Comic Book Review: Blackest Night #4

Blackest Night has not been much of a hit here at The Revolution. Having said that, I did think that the last issue of Blackest Night was Johns’ best effort on this title. Hopefully, Johns will build off the momentum and deliver an even better read with Blackest Night #4.

Since we are at the halfway point in this big event, I would expect plenty of plot development and a story that moves with a purpose. Let’s go ahead and hit this review for Blackest Night #4.

Creative Team
Writer: Geoff Johns
Pencils: Ivan Reis
Inks: Oclair Albert and Joe Prado

Art Rating: 9 Night Girls out of 10
Story Rating: 6 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 7.5 Night Girls out of 10

Synopsis: We begin with Flash (Barry Allen flavor), the Atom (Ray Palmer edition) and Mera battling the Black Lanterns in the Hall of Justice. We cut to Black Hand in a graveyard talking about how “Let there be light” sparked this war and that the Blackest Night will end it.

We cut back to the Hall of Justice where all the dead villains that were stored at the Hall of Justice are now Black Lanterns. During the brawl, Jason manages to take control of Black Lantern Firestorm for a moment.

Jason says that he can hear a voice in the black power ring and that the voice wants Barry. Jason tells Barry to outrun the Black Lanterns. Jason tells our three heroes to get out of the Hall of Justice. (Um, ya think?)

Ronnie Raymond resumes control over Black Lantern Firestorm and attacks out heroes. Flash whips up two tornadoes using his arms to keep the Black Lanterns at bay.

The Atom picks up a phone and dials 911. Ray says that he has been tinkering with his size control belt, but that he has not actually tried this next trick yet. Ray tells Barry and Mera to hold his hands. The Atom then shrinks all three of them and they ride through the phone line.

We cut to the 911 call center and see Atom, Flash and Mera popping out of the phone.

We cut to Gotham City with the Scarecrow stating that he wishes he could feel fear. We see bystanders running away and colored yellow for fear. We see Black Lantern Azrael killing bystanders.

Scarecrow says that he is immune to terror due to his constant exposure to his fear gas. Scarecrow stares zombie Azrael in the face and feels no fear.

Since zombie Azrael cannot sense any emotional spectrum from Scarecrow, he simply pushes his way past Scarecrow to attack more bystanders. Scarecrow says that nothing can scare him, but the Batman.

We slide over to Lex Luthor in one of his secret bases. Lex is staring at a screen of various deceased villains. The Calculator calls Lex. Lex snarls that nobody should have the phone number to this secret base. Calculator says that he gets paid because he knows all the numbers. Even Lex’s.

Lex asks the Calculator if he knows how many people Lex has killed over the years. That if the dead are rising then Lex will have his own problems to deal with.

Lex says that he is sick of Calculator and the rest of the super villains handing onto the edges of Lex’s greatness and somehow thinking that they are on the same team. Lex says “We’re not.” Lex hangs up on the Calculator. Lex says that as far as he is concerned that it is now every man for himself.

We hop back to Flash, Atom and Mera. Flash says that Atom and Mera must go get Alan Scott. Flash says that he will play Paul Reverse and warn the others and find someone who can help them free Firestorm.

Flash reassures the 911 workers that the Justice League of America is on the job. Ray says that they are not the Justice League. Mera says that they need Superman and Wonder Woman.

Barry tells Ray and Mera that right now they are Superman and Wonder Woman. Flash says that Mera knows more about the Black Lanterns than anyone else. Barry tells Ray that he knows that Ray has been through a lot ever since the events in Identity Crisis. Barry says that it is time for Ray to grow the hell up and be the Atom once again.

Mera says that with Arthur and Garth gone that she has nothing left to fight anymore. Mera says that Barry doesn’t understand how it feels to be an outsider. Barry responds that they don’t understand how difficult it is for him to slow down enough to even have this discussion. Barry says that the JLA is made of outsiders. That the only one of them who didn’t worry about fitting in was Hal. That Hal let the rest of the world fit in around him.

Barry says that they must protect Earth until Hal and his Corps can find the source of the Black Lanterns and shut it down. Barry says that they need to be more like Hal and run in, take charge and kick ass like they were born to do. Barry then smiles and says “We were born to.”

Flash then takes off. Atom dials Mr. Terrific’s number. Mera asks Ray that if they are Wonder Woman and Superman then who does that make Barry? Ray replies “The Flash.” (Damn straight.) Mr. Terrific’s number is busy. Atom then tells Mera to hold tight to him and that re-entry is going to be a bit bumpier than before.

We cut to Manhattan where the Justice Society of America is battling the zombie Freedom Fighters and various other Black Lanterns. Suddenly, we see one of Mr. Terrific’s T-spheres explode as Atom and Mera pop out of it. Ray asks Mr. Terrific to tell him where Alan Scott is.

We slide to Flash racing around and warning all the various members of the Justice League of America about the Black Lanterns. Flash tells the various heroes that the Black Lanterns are vulnerable to light. Flash asks that all light based heroes to come to the forefront and help destroy the Black Lanterns.

We cut to Coast City where Black Hand is standing in the graveyard near his family’s mortuary. We see that the Black Lanterns power battery is now at 97.7%.

We hop back to Manhattan where we see the JSA members now battling zombie versions of various dead JSA’ers. We see the Atom on Alan Scott’s shoulder. Alan is using his power ring to roast the Black Lanterns. It hurts the Black Lanterns and keeps them back from the heroes, but it does not kill them.

The Atom hops onto Damage’s shoulder. Atom tells Damage to not feel any fear. That the Black Lanterns feed off emotion. The Atom then mentions that Damage is the son of Al Pratt, the original Atom. Damage spits that he does not wear his dad’s mask to honor him.

We see Atom Smasher standing next to Damage and Atom. Suddenly, Black Lantern Atom attacks our three heroes. The Atom tells Damage to stay strong and that the zombie Atom is not really Damage’s dad.

The Atom then shrinks down and jumps into the Black Lantern Atom. Suddenly, we see the Atom grow to normal size and rip apart the Black Lantern Atom from the inside. Damage says that he does not know what to do.

Atom says that they have to beat down the Black Lanterns again and again until it is over. Atom says that Damage does not have to do it for the memory of his dad. That Damage has to do it for the sake of the world. We see Damage’s heart fill with hope.

Suddenly, a Black Lantern Atom attacks Damage from behind and rips out Damage’s heart. (Booooo!) We see that it is Black Lantern Jean Loring. We hear a voice that says that the Black Lanterns’ power level is now 100%. Zombie Jean says that this will be twice that she turns Ray’s little world inside out. Ray looks horrified.

We cut over to Flash running and suddenly grabbing his head as the voice says that the Black Lantern’s power level is now 100%. Barry holds his head and asks what was the voice.

We see that Barry is in Coast City. Barry runs over to the graveyard in Coast City where Black Hand is standing. Flash then contacts Wally and Bart and tells them that there has been a change of plans. Barry tells Wally and Bart to send everyone to Coast City.

We then see the Black Lantern’s main power battery being transported from Space Sector 666 to the graveyard in Coast City. Black Hand then says “Nekron. Rise.” We then see Nekron climb out of the ground. Nekron then says “Coast City. Rise.”

We see a bunch of black power rings flying to the graves in the graveyard. Nekron then looks at Barry and says “Barry Allen, you owe me your life. You all do.” End of issue.

Comments

The Good: Blackest Night #4 was another average read. Despite my overall disappointment with this issue, there were several nice aspects to Blackest Night #4. Once again, Johns delivers a huge helping of zombie action. Readers who have not gotten their fill of zombie action on all the previous issues of Blackest Night and over in all the various Blackest Night tie-in issues will certainly like the zombie brawling that we get in Blackest Night #4.

I have been pleasantly surprised at how much panel time Ray Palmer has been getting in Blackest Night. I have always been a fan of Ray’s character and it is great to see him not only active in the DCU once again, but also playing such a large role in DC’s big event. Ray Palmer is an excellent character who, much like Marvel’s Hank Pym, has really been nothing more than DC’s whipping boy for quite some time. I appreciate that Johns is trying to reverse that trend by evidently being committed to re-establishing Ray as one of the main heroes in the DCU.

I have to admit that zombie Jean Loring does little to nothing for me. I am so completely over Jean’s character. The only positive to Jean’s appearance in this issue is the possibility that Johns may be using this as a way to finally get Ray over Jean. Hopefully, this will lead to a mini-rebirth of Ray’s character.

I also enjoyed seeing the members of the Atom Family all together in the scene where Ray Palmer, Atom Smasher and Damage fought the zombie Golden Age Atom. This was a nice move by Johns to try and educate newer readers about the legacy of the Atom within the DCU.

DC, and Johns in particular, have done a good job recently firmly re-establishing the legacies of the Green Lantern Crops, the Flash Family and the Superman Family. I like that Johns takes a moment to try and do the same with some of the B-level legacies like the Atom which are just as storied as some of the A-level legacies in the DCU.

I continue to enjoy how Johns is employing Barry Allen in Blackest Night. I like that Johns is utilizing Blackest Night to help fully re-establish both Barry Allen and Hal Jordan as two of the main pillars of the DCU along with Superman and Batman. Barry is an iconic character and I am enjoying seeing him rightfully assume a pivotal position within the DCU.

Johns does not even try and be subtle about positioning Barry Allen as THE Flash and the clear head of the Flash Family. Johns has Mera ask Atom if they are Wonder Woman and Superman, respectively, then who does that make Barry Allen? Ray’s blunt response of “The Flash” was Johns overtly driving the point home with the reader. It is obvious that Johns is intent on re-establishing the iconic versions of different DC character whether it is Hal Jordan, Barry Allen or Ray Palmer.

The aspect of Blackest Night #4 that intrigued me the most was the role that Barry is going to be playing in Blackest Night. Johns has Jason warn Barry that the voice in the black power ring is calling out for Barry. That it wants Barry. The voice in the black power ring is probably the voice of Nekron. In the final page, Nekron himself states that he wants Barry Allen.

Couple this dire warning from Jason with the fact that when the Black Lanterns’ main power battery reached 100% power levels, only one character was physically affected by it: Barry Allen. Barry held his head as it seemed full of black and white energy.

It is obvious that Barry has some type of connection with the Black Lanterns that other heroes who have returned from the dead lack. There must be something about Barry’s powers or his particular death that makes him so unique out of all the heroes who have come back from the dead. So far, this is the only plotline in the first four issues of Blackest Night that has managed to capture my interest.

Coast City was certainly a proper location for the rise of Nekron. Coast City is also the most logical location to serve as the home base of the Black Lanterns and to house the main power battery. Coast City is the site of Hal’s greatest failure and will certainly force him to confront his biggest fear. Having to deal with Black Lantern Coast City will enable Johns to fully progress Hal’s character in his quest for redemption. This will be the final chapter in Hal’s rebirth that allows him to come to grips with his past and move on free from the weight of the past and onto his future as the premier Green Lantern.

Hands down the best part of Blackest Night has been Ivan Reis’ gorgeous artwork. And that certainly continues in Blackest Night #4. Reis, Oclair Albert and Joe Prado combine to deliver another beautiful issue.

Reis packs a phenomenal amount of detail into each panel. The double page spreads are simply fantastic. The amount of emotion that Reis is able to pack into Johns’ story is impressive.

Reis is able to handle dramatic scenes as deftly as he delivers the dynamic action scenes. Often, I found myself ignoring the words in this issue and just marveling at some of the wonderful artwork.

The Bad: The continual Achilles’ heel of Blackest Night is the pacing. Blackest Night #4 is another slowly paced read that crawls along at a snail’s pace. It is hard to believe that we are already at the half-way point in this big event and, truthfully, not much time has progressed at all in these first four issues. Johns is moving the story along far too lazily and that gives the reader the impression that Blackest Night was truly a Green Lantern Corps four issue mini-series that got fluffed up into an eight issue DCU-wide mini-series.

The plotting is another large weakness in Blackest Night #4. Johns’ plotting is far too scatterbrained. Johns is trying to touch on way too many plotlines in this issue without giving proper attention to any of them. The result is that Blackest Night feels so bloated and lumbering.

The one page scene with Lex Luthor was neat in that he is surely a character who would be in trouble if the dead started to rise. However, this scene was largely unnecessary for this issue. This scene would have been a better fit in one of the Blackest Night: Superman issues.

The same could be said for the one page scene with the Scarecrow. I get that Johns is hammering home the point about the emotional spectrum and how the Black Lanterns “see,” track, and consume emotions from living beings. However, this scene was not needed and would have been a better fit for one of the Blackest Night: Batman tie-in issues.

Johns also wastes the first seven pages of Blackest Night #4 showing us more mindless brawling between Flash, Atom and Mera and the Black Lanterns at the Hall of Justice.

The fact is that the only real plot progression that the reader got in Blackest Night #4 was Barry racing around to rally the troops, the Black Lantern main power battery being transported from Space Sector 666 to Coast City on Earth and the arrival of Nekron. The latter two occurred just in the final three pages.

Johns needs to make Blackest Night much more focused and attempt to move the plotlines along with a point and purpose in the second half of this big event. Here we are at the halfway point with the end of Blackest Night #4 and I get the feeling that I just read what would have been a nice ending for issue #2 of this mini-series.

I might be able to tolerate the slow pacing and weak plotting if the story was extremely dense and complex. However, that is unfortunately not the case. Blackest Night #4 offers up yet another fairly thin read. There just is not much else behind this story other than a simple zombie attacks story with our heroes still dealing with the “shocking” Black Lantern reveals. Honestly, this basic theme should have concluded in either issue #1 or #2. It should certainly not still be the main focus of Blackest Night at the halfway point.

I have to give a big thumbs down to killing off Damage.  I have been enjoying his character over on Justice Society of America.  I like the fact that Damage spices up that title a bit with his role as the gadfly.  The JSA is made up of so many legacy characters who all absolutely worship the Golden Age heroes that they are replacing.

That was most definitely not the case with Damage.  I liked that he was the only legacy hero on the team who hated his legacy.  Damage’s dislike and refusal to honor the Golden Age Atom was part of what made him different from the rest of the JSA’ers.  I thought that Damage’s character had so much untapped potential.

Also, Damage’s death was anti-climactic.  It also lacked any purpose.  Damage’s death did not do anything for Damage’s character or for the other character’s around him.  Damage’s death did nothing to enhance the story.  Instead, Damage’s death just came off as a cheap and gratuitous death just for violence sake and to show the reader who “evil” Jean Loring is.

Of course, there is a good chance that Johns is going to bring back to life many of the characters who die in Blackest Night.  So, I will reserve final judgment until the end of Blackest Night before I rip killing Damage as a short-sighted move.

The “hook” ending to Blackest Night #4 was a total miss with me. There were two big reasons why this ending had no impact on me. The first is that Nekron is a very minor character that most comic book readers have never heard of.

Nekron is a villain who appeared in Tales of the Green Lantern Corps #2 and #3 back in 1981. Nekron then made appearances in Captain Atom #42-43 in 1990, Fate #12 in 1995, Green Lantern Annual #7 in 1998 and Power Company: Witchfire #1 in 2002. That’s it. Not exactly a character that many readers reading Blackest Night are going to recognize or know.

Therefore, when dealing with a relative unknown as the big villain, the only surprise in revealing his identity is the swerve that the big villain in Blackest Night is not some other established villain like Darkseid. The writer has to trick the reader into thinking the big villain is one of several established villains only to “surprise” the reader with a relative unknown like Nekron. While the reader has no idea who Nekron is, there is still a surprise in that we thought it was going to be someone else.

Unfortunately, DC chose to rob this issue of even that surprise. DC managed to completely and deliberately spoil the identity of the leader of the Black Lanterns all over the internet and in Previews as well. So, now the reader is left with an ending where the reader already knows the leader of the Black Lanterns is Nekron and nobody still knows who he is or cares about Nekron’s character at all.

That is why the ending to Blackest Night #4 did nothing more than induce a yawn from me as I closed the issue and moved on to the next comic book to read. Having said that, maybe Johns will be able to fashion Nekron into a fascinating and textured villain that will completely captivate my attention. However, based on what I have seen so far from the first four issues of Blackest Night, I am not betting on that happening.

Overall: Blackest Night #4 was not nearly up to the level of what I was expecting to get at the halfway point in this big event. So far, this big event has completely failed to live up to the massive two year long build up and hype that was associated with it. Of course, Johns might still be able to salvage this title with an incredibly strong final four issues.

However, at this point, this story simply is not offering enough of a substantive read and is just too plodding and slow for me to recommend spending your hard earned money on Blackest Night. Blackest Night might be a story that is best to read in trade format. So save your money for now and wait for the trade to come out and then give this story a try.

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Rokk

6 Comments

  1. I for one enjoyed Blackest Night #4. Barry Allen, Mera and Ray are relatively new to me (except Ray in Identity Crisis), and as a relatively new reader to Green Lantern, this is good and informative. Plus, I never really read anything with Barry Allen in it, so it is a good way for a new reader to become familiar with Barry Allen. The extra panels shows the scope of Blackest Night, since this isn't about 10 super-powerful villains leading a gang of grunt; this is about EVERY character, Hero, Villain, or anyone related to either group, being risen as nigh-indestructible (except to one Green Lantern and any other lantern, even then requiring two lanterns for one Black Lantern,) heartless killing machines bent on killing all.

    Maybe you should be a bit easier on Blackest Night. As you said, Nekron is a relative unknown compared to the likes of Darkseid, but it is also because of that, readers who are only recent ie. 10-20 years, had to be informed of exactly whom the new big bad is.

    In concerns to the opening pages, we couldn't simply just pop on over to the police station at the very beginning, and the fact that over 40 villains were stored in Justice League Headquarters, added more incentive to the "black lantern" battles. These things aren't zombies in the slightest; they don't act like zombies, and are bloody sadistic, and as stated above, are made up of every person of significance who has ever died.

    As to Damage dying, I never really got to know the character, but despite criticism, it wouldn't make any sense if no one who was a A-list died in this events. I think his death was to show that it was a "Anyone Can Die" scenario. And it could be true: with BL Jean Loring, it could finally allow Ray to finally get over her.

  2. I know you are upset by the pacing of this event as well, but I think I can put the issues into a suitable set up: Green Lantern 43, Blackest Night 0, and Blackest Night #1 combined make up for a nearly 80-page prologue, and introduction to the nature of Death in the DCU; Green Lantern 44 and Blackest Night #2 combined can be considered the official beginning of Blackest Night; Blackest Night #3 and Green Lantern #46 are plot progression issues. Plot progression points on gathering the seven lights goes on throughout the Green Lantern issues, while Blackest Night beginning with #4 begins to focus on Earth, and the impact Blackest Night has on the heroes that came back from the Dead, and Nekron rising, making it sort of the equivalent to Infinite Crisis #3.

    I don't know why you are being so hard on this series; it is a great series overall, and IGN has given this series scores from 8.3 to 9.5 overall. Geoff's juggling a lot with this event, so some of your fears may not be unfounded.

  3. To me, it looks like Damage's death might be the first big clue that we will get a bunch of these people back at the close of this event. It isn't as big as Superman going down, but he seems too important to the JSA section of the DCU to be tossed out for just that one moment.

    At least he had the honor of finally getting the power meter up to 100%, and I thought it was a good jolt to have us see Ray score a small victory with the poor guy just to have Jean snatch it away. It's too early in the event for the heroes to have victories, at least in this book.

    It seems like the Blackest Night:So-an-So minis are all about letting the title character (or his cloned son) score a short-term victory before rushing off to join the main BN book next month. I'm hoping that with Nekron up and the rest of the DCU joining in, things will really start hopping in #5.

    I do like Damage and hope he returns. Maybe as a bonus he'll be reborn with his face unscarred.

    So Nekron is the next step up the chain of command, but is he truly the one behind all of this? What changed to allow him to do things he hasn't before? Could the hand guiding this be…Krona, who hopes the Lanterns will harness the White Light of Creation and he will finally see a universe (re)born?

  4. I rather liked this too. I agree it was a little slow, though. And Johns is using Nekron because he is a completist of sorts and Nekron was a big deal in Tales of the GLC. I'm sure Johns will make it interesting (although many of us guessed he was involved long before it was spoiled). Also, for Nekron completists, his Fate #12 appearance was just one panel.

  5. No love for Mera? Along with Ray Palmer emerging as one the heroes of this mini, I think it's great that she has become the "Wonder Woman" of this series. Honestly, I can't wait to see how they reposition her in the larger DC Universe, especially since the Aqua-family is… well, dead.

  6. Clark Kent. Bruce Wayne. Peter Parker. Logan. Iconic, all of them, suit or no suit.

    Barry? Nuh uh.

    Have we ever met Nekron before? Every time I hear about him I think "Ah, the Devil" before I realize… no, no, that's "Neron".

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