Drew: When M*A*S*H ended its 11-season run in 1983, it was one of the most beloved series on television. Its series finale, “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen,” a movie-length victory lap, was more widely watched than that year’s Super Bowl — or any Super Bowl before or for twenty-seven years afterwards. Like I said, beloved. We don’t yet have sales numbers on Green Lantern 20, and while I doubt it will post Super Bowl-beating numbers (even by comic book standards), the similarities are striking: it was an extra-large conclusion to a beloved, nearly decade-long run. Point is, it was going to be a tough act to follow, yet Robert Venditti (who readers might recognize from his work on Valiant’s X-O Manowar) handles the transition with surprising grace, staying true to the spirit of Green Lantern while adding something unexpected to the mix: the spirit of the New 52.
Let’s be clear: I don’t want to begrudge Geoff Johns or his fans the conclusion to his epic — I totally get it, and actually enjoyed most of it in spite of my naiveté. What I want to do is express that Johns cheated the “relaunch” spirit of the New 52 when he wrote Green Lantern 1. It picked up immediately after the War of the Green Lanterns, and while it paid minimal lip-service to explaining the universe, it gave no context for most events, from Sinestro regaining his Green Lantern ring to Hal losing his own. Again, I’m not complaining — I still managed to enjoy it just fine — but it was expressly not the inviting starting point the New 52 was designed for. Instead, DC delayed that relaunch by about 20 issues, giving Johns an opportunity to put the bow on his Green Lantern work that the previous nine years deserved. Of course, starting from scratch is also just a smart move for avoiding comparisons to a beloved, 9-year body of work, so it was smart move on Venditti’s part for many reasons.
The issue finds Carol breaking up with Hal because she loves him too much. It’s not clear if this is to preserve her sanity or her Star Sapphire powers, but their discussion is cut short when Hal is called to Oa by the Templar Guardians. Those adorable little guys are shirking their guardianship in order to re-familiarize themselves with the Universe, so they’re handing the keys over to Hal — apparently they took that “greatest Green Lantern” stuff to heart. Hal begrudgingly takes the job, and his first order of business is to send out rings to recruit replacements for all of his fallen comrades. And just in time — Larfleeze has just shown up to take whatever he can from a relatively unguarded Oa.
I know I’ve already mentioned how many smart choices Venditti is making here, but these are some smart-ass plot-points for a relaunch, paying respect to the character’s history while laying a path for something new. First things first: that breakup is a classic Hal/Carol scene. It’s in Carol’s office at Ferris Air; it’s both about his performance as a test pilot and as a boyfriend; hell, Hal’s even wearing his white t-shirt/flight jacket ensemble.
Emphasizing the status quo like this only makes it all the more refreshing when Venditti zigs instead of zags — sure, this “breakup” isn’t the most earth-shattering, but it establishes Venditti’s pattern for breaking from Johns’ established norms.
The next obvious bold move is making Hal the leader of the Green Lanterns, a role that he is decidedly not suited for. It’s the Peter principle at work — he’s the greatest Green Lantern, so that must qualify him to be the best leader, right? — which demonstrates just how little the Templar Guardians understand both Hal and the task they’ve just assigned him to. Hal’s strength comes from his maverick independence, which aren’t really the greatest traits for a leader. Kyle (whose penchant for New Guardians apparently had him babysitting the Guardians until Hal arrived) is quick to point this out, making for one of my favorite exchanges in this issue.
This new job is going to put him in all kinds of unusual places, and I’m excited to see where Venditi takes us.
Speaking of that new job, Venditti also makes the brilliant choice of bringing in a fresh crop of new Green Lanterns. They’ll be fresh faces to get to know, but they’ll also have fresh eyes to see the world through. They’re my favorite meta-text for Venditti learning the Green Lantern ropes, but pretty much everything in this issue has a clear analogy to what both Venditti and the GL audience are doing here: characters, roles, and relationships are all changing, and while that can be scary, it’s also kind of exhilarating. At its heart, Green Lantern has always been about overcoming fear, and I think the shakeups here fit that model perfectly.
I hate to qualify my praise of this issue by its relationship to Johns, so I’ll simply say that I was impressed. Still, I’m curious to hear how the reactions of those more invested in Johns’ run might differ. Patrick, was this more bitter or sweet? Scary or fun? Is Venditti throwing out the baby with the bathwater here, or are all of these changes as smart as I think they are?
Patrick: I mean, even if he is throwing out the baby with the bathwater, both are almost a decade old and this point: that baby’s no longer a baby. What’s happening in this issue is actually kind of scary and fun at the same time. Drew, you mention that you don’t want to begrudge Geoff Johns and his fans their big conclusion, but Johns’ writing is particularly hard to champion these days. We can theorize about why that is (in fact, I expected a spirited debate about Johns’ writing in the comments most of the articles we post), but the fact of the matter is that we’ve had to apologize to own sensibilities any time we picked up a Green Lantern with poor characterization or a trade-ready meandering story. I still love the spirit and mythology of Johns’ Green Lantern, but it wasn’t always easy to be a fan. In that way, Carol echoes my sentiments exactly when she breaks up with Hal.
I’m glad for the break from Johns’ Rebirth-to-Rebirth epic, now that I don’t have to worry about where it’s going or how I feel about it on a moment-to-moment basis, I’m free to simply love it with all my heart. Reading this scene made me so happy – like Venditti knows just how I feel and wanted to express it just once up top.
There’s also a lovely transition here from old threats to new threats. Larfleeze and his army of orange construct ghosts might be storming Oa by issues’ end, but the baddy shown in the opening flashforward is someone else entirely.
If you’ve been following the September Villains announcements, then you might recognize that dude as Relic – a brand new Big Bad for Hal and the corps to fight. As much as this issue wants to hold on to what’s so special about the extended Green Lantern universe (we do have a White Lantern, Agent Orange and a Star Sapphire in this issue), there’s still room to at least hint at the new direction and the new world for this series.
Speaking of new-for-this-series: I love the mild reshuffling of Corps assignments. Drew mentioned the newbies — and they’re all adorable — but I also like seeing Kilowog in a role that is immediately more active in the story, but still not perfectly suited to his skill set. Kilowog’s a secret weapon in GL universe: he can kick ass, but he’s also a big softie. Save a few stories in Green Lantern Corps, I felt he was under-utilized over the last decade. If he’s acting as Hal’s #2, but also sort of as his secretary, THEN I AM SO THERE. I suppose it begs the questions of who’s going to train the new recruits but, well, they have to survive this initial encounter first. (Spoiler: we already saw one of them die.)
Venditti is laying the groundwork for a lot of interesting stuff in the future, but it never comes off as beleaguered set-up. He can play expository scenes for their value as character insights or even just as straight humor, and no page feels wasted. Let’s take the example of the Green Lantern guarding the Sciencells – you know, the one that stays behind during the attack to flirt with his prisoner:
First of all, how can you help but love that tiny-whale Green Lantern? He’s a small space whale wearing a green body-sock! But the rest of this plays out simply, engagingly and organically. Look how efficiently we get the gist of their relationship. One question, one answer. We already know this is going to be trouble, and I’m looking forward to watching that unfurl in issues to come.
There’s so much remarkable happening in the story that neither of us have mentioned Billy Tan’s art. There’s a lot of dense blocking in this issue: we frequently get 4, 5, 6, dozens of characters moving around a single space. It had become kind of common practice on GL books to sacrifice clarity of action for grandeur of presentation – more gigantic poses and fewer fluid fights. And that was fine (even kinda awesome) for the kinds of chaotic battlefield stories that Johns was so fond of writing. For the time being, I’m happy for the change of pace.
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?