Well, DC Comics' mega-event of the summer is launched at last: "Blackest Night" has begun. The series revolves around the superhero Green Lantern and the Green Lantern Corps (think intergalactic policemen, armed with energy-wielding rings) to which he belongs, and it features a brand new super-menace: Black Lanterns.
Some basic recapping, for those of you perhaps not up to speed:
The supremely powerful Guardians of Oa (little blue-skinned guys in robes, able to harness vast amounts of energy) created a vast energy battery and a large collection of green rings to tap into that battery's power. The wearers of these rings are chosen for their basic courage and strength of will - they come from all worlds, and the greatest of them all, cocky test pilot Hal Jordan, comes from Earth (three other Lanterns also come from Earth - it's a little unbalanced, cosmically speaking, but at least two of those other three - reliable, jackass Guy Gardner and stalwart, stoic John Stewart - are worth keeping just the same).
Naturally, being a police force, the Green Lantern Corps has had its share of on-the-job fatalities - there are plenty of dead Green Lanterns. And thanks to a lamentably lazy plot-device that's been copied and re-copied by so many DC writers in the last fifteen years that it's impossible to feel anything but bored by it, those dead Green Lanterns have lots of company: every time a big-name cokehead DC writer is imported to an ongoing title in order to boost its sales, he nowadays invariably decides that actually creating a plot or two would be, like, boring - so he threatens the DC brass that if he'll break his contract and walk to the competition if he isn't allowed to friggin kill somebody. No story worth talking about if you don't friggin kill somebody.
And since the DC brass has consistently caved in, we've had a rash of super-homicides over the years. Superman died and came back. Green Arrow died and came back. Guy Gardner and Hal Jordan died and came back. Three Flashes died and came back. Kid Flash died and came back. Superboy died and came back. Wonder Woman's mother died and came back. A lame-ass Robin died and came back. It's absurd, and it reached its peak (I can only hope) this last year, when the Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, and friggin Batman died. Three super-heroes, each with roughly seventy years of character history, all killed in order to boost some paltry temporary sales.
The worst part of this gimmick by far is that if you think about it for even a second, it makes every single hero in the DC universe look like the world's biggest idiot. Why would these people even care anymore if one of their colleagues and teammates appears to get blown up, shredded, stabbed, or incinerated? Why would they bother to set up memorials like the ones pictured in the first issue of DC's Blackest Night? Why would they go through even the pretense of mourning, when they all know the hero in the coffin will be back real soon? These frequent death-arcs have produced some great comics and some great moments (I'm thinking particularly here of the moment where the World War Two teammates of Wonder Woman's mother toast her memory, but there are lots of others), but those moments stand in ludicrous isolation from the actual characters, since none of the survivors ever becomes the least bit cynical over this constant cycle of predictable rebirths. They just keep yelling "Turquoise Avenger! Noooooooooooo!" and then, a few months later, gasping, "Turquoise Avenger! Can it be you?"
So Blackest Night comes at what could be an opportune time, if writer Geoff Johns is thinking what he bloody well ought to be thinking: that at the end of this mini-series, a whole bunch of characters who should never have been killed off will be brought back to life. My worry is that he isn't thinking anything of the kind, and that a perfect opportunity to return the Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, and Batman to life will be squandered. My worry is that Johns doesn't see anything wrong with that stupid torrent of character deaths choking DC comics.
And the first issue of Blackest Night certainly does nothing to allay such worries. In fact, it deepens them, in the only way it could: you guessed it, more characters die! Not only do the all-powerful Guardians of Oa appear to bite the dust in this issue, but also two DC superheroes of extremely rich and long histories - and in all these cases, the deaths we're talking about aren't the typical lost-in-a-vague-explosion kind they dish out over at Marvel. No, these characters have their chests ripped open and their still-beating hearts ripped out. Tough to finesse that; it's usually fatal.
It turns out the Black Lanterns have a perverted Guardian of their own, and they have a twisted Hal Jordan leader-figure, and they have admittedly cool-looking black rings that seek out and create what can only be described as Zombie Lanterns - the rings animate the dead bodies of all the heroes (and villains) who've croaked in the last few years. In a dramatic page in issue #1, Hal Jordan and the Flash are confronted by the Zombie Lantern Martian Manhunter, and Hawkman gets the pulp pounded out of him by the re-animated corpse of the Elongated Man (Ivan Reis' artwork throughout is utterly superb - this sequence with Hawkman is positively drenched in blood, and yet it's as clear an action-sequence as DC has fielded all month). And there are many, many more such partial resurrections coming in future issues.
I don't want to be a nay-sayer. The first issue of Blackest Night is every bit as thrillingly paced, intelligently written, and amazingly drawn as all its advance billing claimed - this will certainly be the standout DC Comics story-arc of the year and a must-own hardcover graphic novel when it's collected.
I'm just hoping it's also a conclusion of sorts. It would be great if, in addition to restoring such time-honored characters as Aquaman and the Martian Manhunter (and Batman, geez) to life and health, Blackest Night also established an ironclad moratorium on the trick of killing major characters. DC has recently indulged in it way, way too often - to the great detriment of its continuity and characters. So let's have all the bloody death and mayhem Johns can dream up, for the rest of this series - and then no more, eh? Then the heroes go back to defeating the bad guys, instead of being easily duped by and then friggin killed by the bad guys. I realize we live in a harsh world in which good doesn't always triumph over evil (recent presidential elections notwithstanding), but surely good should always triumph over evil in comic books? Superhero comic books?