Apparently, Marvel and DC sent a memo to each other declaring this week would be filled with origins and character building stories as evidenced by the three books appearing on today’s edition of The Pull List. Not to say that’s a bad thing by any means, character building is what helps us care most about this who we normally see just in the heat of battle.
Also thankfully for our wallets, this was a “light” week in terms of shipping. After the three weeks of 20 or more pulls, it was nice to have a week to be able to sit down, relax and get to enjoy the work in these issues.
Pull of the Week:
Green Lantern #43 – DC – $2.99
Contrary to the image on the cover of the Black Hand clutching the grave of Bruce Wayne, this issue takes the reader back before the events of Blackest Night #0 (reviewed here on The Flickcast from Free Comic Book Day). The opening page is told from the perspective of one of the Guardians, one of the little blue men who plays a role in keeping order to the universe with the Green Lanterns, as he recalls how long he has been around and the many things he has seen and been a part of. Almost joyfully, he tells how he is taking part in the birth of the very first Black Lantern.
Enter William Hand, the awkward middle child living with his loving family who knows there is something off about him by his obsession with death from even the youngest age. After sending him for psychological help, William is much the same person until he accidentally crosses paths with the Green Lantern Hal Jordan and his partner Sinestro as they fight Atrocitus. After it, William was never able to sleep right and turned himself in to the Black Hand, obsessing over the light of Hal Jordan’s ring.
After losing his hand and being experimented on by aliens, William’s connection to death grew, as he was now able to see death, like those of Martian Manhunter and Bruce Wayne. He also began seeing those who had escaped death like Superman, the Green Lantern and the Flash. From there, William returns to a fateful location where the events that turn him in to the first Black Lantern take place.
The best part of Geoff John’s writing here is how he takes what should essentially be an unlikable character and gives him the tragic flaws that you can almost understand where he is coming from, even though you obviously don’t agree with his actions. With the retold origin, the Black Hand gets a fresh coat of paint as his original origin story is discounted with this new one showing how he is perfectly made to be the main antagonist for Blackest Night.
With the connection William seemingly has, or thinks he has, with death, he has become the embodiment of the concept. What also works great is the point where William makes his choice on the “no coming back from here” moment he is presented with, ending in a terrifyingly gorgeous full page image of his decision. And with that grizzly scene, the little scarred guardian creates the first Black ring and the first Black Lantern is born.
Like much of the rest of his work with the character, Doug Mahnke does an amazing job when it comes to death. Whether redrawing the classic deaths of those passed on and those who were resurrected, or the visceral images of the Black Hand spooning with a rotted corpse upon opening the issue, something about Mahnke’s style sends chills up and down your spine when it comes to the dead and dying. A special recognition needs to go out to Randy Mayor for his work on coloring the book as well. Quite the opposite of the shining rays of hope that usually emanate from the Green Lantern series, he is still able to bring life to the horribly dark and bleak story being told here.
Note that this is the “Prologue to Blackest Night” as opposed to the “Prelude to Blackest Night” that the previous story arc was. It also appears that Blackest Night will give rise to the one shot background stories much like New Avengers and Mighty Avengers played in Marvel’s Secret Invasion crossover. While Mighty Avengers lacked in quality, New Avengers gave tons of great background to the events that lead up to the actual invasion taking place. Hopefully if this is the route DC plans on taking, then Green Lantern will err on the side of New Avengers. Up next month, the return of J’onn J’onzz, the Black Lantern whose identity was revealed by a toy solicit, Martian Manhunter.
Dark X-Men: The Beginning #1 – Marvel – $3.99
In the tradition of odd Marvel Tie-Ins, this book brings the X-Men / Dark Avengers: Utopia storyline forward with the first part of three separate stories, all ending with “To Be Continued”. First up comes what Norman would consider the surprise entrant to his team, one of the first mutants ever, Namor. The former monarch of Atlantis and Norman have a heart to heart in which Norman tries to dissect Namor’s reasons behind becoming a member of one of his teams, especially after the actions taken by the Sentry in Dark Avengers against the Atlantian terrorist cells. Up next comes Mimic.
A former X-Man himself, Mimic hasn’t been seen much as of late, with his most recent appearances being the alternate reality version of himself from the Exiles where he was one of the team’s greatest leaders and heroes. In this reality however, things played out a little differently for Mimic as he was pretty much a failure as a hero and not an all around well liked individual as he often came to odds with the X-Men. The final mini-story comes from Norman Osborn’s visit to the Dark Beast, the Henry McCoy from the Age of Apocalypse, where Norman extends the demented scientist an invitation to his team.
At a hefty $3.99 price tag, Dark X-Men: The Beginning leaves a lot to be desired. Upon seeing the members of this team revealed, there weren’t many people clamoring for explanations about how or why they were on the team. It feels as though much of this issue could have been condensed down in to a few bubbles of conversation at some point during the crossover issues instead of warranting a book of its own.
While the two remaining issues could prove this incorrect, it feels like there was an extended and underwhelming “story” put together in hopes of just cashing in on the crossover. These issues would mostly be useful to someone new to the Marvel U or those who haven’t been following recent events. At the same time, those readers probably wouldn’t be looking for in depth, albeit those depths fairly shallow, reason behind the inner workings of these characters.
Unlike War of Kings which was carefully put together and monitored by those writing the main miniseries, this Dark X-Men / Utopia story already has the inkling of event fatigue sitting in. When issues don’t add anything to the bigger story, but carry the banner of the vent on the top just to sell a few more issues, that is event fatigue. The other thing this issue tells the reader is that it is three three-part stories.
If these stories are in total the length of three separate issues, why weren’t they put together as three different stand alone issues? Most likely because they wouldn’t have the strength to be sold separately. Again, always hoping to be proving wrong, hopefully this miniseries won’t detract from the main story which seems to actually have some substance behind it.
War of Kings: Warriors #1 – Marvel – $3.99
Two stories in this issue but neither of them feel like they are piecemeal by any means. If anything, the only negative comes from them not being long enough. First comes, finally, the origin of Gladiator. If there was ever a character whose origin needed to be told it was the praetor of the Imperial Guard. For thirty or so years, he has existed in Marvel lore and his motivation of being at the command of the Shi’ar empire has never been fully flushed out or explained until now. Through the War of Kings, Gladiator has increasingly moved further and further to the front of the story as one of the strongest personalities built up in it. A few years ago, Gladiator wouldn’t have been strong enough to support his own miniseries but after what War of Kings has done for him, it appears overdue.
The events of this issue take place before the War of Kings began. As Gladiator stands guard of Emperor Vulcan, he sees a sniper off in the distance and thinks about how easy it would be to let the shot be taken and not move “just in time” to save Vulcan’s life. He then flashes back to the days of his training where he would undergo the Guardian treatment of his people in order for his place on the Imperial Guard. Gladiator’s fierce loyalty to the throne, and not the person sitting in it or the decisions they make, is finally revealed and as hard as it may be to swallow due to the severity of that Emperor’s actions or the repercussions that they may cause, Gladiator proves himself unwavering.
Because of this, it adds even more impact to what Gladiator did when he turned on Vulcan in the War of Kings in favor of Lilandra. It also adds an entirely new dimension to Gladiator. Instead of just the unthinking cog in a machine doing only as instructed, he has logic behind all of his actions that even those who suffer at his hands could understand and condone. The artwork on this story does a great job of showing the age and growth that Gladiator has gone through as a person from a wide eyed youngster in to the unyielding hand of the Emperor he has become. Both stories have fun, but serious, comic artwork that any classic fan of superhero comics can appreciate. There is no cutting edge, new fad style trying to be done here. Just good, classic comic book storytelling.
The other side of the issue revolves around the rise of Blastaar as king of the Negative Zone after the chaos caused by Annihilus and his wave pouring in to the positive world and the Phallanx virus released by Ultron during Annihilation Conquest. While Blastaar has nowhere near the following of Gladiator, his rise to power is still interesting none the less. It probably couldn’t have been published without being brought under the War of Kings banner or being paired with Gladiator, Christos Gage does a fantastic job in this up and coming despot and his rise to power that takes him right through his own homeworld and leads to a confrontation with his father for supreme rule over it.
Unlike Gladiator, there isn’t much personal growth done by Blastaar in this tale. Instead, he just takes himself further down the road that everyone had already seen him traveling down. His influence in War of Kings has been minimal so far, but with the closing issues encroaching further, it seemed destined that KING Blastaar will have a larger role to play at the end (unless Marvel has just planted him as a red herring).
While Dark X-Men: The Beginning suffers from event fatigue already in its first issue, the events of War of Kings: Warriors are an excellent complement to the regular War of Kings miniseries. None of the explanation is required but the read has undoubtedly added something meaningful to the characters in the main book, especially in the case of Gladiator. Gladiator’s story could have a case made for it that it could have been his own issue. Much like Nova and the Guardians of the Galaxy were rebuilt through Annihilation and Annihilation Conquest respectively, War of Kings may be the rebirth of Gladiator. He has finally been given a chance to shine, as only a big purple superman clone with a Mohawk really can. And with a powerhouse like Blastaar waiting in the wings, we may have the next cosmic grudge match being built up and waiting to explode soon enough.