"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
Film, Comic Books
I have written before, I’m sure, about my deep and abiding affection for the Green Lantern Corps, but here are some more bona fides: I actually think the GL oath works better when it’s spoken aloud. All the various power-ring premiums from Blackest Night still can’t compare to the glow-in-the-dark model which came with the first issue of Green Lantern: Mosaic. I admire the simplicity of the Gil Kane-designed GL uniform. I even liked the ring’s old weakness to yellow and its 24-hour charge.
Having said all that, I can sympathize with Tom Spurgeon:
I firmly believe I’ve read my lifetime’s allotment of Green Lantern stories the same way I’ve seen my lifetime’s allotment of “Becker” and sat through more than enough South Pacific and never again should have to listen to anything by Bon Jovi. If I had known Mr. Space Cop With A Magic Ring would make this unlikely comeback, maybe I wouldn’t have spent that Saturday afternoon in 1997 with a pile of the Dave Gibbons stuff. As it is, I break out into a cold sweat at the thought of catching up with the bulk of this material. I can’t be the only one. I’m sure I’ll get it done, because I should know and understand these comics, but I’m not unhappy to put it off for a while yet.
While I think he’s just talking about “knowing and understanding” the current series, much of which points to the multicolored Corps and Blackest Night, I’m here to tell Tom — or anyone who feels compelled to dive into the deep end of Green Lantern lore — don’t worry about it. Speaking as someone who just bought GL Archives Volume 6, and who has read just about every main-line GL story from the Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams days forward (including the Flash backups), it’s my humble opinion that there are long stretches of Green Lantern which practically dare the reader to cross them. (Hal’s year-long exile from Earth and the Peter David strips in Action Comics Weekly come immediately to mind.)
I also think there have been a number of good-to-great Green Lantern runs. The original John Broome/Gil Kane stories could get very goofy, but for the most part it was pretty solid (although issue #45 retired Alan Scott’s tubby sidekick Doiby Dickles with the delightfully goofy “Prince Peril’s Power Play”). Naturally, O’Neil and Adams’ issues are probably at or near the top of any given list, and I imagine many modern fans have a high opinion of Geoff Johns’ current work.
Entertaining arcs can be found in the ‘80s and early ‘90s too. Marv Wolfman and Joe Staton took Hal back to the 58th Century, introduced the Omega Men, and produced one of my favorite arcs, “Doctor Polaris Conquers The Universe” (vol. 2 #s 133-35, October-December 1980). Under Len Wein and Dave Gibbons, Hal quit and John Stewart became his permanent replacement; and under Steve Englehart and Joe Staton, John came into his own. I hope DC reprints the Englehart/Staton issues tying into Crisis On Infinite Earths (#s 194-200, November 1985-May 1986), because they pitted John against both Hal and the newly-reactivated Guy Gardner, ultimately making room for all three Lanterns to contribute to the book. Englehart and Staton stayed on Green Lantern for just over three years, from May 1985’s #188 through the end of Volume 2 (#224, May 1988), transforming it into Green Lantern Corps and fleshing out such familiar characters as Arisia, Salakk, Ch’p, and Kilowog.
After that, though, the concepts were pruned. The Guardians had already left for another dimension, looking to make the next generation of omnipotent space-babies with their Zamaron counterparts. The thousands-strong Corps was reduced to just four (Hal, John, Guy, and Ch’p), and (as Guy became part of Justice League International) the title itself was made into one of Action Comics Weekly’s two standing features. I tend to prefer Priest and M.D. Bright’s stories (ACW #s 621-35), the last of which featured the mysterious Lord Malvolio and was continued in the creative team’s Green Lantern Special #2 (1989). The two Specials, and the Emerald Dawn miniseries, also helped pass the time until GL Volume 3, launched by Gerard Jones and Pat Broderick in the fall of 1990.
With Broderick, and later with Bright, Jones crafted an enjoyable blend of Silver Age whimsy with more modern sensibilities. The first few years of Volume 3 rebuilt the GL Corps, but they also established a new multicultural “mosaic” community on Oa, reinvented Krona as the omnipotent Entropy, and worked out unique and complementary roles for Hal, John, and Guy. Jones went on to write John’s spinoff, the underappreciated Green Lantern: Mosaic, as well as (with Will Jacobs) the first eight issues of Guy’s eponymous series.
Nevertheless, Jones’ tenure was cut short by DC’s desire to replace Hal, and that brings us to the Kyle Rayner years. Goodness knows I don’t want to get into the great Hal-Vs.-Kyle debate, because I don’t have any particular animosity towards Kyle … but I’m also hard-pressed to find an especially memorable run of Green Lantern during the ten years he was the lead. Instead I find myself thinking of Kyle’s place in Grant Morrison’s JLA, where his rookie status was mined more effectively. Morrison’s JLA-centered DC One Million captured Kyle’s place as the last Green Lantern perfectly, by making his ring one of the future’s most coveted lost treasures. Meanwhile, in his own book Kyle was torn between his own destiny and that of the lost GL Corps, never able to embrace either fully and risk alienating a significant number of GL fans. Admittedly, I haven’t read a lot of Kyle-era Green Lantern in the six years since he ceded the spotlight, but there’s probably a reason for that.
(Again, though, this isn’t really a Kyle-bashing post….)
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I mention the wide sweep of Green Lantern history to note this: the opportunity to make such sweeping pronouncements comes from the luxury of perspective.
Make no mistake, it is a luxury; because there aren’t too many long-running superhero comic books which haven’t gone through at least one dry spell. I was not really a Flash reader for the last several years of Barry Allen’s title, but thanks to Tom Katers’ great Tom Vs. The Flash podcast, I can get a feel for what it must have been like watching Barry deal with Iris’ murder month after month. These days, with Barry and Iris reunited, it’s almost like those six years (and seventy-five issues) have become moot — like it’s issue #274 (June 1979) again, except Wally West is ten years older and the Allens have a super-fast grandson.
Clearly that’s a rather facile way to look at the current status quo. Unless superhero stories are decanonized by some cosmic fiat (and sometimes not even that does the trick) they can still influence the latest issue. Good, bad, happy, sad, it makes no difference. Ethan Van Sciver, speaking at WonderCon, was just one of the latest comics fans to state that ostensibly “bad” stories, including catastrophic events like GL’s “Emerald Twilight,” can be repurposed for later events like GL: Rebirth. That’s barely an end-justifies-the-means argument, because often the “end” is the restoration of what the “means” upset, but it’s accepted practice. It’s nothing new: Hal’s year in space (which started in v. 2 #151) was set up by the Wolfman/Staton run and followed up in the Wein/Gibbons issues, and the underlying concern — Hal’s constant chafing under the Guardians’ authority — arguably wasn’t resolved until the events of issue #200, over four years later. For that matter, I daresay Hal’s rebellious relationship to his blue bosses was only most sincerely settled when he killed most of them in “Emerald Twilight.” It sure hasn’t been a problem since he’s come back from the dead himself (courtesy, of course, of GL: Rebirth).
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And speaking of dysfunctional relationships, we superhero fans have really constructed a fascinating codependence around the serialized periodical, have we not? We can look back at hundreds of single issues spanning decades, and divide them into big chunks like slicing up sides of beef. Here’s the steak, here’s the chuck, here’s the hamburger. We are economical, though: we want to use as much of the cow as possible. What we lose sight of, and what must fuel at least some part of our weekly habit, is just that notion: that even in the bad times, even when the solicitation told us three months ago what would happen, this issue is going to be worthwhile.
Now, by no means am I saying that we who show up every Wednesday should either pat ourselves on the back for our perseverance, or continue to reward publishers who rely upon unwarranted optimism. No one should force himself unnecessarily to read bad comics, and no one should try to justify a bad comic with the unwarranted hope of its eventual redemption.
However, there is something to be said for a series which inspires that kind of devotion. If you want to see Gil Kane’s or Joe Staton’s signature styles emerge, you’re in for a treat. If you want to revisit the mid-‘70s, when Denny O’Neil was writing for Mike Grell, Alex Saviuk, or Joe Staton, be my guest. (From what I remember, those issues are decent enough, and you’ll see what put Guy in that coma.) If you just want to catch up with Johns’ run, that’s fine too — those issues have all been collected, and were probably written for the trade.
As much as I like the convenience of reprint collections, though, there’s nothing quite like going through a stack of single issues for appreciating how longtime regular GL readers might originally have experienced the book. After all, that’s how someone like me feels comfortable spouting off about what holds up and what doesn’t….