So I briefly considered doing an April Fools Who’s Who post where Batman would be, like, 2 percent Rex the Wonder Dog, but rejected it because after thirty seconds I was all “there’s no way this is actually going to be particularly funny, it’ll just be a series of all those shitty ‘jokes’ people already make about Batman anyway.” So in lieu of an April Fools post, here is a serious (sorta) post about Blackest Night.
Short short version: I didn’t like it.
With caveat: But I didn’t hate it either.
With second caveat: Because it was just kind of there.
Lately I’ve been less impressed with Geoff Johns’ work. When I say “lately,” I really mean “for years now,” but I digress. Johns is kind of interesting in that he’s actually pretty good at writing an ongoing title; I still consider his run on Flash to be a particularly strong one, and Flash is a series where the likes of Grant Morrison have stumbled, so you know that’s a book not everybody can write really well.
But I’ve never liked his event books. A Geoff Johns event book, to me, always reads like the literal translation of an algorithm designed to create A Good Event Storyline. Like, if you put together a trend line, and the Y-axis was “How Well The Heroes Are Doing,” you’d get a squiggly line in most books: the line starts out at about the midpoint or slightly below (IE, “normal”), then dips down sharply when the baddies start kicking hero ass, then pops up a bit as the heroes get their second wind, then goes down deeper when the villain turns out to have a serious master plan for which they weren’t ready, and then climb to the finish. Whenever I read a Geoff Johns event comic, I feel like he looked at that line in advance and then wrote his storyline to hit those beats exactly, regardless of whatever story he wrote.
You can see it when you start going back through the story and realizing that a lot of the surprises and big moments were totally pointless. For example: why did they need to “deputize” Barry Allen and Lex Luthor and Ganthet and Mera into the various-coloured lantern corps? Answer: they didn’t. At no point during the main story do these deputized Lanterns matter because they’re now Lanterns. It was just a cool aside, if you think sticking a power ring on a character suddenly makes them cooler. A lot of people do.1 Granted, the Lantern Deputies actually mattered within their own Blackest Night miniseries, but as comic fans, we all know the optional extras don’t count for assessing the main story unless they end up in the collected edition, and Blackest Night: The Flash ain’t gonna be in the main book.2
What about Dove? What was the point of all that? Apparently Dove I couldn’t be raised by Nekron because he was “at peace” (apparently every other dead superhero ever was emotionally troubled when they died, I guess). And then Dove II, for reasons that were never actually explained (that I saw – maybe there was a Blackest Night: Dove one shot or something), is a living anti-zombie ray and can blow up zombies. Why can Dove do that? Because… something. Possibly to do with the Life Entity that makes the White Lantern Corps.
And why was Mera a Red Lantern again? Seriously, I don’t know anybody who even pretends to understand that shit.
Or how about the ending? The key to beating Nekron is by resurrecting Black Hand – okay, that’s not a bad idea. As villains’ Achilles’ heels go, perfectly serviceable. So, how do the heroes figure this out? Well, Deadman shows up in the last issue and tells them.
No, really. That’s what happens. If you want to hammer home the point that Hal Jordan – who’s the pointman for this entire saga – is a fucking idiot and shitty superhero, I can’t think of a better way to do it than double-underlining the fact that he basically charged into a fight with an evil god of death with one plan that somebody else told him would work that didn’t work, and then stuck around when that didn’t work, only to get saved when somebody else comes up with a plan for him to do something. “Space cop” really doesn’t do Hal justice. Most cops I’ve met can come up with their own plans.
Of course, that’s not what bothers me about the ending: what bothers me about the ending is that everybody called this a year ago. “Hal Jordan becomes the White Lantern and blows up Nekron.” You knew this was coming. You wanted to think it would be more complex than that, that maybe Geoff Johns’ forever-hardon for Hal Jordan (a comic-book woodie so immense it makes Brian Michael Bendis’ stiffy for Luke Cage look like half a pack of Rockets) might bow to the urge to not be predictable. And, when I saw the last page of issue seven, with Sinestro being the White Lantern, I momentarily doffed my metaphorical cap to Johns out of respect. Then I read issue eight and realized that it was all just a last-minute swerve, because of course Sinestro can’t be the White Lantern, he’s not good enough to be the White Lantern, it’s got to be Hal Jordan leading the White Lantern Corps of everybody who died.
And in the end, isn’t the ending just “hit the bad guy harder”? Sinestro tears out Nekron’s heart, but that’s not enough – so blast Nekron’s secret weakness with more White Lanterns. Isn’t this becoming a pattern with Johns? Like, people keep asking me what I think of Legion of Three Worlds and here it is: the ending of that story is “our tiny band of Legionnaires isn’t enough to beat the Time Trapper? Then we’ll hit him with all the Legionnaires ever.”3 What was Infinite Crisis except more and more people hitting Superboy-Prime in the face again and again harder and harder, and then somebody hitting Alexander Luthor’s vibra-dimensional-tower thing that was powered by The Breach?
I hate to go to the Crisis On Infinite Earths well again for comparing Johns’ work unfavourably, but – look at how that book’s climax pans out. The heroes attack the Anti-Monitor4 directly while Dr. Light and Alex Luthor start draining his power both indirectly and directly, and then the Negative Woman (of all people) starts frying him to soften him up for a mega-super-blast from Dr. Light. But that’s not enough, and the Anti-Monitor takes back his shadow-demons for a fresh burst of power – except, whoops, the heroes thought of that beforehand and poisoned them with magic and stuff. All of that planning (okay, and Darkseid getting involved) softens up the Anti-Monitor enough for Superman to punch him to death, but that doesn’t feel like “just hit him harder” – it feels like they’ve both gone twenty rounds.5 It feels earned in a way that Johns’ event climaxes never do, because it doesn’t come out of left field.
And yes, I get that Johns is trying to say something about teamwork and tenacity and heroism. I get that because whenever he tries to say something about teamwork and tenacity and heroism, one of his characters makes it clear. Usually in a fairly direct way. With a speech about teamwork and tenacity and heroism in a way that nobody ever really talks. (You know what Superman says when the Anti-Monitor comes back for that one last time in Crisis? He fucking loses his shit, he’s so angry now, and screams “I HAVE HAD ENOUGH” when he punches the Anti-Monitor to death. It’s pretty awesome.)
But, after all of that, I didn’t really hate it. People might think that I hated it so much I want to cockpunch Geoff Johns, and I don’t.6 I could rant on about the resurrections everybody saw coming (and Maxwell Lord, which I don’t think anybody saw coming)7 or how a promise of “death is death, from now on” in comics has a shelf-life of “until it’s convenient,” or how the series can’t just end on a high note but there have to be teases of the next DC mega-event (why didn’t Ralph and Sue come back to life? Ooooh the white lantern is gonna get taken by somebody! Et cetera), but I really don’t care that much: DC’s output is just kind of joyless and tedious these days, not in a particularly vicious or cruel way but just kind of there, and everybody knows it, and “Brightest Day” isn’t going to be a turnaround to “more innocent and fun stories” because comics companies have learned that they can spike their sales for a few months every time they promise that and then it’s back to the emo snuff porn that the hardcores want.
But, on the bright side, they got rid of J’onn’s ugly-ass new costume, and that’s not nothing. Now, if they give Aquaman the beard back, we can talk about progress.
- For me, it kind of reminds me of back during the late 90s when the New World Order was breaking up in WCW, and suddenly there was Hollywood Hogan’s faction of nWo Hollywood and Kevin Nash’s faction of nWo Wolfpac, and heel turns and face turns were signified with literally nothing more than a change of T-shirt. But that’s me. I’m sure some people are totally blown away by the idea that the Scarecrow inflicts great fear and could use a fear-ring. [↩]
- Actually, that’s probably for the best, because that one is the one Johns wrote, where the second Captain Boomerang, for reasons that make no sense, believes that his zombified father is telling the truth so he murders women and children because his father begs for human hearts. You know, Captain Boomerang II has been around for a number of years now; I must have missed the issue where it was revealed he was actually a goddamned retard. [↩]
- “And then we will steal a villain demise from ‘Timecop’ starring Jean-Claude Van Damme.” [↩]
- Oh, yes, and why did the Anti-Monitor need to come back from the dead exactly? [↩]
- Not least because that was the end of an event series where people actually died and then didn’t get resurrected right at the end. [↩]
- Not any more than I generally want to cockpunch the average guy on the street, which: more than a little bit, because really, punching guys in the cock is funny. [↩]
- Also, who the fuck thought resurrecting Eobard Thawne was a good idea? Seriously now. [↩]