All Will Be Well: Hope as Subtext In Blackest Night

Hi, everyone, and welcome to the inaugural post of Close Reading Everything! Today I wanted to explore a particular moment in a comic story that’s always been near and dear to my heart: Green Lantern, Blackest Night. For anyone who doesn’t know, the Green Lanterns are a corps of space police who fly around the DC universe upholding law and order using special rings of power that allow them to focus their willpower into constructs made of green energy. There are also rings of every other color on the spectrum, each powered by a different emotion: fear (yellow), compassion (indigo), love (violet), greed (orange), hope (blue), and rage (red). Blackest Night is set in motion by the appearance of a new color of power ring: black.

Traveling to earth, these new rings immediately begin resurrecting DC characters who had died in the pages of their own comics over the past few years. Under the command of their leader, an embodiment of death named Nekron, these undead heroes attempt to increase their ranks by killing any still-living DC heroes or members of any of the lantern corps and resurrecting them as new “black lanterns.” This, in turn, is a ploy designed to awaken the DC universe’s embodiment of life, The Entity, so that Nekron can kill it and end all life in the universe. However, Nekron awakening The Entity allows those fighting against the black lanterns to bond with it, forming an impromptu “white lantern corps” and defeating Nekron. There’s much more that could be said about the plot and interesting details to hash out, but for now suffice it to say that it’s an incredible story about the power of choosing life over death and having hope in the very face of void, a story whose hopefulness is, I think, best expressed in these panels:

Traveling to earth, these new rings immediately begin resurrecting DC characters who had died in the pages of their own comics over the past few years. Under the command of their leader, an embodiment of death named Nekron, these undead heroes attempt to increase their ranks by killing any still-living DC heroes or members of any of the lantern corps and resurrecting them as new “black lanterns.” This, in turn, is a ploy designed to awaken the DC universe’s embodiment of life, The Entity, so that Nekron can kill it and end all life in the universe. However, Nekron awakening The Entity allows those fighting against the black lanterns to bond with it, forming an impromptu “white lantern corps” and defeating Nekron. There’s much more that could be said about the plot and interesting details to hash out, but for now suffice it to say that it’s an incredible story about the power of choosing life over death and having hope in the very face of void, a story whose hopefulness is, I think, best expressed in these panels:

Of course, at first glance this seems like anything but a hopeful moment. The creature being slain is a Guardian, one of the immortal beings that oversee the green lantern corps. Killing him is a brutal blow to the morale and fighting power of the green lanterns, especially considering that his final words are cut off mid-sentence. The spilling of his blood also triggers the rising of The Entity, finally fulfilling Nekron’s ultimate goal. This is the All Is Lost Moment, the moment in which the villain’s plan is coming to fruition, in which death is displaying its most fearsome prowess and about to claim final victory.  However, a closer reading of the panel and its place in the narrative reveals something far more interesting and hopeful. After all, the final two letter of the words “corps” are silent. Saying “cor-”, then, is functionally identical to saying “corps,” and both the other characters in the comic and those of us reading it aloud in our head actually hear the full word. In saying “long live the cor-,” before being killed, in other words, the Guardian has, for all those both within and without the world of the comic, actually completely his sentence and managed to deliver a stirring affirmation of his support for the green lantern corps even in the face of the reaper (complete with scythe-power ring for ease of recognition). When we consider how easy it would have been to cut the word off at “co-” instead, how easy it would have been to make this panel explicitly less than hopeful, it becomes even easier to defend the idea that this is a conscious choice on the part of the people making this comic. There is hope here, lurking just in sight.  Considering how the word looks on the page offers even more compelling evidence that this panel is actually rife with hopeful subtext put there by its creators. Since we’ve already established that “cor” and “corps” are phonetically equivalent, cutting off the final two letters of the world can only serve an aesthetic purpose, working on our eye and not our ear. When we realize this, it becomes impossible to not see how the full spelling of "corps" is similar enough in appearance (as well as a naive phonetic pronunciation) to the word "corpse" that uncomfortable associations would have been unavoidable if the full word had appeared on the page. That it doesn't allows us to escape a complication of the hopeful message of the panel in which we'd have to confront the fact that "long live the corps" is actually visually near-identical to "long live the corpse," a phrase that would be as hopeless as any could be in this moment and is also practically the black lanterns' motto. In cutting off the end of the word "corps" in these panels, the creators of the comic allow their subtext to be unambiguously hopeful, not complicated or detracted from by any association with the death that is the enemy.  Of course, as discussed last week, the macro-level course of the story will trump our close readings every time. Thankfully, the broader structure of the narrative confirms this reading of a hopeful subtext to these panels. After all, the exposure of The Entity, the direct result of this guardian's death, is the moment at which the tide turns. Without bonding with it and forming the first white lanterns, the story's heroes would have been unable to defeat the black lanterns, and all life in the universe would have eventually perished. This moment, then, perfectly epitomizes the themes of the story: there is hope even in the face of death, even in the grasp of death, even when all seems lost, and even in its darkest hour, it’s blackest night, life can triumph over death if we choose it. Long live the cor-

Of course, at first glance this seems like anything but a hopeful moment. The creature being slain is a Guardian, one of the immortal beings that oversee the green lantern corps. Killing him is a brutal blow to the morale and fighting power of the green lanterns, especially considering that his final words are cut off mid-sentence. The spilling of his blood also triggers the rising of The Entity, finally fulfilling Nekron’s ultimate goal. This is the All Is Lost Moment, the moment in which the villain’s plan is coming to fruition, in which death is displaying its most fearsome prowess and about to claim final victory.

However, a closer reading of the panel and its place in the narrative reveals something far more interesting and hopeful. After all, the final two letter of the words “corps” are silent. Saying “cor-”, then, is functionally identical to saying “corps,” and both the other characters in the comic and those of us reading it aloud in our head actually hear the full word. In saying “long live the cor-,” before being killed, in other words, the Guardian has, for all those both within and without the world of the comic, actually completely his sentence and managed to deliver a stirring affirmation of his support for the green lantern corps even in the face of the reaper (complete with scythe-power ring for ease of recognition). When we consider how easy it would have been to cut the word off at “co-” instead, how easy it would have been to make this panel explicitly less than hopeful, it becomes even easier to defend the idea that this is a conscious choice on the part of the people making this comic. There is hope here, lurking just in sight.

Considering how the word looks on the page offers even more compelling evidence that this panel is actually rife with hopeful subtext put there by its creators. Since we’ve already established that “cor” and “corps” are phonetically equivalent, cutting off the final two letters of the world can only serve an aesthetic purpose, working on our eye and not our ear. When we realize this, it becomes impossible to not see how the full spelling of "corps" is similar enough in appearance (as well as a naive phonetic pronunciation) to the word "corpse" that uncomfortable associations would have been unavoidable if the full word had appeared on the page. That it doesn't allows us to escape a complication of the hopeful message of the panel in which we'd have to confront the fact that "long live the corps" is actually visually near-identical to "long live the corpse," a phrase that would be as hopeless as any could be in this moment and is also practically the black lanterns' motto. In cutting off the end of the word "corps" in these panels, the creators of the comic allow their subtext to be unambiguously hopeful, not complicated or detracted from by any association with the death that is the enemy.

Of course, as discussed last week, the macro-level course of the story will trump our close readings every time. Thankfully, the broader structure of the narrative confirms this reading of a hopeful subtext to these panels. After all, the exposure of The Entity, the direct result of this guardian's death, is the moment at which the tide turns. Without bonding with it and forming the first white lanterns, the story's heroes would have been unable to defeat the black lanterns, and all life in the universe would have eventually perished. This moment, then, perfectly epitomizes the themes of the story: there is hope even in the face of death, even in the grasp of death, even when all seems lost, and even in its darkest hour, it’s blackest night, life can triumph over death if we choose it. Long live the cor-

With excitement and optimism,  Alex  P.S. I know this post is longer than most of the ones I upload, but I’m also trying out a new format for these that includes more images. Let me know what you think!

With excitement and optimism,

Alex

P.S. I know this post is longer than most of the ones I upload, but I’m also trying out a new format for these that includes more images. Let me know what you think!