Monday, December 12, 2011

GN Review -- Blackest Night / Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis

Call me dull if you want, but my initial response to hearing about Blackest Night and its overall premise--you know, super-powered zombies vs. superheroes--was pretty blase. My friends talked and raved about it, and I figured I'd get around to it whenever the inclination struck me. Recently, that happened, and I cracked open the tome by Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis, expecting to have to give this story a fair amount of time before I got into it.

Not necessary at all.

The prologue grabs you from the get-go. Flash and Green Lantern are conversing over Bruce Wayne's grave. It appears Batman recently died, and they discuss the possibility--the hope--of his return. As they leave, Black Hand steals a skull from Bruce Wayne's grave, charging a black power ring while, from afar, a black lantern battery ominously sends out black power rings throughout the cosmos, along with the message, "The dead will rise."

I didn't know who Black Hand really was. I didn't care. I was hooked by that point.

One common situation we see in zombie movies is the ordeal of having to confront a loved one who has been turned into a zombie or whose turning is inevitable and imminent. The turmoil of seeing them, dead yet not, and having to fight or hurt them in that form, is brought to the forefront, as heroes across the DC spectrum are forced to confront familiar faces, once thought departed and now given the grotesque impression of life and power through the Black Lantern rings. And as a special bonus, they retain their personalities and any powers they had in life while they try to kill and turn their living former comrades.

It soon becomes apparent that the Black Lanterns are very powerful, and their numbers continue to swell as they kill and convert more heroes. The Indigo tribe grab Hal Jordan and race to find and unite the remaining Lantern Corps, who must all work together to truly defeat the Black Lanterns. The remaining survivors must keep the dead at bay and stall for time as their numbers dwindle and the Black Lantern's grow, setting up a cosmically charged finale that promises an explosive climax.

To say the least, I was thoroughly impressed by the story. Keeping in mind that I'm only superficially familiar with the vast majority of DC characters, I was nevertheless able to quickly grasp significant relationships and moments where one character's dead friend or lover suddenly returned with horrific clarity. The action flows constantly, and the plot moves along very swiftly. Perhaps too swiftly in places, but I suspect Blackest Night, much like Marvel's Civil War, is meant to be read in many smaller installments in addition to this "main" text. I was able to grasp the basics of the plot and run forward with it very easily, which I consider a testament Johns's clear plotting and tight scripting.

I also have to say that, on a personal note, I was glad to read a major DC story that didn't involve Batman. He was briefly "resurrected" by Nekron but quickly cast aside once he served his purpose (he also wasn't really Bruce Wayne, it was later revealed). As much as I love the Dark Knight, it seems too often he's used as a lynchpin or centerpiece to the larger DC narrative, and it's good to see the heroes getting along just fine (mostly) without him, this one time at least.

The artwork is great. Ivan Reis does a tremendous job drawing detailed characters just among the living; bring in the dead versions, and he takes things to a dark, dank, horrific reflection. From whispering, creepy Black Lantern rings that seek out their "masters" with single-minded abandon to the looks of shock on the living's faces when they find themselves in a larger-than-life-and-death situation, Reis keeps things appropriately epic and personal in his depictions of the Blackest Night event.

This was an immensely enjoyable read. Not only did I enthusiastically end up embracing the concept of superheroes vs. super-zombies, I got a good overview of some of the many DC Universe characters I rarely ever read. Definitely recommended for superhero fans of all stripes, zombie fans, and anyone who likes a high concept cosmic epic. Highly recommended overall.

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