Review: Aquaman #2

Aquaman #2, cover by Reis, Reis and Prado

Geoff Johns has really impressed me with this relaunch.  I know I’m in the minority, but I found Blackest Night and Flashpoint to be borderline incomprehensible messes, poorly paced and largely lacking in fun.  I was beginning to worry that the guy who did such a fantastic job reinventing Wally West and his Rogues would never again produce something that I’d enjoy.  But Justice League #1,  Green Lantern #1, and Aquaman #1 were all enjoyable books, free from many of the problems that have turned me off his work lately.  Though I decided against following Green Lantern (which seemed destined to continue to get involved in endless crossovers), I stuck by Aquaman and Justice League.  Earlier this month, I called Justice League #2 an improvement over the opener, and while Aquaman is still enjoyable, it doesn’t improve over Johns relatively solid introduction in the same way.

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Review: Blackest Night #7

Coming off a semi-strong pair of issues, Blackest Night #7 is something of a mess, filled with almost-action scenes that cut in too late and then leave before anything is done.  To those reading all the tie-ins, this issue must have been fabulous: at least from what I can tell, Johns did his best to throw in nods to all the major running tie-ins.  Abandoning the obsessive, almost signature exposition that accompanies so much of Johns’ work, the unlucky reader is instead dropped in and out of situations that mean very little without rhyme or reason.  None of it is particularly hard to follow – all the Corps show up and fight Black Lanterns, the Earthbound heroes show up and fight Black Lanterns, Dove is alive now and fighting Black Lanterns (or, more specifically, she merely seems to exist in the general direction of Black Lanterns, and then they die) – but just because I understood what was happening doesn’t make it enjoyable.  Despite a questionable late-issue revelation about the origin of life, the issue is saved by the occasional inclusion of some excellent character work.

While Reis’ pencils are fine, the ceaseless black atmosphere continues to take its toll on him, detracting from the art as things tend to get muddy.  To combat that, of course, all the living heroes are coated constantly in monochrome neon lights, obscuring action but color-coding the story for us in case we forget Lex Luthor is supposed to be greedy just because he is now incapable of doing anything but screaming “MINE” over and over.  The best that can be said about this effect is that it’s certainly unique, so I suppose we’ll stick with that.

Blackest Night was designed to be just about the simplest book imaginable – larger-than-life heroes and villains thrown together against a common enemy, hell, the greatest enemy: Death itself.  To that end, while the green rings don’t make the Corps any Will-ier and the yellow rings don’t terrify whoever puts them on, the other rings all seem to rewrite their bearers into one-dimensional caricatures.  Unfortunately, by reducing the setting to caricatures fighting caricatures in a set of spastic action beats spread across multiple titles, Blackest Night has also managed to strip away everything essential to the story.  Johns is a gifted creator capable of so much more, but Blackest Night has collapsed under its own weight.

Grade: D

– Cal Cleary

Blackest Night #6

Blackest Night #5

Review: Blackest Night #6

After the bizarre camp of Blackest Night #5, I was expecting #6 to be a letdown.  Despite a few of those old familiar moments of Hal/Barry-wankery (Superman is standing 5 feet away from the ring, but it seeks Barry Allen out as the figure in the world who most inspires hope?), this issue was actually quite enjoyable.  Like the last two (and unlike, in large part, the early issues) there was some forward momentum in the plot, some threads finally converged, and, briefly, the book was about more than how awesome Hal Jordan and Barry Allen are.  It even manages a few semi-inspiring moments – seeing Ganthet don a ring, or seeing the new (and crazier) Rainbow Corps arrive at the end, just to name a pair of examples.

The book’s brightest moments are hindered by some inordinately clumsy set-up, but overall, Blackest Night is finally picking up.  It remains a deeply flawed book, but it has become an exciting, deeply flawed book, and if it is predictable, the predictability of the last few issues has made seeing the events come to pass all the more satisfying, rather than ruining them.  Reis’ art looks much better this issue as we step away from the drab black backgrounds in favor of a mish-mash of color in every panel.  Overall, the book’s improvement over the last few issues gives me hope for the mini’s conclusion.

Grade: B

– Cal Cleary

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Blackest Night #5

Blackest Night #4

Review: Blackest Night #5

Welcome back to Read/RANT, everyone – I hope you enjoyed your week off.  I know I did!  And while I traveled far and wide for my pre-Thanksgiving Break break, I’m back now and ready to review.  And what better place to start than everyone’s favorite book to see us read…

Blackest Night #5

Blackest Night #5 was, for my money, easily the strongest issue of the series to date.  Two major weak spots hurt it, but otherwise, it was a relatively exciting, action-packed issue that finally realized that Johns has no skill whatsoever with horror.  Instead, despite the grim tone and overly dark art, Blackest Night #5 was almost campy fun, and while the sudden tonal shift of the book from action-horror to action-dark camp may throw some readers off, it was a welcome, if strange, shift.

Johns had me seriously worried as the book opened, suddenly shifting to an introduction featuring characters we haven’t seen on a quest we knew nothing about.  While that’s just about always a bad narrative choice, and one that added nothing whatsoever to the book here, the extended introduction at least had the courtesy to be as cheesy and brightly colored as it could be.  The other problem moment is harder to mention without spoiling a major twist, so consider the remainder of this paragraph to be a spoiler: Batman’s sudden, bizarre, momentary resurrection, in which everyone was super surprised and called him by his real name before he vomited up a few Black Lantern rings with batwings that killed Superman, Wonder Woman (whose golden lasso immediately turns black, apropos of nothing at all) and pretty much everyone else except Hal and Barry before he promptly re-died.

End spoilers.

Reis continues to do fine work on art, though the book’s relentless darkness hurts his art far more than it helps.  His crisp illustrations often come off as muddied as everything that isn’t surrounded by an omnipresent black goo is instead coated in neon bright light.  Despite that, however, he is still doing a fine job, and the contrast between the lanterns’ lights and the muddy dark further aids the book in achieving its bizarrely over-the-top tone.

Blackest Night is still deeply flawed, but at least it’s become fun, a relatively enjoyable issue of so-bad-it’s-good storytelling with a slew of color-themed one-liners and minor art blips that cause Bart Allen to, despite standing only a foot or so away, only come up to Wonder Woman’s knees.  It also featured what was very probably the book’s strongest action segments and a few more hints to set up the upcoming big finale.  While it’s hardly A-list storytelling, at least it isn’t taking itself quite so seriously anymore.

Grade: B

– Cal Cleary

Blackest Night #4

Blackest Night #3

Review: Blackest Night #4

BlackestNight4

We’ve finally hit the halfway point of Blackest Night, and as some of our readers have noted, we here at Read/RANT haven’t been particularly kind to the deeply flawed semi-horror event.  This issue illustrates a marked improvement over the past issues, and it somehow comes as no surprise that the title’s strongest issue is its least Hal-centric.  Yes, the Halwankery still comes on thick and strong in a few portions of the book, particularly when Johns’ other comicrush, the omnipresent Barry Allen, is speaking.  However, the issue also provides a couple of the book’s strongest moments, most notably a Geoff Johns Shock Ending (TM) that actually mostly works within the narrative.

This issue was extremely action heavy.  In fact, this issue was, with the exception of a couple pages of Ray Palmer, Mera and Barry Allen talking, just about every page had some violence on it.  It is perhaps this apocalyptic focus that helps the issue escape the worst of Johns’  tendencies.  Only one major legacy characters get blandly murdered and no women, and for all that Barry can’t seem to help but suggest that the only way to fight this is to ‘be like Hal’, the rest of the characters seem to be taking the apocalypse with the appropriate amount of fear and courage.  He even manages to slip in a few clever character beats largely absent from previous issues, like the Scarecrow wandering around a monochromatic Gotham City, immune to the Black Lanterns because his emotions are so deadened he hardly registers.

Reis continues to turn in strong work.  While the sheer number of Black Lanterns has dampened any terror there might have been at their appearance, he seems to have enjoyed crafting their new look immensely.  The action sequences are large in scale and well-illustrated, though a tad too dark.  Meanwhile, colorist Alex Sinclair is used sparingly to illustrate the emotional spectrum, but when he does, he’s gotten on board with the Blackest Night: Superman idea of allowing the characters to feel more than one thing at any given time.

Blackest Night continues to be deeply flawed.  That said, as the series marches on, it seems to be getting stronger and finding its voice.  This issue dropped almost all of the book’s failed pretensions of horror in favor of a dark, gothic, very traditional superhero story, a tonal shift that can only work in the title’s favor.  With the already-spoiled Nekron reveal, Johns and Co. have moved on to the next stage of their story.  Let’s hope they continue to trend towards a decent story.

Grade: B-

– Cal Cleary

Read/RANT

Blackest Night #3

Review: Blackest Night #3

BlkN3

Blackest Night, the summer’s mega-event at DC, bears all the signs of  a true, unapologetic Geoff Johns book.  If you’re a fan of Johns’ work, then Blackest Night has it all – exciting, well-constructed action set-pieces, the surprisingly organic nods to continuity stemming from twenty different sources, and the dark, violent plot.  If you aren’t, however, the book is similarly filled with all the pitfalls of his work: an obsession with minutiae and origins, needless slaughter, extreme focus on the Silver Age heroes of his work, and the ability to, in a room full of characters, only kill the legacies and women.

Blackest Night #3 moves the plot ahead a good deal through the use of a massive exposition drop that kills any and all momentum the book had built up partway through the issue.  Despite the well-conceived set-up in Blackest Night: Batman #1 that suggested that Oracle, Batman and Robin would be the ones to fill Hal in on the nature of the threat, this issue sees an Indigo Lantern pop in in the middle of the fight with zombie Justice League, single-handedly turn the tide of the fight, unite the good guys at the Hall of Justice for no reason, and then explain the entire conflict just in time for another fight to break out.

This is not to say that the book is bad, exactly.  Ivan Reis does a fine job on art, managing to blend high-powered fights with a bleak, horror-movie tone in a way the writing just isn’t managing to do yet.  Despite the relentless darkness, though, Reis manages to keep his figures distinct and physically emotive, demonstrating a definite improvement over previous works.

Blackest Night #3 suffers a little from being a middle child, as Johns rushes to fill everyone in on all the back story.  The book has its first truly chilling moment in the final pages of the issue, but it’s undermined by all the previous not-really-shocking moments and the fact that you can see it coming from page 1.  The action is well-done, as previous collaboration between Johns and Reis pay off most in these energetic, surprisingly low-scale fights.  Blackest Night still has a lot of potential to go either way, ultimately: this issue featured both the best and the worst of the series, side by side.

Grade: C

– Cal Cleary

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Blackest Night: Batman #1

Blackest Night: Superman #1