It’s been a couple of weeks, so I’m back with a few more Blackest Night reviews for you guys. Although there was no issue of the miniseries proper in the month of January, that doesn’t mean nothing happened. We’ve got a few more “dead” series back from the grave, a few more spin-off miniseries, and a few more crossovers — including a couple of big ones. So let’s do it, again, roughly in order of release…
The Rogues, expecting their dead teammates (and, in some cases, predecessors) to come gunning for them, decide they’re going to go on the offensive, heading to Iron Heights penitentiary to hunt down the dead villains. Meanwhile, Wally and Barry — now complete with his new Blue Lantern ring — begin facing off against their own Black Lanterns, including Kid Flash, Professor Zoom, and the once-benevolent ape named Solovar. This issue is a bit of a mixed bag for me. The Rogues stuff is great, which is no surprise, as Geoff Johns has been taking lame villains and making them bad-ass ever since his original Flash run years ago. The fact that many of these characters have any sort of personality at all is directly attributable to him. And amazingly, while he hasn’t turned them into heroes, he’s somehow made villains you want to root for, especially in these circumstances. Villain-themed books rarely work. The only exceptions I can think of, Suicide Squad and Secret Six, work because the writers don’t try to turn them into heroes. (Thunderbolts, on the other hand, worked precisely because the writers turned them into heroes). But if Johns were to take on the Rogues for an ongoing, or even a series of miniseries, I really think it could work. The scenes with the Flashes aren’t bad, but much like Blackest Night: Wonder Woman, I get the impression that these pages merely fill in the blanks between pages of the main series rather than tell an independent story. That brings down my enjoyment of this book. But only a little.
Kyle Rayner died, then came back to life thanks to his lover Soranik Natu and the intercession of a member of the Star Sapphires. During the brief period he was dead, however, his partner Guy Gardner went wild with rage, shifting from Green Lantern to Red. Kyle wants to rip the Red off Guy’s hand, but the rest of the Corps realizes something important. The power-mad Guy Gardner is the only thing proving effective against the Black Lanterns invading Oa. Peter Tomasi has worked in a heck of a lot of great stuff into this issue. You’ve got the moral dilemma about what to do with Guy, excellent character moments for Kyle and the rest of the Corps (including Mogo, one of the coolest GLs ever), and a ton of great action scenes, including full- and double-page spreads by Patrick Gleason, doing some of his finest work on this series to date. The last few pages bring us to a cliffhanger almost as engaging as Kyle’s “death” a few issues ago. Sometimes this book gets lost in the shadow of its parent title, but consistently, Green Lantern Corps has provided some of the best science fiction comics we’ve seen in many years.
One of the “back from the dead” titles, this issue of Phantom Stranger could almost serve equally well as a resurrected issue of The Spectre, Deadman, or even Shadowpact. Flipping back a few months, we saw the Spectre’s human host, Crispus Allen, transformed into a Black Lantern. The real downside here? That means you’ve got a Black Lantern with the power of God’s spirit of vengeance. Here we see the Phantom Stranger lead the charge to save him as he invades the city of Nanda Parbat. Tomasi is back, this time with some beautiful artwork by Ardian Syaf to boot. If you’re looking for a spotlight on the Phantom Stranger, this issue will probably disappoint, but if you want a sort of overview of the DC Universe’s most powerful magic users in this time of crisis, this issue really does fit the bill. The issue even gives us a glimpse of the “possible” origins of the Stranger, as revealed years ago in an issue of Secret Origins, while still providing us no solid clues that confirm of invalidate any of them. I rather doubt DC will ever give us the firm truth behind the Stranger, and to be honest, I hope they don’t. He’s the sort of character that works best shrouded in mystery.
Writer James Robinson returned to the series that shot him to comic book stardom with this issue. Of course, the Starman that starred in this series is retired and living peacefully in San Diego, and Robinson had no intention of pulling Jack Knight out of retirement. But when Jack’s dead brother, David, returns as a Black Lantern, somebody is going to have to step up. That someone, as it turns out, is the Shade, a golden age villain who became a much more complex and entertaining character under Robinson’s pen. The Shade moves to protect Opal City from David Knight, and in the process proves just how much life is left in this franchise. Even with Jack out of the picture, the Shade and the O’Dares of Opal City are wonderful, fascinating characters. While you still couldn’t go so far as to classify the Shade as a hero, he’s certainly not the villain he once was. This was without a doubt the best of the “back from the dead” comics that DC released in January, and it has me hoping like hell that Robinson does return to the Shade in some way — a miniseries, a part in an ensemble title… dare I hope an ongoing? It would make me deliriously happy, and I know I wouldn’t be alone.
This issue focuses more on the Atom than the (current Black Lantern) Hawkman, but as the two of these heroes used to share a book, it seems fitting that they share the billing here as well. The Atom, like the Flash, has been deputized as a Lantern. In the Atom’s case, he’s Indigo. While most of the others were pretty obvious (Barry in Hope Blue, Lex Luthor in Avarice Orange and so on), the Atom in the Indigo light of Compassion needed a bit of justification. Geoff Johns really pulls it off with this issue. As the Atom faces the dead form of his best friend, he’s forced down memory lane, remembering all the tragedy his ex-wife Jean (also a Black Lantern) forced upon him during their life together, how it led to one tragedy after another… and ultimately, how he still managed to feel for her. A lot of characterization is in how that character is portrayed. Johns managed to take everything that’s happened to the Atom — and more important, how he reacted to everything that happened to him — and used it to explain why he was chosen for the Indigo Lanterns without contradicting a thing. It’s one of the things that makes him such a fantastic writer. Out of all the “Back From the Dead” comics, this is the one most pertinent to the ongoing tale of Blackest Night — and it’s a can’t-miss book to boot.
It’s probably a coincidence that the 50th issue (traditionally a spot reserved for an anniversary special) of Green Lantern fell during the Blackest Night crossover, but Geoff Johns and Doug Mahnke make full use of the extra pages they’re granted this month. Picking up moments after the conclusion of Blackest Night #6, Hal and the New Guardians join up with the deputy Lanterns to face the Black Lantern scourge. As they do battle, the Black Lantern Spectre returns, and he’s gunning for Hal. Realizing the power of the being he faces, Hal Jordan understands the only horrific way he could stand a chance of victory — he will once again have to take on the power of the dark entity that once turned him into a madman, the Yellow Lantern entity called Parallax. Except for Barry and the Atom in their respective spin-offs, this issue is the only time we’ve really gotten to see the Deputy Lanterns in action yet, and it’s really great stuff. The Sinestro Scarecrow is creepier than ever, and the moments between Atrocitous and Mera, Hal and Carol Ferris, are fantastic. I’ve only got one real beef with this issue, but it’s one I’ve had to voice time and again. If you’re going to do a last-page reveal, why do you spoil it on the bloody cover?
The Justice Society is under siege by its fallen members from multiple worlds, but many of the Black Lanterns don’t seem to be out for blood. They’re seeking compassion, the love of their family members… and how could anybody begrudge them that? On the other hand, how could anybody trust them, either? The original superheroes were no slouches, and as this issue shows, if anything, death has made them more shrewd. James Robinson and Tony Bedard share the writing chores here, with the pencil work shared by Eddy Barrows and Marcos Marz. You can definitely tell that more than one artist worked on this book, which can be a little distracting during the more noticeable shifts. I imagine that the extra hands were needed to get this book done on time, which I’m okay with in principle, but when that happens it seems incumbent to try to match the artists’ styles, and that didn’t really happen here. It hurts the issue, but only a bit.