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DC Comics

Blackest Night is a Comic Book Event That Explores Death

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Written by Geoff Johns. Pencilled by Ivan Reis. Inked by Oclair Albert, Rob Hunter, Julio Ferreira, and Joe Prado. Coloured by Alex Sinclair. Lettered by Nick J. Napolitano. Published by DC Comics.

Over the course of eight years, Geoff Johns reinvented the Green Lantern franchise. He stripped it back to its core and then built it up the mythos with new concepts, such as the emotional spectrum. The reinvention was a success, making it one of DC’s best selling comics for many years.

Although, being set in outer space meant that the Green Lantern titles were operating independently from the rest of the DC Universe. But with 2009’s Blackest Night, Johns was able to find a way to bring everything that was happening in Green Lantern and mesh it in with everything else. This was done by finding a universal theme. Death.

Blackest Night TPB cover by Ivan Reis and Rodolfo Migliari.
Blackest Night TPB cover by Ivan Reis and Rodolfo Migliari.

Ever since the Death of Superman, death has been treated like a revolving door. Most fallen heroes would eventually return, even if it took more than a decade to do so. As a result, many readers are sceptical when a character dies. So how do you explore this universal theme when death has lost its value?

Blackest Night approaches it from a few different angles.

The first approach, in a very superhero fashion, DC’s heroes take death head-on with the threats of Blackest Night being embodiments of literal death. The mythos had already introduced a rainbow array of coloured rings and Blackest Night introduced another in the form of the Black Lanterns, lead by Black Hand and Nekron.

The Black Lantern rings possess those who are either dead or have died in the past. Essentially, they become cosmically-powered zombies and Nekron uses them to try and end the world of all life. It’s your classic superhero narrative of good vs evil but reframed as life vs death.

Page from Blackest Night #4 by Ivan Reis. Nekron.
Page from Blackest Night #4 by Ivan Reis.

The villains also look like death personified. Nekron, for example, looks like Iron Maiden’s mascot Eddie, adorned all in black, and a massive scythe. But look beyond that and we begin to see more dimensions to Blackest Night.

The Black Lanterns force previously-fallen heroes, such as Hal Jordan and Flash, to address the fact that they have died and come back. For Hal Jordan, this means confronting his fear of death, which results in his inability to get close to people. By doing so he is able to grow as a person, but also take on the ultimate threat that is in front of him without fear.

The different corps of the emotional spectrum also stand-in for how people feel when they experience death around them. These are broken down as:

  • Green Lanterns represent willpower
  • Red Lanterns represent rage
  • Yellow Lanterns represent fear
  • Blue Lanterns represent hope
  • Star Saffires represent love
  • Indigo Tribe represent compassion
  • Orange Lanterns represent avarice

When broken down like this, they become less abstract. Just like how you or I would handle it differently, the various Corps handle death, or in this instance the physical stand-in the for the abstract concept, in their own way. It shows that there is no one way to experience it, but it becomes easier when that experience is shared with others.

Without spoiling the conclusion of Blackest Night, there is also an element of not just exploring death, but overcoming it too. This is most obvious in the superhero storytelling terms with the defeat of the personifications of the concept and in even more literal sense the resurrection of a group of previously dead heroes.

Blackest Night #9 spread by Ivan Reis.
Blackest Night #9 spread by Ivan Reis.

The overcoming of death also creates an air optimism for DC’s heroes too. By the end of the event, many heroes are able to reconcile their experiences with death in a more productive and meaningful manner. While they understand that there is no escaping it, they have a much more positive outlook on the life that they have. The Flash (Barry Allen), for instance, saying “life doesn’t give us purpose, Black Hand. We give life purpose.”

While Blackest Night can be read as a self-contained story, it does, as all comic book events do, set up for future stories. By overcoming death there is a more optimistic outlook coming, in terms of the DC meta-narrative that is Brightest Day.

(As a side note: let me know if you want How to Love Comics to discuss Brightest Day in a future post.)

Overall, Blackest Night achieves its goal of bringing the popular Green Lantern franchise closer to the wider DC Universe. While the comic has all of the trappings of a superhero event storytelling, exploring death in its many facets make the Blackest Night feel more relatable even if we would never go through the same situations.

Blackest Night can be found at all good comics book stores, digitally, and on eBay.

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