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Blackest Night #2

Posted in Blackest Night, Comics, DC, Green Lantern with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 15th August, 2009 by Adam Redsell
Aquaman: Undead in the Water.

Aquaman: Undead in the Water.

Author: Geoff Johns
Artist: Ivan Reis
Inkers: Oclair Albert with Julio Ferreira
Colorist: Alex Sinclair
Letterer: Nick J. Napolitano
Associate Editor: Adam Schlagman
Editor: Eddie Berganza
Cover Artists: Ivan Reis, Oclair Albert, and Alex Sinclair
Alternative Cover Artist: Mauro Cascioli

Blackest Night #2 opens cinematically with wide-shot panels – beautifully detailed by Ivan Reis, but not cluttered – and maintains that cinematic feel with the able assistance of his art team.  They achieve this, I believe, by treating each panel as a camera lens.  Inkers Oclair Albert and Julio Ferreira carve out each scene with subtle shade and deep shadow, while colorist Alex Sinclair provides a light source and sticks to it, by God!  Reis’ panel composition holds up to much scrutiny, as if each scene is mapped verbatim in his mind, and every item is there precisely because it needs to be.  Effective use of these three elements – depth of field, light sourcing and composition – drew my eyes to the focal point of each panel.  This level of care and attention is the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from a big-budget Hollywood film, not a comic book.  Blackest Night raises the bar for the comic book event in every conceivable way.  This is high-production, high-stakes superhero drama at its best.

The first person we see is Ray Palmer – The Atom – looking very small.  Standing next to a paperclip, in fact.  He misses his late wife Jean, and he needs someone to talk to.  Hawkman finally picks up the phone, but he’s not quite himself.  He still sounds like himself, though, and that’s what makes these Black Lanterns so chilling.  They’re more like ghosts than zombies, and they have unfinished business to attend to.

Geoff Johns has wisely chosen to convey the epic scope of his tale  through more minor characters; the bards and minstrels of the DC Universe, if you will.  The darkness over Gotham City is viewed through the eyes of Barbara Gordon and her father, Commissioner Gordon.  The oft-discussed return of Aquaman is experienced through those closest to him, Mera and Aqualad.  They are our emotional anchors to the events unfolding, and despite our foreknowledge of some of the more shocking returns, Blackest Night proves it’s nothing at all to do with what you know, but who you know.  I have an emotional investment in these characters, and knowing that they’re about to confront their loved ones with their failure and rip their hearts out only augments the tragedy.  Their grisly guise as Black Lanterns allows us to see our late heroes at their most formidable, commit unspeakable acts, and that is the greatest tragedy of Blackest Night.

This second issue reveals much about the nature of the Black Lanterns, but many questions still linger as even the supernatural element of the DCU struggles to come to grips with the phenomenon.  Geoff Johns uses his ensemble cast empathically to put his readers in each scene.  Hal Jordan (Green Lantern) and Barry Allen (The Flash) form the emotional core of this story, and it’s great to see this team in action again.  There’s undeniably chemistry between the two (quite literally at one point), and despite the dark circumstances of their reunion, they light up every panel.  Whoever deigned to separate (and kill off) this dynamic duo all those years ago must have been stark raving mad.  Or perhaps they never saw the potential for comic magic that Johns did.

Whatever the case, I see the potential for plenty more comic magic from Johns et al in future.  You’d be stark raving mad to miss Blackest Night.

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The All-New Atom: Future/Past TPB

Posted in All-New Atom, Comics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 3rd May, 2009 by Adam Redsell
Don't be fooled - it's bigger than it looks!

Don't be fooled - it's bigger than it looks!

Collecting Issues #7-11
Author: Gail Simone
Artists: Mike Norton & Eddy Barrows

Were it not heavily discounted for Free Comic Book Day, and had Gail Simone’s name not appeared on the cover, I probably would have glossed over the “All-New” Atom.  I nearly missed it altogether, because it was so tiny, and nestled next to an oversized hardcover.  (Which is ironic – get it?  Because the Atom’s so small that you wouldn’t notice him!  Sorry about that, but it really is a small trade paperback, and someone had to say it.)

A bit of background: it’s called the “All-New” Atom, because the previous Atom – Ray Palmer – shrunk himself and disappeared when he found out his wife murdered the Elongated Man’s wife in Identity Crisis.  *I think.*  I don’t really remember, to be honest.  Maybe I should read that one again.  Anyway, the “All-New” Atom is Ryan Choi, an expatriate university lecturer from Hong Kong.  He’s lecturing at Ivy University, where Palmer was once a professor, so presumably this is how Ryan came into possession of the subatomic belt.  (See, it was the only All-New Atom on the shelves, so I assumed Future/Past was the first and last in the series.  After checking the inside cover, it appears that the All-New Atom lasted for *at least* 11 issues, and that this was the second collection of them.)

Gail Simone uses Choi’s expatriate status to great effect, playing on the character’s vocab-in-progress.  It was particularly humorous watching his attempts at superhero trash-talk, which steadily improved over the course of the book.  Dialogue is probably Gail Simone’s greatest asset, and she creates many opportunities to showcase it comedically.  The book kicks off with a troupe of cowboys (as in actual cowboys warped from the cowboy time period) crashing through Ryan’s front wall.  As an Australian, I can confirm that her spelling of their Deep Southern accent is spot-on, and is exactly how a non-American would hear it.  Ryan also has a pet disembodied alien head, whose speech (“can I get you anything, Head?”/ “Orange soda or death!”) is hilariously reminiscent of mis-translated Japanese Role-Playing Games (“All your base are belong to us”, “I am Error”, etc.).  There’s also a brief appearance from the taxi-driver that speaks in anagrams.  So it’s good to see that Simone has given our hero a strong supporting cast of weirdos and misfits.

The stories of time-travel and demon bullies are fantastical, but amidst it all Ryan Choi remains strangely believable.  He’s the school nerd we can get behind (or at least he was), like Clark Kent or Peter Parker, but he’s also a Chinese physicist struggling to come to terms with the very American superhero dichotomy of bravado, and never-say-die attitude.  And he doesn’t have much in the way of superpowers, either.  Simone comes up with some interesting applications of the Belt’s powers, but it’s hard to say what exactly its powers are.  I *think* it can manipulate the size and mass of the wearer’s particles, but sometimes it feels like Simone’s making up the rules as she goes along.  In some ways, I would have liked a bit more science fiction injected into these stories, but I’ve always found it’s wisely avoided if you don’t know what you’re talking about.  Maybe this is the case with Simone.  She does seem to know her Chinese superstition, though, which was good for a few twists and turns when Ryan returned to Hong Kong.  Speaking of which, these curious caption boxes keep popping up in strange places containing Chinese proverbs and quotes from JFK, and I have to say, I don’t get it.  The quotes don’t seem to have anything to do with what’s going on at the time, and I can only assume that these quotes are popping up in Ryan’s head (due to his Chinese heritage?).  Normally with an asterisk and a caption box, you’d expect to read a goofy message from Stan Lee plugging another comic book, so I guess it’s not all bad.

I suppose I should talk about the stories briefly.  The first story is called “The Man Who Swallowed Eternity” with a more cartoony feel from artist Mike Norton.  The Atom time-travels with literally half a professor through time to find his other half!  Yeah, it’s crazy, but it’s action-packed and fun-filled.  The second story is still crazy, but more serious in subject matter.  In “Jia”, Ryan’s high school flame (Jia) begs him to return and protect her from the school bully, now her abusive husband.  Except she forgot to mention he was dead.  Nice one, Jia.  Barrow’s pencil work is detailed, dynamic, and infused with horror elements that were perfect for the story.

You never would have guessed it, but Gail Simone – being a woman and all – has a gift for three-dimensional female characters.  Jia is seductive like most comic book vixens, but she’s also a complicated creature, and infuriatingly so!  Let’s just say that the ending is intriguing and leave it at that.

All in all, Gail Simone’s All-New Atom is a charming romp across space and time; definitely more about the journey than the destination.  Knowing that the Atom’s journey ends at issue 25 (and Gail’s at #19) helps to put things in perspective.  All you can really do is sit back and enjoy the ride.