Death is cheap in Western super hero comics. It’s like there’s a revolving door between the worlds of life & death that the popular, marketable heroes & villains can just pass through whenever they like. Turns out, fans aren’t the only ones who noticed this. In mid-’09 an event started based on the idea that the doorway had been left open deliberately. All for nefarious purposes. The event ran for almost a year and had a huge number of tie-ins in addition to the main event issues themselves. To keep things concise, I’m just going to look at the eight issues, nine if you include #0, of the event itself. This is Blackest Night, written by Geoff Johns. A man who did have a pretty good run on the Titans.
We open with Hal Jordan & Barry Allen at the supposed grave of Bruce Wayne, this was back when Bruce was presumed dead but he was actually mucking about with history. They talk about death, the things that have happened while Barry’s been dead. With an emphasis on the heroes who have fallen. We end our prelude with a foreboding look at a figure in back clutching skulls while black rings float around. We then start the event properly. Black rings fall from the sky, attaching to corpses, mostly of heroes, and bidding them to rise. Before long, several heroes have been murdered. Because this is a company wide event and they always have to have pointless character deaths to show that things are serious.
But I’ll get back to that later. Basically, the rings are trying to use corpses to get emotional responses so that they can consume the emotional powers of people with their deaths. All as part of a plan to feed off of their emotional energy and gain power for the black lanterns so that everyone can be dead together.
There are some things I appreciate about the event. I like the idea that a doorway betwixt life & death was left open deliberately. I also like the way it tries to basically put a stop to further resurrections. Even though we all know that DC was never going to follow through with that one. I also do appreciate that the series ends with a bunch of resurrections as a part of everything drawing to a close, supposedly the last of them but we all know better. The black rings possessing heroes who had died but come back makes for a really strong dark turn. I also like the lighter turn where certain heroes & villains get deputised into different Lantern corps.
That being said, the whole scenario is cheapened a bit just because we do know that DC isn’t going to stop bringing characters back to life. It also does annoy me that some characters who died cheaply for the event, Tempest & Gehenna being two obvious examples, just stay dead. Because they can bring back a bunch of characters who have been dead for years but these ones died entirely pointlessly just now and they’re staying dead. The entity at the centre of this event is fickle that way.
It’s also established that the character Dove has an immunity to the black rings and is very strong against the black lanterns but the reasons why are kind of stupid and it barely comes into play. The Lantern deputation is also a bit clumsy. Most of the choices make perfect sense. Barry as a Blue Lantern, Wonder Woman as a Star Sapphire, Scarecrow as a Yellow, Lex Luthor as Orange. Then we have Mera. Throughout the event Mera comes across as calm and collected. She’s keeping her emotions in check and doing what needs to be done. But, I guess we were supposed to read her as barely containing her rage because she gets a Red Lantern ring. The problem is that that never comes across. For that matter, Ray Palmer as an Indigo comes across as kind of contrived. It’s also established that a Black Lantern’s bite does nasty things to you but they only use it with Donna Troy & they never really go anywhere with it. My guess is that some of the tie-ins used it to make the Black Lanterns more like zombies & the main event just barely mentions it to pay lip service to that.
You’d better know the DC universe really well for this one. I say that about half of the ring choices that work, Wondey & Lex, depend on knowledge of the characters that extends beyond the event itself. Wonder Woman is barely in the event & Lex spends most of the event trying to hide from the corpses of people who might come after him. Johns does do a good job of showing why Barry Allen represents hope and he tries to show why Ray Palmer would embody compassion but the results are kind of meh. The main characters we follow are Mera, Barry, Hal, Ray & the villains. Aside from them, we have a lot of characters who are there as a part of the DC universe and because the big climactic fight needs to have a lot of characters involved. If you don’t know who they are, you’ll just have to ask yourself who is this and why are they even here? Then you might elect to look them up.
To Johns’ credit, he does do a superb job with Barry & Hal and that does lead to the strongest moments in the event.
The artwork was done by Ivan Reis. This is one area where I can completely praise the mini-series. It looks amazing. The action posing is dynamic. The characters consistently look good. The creepy, uncomfortable atmosphere is definitely there. Reis did a stellar job. This wouldn’t have worked with a bullshit artist who traces their stuff like Greg Land.
In some ways, this is a pretty typical massive company-wide event. It has cheap, pointless character deaths. It features a bunch of characters it’s not really doing anything with solely for the sake of making it appear grander. It has easily five times as many tie-ins as issues. It has… let’s loosely call them “plot points” that don’t really go anywhere. However, it also elevates itself above the average company wide event by having some solid ideas, doing a good job with some of its characters. This might also be the only event where more characters are resurrected than die, in all fairness. But we also get shitty trades like losing Tempest but getting Maxwell Lord back. Because that’s who we want. The villain of a kind of shit company-wide event.
Ultimately, Blackest Night is better than most company wide events but that’s not saying a whole lot. And, compared to comics as a whole, it’s just average. My final rating is going to be a 5/10.