Friday 4 January 2013

YOU AND WHOSE ARMY? – A closer look at ‘Rise of the Third Army’ (incl. GL #15, GLC #15 and GL:NG #15)

Instead of doing my normal review of the three Green Lantern titles that came out last month I want to use them to springboard into a broader discussion about the Third Army crossover as a whole.  We know that the event runs from issue #13 to #16 across all four Lantern titles, and with the recent publication of Green Lantern #15, Green Lantern Corps #15 and Green Lantern: New Guardians #15 we should expect to be fairly well embroiled in the storyline by now.  As it transpires ‘Rise…’ has not taken the format I have come to expect from a comic book event.  Usually writers take time out from their own on-going narratives to play into the larger story of an event.  That hasn’t really happened here.  Each of the three books continues to deal with the progression of their own main characters.  They promise a pay-off further down the line that seems to bear very little relationship to the event itself.  At most it acts as a catalyst for our heroes’ actions rather than as the focus of their attention. The crossover elements of each book could almost be pulled out into a separate title without having too much impact on what is happening to an individual characters’ development within their own plotline.  It could be suggested that the weight of the crossover’s story takes place within the pages of Green Lantern Corps but the emphasis is not significant.

You may have spotted that Red Lanterns is notable by its absence here.  At the time of writing RL #15 has not yet been released but, in terms of the ‘Rise of the Third Army’, the tone of that book has been a little different to its sister titles and I have an expectation from the next issue that leads me to want to discuss it on its own (and you wouldn’t have caught me saying that 6 months ago!).

In order to do justice to the three GL titles I’d like to provide a short synopsis of where each of Earth’s Green Lanterns found themselves in their respective #15 issues.  Guy Gardner has had his Lantern status revoked and has been returned to Earth by the Guardians of the Universe.  In a scene reminiscent of the 1992 mini-series Guy Gardner Reborn, the depowered hero takes to the streets to fight crime with nothing more than his ego and his reputation for protection.  As was also the case back then, what seems like a good idea at the time results in less than favourable consequences.  This time around Guy inadvertently blows the cover on an international arms smuggling investigation and is placed under arrest by his police officer sister.  This will likely lead to the realisation of the prophetic vision in Green Lantern #11 depicting Guy imprisoned behind bars.

John Stewart, in the company of Star Sapphire Fatality, continues to investigate what appears to be Mogo, the destroyed planetary Green Lantern, re-forming himself.  The Stewart/Mogo plot is only given a couple of pages in GLC  #15 but for me is by far the most interesting part of the whole issue.  Lantern fans want Mogo back and at the moment I am daring to hope that his (her?) future return is imminent and this is not just another deception by the conniving Guardians.

Over in Green Lantern: New Guardians #15 Kyle continues to master the powers of the emotional spectrum at a rate of knots.  In the space of three issues he has gained control over no less than five emotional energies besides the green power of Will.  The light of Avarice is all too easy to acquire.  All Kyle had to do was wait until Larfleeze was distracted and then charge his ring on the latter’s orange lantern.  As I mentioned in my review of GL:NG #14 last month, this storyline is bitterly disappointing.  What should be one of the greatest lantern stories ever told is being thrown away in a few poorly written issues with a fair proportion of the action even taking place off panel.  Tony Bedard has proven himself as a great Green Lantern writer in the past but here, whether by his own hand or as a result of poor decision making by the editorial team, his skill is being sorely neglected.

Hal Jordan makes a very brief appearance in Green Lantern #15.  He is trapped with Sinestro in the Dead Zone accessed via Black Hand’s black lantern ring.  A mysterious figure tells them that they are deceased.  Geoff Johns continues to do what he does best in this scene – namely messing with the heads of GL fanboys.  The hooded character confirms himself to be a former friend of Hal and an enemy of Sinestro.  Truth be told this description could fit almost anybody in the 50 odd years since the silver age Green Lantern was first published but I am hoping it is going to be some really memorable character from the past.  At the moment all we have to go on is that he is a humanoid and he is big.  Until we know any different I am going to ignore both of these facts and assume it is the great Flodo Span himself!
Earth’s newest Green Lantern, is also being kept well occupied.  Simon Baz’s attempts to prove he is not guilty of terrorist activity come to a head when he confronts the actual bomb maker behind the plot of which he is accused.  In an unremarkable twist it turns out to be the work of a lone malcontent (or ‘looney bin’ as I like to call them) rather than a political or religious group.  This makes it easier for Baz to prove his innocence to the FBI agent who discovers a bomb factory in the man’s basement but in my opinion it is unusually weak story telling for a writer of Johns’ capabilities.  The most pertinent moment we get with Simon Baz is when his power ring runs out of charge at the worst possible time and he has no idea how to reignite it.  No doubt the incident explains why Baz has been shown carrying a gun despite wearing the most powerful weapon in the universe on his finger.

As it goes, the bomber is attacked by the Third Army before he can be brought to justice and the GL’s future hinges on the survival of his would be pursuer, Agent Fed.

With this neat little segue I can move onto broader examination of ‘Rise of the Third Army’.  I mentioned in my introduction that it doesn’t feel like this event should already be nearing conclusion and will be done and dusted in another month.  I know this means there are still another four or five titles to run but in these three issues we get no hint that the Army’s defeat is just around the corner.  This consideration led me to ruminate on the title of the event itself.  The more I think about it I realise the word ‘Rise’ could suggest that this is only beginning of something.  When DC Comics published ‘Reign of the Supermen’ some years ago we were presented with a story were the Supermen appeared, had their reign as it where, and at the end of their reign life more or less returned to normal.  Whereas here with the Third Army perhaps ‘Rise’ is intended to suggest that the Army will not be defeated in the final pages of the crossover.  Instead they will exist as a force to be reckoned with for some time to come.  We know from solicits that this arc will be immediately followed by another one entitled ‘Wrath of the First Lantern’.  The Thirdites were created by the Guardians using the power of the First Lantern and my best guess is that they will fall under his direct influence and become his army to command in the future.

The connection to the event in Green Lantern Corps #15 is largely by way of exposition on the part of the Guardians and can be summarised thusly: The Third Army is growing in numbers as it continues on its pestilent journey across the universe; the Guardians believe that wiping out the autonomous action of every known life form is the only way to bring about lasting peace; the first step to succeeding in this goal is to utterly destroy their own servants, the Green Lantern Corps.  This self-same message is laboriously reiterated by the Guardians’ only collaborators, the Zamarons, in Green Lantern: New Guardians #15.  The only additional information we really get is that the Zamarons hope to be spared in the final reckoning when their fellow Maltusans’ mission is complete.  There is a nice touch in GL:NG playing as backdrop to the Zamaron monologue where the arachnid race known as the Spider Guild are overrun by Thirdite creatures.  They shed unneeded appendages during their transformation into the uniform appearance of their four limbed assailants.

We are left  beating the same drum again in Green Lantern #15, albeit via the impressive visuals of artist Doug Mahnke.  The book opens on a conversation between Gorish and Vray, the Green Lantern partners for sector 2820, who confirm that the Third Army are multiplying across the universe at an unprecedented rate.  Mahnke’s double page splash showing a veritable swarm of the Guardians’ creations rising up from Gorish’s home world is terrifying.  The mass of bodies is so dense as to appear more like single gargantuan tentacle rather than the thousands of figures it is actually made up of.

I had to chuckle at Johns’ script in this scene.  I picture him sat at his desk struggling as badly to come up with new adjectives describing the spread of the Third Army as I have while writing these reviews!  The excellent description he finally settles on, “They are transmuting everyone they come into contact with” will no doubt appear in Green Lantern blogs across the globe in the coming weeks.

GL #15 throws up a striking inconsistency in the presentation of the army to date.  From the very beginning particular emphasis has been made of the fact that the Thirdite’s original eyes remain unchanged post-transmutation (did you like that?).  The Guardians commented on it themselves when their very first victim was recruited and it has been a mainstay of the character ever since. In fact, in Red Lanterns, it is considered to be their only weakness as the otherwise impervious creatures can be maimed and even killed via an attack on their eyes.  But in this book the beings that set upon Simon Baz are shown to have glowing green eyes.  Even the eyes of the newly transformed ‘looney bin’ burn brightly in its skull.  I am keen to find out if this is a creator oversight or the next stage in the army’s evolution.

There is one fresh development in ‘Rise of the Third Army’ this month that is a veritable delight for any hardcore GL fan to read.  It takes place largely in Green Lantern Corps with a brief crossing into Green Lantern.  Salaak, formerly the Guardians most trusted Lantern who, ranked as Clarissi, is second only to their command, begins to suspect that all is not well in his master’s citadel.  In order to build a case to present to his fellow Corpsmen he plants a nannite spy camera in the immortal’s chambers.  The device is detected before he can act on his findings and he is imprisoned in a tiny torpedo-like holding cell.  As the cells door slides shut drowning him in darkness it seems that any chance of alerting the Corps to their dreadful fate has been lost.

The question remains as to what has caused the Guardians to suddenly contemplate universal genocide.  Have they really given up on billions of years of interstellar policing in favour of a more drastic solution?  Personally, I don’t believe so.  I share the opinion of a number of lantern fans that the Guardians are not entirely themselves.  It seems to me that their thought processes have been corrupted while they were possessed by the emotional entities during the War of the Lanterns.  Furthermore, I think Geoff Johns and his colleagues are leaving small clues to let us know this is the case.  In Green Lantern Corps Salaak promises the lanterns he will do everything in his power to release the Guardians “from the grip of this insanity”.  And in the main Green Lantern title the rodent-like B’dg tries to locate Hal Jordan “before the Guardians realise we know they have gone mad.”  I think both GLs are correct in their diagnosis.  It makes sense to me that the Guardians are mentally ill rather than intrinsically evil and so have a chance of redemption.  I have my fingers crossed that eventually a ‘comic book fix’ will restore the established hierarchy of the Green Lantern mythos that I have always known and loved.

The last panel of Green Lantern #15 ends a year long guessing game by finally revealing the name of the mysterious First Lantern whose energy was harnessed to create the Third Army.  It is a name that is recognisable by only the geekiest of lantern fans, of which I am proud to say I am one.  That name is Volthoom.  Volthoom is the source of power for Green Lantern’s evil counterpart (aptly named Power Ring) on the parallel world of Earth 3.  This Earth is inhabited by the Crime Syndicate of America.  I am itching to find out what connection, if any, exists between the world of the Prime Earth and Earth 3 in DC’s New 52.  Could the First Lantern have ties to wielders of the emotional spectrum across the entire DC multiverse?  At the moment the only other area of the multiverse being explored is Earth 2.  It would be excellent if Volthoom was our first introduction to other worlds beyond this.  In my wildest speculations the relentless growth of the Third Army could potentially lead it to overrun not just the main DCU, but also every other dimension and life-form in the multiverse.

And as far reaching as this idea might be, it underpins the essence of ‘Rise of the Third Army’ for me.  The Guardians’ silent forces are undeniably powerful.  They are unyielding. They are intimidating. But what they are not is particularly entertaining.  They burst with potential for future storylines but at the moment the characters are not being utilised effectively.  The arc started out as exciting story in issue #13 of the various Green Lantern titles, drawing on the most popular elements of the horror comic genre.  But now, just a few months later, it has become vaguely mundane.  The same two or three plot devices are being played out over and over again.  So while I’m certainly not going to be turning my back on the Lantern books any time soon I would be a lot happier if we could get things moving along a bit more.  As far as I am concerned the Third Army has well and truly risen, and we are overdue on a story that takes their character further. 


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