Sunday, 4 September 2011

Geoff John's Green Lantern: Rebirth to Sinestro Corps

Green Lantern is complicated. To fully understand Rebirth you need to understand the history of Green Lantern and Hal Jordan's time as the character. I'll try and be as brief as possible:

The original Green Lantern was Alan Scott, a man with a magic ring. During what's known as the "silver age" - a time when comics were outlandish and whacky and incredibly fantastical - the Green Lantern was brought back as a space policeman whose ring could form shapes from solid green light. This was Hal Jordan, the first human chosen to be inducted into the universal police force Green Lantern Corps.

Hal Jordan's story gets complicated when his home town is destroyed, and most of its inhabitants massarced in the process. In his grief Hal Jordan tried to use his ring to reanimate people, but the Guardians of Oa - the alien race that created and rule the Green Lanterns - would not allow it; so Hal Jordan fought against them, killing and imprisoning fellow Green Lanterns. Eventually he came up against his great nemesis Sinestro -  Sinestro was the greatest Green Lantern before Jordan, but also a brutal and totalitarian controller of his sector - and snapped his nemesis's neck. Thus, Hal Jordan became the supervillain Parallax.

There were other Green Lanterns introduced to the Corps - John Stewart, a black architect; Guy Gardner, a ginger hothead; Kyle Rayner, a young, angsty artist. The fans, however, were not happy with the way that Hal Jordan had went evil and what resulted was fan-backlash on a rather astonishing level, even when you consider the usual intensity of comic fans. So, come 2004, superstar comic writer Geoff Johns decides to bring Hal back, and Rebirth is the vehicle for that.

Rebirth throws us into a complex picture - out on the edges of the universe Kyle Rayner, Green Lantern, discovers an ancient prophecy. At the same time,  Hal Jordan is possessed by the spectre - powerful spirit of vengeance - and struggles against a third consciousness - the spirit of Parallax - that all exist in his body. John Stewart, who is serving as the Earth Green Lantern with the Justice League, finds himself being being intimidated and moved around by a very dickish, but incredibly awesome, Batman. Guy Gardner runs a bar, pretending he was never a superhero. Somewhere out there the last remaining Guardian (the alien race that created and command the Green Lanterns) Ganthet guards Jordan's body.

It remarkable that Johns is able to balance all of these plot threads and bring them cataclysmically together. At the start it is not clear where the story is going, yet there is an urgency and direction given to the plotting that keeps the story thundering along at a pace that made it hard for me to look away. As a person who knew fairly little about Green Lantern going into this comic, I was impressed by the way it brought me in. Twists that should not have wowed me were executed with such energy that it hit home nonetheless. Characters and themes are very much secondary here, yet they are also relevant and tied nicely into the story. There are plenty of subtle touches that make the characters more complex and the story have some depth.

The story is, more than anything, a restoration of status quo. Whilst the theme is very much appropriate in a resurrection story, and the story is of such energy and excitement that it stands as one of the better examples I've encountered of it, there is an undertone that doesn't fit here. As I earlier said, Hal Jord was responsible for some rather evil acts, and Rebirth is not only a physical rebirth but also a character rebirth. This looks to redeem him through retcon any responsibility he may have had. It's a regressive way to deal with a character that essentially avoids a character having to overcome pas actions by removing accountability. As much as I dislike this, however, the story is fun and well crafted enough for me to not hold it against the comic.

From No Fear to Wanted: Hal Jordan, Johns takes the reigns in a number of stories that are of lesser a quality. For all that Johns showed a keen thematic awareness in Rebirth, there's very much the same ground being walked here, only far less effectively. The action is far smaller, Hal Jordan is suddenly a boring character and there's little depth to it. For me, No Fear's rotating artist board really disrupted the flow of the action and I came out of it really rather worried. Things did improve and when the writing showed a real inclination to pick up pace the action was generally pretty good. Artwork, too, helps to sell the action and the scale.

Problem is that Hal Jordan seems to be a spouter of cliches, and all the attractive women in the comic love him and all the men wish they were him. Hoo boy. The conflicts Hal faces, like being captured for not wearing his ring, are not necessarily bad but kind of feel like they are too much like needless navel gazing. As a primary driving force for the narrative it doesn't hold up. There is too much of this that feels like it's just build-up, especially in retrospect, and a lot of the bad guys don't feel like they are given a good enough showing. Despite exciting moments, the odd interesting idea and nice twist, Johns' stuff bridging Rebirth and Sinestro Corps is fairly weak. It seems like a bridge, rather than a story or series of stories.

At the same time Green Lantern's sister comic, Green Lantern Corps, restarted with the co-written story Recharge. Dave Gibbons shared the story duties during this miniseries, and throughout the rest of GLC he would helm the series until Tomasi takes over towards the end of Sinestro Corps. Early on Recharge struggles a bit, trying to establish rather too many characters and compromise it with the massive scale space opera shenanigans. When the latter part of the stories kicks in to gear and brings all the dispirate paths together, the story is incredibly entertaining and the characters are very much entertaining.

Dave Gibbons continues in much of the vein for a volume and a half - with a guest story by Keith Champagne - and this is probably my favourite part of the period I am looking at. Gibbons' characters and story are all interesting, and I love the way they often don't quite meet up often, lending the universe a big feel. There is very much an episodic feel in a good way, an unfolding series of plot lines with an engaging ensemble cast. It was good fun and dynamically structured, and I really wish that he could have stayed on longer. I was similarly impressed with the guest story by Champagne, darker but nonetheless good fun. You could make the argument that Johns makes a stronger attempt to add thematic depth to his work, but Gibbons' work has such energy and excitement that I don't care.

Sinestro Corps is the culmination of much of what has went before whilst simultaneously laying groundwork for thigns to come. I didn't enjoy it at first, as the Sinestro Corps are introduced as far too dangerous without ever really earning it. For bad guys to be really respected they have to do something earlier on the story to qualify them as a legitimate threat. For me, it was as if Sinestro Corps started at the end of the second arc of a normal movie. Green Lanterns are facing potential extinction, desperate last gasps, and it's too out of nowhere. Structurally it feels untidy, and the the antagonsits become annoying rather than threatening, as their victories seem cheap.

As the story got further in it was able to overcome these faults, and there are plenty of nice wee character moments to be found amongst the crazily big space action. It gets the balance right in that respect - this is neither a thematic or character tale, yet within these pages there are moments of character growth. The stacking of threats works well, although certain extremely powerful bad guys are rather skimmed over and seem to be here for the shock of the reveal rather than the value they can add.

Not that I want to be  totally negative about SC: as already noted, there are subtle character moments and it is a very big and ambitious story. It communicates an intergalactic war well and the two different comics jar rarely when transitioning one to the other, in both the writing and the art department. It brings Jordan's character arc to a close and hints towards larger things to come. And when the shit hits the fan, the momentum of the story sends you hurtling forwards at a break neck speed.

So what do I think of this run overall? I feel like I should have skipped the three Green Lantern volumes between Rebirth and Sinestro Corps and just read GLC, but overall I'm glad I gave it a look. Rebirth is a great comic, and Dave Gibbon's time on GLC was pretty much the epitome of damned good fun. Keep in mind there's far more to be explored here - I have just covered nine trade paperbacks after all.

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