One of the big things to come out of the Sinestro Corps War storyline was the fact that, now, Green Lanterns were able to use deadly force, whereas before their rings would not allow such extreme measures. In fact, this was revealed as the ultimate goal of Sinestro throughout this attack by his new yellow lantern corps – echoes of the motivation behind the archnemesis of the Flash, the other major book for which Geoff Johns was/is known. Though I am certain there are many GL fans, and DC executives, who would disagree, this is yet another misstep on the part of the creators that only diminishes the Green Lantern mythos, in my mind.
Following in the modern tradition of attempts to make contemporary superheroes edgier and more relevant by making them more violent, it, surprisingly, makes them more juvenile, now able to act upon their baser instincts and kill rather than seeking a better way. Sure, Geoff Johns, through John Stewart’s character, tries to legitimize it at the end when Stewart says, “It’s no different from any of the cops who protect our streets.” That is true, but this assumes a restraint in the bearer of such a deadly weapon, a restraint that can be argued is missing in the storytelling of “mainstream” creators and editors.
That’s a broad-brush statement, and it could just be my cynicism rearing its ugly head, but I stand by it, regardless.
Mainly, I stand by it because of what was evident in this storyline. Once the Green Lanterns were afforded the ability to use deadly force, they were all too happy to utilize it. Yes, they were meeting “an eye for an eye,” but this reduction to the least common denominator is lazy storytelling and saps the Lanterns of their heroic ideal (certainly, one can be a hero and kill, but it is a fine line to tread, demanding nuance and restraint that was lost on this narrative, compounded by the decades of history that follows comic book heroes of this type). It takes far more effort to have the hero overcome a sadistic “bad guy” such as Sinestro was portrayed in this without being able to just kill, but the result would have been far more satisfying than the slugfest that carried over these many issues.
Lastly (and I apologize for the rather messy post, but I’m writing “off the cuff,” and trying to follow the many jumps my mind is making while these thoughts fester and boil up there), there was one other point where Johns tried to show that this new ability to use deadly force wasn’t merely a carte blanche edict that would allow for rampant deaths of the Lanterns’ enemies – though, of course, we all know that death in comic books means nothing. Kilowog, while battling Arkillo (I believe), states that this new kill order is only to be used as a last measure (let’s disregard that the kill order came with no training/counsel/rules). The big problem here: Johns is telling and not showing. This response comes after readers have witnessed pages and pages and pages of dead bodies accompanied by the colored edicts that “Sinestro #__” or “Green Lantern #__” have died and a replacement must be found. The trail of bodies is vast, and yet, Kilowog would have us believe that the kill order is merely a last resort. The imagery puts a lie to that statement. This is compounded when Kilowog and Arkillo have their final battle. Arkillo lay lifeless on the page (to be fair, the static imagery of the comic page does not allow for the subtlety of film where we would be able to see that a body is not dead more easily than in a comic) and Kilowog is asked of he is dead. Kilowog says he is not but that his rings won’t harm any more Lanterns. Now, yes, Kilowog tells readers Arkillo isn’t dead. But the pile of bodies the audience has witnessed over the previous issues’ worth of story, coupled with the fact that a dead body and unconscious body look the same on the printed page, causes a tension in our brains that makes it difficult to take what Kilowog is saying, at face value. If we’d seen some restraint, some attempt at overcoming the threat without taking the easy way out, maybe it would be easy to accept Arkillo’s apparent survival. But, as it is, Geoff Johns & co. have set up a status quo that makes it far easier to believe he is dead, like so many other Yellow Lanterns, than to take that statement as “fact.”