Saturday, April 17, 2010

None Blacker


Blackest Night by Geoff Johns, Peter Tomasi, Ivan Reis, Doug Mahnke and others: This megacrossover DC Comics event sees the Green Lantern Corps -- a sort of universal police force -- faced with an enemy that can seemingly resurrect the dead and make them evil, and which wants only one thing -- universal destruction. In other words, just another day at the superhero office. Power rings for every colour of the spectrum make the universe a very crowded place, especially as the Undead Black Lantern Corps also has nifty power rings and an unquenchable desire to eat people's hearts. Whee!

As megacrossovers go, this is certainly mega. Would someone who doesn't have an intimate understanding of DC Comics history as it relates to the Green Lantern Corps enjoy this? I dunno. I think probably not, because there's a lot of back-history to digest along with all those pilfered hearts. I enjoyed it, but even I got sort of weary after awhile. My fault, really, as I tried to buy every associated miniseries with titles like Blackest Night: JSA, and while many of those miniseries were interesting on their own, there were a bloody awful lot of them.

The writing on the 'mainline' portion of the saga -- Geoff Johns on Blackest Night and Green Lantern and Peter Tomasi on Green Lantern Corps -- is solid. There are spills and chills and thrills, space battles, epic speeches and what-have-you. Ivan Reis, who draws the main miniseries, really has become a top-flight Green Lantern artist. The on-going revelation, though, is artist Doug Mahnke, who first on Final Crisis and now on Green Lantern shows a flair for the cosmic that's actually somewhat rare in superhero comics. He's becoming a star in his own right, and here's hoping DC keeps him on books that play to his strengths. Recommended.

Flash: Rebirth by Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver: Barry Allen, DC's Silver Age Flash, took a dirtnap from 1985 to 2008. But now he's back, and prior to the new ongoing Flash series, Johns and Van Sciver reveal why this particular Flash is back, and what the hell the new Reverse-Flash is up to. It makes for a solid miniseries, though very very very very busy at times -- all of DC's superfast heroes make an appearance, while Barry also gets a new portion of backstory retconned into his personal history. Do all superheroes need tragic motivation? If our universe were a contemporary superhero comic, then all policemen would have become policemen because someone in their family was murdered, though probably not by a time-travelling lunatic. So it goes. Recommended.

Strange by Mark Waid and Emma Rios: Dr. Strange has been Marvel Comics' premiere super-magician since the early 1960's, when he was co-created by the Spider-man team of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. But apparently he did some silly thing or another recently, and had his Sorcerer Supreme sobriquet -- along with most of his power -- stripped from him and handed to D-list magicman Doctor Voodoo (nee Brother Voodoo). Here, Strange tries to mentor a young woman with nascent magical powers while also trying to pay off enough of a karmic debt to get his own powers working again. The whole thing goes down smoothly, leaving room for a new ongoing Strange series should sales merit. Recommended.

Justice League: Cry for Justice by James Robinson, Mauro Cascioli, Scott Clark, Len Wein and others: Justice League of America writer Robinson's miniseries serves to set up his now ongoing run on the JLA while also putting a number of lesser-used DC heroes through their paces prior to placing them on the main team. Green Arrow and Green Lantern, fed up with supervillains never remaining in jail for more than ten minutes, create a newer, meaner Justice League spin-off that soon finds itself involved in a supervillain's scheme, to ultimately tragic results for a number of those involved. Despite the grimness, there are a number of fun moments here -- who doesn't love Congo Bill/Congorilla, the super-powered gorilla with a human mind? Recommended.

Astro City: Family Album by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson and Alex Ross: Busiek's Astro City series manages to combine metafiction with a variety of other approaches to superheroes in a consistently pleasing manner. Astro City itself basically stands in as a history of the superhero comic book from its inception in the 1930's to the present day, with heroes and villains and 'tone' changing in relation to the ways in which a particular time (say, the 1970's) portrayed superheroes. The result is one of the most delightful superhero comics ever created, and one which gives Busiek wide latitude to tell virtually any superhero story in any style he wishes.

And while the characters have clear Major Company analogs (Busiek's First Family clearly resembles The Fantastic Four, while Samaritan is a Superman stand-in), Busiek and artists Anderson and Ross do a fine job of investing these homages with unique characteristics and problems of their own. This collection of seven issues from the original run of Astro City focuses on smaller problems of superheroes and supervillains alike while also giving us glimpses of other stories (the fate of The Silver Agent, for instance) that won't be written by Busiek for years to come. Highly recommended.

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