Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Pre-New 52 review: Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corps

The phrases in the title of this 2011 trade collection seem like they should maybe be flipflopped, as it collects issues #39-#47 of the series Green Lantern Corps, while Blackest Night is the name of the inter-book storyline/event these issues are tie-ing in to, either directly or indirectly.

They are all written by Peter J. Tomasi and penciled by Patrick Gleason, the then-regular creative team of the since rebooted Green Lantern Corps series. In keeping with the apparent creative process of parent title Green Lantern, each issue of this series has multiple inkers, sometimes a comically large number of inkers, so it must have always been on the brink of shipping late.

The series stars Guy Gardner, the Green Lantern of the 80s, and Kyle Rayner, the Green Lantern of the 90s, and is set on the Green Lantern homeworld of Oa, featuring a big ensemble cast filled out by various alien Green Lanterns and functionaries within the organization.

While Green Lantern was more or less a standard superhero book, with the title character doing superheroic stuff by himself, GLC was written as more of a team book or, in Tomasi’s hands, something between a comic book version of a police procedural and a war movie. It also focuses on all the weird and fun little details of the Green Lantern Corps concept: Where do they put prisoners, where do they bury their dead, how do the rings work, what are the rules of being a Green Lantern, what do they do in their time off, and so on.

During the course of the comics contained in this volume, it also completely insane.

Blackest Night was, of course, a simplistic but somewhat irresistible concept, already mined to death by Marvel—superheroes + zombies—but more immediate in practice because it was set in the “real” DC Universe. And, of course, it was conceived of and written by Geoff Johns, the foremost practicioner of modern superhero decadence and ultra-violence. Who better for a DC Comics superhero horror mash-up on an epic, Crisis-level scale?

While Johns wrote Blackest Night and Green Lantern, and thus told the main story of the event, and while most every DC book dealt with their protagonists’ personal fronts in the so-called “War of Light” (that is, the variously-colored Lantern armies vs. the undead Black Lanters), Tomasi had a task somewhere in between. His was a Green Lantern book, but not the Green Lantern book, the one with the star Lantern.

He got to write about what was happening in outer space rather than on Earth, and was apparently happening there was, as I said, completely insane.

Guy and Kyle are flying back to Oa after their appearance in Blackest Night #1, for “Tribute Day,” one of those neat little faux-cultural details Johns made up for the DCU that DC Comics lost in their reboot, when swarms of black rings attack their home planet, reanimating dead Green Lanterns as undead Black Lanterns, who then proceed to kill their fellow Lanterns, who are then also reanimated as Black Lanterns, zombie plague-style.

Our heroes are confronted by Black Lantern versions of their fallen loved ones.

Then, when they are strong enough, having charged their rings by feasting on the emotions they drained from the living by fucking with their heads for a issue or three, the Black Lanterns attack the central power battery, the giant green lantern thing that powers all of the Green Lantern rings in the universe.

Then Kyle Rayner obliterates most of them in a suicide attack. And then, sick with rage, Guy becomes infected with a Red Lantern ring, which replaces one's blood with burning napalm super-blood that is projectile-vomited out and fills you with a berserker, kill-crazy rage.

And then Kyle comes back to life. And then Mogo, the entire planet that is also a Green Lantern, attacks the Black Lanterns.

Tomasi and Gleason just pile on the crazy imagery of this battle of Oa. It helps, certainly, that the various Lantern Corps are filled with crazy-looking aliens of all shapes, sizes and forms, and that Gleason has a particular faculty for designing and rendering them, but the pair are incredibly imaginative in their conception of mayhem, and I found myself repeatedly shaking my head in enthused appreciation of their flashy, inspired decadence.

Like when characters are cut in half, but their top half continue to fly, dragged along by their power rings.
Or the scene where Green Lantern Soranik finds the gigantic head of destroyed Black Lantern healing and reforming around her, trapping her inside it.
Or Guy’s blood-crying, -vomiting and -oozing annihilation of everything in his path while wearing his red ring.
(I don't know if you can tell from those panels, but Guy Gardner rips the arm off of the Yellow Lantern he's fighting, and then shoves it down her throat!)

Or Mogo’s cure for that condition, which involves millions of space-leeches.
Or the Star Sapphire’s shojo-like super-love powers.
Or any of the many, many scenes of sky filled with dozens of Lanterns of various colors fighting one another.
After the battle is won, the book enters a rather strange territory, as it’s clear that it starts to pick up story threads from Blackest Night and then lead into issues of Blackest Night, so that at a certain point it stops reading like a graphic novel, and instead reads a bit like scenes from a movie, or perhaps random episodes of a TV show, playing chronologically, but with the episodes between them missing.

Of course, even the most narratively isolated of the issues, entitled “Black Dawn,” is suitably insane, including a scene where Kyle Rayner battles Black Lantern Alex, the original woman in a refirigerator, inside a refirigerator (a black, flying refrigerator, comlete with a Black Lantern symbol magnet), and a battle with dying Anti-Monitor that involves putting the superhero Dove inside a giant bullet, and shooting her out of a giant yellow sniper gun operated by a space hermit crab, and each Lantern Corps shooting the bullet with different colors as it passes for maximum rainbow power.

I’ve read issues of this series in smaller chunks in the past, but the Blackest Night storyline, with its battles of epic scale—whole armies of thousands of super-powered combatants are involved—and compressed time line necessitating accelarted action really transformed it. Instead of a space soap opera, it became a brightly-colored, operatic (by way of melodramatic) horror-war.

The final issue is set after the events of Blackest Night, the conflict having been resolved between the end of the “Black Dawn” story and the beginning of “Goodbye Darkness,” a breather, check-in issue where we learn the new status quos of the various characters after the big events.

I read a lot of Blackest Night tie-ins while DC was originally publishing them, but this is probably the first one that I was glad to have read, and wished I would have read earlier. Although I suppose it’s possible that a lot of the pleasure I got from it was in getting it in one big chunk, like this. The scale of the lunatic war is harder to appreciate in 22-page chunks—certainly the first issue or two, in which Kyle confronts Black Lantern Jade differs little form the bulk of the Blackest Night tie-ins—but this particular dosage, nine issues and around 200 pages, is big, almost too big, as is just about everything else in the book.

I'm not sure it's a book for everyone, and it's quite possible it will read like gibberish to anyone not already somewhat acquainted with the Lantern-studded corner of the DC Universe, but I thought it was a blast.

DC was obviously pleased with the work that Tomasi and Gleason produced, as when the New 52 launched, the creative team was promoted from the publisher's second most popular franchise to their first most popular franchise, taking over Batman and Robin, the book created to be Grant Morrison's own personal Bat-book, which DC declined to cancel when Morrison departed, because neither DC nor Marvel will ever cancel a successful title, even after it's reason for being has evaporated (For about 50 good examples of this phenomenon, please see Marvel's X-Men line of books).

Green Lantern Corps survived the reboot, of course, with one big change to the cast, with Green Lantern John Stewart replacing Kyle Rayner, and with former Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors artist Fernando Pasarin replacing Gleason on artwork. I haven't read it at all, as I don't really care for Pasarin's artwork.

1 comment:

SallyP said...

I loved this to death...naturally. Nobody draws aliens like Pat Gleason.

And Guy and Kyle together were a hoot and a half, and it just hasn't been quite the same with Guy and John, who seem to respect each other well enough, but aren't really close buddies.

But yes, it was crazy wild outer-space opera, and it was great.