Today, Patrick and Mikyzptlk are discussing Green Lantern 23.1: Relic, originally released September 4th, 2013. This issue is part of the Villain’s Month event. Click here for our Villains Month coverage.
Patrick: Hey, everyone: meet Relic. What’s that, you say you’ve already met? Oh, well let me tell you about this universe where emotions were weaponized as beams of solid light… Yeah, now that you mention it, that is sorta like the universe we’re currently in. Okay, okay, what if all these different emotion-based factions were constantly at war, sometimes with each other and sometimes united against a common foe? That’s pretty cool, right? Shit, you’re right, that is also just like the modern Green Lantern universe… what if I told you there’s a conservationist allegory and 20 splash pages drawn by Rags Morales? There’s the meat of this thing!
This issue takes place in “the existence before ours.” As I teased above, this universe plays by basically the same rules as our current Green Lantern Universe, only they use the word “resolve” instead of “will” and “fury” instead of “rage.” The biggest difference between this Universe That Was and the Universe That Is is the existence of a scientist who postulates that there’s a finite amount of emotional energy in the universe. But it’s difficult to prove, and everyone is just so comfortable with their societies powered by light, so his warnings go unheeded. The citizens of the universe even go so far as to give him the derisive nickname “Relic” – implying that he was an enemy of progress. But he keeps up the good fight… right up to the point where the emotional reserves dried up completely. As the universe collapsed, Relic drifted through the crumbling wall between realities and found himself in our universe.
This issue utilizes my least favorite storytelling method: simply telling me what’s happening. There’s not a single line of character dialogue in this issue, and it’s never clear that the narration has a specific perspective at all. The third-person omniscient narrator only reinforces the idea that we are tourists in Relic’s world. In fact, nearly everything about this issue seems to be designed specifically to push the reader away. There’s not a lick of humor, and despite an appearance by the End of the World, no action. Each page is a full-page splash (with a single two-page splash at the beginning), giving the feeling that you’re not so much reading a comic book, as getting a history lesson accompanied by a vibrant slide show. Y’know: like this is some alternate-universe Ken Burns documentary.
And just like a Ken Burns movie, those visuals are almost striking enough to forgive any faults in the storytelling. I discovered Morales through his impossibly expressive work on Identity Crisis. That’s such a highwater mark for me that I find I’m always comparing comic book acting to my memories of Ralph Dibny mourning his wife’s death. Relic plays to these strengths in no way whatsoever – we don’t even see a human face until page 18. But it turns out, detail is detail and care is care, so Morales’s team (with inker Cam Smith and colorist Andrew Dahlhouse) achieve some absolutely jaw-dropping pages. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I’ll highlight one I found particularly interesting.
This is Relic appearing in our universe, but if you look in the background, you can see the hand of the “creator:” Relic, just like Kronos the Mad Guardian and Volthoom the First Lantern, was present at the creation of the universe. I like that Robert Venditti is attempting to place his own stamp on the Green Lantern creation myth. I just wish he would have used a more engaging method of storytelling.
The other problem is that Relic comes off looking like a fucking wiener throughout. There’s a pretty obvious connection between Relic and climate scientists – both are exclaiming about an impending doom that’s largely ignored by the very-comfortable purveyors of said doom. Why does Relic do this? Dunno. We never get a look inside his head and we never hear him speak. That last part is a shame because it’s literally ALL HE DOES: talk. Oh, and I guess he drifts ineffectively through space. I’m not sure how he gains the enormous power he seems to be displaying Green Lantern: New Guardians, or where he would have acquired such an appetite for murder.
And actually, on that note: does it make any sense that he’d want to kill all the light-wielders in order to preserve the light? For what purpose? As much as I like looking at Rags Morales’ artwork, I can’t say that I walk away from this issue with any better idea of who Relic is or why he wants what he wants. Mikyzptlk, how did you feel about this issue? I find it to be pretty, but boring, on my first read through. Subsequent reads have done nothing but emphasize both dimensions of that original assessment. Did you find something else to latch on to here? And also, which page is your favorite?
Mikyzptlk: Hmm…this is tough one. On the one hand, I find Relic to be a very interesting concept. On the other hand, I’m not so sure how interesting a character he’s shaping up to be. Ever since Relic made his debut in the pages of Green Lantern: New Guardians, I have been interested in learning more about him. He’s got a cool design, he’s going to be a part of the first big Green Lantern event under the new creative team, oh, and he’s a giant alien dude who wants to snuff out all of the Lanterns. I’m an easy sell when it comes to most things Lantern related, so that’s pretty much all I needed to know when it came to Relic. Then they sweetened the pot by revealing that Relic is from “the existence before ours.” I mention all of this because I was pretty excited going into 23.1, and, if anything, I’m excited to see what issue 24 of GL will bring.
But, okay, that was kind of dodge wasn’t it? To tell you the truth, Patrick, I’m with you in that Venditti could have chosen a better, more involving, way to tell us the history of Relic. At the same time though, I was interested in what I was learning. I’m not sure if anyone can tell, but I am torn by this issue. I liked the things that I learned about Relic, but it just wasn’t the most exciting way to learn it. This issue definitely suffered from being too passive. I mean, just because the issue was all a flashback, it doesn’t mean that everything had to be told to us in the past tense. This is where I make a reference to LOST. There, I did it.
Anyway, overall, while I didn’t enjoy how the story was told, I did enjoy learning the details. Also, as Patrick was saying, it helped immensely that Rags illustrated this thing. I couldn’t help but be mesmerized by the design of the Lightsmiths. I enjoyed trying to decipher how they were different and similar to our Lanterns, even if those things are mostly superficial. I would have liked to explore this Universe That Was just a bit more, which circles back to how I would have prefered to see a more personal tale. Like, take this guy for example:
This Green Lightsmith could have easily been a pal of Relic’s. Relic could have easily had a more personal investment in not only saving existence, but protecting his friend as well. Instead, we got the more impersonal story that we got. Patrick, I’d like to get into some of the questions you tossed my way. I think that I did get something else out of this story as I feel I do understand Relic more.
Relic’s universe was destroyed because the Lightsmiths drained the emotional spectrum. This issue reveals that without the spectrum, the universe loses its cohesiveness. In ignoring Relic, the Lightsmiths destroyed their own reality. As the cold and detached narrator states, “For the light wasn’t merely a distillation of emotion into energy, as they had long believed. It was the essence of existence itself.”
This turns Relic into my favorite kind of villain: the one who thinks he’s doing the right thing. At the end of the day, while this issue could certainly have been more personal, it succeeds in keeping me interested in the story to come. Oh, and Patrick? We both had the same favorite page!
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?