Review: Blackest Night: Superman #2

BNSuper

Blackest Night: Superman #1 was handily the best thing to come out of Blackest Night thus far.  An excellent blend of superheroics and horror, it managed to do more with a few off-panel deaths and the color yellow than any ten gore-splattered comic corpses could.  Though Robinson carries over some of the semi-horror traditions – the idyllic small town, especially – to Blackest Night: Superman #2, this issue is much more of a straight-up superheroic battle.

Clark and Conner continue to battle zombie Superman in the skies above Smallville while zombie Lois Lane holds Martha (and the corpse of Jonathan) Kent hostage on the streets below.  The tension this issue, however, comes from the sudden arrival of a new player: Psycho Pirate.  As he incites all sorts of colorful emotions on the unsuspecting populace of Smallville, the idyllic town descends into utter chaos… and becomes the perfect food for the Black Lanterns.

Barrows is on more solid ground than he was last issue – he’s far more capable at showing bad-ass superpeople fighting than he is at creating a pervasive atmosphere, and this issue is far more about the fight than it is about the horror.  Along with Ruy Jose, he also manages to wring a lot out of the Black Lantern emotional spectrum schtick, giving us snapshot reactions of the characters without looking ridiculous.

Psycho Pirate is a natural villain for Blackest Night.  In fact, there’s absolutely no reason he should be here rather than in the main mini, where his ability to manipulate emotion could bring the book down to the personal level it very much needs to reach.  Though he has some fine scenes as he terrorizes Smallville and forces people to become the perfect food for his companions, he serves no real purpose in the narrative.  Normally, I wouldn’t mind a loosely connected side-plot, even in a three-issue mini… but Blackest Night: Superman already has a loosely connected side-plot in the form of Supergirl’s plight on Krypton.  With one issue to go, can Robinson bring those stories to a meaningful resolution?

We’ll find out in a month.  Regardless of the side-plot issue, however, Blackest Night: Superman #2 remains a decent read.  It lacks the grace of the mini’s opener, but it’s replaced it with some solid action scenes, a tongue-in-cheek tone that doesn’t break the drama, and the set-up to what promises to be the fight of the century.  After all, what mother hasn’t wanted to beat up her daughter-in-law at some point?

Grade: B

– Cal Cleary

Blackest Night: Superman #1

Blackest Night: Batman #1

Blackest Night #3

Review: Blackest Night: Superman #1

BNSuperman

It’s interesting to note that, in the span of a single issue, Blackest Night: Superman manages to feel more menacing overall than the entire build-up and first two issues of Blackest Night combined.  It has been noted that Blackest Night is Johns dabbling in horror, trying to find a way of meshing a genre that’s all about the loss of control with superheroics, a genre that’s all about power.  It’s a fine line to walk, and the main mini has suffered at times from its inability to do so.  Blackest Night: Superman seems to suffer no such problems, and while you could by no means call the book ‘scary’, it does manage to meld the two genres fairly seamlessly.

The cover above is the best illustration of that, with the angles and lighting you’d expect to see on the poster of a horror film.  The issue itself is almost parodic in the way it follows the beats of an 80’s horror film.  We open on the origin of the monster, in this case Earth-2 Superman as he is called to rise from his grave, and move to the sunny, brightly lit Smallville, where everybody knows your name and even ex-presidents can be good, salt-of-the-earth people.  Then, slowly, as black clouds gather, they begin to die from some off-screen threat.  And we watch as the Black Lantern power level percentage (conspicuously absent in both Green Lantern Corps #39 and Blackest Night: Batman #1) rise, and know without being told exactly what’s happening to this idyllic town.

Of course, the story is not without its superhero beats as well.  Clark and Conner are having dinner with Ma Kent, Clark having returned in secret to Earth for the Memorial discussed in Blackest Night #2, and they’re eager to jump at the fight with Kal-L as the three have a massive aerial battle that takes them far above Smallville and nearly into space.  Meanwhile, the first Black Lantern ring reaches New Krypton shortly after Kara’s return… and that can’t be good for anybody.

Barrows is easily the book’s weakest link.  The tone of the story calls for a writer capable of furthering the chilling atmosphere without sacrificing any of the excitement of the action.  Barrows’ action is well-handled, though little stands out about it, but he fails to match the general tone of Robinson’s story, despite a few excellent panels that suggest hidden depths to his talent.

The issue thrives in using the Blackest Night devices – the power level clock and the color-coded emotional read-outs of everyone – far better than Blackest Night itself.  Thus far, the issue appears far less vital to the masterplot than Blackest Night: Batman #1 was save maybe as an explanation as to what Superman is up to, but it is nonetheless the strongest single issue to be involved with the Event thus far.  More chilling for what you don’t see than what you do, and more exciting by focusing what you do see only on the most vital events, Blackest Night: Superman #1 is definitely a able thematic heir to the main mini, improving upon its flaws without contradiction it at all.

Grade: B+

– Cal Cleary

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Blackest Night: Batman #1