Today, Patrick and Shelby are discussing Green Lantern 20, originally released May 22nd, 2013. This issue is part of the Wrath of the First Lantern crossover event. Click here for our First Lantern coverage.
Patrick: Geoff Johns’ final issue of Green Lantern is framed with a narrative device I was first introduced to in the movie The Princess Bride: the old man reading the story to a young man. The flick is an adaptation of novel, and the novel proports to be a rediscovered classic, heavily annotated by the “editor,” William Goldman (who actually just wrote the whole thing). All three of these example serve to elevate the story itself – you don’t need to look to the real world to find a captive audience, there’s one right there in front of you. This issue takes the entirety of Johns’ run and gives it a reverent audience, promoting the nine years since Green Lantern: Rebirth to mythic stature. I’ve been following the entirety of that run, so I’m part of that audience, and I’m moved and affected in very real ways reading this issue. But the bright lights and decades-old mythology groan under the weight of so much self-congratulation. This is a victory lap – mileage will vary.
Volthoom has the Guardians right where he wants them – held captive in a construct-bubble on Oa. He reaches into Ganthet’s mouth and retrieves The First Ring, which was evidently how Ganthet was able to hold on to his emotions for so long. Using this new ring, Volthoom restores emotions to all the Guardians. They hate that. So the stage is set: Volthoom is superpowered by all the emotion in the universe, The First Ring and The Central Power Battery. And he’s made it so the Guardians can be afraid of him too. That’s when everyone (and I do mean everyone) strikes back against him. John Stewart, Fatality, Guy Gardner, and the rest of Green Lantern Corps charge in with Mogo at their backs; White Lantern Kyle Rayner rolls up with Blue Lantern, Green Lantern and Star Sapphire support; Atrocitus brings the rage of his entire corps; Sinestro frees his own corps from the Sciencells and leads them into battle possessed by Parallax; and Hal comes back from the dead as a Black Lantern, marching with the Indigo Tribe and the risen souls of everyone Volthoom has ever killed. Plus Nekron. That’s right: as The Greatest Black Lantern, Hal is able to command the unliving embodiment of death. Working together (ish), they are able to drain Volthoom of his power and slice him the fuck in half.
That ultra-compound sentence (the one littered with semicolons) plays out beautifully and excitingly – each new army showing up just in the nick of time to keep the scales from tipping in our enemy’s favor. It’s the stuff of classic conclusions, but I’m struck by how amazingly deep each of the armies is that joins the final fray. It’s like the Battle of Five Armies at the end of The Hobbit, only you know the names of every Elf, every Man of Dale, every Eagle. I can’t count the number of times character or concept reveals made me squeal with glee. Chief among those reveals were Parallax and Nekron. I may have always wanted these uber-powerful beings to become a regular parts of the storytelling, but Johns was right to squirrel them away for so long. Seeing them both in rapid succession was enough to give me a little fan-freak-out. And I absolutely love the way Sinestro speaks to Parallax:
It’s like Johns going back to his tool case and pulling out that fucking awesome power drill he hasn’t been able to use for so long. Here’s where I think my opinion might diverge from someone like Drew, who’s only been reading this series since the launch of the New 52. I know exactly what Parallax is, I know all the baggage that thing carries around with it. As a short hand for “last ditch effort,” Parallax’s inclusion is positively thrilling for me. I could be wrong, but this might be the first time we’ve seen Parallax in the New 52. He’s the stuff of greater DC legend, so maybe the effect is universal. I’d be interested to see how powerful these kind of things are to new-comers.
Maybe it doesn’t matter. Even without the super-hugeness of that Space Battle to End All Space Battles, Johns manages to squeeze in a plethora of solid character moments, including my favorite piece of Hal Jordan history. In all the hubbub surrounding this event, I had sort of forgotten that Volthoom didn’t have an opportunity to plumb Hal’s history, which is easily messier than anyone else he juiced for strength. There’s no time to manipulate every crucial moment from Hal’s past, so Volthoom zips through his various superhero identities like he’s flipping though an Encyclopedia Jordanica.
But Volthoom identifies — as Johns did early on — that the formative moment of Jordan’s life was losing his father, and that’s the one fear he has to fight his entire life to overcome. It’s simple and elemental, and in the end, Volthoom’s best hope to take Hal down was the memory of that poor kid that just wanted his daddy back. No matter what enormous science fiction horror the Green Lantern has overcome, the anchor has always been compelling human. That’s why we bothered to come back for 100+ issues worth of his adventures in the first place.
This issue also touts an impressive number of guest artists (basically anyone that’s drawn a power ring in the last 10 years), but it’s the Doug Mahnke’s work that holds the whole thing together. He’s credited with over 50 pages of art for this issue, and he takes every opportunity to explode Johns’ character revelations on single, double and even gatefold spreads. Mahnke doesn’t ever really establish a solid sense of space during the battle — but when your characters are zipping at light speed between adjacent planets and/or disappearing and reappearing through portals, maybe space isn’t an issue. Whatever clarity of action is sacrificed is more than compensated for by the sheer number of poster-ready panels. It’s a spectacular, and Manhke spoils us by making grand, elemental drawings like this commonplace.
Shelby, you and I have a special little bond over Green Lantern: it’s the reason either of us started reading comics. I’m sure this issue made you feel an awful lot, but I’ve left you with a little more recapping and plot discussion to go over. I know you were pretty peeved about learning that the Guardians died in GLC 20, how did you feel about the treatment of that subject matter here? Also does it seems strange to you that the epilogue to this issue gave everyone a Happily Ever After, even though we know all these series will continue? And is it sort of a slight to future (and previous) Green Lantern scribes to say that Hal’s greatest story was bookended by Rebirths (as if to imply that anything before or after isn’t as important)? And finally, the old man telling the tale in the future – totally Sinestro, right?
Shelby: Oh, sure it is. I missed it on my first read through, but you’re totally right; he went back and burned his ending out of the Book of Oa, waited long enough for everyone to forget, and hopped back into the Corps again. Even Sinestro gets a happy ending.
That was what was most disappointing to me in this issue; the happy ending epilogue (or pre-epilogue, if you prefer.) Do any of you guys watch Supernatural? It’s a drama on ye olde CW about two brothers who fight ghosts, monsters, demons, etc. I’ve only seen through season five, but let me tell you, every season was better than the last. Season five: basically perfect, and the season finale of season five would have made a perfect ending for the series. All the characters’ stories were told, it was beautiful, until the last few minutes set pieces in place for the next season. That how I felt about this issue. Every big moment in Hal’s history with Johns’ got its moment, got its beat. We had our epic battle, chock full of cameos, the bad guy was defeated, there were losses on both sides; it was both a nice look back and a strong ending to the run. But then Johns had to pass around the happy endings.
As our mysterious narrator tells it Guy gets to run around space the rest of his life, being an ass and punching aliens in he face; John and Yrra got married and played in politics (snooze); Kyle became a damn dirty space hippie and used his White Lantern power to heal; and Simon went back to Earth to eventually bring the first lady Earthling into the Green Lantern Corps. The rest of Kyle’s team continued to well-represent their chunk of the spectrum, and the Corps got itself a set of brand new Guardians. And of course, Hal and Carol got married, which gave us the opportunity for this very cheesy image.
But of all the happy endings Johns felt the need to include, the one that did the most disservice to the characters would have to be Ganthet and Sayd. That’s right: Sayd. Sinestro had decided to keep Ganthet alive, and Larfleeze somehow reassembled all the pieces of Sayd; Sinestro reunited the lovebirds because he understood their loss. Not only is there zero explanation for how that could even happen (did Larfleeze put her back together in Threshold, or something?), their living happily ever after somewhat dulls the impact those characters and their love had. It doesn’t change the fact that Sayd sacrificed herself for Kyle and her last thoughts were of Ganthet, but it definitely cheapens it a little bit. I bitched a lot about GLC spoiling the deaths of the Guardians. I’m going to stand by that, I think the reveal of their deaths would had been even sharper had we not known. Johns was smart with his little trick; Hal rushes to save the Guardians and stops Sinestro, except that Sinestro has already been in and killed them. To know Hal, our hero, was too late is a punch in the gut; imagine how much more impactful it would have been if we didn’t know they would definitely be dead by the end of the issue? If we could have actually believed that maybe Hal really did get there just in the nick of time?
Sadly, I was disappointed in this issue. With the exception of the War of the Light stuff, I have read all of Johns’ run on this title. From Rebirth to rebirth, I have been there with Hal. As much as I love these characters and want good things for them, I think Johns went overboard and wrapped up everything too neatly and happily. I know it’s gotta be a challenge, when you want to make your characters happy because they are important to you, but I feel Johns sacrificed a lot of complexity for the sake of everyone getting what they want. I was excited about the idea of Hal Jordan as a Black Lantern for a while; if Rotworld taught me anything, it’s that death is just as important as life, and I believe Hal could make for a fair Black Lantern and a balanced emotional spectrum. Sure, it would be sad for Carol for Hal to be dead, but it would afford the reader a richer experience.
That’s not to say I’m not going to miss Johns on this title. Blackest Night is probably one of the most exciting stories I’ve read in a comic. Like Patrick said, if not for Johns (specificially The Sinestro Corps Wars) I would not be reading comic books right now. He has made an indelible mark on the Green Lantern Universe; Robert Venditi has big shoes to fill. I’m incredibly grateful for the work Johns has done. I just wished I had maybe stopped reading at “THE END.”
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?