Justice League: “In Blackest Night”
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Justice League: “In Blackest Night”

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Justice League

“In Blackest Night”

Season 1, Episode 4
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Justice League

“In Blackest Night”

Season 1, Episode 5

“In Blackest Night” (season 1, episodes 4-5; originally aired Nov. 19, 2001)

“I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”—United States Armed Forces oath of enlistment

“In brightest day, in blackest night,

No evil shall escape my sight.

Let those who worship evil’s might,

Beware my power… Green Lantern’s light!”—Green Lantern oath

Long before John Stewart recited the second oath, he had memorized the first. A veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, John Stewart’s greatest strength as a Green Lantern is his sense of honor and duty. Hal Jordan has no fear, Kyle Rayner has a limitless imagination, Guy Gardner has a warrior’s spirit, and John has the loyalty that comes from being a soldier. The first line of the Armed Forces oath is about defending the Constitution and fighting enemies, but the rest is concerned with faith, allegiance, and obedience to a greater power, qualities that can be easily exploited and manipulated.

As part of the Green Lantern Corps, John serves at the will of a group of small blue men, the Guardians of Oa. Like the U.S. military, they have made their fare share of mistakes, including but not limited to the creation and enslavement of the Manhunters, menacingly named robots tasked with protecting the universe. When the Manhunters’ black-and-white sense of morality turned them into a liability, they were reprogrammed for grunt work as the Green Lantern Corps replaced them as intergalactic peacekeepers. Angry and rejected, the Manhunters gained sentience with time, and set into motion a plan for revenge that comes to a head in “In Blackest Night.” Striking at the heart of the Green Lantern Corps, the Manhunters frame John Stewart for the destruction of a planet, discrediting the Green Lantern Corps and luring half the Guardians to Ajuris 5 for John’s trial.

From inner-city streets to extraterrestrial tribunals, “In Blackest Night” shows just how wide the scope for this series is, not just in terms of location, but actual story content. Convinced that he’s responsible for the destruction of Ajuris, John walks through the neighborhood where he grew up at the start of the episode, stone-faced and melancholy as he stops a robbery with his power ring. When he runs into his old history teacher Mr. McGee, John is reminded that he still has friends back home, friends that miss him. It’s the classic dilemma for anyone that’s left home: How do you stay connected to your roots as your world grows beyond them? How can a person adjust to a life of barbershops and basketball games when he’s been to the edge of the galaxy and holds world-crushing power in the palm of his hand?

John isn’t given much time to ponder the question as the Manhunters arrive on Earth to arrest him, interrupted by a foursome of Leaguers that refuse to see their friend taken into custody. Their urban altercation is cut short when John admits his guilt and willingly hands over his ring, but Superman, J’onn, Flash, and Hawkgirl refuse to believe the Manhunters’ accusation and travel to Ajuris 5 to uncover the truth. Flash distracts the tribunal by running in circles as John’s lawyer, Hawkgirl goes to retrieve a character witness from the group of onsite Green Lanterns, and Superman and J’onn team up to investigate the scene of the crime.

Loosely inspired by Justice League of America #140-#141 by Steve Englehart, Dick Dillin, and Frank McLaughlin, writer Stan Berkowitz takes the core story of the Manhunters’ revenge and incorporates space pirate and classic JLA villain Kanjar-Ro into the mix, adding in a handful of Green Lanterns for even more cameo goodness. Green Lanterns Arkkis Chummuck and Galius Zed make speaking appearances while Larvox and Tomar-Re hang out in the background, and they all get taken down by Hawkgirl before Kilowog steps up to speak for John’s character. Hawkgirl never makes an appearance in the original comic story, but she gets significant development this week as the team members begin to fall into their roles: Flash is the clown, Superman is the Boy Scout, J’onn is the downer, Hawkgirl is the bruiser, and John is the soldier. Diana is the goddess and Batman is the human, which is probably why they work so well as a pair.

With a mouth that runs as fast as his feet, Flash is the show’s comic relief, and his failed flirtations and equally abysmal lawyering skills bring humor to the grave proceedings. These early episodes feature a lot of action, drama, and exposition, but not much comedy, and once the writers discover the perfect balance of the four elements, the quality skyrockets. Eventually all the characters develop their own distinct sense of humor, but for now, Flash is the funny man, and his interjections help lighten the mood to give the emotional moments added weight. Michael Rosenbaum gives Flash a smooth, charming voice and his comedic timing is spot-on

Still reeling from the death of his entire race and the torture inflicted by the Imperium, J’onn is having trouble getting out of his tragic-hero rut. When Flash justifies his hitting on Hawkgirl by sarcastically asking, “What? Don’t you ever get lonely?” J’onn responds with sadness, “More than you could imagine.” When he investigates the Ajuris 4 site and Superman asks, “See anything wrong with this picture?” J’onn replies, “Where do I start? The loss of life? The echoes of our past?” Superman just means that the moon they’re standing on is still orbiting a planet that was apparently destroyed, but J’onn has to go and turn everything into a Shakespearean soliloquy.

Butch Lukic is a director that understands how to create intense, kinetic action sequences, whether it’s an armada of Manhunters against the entire Justice League or Hawkgirl fighting Green Lanterns hand-to-hand. In the group battles, each character gets a moment to show off their badassery: J’onn phases through a Manhunter’s skull to rip out his circuitry; Hawkgirl smashes huge machines until they explode; and Flash and Superman are thrown up against mass numbers of disposable enemies. These two characters tend to get powered down, so when they have an opportunity to barrel through an army of robots, it’s appreciated.

Hawkgirl’s bar fight is just one awesome moment after another, starting with throwing her mace down in Arkkis’ food and calling the Green Lanterns cowards. When the tiny, tentacled management tells them to put away their weapons, Shayera throws hers across the room and tells the Lanterns, “You think I need this mace to take you down?” Bouncing Galius Zed around the bar like a racquetball and punching Arkkis Chummuck through a wall, Hawkgirl defeats four members of the intergalactic police force and barely breaks a sweat. A detective on her native planet of Thanagar, Hawkgirl is a highly skilled fighter with a short fuse, and she’s as brutal as she is relentless. She shares a kinship with John because of their similar military backgrounds, and the Green Lanterns turning their backs on their comrade-in-arms offends Hawkgirl’s personal sense of duty. Aggressive, headstrong, and fiercely loyal, she’s already showing herself to be the perfect romantic match for John, and their relationship will be a major source of emotional drama throughout the rest of the series.

Despite being the focus of “In Blackest Night,” John doesn’t actually do much for a large chunk of the episode, and he’s wracked with guilt that incapacitates him at his trial. John believes that the energy beam from his ring accidentally hit a volcanic fault on Ajuris 4 and made the planet explode, despite the story making no sense in any way. Commenters were praising Phil LaMarr last week, and he deserves every compliment, delivering an emotional performance this week that fully captures John’s shame and remorse. There’s a heaviness to his words that enforces his sullen mood, but the weight disappears when he learns that Kanjar-Ro had used the Illusitron device to fake the planet’s destruction. No longer carrying the burden of billions of deaths, John tackles the little pirate, an entire episode’s worth of tension coming out with each successive “Why?!”

When the lead Manhunter takes control of the main power battery on Oa, John is the only thing that stands in the way of the giant electric green robot. The resolution to the Manhunter story is where Berkowitz stumbles, as John recites the Green Lantern oath, sucks the Manhunter-lantern into his ring, then shoots it back out as raw, non-sentient energy. LaMarr gives a stirring rendition of the oath, but the Manhunters’ master plan is pretty flawed if it can be undone by one Green Lantern reciting the poem he says every 24 hours. That said, the conclusion is all about John reclaiming his power and self-worth, so Berkowitz succeeds on that front. When John is lost, he turns to the oath of the Corps that cultivated his morals and beliefs, finding strength and guidance in its words. As a member of the Marines, Green Lantern Corps, and now Justice League, John has developed the world’s best support system; he just needs to believe in himself as much as everyone else does.

Stray observations:

  • The design work on the alien characters and landscapes is diverse and striking this episode. The aliens on this show look like aliens, not humans with slight cosmetic changes, and the architecture has Kirby-styled embellishments to give it an otherworldly appearance.
  • The music from Kristopher Carter has a rousing, space opera feel, but the lack of a full orchestra diminishes some of its impact. There’s just no way to make a keyboard-composed score not sound tinny. It’s fine as long as you’re not listening too closely, but after the rich orchestral sound of Batman: The Animated Series, the music on Justice League is artificial and uninspiring.
  • Nice yellow shirt on John at the start of the episode. Maybe he’s going for the Luke Cage look?
  • When Hawkgirl calls Superman a human, he takes it as compliment. A cute moment between alien friends.   
  • Why does the little blue alien in the bar have a Latino accent?
  • “Is there a… Hawkboy?”
  • “It was just a 4.0.”
  • “Down, boy.”
  • “If the ring wasn’t lit, you must acquit!”
  • “That’s how we solved out lawyer problem.”

DC Relaunch Rundown:

It’s the third month of the DC relaunch, and sales have remained steady, with minimal reader drop-off between the first and second issues. Some books even picked up readers last month, and for the first time since 2002, DC overtook Marvel in market share for the month of October (51 percent to 30.3 percent). How those numbers will fare during the upcoming winter months, when comic sales tend to decline across the board, is still to be seen, but as of now it’s safe to say the experiment has been a financial success. Its creative success is a whole different matter, and one without handy numbers to help determine the verdict.

The quality of the books remains consistent, even though the creative teams are starting to shuffle around. The good books remain good, the bad remains bad, and the average books continue to neither impress nor offend. The new releases, miniseries Huntress, The Shade, and Penguin: Pain And Prejudice, range from globe-trotting cloak-and-dagger adventures to psychological musings of anti-heroes and cold-blooded crimelords, and each series offers a unique view of the DCnU with a distinct visual style.

Huntress is particularly commendable for presenting a fully-clothed female protagonist that isn’t defined by her sexuality, but her personality. Paul Levitz and Marcus To’s depiction of Helena Bertinelli actually reminds me a bit of Justice League Hawkgirl, a cutthroat female in a world of men, fighting for her beliefs without compromise or restraint. I’m actually enjoying Huntress much more than Batgirl, where Barbara’s PTSD is starting to get overbearing, especially in the extensive narration.

After being criticized for a lack of female creators in the new 52, DC has made some big announcements over the past month, including luring Daredevil and Longshot writer Ann Nocenti back to comics for Green Arrow and having Nicola Scott fill-in for Jesus Marino on Superman. As welcome as Scott’s presence is on the title, it’s representative of the artistic inconsistency that is already beginning to plague titles, although in cases like Blackhawks, the change in artist ends up being a huge boon.

Blackhawks and O.M.A.C. have become two of my favorite books—and also two of the lowest selling. The books have completely different tones: Blackhawks is sleek military action, O.M.A.C. is absurd superhero fun, but both titles are brimming with energy and imagination. Instead of picking up another Gotham or Green Lantern book, give one of the DC fringe books a chance.

In terms of major continuity changes, Wonder Woman is now the daughter of Zeus and Krypto was Jor-El’s dog that died on Krypton, although a homeless person believes a white dog watches over Clark Kent like a guardian angel. Buddy Baker’s origin was altered again in Animal Man, revealing his daughter Maxine to be the actual avatar of the Red, with Buddy’s only use being her creation and protection. There are still questions as to how the old continuity fits in to the Batman and Green Lanterns, but appearances by Abigail Arcane in Swamp Thing and Maxwell Lord in O.M.A.C. suggest that there are still plots carrying over into the new 52.