Today, Drew and Mark are discussing Green Lanterns 19, originally released March 15th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
What do you do?
Drew: I know a few people who love answering this question, but the majority of my acquaintances hate it — they resent the implication that they’ll be defined by whatever it is they do to pay their rent. I suspect (or hope, anyway) that those attitudes might change as we settle into more satisfying careers, but for many young people, their job is just a responsibility they take on to facilitate the rest of their lives. The odd thing about responsibility, though, is that it has a way of giving us tunnel vision, focusing all our energy on the responsibility rather than the reason we take it on in the first place. It’s the classic modern tragedy (or O. Henry short story, depending on how extreme the sacrifice), where the salaryman sacrifices the life he wants in order to afford that life. Something similar is at work in Green Lanterns 19, as both our heroes and our villain grapple with the responsibilities that have reshaped their lives.
For Simon, that responsibility is his penance for bringing his best friend (and brother-in-law), Nazir, out of his coma. He did it to save his friend’s life, but now feels he owes it to the Green Lantern Corps to be the best Lantern he possibly can, which has the ironic consequence of keeping him from spending time with his friend. It’s a choice Simon made, but not one he had talked over with Nazir, and the issue boils over as Simon sets to head out once again.
Simon is completely caught off guard by this outburst, but it makes perfect sense from Nazir’s perspective: Simon’s new responsibilities seem largely incompatible with being a contributing member of a household. Or, to put a finer point on it: when is Simon going to get a real job?
When you think about it, being a member of a galactic police force is a job, but it seems to be more of a volunteer-type thing. That is, most of the other Earth-based Lanterns we know keep up (or at least have historically kept up) day jobs, suggesting that it is possible, and maybe even necessary. Though I can also understand Simon’s position: being a Green Lantern is kind of a full-time job, even if he isn’t exactly being paid for it. Which is to say, I think the expectation that Simon contribute financially to his household is both totally reasonable and a huge ask. His responsibilities are in conflict, plain and simple.
Meanwhile, Neal Emerson is overwhelmed by his responsibility to cure his brother’s cancer. His is the classic “gotta save my loved one” villain motivation, though with a split personality thrown in for good measure. I haven’t followed any of his other appearances in Justice League vs. Suicide Squad, but I found his back story to be sufficiently compelling here. He isn’t the most stable, but he wants to help his brother, and circumstances keep forcing his back up against the wall.
But then, maybe I’m being too forgiving. Director Harcourt very specifically offers to allow Emerson to continue is research in custody AND help him with his own mental issues, so his refusal is motivated entirely on his desire to live free of the consequences of his actions. Moreover, that refusal takes the form of killing a roomful of Task Force X agents — Emerson’s responsibility to his brother may be humane, but it’s motivating him in decidedly inhumane ways.
In any event, I’m finding virtually every character here to be remarkably sympathetic. I can see both sides of Simon and Nazir’s argument, I can understand Emerson’s drive to save his brother, and I found Harcourt’s offer to be both reasonable and compassionate (especially in contrast to what Amanda Waller would have done). It’s a testament to writer Sam Humphries’ character work that all of these rang true and still drove some actual conflicts. Indeed, because Emerson is so sympathetic, I’m more invested in an ending that brings him to justice while also giving him what he wants. That may not ultimately happen, but it’s stimulating to not know where the tragedy in this narrative might strike.
Mark, I’m excited to hear your thoughts on the issue. I’ve been away from the Green Lantern titles for a while, but I was impressed with this issue. In addition to Humphries’ great character work, I enjoyed the heck out of artist Ronan Cliquet’s expressive faces and attractive hatching. This is a tight, eventful issue, all handled with a real touch for these characters. I’ll definitely be checking back in. Did this work for you as well as it did for me?
Mark: Way back in June of last year I briefly wrote about Green Lanterns 1, praising Sam Humphries for his characters even while I wasn’t bowled over by the plot itself. This is the first issue of Green Lanterns I’ve picked up since then and, man, I loved it, Drew. Humphries has a knack for writing these characters in a sympathetic way, and in pairing his characters with a story where those sympathies really feel like they matter he and Ronan Cliquet build an issue that checks all of the boxes: humor, pathos, action, everything.
One of the most infuriating storytelling devices used to cheaply heighten drama is having characters withhold information from each other for no other reason than that talking to each other would diffuse the central conflict of the story. Few things make me want to tear my hair out and yell at the screen. My current go-to example of this phenomenon is La La Land, a movie I generally liked (and for which minor spoilers will follow). In the film, Ryan Gosling’s character, Sebastian, dreams of opening a jazz club, but when he hears Emma Stone’s character, Mia, on the phone with her mother explaining that, well, no, he doesn’t have a “real” job right now he immediately interprets that as Mia wanting him to forego his dream in exchange for a steady income. This, of course, is not what Mia wants, BUT THEY NEVER TALK ABOUT IT so instead Sebastian’s decision to go corporate ends up being the first piece of a domino effect that breaks them apart. It’s never a good thing when the central conflict of your story could be resolved by a 15 second conversation.
But this write-up isn’t a critique of La La Land, it’s an opportunity to praise Humphries for getting it right in Green Lanterns 19. Simon, Nazir, Emerson, et al. actually discuss their thoughts and feelings in honest, recognizable ways, and the conflict in the issue comes from these complex human emotions not always being in line with one another. Watching this unfold is immensely satisfying as a reader, because even with a bird’s-eye view of the proceedings we’re never ahead of the characters.
We understand where Nazir and Simon are coming from, and, more remarkably, both Emerson and Director Harcourt as well. It takes a skilled writer to create a book wholly comprised of sympathetic characters. If I have one (minor) critique of the issue it’s that Jessica Cruz barely features in it at all. This is only the first issue of the arc and I anticipate her contributions will come in time, so here’s hoping Humphries is able to fold her emotional complexities into the proceedings as well.
As far as the art goes, in addition to helping Humphries create sympathetic characters with expressive faces, the detail Cliquet puts into his panels enhances the action as well. I’m especially taken with the page revealing the magnetic havoc Emerson unleashed on Harcourt’s foot soldiers.
From the small details like the nails embedded in the arm of the closest soldier to the carefully rendered-in-shadows corpse in the deep background, to the overall staging of the scene, this page is just one example of the work that makes Green Lanterns 19 one of the most visually appealing comics I’ve read recently.
I’m genuinely surprised how much I ended up loving Green Lanterns 19. It’s definitely earned a place on my pull list going forward.
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 Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?