Spencer: I’ve always thought that Johns’ version of the emotional spectrum was a little limited. There’s no color that represents happiness or joy? Nothing for sadness? I realize that the reasoning behind choosing those seven emotions probably came down to which ones could most easily be turned into superpowers, but with stories like Blackest Night boiling every aspect of human emotion down to these seven colors, I still find myself frustrated at times. Questions about the spectrum kept popping into my head as I read Cullen Bunn and Jesus Saiz’s Green Lantern: The Lost Army 1 — the issue focuses on the emotions of will and rage, and specifically seems to be interested in the intersection of the two. Is this Bunn’s attempt to expand and clarify the emotional spectrum? Do will and rage combined make aggression, a quality which John Stewart spends much of the issue ruminating over? I suppose only time will tell, but if nothing else, this debut issue has got me interested in finding out.
The story here finds John Stewart and a crew of other Green Lanterns (Kilowog, Arisia, Xrill-Vrek, and Two-Six), along with what appears to be a young, time-displaced version of the villainous Krona, fighting for their lives against a group of creatures designed to erase matter from the universe. Bunn drops us right into the proceedings, mostly glossing over the disappearance of Mogo and the Green Lantern Corps (established in Green Lantern 40) so that he can get to the consequences, which in this case is John and his crew being isolated from the rest of the Corps. The rest of the issue is likewise focused more on strange occurrences than the context behind them: John and his crew find dead Lanterns entombed in red crystal, stumble upon some kind of rage war-machine, try to figure out Krona’s deal, and encounter Guy Gardner, who suddenly appears wearing both a green and a red ring.
I absolutely adore Guy’s new design here — Saiz finds the most satisfying combination of Guy’s traditional appearance and the Red Lanterns — but what interests me most in this issue is the reasoning behind giving Guy these two rings. I can see two different paths — one idea may simply be that, since Guy is well known right now as both a Green and a Red Lantern, why not split the difference? The other is a bit more complicated, but I think it may also be more correct — what if Bunn is interested in exploring the way different emotions intersect? Guy’s equally willful and full of rage — what does that make him?
As I touched upon briefly at the beginning of this article, I think the answer may be “aggressive.” John spends the first half of the issue exploring how aggression can help soldiers stay alive during battle (note: I miss John the architect), but John’s version of aggression doesn’t make him wild or out of control, or even all that angry.
Even John’s aggressive side is straight-laced and serious! If anything, for John Stewart aggression is his focusing his anger into a more usable form — it’s literally a combination of willpower and rage, which is also exactly what Guy Gardner is in his present state. So what’s the connection between John and Guy here, if there is one? If there isn’t, why is Guy the one decked out with two rings when John’s apparently all about aggression? And why does John seem to equate aggression and rage with each other as if they’re the exact same thing when he discovers the war-machine, when his actions paint aggression as something totally different? Am I just reading too much into it?
I probably am, but in all truthfulness, there’s not really any way to know for sure yet. As I mentioned earlier, this entire issue mainly hinges upon these mysteries, without providing much in the way of context or resolution for them. I admire the guts it takes to drop readers into a story like this and trust them to figure things out for themselves, but I also worry that Bunn may be relying a bit too much on these mysteries. It’s not that there aren’t other aspects of this issue that are enjoyable (I’m especially fond of Saiz’s art — his characters are as appealingly rendered as ever, and his coloring work on the constructs and enemy creatures is absolutely gorgeous), but simply that every part of this issue exists to raise these questions — this is even why all the characterization focuses on John, Krona, and Guy, the characters who drive the mysteries, leaving everybody else a bit vaguely defined for the time being. The problem is, if readers aren’t invested in answering these questions, then they’ve got little reason to return next month — and if the answers eventually turn out to be let-downs, readers may regret ever sticking with the book in the first place.
Fortunately, we’re still far off from that point, and I am interested enough in the mysteries here that I plan to return next month to see them play out. Mark, what about you? Did you latch onto these mysteries and the questions surrounding emotion they raise, or was there something different that caught your attention? Do you have any more thoughts on Saiz’s art? And how many issues into this do you think we’re gonna get before John blows up a planet?
Mark: Can you imagine? Poor John Stewart. Two exploded planets can be forgiven, but three and we’re talking a pattern of behavior.
Spencer, I think you’re onto something with the combination of rage and will being aggression. We perhaps tend to think of aggression with a slightly negative connotation, but that’s not necessarily the case. It’s how that aggressiveness is directed that can be problematic, which is true of almost everything. I know the rules of Johns’ Green Lantern universe don’t really allow for anything else, but the idea that willpower can’t be just as evil as rage or greed has always seemed reductive to me. Introducing a combination green/red lantern that is aggression, if that is in fact what Bunn is doing (and who knows!), could be an interesting way to explore the more grey areas of the emotional spectrum. So while the matter-erasing creatures and the rage war-machine don’t particularly interest me at the moment, I am curious to find out what the deal with Guy Gardner’s new dual wielding ability is.
Speaking of Guy, I also agree that his transformation at the hands of Saiz from bad haircut rage bear to Sean Cody-ready space hunk is great (I recommend not Googling that reference if you’re at work). Saiz’s art in general is top notch this issue, and I especially like the colored outline given to each ring bearer that glows according to the ring they’re equipping. Of course Guy’s is split right down the middle.
There’s always risk in dropping readers right into the center of a story with basically no context and only the bare minimum of explanation, but in this case I wonder if the thinness of the supporting player’s characterization isn’t a conscious choice by Bunn. Even with the bare minimum possible explanation so as to not be incomprehensible, there’s still a lot of expositing going on in this issue. Just trying to explain what Krona’s deal is (without, you know, actually explaining what Krona’s deal is) takes up a sizable chunk of the issue’s middle. So trying to nail down strong motivations and personalities for everyone right off the bat is probably untenable in 20 or so pages. Still, there’s no shortage of mysteries being piled on here, and while that makes for an interesting hook (and I’m definitely on board to see how it develops), it’s not super sustainable long term.
The promotional copy for Green Lantern: The Lost Army promises “an incredible journey of discovery, survival, morality, and heartbreak” so it seems like Bunn has a lot planned in the issues ahead. There’s enough here to keep me interested, and, Spencer, I can’t wait to find out if your prognostications are correct.
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