Sunday, March 13, 2011

From the Longbox: Green Lantern/Superman: Legend of the Green Flame part 2

So, yesterday I started discussing this little superhero gem, published in 2000 by DC comics with a script from Neil Gaiman and art by an amazing array of talent. But, I never got into the actual story. Rather, I found my missive running along the interesting tangent of the genesis of this book - a story shared with much more detail in the introduction to this volume by Gaiman and the afterword from Mark Waid, then-editor at DC.

Anyway. The story itself. As Adam Murdough - host of his own CGS spin-off podcast, Murd's Time Bubble - said when he was reviewing the book on his latest episode, reading this book is like being "punched in the gut by the fist of excellence."

I am an avowed fan of Gaiman's work, but until listening to the recent Time Bubble episode, I had forgotten about this comic sitting in my Gaiman longbox. I re-read Sandman and his Miracleman on a fairly regular basis, and there are a number of books with short stories by Gaiman that I enjoy revisiting as well. But this one, for some reason, has sat for years. And, after reading it again last week, I don't know why.

This was a really fun comic. It had a Silver Age sensibility, particularly in the ease with which Hal Jordan (Green Lantern) and Clark Kent (Superman) get along in their human identities - which was the main continuity problem DC editorial had with this story when it was initially written in 1989. And that Silver Age sensibility is enhanced by artist, Mike Allred's, depiction of this initial chapter. Hal has a problem, and he's come to Metropolis to seek out Clark in order to talk things out. Hal is bothered because there is no Green Lantern Corps anymore after the Guardians left and the main power battery was destroyed (which may have been fallout from events in Millennium, but I can't say for sure).

Hal is feeling lonely and a bit in need of some sympathy. This conversation brings readers up to speed with the current (or retro, as the case may be) status quo. And with this scene, it is obvious that Gaiman is having fun with the opportunity to write these heroes. As Hal is talking, we see a quiet "meow" in the background, and then Clark - still in his suit - takes to the sky, only to return, two panels later, with a cat that was obviously stuck in a tree. It's understated and it's that cliche many think of when considering Superman, but it works terrifically because Gaiman doesn't bring any more attention to it than Clark does. Nothing is stated. Hal continues talking. And Superman does what Superman does - rescue cats from trees. Hal also mentions Mogo during his discussion of the remnants of the Corps, stating that "Mogo doesn't socialize," which is a nod to Alan Moore's short story of the same name (if you've not read this one or are unaware of Mogo and what type of entity he is, then seek out either Green Lantern Corps Annual 2 or 3, where the story originally was published, or you might find it in the Alan Moore DC collection) and, again, a little tidbit thrown in by Gaiman to give readers in-the-know a smile.

Clark and Hal foil a mugging - directed at them - quite easily and head to an art gallery, which is having a big opening that night. In the crowd we see Gaiman, speaking with two others who might be Mark Buckingham (the artist for this portion) and possibly Bob Schreck, who was the editor for the story. Clark and Hal discover a green lantern, similar to Alan Scott's, down a side hallway - a green lantern discovered in the prologue by the Blackhawks in 1949 - drawn in a moody style by the great Eddie Campbell. The two decide to investigate, Hal hoping to charge his ring with this lantern, and *boom* the heroes are sent into limbo in a burst of green flame.

There the two meet up with Deadman. This part is drawn by the inimitable John Totleben, and his style fits beautifully with this section. Deadman has some sarcastic quips while relating to the two heroes where they have ended up, and then he tries to leave. But Superman is in front of him in a blink, to which Boston Brand (Deadman) says, "you really are Superman. Jeez." Again, it's a fun little bit that evokes the traditional characterizations of these heroes, but with a modern sensibility that does not bog down in needless exposition or stilted dialogue. It's a nice mix, and it's something that seems to be missing from modern comics and has been for some time.

We then get a brief interlude with the Phantom Stranger - engimatic and mysterious, as we would expect with this character. It is wonderfully illustrated by Matt Wagner and gives readers all they would need to know about this character if this were their introduction to the Phantom Stranger. And yet, it does not feel like those first few pages of every Marvel comic in the early eighties, when the characters would have a conversation about everything they'd experienced in the prior issues. Like Frank Miller during his Daredevil run, Gaiman is able to re-tell the necessary details of these characters without it feeling forced an unnatural. It's a tough thing to accomplish, and Gaiman does it with aplomb.

Next we get Superman and Green Lantern in hell, as drawn by Eric Shanower and Art Adams (an inspired artistic pairing). And again, Gaiman characterizes these characters so well, and in a manner that feels fresh. Superman as he hovers above the fiery pits, is unable to move, anchored there by his human sympathies. With his supervision, he is able to witness the suffering of all the tortured souls in hell. And his inability to do anything paralyzes him, a single tear trailing down his face. Meanwhile, Hal is trying to wake up Clark, to get him to help take them out of there. But nothing works until one of the demons in this realm tries to pierce Superman's flesh in order to feast on him, and pulls Clark from his reverie, as Hal falls toward the flaming pits - having been unable to hold on to Clark's leg. Hal uses his ring again, and the mixture of his power with the magic of the lantern (which has been causing all this mayhem with Hal's ring) sends them away again.

We then find the Phantom Stranger, drawn elegantly, by Jim Aparo, who has made his way to the art show where Hal and Clark began this strange trek through the magical realms of DC. He finds the hallway that Hal closed off to the others, and investigates.

And, we return to Hal and Clark, who are now inside the lantern. This section is drawn by Kevin Nowlan, and it made me wish he was doing more work today. But I digress. They meet the entity that lives within the lantern. It tells them how they can return to the land of the living. And then the Phantom Stranger joins them. He tells the heroes they are being duped. The lantern (its entity, a green flame) wants their power so that it might wreak chaos across the world. The Stranger tells Hal that he can control the flame's power, that Alan Scott did it. And then Hal realizes what he must do.

And Hal and Clark return to the world of the living, and the Phantom Stranger takes the lantern for safe keeping, because it is an object of magic, and one that he can tame, or at least keep in check.

And so, finished with their metaphysical adventure, Hal and Clark go up to the top of a skyscraper to finish their discussion and eventually go on their way. This part was drawn by Xeric award winner Jason Little, and doesn't fit so well with the rest of the book. But it is a testament to Gaiman that he gave Little this opportunity (it is assumed that it was Gaiman). And, as he did with the opening, Gaiman gets cute (or Silver Age-y) with the story. Hal and Clark return from the top of the skyscraper, and land in front of a movie theater that is havinga Michael Douglas retrospective and played "Fatal Attraction" that night. And, as the camera pulls in closer to Hal as Clark flies off, the marquee in the background eventually only shows the final six letters of the movie title - action - in a panel where Hal tells Clark, "The place is all yours. If you see what I mean."

And that would have been the wrap up of the Action Comics Weekly experiment as the reins were handed back to Superman as the only character in Action Comics.

As I said, this is a really fun story and is well worth checking out if you've never read it.

Hopefully, I wasn't too long-winded. I plan on making this a semi-regular series here. We'll see how that goes. It all depends on me finding time to read old comics and write about them. And, if you have any thoughts on that, one way or the other. Let me know.


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