Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Moments of the Year: Green Lantern #43

There are times when the imagination will suffice. When the renderings in one's mind of that which is only alluded to will be stronger than anything that could be shown. This happens when the romantic leads passionately embrace and fall into each others arms, and the camera pans slowly away from them towards the curtains billowing in the breeze of an open window. This happens when the gunman raises his pistol at his victim's head, and the editor cuts us back to the establishing shot, leaving us only with the sound of the gunshot to paint us the picture of the gruesomeness inside. Or, this happens when a writer and artist decide to tell the terrifying account of a family held hostage, and do it from the blindfolded point-of-view of a child (see yesterdays MOTY: Detective Comics #858) Then there are times when the picture must be put before us, when we must be confronted with the unvarnished reality. This is Green Lantern #43.

In actuality, this is William Hand #1, or Blackest Night #-1, since the titular hero makes only a brief cameo appearance in a few flashbacks. This issue belongs to the boy who shall become the embodiment of walking death, the Black Hand. Filled with an "absolute darkness" that is believed to be possessing him, the young Hand begins to hear voices that speak to him about his greater destiny, to be the one who shall extinguish the light of all life. He starts simply enough, like many serial killers, with small animals that he then stuffs and mounts around his room and the family home. Considering the family business is a mortuary, and the animals seem to be confined to small woodland birds and game, it is viewed as a harmless and transitory fascination, one to be observed but not overly worried about. Then the family dog falls victim, and a therapist is brought in. Soon, the cosmic war between good and evil, light and dark, is brought crashing into his lap, and his odd quirks and obsessions focus sharply into a lifestyle.

Then William comes face to face with the worst of all nightmares: he falls prey to 70 years of DCU continuity. All at once, they flood him, overwhelm him, the deaths and resurrections, invasions and possessions, the editorial experiments and reboot revisionism. It is too much for anyone to bear, and under the strain, William finally understands what must be done. He must wipe the slate clean so that there may be true peace. He must become the ultimate editor-in-chief.

He starts at home, with the killing of his family, and then the taking of his own life. The moment of his suicide is displayed over two gratuitous pages, the first showing the actual instant of his brains exiting his skull. He faces us, with eyes bulging, lips parted and teeth gnashed in reflexive shock and pain. The left side of his head has blown open like a breached airplane fuselage, and out spews the viscous matter of brain and blood, cast over in the green light of the cosmic weapon he has used for the task. This is the very instant of death, the split-second fine-line separating life and the unknown. The following page shows his fall to the floor and his lifeless body lay there in a widening pool of blood, glistening like the high-polish sheen of a candied apple. For all the gore and bluster of the moment, for all the meticulous artistic detail, it is presented with no real exploitative devices; no sound effects, no exaggerative gesticulations. It is composed matter-of-factly. He shoots himself. He falls to the floor. He bleeds. It's a suicide. It needs no artificial dressing.

The banner atop this issue proclaims it as the "Prologue" to Blackest Night, and there really can be no better foreshadowing of the horror, brutality, and terrorizing mayhem that is to befall the DCU than this moment here. In an odd way, too, it is a throwback to an earlier time in comics, an ironically more innocent age before comics codes, when the medium was rife with scenes of shocking exploitation, gore, and sex. In the 1940's and '50's, it was all done out of unchecked freedom, often with a wink and tongue planted firmly in cheek. It was all a dark joke, sold in a disposable package for a dime. Today, the horror is back and the dead have risen, and they are dripping blood and eating hearts, and doing so in spectacular fashion, in bold full-spread pages, and in colors never before dreamed by the originators of the craft. It's not a joke anymore. It's modern comics storytelling, and sometimes, you just have to show the goods.

Green Lantern #43 written by Geoff Johns, with art by Doug Mahnke and Christian Alamy was released on July 8, 2009 by DC Comics. 
Originally reviewed on July 13, 2009. 

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