One need not be wholly cynical in order to suspect that DC’s mega-crossover event “Blackest Night” is at least partially an attempt to cash in on the wild popularity that zombie stories are enjoying in comics today. But to dismiss it as such would not exactly be fair either. By combining two fairly overdone genres—superheroes and zombies—and then placing them in the hands of some of today’s most capable writers, DC has discovered quite the playground for some of these overlapping concepts.
The death of a major character in any superhero book is only slightly more commonplace a plot device than the return to life of a major character in any superhero book. Marvel has killed and brought back to life such heavy hitters as Captain America, Thor, and Jean Grey. DC, just this past year, killed Bruce Wayne, and anyone who was over the age of 10 in the early ‘90s can probably still recall the huge amount of publicity surrounding the death of Superman.
Granted, these days, when one of these publishers kills a major character, that character tends to stay dead longer than he or she would have in the past. DC brought Superman back to life after only a handful of months, but Marvel is only just now hinting around at bringing Jean Grey back, and she’s been dead for years. And even though this may be a more welcome trend, the only real difference is the amount of time the character’s absence allows the readers’ hearts to grow fonder. When you get right down to it, though, it is still the same old superhero stuff.
And here’s where “Blackest Night” puts a twist on it. The Black Lantern rings raining down upon the Earth are resurrecting the corpses of the DCU’s superpowered dead. Although it does not seem possible, this may be the first time such a ploy has been so massively applied (Marvel’s Marvel Zombies books do not take place within regular continuity), at least according to this reviewer’s somewhat considerable recollection.
The major character in question in this first issue of Blackest Night: Wonder Woman is none other than Maxwell Lord. Played mostly lightheartedly during the Giffen/DeMatteis era of Justice League, Lord was revealed to be far more evil than anyone had ever guessed at the beginning of DC’s “Infinite Crisis” crossover of 2005. After murdering the Blue Beetle, Lord forced Superman, through mind control, to battle Wonder Woman. In an ethically questionable move, but one that unflinchingly displayed Diana’s brutal warrior side, Wonder Woman snapped Lord’s neck. It was a rather memorable sequence in a superhero comic, and to conventionally manipulate Lord back into the land of the living would have cheapened this moment severely.
Enter Greg Rucka, one of the finest comics writers of his generation. Rucka resurrects Lord, but does not rest easy on the “Blackest Night” setting and the ample opportunities for empty shock and awe it affords. No, Rucka only adds to the depth of the “Infinite Crisis” storyline. The Black Lanterns feed off the emotions of their prey, and their rings afford them a special kind of vision that allows them to detect it, not unlike how infrared scanners work. Even while at the height of battle, the only emotion Wonder Woman gives off is pure love. This brings the reader back to “Infinite Crisis” and how Wonder Woman’s compatriots, especially the big blue Boy Scout, stood in judgment of her extreme actions vis-à-vis Lord. However, Diana does not act out of spite, out of rage, out of any sort of base emotion. To act out of love is certainly no excuse for extreme violence. But this paradox within Wonder Woman’s character affords a depth to her, while simultaneously preserving the actions she has taken in the past.
Add to all of this the child-like glee of returning characters long dead—in this issue, the original Unknown Soldier—and you have rather an interesting story going on here, one that rises above the trappings of the clichés of both the superhero and zombie model of story-telling. This three-issue mini is entertaining enough to stand on its own, yet adds a much needed dimension to the overall whiz-bang of a major crossover.