Books

'Blackest Night' -- Crash! Bang! Pow!

Mood drips from these pages, and a pleasingly sinister undertone informs the whole thing—it's about death, after all.


Blackest Night

Publisher: DC Comics
Length: 304 pages
Author: Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis
Price: $29.99
Format: Hardcover
Publication Date: 2010-07
Amazon

I lived in Morocco in the mid-'90s, when the Internet was barely pulsing and online entertainment was nonexistent. English-language bookshops were rare in Rabat and Casablanca, and I didn’t have a TV, so for entertainment my wife and I would stroll to the local movie house for the latest releases. Independence Day, 12 Monkeys, From Dusk Till Dawn, Heat, Mars Attacks!—we saw them all. In French.

Alas, my French isn't very good, especially when delivered at a rapidfire clip from Bruce Willis in La Cinquieme Element, so oftentimes, I was lost. Surprisingly, though, there were plenty of times when I wasn't lost at all. Movies being a visual medium, I was able to keep up with the story pretty well, especially the action-packed blockbusters. Character-driven pieces like The English Patient were a good deal tougher to follow, though.

I was reminded of this experience recently when reading DC Comics' latest blockbuster, Blackest Night. The pictures are great, the story on the surface is easy enough to follow (hint: zombies fight superheroes), but the nuances were pretty much lost on me. It's not that the characters are speaking French; they're speaking continuity.

Comics is a medium I've loved since buying my first issue of Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth in 1976. I'll confess, however, that I am not a continuity junkie. My comics reading is spotty, tilting heavily toward Vertigo titles and some independents, and my high-school days were spent almost exclusively as a Marvel zombie. I have a nodding acquaintance with the DC universe of Super-, Bat- and Aquaman, Wonder Woman and the Flash, Green Arrow and Lantern. I'm not immersed in the DC universe, but I'd hoped that a nodding acquaintance would be enough to see me through this volume. Was I right? Mmm—not quite.

This is a gorgeous hardcover with stunning art. It's a pleasure to hold and leaf through. The blacks are inky, the colors are vibrant, the perspectives varied, the panel work consistently top notch. There are two-page spreads that will take your breath away and gory moments that will make you squirm. There are zombies aplenty and various acts of heroism and sacrifice. Mood drips from these pages, and a pleasingly sinister undertone informs the whole thing—it's about death, after all. Will you understand what the hell is going on, though?

Here's a quick litmus test: did you know that Batman is dead? If your answer is "Yes," then you're probably at the bare-minimum knowledge of continuity to keep up with the story. If you answered "No," then I'm afraid you've been reading too much Proust, again.

Another complicating factor is that Blackest Night is just one of many volumes in writer Geoff Johns' rehabilitation of the Green Lantern character; this storyline is the culmination of a series that has tied into DC titles as diverse as Green Lantern, Teen Titans and Doom Patrol. None of these crossover issues are included in this volume, and the companion trade edition Green Lantern: Blackest Night is necessary to have a full appreciation of what's happening. Other trade volumes, such as Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corps are also useful in filling out the background, which in this volume is more or less all action.

To use another analogy, reading this volume solo is something like reading the last third of The Return of the King. You'll see Frodo dump the ring while Sauron goes down in flames, but you won't understand the significance of these events—or what's up with Sam.

At least this book is gorgeous. Penciller Ivan Reis has a penchant for whopping two-page spreads crammed with dozens of characters, and one's eye lingers lovingly on the dynamic layouts. Oclair Albert slathers on the ink capably enough, no easy task when many of the panels are thickly layered with black and yet still packed full of detail. The colors by Alex Sinclair are vibrant and lend vitality without being garish.

The story itself is fairly basic stuff: a nefarious power raises the dead corpses of all the characters who have died in the DC universe over the years—who knew there were so many? A big fight ensues, followed by another big fight, which leads to another big fight... As storytelling goes, the setup-and-confrontation pattern is adhered to faithfully, but author Johns varies his venues and enjoys a galaxy-wide perspective. There are battles in outer space, under the sea, in the cities, just about anyplace you can think of. There are power rings in a rainbow of colors, hearts ripped from chests, skulls and bones galore. It's tough to imagine a DC character who doesn’t make an appearance, as does God, more or less. Top that.

Ultimately, the book is hugely enjoyable in a watch-everybody-hit-everybody-else kind of way. Your mileage may vary, but if you enjoy this kind of crossover spectacle, the terrific art alone makes Blackest Night worth a look.

6

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image