In my quiet moments, I like to imagine Doug Mahnke as that catcher from Major League. You know, the one Tom Berenger played. Holed up in some fleabag motel and playing on a minor league team for years, and then suddenly called up to the big leagues and, improbably, leading his team to the kind of heights no one could have ever expected. Mahnke has had a long career in comics. I remember him blowing my socks off in Dark Horse’s The Mask (it actually was a comic first, if I recall correctly). But somehow the next thing I remember him doing is “Seven Soldiers: Frankenstein”. I’m sure he did work in between them, and I’m sure it was fantastic, but that’s when he landed back on my radar. Since then he’s done some amazing clean-up work. Making the Martian Manhunter Final Crisis book gorgeous and exciting in ways some of the lesser moments of the actual series never could, and pulling the final chapters of that series out of the clutches of deadline disaster and landing one of the iconic images of the year; a pissed-as-hell Superman holding the corpse of his buddy Bruce Wayne. And now he’s found himself in the cavernous Yankee Stadium, up against that handlebar mustached bully that is “Green Lantern,” pretty much DC’s biggest ongoing monthly title. I guess that means Geoff Johns is Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughan?
Credibility straining metaphors aside, the key take away is that Mahnke’s art here is phenomenal. The New Guardians (made up of the de facto leaders of all five Corps) are defending Coast City from the zombified remains of pretty much everyone who’s ever died in the entire universe. Which is a lot of people. In “Blackest Night” #6, we were also introduced to the newest members of each corps, all of whom were freshly deputized characters from throughout the DC Universe. As far as the overall crossover is concerned, this issue is certainly one that the eventual core “Blackest Night” trade will probably not be able to do without. It picks up right where BN #6 left off and contains some fairly large developments across the board. The biggest development (literally, actually) is the emergence of The Spectre as a Black Lantern. Hugely (literally) powerful, the New Guardians realize that even their combined power can’t stop them. So, in a fitting moment for an anniversary issue, Hal revisits his greatest failure and allows Parallax to consume him in order to take down The Spectre.
One of Mahnke’s greatest skills in this issue is to both capture the widescale chaos of a billion lanterns versus a billion zombies as well as the emotion in each character. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the whole point of this crossover is the power of emotions, especially in a medium dominated by stone-faced pose-a-thons. The art perfectly captures the greed of Lex Luthor, the drive of Barry Allen and the brief moment of actual love between Hal and Carol Ferris. A lesser artist would simply flounder at these sorts of things, but under Doug Mahnke’s pencil, each of these aspects shine. Even when working with a metric ton of inkers, Mahnke’s artwork is never really drowned out. It shifts slightly from more solid lines to a sketchier render, but his style is bold enough to come through whole on every page. This issue proves once again that no one in comics draws comics like Doug Mahnke.
So, yes, “Green Lantern” #50 is a fitting touchstone for a character and a book that surprised everyone by becoming the literal cornerstone of the DC Universe, relegating most Batman and Superman stories to quaint little “mini-events.” Most of that is due to Johns’ relentless expertise at building 22 pages of momentum towards 50 consecutive knock-out final pages, but I also like to think that it’s the presence of Mahnke, another underdog, that makes this issue a great milestone. Green Lantern comics have never been Batman comics and Doug’s never been Bryan Hitch, but both do things that their ostensibly more popular counterparts can’t, won’t, or maybe just haven’t yet.
Or maybe I’m wrong and he’s really just been Willie Mays Hayes this whole time.