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.
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…
2. Star Sapphires
3. The Guardians
4. Alan Moore’s Blackest Night prophecy
5. Black Hand
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.