insane (according to his writer) and all the implications therein about the rest of the DCU.

  20. I can't argue with "Morrison says Batman is insane" if you've read him say it in an interview, but my take was that Morrison's Batman is more human than a human, if you will -- that Batman's not insane, but rather works on a level above the people around him, one where he has the foresight to create himself a backup personality, even, should his front-most personality be compromised. Someone super-in-control of himself, so much so that he might seem to the rest of us insane.

    But, also I believe it's open to interpretation, and your take (or what Morrison himself may have said) makes sense, too.

  21. Thats the best thing about Morrison I think. His work is always open to interpretation , and more often than not requires re-reading to make sure you have captured all the nuances....
    Although sometimes i do wonder, whether he plays with his readers just for the sake of playing!..

  22. You know, I think Grant goes back and forth about Batman's sanity. The Batman he wrote back in JLA, for example, was a fairly well-adjusted guy, even if he made that strange hissing sound ("Hh") sometimes. Batman's mental state feels like a more recent thing Grant's exploring, birthed when he studied the character's entire history and realized the sci-fi Batman stories of the '50s stuck out like a sore thumb.

    Hawkgirl Shiera Hall returns, but where was the mourning for Kendra Saunders, a near ten-year-old character gone in an instant? What was the significance of the gory death of Holly Granger, other than to clear the way for the return of Hank Hall? What should we take from the rather blithe death of fan-favorite Damage Grant Emerson, except another horrific notch in Jean Loring's belt? It all seems like so much deck-clearing (and maybe it is).

    That's a really great point, especially where Kendra is concerned. Well, actually... she's a tricky case. Kendra technically died years ago and Shayera's soul took her place, but Shayera still THOUGHT she was Kendra. Or at least, she still viewed the world as Kendra did. Still, you'd think she'd have gotten SOME kind of mention in Brightest Day.

    Holly's death saddened me, too, as she never did quite get to fully, er, "spread her wings" as a character (ditto many of the Teen Titans Geoff Johns introduced when "One Year Later" happened). Still, her death and Hank's return make me wonder if Geoff might've been making a statement about legacies. Hawk, Aqualad and Atom died, only to be replaced by another Hawk, Aqualad and Atom. "Heroes die... legends live forever," as the Final Crisis tagline said. Or, if Geoff views the DC Universe a living organism, like Grant does (I think), then it's like a new strand of hair growing from the same follicle

  23. The deaths in Blackest Night, to an extent, were of also-ran characters: a poorly defined Hawk, a generally unused Aqualad (Tempest), an Atom that never quite caught on, Damage, Captain Boomerang Jr. ... fan favorites, but characters that never quite "made it." And maybe that deck-clearing is necessary, in that it makes for a stronger DC Universe going forward; I'd just have liked some explanation, maybe in-story, for why these characters in particular.

    Great comment, Gokitalo; thanks.