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Sunday Slugfest: Blackest Night #5

Posted: Sunday, November 29, 2009
By: Thom Young

Geoff Johns
Ivan Reis (p), Oclair Albert & Joe Prado (i), & Alex Sinclair (colors)
DC Comics
The moment you've hungered for finally arrives! Who controls death in the DC Universe? Nekron, of course--The Lord of the Undead!

The dark being behind the Black Lanterns makes his presence and purpose known--and our heroes discover that they aren't only fighting for their lives, but their after-lives as well.

Chris Kiser:
Chris Murman:
Paul Brian McCoy:

Chris Kiser:

Now, Mr. Johns, this is more like it!

Though the first half of Blackest Night was largely well regarded by readers and critics alike, the series had fallen far short of what it could have been. For a period of nearly two years, the event was foreshadowed in the pages of Green Lantern, but at some point during that span (in what looks suspiciously like an editorial mandate) the actual event turned into a story about the DC Universe as a whole.

This seeming switch in focus was undoubtedly designed to make Blackest Night feel “bigger,” but it was having the opposite effect up to this point. Divorced from the Lantern-centric build-up that preceded it, the story would have to stand on its own legs--and those legs, which mainly involved scenes of our heroes being haunted by ghosts from their pasts, were a lot less stirring and innovative than they claimed to be.

If you’ve felt frustrations similar to mine over the first four issues, then Blackest Night #5 is here to put them to rest. This issue is where the series finally turns the corner and starts to resemble the epic that it should have been all along.

After his complete absence last month, Hal Jordan returns in this issue--bringing with him the all-stars of the emotional spectrum. The title splash page featuring these characters with power rings aloft and reciting their respective oaths instantly thrusts Blackest Night back into the heart of the Green Lantern mythos. It may come across as a run-of-the-mill scene to the casual fan, but it’s sure to get the blood pumping for those who’ve been following Geoff Johns’s GL work for an extended duration.

The inclusion of the various colored ring wielders allows for the framing of the Black Lanterns as more than simply the "bad guys du jour." They become the antithesis of life; their cold, dark existence in sharp contrast to the vibrant range of emotions represented by the other corps. It’s a tried-and-true comic book formula that seldom gets old: stories are at their strongest when the villain is the opposite of the hero.

However, you do not need to be a staunch Green Lantern devotee to get a thrill out of this comic. Any DC reader will recognize that big things are about to happen here.

Without giving too much away, I’ll say that the characters appearing on this issue’s cover were not selected arbitrarily. Johns appears poised to make a definitive statement about the numerous deaths and resurrections that have taken place over the years in the DC universe--much like the way he used Infinite Crisis to comment on the grim and gritty comics of the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths period.

The art in this issue remains solid, but it doesn’t warrant the same level of excitement that the story does. The mid-series fatigue that has become typical of DC’s Big Events rears its head, as the noticeable use of two inkers detracts from the unified visuals that earlier issues possessed. Even so, penciler Ivan Reis deserves credit for continuing to draw every page of this series--meeting deadlines that others in a similar role have failed to meet in the past.

Now that I’ve read issue #5, I’m convinced that Blackest Night will ultimately take its place alongside the classics. Barring a severely deficient conclusion, this series will serve as a satisfying capstone for a longbox’s worth of prior stories.

Chris Murman:

Just when I thought Geoff Johns didn’t have a sense of humor, he gives me the gift of this issue. Never in my life have I seen the fourth wall broken the way this issue does. Notice how Nekron describes his place in the DCU:
“Many of you died. But you came back. And though some have questioned why they escaped death, you all failed to realize you did not escape death. You are still connected to it. To me. I put myself between you and everlasting death. I allowed your numerous resurrections.”
Ladies and gentlemen, Nekron is none other than DC Senior VP/Executive Editor Dan Didio.

If you think about it, the mustached man in charge has been on a killing and resurrection spree ever since he took over the editorial direction at DC. Now all I need him to say at a convention is how he would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for those darn kids and their dog. I find this dialogue funny, because we otherwise really don’t have much explanation as to who this lord of the dead really is.

Fortunately, DC’s Web site provides plenty of background information that is wildly more entertaining than what I’m actually paying for with this issue.

For instance, did you know that Kyle Rayner faced Nekron way back when Kyle was the only green-wearing space cop? Nekron, who resided in another dimension (or universe, I get so confused with cosmology from this publisher), tried using the supposed dead Lost Lanterns as a tether to our dimension to try to force his way in.

Of course, Kyle fought Nekron all by himself and order was restored. However, that story was ret-conned out of the history books early on in the current volume of Green Lantern. The concept could have been a key element in this series, but that story wasn’t penned by Alan Moore so it doesn’t count.

Blackest Night could have been a much better story if some actual Green Lantern stories of old were used rather than making this a DCU-wide event.

Instead of giving Ivan Reis more death scenes to draw, we could have spent time introducing the real bad guy in this story and what he had been up to since he last met Kyle. His “death” could have even been used as one of the main reasons for his return. Much like Sinestro pimp-slapping Rayner at the beginning of Sinestro Corps War, Nekron could have wanted to come back and punk the Lantern that turned him away last time. Instead, we get to see every major character in the DCU wear back except for Johns’s two favorites: Hal and Barry.

The single saving grace of this issue is the realization that Reis is going to be a busy artist after this series is over. There were some pages where I had to tell myself, “Now he’s just showing off.”

Not too long ago, it was said that Ethan Van Scriver was the only artist worthy of working on a Lantern book. I’m glad to see that Ivan is showing people how silly of a statement that was. Not only are issues coming out on a regular basis, but they also have more flair than we saw from Van Sciver.

I thoroughly enjoyed the double-splash of all seven lantern oaths being recited at once. It injected energy and drama into the beginning of the issue--making me actually believe something big was about to happen. Of course, all they did was stand around afterwards and quip in a non-humorous manner, but that’s not the artist’s fault.

The intensity picks up from there when the lanterns reach Earth to confront Scar, the Black Guardian. Every single panel in that sequence--including the double-splash of them arriving--was so impressive.

Many times, it’s difficult for artists to be ultra-detailed in their panels without sacrificing space used for panel layout. It can happen for many reasons, many times because an artist pulls off an incredibly drawn image, but the pose or framing doesn’t fit well with its necessary place on a page. Not so with Reis.

It may seem like an obvious thing for a comic book artist to do so, but you can tell that Reis plans the panel out before adding in the detail. I just think that for an “event” such as this, we need better than an artist’s best. I want to examine panels and smell the sweat poured over the pages--and that's what Reis gives me. What I would be curious to know is how much fun it is to draw new costumes for the entire cast of well known DCU characters.

The format of this story allows for Superman (all of them) to be a part of the story in his current state and still receive a costume change. Do I think all of these costumes are going to stick? Of course they won’t. The end of this comic book will leave things just as they were for most of the status quo--which makes things that much easier. Reis can draw whatever Black Lantern costume he desires for Clark, Bruce, Diana and the rest without there being any long-term ramifications.

Speaking of long-term ramifications, let’s chat about where we are at this point in the story.

So everyone has been turning into a Black Lantern for the past six months--which makes everything really old in this regard. Not only was it possible for the dead to come back to life and receive a black ring, but people who once previously “died” can receive one as well.

Additionally, if you have been bitten by a Black Lantern they can also give Nekron the power to turn you to the dark side.

What about those characters who donated blood once before or got a bad cut in a fight, do they get a ring?

How about if someone had a heart murmur or their heart briefly stopped? The ridiculousness just keeps going and going doesn’t it?

The series was halfway over before actual lanterns started participating in the main title story. With three issues left, we know next to nothing about our main bad guy other than what I found online.

On top of that, we keep hearing about some secret the Guardians have that Nekron is going to expose--so we’re to believe that he’s on a mission of benevolence to let everyone know what a scourge the little blue men are. Didn’t we already know this?

The rest of the characters in the DCU just tolerate the Guardians because Hal, John, Kyle and Guy all have jobs through them. We don’t need to know that the Guardians are secretive, manipulative, and overall creepy little do-gooders. We don’t care. They have given their green-clad space cops the tools with which to keep things relatively in line.

I just have a feeling that "the secret" isn’t going to be that big of a deal--making all this build from Rebirth to now moot--which, I know, happens in comic books all the time: Writers try to tell sweeping stories that build up readers’ hopes for a big payoff.

You can tell a seasoned reader because he will stop getting his hopes up after a while. I’m just ready to finally get a payoff of any kind after three mini-series. I just want all of this to actually mean something.

I’m afraid that other than the Guardians relinquishing their power and letting the corps run themselves, there won’t be much of a payoff. This story hasn’t been a very rewarding Return of the Jedi for this Green Lantern fan, and I’m betting that it won’t get much better.

Paul Brian McCoy:

Every time I think I'm out, I get dragged back in.

Well, this issue is a step up from the frankly amateurish info-dump of issue #3, which is the issue that made me stop buying any of the Blackest Night tie-in books. The current issue is probably about on the same level as #4, which really wasn't very good either but it at least kept things moving.

Thus, if you're looking for lots of sturm und drang, ultimately meaningless metaphysical mumbo-jumbo, and one or two decent ideas hidden amongst all the murder and muck, then this is the issue for you. There's really not much else to say about the book itself.

Oh, okay, I'll try to say something more.

The execution is reasonably well-done. The dialogue is doing its damndest to be profound . . . and heroic . . . and scary--but, in the end, its all fairly trite and clichéd.

Additionally, there are at least four end-of-page set-ups that have dialogue coming from off-panel that then lead to either a full-page or two-page spread once we turn the page. Johns clearly isn't afraid of overdoing a narrative trick, and he has no shame about pandering to the basest of fan reactions.

The clever ideas?

The first is that characters who died and then returned in the natural course of their publication history, beginning with The Flash (I guess Supergirl didn't count) back in Crisis on Infinite Earths, were only "mostly dead"--with Nekron being the one who kept them from completely passing on. Thus, they are vulnerable to becoming his zombie warriors.

Of course, this concept partially retcons Johns's own earlier explanation for super-heroic resurrections in Teen Titans #30 and 31--but who cares, right? Was there something back in 2006 that everyone missed or is Johns just reworking his own ideas again on a larger scale?

The second clever idea is the subtle acknowledgment that the "Bruce Wayne" who has been used to stimulate the "emotional tethers" to these resurrected heroes isn't really Bruce Wayne at all. It's just some sort of black goo construct designed to trigger an emotional reaction in those who see it--thus allowing Nekron to possess them.

Aside from those two clever idea, this issue consists of just a lot of punching and running--with both heroic and evil jibber-jabber meant to alternatingly sound either cool and inspiring or scary and deep. I think Johns might really think this is good dramatic plotting and scripting--and why wouldn't he, after all? The fan community is so far up his ass anyone who decries the Emperor's lack of clothing is just ignored or insulted.

Ivan Reis's art is pretty and excessively detailed--remaining the only real reason to pick up this collection of murder porn.

So there it is. Yet again an absolutely vapid and meaningless exercise in nihilism wrapped up with a pretty bow of clichés and mass murder. It's an utterly pointless and a depressing snapshot of the mainstream comics fan community at large.

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