Saturday, April 03, 2010

Comics! The Conclusion of "Blackest Night"!

Last week’s big four-color superhero comics event was the conclusion of DC’s “Blackest Night” mini-series, and the fallout of that conclusion was never going to please every single fan completely. The broilsome plot of this thing was an opera buffa of DC’s trademark vagueness – a bad guy ‘dark’ character resurrects a bunch of dead superheroes – including such iconic figures as Aquaman, the Martian Manhunter, and what looked like Batman – and turns them against their still-living comrades. These zombie-superheroes spend the first few issues of the miniseries ripping the beating hearts out of some of those still-living superheroes (including Hawkman, Hawkgirl, and Aqualad), thus instantly recruiting them for evil. Big battles ensue, the Green Lantern Corps is involved, there’s a great deal of cosmic doubletalk, and the whole time, DC fans are wondering just one thing: when the ‘dark’ bad guy is eventually defeated by the forces of light, how many of those zombie-superheroes will be restored to life, and who will the lucky ones be?

The actual plot – involving ‘black lanterns’ and their desire to kill, kill, kill (and the lame-ass Crisis villain Anti-Monitor is mixed in there too, don’t ask me how) – was never viewed as anything but the slightest of McGuffins (except perhaps by those benighted individuals who are actually fans of the whole Green Lantern concept – geez … what’s the color-code for tedious?), just a necessary means to an end, and that end was restoring to life several of the major characters DC’s own gimmick-hungry writers had stupidly killed off over the last few years.

That end has now been achieved, and like I said, not everybody is smiling. Of course the rationale behind who got resurrected and who didn’t was entirely editorial, not narrative – so the choices make very little sense in terms of the wobbly, talky plot of “Blackest Night.” What would make sense would be this: if every character killed off either by the main bad guy or his superhero-zombies to restored to life when the bad guy was beaten. But that doesn’t happen; Hawkman and Hawkgirl come back to life, yes, but poor Aqualad stays dead. Alternately, it might have made sense if the ‘white lantern’ energies released in such a torrent at the conclusion of this final issue (written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Ivan Reis, and fantastically colored by Alex Sinclair) had simply restored everybody to life, regardless of what originally killed them. But that doesn’t happen either; there are still plenty of dead heroes and villains.

Instead, we get a weird mish-mash of resurrectees. There’s Hawkman and Hawkgirl, as mentioned, and Aquaman, which got a little cheer out of me since it’s the ‘classic’ version of the character, sans scraggly beard, sans effing metal Hook for a hand. There’s the Martian Manhunter, and those four make sense. It’s with everybody else that the weird comes in.

Maxwell Lord. The Reverse-Flash. Captain Boomerang. Osiris. Jade. Hawk. Looking at each one of them, I was struck over and over by what great opportunities were here being utterly wasted because some writer at some story-conference swore he had great ideas for how to ‘develop’ such do-nothing go-nowhere characters as most of these are. Jade is brought back to life but not the original Superman, whose final appearance in a DC comic is therefore as a bloodthirsty rotting zombie? That’s the treatment the company gives to its founding icon? Jade? Hawk is resurrected but not Batman (we get some additional doubletalk about how Batman isn’t really dead – and it all gets very neo-Platonic very quickly, since just a year ago readers saw Batman get fried by energy-beams, saw Superman very clearly holding the charred body … again, somebody’s ‘great’ plot-idea notwithstanding, this would have been an ideal moment to simplify things and simply restore the character now, without subjecting readers to eight more months of that ‘great’ idea unraveling)?

There’s of course a second, parallel agenda in operation here, and the more I see of it, the less I like of it. Maxwell Lord died when Wonder Woman snapped his neck (because he told her point-blank it was the only way she could stop him from mind-controlling Superman, and she took him at his word); the Reverse-Flash was killed by the Flash for a similar reason. Osiris died a gruesome death in a moment that for many rang in the era of graphic, gratuitous superhero violence that’s infested the lineups of both DC and Marvel for the last few years (an era that reached its indisputable high – or is it low? – point in Siege #2, which I wrote about earlier) (just follow the ‘comics’ thread to re-live it all!). Hawk metamorphosed into a timeline-destroying bad guy. By restoring these characters to life, DC almost seems to want to pass around some after-the-fact absolution (if this isn’t the motivation behind the resurrection of Maxwell Lord, I’ll print out this entry and eat it). If true, this is the bad kind of slate-wiping, and it bodes poorly for the ‘Brightest Day’ storylines that are promised to follow this issue.

Still, the issue had lots of great moments. Reis’ artwork is astonishingly detailed. Although it’s very unlike the pencils of George Perez, it has this in common: you can go back to his big two-page splash panels and find dozens of carefully thought out details you missed the first time. And Johns, for all his ham-handedness, provides some nice reunions (the one between Aquaman and his long-grieving wife is particularly well done) and one longed-for twist: Hawkgirl now remembers all her past lives – and therefore remembers that she’s always been passionately in love with Hawkman (the device of having her resist that love because she couldn’t access those memories had been played out for years and won’t be missed). And the surprise moment of having the great DC superhero Deadman (a ghost who possesses people’s bodies to fight crime and solve mysteries) get restored to life was boffo – That part of the writer-conference really did pay off (although again, it makes no sense whatsoever in terms of the actual plot of ‘Blackest Night’).

So I don’t get my original Kal-L Superman back, but I do get Aquaman, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, and the Martian Manhunter. And I have to wait for a moronic plot-line to restore Batman. Still, this is mostly a win for Steve – and for comics. Now if we could just pass into law a moratorium on all superhero-killing for the foreseeable future ….

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