Saturday, May 2, 2009

Buy Pile Report: Blackest Night #0

Whew! Now that Free Comic Book Day is here, I can finally talk about Blackest Night #0, after holding in what I saw in advance for several agonizing days.

So, I hope EVERYONE picked up this primer for DC's big summer event. It was free, so you have no excuse for not at least giving it a shot. So what did you think? For me, it was a bit of a mixed bag, and here's why:

As a fan of the DC Universe who's read pretty much every semi-significant book the publisher put out for the last few years, this served as a tremendous prologue, a calm before the storm. I understand the context in which Hal Jordan and Barry Allen are speaking throughout this issue, and, as a well-read DCU fan, seeing some of the names and clues of who will be a Black Lantern whetted my anticipation for this event, which is still several months away. Also, as Geoff Johns writes both characters, I was intrigued by the other little touches of foreshadowing from his main characters here, like how Barry looked genuinely lost and concerned when Hal brought up Tim Drake and how Hal brought up the dichotomy of his and Barry's deaths as a sinner and saint, respectively (isn't this the second or third time he's brought this up? Interesting...) It's also pretty obvious Johns is planning to return to an idea he's played with often, death's "open door."

Most importantly, we're given a strong hint as to how the Black Lanterns may work. Holding a skull, Black Hand's ring begins to shine, making Bruce Wayne's skull glow. Could it be that these rings simply reanimate and reconstruct corpses? If so, would the long-rumored White Lantern be able to restore these corpses to normal non-zombie forms? I guess we'll have to wait for more.

So, for us longtime DC fans, Johns' short prologue, combined with the Color-by-Color splash pages of the different Lanterns which were already released online, makes this the perfect appetizer to July's main course.

But, DC did not release "Blackest Night #0" on Free Comic Book Day to serve its fans. DC wanted this book to be free because Marvel doubled DC's sales in March, continuing a distressing trend. So how does this free issue work as a lure for new readers, is the real question.

I have to admit, I think Johns failed in this respect. For as hard as the scribe tries to walk readers through the key moments they would need to know heading into "Blackest Night" proper, I feel like to an uninitiated reader the result will simply be a continuity-heavy feeling. Johns attempts to gloss over the lives of Barry and Hal, as well as Batman and Aquaman, but in doing so the lack of details make the stories feel a little unnecessary and confusing. I wonder if a blanket setting the stage of who's dead and who's not might have been better, or simply a refresher course on each Lantern and what they're doing in this War of Light, because the different lanterns are not even mentioned in the pages of the story. I mean, really, would Ronnie Raymond's name on a gravestone intrigue new readers?

All that said, I have to say the part of this issue I enjoyed most was Johns' short letter on why he is writing "Blackest Night." To me, the whole thing reads like he's throwing down the gauntlet, both with Marvel and with his own company. While inviting readers who have left the company in recent years to give this event a shot, he at the same time is admitting that DC has royally screwed up with every event it's tried to pull off since "52." "Amazon's Attack" was a waste of time and money. "Countdown to Final Crisis" was an embarrassment. And for as much as Grant Morrision loved his own "Final Crisis," it turned off more readers than a hooker with an adam's apple. I, for one, am hoping this event does achieve that goal Johns speaks of here, showing readers DC has many more good stories to tell than those sub-par efforts.

But enough of all that, let's talk Zombies. So who does this issue point toward as a Black Lantern? Well, we've already seen toys of Earth-2 Superman and J'onn J'onzz. We're shown the gravestones of Aquaman, Firestorm, Ralph and Sue Dibny (say it ain't so!) and even Thomas and Martha Wayne. Mention of Batman's parents and Hal Jordan's dad are also made, while three characters, Hawkman and Hawkgirl (who, of course, are known for reincarnation) and The Atom (Jean Loring? Is she dead?) are shown for seemingly no good reason.

And then we have that final-page splash of Black Lanterns, seen right. Who do you see rising from the ground? Some are pretty obvious. Far left is the Earth-2 Superman, center with the green glove is Aquaman, Far right is the Martian Manhuner. Then it gets a little tricky. Way in the back, to the left of Aquaman, I'm guessing Abin-Sur makes an appearance. In between Aquaman and J'onn J'onzz the two next to each other look like Trickster and Mirror Master (the original). From there, I'm stumped. Could that brown-gloved hand belong to Jim Corrigan?

Either way, I think I can say without argument that "Blackest Night #0" was the biggest Free Comic Book Day title ever. For the sake of DC Comics, let's hope it reached enough people.

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