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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Summer of Green Lantern, 3: Blackest Night

click to enlarge DEM BONES: Blackest Night #1
  • DEM BONES: Blackest Night #1

Batman died in January, but he might get better. That's an implicit message of the first issue of Blackest Night, an eight-issue miniseries that also refers, collectively, to DC Comics' big "crossover" event of 2009. Since Blackest Night started earlier in July, you can barely set foot in a comic book store without spotting some reference to it. I even got a free "Black Lantern power ring" when I bought Blackest Night #1 at my neighborhood shop, although I have to acknowledge that it's made of plastic and exhibits no powers over life and death. So far.

Promising that "The dead will rise..."Blackest Night is the brainchild of writer Geoff Johns, who's been foreshadowing it for years, almost immediately after he began his intriguing run on Green Lantern. (John took inspiration for the sprawling, spooky plot from an obscure Green Lantern Corps story written by Watchmen creator Alan Moore in 1986.) Blackest Night will continue to be a major part of Green Lantern continuity while encompassing most of the"universe" of DC's caped crusaders. Blackest Night #1 begins with an interesting, credible touch by revealing that this comic book version of America observes a national day of commemoration for fallen superheroes, not unlike contemporary memorials of September 11. It also provides a justification to offer a role call for the (temporarily) deceased, including Batman, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter and more obscure good guys and bad ones.

In a nutshell, Blackest Night promises to resemble a hybrid of Dawn of the Dead and DC's first major crossover book, Crisis on Infinite Earths (which featured cameos from nearly every character ever published). In Green Lantern, Johns has introduced new outer space super-groups associated with primary colors and emotions (the raging Red Lanterns, the hopeful Blue Lanterns, etc.) The Black Lanterns represent no emotion but death, and will apparently be marauding groups of zombie heroes and villains who attack the living. (They're probably not the mindless cannibal undead of George Romero fame, but it's early yet.) Blackest Night not only has the expansive, overpopulated super team-ups of most crossovers, it's also steeped in the morbid imagery of horror comics, dating back to the fresh graves of EC titles like Tales of the Crypt. Blackest Night #1's most memorable scene depicts a zombie Elongated Man attacking a former friend. Something about the idea of a stretchy dead guy gives me the creepy-crawlies.

Illustrator Ivan Reis provides Blackest Night's images (abetted by inker Oclair Albert and colorist Alex Sinclair), and he consistently proves to be Johns' best visual collaborator. Johns' scripts and Reis's emblematic illustrations are expert at building up to and presenting two-page "splash" illustrations for maximum punch. Blackest Night #1 includes one spread of DC heroes who've died over the past two decades, and another of the dead members of the Green Lantern Corps rising to attack. Alien zombie heroes -- uh-oh. Blackest Night should offer lots of memorably horrific images, but it threatens to offer repetitive confrontations between heroes and undead comrades. I envision a Blackest Night drinking game involving variations on the line "But you're... dead!"

Superhero publishers love crossover stunts because they can exponentially increase their monthly sales if the fans respond. Such events were established in the mid-1980s with Crisis on Infinite Earths and Marvels' lame Secret Wars (most famous these days for introducing Spider-man's black costume). The  stories tend to be anchored by limited series, the plot-lines of which "cross over" to the regular titles. Inevitably promising that "Nothing! Will! Be! The! Same!" the crossover books can make the continuity so convoluted as to make the books nearly impenetrable for casual readers.

The temptation to buy the tie-ins can be irresistible. Blackest Night will include special three-issue miniseries for Superman, Batman and Titans - see the handy "checklist" ad. If you bought all the issues of Blackest Night and its ancillary books from July through October, that would be 26 comics, with more on the way. Blackest Night may or may not be able to measure to its hype and build-up, but appears capable of taking a tired crossover gimmick and infusing it with life. Or maybe death.

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