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

Read/RANT

Blackest Night #5

Blackest Night #4

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