Originally Published November 25, 2011
DC Comics recently relaunched their entire series, giving curious but uninitiated nerds a convenient entry point. Fellow blogger Patrick Ehlers 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 Patrick’s Blog (which you should all be reading anyway) every Friday. This week, I’m hosting the discussion of Green Lantern Corps, while Patrick is hosting the discussion of Nightwing.
Drew: One thing I’m really enjoying about The New 52 is getting to see how comics stories are structured. Being able to compare the first, second, and third issues of numerous titles side by side has revealed striking similarities. I suppose some of the patterns are true of any serialized storytelling, from Dickens to Breaking Bad — using early chapters to establish the characters and their motivations while teasing the larger plot, ending chapters with cliffhangers, etc. — but some of the titles we’re following seem to follow a much stricter formula. As we’re only three issues deep, the established formula isn’t complete, but we’ve already seen the same stages come up across a number of the titles we’re following, namely: a cold open, character exposition, and the first, disastrous encounter with the villain. All of these stages are pretty common to storytelling, but it’s the specific way they’re being treated that makes me call it formulaic, and Green Lantern Corps exemplifies these methods beautifully.
The cold open is simply some action packed excitement before the story slows down to tell us what’s going on. Some titles use the cold open to show the hero in action, doing something exciting but ultimately inconsequential to the plot, others use it to tease the villain, usually by demonstrating how ruthless and dangerous they are. GLC is firmly in the latter camp, showing us the murder of two Green Lanterns by an unseen entity that steals their ring fingers (but not their rings) and is seemingly impervious to their powers.
The next step of the formula is to introduce the characters in earnest. We meet Guy Gardner as he is about to interview for a high-school football coach job. This immediately tells you everything you need to know about Guy — in spite of being a Green Lantern, one of the most powerful beings in the entire galaxy, he’s still the kind of person who want’s to coach high-school football. Guy never really outgrew high-school, and acts, for all intents and purposes, exactly like Back to the Future villain Biff Tannen; he’s loud, he’s crass, and he’s incredibly egotistical. Interestingly, this doesn’t come out in his interview — he really just wants to be a coach — which says very specific things about his character. Meanwhile, we’re also introduced to John Stewart as he’s demonstrating his architectural plans to some greedy clients. John is insisting on extra safety measures, but his clients are only interested in meeting the minimum city safety standards. Both sides insist (John with a little help from his ring), and Joh eventually walks (er, flys) out of the negotiation. This establishes John pretty clearly as a principled individual, but lacks the more nuanced characterization of Guy’s introduction. They get together and decide to take a break from Earth for a while, heading to Oa to see if they can’t be of more use there. Sure enough, somebody needs to investigate the murders of the GLs from the cold open (among others), so John and Guy lead a team of redshirts to Nerro, a water planet where the water has apparently been stolen, killing the entire sentient population. They also discover the bodies of two GLs with their ring fingers removed, but are quickly called to the planet Xabas, where all of the planet’s trees are being sucked into some kind of “trans-luminal displacement.”
When the GLs arrive on the scene on Xabas, they encounter the villain, a uniformed group of baddies seeminly impervious to the GLs power, fulfilling the next step of the formula so far, wherein the heroes are efficiently routed by the villains. One of the redshirts is mutilated before Guy calls back to Oa for backup. Apparently, Xabas is a three hour flight from Oa, but there’s also apparently a GL that can transport a large group instantaneously, though with great effort. The cavalry arrives in time to drive off the foes temporarily, but it’s important that they get away quickly, so that same GL transports them all back, though the exertion kills him. An unnecessarily contrived violin plays in the background. Surprise! Not everybody got away, and John is among those left behind. Will John survive? Will the utterly disposable GLs he’s with die nobly? I guess I sound a little jaded, but I think I’ve seen enough Mighty Ducks movies to know that our heroes will overcome the villains even though they were seemingly impossible to beat. Sure, the formula makes the story a little predictable, but the appeal of this title clearly isn’t the plot.
The main draw for me here is Guy Gardner. Peter Tomasi has found the right voice for him, and he’s just a blast to read. I find myself both loving and hating this character, but I always think he’s fun. Pairing him with the much more reserved John Stewart is a great idea, though it kind of pigeonholes John as the straight man. I also really like the idea of a title for special GL cases — it opens up the opportunity for bigger, planetary dramas and makes the outcomes much more in question than if the events were taking place on Earth (hint: Earth makes it out of this one just fine) — but the fact that it’s ultimately just an excuse for more superhero action has left me kind of cold. I was intrigued when it seemed like this might turn into an interplanetary mystery title (the GL universe is the perfect place to set a police procedural), but by the end of issue three, this is clearly an action title. This makes sense — I can’t see Guy putting evidence together to solve a case — but I can’t get over how fun I think a GL homicide unit would be.
My biggest issue, though, is that Tomasi has taken a more-is-more approach to raising the stakes. I have nothing invested in any of the non-human GLs, and my indifference is always justified when they die a page or two later. That whole thing with the GL who can inexplicably teleport people was the worst example of this. He was more or less introduced as the guy who will end up sacrificing himself to save the day, and guess what happens? Honestly, though, when the first issue features the mass genocide of an entire planet, how can you possibly hope to raise the stakes any further? Killing GLs at this point doesn’t raise the stakes, it just feels redundant and lazy. I get it. These bad guys can kill GLs, especially the non human-ones I didn’t care about anyway. Dwelling on these deaths (or even showing them, frankly) doesn’t increase the drama, it just feels like filler. I dunno, am I being to hard here, Patrick? I actually generally like the title, I just kind of wish they’d stop pretending like it’s a surprise when a redshirt bites it.
Patrick: Ah the “redshirt” card. When you look at the squad that accompanies John and Guy to Xanabas, you see cannon fodder, but I see individual characters. The post-Rebirth, pre-New 52 GLC stories introduced an impressively large cast of non-human lanterns. Five non-2814 lanterns tag along on this adventure and I am pretty close to three of them. If you’ll allow me, I’d like to give a little perspective on the three that I grew to love before the relaunch.
Isamot Kol is a Thanagaran (lizard-man thing), and he is introduced very early on as the corps start to rebuild. He and his sector partner, Vath, were on opposite ends of the Rann-Thanagar war, and thus were predisposed to hate eachother. Throughout their adventures, they eventually grew very close. Actually this is about to speak to another point you made: Isamot has regenerative limbs. Vath had his legs severed in either the Sinestro Corps War or Blackest Night (I forget and am too lazy to look it up) and Isamot donated his as a replacement. No big deal to Isamot, because he can grow his legs back, but HUGE deal to Vath, who now has the legs of his people’s enemy. Anyway, I think this pair was developed particularly well, so I got mad-excited when I saw Isamot was ring-slinging with John and Guy. You don’t much have to worry about his arms and legs – they’ll grow back in a few weeks. (Incidentally “Isamot” is “Tomasi” backwards – too clever by half, but only once someone spells it out to you.)
Hannu is so fucking tough. If you don’t remember him, he’s the big stone looking guy. Hannu is among one of like 6 or 7 “Lost Lanterns” that Hal presumed to have killed when he was possessed by Parallax (so, so long ago). When the Lost Lanterns were discovered to be alive, they obviously helped serve their corps again, but they were all very slow to forgive Hal for what he had done; possession be damned, they didn’t trust the motherfucker any more. Hannu is also proud to a fault. He doesn’t use his ring, except for flight and communication and whatever general protection the ring provides. I was a little disappointed to see him use it in issue #3, because I’ve seen the big guy backed into worse corners and not employ the thing. Actually, you’d think that when put up against an enemy that can’t be effected by the Green that he’d be extra effective.
Brik was also a veteran lantern that was brought back into the fold after Rebirth. Okay, I don’t really remember anything about her. But I saw her a lot.
But yeah – fuck the other two.
The Lantern that can teleport is introduced (and disposed of) in shoddy fashion. Pre-52 GLC frequently introduces Lanterns with unique abilities only to kill them a few issues later. Usually this was as part of a story arc that served the character in question pretty well. Now that I reflect on it, that was a fairly standard formula for GLC for a while: introduce a new lantern with a strange skill; have lantern use that ability to the amazement of Guy, that lantern meets a tragic end. Bearing the green is not a particularly safe line of work, and the death of a corpsman or two shouldn’t really be a surprise to anyone who’s spent any time in the universe.
So I guess I’m half agreeing with your point about the expendablity of non-human GLs. A lot of my favorites are missing in action. Where is Isamot’s partner Vath? Where is Mogo, the sentient planent green lantern? Where is Soranik Natu? Where is Princess Iolande? WHERE THE FUCK IS KILOWOG? All in time I guess.
As usual, the greatest strength of the series is Peter Tomasi’s handle on Guy Gardner. Guy can be such an ass, but I love watching him do things I hate. I think your comparison to Biff Tannen is apt. Even when he’s making decisions that set the GL cause back a few steps, I just love watching the man work. I can’t really say the same for Stewart. I don’t really know that Tomasi has an interesting take on the character, and save a few moments of ennui around Blackest Night, I don’t think he’s had much luck when focusing on Stewart in the past either.
I don’t really think this his a great GLC story so far. But it does make me think of all the stories I loved from pre-relaunch. And that was the same creative team. I guess I’m hopeful that it’ll get back to developing the extended cast and spend a little less time staging flashy but pointless battles. Also – and this might seem like a strange complaint to have about a GL title – but Jesus, there is a lot of fucking green in this series. I mean dig it, here’s a screen shot of all the pages from the second issue. Without being big enough to see anything, you can totally tell that constructs take up 90% of the space on these pages.
Both of our complaints aside, GLC is such a solid concept and I remain enthusiastic about the future of this series.
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:
Justice League of America, Batman, Batman & Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl, Aquaman, Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps, Wonder Woman, Action Comics