Today, Drew and Mikyzptlk are discussing Green Lantern 26, originally released December 4th, 2013.
Drew: Any 8th-grade social studies student can tell you that colonialism is a sticky subject. Many decry the loss of indigenous cultures, but how do you weigh that against the boon of western medicine? Are we morally obligated to preserve human culture at the cost of human life, or vice versa? That question only gets stickier when you take those other cultures into account — perhaps they value these things differently than their would-be colonizers. These are questions that have tormented philosophers for centuries — exactly the kind of thing Hal Jordan might blunder into unwittingly. Green Lantern 26 finds Hal struggling to impose his rule on Dekann and while he succeeds, his victory suggests a disturbing new status quo within the Green Lantern universe.
Hal and Kilowog are hopelessly outmanned by Nol-Anj’s Clann, so they call in every Green Lantern everywhere for backup. Faced with certain defeat, the Clann offers to surrender on the condition that Nol-Anj goes free. Trying to avoid a massacre, Hal agrees, but insists that Nol-Anj surrender her Star Sapphire ring. It’s technically a win, but it required so many additional forces as to completely contradict Hal’s goal of conserving emotional energy.
That last bit in particular reminds me of the hand-wringing first world countries have done as China has risen to a lead emitter of greenhouse gasses. It was okay when they did it, the argument goes, because they didn’t know how much damage they were doing. It’s bald-faced hypocrisy — the kind I might reject in a narrative if it wasn’t such a perfect parallel to a real-world situation.
But energy conservation isn’t the only real-world problem paralleled here. As I mentioned in the intro, Robert Venditti has his sights set on the murky subject of colonialism.
“You’ll be better of without him.” Hal says, with exactly zero authority on the subject. Hal views the Clann’s actions as criminal, but for their families, it is simply a way of life. Hal upholds the laws that make sense to him, even at the cost of being the criminal in the eyes of the people. It’s both a heroic stand for morals, and a tone-deaf appreciation of cultural differences, all at the same time. I love that Venditti isn’t afraid of letting Hal make an ass of himself.
Of course, it turns out that that kid isn’t a kid at all — he’s one of those shape-shifting Durlans we met back in Green Lantern Corps 21. It’s a deliciously nonsensical twist, but it suggests that the Lanterns may have a much bigger villain to worry about than stray rings.
Actually, Hal’s mission to hunt down all non-green ringslingers may ultimately weaken the universe’s defenses against whatever it is the Durlan’s have planned — a fascinating parallel to anti-gun-control messaging. If the populace isn’t well armed, how can they hope to fend off attacks from criminals? Of course, the GLC will still have guns, but that leads to concerns about abusing that power. Those concerns become ever more valid in the face of Hal’s might-makes-right approach to remaking the universe in his image. Perhaps these planets need a means of protecting themselves from tyranny, after all.
In making the rings dangerous weapons and copious users of finite resources, Venditti has fused the seemingly unrelated subjects of gun control and responsible energy use. Indeed, he zeroes right in on their similarities by creating a faction of Lanterns to act as conscientious objectors. Of course, they don’t seem to object to the idea of using force to get their way. Hannu et al. are carted to Dekann, where they engage in hand-to-hand combat in the name of imposing order. They object to using emotional energy personally, but seem to have no trouble supporting its users in a gratuitous battle (that ultimately may have used more energy than Nol-Anj ever would have in her entire life). I would have liked to see an advocate of non-violence (or at least more of a struggle winning over Vath), but I can understand why one wouldn’t exist within the corps.
Wow. There’s a lot to unpack from this issue, and Venditti seems content to let most of it marinate in the gray area. For me, the loss of clear cut right and wrong is one of the most refreshing changes from the Third Army/First Lantern arcs. Of course, with all of the parallels flying around, the subtext runs the risk of spinning out of control. We haven’t seen that happen yet, but I’m not sure I’ve gotten my head around all of the ideas introduced here. What do you think, Mik? Are you enjoying all of the ambiguity here, or would you have liked a little more defined morality?
Mikyzptlk: I love it when my superhero comics are imbued with moral ambiguity. I mean, moral ambiguity surrounds us every day in the real world, and it’s up to us to cut through that as best we can in an attempt to do what we think is right. We might fail in that attempt every once in a while, but hey, most of us at least try, right? When our favorite superheroes are confronted with that same ambiguity, it’s interesting to see how they deal with it. It can be an uncomfortable way to explore a particular character, but if it’s done right, it can also be a great way to do it.
Right now in Green Lantern, Hal Jordan is being…kind of a dick. Okay, okay, let me rephrase that, Hal Jordan is a being a total dick. Alright, I know I’m not being fair here, but neither is Hal. He has, entirely on his own, decided to police the use of the emotional spectrum. Sure, he’s trying to do the right thing. Like, he’s trying to prevent the destruction of the universe. At the same time though, he’s using emotional energy in order to prevent others from using emotional energy. Obviously, that’s just a tad hypocritical.
Supposing that there is such a thing as an absolute right and wrong, and supposing that certain Lanterns are doing the “wrong” thing with their light, that still doesn’t give Hal or the GLC the right to impose their new restrictions on the universe. It seems to me, as of right now at least, a GL should be able to stop a Red Lantern from terrorizing a planet, but a GL shouldn’t be able to stop a Red Lantern simply for using his or her light.
Of course, that’s just my opinion, and some of you out there might disagree with me, but that’s exactly my point. Hal hasn’t really stopped to consider that there might be other ways to handle policing the light. Hell, he hasn’t even had a meeting with any of the other Lantern Corps leaders out there. Nol-Anj says it herself:
The depletion of the reservoir is something that effects all of the Lantern Corps. They should all have a say in how the light should and shouldn’t be used from now on. Is Hal going to realize this? I’m not sure, but it’s going to be interesting to see where he (and this series) goes from here. I’m all for my superheroes struggling with issues like moral ambiguity. In the end though, they need to figure out how to do what’s right. Otherwise, what’s the point of superheroes?
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?