Today, Spencer and Drew are discussing New Guardians 19, originally released April 17th, 2013. This issue is part of the Wrath of the First Lantern crossover event. Click here for our First Lantern coverage.
Spencer: Tragedy and loss are inevitable parts of life. We can’t escape it, but we can deal with it, and how we do so tends to reveal our true priorities and who we really are deep inside. Continuing Green Lantern: New Guardian’s habit of turning crossover issues into journeys through its characters’ psyches, writer Tony Bedard uses not one, but two tragedies—the destruction of the planet Korugar and the “death” of Hal Jordan—to shine a light deep inside Sinestro, Carol Ferris, and Kyle Rayner.
Still recovering from their encounters with Volthoom, Kyle and Carol search for more information on Hal Jordan’s whereabouts—but instead find the remains of Korugar and one very pissed off Sinestro. After a brief tussle and the arrival of B’dg and Simon Baz, Kyle tries to use the power of the White Lantern to restore Korugar, but fails. Sinestro attempts to seize the ring for himself, but is rejected, and with nothing left to fight for, rushes off with a Yellow Lantern to take his revenge. Meanwhile, Carol is devastated when Simon tells her of Hal’s death.
Let’s talk about Kyle first. Our favorite White Lantern is devastated to see the planet destroyed, not only because he’s an empathetic human being, but also because he has been to Korugar before and thought the people there got a bum rap. Even worse, his white ring causes him to see echoes of those killed in the explosion. I shared Kyle’s horror from the very first chilling sequence, where bodies float in space, mixed with everyday items and even the severed arms of two lovers, still holding hands. Bedard and Andres Guinaldo really sold me on the tragedy of Korugar’s demise, even though it’s a fictional planet that I previously had no attachment to. Still, the most heart-wrenching segment is easily the following:
As if the bodies of children floating in the empty expanse of space—making Kyle and Carol look small in comparison—isn’t enough, it looks like they’re the same children and guards Kyle saw in that heartwarming vision in the previous panel. Way to punch my heart in the face there, Bedard.
It could’ve easily been too much. We’ve been talking a lot in our Age of Ultron write-ups about ruin porn and Apocalypse fatigue, and while this issue is nowhere near that level, I still felt a little bad about enjoying all of this suffering, especially reading this so soon after the Boston bombings began. Fortunately, Bedard has something to say about this, in the form of Kyle’s opening monologue. Here, Kyle talks about a project he did in art school where he recreated the effects of the Hiroshima bombing with spray paint, and how ashamed he feels in retrospect. I can’t help but read this as an apology from Bedard, or at least as an admission that there is nothing fun about tragedy. It’s just what the issue needs to help move past the potential discomfort involved in these images.
I also want to talk about Carol Ferris for a minute, because I thought her reaction was interesting. While everyone else is grieving over Korugar, she’s relentlessly grilling Sinestro for information on Hal’s whereabouts. It struck me as a bit heartless at first; Sinestro may be a jerk in even the best of circumstances, but he still just lost his entire world. Then I remembered that I’ve often heard people who lost a mate or child in death saying that they “were their whole world”, and I imagine that’s how Carol feels, only amplified by a billion since she’s a Star Sapphire, and love is their whole purpose in life. The loss of Hal must feel just as painful to Carol as the loss of Korugar does to Sinestro.
Just look at Carol’s expression; that’s the face of someone who just lost everything she cares about. I really appreciate the juxtaposition of Carol’s loss with Sinestro’s, because while Bedard does a tremendous job of making us feel the loss of Korugar, the destruction of an entire world is still something we can only experience in fiction. The loss of a loved one, meanwhile, is a much more relatable, real emotion, and it adds a strong backbone to the issue’s more sci-fi elements.
However, there’s one scene that feels very odd to me. After the White Ring rejects Sinestro, Simon Baz gains its power, only to lose it mere moments later. While I loved seeing a glimpse of Simon’s faith and how it gives him strength, I’m not really sure what the point of the whole thing is, since it ultimately accomplishes nothing; remove that scene and the plot doesn’t change a bit, and we’ve already seen two people fail at using the white light, so why a third? Simon the White Lantern was the big surprise on the issue’s gatefold cover, so maybe the scene was an editorial edict? I’m at a loss.
Anyway, I could probably go on for ages about this — I didn’t even get a chance to comment on the art — but it’s time to turn this over. What do you think, Drew? Was White Lantern Simon Baz a gimmick, or was there a point to it I completely missed? What’s your take on all this tragedy? And do you think John Stewart can help the New Guardians find some “I’m sorry your planet blew up” greeting cards?
Drew: I think the weirdest thing about Simon’s show of faith is how out of place it is in the DC Universe. Sure, we have actual Greek gods running around, and Judas is treated as one of the worst sinners in the history of the world, but nobody ever seems particularly devout. In a world where people have all kinds of explicit connections to gods (or at least their spirits of vengeance), it’s interesting to see a more normal, everyday relationship to god. Of course, the fact that Judas’ betrayal is treated as, you know, WAY worse than any other betrayal suggests that, in the DC Universe, Simon might be barking up the wrong tree. In DC’s defense, that may not reflect what they think is “true” in the real world — they also feature time travel, people star hopping in excess of the speed of light, impossible female anatomy, and occasional freedom with syntax — they are working in a fictional universe.
That said, yeah, I think it was a total gimmick. Not only does it add nothing to the story, it doesn’t really make sense. It’s Kyle’s ring, and he’s right there. Why would it bother looking for a different host before coming back to him? I’m not sure if Simon donning the White Ring was a specific Editorial edict, or if Bedard was just hard pressed to come up with a surprise for the fold-out cover, but it really doesn’t work.
That’s particularly unfortunate, since the rest of this issue works so well. Spencer, you’re right to mention the connections we can’t help but make between this issue and the Boston bombings. In fact the destruction, death, and severed limbs make this issue feel downright prescient. Bedard acquits himself quite well of exploiting such destruction, focusing instead on what it means to the survivors. We see it run from the extremely personal of Carol and Sinestro’s losses to Kyles more removed but still horrified response. Recent events have, unfortunately, revealed the reality of those reactions, and I’m impressed that Bedard was able to handle it with so much class. Contrast that with Age of Ultron, which has spent its issues luxuriating in expansive, detailed landscapes of beautifully-rendered destruction, and you find that this issue is much more attuned to the emotions we feel after tragedy strikes. It’s more respectful of actual tragedy, but is also more respectful to its characters.
We weren’t the biggest fans of Andres Guinaldo’s pencil work on Nightwing, but I found his work here to be quite effective. One of our biggest complaints with Guinaldo’s Nightwing run were his occasionally wonky faces, but the acting here is fantastic. Sure, Guinaldo can’t figure out a way to make Kyle’s ridiculous mask make any sense, but I really think that’s more an issue of design than any failing on Guinaldo’s part.
Where is Kyle’s nose supposed to go? Doesn’t the thickness of that mask give him terrible tunnel vision? I get that Kyles an artist, but maybe form could follow function just a little bit. I also thought Raul Fernandez’s ink work does a beautiful job of simulating the detailed textues that have typified Aaron Kuder’s recent work on this title.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this issue. Sure, almost nothing happens, plot-wise — this issue ends in the same way Green Lantern 19 did: with Sinestro turning to the yellow lantern in hopes of vengeance — but it features some very strong characterizations that ground the characters in real, relatable emotions. Sometimes, it’s good to have our emotions validated by our heroes. This issue does that beautifully.
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