Green Lantern 21

Twenty-one months after the reboot, something finally changes in Green Lantern.

Whether you loved it or hated it, it’s hard to deny the sheer power of Geoff Johns’ nine year run on Green Lantern. When Johns got his hands on the franchise, Kyle Rayner was in a period of creative flux, John Stewart was TV’s Green Lantern, and fewer people thought of Hal Jordan as the Green Lantern than possibly ever before.

Originally the product of John Broome and Gil Kane’s revolutionary silver age reboot, Hal Jordan burst onto the scene in Showcase #22, a wonderful issue that holds up much better than many of its peers and predecessors. Hal was synonymous with the Silver Age of Comics, but, somewhat unsurprisingly, he didn’t weather its decline with the grace of some other heroes. In the Bronze Age, Hal became most famous for his team ups with Green Arrow, playing the by the book cop who was now teamed with a rag-tag social reformer, often learning lessons about what it means to wield power in the course of their adventures. In fact, when Hal returned to headlining his own series he burst onto the scene with silver streaks in his hair. Nevertheless, Geoff Johns found a way to channel the energy of those original silver age stories and make Denny O’Neill’s ultimate yes-man into the rebellious flyboy who frequently replaces Wonder Woman in DC’s attempts to market the trinity.

But that time is over. Sinestro was completely revitalized (literally) by Johns’ work, but he’s gone now. The Guardians of the Universe became a danger to all of creation, but Oa has a new overseer now. Simon Baz is Earth’s fifth Green Lantern, but it seems that Johns took him in the divorce. And what about Johns’ other legacies?

Still (and I realize how much this review has been about what came before, but bear with me for a moment longer), Johns was hardly without fault. Many feel that the book dragged between Sinestro Corps War and Blackest Night, and I felt that it started to fall apart around issue 60. Though the reboot seemed poised to deliver a return to glory, it never managed it. What went wrong? Well, I think that the increasingly fanatical focus on Hal’s superiority was definitely a large factor. Early Johns Green Lantern was focused on reintroducing Hal to his world and then the Sinestro Corps War set the stage for the War of Light, however once War of the Green Lanterns rolled around and we weren’t distracted by all of the more interesting characters in the other corps the book went into a tail spin. Hal is great but he needs his friends and allies. Even Geoff Johns himself seemed upset by the development, penning Green Lantern 61, which criticized Hal for never stopping to be Hal Jordan (I kind of really want to see a comic about Geoff John’s writer and fanboy halves warring with each other for control of DC).

With this in mind, Green Lantern #21 feels like a fresh start. Robert Venditti gives us a look at the little multifaceted emerald that is Hal Jordan. Hal Jordan: pilot. Hal Jordan: boyfriend. Hal Jordan: beat cop. Administrator, rebel, soldier, we meet them all and that’s definitely good, given that this is a big opportunity to be reintroduced to his world.

Venditti’s Hal Jordan is much the same man we’ve come to know since his Rebirth, but there’s a twinge of humanity in him that seems promising. Geoff Johns wrote Hal as a man without fear, who was eternally led forward by his restless soul and his sense of right and wrong (and invariably to the right place, no less), but after that rollercoaster, Hal seems to want a moment to set his house in order. He’s still that cocky daredevil pilot, but for the first time in a long time, it feels like life is moving a little fast for him. A spark of Hal’s youth has gone out of him and, especially given the mention of his many victories in this issue, it feels like a good change for one of the oldest heroes in this new world.

Venditti also takes some time to familiarize us with Hal’s supporting cast. John Stewart, Kyle Rayner, Kilowog, Salaak, and the Guardians of the universe are all on display and, though their parts are fairly small, they all seem more or less right under the new writer’s pen. Many of Johns’ standbys are missing, there’s no Isamot Kol or Hannu here. Mentions that “most of the senior lanterns lie in the crypt” are therefore worrisome, but the issue promises that there’ll be a new class of lanterns to learn to love. We even get some different colored lanterns in the mix, one written with more respect and attention to Johns’ work than Johns, himself ever gave. Venditti notably seems to play a bit fast and loose with his interpretation of Carol Ferris, but it’s an interesting take and she actually does something other than hopelessly chase after Hal.

I’m interested to see how much we’ll get to see of Hal outside of his normal role of big special hero. This may actually be the first issue to mention Hal’s brother since the secret origin arc wrapped up some forty five issue ago (especially since he’s apparently living with him!). Little things like that give me hope that we’ll be seeing a slightly more human Hal Jordan, even if it seems that he won’t be doing most of his crime fighting in Coast City.

So, as you can see, I think that Venditti has done well in regards to giving this title a feeling of vitality, however, I admit that some of it is little more than that. In one memorable scene, Kilowog and Hal get into an argument about how to proceed. Hal admits that his idea was stupid and that he should not be so reckless. Then he does it anyway while Kilowog’s guard is down. It seems that we are to read this and go ‘oh that wacky Hal Jordan, flaunting the rules,’ but Hal’s explanation that he was ‘making a command decision’ is totally justifiable.

While both characters in the scene tell us that Hal is acting in an impulsive manner, Hal makes a choice that he is well within his rights to make; disagreeing with Kilowog’s heavily biased opinion, and then handles it in a way that will help it work. The whole thing feels even more manipulative when you realize that Kilowog’s objection is a lack of space and equipment…on a planet that is uninhabited save for the 7200 lanterns empowered to create anything they imagine.

It’s not the only instance of this kind of writing. Though it’s extremely convincing, Venditti is telling rather than showing. The up side of this is that he doesn’t need to spend panels making his points, a necessity, given how much he crams in here, but it seriously undermines his writing. Perhaps the worst example is a line near the start of the book where Hal asks aloud “Am I really seeing what I’m seeing?” I feel that it is likely that he is, but he does not wait for an answer before informing us that “we’re done for”. I won’t say what has Lantern 2814.1 so upset, but it’s the kind of thing that could have made for a great moment if Venditti had let us come to it ourselves.

These problems detract significantly from an otherwise strong debut, but it’s almost hard to notice when they’re rendered by Billy Tan (Pencils), Richard Friend (Inks), and Alex Sinclair and Tony Avina (Colors). I was in the minority on this but I was always bothered by Doug Manke’s work on Green Lantern. My biggest complaint was probably how over-drawn everything looked. While the level of craft it required is undeniable, there were just too many lines, especially in people’s faces. This book is bright and clear. Billy Tan’s linework resembles that which has made Green Lantern such a hit over the past few years and keeps things clearly defined, but leaves room for the inker and colorists to fill the page. There’s also a great deal of flat black in this book that helps bring out the vibrancy of the colors and the sharpness of the details. In fact, the entire product reminds one of the classic design of the Green Lantern uniform (recently discussed here). I don’t know if that was intentional but it just feels right for the book. The art on this book fits the DC style fairly well, but it stands out just enough and in just the right ways. Take a look at the double page panel of our antagonist (spoilers) to see how much menace Tan can fit into his bright cartoony lines. If there’s one criticism to be leveled, it’s that I’m very glad that Tan didn’t end up on Green Lantern: New Guardians, because his Kyle Rayner is decidedly lacking.

Unfortunately, Green Lantern #21 doesn’t feel like a book on the same tier as Geoff Johns’ work, but Hal’s longtime collaborator, Barry Allen, can tell you how good it can be for a comic to restrain itself to solid stories and beautiful art. Venditti deserves more time to establish his story and he’s introduced more than enough in this one issue to keep things lively for a while. The art team is decidedly strong and I hope they’ll be consistent members of this book, going forward. All in all, it’s a nice change from John’s work, one that focuses less on Hal as an individual and more as a senior member of the corps. Few writers could pick up from where Johns left off without missing a beat, but, judged on its own merits, Venditti’s Green Lantern still holds a charge.