Death is, of course, a transitory thing in comic books.
Every character that dies comes back again, in some form or other, sooner or later. It’s a rule, actually, and writers, artists and editors have historically come up with a plethora of reasonable causes for these events to occur. Well, reasonable if you’re a comic book fan Maybe there was a shift in the space-time continuum, rendering an old reality nonexistent. Perhaps there was a resurrection. It’s conceivable that a death was all part of some dream-like sequence. It’s also possible that a dead comic character never actually died, that they live on, in secret until they reveal themselves again.
Then again, that character may have died after all – only now brought back as a rotting, putrid shamble of their once heroic (or villainous) selves. That’s the twisted premise behind DC’s latest monthly, the just released 8-part event series, Blackest Night.
Blackest Night is itself a disgusting affair – and not because the story or the art is of poor quality. On the contrary, Geoff Johns, DC’s extraordinarily gifted go-to writer, has been working on the story, slowly building up the mythology of the “Blackest Night” in the pages of Green Lantern for the past half decade. That’s an extremely long odyssey in comic book time. It is his ultimate chapter in the “war of light” storyline, where every colour of the visual spectrum carries with it a particular emotion – and an army of combatants to go along with it! Whether it’s the rage inherent in red, the hope that resides in blue, the avarice found within orange or the fear that inhabits yellow, Johns is creating the comic equivalent of Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. It is that broad. The art in Blackest Night, by fan-favourite, Ivan Reis, is impeccable too – both uplifting in the story’s brighter sequences and revolting in its darkest. It stands on a scale as broad as the outer space backdrop of the narrative.
And there’s a lot of dark.
It’s been promised for a long, long time now that the dead characters of the DC Universe would soon rise. With the first issue of the series, Johns and Reis remind us of this promise like a gravedigger’s shovel across the back of the head. The revelation hurts in ways that were, until now, unexpected.
If you haven’t read the first issue of Blackest Night, be warned that there are a few spoilers to come in this article. If you have read the comic, perhaps you’ll agree with some of the ideas mentioned below.
There has been much speculation on who would return as the “dead” in Blackest Night. At various conventions and in multiple interviews over the last nine months, Johns has given away teasing hints. The beloved Martian Manhunter, fresh (of a sort) from his death in the pages of Final Crisis, was always going to appear. Aquaman, too, would rise from his watery tomb, as would the villainous Dr. Light. Even Pa Kent, father of the world’s most iconic superhero, Superman, recently dead in the pages of his monthly comic which was a re-imagining of Superman’s history under the stewardship of Geoff Johns, has been touted as a resurrection candidate. All this talk fuelled immense interest in the project and got fandom around the globe buzzing with the thought of potential Black Lanterns.
Anyone that was ever dead – could come back! Even long established mythology, such as the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents, could be broken!
It was an exciting premise for sure but there was some trepidation as well. Would Blackest Night be DC’s equivalent of a zombie comic, something Marvel had been publishing for the past few years? Were they simply capitalizing on renewed fan interest in the genre?
With Blackest Night # 1, those worries are easily put to rest. And very quickly, too. The story has been in the works for so long now it is integral to the mythos Geoff Johns has created for Green Lantern. There is no way possible that this is a quick, get fans – sell copies – get rich quick scheme. This tale is immense, an important chapter in the writer’s magnum opus. Fans are witnessing the unfolding, on a monthly basis, of a work of fiction for the ages, something that will be remembered as one of the greatest comic book storylines of all time.
As a first issue, it is an extremely satisfying first chapter – the stuff all great stories should be. At once, it is exciting, worrying and frightening. Our heroes, our villains and, surprisingly, ourselves, are in true peril here. More than anything, Blackest Night seemed an affront to everything we believe in – in comics or in real life.
Let me explain by keeping this discussion within the realm of comics.
When characters are dead in comic books, they’re dead. They go to comic book Heaven or they go to comic book Hell. Sometimes they’re forgotten, sometimes they come back; sometimes similar, sometimes different than how they were when they originally left. One thing comic book characters don’t do is come back in rotted, human-like form, thirsting for the flesh of their old comrades, wrenching still-beating-hearts from their victim’s chests – all in shocking detail!
It’s absolutely disturbing and disgusting and that is Blackest Night’s greatest strength. When reading, you are meant to feel these extremes of emotion.
When the dearly loved married (but dead) couple of Ralph and Sue Dibny surprisingly return and pull the heart out of Hawkman’s chest, turning him into a Black Lantern as well, the image will sit with you uncomfortably for a long, long time.
It remains to be seen where Blackest Night will take readers but it’s sure to be a dark, disturbing ride that will make readers confront their own conceptions about heroes and what role death plays with our favourite fictional creations.
Johns has dug deep and unearthed a focus on storytelling that hasn’t been attempted before, turning our sacrosanct heroes into something more than villains, something larger than long-believed comic book norms.
He’s made you feel – and emotion is what this “war of light” is all about.