Disclaimers up front, Green Lantern - Hal Jordan, John Stewart, Guy Gardner, whoever your favorite ringslinger is - does not appear in this issue, save for flashback. That said, the "Blackest Night" banner flies across the top of this issue. It also has the word "Prologue" tagged onto it, which is fitting, seeing as "Blackest Night" #1 comes out next week. Given that "Blackest Night" #0 was the Free Comic Book Day offering from DC, I suppose this would essentially be "Blackest Night" #0.5, or maybe it would go back to negative numbering? At any rate, I'm not entirely sure the numbering or the branding truly matters. DC's summer event starts here.
This issue, Doug Mahnke's first on the title, provides the origin of Black Hand. A necrophiliac with sadistic tendencies and a run of bad luck as dark as his deeds, William Hand is given a larger role in the DC Universe in this issue. The pages that have made the message boards and raised the hackles of fanboys and fangirls gain a deeper significance when placed within the full context of this issue.
Johns has set up "Blackest Night" to be more than just DC's summer event comic. From the pieces and clues dropped in this issue, it appears that this "event" will address questions that have been directed at every corner of the DC Universe - from the resurrection of Ollie Queen to the identity of the master the Guardian known as Scar serves. Johns uses this issue to not only define the fire that lights Black Hand's obsession, but also manages to make Black Hand one of the creepiest characters in DC Comics history with just twenty-two pages. There's no feeling sorry for William Hand here, there's only revulsion at his deeds and his cause. Johns pours so much into the character here that he makes me feel compelled to shower, see a psychiatrist, and go to confession after reading this issue -- and being impressed by the power of the story told here.
Mahnke delivers the creepiness, texture, and power in every single panel. Sure, he gets some help from Alamy and Mayor (check out page 3, with Black Hand snuggling a skeleton in a grave if you want to see what true collaboration between penciler, inker, and colorist should look like) in rendering those panels, but the end result would not be possible without Mahnke's lines to build upon. With this first issue, even with the absence of the titular hero, Mahnke embeds himself in the Book of Oa as one of the greatest artists to draw the Lantern universe. All too soon, however, Mahnke's and Johns' story ends, but make no mistake, it ends with the stage set for next week's first issue of "Blackest Night." If "Blackest Night" is anywhere near as enjoyable as the two preludes that DC has given us (not to mention "Emerald Twilight" over in "Green Lantern Corps") then this summer's event will truly be worthy of the label "event."