Today, Patrick and (guest writer) Mark are discussing Green Lantern 23.3: Black Hand originally released September 18th, 2013. This issue is part of the Villain’s Month event. Click here for our Villains Month coverage.
Patrick: Look, we all know we’ve reached a point of over-saturation when it comes to zombie stories. World War Z was the surprise anti-flop of the summer; The Last of Us taught us that video games know how to make us feel; AMC announced that we’re going to be getting a spin-off to The Walking Dead. If we look back into the recent past, the examples are basically everywhere: Dead Rising, Resident Evil, 28 Days Later, and every conceivable adaptation of The Walking Dead. Zombies have some kind of inherent draw, but, like… aren’t you kinda getting sick of them?
At a crematorium in Coast City, the ashes of Black Hand are revived yet again. And whether it’s because this is like the fourth time he’s been resurrected or if it’s just the first time he’s been resurrected from a pile of cremated ash, he’s a little disoriented. He wanders through the town, occasionally getting shot, trying to figure out what he’s doing – why he’s alive again. He sees the city in shambles and his first reaction is “oh, I should raise some zombies.” That’s the sort of thing that’s worked out so well for him in the past. So he does, but the police force is oddly well-trained to deal with an undead threat, so he’s forced to re-evaluate what he’s doing. He gets a little more creative with his powers, manipulating the dead tissue inside living creatures. Ultimately these actions still seem hollow, so he goes to the one place that feels significant to him: Shady Vale cemetery and the tombstone of Martin Jordan. As he nears the tomb, his purpose becomes so clear that his excited it almost sexual… in a totally repressed, creepy sort of way.
This is Hand’s purpose. Not to mindlessly, pointlessly control an army of the undead: how passé. Black Hand wants to inflict emotional distress on Hal Jordan, and what better way than to use Hal’s own father’s hand to murder the Green Lantern? Then the zombies just seem to raise themselves from the grave, and it seems like it’s game-on.
It’s sort of disappointing that we don’t get to see that game-on zombie time, but I do appreciate Charles Soule’s perspective on zombie fiction, which seems to be a big ol’ YAWN. Black Hand seems to raise the dead at the start of this issue simply because it’s the thing to do. In fact, when he first starts to manipulate dead creatures, the only thing he asks is that they quiet his neighbor in jail. And then as soon as he does break free — which turns out to be more of a happy accident than his actual goal — he’s not even sure if he’s causing all the mayhem in the streets. It’s unmotivated chaos, which is ultimately a shortfall of all zombie stories. There’s no philosophical disagreement between humans and zombies – one wants to live and love and grow and the other wants “BRAAAAINS.” It’s weak sauce as far as antagonists go, and the most successful zombie fiction either treats the undead like a natural disaster or pits the living against each other. Appropriately, Hand finds commanding an undead army to be unfulfilling.
But even more unfullfilling: watching them die.
The cops are so well prepared for a zombie attack because of course they are. Drew and I used to play a game in college where we’d walk around campus discussing how we’d survive a zombie outbreak by holing up whatever building. It’s an engaging though-experiment, and one that I’m sure we’ve all played out to embarrassingly thorough lengths. It only stands to reason that the cops in the DC Universe have taken that one step further to actually developing training to deal with zombies. I mean, if Blackest Night is at all canon, they’ve dealt with this sort of thing before. But Hand’s response to his undead army being wiped out is priceless:
This is terrible! They slaughtered them, like they didn’t even count!
He’s totally right. Killing a swarm of zombies doesn’t count for shit in a zombie comic. There’s something so mechanical and dispassionate about the phrase “didn’t even count.”
It’s hard to harbor such ill-will toward zombies. And I suspect that Soule and artist Alberto Ponticelli secretly love the genre – that’s why they’re so able to point out its faults. As if to assuage our fears that they’re just just a bunch of zombie-hating meanies, Ponticelli includes this hilariously adored fellow.
They’re still striving to tell a meatier story, but maybe have to acknowledge that zombies are popular for a reason.
With that, I’d like to introduce my friend, Mark. Mark’s been asking me about whether the Villains issues are one-offs or part of continuity. I trust this issue just raised more questions. But you’ve read a lot of Green Lantern stuff, what do you make of Hand half-remembering that there are multi-colored rings out there in the universe? A sly reference to the fact that that shit doesn’t matter either – and the only real emotional story here is how much Black Hand hates Hal Jordan?
Mark: Yes, I completely agree that the undead have fast become the new bacon – once novel when added to everything, but quickly run into the ground. Any interest in reading yet another zombie story is limited until someone breaks through with a new or interesting take on the genre.
But Black Hand isn’t really interested in zombies, and other than one perfunctory showdown between the undead and the Coast City cops, the focus is entirely on Black Hand. And man, you’ve got to feel a little bad for the poor guy.
Reborn after being destroyed by Hal Jordan yet again, Hand wanders Coast City in a daze. He’s tasered by police officers, left in a cell to rot while the city is in upheaval, and has the nagging feeling just out of memory that there’s something he needs to do. (Unrelated, but do mortuaries really dispose of unclaimed cremated remains by dumping them in a huge uncovered hole out back? Because: eww.)
Since Charles Soule is setting up what feels like a whole new arc for Green Lantern, there’s a lot of place setting necessary up front and not a lot of action. But the issue isn’t without two striking sequences. First, Black Hand sits in a dank prison cell and quietly whispers to a reanimated cockroach to bring back more undead. Watching Hand’s army slowly grow from roaches to reanimated prison guards is chilling. Second, Alberto Ponticelli’s art is strongest when Hand emerges from the police precinct onto a Coast City engulfed in flames. It’s a two-page spread that drives home the enormous chaos created in the absence of superheroes.
I’m hopeful that Hand’s almost dismissive remark about the other power rings means Soule plans to focus solely on Hand’s pursuit of vengeance against Hal Jordan. The addition of different colored power rings to canon had an enormous effect on the Green Lantern universe, but I appreciate when writers don’t feel required to incorporate them into every storyline. Like the best action movie sequels of the 80’s, for Black Hand…this time…it’s personal.
Granted, zombifying Hal’s father and taking his hand to use as a murder weapon against his own son is kind of a low blow. But man, Hal’s always been kind of a dick to Hand and, I don’t know, I guess I’m kind of rooting for the villain? That might make me a terrible person.
Hal Jordan (as Spectre) burning Black Hand’s actual hand to ash and quipping that now “he can live up to his name” has always been a great kiss off, but the consequences of Hal’s actions all those years ago seem to be coming back to haunt him. And that could be an exciting development for Green Lantern overall.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?