Today, Mark and Patrick are discussing Green Lantern 38, originally released January 7th, 2015.
Mark: My least favorite part of any story that follows the traditional hero’s journey is when we get to the Reluctant Hero. You know, the part when, after being given an incredible power like, say, a ring that allows you to construct anything with your mind using only willpower, the hero complains about how much responsibility they have and how difficult their life is. It’s like listening to a teenager complain about their feelings: “My life is so bogus. No one understands but me. You guys are so phony!”
Comics can be a lot of things, but I don’t feel like it’s going too far to say that traditional superhero comic books are generally a form of escapism and wish fulfillment. We read these books for the same reason we watch movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark: fundamentally we want to be Indiana Jones. We want to be the Green Lantern.
Having a superhero doubt himself or refuse his calling is usually done with the good intentions of wanting to humanize the character; to ground the crazy world of superpowers in a realistic and relatable way. The Justice League: They’re Just Like Us! The problem is that a superhero just like teenage Mark Mitchell is no fun at all. It’s like when you watch a celebrity interview where the celebrity talks about how difficult it is being famous. I don’t doubt for a second that it is challenging and there are a lot of downsides to being a world famous figure, but it’s still hard to feel too bad for them. Same with a superhero filled with doubt. You’re wondering who you are? You’re the fucking Green Lantern and that’s awesome.
Green Lantern 38 is the start of a new arc, a place setting issue where Hal Jordan is basically given a timeout by the Guardian grownups, and spends the rest of the issue just wanting to be left alone. After choosing to team up with Black Hand to defeat the New Gods— and destroying Oa in the process— Hal is ordered by the Guardians to return to Earth and bide his time while they consider a future course of action.
Like a mix between It’s A Wonderful Life and Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Hal is joined on Earth at Pancho’s by three ghosts of his past: Guy Gardner, leader of the Red Lantern Corps and protector of Earth, Barry Allen, Hal’s former teammate on the Justice League, and Carol Ferris, aka Star Sapphire, aka Hal’s ex-girlfriend.
Guy and Barry are there to cheer Hal up, but of course Hal’s not in the mood. People just don’t understand how he feels. But when Carol shows up their on-again-off-again relationship is brought to the forefront. And how could it not be? Hal is full of feelings. Carol is now dating former Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, and Hal’s not happy about it. My favorite bit is Carol talking about what a great guy Kyle is, and how happy she is with his, but then not ten seconds later this happens:
Carol, what are you doing? That’s not what you say when you’re in a happy relationship! And why do you look exactly like Jennifer Connelly in profile? Now I guess fly off to be with your boyfriend? Mixed signals!
Green Lantern as a series has had an identity crisis since Geoff Johns passed the torch, and I dropped it from my pull list for a while last year before picking it up again with the New Gods arc (which I liked quite a bit). It just feels like DC institutionally does not know what to do with this character anymore, and he’s falling into Aquaman-levels of indifference.
That indifference is also evident in Admira Wijaya’s pencils. Generally the art is fine, though characters’ faces are constantly morphing and the whole issue lacks a sense of rhythm and motion. Take these two panels from the bottom of page 10:
There’s nothing technically wrong with these panels, but they’re basically just storyboards. The whole issue feels that way: workmanlike and proficient. It gets the job done, but that’s about it.
Patrick, I recognize that many of the problems I found with this issue are very specific to my particular taste, and to someone who doesn’t share my annoyances, it’s potentially a fun and interesting read. Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner, and Barry Allen get in a bar brawl? That should be great! So with that in mind, what’d you think?
Patrick: I maintain that you don’t have exceptionally weird taste — at least not so far as these kinds of slow-down issues are concerned. You’re right: the log-line “Hal Jordan, Guy Gardener, and Barry Allen get into a bar brawl” should be an awful lot of fun. More than that though, it should say something about who the characters are and how their relationships have evolved since they saw each other last. I mean, “hometown-bar” is a setting we’re all familiar with, especially just coming off the holidays where many readers no doubt spent a few awkward hours trying to cram their new lives into their old lives. It’s an anxiety-producing scenario; some of your friends are better off than you, some are worse, ex-girlfriends moved on, and despite how important you all felt to each other once upon a time, your classmates continued to grow and live without you in their lives. That’s one of those “I’m not the only person in the world” moments, and that’s a powerful lesson, if, y’know, you choose to explore it.
I guess my biggest problem with the issue is that I can’t quite tell what point Robert Venditti is trying to make. Hal doesn’t cause any of the problems in this issue, nor does he solve them – he’s just kind of a witness to some of his friends acting a-characteristically. Frankly, I’m a little perplexed as to why Barry wouldn’t have quickly WHOOOSHed his friends out of the bar at the first sign of trouble (or better yet, caught the beer he was spilling in the first place). Even Guy Gardner cracking a dude over the skull with a pool cue just because… well, fuck, I don’t even know what motivates that.
That’s not particularly superheroic behavior right there — especially for a guy who is supposed to be so experienced in expressing his anger.
I’m also constantly frustrated by this franchise’s treatment of Carol Ferris. She’s the heir to the Ferris Air fortune, and the superhero Star Sapphire, but the only way she ever seems to matter is by dating Hal or not dating Hal. This issue, in particular, displays very little respect for the character, right down to the way Wijaya draws her.
Check out the pose in that first panel — it’s exhausting. Hip popped, right arm sensually draped over her butt — what is she posing for? And the less said about the body-twist in the second panel, the better. Plus, what the hell is she wearing? It’s a chilly enough evening that Hal wears his bomber jacket, Guy wears a leather jacket, and Barry wears a down vest. But Carol? She doesn’t even need a whole shirt. Again, this is a grown-ass woman, former CEO, and supposed emotional crux for this issue, and no one involved seems to respect her at all.
Ultimately, what I find frustrating about this issue may be the same thing Carol finds frustrating about Hal: the character has no real identity anymore. Carol has faith — as I do — that there are compelling answers out there. Her last line in the issue is “Keep searching, Hal, you’ll find yourself some day.” What Venditti and Wijaya attempted here is noble — a hang-out issue with a bunch of my favorite heroes — but the trick only works if the readers can empathize with the characters. I don’t need to have ring-slingin’ in every issue, in fact, I relish the opportunity to be reminded of Green Lantern’s humanity. Unfortunately, this story has neither.
Also, what key is Carol dangling on her finger when she first gets to the bar? If it’s a car key, she’s just sort of leaving it in the desert when she speeds off in to space via Star Sapphire power.
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?