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Mild Mannered Reviews - Specials

Black Lightning: Year One #4

Black Lightning: Year One #4 [of 6]

Scheduled to arrive in stores: February 18, 2009

Cover date: April 2009

"Black Lightning, Year One - Part 4"

Writer: Jen Van Meter
Penciller: Cully Hamner
Inker: Cully Hamner

Neal Bailey Reviewed by: Neal Bailey

Click to enlarge

Over the narration of the twisted magic user from last issue, Black Lightning chases the Whale, the corrupt politician from the first issue, in pursuit of the sorcerer. When the Whale is cornered, he indicates that Jefferson's family is in danger.

Gambi grabs a gun and flees through the streets as Talia Al Ghul follows on the rooftops. They arrive at Pierce's home to find it under attack by street gang members, who Gambi tries to hold off.

When Jefferson arrives, Gambi has been shot. He tries to resurrect him by shocking his heart, but is unsuccessful. The pair forgive each other as Gambi expires. Black Lightning tells his wife they're going to plan B as the police arrive. She explains to the police that her husband left that morning after they fought about his commitment to Suicide Slums.

Black Lightning flees the police and goes to Gambi's shop, where he finds Talia looking through his office. She explains to him that the creature is an enemy of her father's, and that they would mutually benefit from his elimination. She then tells Jefferson of the creature's origin.

In the fifteenth century, scientists and scholars came together to try and increase longevity and survive long enough to make the world better. They dabbled in arcane skills they didn't fully understand, and were granted longevity, but only with extraordinary pain, killing most involved. One survivor, the creature, learned that he could survive by feeding on misery and through owning the land the misery was perpetuated upon by drawing upon the life of that land. He started to steal bodies, and then began feeding on emotion. That is threatened, because Black Lightning is reclaiming the spirit of the city.

Realizing the scope of the problem but not surmising Talia's villainy, Black Lightning agrees to work with her.

At Gambi's funeral, Jefferson's wife slaps him (in a likely show for the present media to guard his secret) and says they are leaving town.

Tanner, Jefferson's brother by marriage, speaks with the creature, who instructs him to feed Jefferson's misery and try to make him lose hope.

5Story - 5: There are books you enjoy, and they're fairly common. For instance, I read Star Wars: Legacy, and enjoy it for what it is on the constant. It's a happy staple of my every day life. Then there are the books that you read, you enjoy, and you study to see how you can improve your own work. Things that push the narrative and try to find even more emotion in a mind trained to certain cues with sequential art. They're exceedingly rare. This is one. Jen's concerted effort to weave complex narrative by reflecting what's going on in a given scenes with reflected images of counter motivation though thought from the villain and the hero as they seek their object of desire is accessible, and yet complex, in ways that astonish me.

To put that in lay terms, when people say that Grant Morrison is literary because he throws random things into a comic book, I scoff. This makes me pay attention and is still complex and beautiful.

I look here and I see the same theme reflected five times in differing ways in one page from five different perspectives in ways that I can peel like an onion, and I realize I'm reading something akin in craft to a literary work but as accessible as a frickin' year one. That's some hot $#@%.

Gambi's ultimate redemption plays well, as does Jefferson's dynamic with his wife continuing now into that subtle play of commitment that involves lying for the other person, covering, protecting. She's protecting him as much as he's protecting her, and it's so subtle you read the scene where she's slapping him and you have to go, "Hey, wait... is she really mad?" and you realize, "No, she loves him that much." Maybe I misread that, but that's how it played to me.

Then there's the origin of the creature, putting such thought into what in most minis is a throwaway, the villain, and instead here we have this creature who parallels Ra's, and has a distinct motivation to cause a ghetto situation, a creature that only Black Lightning can stop and a beast that is a symbolic amalgamation of all of the problems of the inner city. I feel like I've fought this demon in the places that I live, and that only adds to the profound resonance.

5Art - 5: The art continues to weave a lot of the book's magic into something greater. There are some panels, I've spoken of the photo memory, where you forget most things about a series but you'll remember certain panels forever. The simple one where Black Lightning is upside down leaping the fence is one for me.

Tonally, this issue completely shifts from the inner city to a fifteenth century period of optimism that is corrupted. It's jarring, but also beautiful, and when you slam back to the present, you feel a sense of loss. It's really quite good work.

5Cover Art - 5: I'm not sure what that book is, and in most cases I dock for stuff not appearing in the issue, but in this case the prominent feature of the Whale, and the way the line of his face subtly leads from Talia to Jefferson is a level of visual subtext that more than excuses the gaffe of scheduling in this case.

Mild Mannered Reviews


Note: Month dates are from the issue covers, not the actual date when the comic went on sale.

January 2009

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