Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Geoff Johns's Green Lantern

Since the Challenge of the Super Friends cartoon from the 70s, I have been a fan of the Flash and Green Lantern.  I can't say what it was about them:

  • maybe the bright colors of Flash's costume had something to do with it
  • and the camaraderie these two had would have spread my affection to GL
  • possibly it was a desire to be a contrarian, go against the easy choice of Superman & Batman as favorites
  • regardless, I was a fan, and that continues to this day (though I haven't read a new Flash or GL comic in a long time)

So, although I'd missed much of the Parallax stuff and what came after, when Geoff Johns set about bringing Hal Jordan back into the DC universe proper, with Green Lantern: Rebirth in 2004, I was at the comic shop to pick it up.  And I was very happy with what I found.  I remember thinking that Ethan Van Sciver, the penciller, seemed to have a bit of George Perez in him, and the story was exciting and engaging.  

But I never picked up with the regular series, despite hearing great things from people online.  With Johns's monumental run finishing up late last year, I decided to go back and see what all the fuss was about and began getting the collected editions, of both Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps, through the library.  And ... I don't get the clamor of praise surrounding the series, other than what I experienced, that sense of nostalgia and pleasure in seeing an "old friend."  

Not that it's a bad comic.  But maybe my tastes have changed too much.  It feels to me, in the beginning of the series, that Johns was trying to clean up the mess that was Parallax (that's obvious, I suppose) by bringing back many of the Green Lanterns Hal Jordan had presumably killed.  It feels to me like Johns was working to exonerate Jordan's actions through two narrative avenues - 1) hammering home the fact that Jordan was possessed by the Parallax entity and thus not responsible for the heinous acts he perpetrated and 2) revealing that these Lanterns we believed Jordan had killed were actually alive, which he seems to think negates the "murders" because without a dead body how can there be a murder?  

I have big problems with both of these arguments (and I should note, here, that I have not read any interviews with Johns and cannot say that this is, in fact, what he was going for.  And, having only read just up to right before the "Sinestro Corps War," I only have a third to a half of his overall narrative to go on.  But, as a reader, this is my interpretation, which is the whole point of writing and creating fiction, for others to read and interpret it as they will, according to their own backgrounds and biases)  Anyway, I digress.

My problem with the first point is similar to the problem I have - only having listened and read analysis of Avengers vs. X-Men last year - with Cyclops.  He, too, seems to have been given a pass for any crimes committed because he was possessed by the Phoenix force.  Where's the culpability (putting aside the morality plays that many people, including myself, feel comics do well and should, currently, be doing more of)?  He was possessed, so he gets a pass on murder?  That teaches readers that there are no consequences for one's actions - not only is that a poor lesson/theme for a story, but it's also wrong-headed and just plain lazy storytelling (this last point is the one that irks me most; if you paint yourself into a corner, gets out the larger box of paints to get yourself out of it, don't fall back onto a no-thought answer).  I suppose one could argue it's a reflection of our times - CEOs, large corporations, politicians, bank managers, et al. getting caught doing something corrupt, unethical, or criminal and getting rewarded with a handsome buy-out package or a new lobbying job that pays far more than their Senate job did - but I don't buy that.  Fiction, especially heroic fiction, should be better than that.  

The second issue, similar to the first, seems to try and absolve Hal Jordan of his sins by showing the audience that there should be no recrimination for his murder spree because - surprise! - they were never dead in the first place.  But, does the lack of physical consequences negate the spirit of the crime?  Hal Jordan ostensibly killed the Lanterns.  And yet, we should forgive him and focus on him as the prime Green Lantern because "no bodies."  Again, where is the culpability?  He performed a heinous act that he believed resulted in the deaths of his comrades (yeah, okay, he was possessed), but they're back so:  reset.  Nope.  Doesn't work for me.  Sorry.

I have also found, in recent years, that the luster of Van Sciver's art has been worn to a dull haze for me.  His figures are too stiff, his panels too cluttered (despite possibly having less within them than many a Perez panel).  Van Sciver doesn't appear to have the cartooning that I admire in similarly "photorealistic" artists like Perez or Phil Jimenez or one of the artist to follow him on the series, Ivan Reis.  There's no fluidity to his figures and sometimes his exaggerated foreshortening just doesn't work.  Yet another strike against this series.  (disclaimer: this is my subjective opinion; don't bother hatin' on me if you enjoy Van Sciver's art; it's just not my cuppa, as they say)

Now, has this entire process been just a way for me to bitch about mainstream comics?  No.  And I should reiterate, I don't think these were bad comics.  If I'd felt they were bad, I would not have continued past the first collection.  Johns does know how to tell a story in comics form and zip it along.  He modified some classic aspects of the Green Lantern mythos (most notably, in these early issues, the Manhunters and the Guardians), and he is adding to it (the spectrum of rings is slowly becoming apparent as we lead up to the Sinestro Corps War).  There's action, some good page turns, some really nice family/relationship moments, and a number of nice twists and surprises.  It's all done well.

And then there's the art.  Getting past Van Sciver, the art from Carlos Pacheco and Ivan Reis is gorgeous.  And, though I haven't discussed it as much, when Dave Gibbons writes and draws some issues of Green Lantern Corps, it is wonderful.  Really some top-notch superhero art going on here.  The most interesting facet to this, for me, was discovering a Neal Adams influence in Reis's art that I did not see in the only other work of his I'd read - Blackest Night.  His mixing of Perez and Adams is lovely to look at, because he merges them nicely, shedding some of the ugliness of later Adams art (in my opinion) while opening things up a bit more than Perez does.  Really beautiful stuff.  Reis is definitely, in my opinion, the GL artist of note for this era in the way that Gil Kane was the artist of the initial era (and is arguably THE Green Lantern artist, all time.  Let's see some Gil Kane artwork, shall we?)

Overall, I'd give these books a C.  They were entertaining, for the most part, while I was reading them.  But I have no desire to re-read them again, and, at the point now where I'm a few issues from reading the Sinestro Corps War, it is beginning to feel like a chore to read.  So, I'll probably set this title aside, for now, and move on to something else to (re)discover.


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