Thursday, April 1, 2010
Blackest Night #8 Firing Range
So, the Best Shots team and I rounded up some reviews for DC's big even Blackest Night.
Blackest Night #8
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Ivan Reis, Oclair Albert and Joe Prado, Alex Sinclair
Published by DC Comics
Reviews by the Best Shots Firing Range
The rings are bared. The universe is at stake. The dead have risen. And as the millions of the Black Lantern horde threatens to annihilate us all --
Let there be light.
A series that harkens back to the past even as it glows with potential for the future, Blackest Night #8 takes many of the flaws of previous issues and transcends them, going pound-for-pound with more memorable moments than any other book on the stands. It isn't perfect, but its humanity and its enthusiasm -- and its sheer craftsmanship -- make me wish that more event books ended like this.
While this series has examined the weaponization of emotions, one of the big concerns I've had with the trajectory of Blackest Night has been whether or not the characterization would be consumed by multicolored costumes and power-sets, and whether Hal Jordan would be overshadowed by the weight of the DC Universe even in his own book. From the very first page, I'm pleased to say that Geoff Johns has stuck the landing and proven us wrong -- he effectively sets up not just who the important players are in this book, but successfully melds together his disparate themes of fearlessness, companionship, and not going quietly into the night.
Ivan Reis, meanwhile, comes back with a vengeance after last month's issue. Even when Johns' balloons get a bit overwhelming, Reis always picks the right shot, with his panels of the various Lantern corps firing their rings reminding me almost of Alan Davis. Sometimes, of course, the sheer weight of the characters can be a bit much, but when it comes to Hal and the Green Lanterns, Reis makes everything sing. And let me say something that you will likely hear, again and again and again -- there are two splash pages that the story really hinges upon that Reis sells with absolute craftsmanship. Indeed, there's a real manic pace to how quickly Johns throws out ideas, and the fact that Reis can make them look so epic is the secret to Blackest Night #8's success.
Certainly this book has its flaws -- namely, how certain non-visual ideas like whether or not Nekron "allowed" the heroes to come back from the dead is a little distracting, and there will be those who find the denouement to be a little jerky or episodic. But when the chips are down and the world is coming down on our heads, Geoff Johns' mythology keeps the hulking enterprise from crashing down on this summer blockbuster book. In its own way, this issue is as ambitious a comic as I have ever seen -- even when it stumbles, it comes back up and rises again, always ready to take another chance and shoot for the stars.
And at the end of the day, there's nothing that represents Green Lantern better than that.
In the end, Blackest Night was a story that used death as the means by which it celebrated life.
Death in comics, as so metaphysically and metaphorically illustrated by this series, is not the same as death in life. In our lives, death is a random, unstoppable force that humanity struggles to reconcile and understand. It is one of the few things people can universally acknowledge as more powerful then themselves. Death in serialized comics awkwardly mirrors its counterpart, used as a empathic tool that brings emotional weight and resonance to the sustained fiction. Death can be personified, and it can be undone. For superheroes, death is but a development.
Those were the stakes of Blackest Night; life versus death. All parts of life banded together, from the virtuous aspects of it to the indefensible ones, in the common interest of sustaining. Their opponent was not only the singular avatar of death, but also his fleet of resurrected foot soldiers. The Black Lanterns were perversions of life, creatures that bastardized the legacies of all that rose. They not only took up arms against their former allies, but perverted the memories of those they loved.
But life persists. In Blackest Night #8, the Lanterns, the lights of the universe, make their last stand.
It is as inevitable as the sunset; death conquers life. But not in comics. In comics, death represents a sort of finality; a structural beat used to convey a sense of commonality between a fictional world and our own. It is how you say “The End,” in a medium without endings.
The superheroes of Blackest Night emerge victorious because comicbooks are not reality. Death is not the supreme power of the DC Universe- the inspirational might of its heroes is. That is why they conquer death. That is why they cannot be permanently undone, either villain or editorial mandate. Their very purpose is to achieve the impossible. And as long as characters have the capacity to inspire, or be remembered, the door will be open for their return.
That's why, in comics, dead doesn't mean dead. Dead means sadness. It means conclusion. It means, 'This story counts.' Because in life, we really don't know what death means. It's for that very reason that we construct worlds in which we do. We struggle to understand death; to internalize, rationalize, and accept it. We try to give it meaning, or find ways to give our lives meaning as we race towards our own inevitable expiration dates. Death is impermanent in comics because we fundamentally reject finality until we are given no choice in the matter. Fiction is the only way we can control it.
There are things in our world we cannot conquer. We have superheroes because there is no feat to great for them, and that is why they inspire our imaginations.
Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis have collaborated since the debut of the latest Green Lantern series to bring Hal Jordan into the esteemed ranks of DC's icons. They have retold his origin, retooled his villain set, and now told of his crowning victory. Johns deserves accolades for writing a story that featured almost the entire DC Universe, but remained a Green Lantern story. Reis earned his round of applause for fully delivering both on intricate splash page crowd scenes and impossibly cluttered, but narratively clear, panel sequences. Blackest Night looks to invert the paradigm of “event comics,” by ending with returns instead of farewells. It is a new era, a Brightest Day, and one that promises not only hope, or love, but also to bring more rage, more avarice, more fear, more of all of life's components. As common a theme as humanity has, its conclusion is not simply an end, but a beginning.
THE Rev. O.J. Flow:
”Great. The more the merrier.” -- Hal Jordan
Nothing beats a story when you think you know what’s going to be the ultimate outcome and you still find yourself positively moved at the twists and turns found in the conclusion, even when you find you were pretty much right! As Blackest Night #8 addresses life and death one last time, what was truly restored was my faith in the companywide crossover. Having shown no sophomore slump coming off of the popular Sinestro Corps War, Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis (and all due credit to a crew of inkers who kept things humming and made Dick Giordano proud) absolutely delivered for this longtime comic book reader. The overall series was a smash hit in my book, and it was as exciting in the end as it was in the debut issue that had me going “WTF??”
In political terms, I’ve been a “moderate independent” in my stance on the returns of the likes of Hal Jordan and Barry Allen to the DC Universe. While I was right there alongside Geoff Johns in being the key demographic who grew up with these characters (Challenge of the Superfriends, Super Powers, etc.), I always respected the creators at DC who managed to make success stories out of Kyle Rayner, Wally West, and even Connor Hawke (Green Arrow), Jason Rusch (Firestorm) and Jaime Reyes (Blue Beetle), and I feel that there can be a place for all of them to coexist. Time will tell, along with “Brightest Day,” whether that will be the case, but in the meantime Johns & Co. have set the table for a great new era in the DCU. I did find it intriguing that when all is said and done, and Nekron and Black Hand meet fates most appropriate, it’s quite clear in Blackest Night #8 that they did not take the easy way out and simply hit the reset button on the last 25 years worth of stories. Better yet, what the creators did succeed in doing is opening up a treasure trove of tales for years to come!
Back to the main story, not a page is wasted (and big ups to how economical DC is in the use of ad space in this extra-length finale), and the pace never lets up. Even when things pause for just a second more to keep the reader up to speed than anything, the dialogue is sharp among every character, and the exposition never weighs down the action. Again the seemingly mismatched brothers in avarice, Larfleeze and Lex Luthor, get the book’s best comedic moments, and Agent Orange surprises all including himself in showing a side of which he never knew capable. Green Lantern, with the help of the Flash and his color guard in arms (Star Sapphire, Sinestro, et al.) proves that the DC Universe does not necessarily revolve around Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. The pedestal that editors (and some writers, artists, and even critics) had placed on them over the last few years was showing much wear, and that’s underscored here by the virtual lack of contribution made by any of those three in Blackest Night’s resolution. Hal Jordan and Barry Allen don’t even so much as suggest something along the lines of “What Would the Trinity Do?” and it serves the overall landscape for this publisher well along with readership.
As for the expanse of the artistic creative team, I can’t think of one aspect of this book that doesn’t deserve an A for its contribution. Ivan Reis only went and produced the highlight of his résumé. My goodness, the virtual explosion of characters he works with here are endless, and not once does it feel like corners were cut for the sake of expediency. I could pretty much state the case for that in every issue. By the way, words cannot express my gratitude over the fact that from issue #1 to now, the production credits (save for inking, I believe) remained untouched throughout. No ringer brought in to salvage the last couple issues, this was a Reis masterpiece from start to finish. Even when the prerequisite double-page spreads are rendered, they are kept spare for maximum effect and never are they superfluous. Letterer Nick Napolitano does a marvelous job conveying the distinctive voices of the varied mix of alien races and species. In a mere eight issues colorist Alex Sinclair only went and compiled a career portfolio. Producing a vibrant body of work, this series should be turned into a manual on professional comic book color artistry. Inkers Oclair Albert and Joe Prado were reliable throughout this series, and here for sure, in maintaining the integrity of Reis' widescreen visuals.
For all of the excellence found in Blackest Night #8 and the chapters prior, it by no means redefines the crossover series concept. But thanks to Johns, Reis and everyone else involved in this series, it only took inventively articulating the concept of death in superheroics to breathe new life into a genre that, regardless of publisher, was all but gasping for air. It’s not easy to jump into a new story when the conclusion of another suggests that it’s not quite done, but this series also came up victorious in that respect.
”Life doesn’t give us purpose, Black Hand. We give life purpose.” -- The Flash (Barry Allen)
Blackest Night. This has been DC's big event of the past year, but the building up to and formation of the event has been going back almost six years -- and through it all, it had people talking, it had people buying and reading... getting into it. Whether people were angry, happy with it, or whatever, this story has really evoked emotion out of its fan base to an extreme level.
It's no secret that Geoff Johns has taken us on a dark journey these past few months. From the darkness of space, to the darkness that lurks within men's hearts, we've seen it all. I felt burnt out by the time I had read the seventh issue of this major event, but damn if the finale didn't give me all that I wanted and them some.
As far as the story here goes, there isn't a real sense of closure since it paves a way for Brightest Day, but I knew that going into it. What I didn't know was that I would be looking forward to the possibilities of the DC Universe this much. Is this a "game changer"? Absolutely. Has it lived up to it's hype? I do believe so. Both Johns and the art team consisting of Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Oclair Albert and colorist Alex Sinclair bring home their "A+" game as well as something a little extra that leaves you thankful you went along for the ride.
And I do mean "A+" game. There is so much going on, but this is the first time I didn't felt cluttered or overwhelmed by the art -- I just pored over the spread pages, just in case I missed anything. There's one spread where DC's heavy hitters and big names go after the Black Lantern threat that conveyed a level of energy and action that I can only describe as a very "George Perez" thing for Reis to pull off. I do think some fans might be polarized about the "big reveal," but I'm sure fans might have cause for a celebration or two.
Will Blackest Night have a place among such classics as Long Halloween, Crisis on Infinite Earths, or Emerald Twilight? I do not possess fortune-telling abilities as of this write-up and cannot say, but as for a good read and a hot topic with your fellow comic readers, this one will sure deliver in that aspect.
It is no secret that Blackest Night, as an event, has left me cold in numerous respects. Truth be told, I have been contemplating getting away from DC Comics entirely for a little while once this and the New Krypton storylines wrapped up. Well, allow me to eat my words. Blackest Night #8 doesn't necessarily make up for the shortcomings of the event as a whole, nor is it perfect, but it is a great issue that provides a meaningful end to a story that was beginning to feel tedious.
Geoff Johns is a master storyteller, there's no question, but perhaps the biggest star of Blackest Night has been Ivan Reis, who has shown a willingness to stretch the traditional nine-panels of a comic page to their breaking point. Here, there are a few missteps; occasionally a face seems a little distorted, or things get a little crowded, but the majority of this issue is solid, if not fantastic. The double page spread of basically every lantern ever is to die for, and the gatefold spread at the story's climax is a great piece as well. Finally, it is to his credit, and my admiration, that Reis put out eight great issues of solid comic art in a row on time. Getting back to Johns himself, he manages to squeeze in little bits of solid, gripping characterization for almost everyone who has been wrapped up in the main throughline of the event. He proves why he is now Creative Director of the entire DC line: he gets these characters. At least he gets the broad strokes, and the big picture.
Some of the end-game plot points are quite surprising, while others are no-brainers. What matters is, every big change immediately flooded my head with ramifications, possibilities, and excitement. They all have one thing in common though; they signal the rebirth of the lighthearted fun stories that I still crave, and the end of the "blood 'n' guts" era of DC Comics. Maybe my enthusiasm for the DC line was given its own rebirth, or maybe Hal Jordan's impassioned speech on the value of life turned not only the tide of battle, but my own jaded attitude. Maybe the white light filled not only these pages but my shrunken, Grinch-like heart as well. Whatever it was, I am now truly looking forward to what's next, and I honestly hope that Hal Jordan's positivity in this issue is reflected throughout the DCU. Whatever happens, I honestly have some hope that it will indeed by the Brightest Day that we have been promised.