Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing Green Lantern 17, originally released February 20th, 2013. This issue is part of the Wrath of the First Lantern crossover event. Click here for our First Lantern coverage.
Drew: Retcons. Love ’em or hate ’em, they’re sure to be a part of the kinds of never-ending narratives comics take part in. Our own relationship with reality predisposes us to being suspicious of revisions as cheap or unrealistic, but in a world where everything is made up anyway, what’s really the difference? Conversely, in a superhero comic world, where even the very laws of physics can be defied, continuity may serve as the only “reality,” offering the only sense of what is and is not possible. It’s a touchy subject (which is why so many fans are still so upset by DC’s relaunch), but one that the Wrath of the First Lantern event seems poised to address directly. Indeed, with Green Lantern Corps 17, Peter Tomasi has tackled the very notion of retcons with surprising thoroughness and maturity, seemingly reflecting the audience’s own reactions to its events.
The issue begins already inside of Guy Gardner’s head. As with Ganthet in Green Lantern 17, Volthoom is taking Guy on an It’s a Wonderful Life-style tour of Guy’s past. Never one to miss out on making a movie reference more explicit, the first stop on their tour is an event where Guy and his sister fall through some ice as children, only Volthoom has altered it so that Guy stays dry, while his sister and brother drown in the frozen lake. It’s not entirely clear if what Volthoom is doing is actually changing reality, or just memories, but the point is: this is pretty traumatic for Guy, who on top of watching both of his siblings die, is given the most brazen of guilt trips by his father.
Hahaha. This kid just watched his brother and sister die, in spite of his best efforts to save them — of course he’s going to feel guilty about it. Actually blaming him for their being on the ice in the first place, and berating him for not doing more would be an asshole move even if this wasn’t a kid, but especially when it’s your kid. Mr. Gardner has jumped to a quick lead in our “worst comics parenting of 2013” list (far outpacing the Waynes, which is a feat, given that they are DEEAAAAAAAD!).
It does, however, raise interesting questions about just how Volthoom works. Seeing this change should bring about the kind of confused, frustrated, and ultimately pitiful reaction of George Bailey — that is, these images are upsetting, but this should feel more like a guided tour of an alternate timeline than the changing of everything forever. If that were the case, Guy’s reaction to his father’s totally inappropriate accusations should be of outrage or humor, not of actual guilt — not only did things not happen this way, they’re the fault of this magical being, and he’s observing it all with the level head of an adult (relatively speaking, of course — this is Guy we’re talking about). Instead, Guy is absolutely devastated by these changes, suggesting that Volthoom isn’t simply showing him something new, but has actually altered the past, such that Guy is feeling the scars left by that guilt trip all those years ago.
The next stop on the tour is an episode where Guy prevented a suicide bomber from blowing up a plane by shooting him (and causing his vest to explode) at the gate. People still died, which is why Guy was booted from the force, but he saved all of the passengers on that plane. Volthoom alters things such that Guy doesn’t stop the bomber, who instead boarded the plane and blew it up while it was still at the gate. As a terrorist plot, I’m not entirely sure why it was important the bomb be detonated on a plane if they weren’t going to fly somewhere — if they just needed a crowded place, they could have easily found one with WAY less security — but whatever. Guy dies in the explosion in this timeline, which seems like a weird place for Volthoom to bring Guy to — isn’t this all about emotional reactions? I get that the Guy watching these events wouldn’t like seeing himself die, but it’s not really possible for him to feel the emotional scars of having been dead.
Anyway, the third and final stop on our tour is that time when Guy turned into a Red Lanten, which Volthoom alters so that Guy kills everyone he loves, and is then attacked by the zombies of his siblings (because I guess this is still happening in that timeline, but not the timeline where he died). I’m sure this one is more exciting for those who remember Guy getting that ring in whatever crossover event, but it struck me as pretty bland.
For me, the meat of this issue is a two-panel exchange between Guy and Volthoom, just after Guy watches his siblings die:
Guy is reacting like any fan attached to their continuity. That’s not how things happened, and pretending like it is is perverse. Volthoom introduces the notion that the distinction between reality and what we perceive (or remember) might start to break down (blowing the minds of High School sophomores the world over). That’s an interesting point to make in a fictional universe, where the only thing that could make something “real” is our belief that it is. That’s a headier concept that I really haven’t left myself space to address here, so I’ll have to save my thoughts for the comments.
For now, I’m curious to hear what you think, Patrick. We suggested in our Green Lantern 17 discussion that Volthoom’s powers make him a surrogate for Geoff Johns (which I’m willing to extend to the other writers on this event), but then what do we make of Volthoom’s suggestion that he’s just doing this because he gets off on the emotional trauma he causes? Also, do you think it’s significant that Guy and Volthoom look so much alike, or is that just the way Fernando Pasarin draws all faces?
Patrick: Oh, that’s just the way Pasarin draws faces: lumpy.
It’s not totally clear what Volthoom’s power of Guy Gardner is at this particular moment, but I think you’re getting very close to it when you suggest that mucking with Guy’s continuity is supposed to elicit the same frustrated, confused reaction out of both the character and readers. Guy has always been a second-string Green Lantern, and he’s not exactly the most sophisticated vehicle for exploring subtle emotions. He’s a creative blunt instrument, and as such the history that this character has experienced is probably crazier than what we can consider to be canon for just about any other hero in the New 52. I’m convinced that writers have been able to get away with more far-fetched developments where he’s concerned for the simple reason that no one really expects that much from Guy Gardner. But, we can’t really say whether or not this specific version of Guy Gardner has experienced all that shit, so the show-stopping spread that opens the issue should make everyone take notice.
This drawing is a doozy. There’s a lot from Guy’s recent history in there (the Third Army, for example) and a lot of story beats from his past as presented in in flashbacks (and zero issues) in the New 52 (all that cop stuff). But then there’s also Guy as The Warrior — you see that version of him with no shirt on, and a fucking mace for a hand? There was a while that Guy was without a ring, and his DNA was altered so he could transform his body into any known weapon in the universe. That’s pre-Rebirth, by the way, but still sorta within the bounds of the reality with which we are presented. But there are also two New 52 first-time appearances in this image: Mongul (Guy, Kyle and Isamot are fighting him in the upper right corner) and the Anti-Monitor (lower left). Both of those entities play enormous roles in shaping the pre-Flashpoint continuity for the Green Lantern universe, and for the DC Universe as a whole. The Anti-Monitor especially doesn’t jive with the New 52 — he’s essentially The Crisis Machine, a being that literally devours universes. Someone correct me on this, but I thought official word from editorial was the the Crises never happened.
Even that last battle where Guy attacks his friends as a Red Lantern is an odd combination of things that did and didn’t happen. Guy has attacked the Corps twice as a Red Lantern — once during Blackest Night and again during the War of the Green Lanterns. In the former, he was exclusively Red (not Red and Yellow) and Hal Jordan was elsewhere (instead of in the battle itself). In the latter, Guy was channeling Violet and Red (again, still not Yellow), and the other Earth Lanterns were all wearing different colors (Hal: Orange and Yellow, Kyle: Blue, John: Indigo). That makes this a muddled reference to a past that definitely didn’t look like that — but also… sorta did… Guy responds to this directly, just like any long-time fan would (and sorta as I just have), by insisting that the memory isn’t totally right.
In presenting all of these things that either did or did not happen to Guy, Volthoom is doing exactly the same thing I did when I first started reading Green Lantern books — trying to figure out who he is. And it’s all valuable — whether it happened one way or another — seeing how Guy responds to the situations he finds himself in defines the character. It is an abstract concept, but it’s not what happened to the character that defines him. I might not be able to justify all the stories I’ve read about Guy Guarder on Wikipedia and in the comics, but they all necessarily work together to create a single character whose impossible history is less important than his compelling present.
I almost can’t believe that the crossover starts this way. I’m not sure if I believe Volthoom currently has the power to change history like this or if he needs to collect all this emotional energy before he can make those changes. The Green Lantern team is clearly going for broke here, as they seemingly nuke All the Continuity. It’s amazing how powerful the idea is that the Green Lanterns are fighting to preserve the old stories I value — it makes their goals weirdly in-line with my own. If Guy Gardner were just struggling to free himself and rescue some aliens or a pretty girl or some gold or whatever, I could empathize with him, and hope he succeeds for the character’s sake. But the damsel in distress in this story is something I actually care about.
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?