Written by Geoff Johns
Penciled by Ivan Reis
Inked by Oclair Albert and Joe Prado
Colored by Alex Sinclair
Lettered by Nick J. Napolitano
Published by DC Comics
I’ve always, ever since my first review at Newsarama, tried to approach books with the philosophy that my job is to explain the requisite back story, as well as the script and art’s strengths and weaknesses to potential readers, with special care given to the possibility of readers who may not be regular comics aficionados. Granted, this is Newsarama, and most of us are fans, but I’ve heard from several non-readers who’ve enjoyed and benefited from my writing here. Easy as that task is when talking about independent comics, it becomes incredibly difficult to discuss superhero comics. As there’s ultimately little I can do to sway the reading habits or enjoyment of committed superhero readers, I like to expose my brethren to titles that they’ve maybe not heard of or have overlooked. But I think it’s also part of the job to allow a casual reader to know where he or she can comfortably dip their toe into the comic book waters. All of which is to say that Blackest Night is a strange book to approach from this perspective. Blackest Night is by fans, for fans, and if you don’t believe me, just witness how nerdy creators can be in the “director’s commentary” section at the back of this hardcover. (Not a judgment; get me started on my favorites and I’m just as nerdy!)
If you missed it (somehow), Blackest Night is DC Comics’ latest big event superhero mash-up. Deceased heroes and villains, and given the body count in the last decade or two in DC’s shared universe, there are a lot of ’em, return, reanimated by Black Rings to hunt down and kill those still among the living. In theory, at the end of Blackest Night, the revolving door of death and rebirth is closed, but DC also said that Zero Hour would clean up continuity fifteen years ago and the comic fans among us know how that worked out. As long as death is easy, cheap drama, and as long as somebody wants to use a “slain” character at a later date, comic book superheroes will continue to die and reappear. They’re fictions anyway; does it really matter?
Anyway, on with the review. Overall, as a fan, it’s not really too bad. It’s not really too great either. I called Blackest Night the dorkiest thing I’d ever read when my wife asked what I thought, and being something of a dork myself, that’s not a terrible thing. It certainly possesses moments that worked for me. First of all, Ivan Reis draws the hell out of it. I have (almost) no issues with any of the artwork. Alex Sinclair made the goofiness of a rainbow-spread of color-themed, ring-wearing characters look terrific. Reis lays out pages effectively and packs in plenty of emotion and detail.
In truth, the art misfired in only aspect, and depending on the individual reader’s taste, maybe it didn’t miss at all. But for me, and for nearly all casual readers (in my experience) who don’t read many comics, the decision to insert occasional horizontal pages among a predominantly vertical book is jarring. In other words, about once an issue, a reader flips the page and has to turn the book sideways to read it. The most noticeable effect of this art choice is to halt the reading flow of the book. The benefits … I can’t guess at.
As for the story, props to Geoff Johns for doing a solid job on the banter and camaraderie between the Green Lantern Hal Jordan and Flash Barry Allen. Personally, Blackest Night is as close to compelling as either character has ever come. The playful banter and dogged determination doesn’t quite carry over to Ray Palmer or Mera, whose dialogue veers a little too close to fanboy kewl, but you can’t win them all. There’s a fine line between cheesy fun superhero banter and just plain cornball. Johns also builds the tension nicely over the first half of the book as well, and gives each of his protagonists a moment or two to really shine. But for the first half of Blackest Night, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride.
As for the rest, some of it depends on your mileage and your commitment to these characters. And some of it just plain doesn’t work. For example, the grand admission of Hawkman and Hawkgirl’s love for one another is pure corn, especially if you have no investment in the tandem, and an interlude with several of DC’s magical characters doesn’t go anywhere or add anything to the overall narrative.
Simply put, the back half of the book is too long by far. A rainbow-array of Lanterns show up and blast things for four consecutive chapters, and it becomes tedious after one and a half. (Also, I’m not sure, but was the double-page spread of the various Lanterns reciting their oaths supposed to be beyond hilarious in a tenth grade poetry class sort of way?) Along the way, Johns does throw in a few solid twists – Lex Luthor succumbing to the temptation of his ring, Nekron reclaiming previously resurrected heroes (you remember when Superman died all those years ago) as part of his dead army – but each of those is offset by ideas – like power rings replicating and empowering other heroes, a silly deus ex machine (which doesn’t solve anything anyway), and the Anti-Monitor revelation – that simply didn’t fit. New readers won’t possibly understand the Anti-Monitor reveal, and even I felt like I missed a scene (perhaps I did, as I didn’t read any up the BN build-up) to explain his presence. Ultimately, the sheer length of it all and repetition of colored rays knocking down zombies, but never being quite enough to win the day became tiresome rather than exciting.
If these superhero epics have a traditional failing, I nominate the obsessive need to have ten full-page panels (or two-page spreads in this case) that jam as many characters as possible into the storyline. Blackest Night felt like it mattered when two characters were front and center, driving the narrative. It turns into a color-coded mess when characters are hurled into it because it’s a superhero epic and somebody felt it needed a bazillion characters, most of whom the reader has no chance to form any emotional connection to in this context.
Nothing I say here is going to convince most hardcore DCU readers that Blackest Night isn’t the best thing since their last favorite superhero event. Like all these sagas, the plot overwhelms to the point of not even mattering anymore, and excepting a focal character or two, readers are expected to bring barrels of emotional investment to the proceedings. Personally, given my character loyalties, I could’ve watched zombie Elongated Man bludgeon various DC heroes to death for eight full issues (and I still hope for a Maxwell Lord redemption, though the epilogue seems to quash that idea – I’d rather he stay dead than come back a killer). But I, and probably many new readers, simply didn’t have the commitment to the characters or the intricacies of the shared universe to enjoy Blackest Night the way its creators obviously intended. That said, I expect most readers will enjoy it a whole hell of a lot.