Grumpy Old Fan | Closing the Book of Oa on the Geoff Johns era
Who’s your Green Lantern writer?
If you started reading the series in the ‘60s, odds are it was John Broome. He didn’t write every Green Lantern story of Hal Jordan’s first decade, but he was there for the character’s introduction (in September-October 1959’s Showcase #22), and he lasted until March 1970’s Green Lantern #75.
If you joined the Corps in the the ‘70s, your Green Lantern writer was Denny O’Neil, who had already written a few GL stories before getting the regular gig with the landmark Issue 76. He guided the feature through some rocky patches — including the book’s cancellation, its time as a backup feature in The Flash and its 1976 relaunch — before finally taking a bow with June 1980’s Issue 129.
The ‘80s saw a parade of writers, including Marv Wolfman, Mike Barr, Len Wein and Steve Englehart (and in GL’s time as an Action Comics Weekly feature, Jim Owsley/Christopher Priest and Peter David). Each made his own contribution, be it Hal’s exile from Earth, John Stewart’s star turn, the Guardians’ sabbatical, or the enigmatic Lord Malvolio. The early ‘90s belonged to the neo-Silver Age stylings of Gerard Jones, and the balance of the decade was all Ron Marz and Kyle Rayner. Starting in 2000, Judd Winick took on Kyle for three years, then Ben Raab wrote a few issues, and Marz came back for one last crack at his creation.
And since then, it’s been all Geoff Johns.
For more than a hundred issues (counting specials and miniseries), Johns has been pulling together various bits of Lantern lore and weaving them into a multicolored tapestry that spans the Emotional Spectrum. It ends in this week’s Green Lantern Vol. 5 #20, which (if you count the two-issue War of the Green Lanterns miniseries that closed out Vol. 4) would also have been the 500th issue of Hal’s original series. Penciled by Doug Mahnke and inked by committee, with a handful of pages drawn by various art teams, it’s a handsome issue that still might not make a lick of sense to a newcomer. I’m not sure I know exactly how things went down, and I go back to the O’Neil days.
However, that might not matter for readers of Issue 21. If you’ve seen the house ads for the four (with Larfleeze, soon to be five) Lantern titles, you know who survived, and you’ve gotten big hints that a couple of them are in new positions. In Issue 20, Johns restores some old relationships, revives an old rivalry, and even offers a glimpse at the future. Maybe that’s just his parting gesture to the various Corps. Maybe it’s even a nod back to the Alan Moore prophecy that informed so much of Johns’ early GL work. This issue was for the longtime fans, and if they’re not entirely satisfied, at least they got closure.
See, for me the thing about Volthoom was that he was just too nebulous a threat. The Sinestro Corps and the Black Lanterns were these monstrous armies bent on destruction. The First Lantern just went around forcing our heroes to relive painful moments from their pasts. Sure he’d imprisoned the Guardians and wanted to enslave all life in the universe, but throughout “Wrath of the First Lantern” that never seemed like his main purpose. When his minions were fighting Simon, Guy and B’dg on Earth, that was exciting; the rest just felt like filler. Paced a little differently, it might have been an interesting divergence from constant combat, but instead it made me long for the combat.
This issue wasn’t much different. At one point Volthoom gets the “spark” he needs to start rewriting history — something Hal tried to do back in his Parallax days, which I thought would get more play than it did — and Kyle notes that “[h]e’s taking apart the Life Web. History is coming undone.” That sounds nice and cosmic, and it is preceded by a decent-sized panel showing the universe in Volthoom’s hand. However, the actual unraveling turns out to be just a couple of lines of dialogue.
To be sure, there are many Big Moments in this 59-page story, including Hal leading an army of Black Lanterns, Hal versus a turbo-charged Sinestro, Guy and John leading an army of Green Lanterns, Kyle and Carol Ferris leading the Blue Lanterns and Star Sapphires, Mogo unleashing an emotional-spectrum blast on Volthoom, and Hal back in the green suit. While these are all entertaining, and serve the story well, they also highlight the extent to which the issue runs on spectacle.
In other words, for all the world-building Johns has done, and all the ink devoted to how the power rings and associated energies of the Oan-derived mythology work, things just happen in this issue, either without explaining why they’re happening, or relying on the reader filling in the explanations.
First, Hal escapes from the Dead Zone by commandeering Black Hand’s power ring. I found this one of the least-problematic plot elements, as a.) Hal can still function in the Dead Zone, and b.) that makes him well-suited for a Black Lantern ring. (Hal also gets some help from the Indigo Corps, whose powers are sufficiently vague.) Later, after Volthoom has extracted the fearful Young Hal from his older self, the latter uses the Black Lantern ring to revive Nekron (Blackest Night’s lord of the dead). However, if Nekron kills Volthoom, that’ll have horrible cosmic consequences, so Hal then uses the black ring to suck all the emotional-spectrum energy out of Volthoom. This is nothing new for the black rings, but again, a reminder would have been nice. Also, as with history unraveling, Hal’s emotion-sucking is a small part of a small panel. Being drained of emotional-spectrum energy apparently allows Volthoom to be killed, so Nekron obliges. Regardless, Hal is still dead — but the reunion with his younger self (which, honestly, is a nice moment) somehow brings him back to life, thereby making him eligible once again for the Green Lantern ring. All these plot elements are undoubtedly defensible using previously-established GL stories, but here they come at you in rapid succession, and without much in the way of elegance or precision.
Much the same goes for one of the final plot points, Sinestro’s ultimate vengeance against the Guardians. It happens off-panel, and as Sinestro describes it could have happened during the time he was away from the main action, but I still went back two or three times to make sure. I will say this issue fits perfectly with Johns’ previous use of Sinestro as both tragic and monstrous, and even the last glimpse of him in the story’s closing pages doesn’t quite redeem those off-panel actions. Sinestro comes out of this issue clearly positioned as the Green Lantern Corps’ ultimate adversary, and both Johns and Mahnke sell his journey effectively.
Nevertheless, the issue suffers from an Isn’t This Awesome attitude that it hasn’t necessarily earned. Sure, Hal’s spent the past few issues in the Dead Zone, and before that his GL service was largely dependent on Sinestro’s generosity. We know Hal is going to be a Green Lantern once more, and it’s not a surprise to learn the “Templar Guardians” will eventually take over for their corrupted siblings. There’s even a line late in the book that suggests Hal will be guiding these new-to-the-job Guardians for the near future. That has the potential to be a good inversion of the “Guardians are always up to something” plot onto which Johns and his predecessors often fell back.
Indeed, as we might have guessed, this issue serves largely to restore the standard Green Lantern Corps status quo. Hal and John are in leadership roles, Kyle remains the White Lantern, and Guy is going to be a Red Lantern for a while. Johns and a passel of guest artists show us our heroes’ respective futures, but the issue-by-issue work of Lanterning will continue.
Before that, though, the issue goes out of its way (almost literally — the tributes are spaced throughout the story) to honor Geoff Johns, with laudatory quotes from comics luminaries, DC-affiliated folks, and even a couple of family members. Between Johns leaving GL and the wrap-up of Grant Morrison’s Batman work, this may well be the end of an era for DC. I wasn’t especially fond of this arc, and I’ve had my problems with Johns’ GL work here and there, but by and large I thought it was the best thing he’d ever done at DC. When it worked, like with “Sinestro Corps” and the leadup to Blackest Night, it was riveting. Even when it didn’t, it was still entertaining.
Most importantly, it can be an example of the power of a consistent creative voice. Here’s hoping DC sticks with as many New 52 creative teams as it can. I’d love to celebrate nine years of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo on Batman, Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellatto on The Flash, or Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang on Wonder Woman, to name just a few. That’s why I’m excited for Doug Mahnke to join Johns on JLA.
As for Green Lantern and its ring-slinging counterparts, I’m looking forward to what Robert Venditti, Billy Tan and company have in store. Even if their tenures don’t last quite as long, they may still be memorable. After all, while GL was going through its big 1980s creative-team turnover, Alan Moore, Kevin O’Neill and Dave Gibbons gave the world an apocalyptic prophecy and a set of unusual Green Lanterns, and look what came out of all that.
But that’s the future. Today, Geoff Johns has left Green Lantern better than he found it. In 2004, the thought of bringing back Hal Jordan was the fever dream of a small group of vocal fans whose enthusiasm wasn’t always endearing. In fact, in 2004 Hal Jordan was still atoning for being an omnipotent mass murderer. His Spectre series hadn’t lasted that long and he was in danger of becoming another Silver Age relic. Besides, Kyle was already rebuilding the infrastructure of the Green Lantern Corps (as shown in the Last Will and Testament of Hal Jordan graphic novel and in GL Vol. 3 #150). Heck, Kilowog had come back to life before Hal did.
It would have been easier simply to put Kyle into Hal’s old role as Sector 2814’s protector, first-in-your-heart among an army of Green Lanterns. It was a lot harder to convince readers that Hal needed to be revived — but Johns did it, infusing Green Lantern: Rebirth with a sense of inevitability arising out of some expertly-marshaled continuity points. It’ll take a while to re-read all hundred-plus issues of Johns’ run, but I bet when this Vol. 5, Issue 20 finally comes around again, it’ll all have been worth it.