Thursday, May 20, 2010

Blackest Night: Excessive and Inconsequential

By the end, I’d learned to hate Blackest Night.

I went into this series with only the most fundamental of expectations. Even though I wasn’t doing backflips over the idea of reviving Hal Jordan, the new Green Lantern series has been a pretty good read (though it’s been prone to ponderous moments that ask for too much of its character.) All I really expected from it was something along the lines of Secret Invasion — a fun story that branched off from its parent title. It didn’t need to impact every title in the company’s publishing schedule or “change things forever.” Truth be told, I’d rather that not happen.

But Blackest Night has no “story,” even by the loosest definition of the word. Instead, Blackest Night is a hodgepodge of shocking moments, bullshit metaphysics and macho posturing. The violence in the series was excessive and ultimately inconsequential— which might be the best way to describe Blackest Night, as well.

By the time the series was over I had no idea what I’d read. Not only did it make no sense, it diluted the Green Lantern concept to the point of irrelevance. This is the reason Hal Jordan was revived? So he could join some rainbow coalition of peacemakers who are so one-dimensional that they’re all defined by a single emotion and color scheme? Somebody has grossly misinterpreted what it is people like about Green Lantern, and I’m pretty sure it’s not me.

This isn’t run-of-the-mill fanboy petulance (at least I hope it’s not.) I’m not all that fond of companywide crossovers because they usually spend a lot of time spinning their wheels but rarely ever go anywhere memorable. If you look back at the best books to spring out of these “event” stories, you’ll find only the thinnest relationship between them. Did Starman really need Zero Hour to justify its existence? Did JLI need Legends? Do any of the new Brightest Day spinoffs really need Blackest Night?

While the primary reason for event books to exist is money, DC too often uses these stories to justify and "sell" their editorial decisions. It’s not enough for editors to decide that Batman needs to be less of a dick … they’ve got to find a multi-part storyline that justifies this change in character. It’s curious that these kinds of changes need never be justified when an A-list creator takes over a title. Where was the Great Event that explained the breach in style between William Messner-Loebs and John Byrne’s takes on Wonder Woman, which changed radically between issues without so much as a wink to readers?

Blackest Night appeared to be a mea culpa, of sorts. It was an acknowledgement that superhero comics had become kill crazy, and that it was time to stop trotting out murder as the driving factor in every story. Not only was it old hat, but these “deaths” never seemed to be permanent, anyway. It was the dramatic equivalent of watching a tightrope walker lower his platform to about 6 feet off the ground, but still demand a safety net. No matter how bad things got you knew they’d never get too bad.

DC’s solution to the “Death Problem?” Revive all the dead DC folks as zombies and have them kill most of the surviving characters in the company catalog. There seems to be a very clear statement about comicbook editorial policy, death and event titles buried somewhere in Blackest Night, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out what it is.

It didn’t help that Geoff Johns telegraphed the ending to the book in the first few issues. So many people died in the opening chapters that it seemed impossible that a deus ex machina ending was anything less than inevitable. Something was bound to happen that returned some kind of status quo to DC and revive most — if not all — of these dead characters.

Which is exactly what happened ... and in the most confusing way possible. I expect I’ll return to Blackest Night a few times in coming years to see if my feelings on the book will change, because I really don’t want to hate it (I still own a full-run of Millennium, after all.) But I think I might be done with superhero event stories in the future.

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