Today, Michael and Patrick are discussing Green Lanterns 14, originally released January 4, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS!
Michael: Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern run has had many lasting impacts on the Green Lantern universe, prominent among them is the concept of the emotional spectrum. In the realm of Lanterns, ROYGBIV = Rage, Avarice, Fear, Will, Hope, Compassion and Love. It’s a simple enough concept that marries each color ringbearer to their respective emotion: Red Lanterns are exploding with hate and Blue Lanterns are perpetual optimists. The most interesting set of lanterns that seems to break this trend is the Indigo Tribe, who become enslaved by compassion and transformed into almost completely different individuals.
In Green Lanterns Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz have been fighting Frank Laminski, who wields the phantom ring: a ring that channels all the powers of the emotional spectrum. Green Lanterns 14 opens with Laminski shifting to the Indigo light of compassion. He is overwhelmed by the emotion of Indigo power, apologizing for all of the harm he has caused since he put on the Phantom Ring. Of course neither Jessica nor Simon hear any of this because Frank is speaking the Indigo Tribe’s language (Nok?) as asks for forgiveness. As the ultimate act of his compassion, Frank takes off the Phantom Ring and immediately becomes a power-hungry douche bag. The nature of the Indigo ring has always intrigued me. On some level Frank has to mean the things he says, right? The common conceit is that “the villain is the hero of their own story,” but at the same time they have to know on some level that they are in the wrong. We saw in previous issues how Frank took his heroic turn when he channeled willpower but he was still an arrogant ass. It isn’t until he turns Indigo that he faces the trouble he’s caused in his Lantern quest.
How great is it to be once again be living in an era where Green Lantern books are entertaining and engaging? HJ&TGLC is keeping it real in space while Simon and Jessica have been finding their groove together as Earth’s Green Lanterns. There’s something about this dynamic that I really dig, perhaps because they’re actually friends now. I like my superheroes to be working together instead of needless infighting. Sam Humphries gives Baz and Cruz separate internal monologues in each issue, which shows their differences without making them define their relationship. I also think I just like when Simon calls Jessica “J-Bird.”
Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz are a couple more Geoff Johns additions to the Green Lantern mythos but Humphries has fleshed them out. In particular Humphries has tapped into the potential of Jessica Cruz in a way that Johns never could. Baz has got a great origin story and I’ve always been fond of his design but Jessica is the standout character of the series. In Green Lanterns 14 Jessica overcomes her fear and puts on the phantom ring to keep it away from that nut job Laminski. It’s rewarding story moment when after cycling through the emotional spectrum the ring reverts her to then green color of will. This reassures Jess – and us – that she is worthy of the ring and that she’s stronger than she knows. Simon is tempted to try on the ring again but changes his mind because he’s afraid of what color the wheel of fate will land on – maybe red? Yellow?
Actually strike that, the real reason he doesn’t put on the phantom ring is because Jess calls his name and brings him back to reality. This is better really, because it shows how strong their bond has become. Maybe somewhere down the line we will see what color Baz would turn to if he and Jess became separated.
Back in Green Lanterns 10 I criticized artist Eduardo Pansica’s portrayal of Baz trying on the phantom ring and cycling through the emotional spectrum. That same effect is used here when Jessica puts on the ring, so at least the guy’s consistent. This series has a humor and heart that speaks to me, sold by the joy that Pansica draws in Jessica and Simon’s faces. I’m as tickled that Jess saves the day with her wobbly constructs as she is. If she’s as much of true GL as the phantom ring is suggesting then shouldn’t she be forming some legit constructs by now? What’s taking so long?
Patrick! How did you enjoy the closing chapter of “The Phantom Ring”? I liked the way that Jessica got her Volthooms mixed up but isn’t one spelled with “Volthoome?” In his compassionate state Frank refers to humanity as “snowflakes.” Lately all that makes me think of is the term right-wingers use for liberal “cry babies.” Do you think that was intentional or do I need to stop watching Fox News? Don’t answer that last part, we all know the answer.
Patrick: Actually, Michael, I think you’re on to something there. One of Frank’s complaints is that the Green Lantern system is rigged against him — a common complaint made by Trump, even after he won the election. His choice of language when he’s tied up to the Lantern statue in the park is also revealing of this connection. Frank says “I could have been big-time,” which is only a shade off of Trump’s perplexing use of the “bigly” or “big league.” Humphries is clearly laying groundwork here for a ton of stories down the road, as is teased in the Volthoom / Rami body-swap, but it really looks like he’s installing a Trump-esque villain that he can pull back out in a few months. Also, I know Frank’s always been a blonde dude, but I’d swear that Pansica is drawing his face with a little more muppet-y Trumpness than he had been in previous issues.
But let’s put my political paranoia aside for the rest of this piece so we can focus on what the issue actually explores: an expansion of the Green Lantern mythos on Earth. One of my persistent complaints about Green Lantern comics is the constant abstraction that comes along with the cosmic setting. Placing a story on Earth is a shortcut to verisimilitude – I know Earth, and can fill in the gaps. Take me to Korugar and I start asking questions about what’s happening outside of the city that’s being overrun by Sinestro’s fascist regime. (Surely, there’s something outside of that city.) When you’re off planet, you lose any familiarity with the culture, language, customs, religions – hell, it’s a miracle we understand ANYTHING on an alien planet, and that’s something that Green Lantern necessarily takes for granted. It’s hard to be a space cop if you can’t bring your own assumptions about right and wrong to every alien word you visit, right?
Which is why it’s so important to me that there’s a strong arm of this franchise that takes place on Earth. I have mentioned this in previous write-ups, but I adore Humphries’ decision to stage this final fight at the site of a previous Green Lantern victory on the Earth. That setting reminds us that this planet is already inextricably linked to the Corps, specifically to Hal, John and Guy. Where the “Phantom Lantern” story differs is that Earth is now the place where Volthoom stole the soul of one of the exiled Guardians and assumes his identity for himself. Those are elemental building blocks of the Green Lantern mythology, as both Rami and Volthoom explicitly remind us during their confrontation.
Yes, yes, you’re both very important.
By the way, I love this sort of negative inking / coloring effect on Volthoom. It makes the character feel otherworldly and positively haunting. I’m not quite sure who to praise for that, as it looks like Ronan Cliquet handled pencil and inking duties on a few of these pages, but the credits don’t specific which.
And I’ll wrap up by steering back into my political paranoia: I do think it’s telling that the only thing that undoes the egomaniacal, power-hungry villain is a sudden burst of compassion. Empathy is important, both for leaders and for heroes. If you lack it, you inevitably become the villain.
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