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Blackest Night: DC's Brightest Event?

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For a hero, their greatest battle is the one against time. Is there enough time for Spider-Man to catch Gwen from falling? Will there be enough time for the Flash to find and defuse all the bombs? Do they have enough time to make a difference? Their greatest challenge, more so than any super-villain or mega-virus, is the fight against time and its eventuality, death. Making a difference drives a hero and getting as much time to do so is paramount.

Over the decades, dead doesn’t stick in serialized storytelling. Both of the Big Two have killed and resurrected characters with ease, creating a cycle of “death hype” that’s cheapened its impact. Any comic book reader will tell you, the first thing we think of when a character dies is, “I wonder when they’re coming back?”

A character’s death used to be the impetus for status quo change. Now, it’s merely become the status quo for them to die and return. The greatest sacrifice a hero can make is the one with their life (“Not like this. Like this!”), but what kind of emotional impact can be derived from the empty sacrifice death has become in comics?

Starting in July of 2009, DC Comics debuted the summer event series Blackest Night, by writer Geoff Johns and artist Ivan Reis. Originating within the Green Lantern monthly, Blackest Night was widened in its early planning stages to engulf the whole DC Universe as a much larger crossover. First officially hinted at upon the completion of The Sinestro Corps War in 2007, Blackest Night actually has roots stemming back decades of the Green Lantern mythos. Johns had been laying the groundwork as early as his Green Lantern: Rebirth miniseries in 2004, continuing into the main title for over five years. It’s safe to say that this event has been brewing for quite some time.

 When it’s over, the Blackest Night will have crossed over a collected seventy issues of material, including the main title’s nine issues (adding #0, a Free Comic Book Day prologue to the story) and up to six different three-issue minis. The rest comprise of crossovers into DC’s other titles and one-shots. That is one massive story told over the course of nine months. Multiple writers, artists and editors marching like an army to the beat of Geoff Johns’ drum.

The dead have risen, hero and villain, under the control of Nekron, the embodiment of darkness in the universe, and are attacking the living. They’re not after brains, no, this time they want their hearts, filled with emotion. Understanding the main story is as simple as learning the spectrum of emotions and that there is a Lantern Corps for each. Every raw emotion can be harnessed into power, this power channeled through a ring. Green is willpower, red is rage, and so on. The Black Lanterns (the undead, reanimated by black rings) are collecting these feelings fueled organs to juice up their Power Battery and extinguish all life and light in the universe.

The true power of this series lies in what we can all relate to, emotion. Johns has harnessed very common and simple touchstones of the human condition and made them relatable through the eyes of these superhumans. Even more impressive, he reconciles the industry’s penchant for killing and resurrecting. Within the story, big baddie Nekron has been allowing these heroes to come back so he can use them as pawns in his army. Subtext being Johns working double time to explain the past’s flippancy with death while making it matter going forward.

Recently hearing Dan Didio, Co-Publisher of DC Comics, speak to the matter, he simply stated that they are using Blackest Night as a turning point, more so than any of the previous Crises. As a company, they are addressing the fact that death has come to not matter in comics.

The story itself has been a dense but smooth ride, filled with wonderful character moments and action beats. There is a Magnificent Seven vibe to the emissaries of each Lantern Corps coming together to fight a common foe. Not to a secret that the Guardians (the oldest beings and protectors of the universe) have been keeping since the beginning of time. A secret so old that many have even forgotten its power. All of this leading to big moments such as Sinestro, Hal Jordan’s once friend and greatest foe, being chosen by The Entity as the White Lantern. The biggest reveal, though, comes after the final issue’s rallying moment, clearing the way for a redefining conclusion.  So much is packed in these pages, that reading it twice is almost necessary.

Doing so is a treat, though, thanks to the tight and disciplined work of Ivan Reis. Cutting his teeth on expansive cosmic stories during his run on Green Lantern, Reis has stepped up his game. He’s turning over the best work of his career and in such a timely fashion that I suspect he may be a machine. He puts more characters and detail in a splash page than most artists squeeze in an issue. We’re talking a George Perez amount of defined work. The four page fold out in #8 alone gets the heart pumping with its iconic simplicity.

Just focusing on the creative team’s work is a disservice to the size and staying power of Blackest Night. What started as a grass roots affair in the pages of Green Lantern has ballooned into a merchandising bonanza. The presence of even different Corps has translated into seven different logos for t-shirts, rings, action figures, decals, et cetera. Even for consumers not in the know, there’s an emblem for the Lantern Corps that best suits them (this coming from an individual who’s considering getting his immediate family members their own Lantern Corps t-shirt to reflect their typical moods). There is a real staying power within these creations that DC will undoubtedly tap as a resource for years to come . 

A reboot switch has been flipped, but it’s not the typical nowhere-else-to-go situation that spurred it. Through Johns and Reis’ work, DC has effectively “resurrected” their line up (literally), while maintaining everything that came before. They even went as far as to print the words “dead is dead,” making any joy of the returns pale in comparison to the heartbreak caused from those remaining departed. It’s a clear and economical way to tell the reader, death did matter before this and will matter from here on out. Here’s hoping that going forth, they will approach the themes of life and death with the gravitas it deserves. The very same that Johns has afforded it in this event.

To present fans with a giant sea change, while maintaining consistency in motivation and tone is something that is not typically seen in the current era of comics. No matter how good Amazing Spider-Man is now, many readers are still sore about One More Day and how it sullied their opinions of the characters. It was something that had to be done to get to where they are now, but happened with such blunt force that it severed the audience in half. So far, DC has been able to avoid this mistake, but still bring about a real shift in direction.

There’s never been a better time to be a Green Lantern fan (jump on the bandwagon now, kids). Perhaps the same can be said about the DC Universe? Blackest Night, as a brand and tale, has not only moved the collective story forward better than anything since the original Crisis, but it’s also provided forward motion to the company in every other revenue generating forum. DC’s ‘brightest day’ will truly be judged by how they cultivate and capitalize on all this good will. Only time will tell.

But, it can be said that as a reader and a fan, it’s shaping up to be a fascinating journey.

 

 

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