Friday Follow Up – 05/24/13

Green Lantern Oath

There are some truly classic runs in superhero comics: Kirby and Lee’s “Fantastic Four”, James Robinson’s “Starman”, Chris Claremont’s “X-Men”. As of this Wednesday, after nine years on the title, Geoff John’s “Green Lantern” is assured a spot alongside these legends.

I won’t say that “Green Lantern” was a perfect book. It had its rough patchs, especially after the New 52 reboot, when it engaged in a series of anti-climatic events. That is to be expected when considering almost a decade of stories though. It’s more important to consider the longview when evaluating an achievement like this. No one will remember the “Rise of the Army” in ten years, but the rainbow of Lantern Corps. and John’s characterization of Hal Jordan will still shine bright.

John’s “Green Lantern” did a lot more than tell good stories, which it certainly did. It helped to define a character (actually, a lot of characters) that were at best muddled and without great importance. The concept of continuity had destroyed the characters of the Green Lantern universe, turning the central hero into a dead, genocidal maniac trapped inside a vengeful ghost. No, I can’t make this crap up. In six issues, Johns turned Hal into a hero again and redefined his supporting cast. The scenes in Rebirth where each of Earth’s four Lanterns are shown using their rings in a unique style inform readers more about the characters than all of the 90’s combined. Every component of the Lantern legend played a part, whether it was Hal’s dearest friend Ollie or his fiercest foe, Sinestro. He boiled the story back to its basic elements before rebuilding.

And what a reconstruction it was. One of Johns’ greatest strengths as a writer is to take old ideas (good and bad) and reshape them to both create a more cohesive whole and to construct new ideas. It’s a skill that’s particularly well suited to superhero comics, where there tends to be a lot of history and not a lot of story logic. Now just consider all of the things that have been added to the Green Lantern mythos in the last nine years while Johns’ helmed the title…
1. Red Lantern Corps.
2. Larfleeze
3. Sinestro Corps. War
4. Fulfillment of Alan Moore’s Blackest Night Prophecy
5. Blue Lantern Corps.
6. Simon Baz
7. Indigo Tribe
8. The First Lantern
9. Black (and White) Lanterns
10. Alpha Lanterns

That’s not to mention all of the things he reinvented entirely…
1. Nekron
2. Star Sapphires
3. The Guardians
4. Alan Moore’s Blackest Night prophecy
5. Black Hand
6. Parallax
7. Hal Jordan’s entire origin
8. The Manhunters
9. Ring logic (e.g. importance of fearlessness)
10. Structure of the Green Lantern Corps.

That second list leaves out the single most important reimagination though, that of Sinestro. The greatest icons have the greatest villains. In many ways, Superman is defined by Lex Luthor and Batman is defined by The Joker. Green Lantern lacked a defining antagonist. Sinestro was a one-note villain ten years ago, an evil space dictator with a yellow ring. He’s now one of the best characterized characters in all of DC Comics. His struggle to do the right thing in spite of his overwhelming ego (insert joke about having a big head here) was a central theme in the entire run of the series. Redemption and rebirth are two things that both he and Hal Jordan engage in constantly, striving to improve themselves and the universe despite being terrible flawed. That’s why Sinestro’s story pays off so well in Green Lantern #20. It speaks volumes about why we care about Green Lantern stories and what they tell us about ourselves. Sinestro, just like Hal Jordan, shows us that we can always try to be better and that is what’s both so damn tragic and so damn beautiful.

Some of my feelings towards this book may be nostalgia. “Green Lantern: Rebirth” was one of the first books I ever picked up on a monthly basis alongside John’s “The Flash”. It was a story that pulled me into an expansive universe and made me feel welcome. It’s representative of Geoff John’s at his best, ushering a kid with only a few dollars into a world filled with fanstastical stories and characters.

It’s more than just nostalgia though, it’s a recognition of something truly iconic. I tend to agree with Grant Morrison that superheroes are in many ways analogous to the gods of old. They are a pantheon of characters, each defined by some core characteristics, that are capable of inspiring our imaginations and our morality (a significant improvement over the Greek pantheon). Green Lantern was a character that began the new millenium as muddled and amoral, part of the DC pantheon in name only. He’s now a peer to Batman and Superman (the best superhero of all time, no argument). Green Lantern and his supporting cast are crystallized in the final issue, their essence made clear, and their ability to inspire greatness obvious. Geoff John’s final issue of “Green Lantern” is a perfect ending to a legendary run.

Green Lantern 20
Thank you, Mr. Johns.


About chasemagnett

Chase is a mild-mannered finance guy by day and a raving comics fan by night. He has been reading comics for more than half of his life (all 23 years of it). After graduating from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with degrees in Economics and English, he has continued to research comics while writing articles and reviews online. His favorite superhero is Superman and he'll accept no other answers. Don't ask about his favorite comic unless you're ready to spend a day discussing dozens of different titles.
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4 Responses to Friday Follow Up – 05/24/13

  1. Steven Cain says:

    I think it’s easy to look at current DC Editorial, their push to have a unified front, and the restrictions that has put on the creative process, and use all of those things to say that Green Lantern has been going downhill since the start of the New 52. However, I think that these 20 issues have been on par, if not better than, the issues that made up No Fear, Revenge of the Green Lantern, and Wanted: Hal Jordan. These were not the big world-building epics that Rebirth, SCW, and BN were, but they were still entertaining stories filled with solid character moments.

    It seems to me that the biggest difference between the style of those stories and the ones we have seen since the New 52 started up is that Johns hasn’t really been leading up to another big event. His writing thrives on teasing what is in store, and that draws the readers along with eager anticipation. However, he was very clear in saying that BN was his last “big event” for Green Lantern. The stories that we have had since then have all been very good stories, and I would say that the Sinestro character development that you lauded is almost entirely from the New 52 issues, since he was never really portrayed as having much compassion at all until then.

    There have absolutely been lulls in the series, but they are generally filled with strong personal moments. However, without a doubt, the works that will be MOST remembered from Johns’ run will be Rebirth, SCW, and BN.

    • chasemagnett says:

      I absolutely agree that Johns’ last couple years of Green Lantern stories were about on par with the first couple arcs of his book after “Rebirth”. However, I think they’re going to be more critically evaluated because of their place in his run. When “No Fear” and “Wanted: Hal Jordan” came out, Green Lantern still wasn’t a headlining hero and Johns’ was estabilshing himself as a writer on the title. The New 52 issues probably seem weaker simply because they came after “Blackest Night”, the climax of the series. It tends to be easier to forgive something new.

      That having been said, the New 52 Green Lantern was still one of the best books in the entire line. It’s a really good book that did some incredible stuff with Sinestro and created at least one more great new character (i.e. Baz). I didn’t want to say the series was ever bad, just that it had waned toward the end.

      EDIT: The more I think about it, marketing may have played into this as well. Unlike the previously mentioned stories (e.g. Wanted: Hal Jordan) which were treated as just another Green Lantern adventure, the last couple of Green Lantern stories (e.g. The Third Army) were all treated as big events. Part of me believes this helped to elevate expectations in a way the stories did not warrant.

  2. Steven Cain says:

    I would also point out that the big name creators we heard from in Kansas City (Brian Azzarello and Scott Snyder) remarked that they didn’t feel DC being restrictive. I would say that Geoff Johns would also very much fall into this category where DC was not restricting him. I’m sure that everything he wanted to do in the new 52 GL issues he was able to do. The restrictions that DC is doing are for less established writers. I’m not defending it in the least, just saying that Johns probably isn’t effected by it.

    • chasemagnett says:

      I think the three people you mention probably face the least editorial interference of any writer at the publisher. They’re all proven quantities with books that sell very well (not that those facts helped Gail Simone on “Batgirl”). The decline in Green Lantern was, in my opinion, solely due to how spectacular events like the Sinestro Corps. War and Blackest Night were.

      Dan DiDio probably had nothing to do with the Green Lantern title and that’s probably for the best.

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