Superman/Batman: Supergirl

New Revised Review

By Jeph Loeb, Michael Turner & Peter Steigerwald (DC Comics)
ISBN: 1-4012-0347-7

In a shock of sheer horror, I realised over Christmas that I’ve been doing this for over 20 years: firstly in magazines like Comics Forum and books like Slings and Arrows, then as an online critic for the Comics Creators Guild website, before starting the independent Now Read This! in 2007.
Moreover many of those early efforts weren’t particularly fair or good – a side-effect of being literally bombarded non-stop with volumes one wouldn’t generally pick to read.
Thus in a probably futile effort to be less judgemental I’ve been going over older reviews, rethinking some previous pronouncements and will be making amends over the months to come.
What’s really worrying is how many I haven’t changed my mind about…

For many years Superman and Batman worked together as the “World’s Finest” team. They were best friends and the pairing made perfect financial sense as National/DC’s most popular heroes could cross-sell their combined readerships.

When the characters were redefined for the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths 1980s, they were remade as cautious but respectful co-workers who did the same job whilst deploring each other’s methods. They preferred to avoid contact whenever possible – except when they were in the Justice League – but then, the character continuity of team titles has always been largely at odds with heroes at home in their own titles…

After a few years of this new status quo the irresistible lure of Cape & Cowl Capers inexorably brought them together again with modern emotional intensity derived from their incontestably differing methods and characters.

For decades DC really couldn’t make up their minds over Supergirl. I’ve actually lost count of the number of different versions that have cropped up over the years, and I’ve never been able to shake the queasy feeling that above all else she’s a concept that was cynically shifted from being a way to get girls reading comics to one calculated to ease young male readers over that bumpy patch between sporadic chin-hair outbreaks, voices breaking and that nervous period of hiding things under your mattress where your mum never, never ever looks…

After a few intriguing test-runs she debuted as a future star of the ever-expanding Superman pocket universe in Action Comics #252 (May 1959). Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El had been born on a city-sized fragment of Krypton, hurled intact into space when the planet exploded. Eventually Argo City turned to Kryptonite like the rest of the detonated world’s debris and her dying parents, observing Earth through their vision-scopes, sent their daughter to safety as they apparently perished.

Landing on Earth, she met Superman who created the identity of Linda Lee and hid her in an orphanage whilst she learned of her new world and powers in secrecy and safety.

Her popularity waxed and waned over the years until she was earmarked for destruction as part of the clearout of attention-grabbing deaths during the aforementioned Crisis on Infinite Earths.

However as detailed in scripter Jeph Loeb’s introduction ‘On the Roller Coaster or, How Supergirl Returned to the DCU for the First Time’, after John Byrne successfully rebooted the Man of Steel, non-Kryptonian iterations began to appear – each with their own fans – until early in the 21st century the company Powers-that-Be decided the real Girl of Steel should come back… sort of…

Thus this visually intoxicating version (reprinting Superman/Batman #8-13, May-October 2004) resets to the original concept and has a naked blonde chick arrive on a Kryptonite meteor, claiming to be Superman’s cousin…

Written by Loeb with captivating art by Michael Turner & Peter Steigerwald, the action commences in the aftermath of Superman/Batman: Public Enemies wherein a Green Kryptonite asteroid crashed to Earth. Now in ‘Alone’, as a quarantined Superman chafes at enforced detention, the Dark Knight explores a section of the meteor submerged in Gotham Bay.

The JLA have all been active, clearing away the deadly fragments, but this last one is most disturbing. As Batman quickly grasps, it’s a ship but its single passenger is missing…

Soon the Gotham Guardian is tracking a wave of destruction caused by a seemingly confused teenaged girl with incredible powers and only Superman’s unwise early intervention stops the mounting carnage. Their subsequent investigations reveal the comely captive to have all the Man of Tomorrow’s abilities and she claims – in fluent Kryptonian – to be the daughter of his long-dead uncle Zor-El

The mystery further unfolds in ‘Visitor’ as a deeply suspicious Batman and ecstatic Superman continue their researches, arguing their corners as the most powerful girl on Earth becomes increasingly impatient. Fuelling the Dark Knight’s concern is superdog Krypto’s clear and savage hostility to the newcomer and Kara’s claims that she has amnesia…

Then as Clark Kent endeavours to acclimatise his cousin to life on Earth, on the hellish world of Apokolips vile Granny Goodness and her Female Furies are ordered by ultimate evil space-god Darkseid to acquire the pliable naive newcomer…

Before they can strike, however, an attack comes from an unexpected source, as former ally Harbinger, ruthless hunter Artemis and beloved ally Wonder Woman ambush the Kryptonians. …

Princess Diana has acted arbitrarily nut from necessity: kidnapping Kara and bringing her to the island home of the Amazons to be trained in the use of her powers as a ‘Warrior’. Superman’s growing obsession has rendered him unable to see her potential for destruction, despite a cryptic message on her space ship from Zor-El, and Wonder Woman decided to strike first and ask later…

With tempers barely cooled, Dark Knight and Man of Steel are invited to observe Kara’s progress weeks later, just as the tropical Paradise is assaulted by an army of artificial Doomsdays manufactured on Apokolips…

The wave of slaughter is a feint, but by the time the horrors are all destroyed, the Female Furies have done their work, slaughtering Kara’s only friend and stealing her away…

In ‘Prisoner’, DC’s superheroic high trinity enlist the aid of Apokolyptian émigré Big Barda and stage a devastating rescue mission to Darkseid’s homeworld, but not before the Lord of evil apparently twists the innocent Girl of Steel into his tool: a ‘Traitor’ to the living…

The Master of Apokolips has never faced a foe as adamant as Batman and the quartet are unexpectedly victorious, but after returning Kara to Earth and announcing her as the new Supergirl, the heroes discover that they are not safe or secure, and in ‘Hero’ Darkseid horrifyingly returns to exact his ultimate revenge…

This hardcover collection also includes a covers-&-variant gallery by Turner, Steigerwald, Jim Lee & Scott Williams, assorted roughs and a wealth of production Sketches, and a nifty 2-page translation key for the Kryptonian Alphabet.

For me, the most intriguing aspect of this sometimes overly-sentimental tale is Batman’s utter distrust and suspicion of Kara as she is hidden from the world while she assimilates, but there’s plenty of beautifully rendered action (plus oodles of lovingly rendered girl-flesh and titillating fetish outfits jostling for attention amidst the lavish fight-scenes and interminable guest-cameos) and enough sheer spectacle to satisfy any Fights ‘n’ Tights fans.
© 2004, 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Golden Age Starman Archives volume 2


By Gardner Fox, Alfred Bester, Joe Samachson, Jack & Ray Burnley, Mort Meskin, George Roussos, Emil Gershwin & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2283-3

After the staggering success of Superman and Batman, National Comics/DC rapidly launched many other mystery-men in their efforts to capitalise on the phenomenon of superheroes, and from our decades-distant perspective it’s only fair to say that by 1941 the editors had only the vaguest inkling of what they were doing.

Since newest creations Sandman, The Spectre and Hourman were each imbued with equal investments of innovation, creativity and exposure, the editorial powers-that-be were rather disappointed that their later additions never took off to the same explosive degree.

Publishing partner but separate editorial entity All American Comics had by then created many barnstorming successes such as The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman and Hop Harrigan and would soon actually produce the only true rival to Superman and Batman’s star status when Wonder Woman debuted late in the year.

Of course AA clearly filtered all ideas through the brilliantly “in-tune” creative and editorial prodigy Sheldon Mayer…

Thus when Starman launched in the April 1941 Adventure Comics (relegating former Sandman to a back-up role in the already venerable heroic anthology), National/DC trusted in craft and quality rather than some indefinable “pizzazz”.

Before too long, though, the editors were forced to concede that even the forcefully realistic, conventionally dramatic illustration of Hardin “Jack” Burnley would not propel their newest concept to the same giddy heights of popularity as the Action Ace or Gotham Guardian.

The strip, always magnificently drawn and indisputably one of the most beautifully realised of the period, was further blessed with mature and compelling scripts by Gardner Fox, Alfred Bester, Don Cameron and latterly Joe Samachson but just never really caught on.

However, by today’s standards these compelling, compulsive fun-filled and just plain brilliant tales are some one of the very best comics that era ever produced.

Happily these days, with an appreciably older and more discerning audience, Starman’s less-than-stellar War years career might be more fully appreciated for the superb example of Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction it truly was. This particular volume sees the subtle, moody, slower-paced intellectually edgy stories supplanted by shorter yarns brimming with sheer exuberance and kinetic energy as, with the Nazi menace beaten, home grown criminals began to congregate on comics pages…

Golden Age guru Roy Thomas offers his own absorbing critical overview in the Foreword to this second stunning deluxe hardback collection – completing the Sidereal Sentinel’s tenure in Adventure Comics (issues #77-102, spanning August 1942 to February 1946). The volume even includes some of the most iconic covers of the Golden Age by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby – even though most of them only feature Starman in a little insert in one corner!

As was often the case, although Burnley came up with the concept and look for the Astral Avenger, a professional writer was assigned to flesh out and co-create the stories. At first multi-talented Gardner Fox handled the job, but eventually Alfred Bester began supplying scripts, whilst the illustrator also liberally called on the talents of his brother Dupree “Ray” Burnley as art assistant and inker with their sister Betty as letterer to finish the episodes in sublimely cinematic style.

In those simpler times origins were far less important than today, and the moonlit magic just happened: playboy astronomer and secret genius Ted Knight simply invented a “Gravity Rod” which stored and redirected the incredible power of the stars, and like any decent right-thinking individual created a “mystery man” persona.

Offering Starman’ services to FBI chief Woodley Allen, the Man of Night started his crusade against evil and injustice…

The period peril begins here with ‘Finders Keepers!’ by Fox & Burnley, wherein arch-nemesis The Mist combined his usual invisibility gimmicks with a subtle psychological scheme. When members of the public found valuable “lost property” they had no idea each item carried a post-hypnotic command to surrender their own valuables to the criminal mastermind…

Bester then scripted a thriller dealing with another kind of invisibility for the next issue as Starman and street urchin Mike Muggins ended the impossible robbery-spree of ‘The Little Man Who Wasn’t There!’, whilst in #79 ‘The Tune of Terrific Toby’ (Bester & Burnley again) offered a lighter tone for the tale of a meek office worker who faked a bold rescue to enhance his status only to become embroiled in a concatenation of increasingly dangerous stunts. Happily Starman was able to turn the repentant fool into a real hero…

Burnley bowed out in style in Adventure #80 (November 1942) in Bester’s ‘The Time-Machine Crime!’ wherein thugs used said purloined device to kidnap William Shakespeare, in hopes his canny mind could plan the perfect crime…

Gardner Fox returned for another stint in #81 as the explosively kinetic Mort Meskin & George Roussos briefly took on the art. In ‘Starman’s Lucky Star!’ a poor blind boy who wanted to be an astronomer was mistakenly kidnapped instead of his wealthy playmate. Thankfully the Star Sentinel was available to put everything right, after which ‘Hitch a Wagon to the Stars’ (#82, Fox, Meskin & Roussos) spotlighted a brilliant young inventor whose obsession with astrology blighted his life, and nearly made him a patsy for Nazi spies… at least until Ted Knight and his alter ego intervened.

With Adventure Comics #83 Emil Gershwin became main illustrator for the series – a solid, polished artist much influenced by Mac Raboy – and ‘Wish Upon a Star!’ gave him the opportunity to shine in the moving, socially-charged tale of three prep school boys whose unselfish wishes came true thanks to Starman…

At this time the Astral Avenger’s page counts began to decline as his popularity dwindled – from an average of 11 to 7 or 8 – and ‘The Doom From the Skies’ reflected a growing trend towards fast-paced action as a burglar stole the Gravity Rod, leaving our hero an amnesiac and his weapon a deadly death ray, whilst ‘The Constellations of Crime!’ in #85 introduced Astra the Astrologist who used predictions as the basis of extravagantly deadly crimes…

In the next issue a disgraced sportsman pretended to undertake a lunar trip whilst equipping his gang with clever gimmicks to rob and restore his fortune as ‘The Moonman’s Muggs!

An element of detection fiction was added in Adventure #87 when Starman exposed a gang selling the inexplicably popular paintings of the worst artist in America as ‘Crime Paints a Picture!’ before rejoining the war-effort in #88 as the Stellar Centurion solved ‘The Enigma of the Vanishing House!’ and smashed a Nazi spy-ring.

In #89 old enemies the Moroni Gang broke out of jail and restarted their criminal careers as Sun, Moon and Saturn. Regrettably ‘The Plundering Planets!’ quickly fell foul of Starman and a couple of really annoying prankster kids…

Meskin & Roussos popped back in #90 to vividly envision the anonymous thriller ‘Land Beneath the Fog!’ wherein Starman saved a lady scientist accused of witchcraft in a lost medieval kingdom, whilst in the next issue Don Cameron, Meskin & Sam Citron jointly detailed ‘The Rising Star of Johnny Teach!’ as another young man emotionally crippled by a nonsensical faith in astrology found the courage to turn his life around… after a little prompting from Starman.

With Adventure #92 Joe Samachson took over the scripting and Gershwin returned to illuminate the series until its premature conclusion.

The run began with ‘The Three Comets!’ – circus acrobats Starman was convinced doubled as flamboyant thieves. All he had to do was find out where they stashed the loot…

In #93’s ‘Gifts from the Stars!’ the hero almost died after getting in between a squabbling scientist and his financial backer whose protracted arguments allowed robbers to blindside them both, #94’s ‘Stars Fall on Allie Bammer!’ had gangster Blackie Kohl use a meteor shower to gain entrance to an impregnable estate, and ‘The Professor Plays Safe!’ in #95 found a muddle headed astronomer at the wrong conference only to end up locked in a safe – until Starman stepped in…

‘Prediction for Plunder!’ saw Ted Knight and a gang of superstitious crooks both ticked off at the unscrupulous editor of the Weekly Horoscope. The Socialite wanted no more scary predictions worrying his nervous friends, but the thugs were actually using those specious prognostications to plan their jobs…

Adventure #97 saw impoverished stargazer Jimmy Wells agree to let wealthy Wesley Vanderloot take all the credit for his discoveries in return for direly needed cash, but his ‘Stolen Glory!’ almost cost the scientist and Starman their lives when the millionaire faced humiliating exposure, after which #98 revealed a stellar conundrum which gave the hero belated insight into a bizarre crime-wave where one gang was framing another for their jewel heists in ‘Twin Stars of Crime!’

Fame was again the spur in ‘My Fortune for a Star!’ when a destitute astronomer discovered a new star and offered to sell the naming rights to the highest bidder. Naturally whenever cash is being thrown around thieves are never far away…

By Adventure Comics #100 Starman had dropped to the back of the book and even the plots were beginning to feel a little formulaic. In ‘Life and Death of a Star!’ a friend of Ted’s thought he’d discovered a new star, but upon investigation Starman found the strange light was merely a clever signal to convicts planning a jailbreak, whilst in #101 ‘The Sun-Spot Scoundrel!’ featured a savant who posited that the mysterious solar blemishes caused increased criminal activity even as they neutralised the mighty Gravity Rod…

It was all over in #102, although the last tale was far from a damp squib. The Meteor Mob’ found savvy mobster Shiver using a cannon to create his own shooting stars – only these ones only ever fell on banks and jewellery stores…

Despite that unwarranted fizzling out, the Golden Age Starman is a strip that truly shines today. Enthralling, engaging and fantastically inviting, these simple straightforward adventures should be considered a high-point of the era – even if readers of the time didn’t realise it – and the stories still offer astonishing thrills, spills and chills for today’s sophisticated readership.

Starman’s exploits are some of the most neglected thrillers of those halcyon days, but modern tastes will find them far more in tune with contemporary mores, making this book an unmissable delight for fans of mad science, mystery, murder and crazy crime capers…
© 1942, 1943, 1944, 1945, 1946, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman/Batman: Night and Day


By Michael Green, Mike Johnson, Scott Kolins, Francis Manapul, Rafael Albuquerque & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2808-8

For decades Superman and Batman were quintessential superhero partners: the “World’s Finest team”. The affable champions were best buddies as well as mutually respectful colleagues, and their pairing made sound financial sense since DC’s top heroes could happily cross-pollinate and cross-sell their combined readerships.

In darker post-Crisis on Infinite Earth Times, the champions were retconned into grudging colleagues, at odds with each other over their methods and attitudes: as different as night and day, but with the passage of time the relationship was revitalised and renewed and the World’s Finest Heroes were fully restored to their bizarrely apt pre-eminence, regaining respect and friendship even though they were still in most ways polar opposites.

Finally, after a few tentative miniseries forays, in 2003 the World’s Finest Superheroes bowed to the inevitable and officially reunited in a new team-up series entitled Superman/Batman: an angsty, edgy, post-modern take on a relationship almost as old as the industry itself.

Reformed as firm friends for the style-over-content 21st century, their new stories were all big blockbuster events by major creators, designed to be repackaged as graphic novels. Eventually however the momentum slowed and shallow spectacle gave way to some genuinely interesting and different stories…

This volume contains Superman/Batman #60-63 and #65-67 (from 2009 and 2010), offering just such intriguing glimpses at other, lesser seen aspects of the mythology surrounding the Cape and Cowl Crusaders.

‘Mash-Up’ (by Michael Greene & Mike Johnson with art by Francis Manapul from Superman/Batman #60-61 from July & August 2009) apparently finds the Dark Knight and Man of Steel side-slipped into yet another alternate Earth where old and familiar faces take on new and disturbing forms. However, as they join the heroes of the valiant Justice Titans in battle against Lex Joker and Doomstroke, the razor sharp intellect and obsessive suspicions of Batman slowly determine a far more logical cause for their current situation; something only one of their old foes could possibly be behind…

There’s a far darker tone to ‘Sidekicked’ (Greene, Johnson and illustrated by Raphael Albuquerque from #62) as Tim (Robin III) Drake and Linda Lang AKA Supergirl meet for lunch and reminisce about their first meeting.

Left alone after their respective mentors were called away to a JLA emergency, the kids had to respond when a riot broke out at Arkham Asylum, but although Robin was worried that the sheltered ingénue from Krypton might not be prepared for crazed killers such as Joker, Two-Face, Scarecrow, Clayface, Mad Hatter, Killer Croc, Poison Ivy and Mr. Zsasz, it was his own sanity that nearly sundered before the kids finally triumphed…

‘Night & Day’ – Greene, Johnson & Albuquerque – from Superman/Batman #63 – finds Batman the last person free on an Earth dominated by super-gorilla Grodd. With Superman trapped off-world by a planetary Green Kryptonite force screen, the Dark Knight is forced to make the ultimate sacrifice to save his world – but once again, nothing is as it seems…

This volume omits #64, but resumes with more mindgames as ‘Sweet Dreams’ (#65 by Johnson, Matt Cherniss and artists Brian Stelfreeze, Brian Haberlin, Kelly Jones, Joe Quinones & Federico Dallocchio) depicts Superman’s greatest failures and Batman’s final breakdown – or at least that’s how the Scarecrow prefers to remember it…

The macabre madness of Blackest Night features in the concluding 2-parter by Scott Kolins from Superman/Batman #65-67 (January-February 2010) , as undead muck-monster Solomon Grundy is possessed by a Black Lantern ring and goes hunting for life to extinguish.

With every hero dead or preoccupied, tragic Man-Bat Kirk Langstrom and debased Superman clone Bizarro become unlikely defenders of humanity, with only the ferocious Mr. and Mrs. Frankenstein of Super-Human Advanced Defense Executive to assist them. And ultimately at stake on the ‘Night of the Cure’ is salvation and peace for each of the ghastly travesties of life…

With a stunning gallery of covers by Manapul, Brian Buccellato, Albuquerque, Dustin Nguyen, Scott Kolins & Michael Atiyeh, this book delivers a superb series of short and sweet sharp shocks that no lover of Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction could resist.
© 2009, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superboy Annual 1964-1965


By various (Atlas Publishing/K.G. Murray)
No ISBN:

Before DC Comics and other American publishers began exporting directly into the UK in 1959 our exposure to their unique brand of fantasy fun came from licensed reprints. British publishers/printers like Len Miller, Alan Class and bought material  from the USA – and occasionally, Canada – to fill 68-page monochrome anthologies – many of which recycled the same stories for decades.

Less common were (strangely) coloured pamphlets produced by Australian outfit K.G. Murray and exported here in a rather sporadic manner. The company also produced sturdy and substantial Christmas Annuals which had a huge impact on my earliest years (I strongly suspect my adoration of black-&-white artwork stems from seeing supreme stylists like Curt Swan, Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson uncluttered by flat colour).

This particular tome of was of the last licensed UK DC comics compilations before the Batman TV show turned the entire planet Camp-Crazed and Bat-Manic, and therefore offers a delightfully eclectic mix of material far more in keeping with the traditionally perceived interests of British boys than the suited-&-booted masked madness that was soon to follow in the Caped Crusader’s scalloped wake.

Of course this collection was still produced in the cheap and quirky mix of monochrome, dual-hued and weirdly full-coloured pages which made the Christmas books such a bizarrely beloved treat.

The sublime suspense and joyous adventuring begins with a rare treat as ‘The Origin of the Superman-Batman Team!’ (by Jerry Coleman & George Papp from Adventure Comics #275, August 1960) offers an alternate view of the Dark Knight.

Teenaged Bruce Wayne was sneaking out on his still-living parents to fight crime as the Flying Fox and the Boy of Steel undertook to give some pre-heroic training after seeing their future partnership in a time scanner.

The task was made simple after the Waynes moved to Smallville but soon an odd rivalry developed…

British books always preferred to alternate action with short gag strips and the Murray publications depended heavily on the amazing DC output of cartoonist Henry Boltinoff. Here a jungle jape starring explorer ‘Shorty’ and a court appearance for ‘Casey the Cop’ herald the start of the duo-colour section (blue and red) before ‘Superboy’s First Day at School’ (Otto Binder & Papp from Superboy #75, September 1959) reveals how another attempt by Lana Lang to prove Clark Kent was the Boy of Steel prompts the lads Super-Recall and reveals how, on their first day in primary school, he inadvertently displayed his powers to her several times…

A big hit during the 1950s, Rex the Wonder Dog featured a supremely capable German Shepherd – and his owners – experience a wide variety of incredible escapades. Here ‘The Valley of the Thunder King!’ by John Broome, Gil Kane & Bernard Sachs from The Adventures of Rex the Wonder Dog #14 March-April 1954, finds the dog and soldier Major Danny Dennis discover a lost tribe of Aztecs in Mexico just as a volcano erupts…

‘How Luthor Met Superboy!’ (by Jerry Siegel & Al Plastino from Adventure Comics #271, April 1960) revealed how young scientist Lex and Superboy became friends, and how the genius became deranged after a laboratory fire extinguished by the Teen Titan caused him to lose his hair. Enraged beyond limit, the boy inventor turned his talents to crime…

Boltinoff’s ET gag strip ‘On the Planet Og’ temporarily terminates the two-tone tales and leads into a black-&-white section wherein Rex’s support feature Detective Chimp takes over.

Bobo was the pet, partner and deputy of Sheriff Chase of Oscaloosa County, Florida: a chimpanzee who foiled crimes and here experienced ‘Death Walks the High Wire!’ (Broome, Irwin Hasen & Joe Giella from The Adventures of Rex the Wonder Dog #8 March-April 1953), solving the murder of a circus trapeze artist.

The amazing hound then became ‘Rex, Dinosaur Destroyer!’ (Robert Kanigher, Kane & Sy Barry, from The Adventures of Rex the Wonder Dog #11-September-October 1953) after an atomic test blast opened a subterranean rift packed with survivors from another age…

‘Little Pete’ and another ‘Casey the Cop’ by Boltinoff augur a return to red and blue tones and an epic 2-part Superboy tale as ‘The Mystery of Mighty Boy! and ‘Superboy’s Lost Friend!’ (Binder & Papp; Superboy #85, December 1960) see the Boy of Steel travel to distant planet Zumoor and a teen hero whose life closely mirrors his own. They quickly become firm friends, but Superboy soon finds good reason to abandon Mighty Boy forever…

Comedy courtesy of Boltinoff’s ‘Professor Eureka’ leads into ‘Superboy’s Nightmare Dream House’ (Superboy #70, January 1959 by Alvin Schwartz & John Sikela) which finds the Teen of Tomorrow teaching a swindler a life-changing lesson before ‘Peter Puptent’ and ‘Casey the Cop’, after which Detective Chimp uncovers ‘Monkey Business on the Briny Deep!’ (Broome, Hasen & Giella, The Adventures of Rex the Wonder Dog #10 July-August 1953) whilst Rex and Danny Dennis Jr. head out west to climb a mountain for charity and brave the perils of ‘The Eagle Hunter!’ (Kanigher, Kane & Barry from The Adventures of Rex the Wonder Dog #14 March-April 1954).

This thrilling collection returns to full-colour for one last Boltinoff ‘Doctor Rocket’ funny before ‘The Super Star of Hollywood’ (Siegel & Papp Adventure Comics #272, May 1960) reveals how super-dog Krypto becomes spoiled and big-headed after starring in a Hollywood movie – until Superboy applies a little clandestine reality check…
© National Periodical Publications, Inc. Published by arrangement with the K.G. Murray Publishing Company, Pty. Ltd., Sydney.

These Christmas Chronicles are lavish and laudatory celebrations of good times and great storytelling but at least they’re not lost or forgotten, and should you care to try them out the internet and a credit card are all you’ll need.

Merry Christmas, a fruitful New Year and Happy Reading from Everybody at Now Read This!

JLA Classified: New Maps of Hell

New, revised review

By Warren Ellis & Jackson Guice (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0944-5

It’s been quite a while since we covered a good old-fashioned straightforward and no-strings-attached superhero blockbuster: one which any old punter can pick up with no worry over continuity or identification and where good guys and bad guys are clearly defined.

That’s due in large part to the fact that nobody makes many of those anymore, but at least it gives me the opportunity to take another look a tale I didn’t much like when it first came out in 2006, but which has definitely grown on me after a recent re-read.

Produced at a time when the Justice League of America was enjoying immense popularity and benefiting from a major reboot courtesy of Grant Morrison, the end-of-the-world epic – starring Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Oracle and Martian Manhunter – originally ran in issues #10-15 of ancillary spin-off title JLA Classified (September 2005-February 2006) with gritty futurist super-scribe Warren Ellis upping the angst-quotient on a hoary old plot whilst hyper-realist illustrator Jackson Guice adds a terrifying veracity to events.

The drama begins as Clark Kent and wife Lois Lane stumble onto a dirty little secret. Assorted, and presumably unconnected, scientists and bean-counters at President Luthor’s Lexcorp conglomerate have committed suicide in large numbers and the intrepid reporters suspect something very nasty is going on…

In Gotham City Batman learns the police have been turned away from an extremely unconventional crime-scene by Feds and a private security company, and he too begins to dig…

In the Bermuda triangle, a group of researchers are invited to the Amazon’s ancient library of knowledge only to die when the sky-floating island explodes in a horrendous detonation.

Wally West has terrible dreams of his beloved predecessor Barry Allen which lead him to a similar catastrophic conflagration, whilst Green Lantern Kyle Rayner ruminates on a primordial legend of the Corps’ origins until a wave of explosions rouses him to action.

In the ruins of each disaster the scattered, hard-pressed heroes find an ancient parchment of alien hieroglyphs and, when Superman recovers another page of the same from the shredded remnants of a plummeting space station, the call goes out to activate the League…

Tasking cyber-savant Oracle and aged Martian sole survivor J’onn J’onzz with digging up information, the team learn of an antediluvian scourge which wracked the red planet million’s of years past. A God/Devil which tested species’ right to survive and heralded its coming through a written code…

Luthor’s scientist’s had found such writings in remnants of ancient Sumeria and begun deciphering the text…

Mobilising to stop the summoning, the heroes confront Luthor in the White House but are too late. In Las Vegas the bowels of Hell vomit horrors into the streets and as the frantic team rushes to battle they are snatched up separated by the malign entity which has spent eons traversing the universe testing the worth of intelligent races and individually putting them to their sorest tests.

However the monstrous terror has never faced beings like the JLA before, or a mind like Batman’s, and soon its own darkest secret is exposed and its fatal weakness exploited to devastating effect…

With a painted cover gallery by Michael Stribling, this book offers simple, solid Fights ‘n’ Tights fun gilded with a sly and cynical post-modern edge: a sound example of contemporary action blockbuster comics at their best.
© 2005, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Rip Hunter… Time Master


By Jack Miller, Bill Ely, Ruben Moreira, Mike Sekowsky & Joe Giella, Joe Kubert, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Nick Cardy, Alex Toth, various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3521-5

The concept of curious chrononauts is as old as the science fiction genre itself, and every aspect of literature has displayed fascination with leaving the Now for the Then and Thence. As the 1950s closed and the superhero genre slowly re-established itself in comicbooks, National/DC – who had for half a decade been a prime purveyor of bold, he-man fantasy action – successfully scored one last plainclothes hit with the infinite potential of temporal exploration.

With costumed cavorters reappearing everywhere the company combined time-travel vistas with their tried-and-true Adventuresome Quartet format (most effectively utilised for Jack Kirby’s groundbreaking Challengers of the Unknown) and, on a creative high and riding a building wave, introduced a dauntless team of comfortingly ordinary folks as Rip Hunter… Time Master debuted in Showcase #20, cover-dated May/June 1959.

Studious yet manly inventor Hunter had just finished building flying globes which could crack the time barrier and, like any sensible man, wanted his best friend Jeff Smith and girlfriend Bonnie Baxter to share in his fun-filled jaunts. Bonnie’s little brother Corky also came along for most rides…

Series creator Jack Miller was a serious history buff who filled the stories with the very latest in historical facts and theories, but that never got in the way of strong, rousing storytelling from the outset, and the series’ one potential flaw – the lack of a consistent art-team – became a huge bonus in the early days as a procession of top-flight illustrators took turns rendering the strangest and most evocative moments in comics history… to date…

It all began with ‘Prisoners of 100 Million BC’ (Miller & Ruben Moreira): a novel-length introductory exploit which saw the daredevil physicist, engineer Jeff, adoring Bonnie and little Corky travel back to the Mesozoic era, utterly unaware that they were carrying two criminal stowaways.

Once there the thugs hi-jacked the Time Sphere and held it hostage until the explorers helped them stock up with rare and precious minerals. Reduced to the status of mere castaways, Rip and Co. became ‘The Modern-Day Cavemen’ until an erupting volcano caused ‘The Great Beast Stampede’ enabling the time travellers to finally turn the tables on their abductors…

Miller was always careful to use the best research available but never afraid to blend historical fact with bold fantasy for Hunter’s escapades, and the epic follow-up ‘The Secret of the Lost Continent’ (Showcase #21, July/August, 1959 and illustrated by Mike Sekowsky & Joe Giella) saw the Time Masters jump progressively further back in time in search of fabled Atlantis.

A dramatic meeting with Alexander the Great in 331BC led the temporal voyagers on a trail of clues back centuries to ‘The Forbidden Island’ of Aeaea in 700BC to uncover the truth about legendary witch Circe before finally reaching 14,000BC and ‘The Doomed Continent’. Only on arrival did they see that the legendary pinnacle of early human achievement was actually a colony of stranded extraterrestrial refugees…

Rip Hunter appeared twice more in Showcase before winning his own comic, and those succeeding months would see the Silver Age of superheroes kick into frantic High Gear with classic launches coming thick and fast.

Even so, the Time Masters continued slowly building their own faithful audience, happy to explore the traditionally fantastic. Nearly a year later after the initial run they returned in Showcase #25 (March/April 1960 and spectacularly illustrated by Joe Kubert) as ‘Captives of the Medieval Sorcerer’ after Rip’s old college professor requested passage for a scholarly colleague to the kingdom of Ritannia a thousand years past.

Unfortunately the studious Dr. Senn was a charlatan in search of mystic power and his machinations almost led the time team to doom in ‘The Valley of the Monsters’ before Rip discovered the hoax and ended ‘The Sorcerer’s Siege’

Kubert stuck around to reveal ‘The Aliens from 2000B.C.’ (Showcase #26, May/June 1960) as Rip and the gang travelled to ancient Egypt to verify recently unearthed pottery shards only to clash with extraterrestrial criminals planning on playing gods with the natives. After a daring ‘Escape from the Doomed Village’ the lads linked up with space cops to crush the baddies and their incredible pet monsters in time to win ‘The War of the Gods’

Ironically, time moved rather slowly for new titles in those days and Rip Hunter… Time Master finally launched another year later sporting a March/April 1961 cover-date. With Ross Andru & Mike Esposito in the drawing seats Miller hit the ground running and ‘The Thousand-year-Old Curse’ captivatingly traced an ancestral doom afflicting the Craig family which brought Rip firstly to New England in pioneer times before further backtracking to Switzerland in 1360A.D. to uncover ‘The Secret of the Volcano Creature’. One final jaunt to feudal Europe revealed the truth after a climactic clash with ‘The Wizard of the 10th Century’

Two months later #2 began with a sightseeing trip to Greece spoiled when a giant monster escaped from a hidden cave. Ever-curious, Rip followed the evidence and took the team back to meet ‘The Alien Beasts of 500B.C.’ becoming embroiled in an undocumented civil war.

Deposed dictator Demades had gained control of cosmic animals originally captured by stranded alien Big-Game hunter Nytok and intended using them to reassert his rule over Greece until the Time Masters intervened and caused ‘The Battle of the Alien Beasts’. That debacle almost led to ‘Rip Hunter’s Last Stand’ but of course the ingenious future-man had a trick or two up his sleeve…

In #3 an old coin with Corky’s face on it took the chrononauts to Scandinavia in 800A.D. and right into a royal power struggle for ‘The Throne of Doom’. As Corky was a perfect doppelganger for incumbent young King Rollo, all manner of deadly confusions occurred, especially once the boy was targeted by wicked usurper ‘Svend‘The Duke with Creature Powers’. Luckily modern know-how exposed the truth about the beasts under the villain’s control before ‘The Battle of the Warriors’ eventually saw Right and Justice restored…

Nick Cardy took over the art duties with #4 as a time-lost avian Vornian arrived in the modern world and the Timesters offered to return him to his home amongst ‘The Bird-Men of 2000B.C.’ Of course the adventurers became involved in a war between legendary King Hammurabi and Vornian rebels where ‘The Ancient Air Raid’ of the insurgents inevitably led to a clash with ‘The Avenging God of Gilgamesh’… or did it?

In #5 ‘The Secret of the Saxon Traitor’ saw the team trying to rewrite established history and clear the name of a long-reviled traitor, but the books never mentioned invading spacemen or ‘The Creatures of Doom Valley’ and the spectacular finale of ‘The Ancients vs. The Aliens’ proved that sometimes history gets it right all along…

The sensational Alex Toth then came aboard for two issues beginning with ‘The Secret of the Ancient Seer’ in #5, as a convocation of contemporary scientists asked Rip to investigate an 8th century Baghdad prophet who predicted Columbus’ discovery of America and, more worryingly, imminent doom from a fireball that would strike Earth in one week’s time. On arriving in Asia, the team discovered the prophecy actually originated in ‘The Doomed City’ of Herculaneum just before the eruption of Vesuvius…

With no solution in the past Rip returned to the present and devised his own astounding solution to ‘The Menace of the Meteorite’

This astonishing yarn was followed in RHTM #7 by ‘The Lost Wanderers in Time’, as the futurist foursome embarked on a desperate chase through unrecorded history in search of a cure for a disease devastating South American Indians: a spasmodic voyage which eventually took them back a million years to clash with ‘The Last Dinosaur’ before a remedy for ‘The Green Death’ was found in the least likely place…

With #8 veteran illustrator Bill Ely came aboard as regular artist, limning almost every story until the series ended. His first venture was ‘The Thieves Who Stole a Genie’, which found the explorers following gangsters who had stolen their spare Time Sphere to secure Aladdin’s magic lamp. The trail led to 14th century Baghdad where ‘The Battle of the Genies’ was only interrupted by an invasion. Of course canny Rip had the perfect answer for ‘The Attack of the Ommayads’

When an archaeologist dug up a rocket-ship he asked the team to travel back and track down ‘The Alien King of 1,000 B.C.’: a breathtaking romp which subsequently found Corky and Rip almost expiring after ‘The Adventure on Planet Zark’, whilst Bonnie and Jeff remained Earthbound and down until a ‘One-Man Alien Army’ saved them and the ancient world from conquest and death.

In issue #10 ‘The Execution of Rip Hunter’ began after a research trip to the 3rd century A.D. led to Bonnie’s abduction. Whilst Roman soldiers tackled the boys, a hypnotic spell transformed her into ‘Bonnie – Queen of Palmyra’ and controller of an impossibly powerful beast her abductors needed to fend off Roman invasion in ‘All Hail the Conquering Creature’

A classic science fiction gem surfaced in #11 where ‘The Secret of Mount Olympus’ was exposed after the team visited 2nd century B.C. Greece. After meeting a witch Jeff was changed into a griffin and supreme god Zeus demanded Rip perform a small task to save him, resulting in a ‘Dead End on Calypso Island’ before the true nature of the pantheon was revealed and ‘The Invasion of Mount Olympus’ resulted in the team’s escape and the gods’ departure.

Long-time Legion of Super-Heroes fans might recognise this tale as the basis for a major plot stream concerning the Durlan member Chameleon Boy

For #12 a threat to modern Earth was revealed after a burning meteor erupted from beneath Stonehenge. ‘The 2,200-Year-Old Doom’ first led the heroes back to the building of the monument before at long last travelling into their own future to learn how the fallen star would destroy mankind.

Then, after popping back to when the meteor first hit and seeing the destruction of ‘The Impossible Beasts of One Million B.C.’ Rip finally devised ‘Earth’s Last Chance’ to save Today and all our Tomorrows…

In #13 ‘The Menace of the Mongol Magician’ found Rip working with a renowned scientist on a magic Chinese tapestry, but their trip to the time of Kublai Khan was only a devious scam to warp history. Once there the villainous “Professor” planned to supply the Khan’s enemies with modern weapons in return for magical secrets. However, after making off with ‘The Hijacked Time Sphere’ he was promptly betrayed by his ally. Luckily, Rip and Jeff had their own answer to ‘The Mongol Ambush’ and everything turned out as it should…

‘The Captive Time-Travellers’ in #14 resulted from Rip and a group of scientists examining an invulnerable artefact purported to have been devised by Leonardo Da Vinci. A subsequent conversation with the great man himself revealed that the container held the world’s most destructive explosive…

When one of the 20th century technicians stole the bomb and a Time Sphere ‘The Future Fugitive’ headed for 2550A.D. to sell the weapon to a dictator, so Rip and Co. followed only to become ‘The Prisoners of Time’. And that’s when the bomb’s actual builders turned up…

The cleverly captivating fantasy frolics conclude for now with issue #15 and ‘The Earthlings of 5,000,000 B.C.’ wherein a rampaging alien monster in modern-day America proved to be an Earthling of astonishingly ancient vintage.

When Rip and the gang travelled back to search out the answer to the mystery they found an entire unsuspected civilisation and became ‘The Experimental Creatures’ of that society’s scientists. They only barely escaped the cosmic calamity of ‘The Day the Earth Died’ but returned safely with the knowledge of what happened to the last tragic survivor’s species…

These stories from a uniquely variegated moment in funnybook history were the last vestiges of a different kind of comic tale and never really affected the greater push towards a cohesive, integrated DC Universe. They are, though, splendidly accessible and thoroughly enjoyable adventure tales which should be cherished by every frenzied fan and casual reader.
© 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps volume 2


By Geoff Johns, James Robinson, Tony Bedard, Greg Rucka, Scott Kolins, Eddy Barrows, Nicola Scott, Eduardo Pansica & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-4012-2803-3

Hold onto your heads, hearts and scorecards: the mind-buggering confusion is almost over…

Reprinting supplemental 3-part miniseries Blackest Night: The Flash, Blackest Night: J.S.A. and Blackest Night: Wonder Woman from 2010, this concluding collection of sidebar stories chronicles how the horrific doom and gloom of the Blackest Night began to wane and depicts key moments when the darkness began to lift…

The inexorable progress of the reanimated angels of death – slaughtering the living and feeding on the raw emotions of the defiant and defeated alike – seemed to stall here as hard-pressed humanity began to turn the tables and start a furious hope-fuelled fight back against Death God Nekron’s all-conquering Black Lantern Corps

Blackest Night: Flash by Geoff Johns & Scott Kolins opens with a terse and gritty examination of villainy unleashed as Barry Allen – who gave his life to preserve the multiverse in Crisis on Infinite Earths – flashes across the world, returned in all his scarlet glory to save universal sentience itself.

Amidst all the revolting resurrections, one in particular is troubling: 25th century maniac Eobard Thawne – who haunted and hunted Allen throughout his career, murdering the hero’s wife and mother in an obscene life-long obsession to become his enemy, is also back – not as a resurrected Black Lantern zombie revenant but as a living, breathing Reverse Flash Professor Zoom. Time travel is so confusing…

Forearmed with crucial knowledge, Barry races around the globe seeking allies, including his protégé Wally West and (briefly deceased, but better now and breathing) grandson Bart. Meanwhile a BL Rogues Gallery including The Top, Golden Glider, the first Mirror Master and Captain Boomerang, Rainbow Raider, Trickster James Jesse, and – impossibly – the reanimated corpse of Professor Zoom (time travel, see?) all stalk the speedy sentinels and their own still-breathing former comrades…

Barry knows now that Black Lantern zombies are in actuality Nekron’s perfidious power rings, downloaded with the memories of the angry dead and physically manifesting as psychologically devastating simulacra, programmed to feed on emotion and tear the hearts from the living – literally and figuratively.

However when the animated corpse of Zoom begins chasing him, garbed as the fearsome mythological Black Flash (as seen in Flash: The Human Race), the Scarlet Speedster divines a way to combat the voracious wraiths even as he hurtles towards Africa in search of his old friend Solovar of Gorilla City.

Sadly the all-wise super-ape is also dead and a ravening agent of the BL Corps…

Back in Central City living Rogues Captain Cold, Heat Wave, Weather Wizard, second Mirror Master Evan McCulloch, parvenu Trickster Axel Walker and the son of Captain Boomerang decide to pre-emptively strike at their fallen former friends.

Tracking the phantasmal freaks to maximum security metahuman penitentiary Iron Heights, the cadre of criminals are unaware that their undead comrades already know they’re coming…

Barry, unable to help Solovar, has since fled and, whilst planning his next move, has been approached by Blue Lantern St. Walker. The wielder of the Light of Hope has targeted Flash as the embodiment of that fragile, unconquerable sentiment (even after the dark side again claims young Bart) and makes the indomitable Allen a blue ring-bearer: beacon and messenger to humanity with the oath “All Will Be Well”…

As the mortal Rogues win their own battle against the dark, Barry and St. Walker, armed with the azure power of Blue Lanterns, defeat a host of Black foes and, with the aid of Wally, manage to expel the Nekron infection from Bart, bringing him back to full life and finally incapacitating Black Flash Zoom.

Freed from death’s influence Bart, as Kid Flash, informs his elders that a final confrontation is brewing in Coast City even as Captain Cold and Co. end their dealings with the Black Lanterns by dealing poetic justice to a traitor in their midst…

The carnage and crusading continues in Blackest Night: J.S.A with the opening sally ‘Lost Souls’, by James Robinson, Eddie Barrows, Marcos Marz, Julio Ferreira, Luciana Del Negro & Ruy José, wherein the multigenerational Justice Society of America is targeted by unquiet Black Lantern-ed liches of fallen members Sandman, Dr. Mid-Nite and Mr. Terrific, tasked with not only destroying the living members of the fabled team but also leading an army of revenants against the most brilliant man on Earth as he tirelessly toils on a device to banish Nekron’s influence…

As veteran Flash Jay Garrick and modern legacy heroes Cyclone, Tomcat, Magog, Liberty Belle II and the new Hourman strive against the hordes of the fallen, stunned by the recent loss of their tragic comrade Damage, at S.T.A.R. labs the current Dr. Midnight and Mister Terrific race to build their machine to stop the dead. Green Lantern Alan Scott, Wildcat and Power Girl are posting an uneasy guard over them…

Everywhere young and old champions desperately hold back the onslaught of the final darkness, but as the device nears completion a convergence of Black Lanterns outside and within the citadel threatens the living’s last hope…

‘Troubled Souls’ (Robinson, Tony Bedard, Barrows, Marz, Eduardo Pansica, Julio & Eber Ferreira & Del Negro) sees Liberty Belle race her deadly departed dad Johnny Quick in a most unconventional and unexpected duel of wills even as BL-ed Lois Lane of Earth-2 menaces the scientist heroes in S.T.A.R. labs as she seeks to reactivate her twice-dead husband (the BL Superman of Earth-2 was destroyed by Superboy and “our” Man of Steel in Blackest Night: Superman in Black Lantern Corps volume 1).

In the street Damage menaces his “cousin” Atom Smasher and former love Judomaster before fighting off his Black Lantern programming long enough to destroy all the horrors besieging the lab, but his death-defying gesture is proved pointless as, within the shaken structure, Lois’ ring reanimates the mangled remains of the unstoppable Kal-L of Krypton

‘White Lightning’ (Bedard, Robinson, Barrows, Marz, Pansica, Del Negro, Wayne Faucher, Eber Ferreira & Sandro Ribeiro) then sees Power Girl battling her zombie father figure to a standstill, aided by a phalanx of JSA all-stars, until the saviour machine can be activated to sever Nekron’s connection to all his agents in the city. As the Black Lanterns return to dust the stage is set for the final fight against the Lord of Death…

Blackest Night: Wonder Woman (by Greg Rucka, Nicola Scott, Prentis Rollins, Jonathan Glapion, Walden Wong, Drew Geraci & Eber Ferreira) is perhaps the most confusing tale for casual readers to follow, as much of the critical action occurs contemporaneously in other books such as core tome Blackest Night).

Nevertheless, as we’ve come this far…

It begins in WashingtonDC as the Amazing Amazon tracks the reconstituted mind-manipulator Maxwell Lord, whom she executed during the Infinite Crisis to prevent him making Superman his slave.

Undead Lord is running amok, causing people to kill themselves, and even beheading him doesn’t stop his malevolent depredations. When he causes all the nation’s honoured dead (including DC war hero Unknown Soldier) to rise from their graves and attack, Wonder Woman is forced to destroy them all with her magic lasso. Furious, she swears vengeance on the beast who has twice compelled her to commit shameful acts of barbarism…

The second chapter opens with her actually dead and operating as a Black Lantern beside her equally compromised “sister” Donna Troy (see why you need to read the other volumes?) fighting Aquaman’s widow Mera and a contingent of Teen Titans, all the while struggling to throw off the malign influence of the Black Ring that controls her…

After ripping out the heart of her protégé, Wonder Girl Cassie Sandsmark, dead Diana turns on Troy and her own mother Queen Hippolyta. Suddenly substitute Batman Dick Grayson distracts her long enough for the goddess Aphrodite to intervene and open a path for a Violet power ring to capture the agonised Amazon princess…

Brought back to life and now a love-fuelled Star Sapphire/Wonder Woman, she rendezvous with Star Sapphire Carol Ferris to end the menace of Max Lord, only to be ambushed by Mera, now a raging Red Lantern. Battling each other and an army of Black Lanterns, the furiously warring women are only stopped by Green Lantern Hal Jordan who has gathered a taskforce of ring-bearers from every hue of the emotional spectrum, determined to lead them all into final battle against Nekron…

Which will or indeed has already happened in the aforementioned core collection Blackest Night

With covers and variants by Kolins, Gene Ha, Greg Horn, Francis Manapul, Ryan Sook & Barrows, this book also includes a selection of info pages digging the dirt on sixteen Black Lantern heroes and villains from this collection courtesy of designers Joe Prado & Scott Kolins.

Epic, ambitious, enthralling and grandiose, whilst the subtler shades and in-continuity treats of this epic adventure will be utterly impenetrable to all but the most devoted DC disciple, there’s so much that is great about Blackest Night that I’d strongly urge every fan of cosmic comics and frantic Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction to give it a try (but you really, really need to read all seven collections). Think of it as a keep-fit class for your comicbook sinews…
© 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps volume 1


By Peter J. Tomasi, James Robinson, J.T. Krul, Ardian Syaf, Eddie Barrows, Allan Goldman, Ed Benes & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2804-0

After years of inexorable build-up, when the Blackest Night finally dawned, it was, like death itself, unavoidable and inescapable. The Event permeated and saturated every aspect of DC’s publishing schedule and found almost every hero and villain living, dead or provably otherwise an active participant in a final clash between Darkness and Light…

The basic premise of the crisis was simple and delicious. All those times when a hero or villain physically came back from the dead, it wasn’t a miracle – or even fashion and comicbook market forces – but part of a cunning plan by a cosmic death god to end all life.

The ghastly ultimate antithesis Nekron had simply allowed the likes of Jason Todd, Superman, Superboy, Donna Troy, Bart Allen and all the rest to return as strands of an infinitely patient plan to replace the lights of life’s emotional spectrum with the silent ebon glow of ultimate, all-encompassing nothingness…

Reprinted here are three of the supplemental 3-part miniseries which accompanied and garnished the main event. Blackest Night: Batman, Blackest Night: Superman and Blackest Night: Titans were first released in released in 2009 to augment the culminating saga, but in isolation make for pretty confusing reading so best ensure you have a copy of the collected Blackest Night on hand unless you want a killer headache…

Blackest Night: Batman ‘Who Burns Who’ (Peter J. Tomasi, Ardian Syaf, Vicente Cifuentes & John Dell) is a blistering introduction to the epic event as, in Gotham City, new Batman Dick Grayson and latest Robin Damian Wayne examine the desecrated family graveyard where recently Flash and Green Lantern battled someone impossible who did something horrible…

As they tend to the shattered open graves, in the distant Himalayas Ghostly Guardian Deadman is attacked by his own reanimated corpse. Attempting to re-possess his resurgent black be-ringed skeleton, Boston Brand is drowned in a ghastly torrent of memories and discovers how Death’s agent Black Hand has brought about the Blackest Night…

In the skies above Gotham, a plane carrying the cadavers of many of the Dark Knight’s foes is shredded by Black Lantern Rings seeking beings of power and malice to resurrect.

Soon Blockbuster, the Ventriloquist, KGBeast, Magpie, Deacon Blackfire, King Snake, Abattoir and the Trigger Twins are on a rampage of slaughter just as Deadman tracks down his old friend Batman and discovers the one true Gotham Guardian is also gone…

As the phantom brings the substitute heroes up to speed on the Big Black Picture, more ebony power-rings rain down, programmed to cause maximum grief and pain.

Soon Grayson’s murdered parents are stalking the streets hunting for their heroic son, as are Tim Drake’s (third Robin and currently operating as vigilante Red Robin) long-gone Mum and Dad…

With Deadman in agony as he taps into the ravening hunger of the undead horde, the Caped Crusaders realise that all of Gotham is under attack by the rapacious Black Lanterns…

Feeding on emotions, the zombies bolster their forces with every life they take, and Batman and Robin are forced to the regrettable extreme of tooling up with incendiary weapons from the National Guard armoury as, in the centre of town, Police Headquarters is slowly being drowned in undead berserkers.

Soon only Commissioner Jim Gordon and his wheelchair-bound daughter Babs are left to hold a Horatian rearguard action when the Dynamic Duo arrive with flamethrowers blazing…

Even then the effects are only temporary as the necrotic rings constantly reassemble the blazing Lanterns. With Deadman’s surreptitious assistance – and thanks to Red Robin’s timely arrival – the Gordons make a spectacular escape, but with the situation already beyond dire, the shaken survivors decide on a potentially catastrophic remedy and have Brand possess misanthropic occultist Jason Blood.

As the Batman Family are furiously fighting their own bloodthirsty dearly departed, Deadman is wearing the moody modern mystic and rushing to the rescue. Blood’s esoteric knowledge might be of some use in this situation, but the actual plan is to go for broke by releasing Etrigan the Demon from his immortal mortal cage and hoping they can all survive the Prince of Hell’s understandable and predictable outrage…

At roughly the same time in Kansas, Blackest Night: Superman began with ‘A Sleepy Little Town’ by James Robinson, Eddy Barrows, Ruy José & Julio Ferreira. Here the alternate-Earth Man of Steel Kal-L erupts from his grave to attack Superman and recently reborn Superboy Conner Kent as they visit the family farm.

Distracted by the blistering blockbuster blitzkrieg, the Kryptonian combatants rampage all over the state in a perfect storm of destruction. Thus only faithful hound Krypto is left to protect ideal mom Martha Kent when Black Lantern Lois Lane-Kent of Earth-2 arrives, hungry for human hearts and emotional sustenance…

Meanwhile on the freshly established planet New Krypton the dead are also rising, and Supergirl and her mother Alura are confronted by the last man they ever thought they’d see again…

On Earth, Smallville is deserted except for BLs Kal-L and Lois who hold Martha hostage in ‘Psycho Piracy!’ The long-dead master of emotion has also macabrely reincarnated and the entire township has succumbed to his spell. When Ma Kent boldly makes a break for freedom, Superboy falls under the Psycho Pirate’s power too and turns on “big brother” Superman, whilst on New Krypton Supergirl vainly fights back against her dead dad…

‘The Long Dark Night’ (with additional pencils from Allan Goldman and inks by Eber Ferreira) sees Kryptonian science and Supergirl’s indomitable spirit drive off and exile all Black Lanterns from the embattled artificial world, whilst on Earth Krypto rockets to the rescue in Smallville, allowing Superman and Superboy to overcome and apparently deactivate Kal-L, Lois and the Psycho Pirate.

Apparently…

This initial sub-collection of Black Lantern butchery wraps up with Blackest Night: Titans as the teen team is similarly targeted by their beloved lost ones…

‘When Death Comes Knocking’ by J.T. Krul, Ed Benes, Rob Hunter, Jon Sibal & JP Mayer, begins as the current team visits their hall of dead heroes. The Titans have lost more than their fair share of friends and comrades, but at least two have returned from the grave – Superboy and Bart Allen, the second Kid Flash

As the mournful group parts, a Black Lantern ring finds the grave of Don Hall, (first Avatar of Peace to carry the code-name Dove) but is unable to rouse the fallen defender as he is “at peace”.

His belligerent fallen brother Hank, however, is not…

In WashingtonDC current Hawk and Dove Holly and Dawn Granger are the resurrected raptor’s quarry and despite their best efforts he hunts them down and slaughters his successor.

On Titans Island, Beast Boy Gar Logan is visited by dead and deadly Tara Markoff, who joined the team as Terra only to betray and kill them. Gar has always loved her and, despite knowing she’s evil, again falls for her “little lost girl” act, even as Cyborg and Starfire are ambushed by departed telepath Omen

In her home, Amazon powerhouse Donna Troy finds her dead husband Terry and baby Robert calling out to her, but many other Titans are simply attacked rather than beguiled. In ‘Bite the Hand That Feeds’ (by Krul, Benes & Scott Williams), dead baby Robert – who had only just cut his second tooth when he was taken – used them to bite his traumatised, grieving mother and infect with her toxic, terminal darkness, just as Terra turns on Gar and two undead Hawks pursue the frantic furious Dove as she flies for help…

Kid Flash and Wonder Girl Cassie Sandsmark rescue Donna and begin to orchestrate a defence when Tara brings their skyscraper HQ down around them, leaving all the living heroes together at last but surrounded by their murderously-intentioned loved ones.

As an army of reincarnated Black Lantern Titans close in, hope blossoms in the Capitol when Holly tries to consume her sister and finds Dove impossible to “swallow” as her Black Lantern ring malfunctions…

‘When Doves Cry’ (Krul & Ed Benes) sees Donna, Kid Flash, Cyborg, Beast Boy, Wonder Girl and Starfire valiantly battling a dozen of their past team-mates and loved ones with little effect when Dove unexpectedly arrives. Exhausted and desperate, the Angel of Peace is seemingly easy meat for her closely pursuing dead sister, but as she readies herself for death, Dove suddenly emits a burst of light which melts her attacker. A second wave vaporises the entire attacking Black Lantern horde, and Dawn suddenly experiences an impossible vision…

Saved by an unimagined power they cannot understand, the weary Titans prepare to strike back at the cause of all their woes, unaware that the dark infection in Donna is gradually turning her into something Black and deadly…

This initial volume also includes covers and variants by Andy Kubert, Barrows, Benes, Hunter, Bill Sienkiewicz, Shane Davis, Sandra Hope, Brian Haberlin, George Perez, and a big section of design and data pages by Joe Prado, uncovering the facts on thirty Black Lantern villains.

Fast-paced and action-packed, this is an impressive and pretty selection of comic thrills, spills and chills – unless you haven’t read Blackest Night (and preferably Blackest Night: Green Lantern and Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corps too). If not, it probably feels like repeatedly hitting yourself in the head with shovel dipped in dayglo coffin liquor.

No, don’t visualise: just read the series in a sensible order. You won’t be sorry (and your split skull won’t glow like a rainbow in the dark)…
© 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Blackest Night: Rise of the Black Lanterns


By Geoff Johns, Tony Bedard, Dan Didio, J.T. Krul, Dennis O’Neil, Greg Rucka, James Robinson, Peter J. Tomasi, Eric Wallace & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-4012-2806-4

After years of inexorable build-up, when the Blackest Night finally dawned it was, like death itself, unavoidable and inescapable. The event permeated and saturated every aspect of DC’s publishing schedule and even prompted the one-time-only resurrection of a number of beloved but deceased titles for one more clash of Darkness and Light.

Those all new final issues are gathered here in an intriguing but rather incomprehensible tome… unless you read it in conjunction with the other books in the monolithic crossover sequence.

The basic premise of Blackest Night was simple and smart. All those times when a hero or villain actually came back from the dead, it wasn’t a miracle or the triumph of abiding will but part of a patient plan by a cosmic death-god to end all life. The ghastly Nekron had merely permitted the likes of Superman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Flash, the Doom Patrol and so many, many others to return to the land of the living simply to pave the way for a long-intended mass rising of the dead.

This particular trade paperback compilation – one of seven collecting the colossal saga – features individual skirmishes from the thanatopical war and encompasses The Atom and Hawkman #46, Phantom Stranger #42, Green Arrow #30, Adventure Comics #7, Starman #81, The Question #37, Catwoman #83, Weird Western Tales #71 and Power of Shazam #48, all cunningly designed to appeal to older fans whilst intensifying that all-pervading sense of doom and manic energy craved like a drug by modern comicbook readers…

One further word of warning however: these stories were released at separate times as the saga ran its course and, whilst maintaining a uniformly high quality of illustration throughout, are not meant to be read in isolation. For full comprehension you really, really need to have the other books to hand or at least fresh in your mind.

Following a crucial prose section detailing ‘The Story So Far…’ the off-camera action commences with ‘Bye Bye Birdie!’ by Geoff Johns, Ryan Sook & Fernando Pasarin (from The Atom and Hawkman #46), wherein ill-starred scientist Ray Palmer is forced to re-examine his traumatic career as The Atom before he is deputised into the mysterious Indigo Tribe.

These enigmatic aliens utilise the cool Light of Compassion and their adoption of the much-travelled physicist enables him to fight off not only the lethal Black Lantern assaults of his greatest friends Hawkman and Hawkgirl but also the dark psychological thrusts of his deranged dead wife Jean, incidentally saving the universe into the bargain…

Next follows Phantom Stranger #42, with ‘Deadman Walking’ by Peter J. Tomasi, Ardian Syaf & Vicente Cifuentes once more pairing the immortal wanderer with deceased acrobat and Agent of Cosmic Balance Boston Brand – with spooky fan-favourite Blue Devil thrown in for good measure.

With the Earth’s dead enslaved to an occult invader, even the omnipotent Spectre is now trying to wipe out all life and the Stranger determines that passion rather than might will win the day.

To this end he seeks out the former Deadman – currently residing in Earthly paradise Nanda Parbat – but Brand is already fully involved in the cosmic struggle as his own corpse has been reanimated by a Black Ring and is currently assaulting the spiritual haven to end forever the tortured existence of the ethereal avenger…

With the immediate threat ended by the champions of Life, Deadman, who has gleaned wisps on information about an unsuspected “White Light”, sets out to warn the other heroes battling against Nekron’s Black onslaught…

‘Lying To Myself’ by J.T. Krul, Diogenes Neves, Ruy José & Cifuentes, from Green Arrow #30, offers a glimpse into the workings of the ravenous revenants by highlighting the inner struggles of the once Emerald Archer.

As his moral spirit struggles against the programming of the Black Ring animating his corpse and compelling it to kill best friend Hal Jordan, the newly returned to true life Barry Allen and his own wife Black Canary, the first inklings of wilful independence return.

Also in his sights but far less reluctant to fight back are Oliver Queen’s son Connor Hawke and current Speedy sidekick Mia Dearden, but even together they can do little to stop the relentless Black Arrow. It takes Oliver’s own indomitable will, bolstered by happy memories of the loved ones he’s stalking, to overrule Nekron’s vile programming and score a major hit against the Black Lantern army…

In Adventure Comics #7 a similar situation occurred in ‘What Did Black Lantern Superboy Do?’ by Tony Bedard, Travis Moore, Dan Green, Keith Champagne & Bob Wiacek, as the clonal Boy of Steel reviews his short but eventful life to combat the effects of the ebon band which had brought him back to kill his Teen Titan friends.

Again love conquered death as, whilst battling his superdog Krypto and lover Wonder Girl, their valiant resistance enabled Connor Kent to throw off the Black Lantern influence and even return to true life – for the second time…

The immortal Shade took centre stage in Starman #81 as David Knight disinterred himself to become the ‘Blackest Night Starman’ (by James Robinson, Fernando Dagnino & Bill Sienkiewicz). The firstborn son of the original Astral Avenger was only a hero for scant days before being murdered and now carves a path of frustrated death through OpalCity until the enigmatic Demon of Darkness defeated him.

Moreover when Nekron’s ring tries to assimilate the Shade it turns and flees from a blackness even deeper than death…

‘One More Question’ (The Question #37 by Dennis O’Neill, Denys Cowan, Sienkiewicz & John Stanisci) sees new truth-seeker Rene Montoya challenged to a test of skill by martial arts assassin Lady Shiva, even as the world is rent by rapacious revenants. The new Question is then saved by the old, who also finds his past a partial bulwark against Nekron’s enslavement, whilst the living duellists’ embracing of Zen philosophy subsequently starves the black zombie of the emotional fuel it needs to survive…

Catwoman #83 provided the Feline Fury with an opportunity for more vengeance when the sadistic madman she executed returns in ‘Night and the City’ by Bedard, Fabrizio Fiorentino, Ibraim Roberson, Marcos Marz, and Luciana Del Negro.

Roman Sionis was the first crime overlord to use the name Black Mask: torturing, maiming and killing members of Selina Kyle’s family but his raging return and hunger for payback is thwarted by Catwoman’s stubbornness and the timely intervention of her allies Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn.

Weird Western Tales #71 offered a distant and different perspective as ‘And the South Shall Rise Again’ (Dan Didio & Renato Arlem) found Joshua Turnbull – descendent of Jonah Hex’s greatest enemy – and technological corporate raider Simon Stagg pooling their vast resources to capture and forensically examine one of the deadly Black Rings. Unfortunately that only brings the unstoppable wrath of a vast posse of dead Cowboys and Indians such as Bat Lash, Super Chief, Scalphunter, The Trigger Twins and even Hex himself down on the doomed entrepreneur-scientists…

This bestiary of the bizarre concludes with Power of Shazam #48 as ‘Rest in Peace’ (by Eric Wallace, Don Kramer & Michael Babinski) explores the troubled soul of murdered Black Marvel Osiris; recalled to a semblance of life by the power of the Black Lanterns.

Baffled and bewildered, the mighty lad is driven by dark hungers but glad to see his best friend Sobek has also returned – even though the crocodile man killed and consumed him the last time they met.

However the memory of friendship and love betrayed drives the infuriated zombie to savagely settle his differences forever and even Nekron’s Ring’s cannot override the emotional storm within…

This book also contains covers and variants by Ryan Sook, Ardian Syaf & Vicente Cifuentes, Greg Horn, Aaron Lopresti, Tony Harris, Cully Hamner & Dave McCaig, Adam Hughes, Bill Sienkiewicz, Jerry Ordway & Alex Sinclair, Mike Grell & Francis Manapul and a selection of info pages digging the dirt on (unlucky) 13 Black Lantern heroes and villains from the collection by Ethan Van Scriver & Joe Prado.

Alternatively action-packed and moodily suspenseful, this ambitious epic, whilst cunningly manipulative of the subtler shades of continuity, will be utterly impenetrable to all but the most devoted DC disciple, but there’s so much that is great about Blackest Night that I’d strongly urge every fan addicted to Cosmic Costumed Drama to give it a try (but you really, really need to read Blackest Night, Blackest Night: Green Lantern and Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corps if not all seven collections). Think of it as a valuable funnybook exercise to stave of the Grim Reaper of boredom…
© 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Blackest Night


By Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Oclair Albert & Joe Prado (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2953-5

After years of inexorable build-up, and following a plethora of end-of-everything crossover crises, when the Blackest Night at last dawned it was, like death itself, unavoidable and inescapable. The Major Publishing Event permeated and saturated every aspect of DC’s publishing schedule and even caused the one-night-only resurrection of a number of deceased titles for even more clashes between Darkness and Light…

The basic premise of the event was simple and delicious. All those times when a hero or villain actually came back from the dead, it wasn’t a miracle but merely part of a cunning plan by a cosmic death god to end all life.

The ghastly Nekron had just allowed the likes of Superman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Flash, Jason Todd and all the rest to return as strands of its infinitely patient plan to replace the lights of life’s emotional spectrum with the ebon gleam of ultimate, all-encompassing death…

The bare bones of the crisis were recounted in the core 8-issue miniseries Blackest Night by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis & Oclair Albert (with additional inking from Rob Hunter, Julio Ferreira & Joe Prado); collected in this volume with background material from the supplementary and complementary Blackest Night Director’s Cut one-shot.

The cosmic catastrophe had been building since time began (in continuity terms, but only a couple of years in the published comics) so, following an Introduction from movie producer Donald De Line and a few brief recap notes, the terror at last launches with ‘Prologue: Death Becomes Us’ as resurrected best friends Hal (Green Lantern) Jordan and Barry (Flash) Allen stand in the Wayne family cemetery, reminiscing on the manners of their respective demises and returns, as well as the friends and comrades they have lost in their lives.

Elsewhere, Black Hand, earthly avatar of Nekron and instigator of the eternally dreaded Blackest Night, rises from his own unquiet grave…

Issue #1 then commences as Hand unearths Bruce Wayne’s skull and summons a horde of Black Lantern rings from the cold, dark void, commanding them to find corpses to reanimate: hungry souls to feed and fester on the broken hearts of the still-living…

On a day dedicated to remembering the dead in newly rebuilt Coast City (site of the greatest domestic massacre in US history), Jordan and fellow Green Lanterns John Stewart, Guy Gardner and Kyle Rayner are attending a commemoration service and contemplating their own personal failures.

At the grave in Smallville, Martha, Clark and Connor Kent mourn the loss of family patriarch Jonathan.

In San Francisco, the Teen Titans wander through their hall of the dead, remembering their many fallen friends whilst in Central City Flash’s Rogues Gallery pay their unique respects to expired associates at the criminal cemetery Avernus.

In Metropolis the Justice Society of America and other costumed champions gather their thoughts as they honour their own fallen few in the forested memorial gardens of Valhalla.

On a solitary stretch of coastline the lonely grave of Aquaman is tended only by his wife Mera and former sidekick Tempest.

Later, Hal informs Barry of who else has died whilst the Flash was gone. The Speedster is appalled by how many heroes have passed – and which ones have since returned…

In deepest space the Guardians of the Universe are finally forced to admit their eons-long plan and convoluted efforts to forestall the prophesied Blackest Night have failed when one of their number – “Scar” – reveals she has been corrupted by the dark and brutally slaughters one of the immortal aliens.

The murder is the trigger for a wave of black rings to possess the corpses of heroes, villains and significant loved ones throughout the universe. On Oa, dead and cherished Corps champions return as Black Lanterns to kill their living comrades. On Earth a wave of still-missed dearly-departed stalk their nearest and dearest, generating love, grief, terror, compassion and other blazing emotions which the zombies use to fuel their rings – and something else…

When traumatised Alfred Pennyworth summons Hal and Barry to Bruce Wayne’s desecrated grave they are ambushed by the revenant of their beloved comrade J’onn J’onzz, even as in St. Roch, Hawkman and Hawkgirl are attacked and killed by the cruelly sneering corpses of the Elongated Man and his wife Sue Dibny

The second chapter opens as the Black Lantern Hawkman lures his closest friend Ray Palmer into a trap. The Atom was already dejected by the crushing realisation that although his own dead wife Jean murdered Sue and started a bloody war between heroes, he loves her still…

In Gotham Jim Gordon and his daughter Barbara are on hand when Jordan comes crashing to Earth, whilst in Amnesty Bay, Tempest and Mera are confronted by the cadaverous Aquaman they so recently grieved over…

…And in a Gotham graveyard, ghostly guardian Deadman is reeling in psychic shock at the spiritual disturbances. The raw emotion is greatly intensified when his own corpse rises, called back into murderous physicality by a black ring.

The ubiquitous gems are not infallible however. When one targets the final resting place of Don Hall the hero dubbed Dove stays buried and “at peace”. The same is not true of his bellicose brother Hank, who rises as a bleak and even more savage Hawk

Drawn to Deadman’s grave, a cadre of mystic heroes comprising Zatanna, Blue Devil, Phantom Stranger and The Spectre are confronted by the cadaver of pan-dimension doomsmith Pariah. Although even the black rings cannot affect the Stranger, they manage to separate the divine force of the Spectre from its latest mortal host – murdered cop Crispus Allen

As Flash and Green Lantern continue their battle against Black Hand, Tempest dies and only Mera escapes the savage attacks of Black Aquaman. Events turn truly grim when Nekron’s earthly agent manifests an army of dead Justice Leaguers and sets them after Barry and Hal…

The bombastic battle looks a foregone conclusion until the Atom appears. Although ambushed by Hawkman, the incredible shrinking man had survived by hiding within his attacker’s monstrous black ring…

At Justice League HQ, Jason Rusch – who, with his girlfriend Gehenna, forms the fusion hero Firestorm – is trying to get a grip on the situation when Mera breaks in. Meanwhile Hal, Ray and Barry are saved from certain doom when the enigmatic alien Indigo Tribe arrive, using their brand of light to sever the Black Ring connections to their zombie hosts.

The exhausted heroes then join Firestorm and Mera, as the Indigo priestess reveals the secret and true history of the universe and how the seven hues of the Emotional Spectrum must unite to end the threat of the Blackest Night – a scheme to return creation to its cold, dark and unendingly lifeless primordial state…

The extraterrestrial shamans also reveal how the seemingly indestructible emotion-eating horrors can be disrupted by any two light forces acting in unison – although green and any other works best…

The powwow is interrupted by the dead Leaguers who again mercilessly attack. As the Indigo Tribe vanish – taking a horrified, unwilling Hal with them – the fight immediately goes bad. Black Lantern Firestorm Ronnie Raymond merges with Jason and Gehenna’s incarnation, killing the girl whilst repossessing and dominating the Nuclear Man’s composite form…

With victory already assured, a new flight of black rings then reanimates the collection of unclaimed super-villain cadavers stored at the JLA facility…

Issue #4 opens as the army of the Unliving Dead corners Flash, Atom and Mera. With his last surge of willpower, Jason takes back control of the Firestorm frame, allowing Flash and Atom to transport the embattled companions to relative safety. Before being again subsumed, Rusch also reveals that the inimical force behind the rings needs Barry to be dead.

All life and hope somehow depends on the Flash staying ahead of the Black Lanterns…

A fightback begins in Gotham and Metropolis as the Scarecrow and Lex Luthor are singled out by the Yellow Light of Fear and Orange Light of Greed, whilst Flash ponders on the fact that only the dead with emotional ties to heroes and villains are rising.

The uncountable mass of “ordinary”, unknown dead people are staying that way…

The battered, enlightened trio then travel to Manhattan to link up with the Justice Society survivors, before Barry begins his self-appointed mission to warn and inspire everybody left alive; staying always one step ahead of those implacable Black Lanterns…

As pockets of resistance such as the JSA and Teen Titans endure on Earth, in space a colossal Black Power Battery, fuelled by the collected emotions of everyone slaughtered by reanimated ring-bearers, nears completion.

As Flash travels the world telling every hero to converge on CoastCity, Nekron at last arrives…

One word of warning: this saga was merely part and parcel of a plethora of stories simultaneously occurring as the Event ran its course. Whilst maintaining a uniformly high quality of illustration throughout, the story is never meant to be read in isolation. For full comprehension you really, really need to have the other books to hand or at least fresh in your mind.

Thus, subsequent to actions seen in other venues, Chapter Five opens as Hal – kept busy since his abduction – musters a rainbow coalition of individuals – mostly old colour wielding enemies like Sinestro, Star Sapphire, Atrocitus and Larfleeze.

They are to unite and work together under the direction of rebel Guardians Ganthet and Sayd to reclaim the night, even as on Earth Flash confronts supreme antithesis Nekron and his herald Black Hand.

He is suddenly reinforced by his former protégé and successor Wally West and an army of resurgent (and mostly resurrected) heroes from the JLA and Titans. In Manhattan the last stand of the JSA sees Ray and Mera captured by the Atom’s Black Lantern wife Jean and taken on a subatomic voyage of discovery inside a Black Ring…

Just as Scar joins Nekron, bringing the Black Power Battery to CoastCity, Hal’s Rainbow Corps arrives but their concerted attack has negligible effect. When a Black Lantern Batman manifests and turns Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, Superboy, Kid Flash, Donna Troy and many more into black ring copse warriors, Hal realises the living victims have one thing in common – they’ve all returned from the dead before.

Of all resurrected heroes, only he and Barry remain alive and with minds of their own…

Within the Black Ring, Ray and Mera are joined by Deadman who warns them that every Black Lantern in the universe is now headed for Earth, frantically urging them to get out and warn the living…

In the greater universe Ganthet takes drastic steps as the ultimate secret of the Emotional Spectrum is revealed. Working in unity, wielders of the seven individual wavelengths can form the pure White Light of Life and turn back death – but first the rings have to find exactly the right people to wear them…

Chapter Seven sees the beginning of the end as that lucky septet confront the triumphant Nekron, even as Guy Gardner and Kyle Rayner assemble every ring wearer of every colour in the spectrum and lead them in Life’s last desperate counterattack…

At ground zero a minor hero named Dawn Granger changes everything. The successor to Don Hall is the new Dove, Avatar of Peace and her simplest touch destroys Black Lanterns. Calmly making her way through the legions of doom, she liberates Nekron’s hidden power source whilst the death lord is occupied killing an undying Guardian…

The lord of death’s actual intention is then revealed as a gleaming white Entity manifests: it is personification of the universal lifeforce and everything Nekron has undertaken over billions of years has been simply so that he could get close enough to kill it…

With all existence about to succumb to eternal darkness, one of the assembled champions must assume the power of a White Lantern to literally save everything…

Of course, following even more astounding battle and plot twists, life wins – but in the aftermath only twelve of the hordes who have perished are reborn, and those blessed individuals and the universe aren’t out of the dark woods yet…

But that’s all tackled in the sequel series ‘Brightest Day’, proving some things truly are eternal…

With every cover from Reis and Albert accompanied by its un-inked pencil artwork, this cosmic compilation also includes another nine variants by Ethan Van Sciver, Mauro Cascioli, Rodolfo Migliari, Doug Mahnke & Christian Alamy, Director’s Commentary from Johns, Reis, Albert, Prado, colourist Alex Sinclair, letterer Nick J. Napolitano plus editorial bods Adam Schlagman and Eddie Berganza, Deleted Scenes and a selection of info pages digging the dirt on Nekron, The Entity and Sinestro courtesy of designers Reis and Prado.

Bombastic, complex, thrilling, incredibly ambitious and awesomely impressive, Blackest Night shows exactly what superhero comics can be – but might also be why so many casual readers and newcomers to the art form apparently can’t handle them.

© 2009, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.