Originally Published December 16, 2011
DC Comics recently relaunched their entire series, giving curious but uninitiated nerds a convenient entry point. Fellow blogger Drew Baumgartner and I are two such nerds, and we’ve decided to jump in with a handful of monthly titles. We really wanted to pull out all the nerd stops, so we’re also going to be writing about them here and on Drew’s blog (which you should all be reading anyway) every Friday. This week, I’m hosting the discussion of Green Lantern while Drew is hosting the discussion of Batgirl.
Patrick: We’ve discussed the problem with reading Geoff Johns’ books from week to week. Basically, the biggest issue is an over-reliance on an impossibly serialized story. This means there’s an awful lot of place-setting, and early issues in a series can snap under the weight of exposition. This week saw both of our leads incapacitated and/or imprisoned the the entirety of the issue, which you’d think would force a lot of cool personal development. And while Hal had some neat moments that successfully explored his character, I’m less moved by Sinestro’s plight.
Thaal Sinestro is a bad dude. He’s a nuanced character, his motivations are complicated, and his history has more bumps and bruises than most of our best heroes. But he’s a bad dude. He enslaved his home planet in the name of maintaining order as a Green Lantern. His work with the Sinestro Corps, while motivated by his desire to stop the increasingly out-of-touch Guardians, resulted in the murder of millions and sorta unleashed this HELLISH ARMY OF FEAR on the universe. So when the crux of Green Lantern issue 4 hinges around Hal and the Korugarans believing in Sinestro, it strains credibility.
And yes, I know I’m talking about strained credibility in a story about aliens with magic rings that are powered by fear. I GET THAT. I suppose the move is also justified because Hal has a similar distrust of the Guardians (and a similar murderous history from his time as Parallax) and because the Korugarans don’t let Sinestro off the hook. But so much of the issue revolves around Sinestro being tortured, imprisoned, and performing miracles that it’s hard not to see him as a martyr figure.
But maybe this is something Green Lantern has always been about: there is no such thing as redemption for these characters. Take the obvious example of Hal Jordan. While under the influence of Parallax, he decimated the Green Lantern Corps. When he was reborn, free of possession, the remaining corpsmen were reluctant to welcome him back and some (Hanuu from GLC for one) never forgave him. He keeps messing up his relationship with Carol. Hell, he’s not even technically a Green Lantern right now because of his falling out with the Guardians. This is the most sympathetic I’ve ever seen a book be towards Sinestro and yet we’re focused largely on his failures.
I think there’s a compelling narrative to be found in there somewhere, I’m just not sure that we read it this week. I remain hopeful about the series, and I actually get a little giddy when I think about the themes this series seems to want to explore. And that comes off harsher than I mean it to. To reiterate: compelling themes are there, and I can’t wait to see where we go with them. Conversely, I also cannot wait to actually go somewhere with them.
The art in this issue, in contrast, is an unqualified success. The tiny cells inhabited by our heroes for the majority of the issue are effectively claustrophobic and the imagery of the Sinestro Corps logo looms impressively over the later pages. Constructs (both yellow and green) throughout are dynamic and energetic but don’t overwhelm the panels, as they often do in Green Lantern Corps titles. Whenever Sinestro Corps members are around, there’s opportunity for some scary looking monster-creatures. Doug Mahnke delivers on the SC members with some old favorites, but there are two really cool looking Yellow Slingin’ monsters I’ve never seen before – one is this purple alligator dude (above) and the other is this grotesque white-skinned torture-doctor guy. I mean, they pale in comparison to monsters that haunted my dreams from last week’s Animal Man marathon, but they’re effective within the context of a super hero space comic.
One scene in particular really worked for me. Hal is locked in a cell and is unable to bust his way out with classic Jordan constructs (hammer, fist, blunt objects). Hal’s ring warns him that he’s approaching 0% power. So he summons the image of Carol Ferris and apologizes. Naturally, Carol won’t get that message – I doubt Hal would have been able to say it if he thought she would ever hear him. Drained of its power, Hal’s ring starts to strip away the costume and the green light dims until it disappears completely. This last bit of action is framed by a yellow square – Hal’s got nothing left: even fear is starting to get to him. It’s a cool set of panels.
So, what do you think Drew? We still building to something here or are you starting to feel the title sagging? I can’t really tell what sort of conclusion this is building toward. Sinestro stated his goal – destroying his old corps – but I suspect he will again fail to achieve that goal. Or, he will but at a Terrible Personal Cost.
Drew: It’s interesting; I think my unfamiliarity with these characters is allowing me to enjoy this title (or at least this issue) more than I would if I had your knowledge of their history. Sure, I get that Sinestro is a bad guy, perhaps an unforgivably bad guy, but it’s also clear to me that this storyline hinges on him regaining the trust of the very people who have the most reason not to trust him. I fully expect Sinestro to betray that trust at some point down the line, but I also fully expect everyone to trust him, however begrudgingly, first.
I was intitally disappointed that we were going to have to see Sinestro win over the Korugarans the same way he won over Hal in issues 2-3, but what Johns delivers is subtly different. While Sinestro appealed to Hal’s desire to do good (and perhaps more importantly, to be a Green Lantern), he actually has to convince the Korugarans that he always had good intentions, which is a hard pill for them to swallow. Ultimately, I think they’ll ally themselves with him as long as it serves there purpose (in this case, busting out of jail), but are going to keep an eye on him, in much the same way Hal has. I’ll admit that it’s a tad predictable, but Johns is adding some interesting twists here that I like.
Does Sinestro think he’s a bad guy? It’s hard to tell, but I’m starting to believe his appeals that he always had good intentions. This, of course is a bit muddled by his admitting that he is sorry for his mistakes (mirroring Hal’s apology to his construct-Carol. What is it with [space] men having such a hard time apologizing, am I right [space] ladies?), suggesting that his insistence that he meant well may be meant to convince himself as much as anyone. He really is misunderstood, and everyone’s jumping to conclusions about him is getting in the way of his attempts to help. You’re right to say that there’s no such thing as redemption for these characters, and Johns seems happy to explore the morally grey world of these two characters. I think the title is already dealing with some neat themes, among them the somewhat surprisingly political issue of supporting someone you distrust in order to achieve short-term gains. Even if I know the Korugans ultimately will work alongside Sinestro to bring down his Corps, the question of how they arrive at that decision is still an interesting one.
They are hitting the martyr notes pretty hard, though, focusing on Sinestro to the point that Hal barely registers a supporting role. You’re also right to point out that this issue is more about putting pieces in place than it is about actual action. When I think about it, that’s most of what this title has been thus far, but it isn’t bothering me in the same way it is with the other Johns titles, mostly because of the focus on the characters. I don’t mind that we’re still spinning our wheels bringing down the Sinestro Corps as long as the time spent getting there is compelling. I’m a little surprised that the focus is so trained on Sinestro, but hey, whatever works.
I, too, am really happy with the art this issue. I always think the menagerie of the Sinestro corps is fun, and the design for that torture-doctor riffs brilliantly on the archetypal killer clown. I’m also not nearly as troubled by Christian Alamy’s inks that I complained so much about last week. His high-contrast style serves the darker setting of this issue perfectly, but it also helps that most of the characters this issue aren’t human, so too-thick facial lines don’t read as awkward.
At any rate, I’m not disappointed with this issue. Sure, it’s not the most kinetic or surprising of the titles we’re reading, but I’m finding it far from boring. The focus Johns is putting on the characters here is lending his exposition some real interest, which for me is saving this title from deteriorating to bland stage-setting in the vein of Aquaman (though I’m still hopeful that title will start kicking ass this month). Not a ton has happened yet, but this title has effectively gotten me interested in more than just plot points, so I’m not minding that it’s taking it’s time.
Here’s a list of what we’re reading. The list is Batman heavy, and we’re not going to write about everything. That being said, feedback and suggestions on what to read and discuss are welcome. Overlapping books in bold:
Action Comics, Aquaman, Animal Man, Batgirl, Batman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Justice League, Nightwing, Wonder Woman, Batman and Robin, Swamp Thing