Today, Mikyzptlk and Patrick are discussing Green Lantern: New Guardians Annual 1, originally released January 9th, 2013.
Mikyzptlk: Okay, I need to get this off my chest. This issue bugged me. Now, that isn’t to say that I hated it but it really managed to piss me off at the end. Before I get into anything else though, I just want to say that I absolutely loved the characterization that I got out of this issue. Star Sapphire Carol Ferris, Saint Walker and Arkillo were an absolute joy to read and I look forward to the developments seen in this issue carrying on throughout the rest of the series. That said, let’s move on to my overall point. Much like a good joke, a good narrative fiction will have a series of setups and payoffs. A writer will introduce a concept early on in a story to then use and explore it later on hopefully making their efforts as a writer worth your efforts as a reader. In that vein, if I had to describe this issue as a “Knock-knock” joke, it would go something like this: “Knock Knock.” “Who’s there?” “I don’t know, ask some other guy.” Not too funny right? In fact, some might find it a bit frustrating and “some” might just be me.
Let me explain. Actually, let me summarize first, then I’ll explain. Star Sapphire drops Kyle Rayner off on the planet Zamaron so that he can learn to wield the “Power of Love.” Ha, now you have the song stuck in your head. Anyway, we are pretty much done with Kyle at this point as he stays behind while Sapphire, Walker, and ‘Killo are sent away on a mission from the Zamaron’s to convince Lady Styx to help them fight against the Guardians of the Universe. They meet up with an undercover Green Lantern by the name of Jediah Caul. He seems pretty uncaring about the whole thing and not very Green-Lantern-ish at all but hooks ’em up with some smugglers. The smugglers sneak Sapphire onto the planet but then double-crosses her to make some extra cash. Turns out, this planet has a game, you see, a game where one is chosen to be hunted down by the general population in exchange for fabulous prizes. Carol finds herself in the precarious position of being hunted but still manages to meet up with Lady Styx. Unfortunately, Styx refuses Sapphires request of assistance and is left abandoned although not for long. Saint Walker and Arkillo appear along with GL Caul who was forced to help. Caul has negotiated a means of escape via a small space craft. The group must make a hasty exit but Caul gets left behind (mainly due to douche-baggery). Leaving him stranded, captured, and soon to be hunted.
And that, my friends, brings us to the entire point (and my frustration) of this issue. Nearly 40 pages of what is supposed to be a comic about Kyle Rayner and his multi-spectrum-ed crew is actually all about some douchey Green Lantern no one has ever heard of. I’m all for new characters but this whole issue just seems like a bait and switch. Even though we got to see some fun moments with a few main characters (that I’ll certainly get into), this whole thing was just one big setup for Jediah Caul and Keith Giffen’s new book Threshold. Worst of all, Kyle was only featured on 3 pages of this entire issue! That’s kind of a huge problem considering that this is his book. Although, I probably should have guessed that he wasn’t going to be featured too much in this book considering that he’s not on the cover and all…oh, but wait. There’s this.
When I first saw the solicitation for this issue, I assume that was Kyle on the cover sporting a new look and going ape-shit on his pals. Now, this may have been a simple mistake by the colorist but you can see how one may have been a bit misled about what they’d find in the comic. Even by reading the description of the comic, I never would have guessed that Kyle would have played such a small role. I mean seriously! Is it just me or am I taking crazy pills again? Even taking the bait-and-switch out of the equation, the issue still gives us a setup without a payoff. One of the most frustrating things in comics is the “To be continued in Some Other Book!” line which we get as the conclusion for this issue. It gives this nearly 40 page special a feeling of incompleteness which is simply disappointing considering that I thought much of this issue was written well.
Keith Giffen wrote this issue and he does a terrific job with the elements that are actually supposed to be in this book. Carol Ferris continues to be way more bad-ass than Mera (from Aquaman) could ever hope to be. She is clearly disdainful of the Zamarons and simply refuses to take any crap from anyone. She’s really coming into her own in this series and Saint Walker and Arkillo are no different. They come off as the perfect buddy-cop duo in this issue and Giffen provides us with some good characterization through their interaction with one another that I hope will continue to be developed in the main series.
I know this critique was mainly negative, but I want it known that I’m a big fan of Giffen and I hope his book Threshold is successful. The problem I had with those elements here is that it all felt shoehorned into the New Guardians narrative. Other than that, the characterization of the other Lanterns was solid and a joy to read. Patrick, what is your take on this? You and I are actually going to be writing about Threshold when it comes out so did you appreciate the lead-in or were you frustrated also? Lastly, I didn’t get into the artwork at all for this issue. Did you find the differences between artists Scott Kolins and Andrei Bressan distracting at all?
Patrick: Oof. Yeah, I was frustrated by this issue. There are broad strokes here that I like quite a bit, like the whole concept of this space colony whose entire economy is based an interactive reality game show. It is — theoretically anyway — a concise way to establish immediate danger everywhere. Right? The game and the culture obsessed with the game are introduced in the first page of the issue. It’s a staggering amplification and combination of a couple different real-life entertainments, and everyone takes it in on their own personal screens, and they’re all constantly bombarded with ads. I love that. It’s the extra layer of realism something Hunger Games is missing. Of course the population wants to participate in the game. Of course they watch on designated screens that float in front of their faces. Of course they’re talking about it on alien-twitter.
All this plays out in a fun action sequence that more or less establishes what’s at stake in this game. It’s three pages before we have any context — a classic sci-fi cold open that leaves you wanting more. Why, then, are were treated to like four more explanations of the game throughout the issue? Right as Carol is being dumped into the world, there’s a whole page of voice over that re-blathers the rules. What’sa matter? Didn’t catch it all at that time? Never fear! The exact same voice over will appear at the end of the issue when Jediah finds himself in-game.
So, I’ll trust Giffen to tell me a neat story, but I won’t trust him to do so clearly or concisely. He employs so many strange turns of phrase, awkward contractions and made-up slang words that it’s physically difficult to read this issue. There’s even a made-up slang curse word that appears to be a fucking contraction: “das’t.” It’s so confusing! There are also times when characters who aren’t from the same culture use the same slang. Arkillo (before ever meeting any of the Tenebrian Dominion people) refers to Kyle as “the scrawny green scut.” “Scut” ends up being a word used by the folks on Tenebrian Dominion, in much the same way that I would casually refer to someone as a jerk (as in “where is that scrawny green jerk?”) The sole purpose of making up slang is to flesh out a culture as distinct from either the rest of their world or as distinct from our world. “Frak” and “toaster” from Battlestar Galactica are pretty good examples of this, they speak to the specificity of the human experience on that show. At it’s clumsiest, “frak” was just the PG-13 “fuck,” and that’s what most of this slang ends up being: an attempt to swear without swearing. Which is like violence without violence or sex without sex: who cares?
The characters are also way too aware of the fact that they’re characters conversing through written dialogue. There are like eight too many shit-eating little references to the way the characters express themselves. For example: there’s an odd runner where Arkillo says something sarcastic or menacing and Saint Walker explains “I think he’s attempting humor.” Now, never mind that that’s an extraordinarily assholeish thing for Walker to say, no one calls out this kind of use of rhetoric in casual conversation. It’s too fucking writerly, is my problem with it. Giffen knows that he’s making Arkillo tell a joke that no one gets, and he feels it’s his job — as the writer — to explain what’s happening. It’s some of the worst anti-comedy I can imagine — and it happens on almost every page.
This sort of confusing, clever-but-incorrect dialogue is ALL OVER this issue. Characters are constantly announcing that they will answer a question before answering it (and usually there wasn’t even a question asked in the first place). All the rules of conversational cause and effect go out the window. Let’s look at this gem from when our heroes meet the smugglers:
First, it’s weird that this chick get’s halfway through the word “undivided” and then decides not to say it. But her exchange with Arkillo makes no fucking sense at all. “Now that I would like to see” is obviously missing a coma, but whatever. She responds “Hah?” What is she communicating there? What’s a laugh with a question mark on it (other than mugging for applause Fozzy-Bear-style)? But Arkillo continues with his threat — one which contains no specific information — and she responds “thanks for the tip?” Again, question mark, what are you doing in there? But also: tip? TIP!? What is she — even sarcastically — referring to? If I said “Hey, Keith Giffen, fix your dialogue or I’ll never read your books again,” he could rightly reply “thanks for the tip.”
One more* and then I swear I’ll stop ragging on the minutiae of this issue:
Carol asks a question, gets an answer, says she wasn’t asking him, and then he says he answered her. UGH. Not actually my complaint. The sentence “Why do you think they had to press gang me into finding out where you were being dumped and get them in position to reclaim you?” is a mess. “Why do you think they had me track you?” is about a billion times cleaner, contains the same amount of personality and doesn’t include the incomprehensible phrase “gang press” (10 points to funniest definition to “gang press” in the comments).
I’m mostly taking this as a bad omen for Threshold — not that my hopes were particularly high in the first place. I know there was some fun Scott Kolins art in here, but honestly, I have a hell of a time trying to look past the writing.
*I lied. One more pointless detail that was just plain wrong. When our heroes Boom off planet, they appear in “Space Sector 9008.” Not to be too big of a nerd here, but there are only 3600 space sectors…
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?