Leave Your Spandex At the Door #132: In Blackest Night…

This is Leave Your Spandex @t the Door, drank best black. As in, Blackest Night #1, the premiere of the hot button comic book event of the day/week/month/year!

… and because nothing says Blackest Night like crass + tasteless black humour, here’s your Nexus exclusive Blackest Night tie-in in LYSAD-vision:

THRILLER!
THRILLER!

…but seriously now!

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It’s the anniversary of Superman’s death (he got better as sales did) and the Earth populace is using the date to remember back to and commemorate all the heroes who have given their lives for their protection. It’s a very Geoff Johns notion. As heroes from every corner of the DCU revisit their fallen allies and reminisce about the recent death epidemic in their ranks, another figure, the Black Hand (reintroduced in last week’s Green Lantern #43) is also making the gravestone rounds, but without another purpose in mind: recruitment!

Geoff Johns is a sneaky rat. Although DC’s marketing would have us believe that Blackest Night is the culmination of his (indeed reinvigorating) run on Green Lantern and satellites and the last part of Geoff’s trilogy of Rebirth/Sinestro Corps War/blah blah, the real prelude has been nearly the entirety of DC’s production in the past half decade. Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis, Final Crisis, Batman R.I.P., Brainiac, the Lightning Saga, Flash Rebirth, they’ve all been leading to (and feeding into) the story that gorishly and lavishly unfolds in these pages. While DC was shouting “LOOK AT ALL THE PRETTY COLOURS IN OUR GREEN LANTERN BOOKS”‘, Geoff Johns + accomplishes have been slowly wiping away beloved characters and filling their coffins with viable zombie/vampire/Black Lantern candidates for this event. Proof positive, after all these months/years of ‘Blackest Night’ bannered build-up in the pages of both Green Lantern books, the actual events and plots from these books are barely given 2-4 pages on-screen time.

IMHO this already looks more deserving of the heavy with expectations  ‘Final Crisis‘ etiquette than Grant’s (brilliant yet ultimately uneventful) ultimate event.  Meanwhile, in just one issue, Blackest Night has already (in my eyes) shown to combine Identity Crisis’ emotional core storytelling (and quotability), Infinite Crisis’ all-inclusive / far-reaching scope/scale, and Final Crisis’ fast and furious-paced storytelling and snark (without feeling as disjointed – what sweet difference captions make!). This one really feels like an event, without needing to label it so and waste so much time attempting to convince/appease the fans of its importance.

But I digress… Indeed, this is not a Green Lantern story, but a DCU story, which just happens to feature Green Lantern and kick off from events in that book. The first issue already checks in on all characters in every nook and cranny of the DCU. It’s to Geoff’s credit that he manages to juggle all these characters at once, without for a moment betraying anyone’s voice or personality. If anyone can do it, Geoff can, as he’s already established himself in almost all of the corners of the DCU, writing JSA, Teen Titans, Superman/Action Comics, Flash, Legion, Green Lantern, Hawkman etc.

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This premiere issue breaks the mould of recent mega-events, by not squandering the entire first issue on setup. All the necessary /unavoidable info-dump is still here, but camouflaged through a series of quick vignettes recounting the characters’ emotional reactions and investment into the events and the deaths, rather than the events themselves. The readers are caught up with grace and feeling (and an intense sense of foreboding seeping through each sequence), and fed enough information to stay in the story, and not go ‘huh’ when the zombies start rising. Utilising the Reborn Flash, Barry, as the focusing rod for this trick was inspired, of course, as Barry asks his best friend Hal about the fate of the friends he left behind those decades ago. Through his reactions, we see the dread and disappointment of the Silver Age hero at the bleakness of the current Brooding (Dark)  Age of comics.  An honest and sublimely overwhelming scene (and a small confession: in the scene where the Flash and Hal are talking, I instinctively assumed the Flash was Wally instead of Barry. Just Sayin’…). Still, the most touching moment in the setup portion of the issue was the Super-buddies reuniting to pay respects to Ted Kord’s grave. If any heroes feel like real friends or family, it’s these guys.

I’ll admit I was not expecting the story to move on as far as it did in this issue. There were several logical points at which other events would have already called ‘to be continued’ (such as the reveal of the first Black Lantern); still, BL#1 kept on rolling, with a violent and emotional ‘encore’ featuring a major character’s death (or more) that was even more shocking for the timing here. Who would have expected the first seriously shocking death in comics to come in a series designed to comment on the devaluation of death in comics today? I won’t spoil the deaths here, but they do come to accentuate the differences between this story and last summer’s offers from both of the Big Two.

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Ivan Reis on the art chores, is a continuing revelation. When he first started at DC, I expected him to prove a capable workhorse but nothing more. He didn’t have a razzle-dazzle style after all. With the advent of the Hal Jordan Origins story in Green Lantern following the Sinestro Corps War, I was in awe of him, for the same strengths he struts in this issue. Flawless storytelling, and a constant sense of wonder and importance, without squandering any page-space with extraneous flashy one or double-page spreads. But when they are rationed out, the splash pages are a gasp-worthy affair, flawlessly thought-out, realised and rendered (and you can just tell there’s a few days’ or a week’s work put into each one). I don’t want to gush too much (oops, too late), but it did feel to me that not a single inch of any page or panel was wasted, yet still none of them felt overloaded (well apart from that chatty Firestorm vignette, don’t think i didn’t notice, mr Geoff).

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Yeah, I’m coming back to Geoff for some final boot-licking. To me, Geoff is the most able and deserving guy to ever been left in charge of the DCU. He writes with the passion of a fanboy and the deftness  of a veteran professional. In true Johns fashion, he spends quite a lot of thought and energy into giving us the answers to the ultimate convention geek questions noone asked (like where are heroes and the villains buried),  dropping memorable/ tweetable small and big moments (”eventspeak”), and thinking about the small details that make the whole that much more cohesive (i.e. the quirky notion of the black rings buzzing like carrion flies, the guardians calling for a ‘code black’, etc).

UPDATE: As I was re-reading the book today at my retailer’s, I came onto a realisation about the Hawkman-Hawkgirl scene, and thought nice to share my take on it. During their heated discussion, both Hawks are shown in some panels bathed in a red aura, right before the Black Lantern attack. I’m thinking these are Black Lantern eye-view panels. The black Lanterns can’t see the visible light spectrum ,but instead see the world through the emotional colour spectrum. Thus, both Hawks appear bathed in red, the colour of anger, during their argument. You can notice Hawkgirl’s aura changing colours through this scene, turning into violet, the colour of love/the Star Sapphires, as she realises she’s in love with Carter. Brilliantly and sublimely played, mr Johns!

Flashy, intimate, brooding, geek-servicing, gory and shocking to the max, Blackest Night is just the shot in the arm every fan needs to resuscitate from ‘event fatigue’. Super-Homeopathy! I’m giving it a strong and hopeful 9/10!

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Be sure to check back tomorrow and Friday for Gray and Aris’ take on the issue, and send us your thoughts on it, in the DC forums here, in the comments, or on Twitter (@manolis and @comicsnexus). If you’re still feeling a bit lost about who all the deadies are, check back to last week’s Who’s Who with Mathan for a run-down of, well, Who’s Who in that double-dead spread in Green Lantern #43 (I know, hilarious). UPDATE: The ‘other’ Nexus Greek, our lovely Aris has a better-late-than-never tag-team review of Green Lantern #43 that’s worth a read and a chuckle as well, just up!

In other news, this week saw the conclusion of Neill Cameron’s trully Awesome A-Z (of Awesomeness). I’d like to thank him once more for letting us showcase his work here on the website. Our resident stand-up guy Greg Manuel is tackling the recent Liefeld-Peter David bru-ha-ha over some gay kiss or another (certainly not the actual first mainstream comics gay kiss, as I covered last week, but a damn good one still). Oh, and this is also the week I graduated from my PhD in the sunny (I know!) University of Manchester. I’m told that I apparently look rather super-hero-ey in my graduation gown 😮

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Despite the amazingness of my graduating, people have instead seemed more interested in the release of the complete programming schedule for some media-type event by the name of San-Diego Comic-Con. This will be first time attending (or flying out of Europe for that matter), so I would appreciate your tips on succesful panel-attending. I’m unfortunately too spoiled with the UK convention circuit”s nearly linear programming schedulr, and this sudden availability of choice is doing my head in. More on that next week!

Dr. Manolis Vamvounis, the shameless 🙂

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