REVIEW: Green Lantern #1

I’ll be brutally honest here: I thought this was going to be my last issue of Green Lantern.

A few short years ago, Green Lantern was the comic I most looked forward to reading every month.  With the help of some gorgeous artwork – from Ivan Reis, then Doug Mahnke – Geoff Johns crafted an instantly iconic expansion of the mythology for Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern Corps, and their various friends and foes, with enough mysteries and prophecies to provide endless discussion and debate, and all roads leading to the big, climactic event, Blackest Night.  But post-Blackest Night, the Green Lantern franchise as a whole felt like it was lacking direction.  I gave up on Emerald Warriors after a couple of issues, dropped Green Lantern Corps, and soon was only buying Green Lantern, and even that was meandering along at a casual pace, taking over a year to ultimately not do very much.

Every month I would read the latest issue, find it quite enjoyable, then very quickly forget about it, with no anticipation for the next instalment.  I was buying out of habit, rather than the genuine investment in the story that I’d had before.  And while I liked the Green Lantern movie a lot more than some did, it still wasn’t enough to reignite my passion for the character like I hoped it might.  I figured that I was buying enough comics without getting ones I genuinely cared about, and so when the news of DC’s relaunch came, I decided that I would give this new Green Lantern #1 a chance to win me over, out of respect for Geoff Johns’ earlier work on the series.  But I had very little anticipation for it, and as I got round to reading the comic – as an afterthought, after getting through the releases from this week I had actually been looking forward to – I was fairly confident this would be my farewell to the series I had enjoyed so long.

Then something strange happened.  Green Lantern #1 totally blew me away.  It was one of the best New 52 comics I read this week, and surely the best Green Lantern comic Johns has written in about two years.

One of my biggest problems with Green Lantern over the past couple of years is that it has been in endless event mode.  One of the things that originally made me a fan of Geoff Johns’ writing was his keen eye for character.  With the Rogue profiles in The Flash, and even the earlier arcs of Green Lantern, Johns had a real talent for honing in on one aspect of a character that had always been there, and enrichening it with a humanity that made readers connect with them and care about them.  But as Green Lantern jumped from Sinestro Corps War to Blackest Night to Brightest Day to War of the Green Lanterns, and the series became so much about fight-fight-fight that characters in the book were even making meta-textual gags about Hal never taking off his Green Lantern uniform, I feared the series had become a shallow read, devoid of the emotion that was supposed to be at its core.  In this context, Geoff Johns did the wisest thing he possibly could have done with Green Lantern #1, the thing I’ve been wanting him to do for ages: he strips everything down to basics, draws back on the scale and scope, and makes the focus of the issue a dual character study of Hal Jordan and Sinestro.

Hal Jordan has been a cipher for so long, our access character as we get dragged from cosmic set-piece to cosmic set-piece, it felt refreshing to experience him as an actual character again.  And for all the complaints from certain fanboy circles that his Hal is a faultless Mary-Sue that can do no wrong, Johns actually is very brave here in just how much of a screw-up and a deadbeat he is willing to portray Hal as.  He might be the greatest Green Lantern of them all, but without the ring, back on Earth, he isn’t very good at being Hal Jordan.

He can’t pay his rent.  He can’t hold down a job.  He can’t get a lease on a car.  And he has a habit of letting down the few people left who care about him.  Johns wisely sets much of the action of this first issue on Earth, and in the real world, being a fearless hero isn’t always enough to get by on, and sometimes can even work actively against you.  Carol offers Hal good advice when she says that “most jobs are jobs”, and that he should take her offer for a non-pilot job at Ferris Air because most people have to settle for work that doesn’t offer the pride and the glory, but we don’t know if it falls on deaf ears.  Geoff Johns takes all that time he had Hal Jordan spend as Green Lantern without respite towards the end of the last volume, and makes it a statement of character: Hal Jordan is Green Lantern all the time, because nowadays that’s just about all he can do.

But the descent of Hal Jordan is juxtaposed with the rise of Sinestro.  In our opening sequence, we see Green Lantern’s arch nemesis reluctant to rejoin the Green Lantern Corps.  Long the most nuanced character in the series, Sinestro was a villain who felt his actions were justified, that he was always acting in the interest of a greater good.  Now, he is being given a chance to put his money where his mouth is, and in this first issue at least, replace Hal as the cover hero, and the Green Lantern of the title.  For now at least, he seems to be taking to the role like a duck to water.  One sequence where he makes short work of a former Sinestro Corps compatriot allows him to be an el primo badass, while a small touch like him destroying the yellow ring before it can seek out another host demonstrates the knowledge of a veteran, showing how he once earned his reputation as the greatest Green Lantern of them all.

Sadly, Carol Ferris isn’t so well developed.  The previously mentioned moment where she advises Hal on his life choices works well, but in her later appearance, she seems to default back to the marriage-obsessed harpy of the Silver Age, with a totally unreasonable reaction to her incorrect assumption that Hal was about to propose to her.  Why would she even be expecting him to propose?  Isn’t he still in a relationship with Cowgirl?  Or since we haven’t seen her in years, are we to accept that she has been sent off to Grant Morrison’s lonely planet of forgotten characters?

If Carol fails to convince as a love interest, it is perhaps understandable, as Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern saga is surely an epic love story between Hal Jordan and Sinestro.  If his run doesn’t end with the two of them kissing against the sunset, I will be sorely disappointed.

Resuming his art duties on Green Lantern is the always reliable Doug Mahnke.  We know this guy can draw crazy monsters and aliens in his sleep, and he gets to do a little bit of that here, but in this issue he gets to demonstrate how he can also excel in the quieter moments, showing how the smallest flickers of emotion can alter the dynamics of a conversation, saying a lot even when the characters say nothing at all.  There you go, the book is about emotion again!  And Christian Alamy’s crisp inks give the book a very clean, precise aesthetic.

But I also want to take a moment to give credit where due to colorist David Baron.  For a comics colorist, Green Lantern has to be one of the best gigs you can get, because it is a series where color is at the forefront, where each shade and hue is packed with symbolic power.  The glowing green of the Green Lantern costume, ring, battery and constructs is as striking ever, seeming to glow from the page.  But also of note is the occurence of green on the Earth-based scenes, or lack thereof.  All of a sudden, Hal Jordan’s world is devoid of green, making the periodic flashes of it relevant.  In his apartment (which he’s ultimately evicted from) he is standing on a small patch of green carpet, which the landlord is encroaching on.  And at the moment where he mistakenly believes he can be a hero again we get little mocking emerald flashes – the curtains in the apartment across the street, even the color of his underwear sticking up from under his jeans.

And as well as green, there’s yellow, the color of fear.  From the envelopes of the unpaid bills to the decor of the restaurant he takes Carol to, yellow seems to be closing in all around Hal Jordan.  And near the end, when it hits him how wrong his life has gone, Hal’s face is cast into shadow, and behind him is a stark yellow background.  Some great work from Baron.

So, in the case of this series, the DC relaunch did its job.  Green Lantern has a new lease of life.  I thought this would be my last issue, but my interest in the character and the mythology has been revived.  I’m back onboard, Geoff.  I hope what you’ve got coming in future issues is able to keep me there.

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