Today, Michael and Patrick are discussing Green Lanterns 9, originally released October 19th, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Michael: Is today gonna be the second day in a row I write about what makes a good supervillain? I think today’s gonna be the second day in a row I write about what makes a good supervillain. Green Lanterns 9 is true to its name in that it features multiple wielders of Willpower, but mainly it focuses on a man who is posed to be Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz’s new foe.
Green Lanterns 9 centers around the life of a man named Frank Laminski. Like Green Lantern golden-boy Hal Jordan, Frank was a test pilot for Ferris Air who prided himself on having no fear. After Hal saves him from his crashing plane, Frank decides that he wants to become a Green Lantern himself. The majority of the issue runs parallel the history of Earth’s Green Lanterns as Frank goes kind of nuts, trying to prove his worth to the ever-watching Green Lantern ring in the sky. By the end of the issue Frank feels like he has been completely rejected by his ring god until a mystery man tells him about the Phantom Ring, which will grant powers to anyone who wears it. That mystery man? None other than The First Lantern himself: VOTHOOM!
Sam Humphries has really been upping his game in the last few issues of Green Lanterns and Green Lanterns 9 was yet again another pleasant surprise for me. Comic bookdom loves itself a flipside villain, doesn’t it? From the very first page of Green Lanterns 9, we are reminded of Hal Jordan’s now very familiar origins. The unusual bright red that colorist Blond uses for Frank’s plane “The Flaming Spear” itself reminded me of Abin Sur’s ship (at least how it was in Green Lantern: Secret Origin.) Frank isn’t exactly Hal Jordan’s opposite but he’s definitely a piece of him. Frank is both the tragic villain and the Forrest Gump of Green Lanterns history – he was very nearly offered the power ring that ultimately went to Simon Baz. That part seemed like a bit of a stretch to me, however. You’re gonna just flaunt yourself in front of this poor man and leave him with blue balls (green balls?) in favor of Baz? Dick move, ring.
I’ve seen people want to harness the power of the Green Lantern ring before but I think this is the first story I’ve read where someone is actively trying to prove themselves for it. There’s a lot to unpack about the idea of being found worthy by a GL ring and just what that entails. We know that to inherit a ring you must “have the ability to overcome great fear” and be full of willpower, but it kind of seems like you just have to luck into it right? You could say that Frank Laminski is the opposite of Hal Jordan in that he’s actually trying to achieve the ring whereas Hal just stumbled onto it. We all love Hal, but in high school terms Hal is the cool jock that gets the girl; Frank is the nerd that wants the girl but isn’t cool enough to date her.
We place a lot of stock in the “reluctant superhero” idea. Most superhero origins start off with the hero coming into their powers/role/purpose by a series of chances. It seems very rarely do we reward the one who sets out to be a hero. Why is that? Ego? If Frank Laminski does indeed become Phantom Ring (because that’ll be his name) then he’ll be in the company of Reverse Flash, Superboy Prime and Syndrome from The Incredibles: villains who were inspired by their heroes to become super themselves but ended up villains. I’m not necessarily saying that Frank should be a Green Lantern, because he’s very clearly unhinged. I’m actually just grateful that this story got the wheels in my head to start turning the way it did.
Green Lanterns 9 has a tiny whiff of Rebirth to it as well. I’m a sucker for DC history montages, so I was a happy camper that we got to see the history of our favorite GLs through Frank’s eyes. Robson Roscha peppers in classic continuity throughout: afro-ed John Stewart, Guy Gardner and the Justice League International, Kyle Rayner in full ‘90s facemask and a scene from Green Lantern Rebirth. I love that shit. Roscha does some great work with Frank’s facial expressions; especially when he’s beaten to hell, begging for the ring. He could use a little more coherent detail on the wider panels populated with multiple characters however. It’s a slight criticism for a book that I really enjoyed overall however.
Patrick, whaddya got? Were you moved in any way by Frank’s plight? Any thoughts on lucky heroes? Are you excited to see Volthoom again? I can’t tell if I am or rather just nostalgic for the epic GL days of yore. Final thought: a guy named Frank Laminski was never going to be a hero. Are we afraid to make a Polish American the hero???
Patrick: Eh, give it time. There’s enough of a comic scene in Chicago that a Polish American superhero is bound to break through some day.
I am moved by Frank’s plight! As someone who has frequently tried to emulate the work of artists, writers and performers that have changed my life, and struggled to find success (whatever that means), Frank’s non-stop grind hits very close to home for me. I think all of us with artistic ambitions can say we accept that luck plays a big role in what sticks and what falls away, but that’s a frustrating reality to contend with. Humphries has certainly felt everything that Frank has felt, and they’ve both been led on paths that allow them to wear a Green Lantern ring, in one form or another. It is disheartening to see friends and strangers elevated ahead of you, but that’s a constant to aspire to.
My favorite scene in the issue is when Frank decides enough is enough: he’s just going to be a superhero with or without the fucking ring. Rocha delivers a very Batman-Year-One-esque hero shot of Frank, complete with crappy mask and body armor.
The buildings in the background even have a bit of a Gotham City (or New York) vibe to them, and the examples of dangerous jobs that Frank takes include being a guard at Arkham – specifically guarding Joker’s cell. (That panel is sorta hurting for detail though – that fire escape isn’t much of an escape without stairs or a ladder or anything. Right now it’s just a tiny, ugly metal balcony, which doesn’t make sense.) Frank’s first night out is disastrous, if in a very low-stakes kind of way. He confronts a bike-thief and then gets his ass handed to him when the thief and his two friends wail on him in a dark alley. Frank’s voiceover in the moment he’s being pummeled is basically perfect — it’s that melding of self-delusion and mania that either leads to success or psychosis. Let’s take a look at it:
“A lesser person might have felt broken. Humiliated. Not me. I believed a brighter day was right around the corner. I was happy to take a beating for a power ring. But even with relentless dedication, it’s hard to believe in something that doesn’t believe in you.”
That’s an insightful summation of how it feels to be ambitious. Success requires frequent failure, and while that’s a mantra I can repeat over and over again, failure itself is always going to make me feel bad. So I guess I’m saying that I identify with Frank quite a bit.
Michael, I wanted to loop back around on the coincidence it seems like you didn’t like that much – Baz’ ring originally heading to Frank. Keep in mind that this is the first time we’ve ever met this character. In all likelihood, the reason we’re following him at all is because he was the original intending recipient of Simon Baz’ ring. That’s cannon, by the way – if you flip back to Green Lantern 0 (or just our write-up of it from four years ago), you’ll remember that this ring is a weird conglomeration of Hal and Sinestro’s old rings that sought out a bearer when they both died. So perhaps this ring was always destined to create not only a Green Lantern, but a Green Lantern and his rival. That’s a great pull, and an amazing mythological detail to expand into something greater. That’s exactly the kind of thing that Geoff Johns used to do, piggybacking off the cues of the greats that came before him (like how “Blackest Night” finds its origins in a Green Lantern Corps penned by Alan Moore in the 80s). Even the structure of the issue itself is borrowed from Blackest Night 1, which follows the origin story of that story’s villain, Black Hand, without so much as checking in on our heroes.
Humphries acknowledges, and even honors, the vast creative history of which is a now a part. Frank Laminski may not have ever found acceptance by emulating his heroes but Sam Humphries has. I can’t wait to see how either of them wield this power going forward.
But he should Frank called “Phantom Lantern” right? Not “Phantom Ring?” He wears the Phantom Ring to become the Phantom Lantern. Or maybe we flip the language and call him “Green Phantom?” Let’s sweat the nomenclature guys!
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