In comics, death is a revolving door and in the DC Universe, the Black Lanterns have used the power of death to cripple heroes and villains alike.
In the sprawling tapestry that is the Green Lantern mythos, the Emotional Spectrum is a force of great power that allows various groups of heroes and villains to channel its light and wield their respective emotions accordingly. With seven different Corps championing the seven main emotions on the spectrum, there’s hardly room for another addition to the already overstuffed collective that is the Rainbow Brigade. But when the dead rise from their graves and form a Black Lantern Corps to combat every living being in the universe, death cannot be denied its rightful place.
But who are these undead Black Lanterns and how did they come to be the most evil and brutal villains this side of the Sinestro Corps? And when it comes to their leadership, who is their first member and herald that not only ushered in the army of the dead, but kick-started one of the most emotionally draining events to ever hit the DC Universe, The Blackest Night?
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The Origins of The Black Lanterns
Coming off of the epic finale of the Green Lantern storyline Sinestro Corps War, the Anti-Monitor, lord of the anti-matter universe, finds himself withered and incapacitated on the dead world of Ryut. Attacked by an unknown force that he had no chance of defending against, the Anti-Monitor is summarily consumed and turned into the Black Lantern Central Battery. Meanwhile, a female Guardian of the Universe named Scar was corrupted by this evil power – eventually revealed to be Nekron, Lord of the Unliving and Master of Death – and begins to ensure that the prophecy of the Blackest Night comes to pass by any means necessary. With death’s black tendrils slowly wiggling their way into a universe that was not ready for its arrival, the next step in Nekron’s plans to vanquish all life was put into motion.
Enter Black Hand, aka William Hand, the eventual harbinger of the Black Lanterns and herald for death itself. While William had battled Green Lantern Hal Jordan in the past with a device that could absorb and redirect his green light of will (more on that later), William’s penchant for death could not be denied as he begins to hear voices of the dead telling him to do things that he had only ever dreamed of. These disembodied voices (really just Nekron messing with his head) eventually forces William to murder his family and then turn his energy absorption rod on himself, erasing his own life. But in a calculated twist of fate, the now completely evil Scar, stating that William is ready to become the embodiment of the Black Lantern Corps, resurrects the man with the very first black power ring. With the entity of Death under Nekron’s thumb, the Black Lantern Central Battery begins to vomit up untold numbers of black power rings that spread across the cosmos to an army of the dead hell-bent on exterminating all life.
Black Hand, The Herald and Leader of The Black Lanterns Explained
Before becoming the herald of the Black Lantern Corps, Black Hand was a macabre child obsessed with mortality. After continuity changes adjusted his origin for a new audience that saw him as the son of a couple that owned a coroner’s office and funeral home, William retained the same outlook on his family that he held before the wipe: he didn’t care for them and considered himself to be the black sheep of the family. William’s fascination with death grew to untold heights, leading him to a life of crime and general disorder that he could not rise above.
Having battled Green Lantern Hal Jordan on more than one occasion with a sort of cosmic rod that absorbs Lantern energy and fires off blasts of said energy as a weapon, it is revealed that the origin of William’s iconic piece of tech actually had roots in the larger scheme of Green Lantern lore. Originally constructed by the eventual leader of the Red Lanterns, Atrocitus to seek out the being that contained “the power of the black” as well as the means to bring about the Blackest Night, Atrocitus arrives on Earth to find William and eviscerate him in order to claim the power for himself and use it to destroy the Guardians of the Universe. Foiled by Green Lantern Hal Jordan and then-Green Lantern Sinestro, Atrocitus was defeated, only for William to abscond with the object in question, thus starting a long and intricate journey in becoming the man that eventually helps bring inescapable death to the universe.
The Power of Death Incarnate
Death in DC Comics continuity or even in the comic industry as a whole is never something that usually sticks for long. Whether it be the death of an iconic hero such as Superman, or the fake-out that gets readers to think their favorite character just bit the big one, death is just another roadbump in the lives of these heroes and villains that can’t be avoided. In this case, the power of the Black Lanterns comes from death itself as well as their ringleader, Nekron. This army of undead soldiers consisting of DC characters that have died or faced death in the past and returned to the land of the living are essentially a more intelligent, more ruthless and evil take on the traditional zombie. But they also share a power set that resembles any number of the various Corps of the Emotional Spectrum.
Coupled with the standard Lantern means to fly and create energy constructs, these Black Lanterns also possess the abilities of regeneration, immunity to magic and – along with being able to resurrect any dead character they so choose – can also convert beings into a Black Lantern by the extremely zombie-specific act of biting their enemy. Through the physical act of killing their enemies and removing their hearts (which in turn powers their central battery by .01% per kill), Black Lanterns can gain additional power by quite literally feeding off of others’ emotions by using their unique ability to see the colored aura of the victim and killing them when the time is right. And while these undead Lanterns seem to be more overpowered than most, their limits include their inability to withstand the white light of life and can be completely destroyed by the conjoined power of a Green Lantern and any other Corps’ light, a skill that the Indigo Lanterns have perfected.
The Emotional Stakes of the Blackest Night
In an event as harrowing as Blackest Night, the Black Lanterns were more than just a physical threat to the universe at large due to the simple fact that they were also extremely successful at crippling many on a much deeper level. Specifically they used the fallen comrades of nearly every character that has ever graced the pages of a DC comic as a means to break the morale of the numerous heroes with no choice but to fight former allies. The Black Lanterns’ didn’t always have rely on their hideously tendrilled and decaying looks to strike fear and panic in the hearts of their enemies; they could let their connections as undead lovers and friends do it for them.
Acting more like a bastardized and tainted version of the deceased person in question, these Lanterns used their re-emergence on the mortal plane for their own benefit by seeking out whichever DC character they had the strongest connection to when alive and confronting them about their own death. By hammering in on the living person’s insecurities, unresolved issues and blame relating to their friend or loved one’s death, the Black Lanterns could fight a two-pronged war on their enemies both physically and emotionally, the latter of which would lead to an easy win once compromised. In fact, one of the best examples of when a Black Lantern shook the emotional core of the heroes fighting them is when Black Hand gave rise to the recently deceased Justice Leaguer and pillar of DC’s main trinity, Batman. Not only was this the moment that heroes and villains alike realized the full potential of the army of the dead, but the Dark Knight’s death was still an open wound to many, and the desecration of his grave and subsequent actions taken in his name hit hard as a low blow that took much effort and willpower to overcome.
With any number of Corps championing the Emotional Spectrum, including the fabled space cops known as the Green Lanterns Corps, it’s the Black Lanterns that throw that idea to the wind to channel the very power of death itself. And although the Corps of the dead might be vanquished in the grand scheme of the DC Universe, it can’t be denied that the emotional and physical toll their arrival brought on heroes and villains alike has had far reaching ramifications on these characters to this very day.
Next: Who Are The Orange Lanterns? DC’s Green Lantern Villains Explained
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