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Grumpy Old Fan | Closing the Book of Oa on the Geoff Johns era

Green Lantern #20

Green Lantern #20

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.

SPOILERS FOLLOW!

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.

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20 Comments

I’d settle for Kyle not being an all-but-omnipotent White Lantern. Or having Ganthet as a surrogate father. Or having “Kyle Rayner” be synonymous with the word “alley.” He wanted to take a leak, the line was too long . . . and Sinestro has to call him “alley rat” forever? Ugh.

Johnny_Thunders

May 23, 2013 at 4:13 pm

Enough of “the DC Comics’ gospel according to Geoff Johns”.
Thank you very much.

I have to say that … I actually think that the net result, some of which is the fault of the New 52, is not leaving the GL mythos in as good shape as he found it. Some of the new Corps were interesting, though not too logical and way, way, way too humanocentric, but currently Hal is a jerk, he still kills people and so do the GLC, the Guardians became outright evil… how is that an improvement?

I thought it was pretty great.

If we get nine years of Azzarello on Wonder Woman, that will mean ten-plus years since the character actually existed….

Ron Marz was my GL writer and Kyle Rayner my GL. Sure, I’d dipped my toes in the title here and there throughout the 70s and 80s but Hal Jordan was too boring IMO. I went along for the ride with Johns and thoroughly enjoyed it, but it was the Kyle Rayner appearances that were always a highlight. As for writers, Tomasi IMO is a stand-out as he actually made Guy Gardner into a likeable human being (although his journey really did begin in the Kyle Rayner GL series- Tomasi just perfected it.)
I’m going to say goodbye to buying GL and especially goodbye to Kyle Rayner for the immediate and possibly long-term future. The New 52 version of Kyle Rayner is a totally different character now and I find my interest has waned as a result. Still, I certainly have a lot of back-issues to read which will be fun.

“things just happen in this issue, either without explaining why they’re happening, or relying on the reader filling in the explanations.”

So, it was a Geoff Johns comic, is what you’re saying.

Jamie . . . does it console you that Kyle’s WL outfit comes with his old “crab face” mask? I found an article on Kyle in CBR, and I smiled seeing that mask design.

I came into the Green Lanterns when Steve Englehart was writing, and stayed through the Gerard Jones years, although I have to say that I was mainly reading Beau Smith and Warrior instead of Kyle’s adventures.

But I was enthralled with Geoff John’s Rebirth, and have been a fan ever since. It will be interesting to see what the new writers and artists come up with.

@Jamie

I’m of a similar opinion; My GL will always be Kyle Rayner, and as for writers, it’s between Ron Marz and Judd Winnick. I loved both of their runs, and you had some great art from the likes of the hugely underrated Daryl Banks and Dale Eaglesham. It’s a shame that like less than 10% of their combined runs is collected in trade, since the era that preceded Johns taking over wasn’t in anywhere near of dire straights as HEAT and Dan DIdio make out (at least from a critical perspective).

I also agree with the opinion that Johns is leaving the GL books in worse shape than he left them. A few years ago, I might have disagreed, but now it seems like you can’t do anything with the GL books without it involving at least two of the other Corps. They weren’t all that interesting, half of them still haven’t really been fleshed out while the others that have been fleshed out have also had their potential severely limited by the stories already told with them. Meanwhile, Before Johns took over, the Corp had been brought back, Kyle had not only been accepted by the larger fanbase for a while, but he was also being used in some great stories in and out of the GL books, and the GL book could stand on it’s own without centering on business around the different Corps 24/7. Kyle actually had some interesting villains that didn’t sport power rings, plus his ring wielding rival was a bit more interesting than the reluctant villain that Johns has been forcing down our throats for the past decade (it was interesting at force, but he’s been beating that dead horse since before Brightest Day). Kyle also had a supporting cast that I found a lot more interesting than Hal’s.

Overall, most of the praise for Johns that I hear from people I know personally is that he made the GL mythos more interesting with his Color Corps and new Lantern additions, his GL events, bringing back old Lanterns like Hal and Guy while still keeping Kyle relevant (although just barely at times), etc. – but all of those people also say that Hal is still as bland as white cardboard and he’s made it so that the GL books cannot function without either A) centering on Color Corps business or B) some long lost secret foe hidden by the Guardians. It’ll be interesting to see what the new writers do, but Johns pretty much left them at the end of a one way road with no gas left in the tank.

Also, my second Lantern is Guy Gardner, and his writers will ALWAYS be Giffen and DeMatteis. It’s either JLI Guy, or it’s not really Guy at all in my book.

*in worse shape than when he joined them

How many pages of tributes for Johns?

That guy didn’t invented the concept – what about the other writers that contributed to the long history of Green Lantern?

There’s so much exaggeration around Johns’ work.

No offence Harold, but while there have been a number of good writers on GL, and the character has been popular now and then over the last several decades, GL as a character has never been a cornerstone of the DC Universe until Johns took reign. Over the last 9 years the DC universe has centred around several GL stories and events, and Johns’ efforts made the character popular enough to be greenlit for a big budget movie (despite the less than favourable outcome) as well as DC Animated films and a series. His tenure as the main writer of GL was responsible for creating a comics franchise that rivals the X-Men (5 titles and featuring in Justice League.)

Think what you will about Johns you can’t deny the impact he’s had on the GL franchise. He deserves the praise for raising the GL profile. It will be interesting to see if the popularity endures over the next couple of years.

I give Johns a lot of credit for revitalizing Green Lantern, Sure, I think it’s fallen off a bit in recent years compared to the gripping storylines of the Sinestro War, but he was still doing work that I wanted to read. And given that he managed to maintain some level of quality and continuity while DC as a whole was driving off a cliff, he has my thanks. It was a good run, and I appreciate the hard work that gave it to us.

Geoff Johns is the reason I abandoned DC comics and it all began in Rebirth.
His efforts to make Hal Jordan an interesting character by a cliched characterisation as a : ‘no-nonsense- hard- a$$-womanising-innocent’ , was dull. Desperate attempts to make Hal the victim of a brainwashing alien parasite, rather than an genuinely interesting ‘fallen from grace’-Miltonesque character, are unforgivable. The de-aging of Hal with his white hair being a side effect of Parallax? The unlikely defeat of DC’s premier martial artist hero, without using a power ring? It was all just too much nonsense.
Since then he has been a one trick pony. Recycling other’s ideas, whilst resurrecting, well just about everyone.
I find his writing very poor and his vision limited, so I for one will be celebrating his departure as it may allow the Green Lantern mythos to recover from the Telly Tubby Lanterns Legacy it has been saddled with.
As one commentator said of Johns, who I wish I could credit by name, ‘He is just one very lucky fanboy, paid to write fan-fiction’.

I think of him as helping to *drive* DC off that cliff. Between Flashpoint, JL and the grimdark GL stuff, I think he’s been busily lowering DC’s quality over the last couple of years. He’s made Hal Jordan into someone who (in New 52) never deserved the ring, but also made the Guardians outright evil. Why should I care about those characters now?

Wow. What a terrible issue. I’ve recently returned to the comic book world and have been using the CBR reviews to grab some issues. Big mistake! Who are these idiots?! Seriously.

GL #20 was pretty confused and had a lot going on. Sadly, it did little to make me care. I looked into the recent writers people have been raving about, like Johns, and have been disappointed. This issue was nothing special and some of the other significant GL issues (by Johns) were underwhelming. Not a horrid book but I’d give it a 3 out of 5 stars.

What the hell happened to comics?! I see CBR reviewers giving such raving reviews to mediocre comics. I think I’ll have to ask others for some suggestions. Yikes!

I don’t know what all of you have been smoking but I’m sure glad I haven’t had any. Sour grapes.

i think that no matter the case of whether you like Geoff Johns’ writing or not, there is no denying the effect he has had on this character and his universe. i envy Johns’ ability to build worlds and bring emotion and meaning to the stories of Green Lantern. I became a fan of the Lantern universe in no small part to him because before Geoff Johns the Green Lantern brand wasn’t this vibrant at least not for a long while. I say thank you to Geoff Johns for making a Fan out of me particularity of the Green Lantern Corps book( i know he only wrote the recharge mainly but he helped re-build the mythology) Thanks Geoff Johns we should all be so lucky to have such a vivid imagination.

Honestly, I’ve always felt Johns was over-rated when it came to his writing, My first exposure to him was when he wrote The Avengers years ago…I found the stories to be boring, the characters – the long-time Avengers-to be uninteresting & not one of the stories he wrote have I felt the urge to pull out of its box & re-read – which is something I do with pretty much every other Avengers writer. Okay. for me, he suffered coming after Busiek’s awesome run, but I just felt Johns’ writing was, like another has commented, a fan-boy’s writing…fair enough to be a fan of the medium, but we expect good, clear stories, not the messes Johns has written.

Oh & nothing I’ve read of his since The Avengers has changed my original view of him…granted I haven’t read enormous amounts of his stuff, because I find after 3-4 issues, it’s underwhelming & uninteresting, Hal Jordan is still probably the most boring character in comics.

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