The long awaited prologue to Blackest Night, this issue was not quite what I was expecting to kick off the summer's most long awaited storyline. Rather than an action-filled extravaganza, we are given a thoughtful character analysis of long-time Green Lantern villain Black Hand. This is reminiscent of Geoff Johns' similar stories centering upon Captain Cold and Heatwave in Flash #182 and Flash #218 respectively, both in subject matter (i.e. what makes this villain tick?) and in quality.
Some of the background we see here was seen in previous Johns'-penned Green Lantern stories such as Rebirth. No Fear and Secret Origins. The rest is explained clearly enough for new readers. The short version is that William Hand was the middle son of two undertakers and that he grew up obsessed with death from an early age. And when I say obsessed, I mean he stuffed the family pets because he liked them better dead.
That changed after he was introduced to the Green Lanterns, stole an alien device that allowed him to steal the energy from Green Lantern rings and eventually gained the power to drain life from living people. Which brings us here... as he returns to his boyhood home and is visited by the demented Guardian Scar, who gives William Hand the first Black Lantern Ring and declares him Herald and Embodiment of the Black Lantern Corps.
It would be easy for this story to focus upon the more lurid aspects of William Hand's nature and the revelation that he is (at the very least) a platonic necrophile. Doubtlessly many who read this story will criticize DC Comics and Johns in particular for revising a classic villain's motivations in this matter. This is folly, I believe, since Johns is very thoughtful in going about this revision and he truly delves into the psychosis behind the character of William Hand.
This creates something much deeper and intelligent than the various attempts at darkening villains made in the 1990s (Killer Moth? Make him a giant cannibal mothman! Next!) What is more impressive is that Johns is able to make Hand's romantic love of death clear without any lurid sexual details or even using the word necrophilia. Enough is implied for readers to draw their own conclusions, with the squeamish equally able to conclude that Hand's love of death stops at cuddling up to skeletons, sleeping in open graves and his first kiss coming from a corpse in a body bag.
The art by Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy and Randy Major deserves praise too. Not only do they depict the truly disgusting and horrifying elements of this story but they manage the more subtle horrors inherit in its' creepy central setting of a secluded funeral home. Even the scenes of the Hand family having dinner together are filled with a barely-hidden veneer of civility where the sense that the spookiness will bleed through into the "real world" at any moment is palatable.
If you're been curious about Green Lantern and the hype train behind Blackest Night, this is the issue to jump on and enjoy the ride. All the references to past stories are explained away clearly in the text, so new readers should be able to get into it easily. We can only hope that the rest of the series can continue at this level of quality. Perhaps it will even find a way to exceed it. As the Blue Lanterns say, we can only hope.