Well, that was a hell of a week in comics! On a personal note Flodo’s Page celebrated its first birthday… Yaay! I started the blog a year ago to share my love of the Green Lantern mythos. It stuns me on a regular basis when I think about the scale of the universe that has been created over the years by the likes of Broome and Kane, Jones, Staton, Adams, O’Neil, Moore and so many other great writers and artists. Storytellers who revelled in tales of a man with a magic ring and a bright green lantern. The adventures of the Green Lantern Corps were spun by the some of the biggest names in comic book history. They were woven together, shaped and reshaped. They passed across generations of creators, reimagined in the hands of Marz, Banks and their ilk before finally settling like a muse of legend in the mind of Geoff Johns. And if you think that sounds a bit whimsical, think again. The continuity, long though it is, is only the tip of the ice-berg in my appreciation of Green Lantern. The vastness of this fictional universe is itself almost unique in comics. The account of the DCU begins with “Billions years ago the Guardians of the Universe…”, or words to that effect. Moreover, Green Lantern is not just one individual hero, it is a Corps comprising of thousands of heroes covering every sector of the known universe. The potential for new stories is virtually limitless. This is recognised in the imagery and language associated the comic book. As I coined myself a moment ago, we were often presented with a ‘Tale’ from the annals of the Corps. The idea if realised on panel through the Book of Oa, a giant tome recording every memorable moment of the GLC. Over the last year on Flodo’s Page I’ve applauded the inspiration that has been given over to Green Lantern by professionals and fans alike. And judging from the feedback I’ve had on the blog I’m not alone in my admiration.
So that was the birthday moment. But suffice to say it isn’t anywhere near the biggest Green Lantern happening in comic books last week. The week had started pretty miserably for me. I was stung more than I’d care to admit by the news that James Robinson will shortly be replaced on the DC published Earth 2. This is a wonderful book where Robinson has had free reign to rewrite the pasts of many golden age legacy characters including the original Green Lantern himself, Alan Scott. It was much reported when Robinson took the brave step of presenting Alan as gay. The world he created, while not quite on the scale of the GLC, is huge and requires an incredible ability to produce long-form storytelling. Readers have been jubilantly buoyed along by promises in interviews and press articles of the huge things still to come under Robinson’s careful guidance. Weirdly the news was more disappointing than the announcement a few weeks earlier that Johns, Tomasi and all of the other creative teams were calling it a day on the Green Lantern titles. Geoff Johns has written almost a decade of GL stories. He has had ample opportunity to make his mark on that world and he has blessed us with some truly unforgettable stories. As I tweeted to a fellow enthusiast the other day, “He deserves a break!” By comparison Robinson was only getting started on Earth 2.
So that wasn’t good. There was also downheartedness among a section of fandom around the final issue of Firestorm which was published last Wednesday. I feel sympathy for these hard-core match heads. It’s never good to have your favourite title cancelled.
But none of this was enough to quash the excitement that I had for ‘New Comic Book Day’. As you all know fine rightly or you wouldn’t even be reading this blog. The day saw the publication of three lantern titles including the epic conclusion to the crossover event ‘Wrath of the First Lantern’. As if this wasn’t enough, Green Lantern #20 was an oversized action packed issue featuring Geoff Johns as writer for the very last time. All the way from Green Lantern: Rebirth in 2004 until now Johns has expertly crafted the title at every turn and I was in no doubt that his departing gift to the mythos was going to be unmissable. Johns has taken the universe to unbelievable heights with the likes of the Sinestro Corps War and the subsequent war of light. The DCU wide event Blackest Night, with Green Lantern front and centre, is honestly the most enjoyable episode I have read in comics. The seven hardcover collections sit on my bedside and are dipped into constantly.
A funny thing happened in the run-up to the release of GL#20. The book was delayed for 2 weeks, presumably because it took so long to make it completely awesome. In the meantime Green Lantern Corps was printed and distributed on its scheduled release date. The book was bannered as the Epilogue to the ‘Wrath of the First Lantern’ but it ended up coming out the week before the Conclusion to the same event. And inevitably it was chock full of spoilers for the main title. This was an epic FAIL on the part of DC Comics and I feel particularly sorry for Peter J. Tomasi who has worked alongside Johns since the beginning of his run, first as an editor and then as a writer. This was to be his swansong and due to some calamitous oversight on the part of DC editorial the wind was somewhat stolen from his sails. Thank the Guardians for Twitter, that is all I can say. I didn’t notice the word Epilogue on the cover at all but before I opened the book somebody tweeted out a warning for Fanterns to tread carefully. So I dutifully put the issue on my shelf and began to count the days (14 of them) until Green Lantern #20 was finally released. It wasn’t easy, I can tell you. An unread GL book is anathema to. I was sorely tempted more than a few times. In hindsight I am mightily glad that I waited.
So on to the main event. It could be said that this was the moment that the last 10 years of Geoff Johns’ career had been building up to. It was certainly his last chance to put words in the mouths of the whole slew of characters he created (for now!). Rather than review Green Lantern #20 at this juncture I’m going to tell you what it was like to read it instead. For this is more than a comic book to be read. It is a thing to be experienced. Holding the book in my hands, with its cardboard wraparound cover and glued spine I was hard pressed to begrudge DC the unusually high price tag. Colours bounced in front of eyes. Alex Sinclair was clearly on a mission to use every tint on his palate.
Page 1 grabbed me by the gut straight away. As I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion, I find reciting the Green Lantern oath to be one of the most stirring rituals in comics. Geoff was pulling out the big guns from the get go. And then, immediately, I was confused. Who is saying the oath? I didn’t recognise any of the Lantern’s in front of me. And more importantly – what happened from the cliff hanger from the last issue? I had a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach that I’d missed something, despite having followed every moment in the GL library for a very long time now. And that includes more copies of Red Lanterns than I honestly care to remember.
Luckily my cruel despair was momentary. These were Lanterns of the future and they were about to tell a story. Page 1, if you’ll permit me the risk of redundancy, was a page-turner. Page 2… BOOM! A full page spread of the Book of Oa. They really know how to play to the nerd in me. The book was looking a little more battered than I’d seen before, “like it had been through the wars” I said to myself with a knowing smile. The following pages gave us a brief account of the Hal Jordan’s history as it was told by Johns picking out all the major beats but focusing particularly on a recap of the last few months. For some reason I was overly pleased to spot one panel referencing an very early issue on the run where Hal charges his ring in mid-air on the capitated head of a Manhunter android. I also cynically noted that the recent Third Army event did not rate so much as a mention.
After that the pages started to roll by as I was sucked into a veritable who’s who of GL supporting cast (Go Gnort!) joining forces to defeat the powerful First Lantern. Part of me wanted to stop and savour each panel in detail. I wanted to ask questions, to test the continuity. To name each character and catalogue each reference but I couldn’t. I was being dragged through story at an insatiable pace.
There are quite a few splash panels making full luxury of the increased page count. Hal gets his fair share obviously, one of which is a double page spread of him returning from the Dead Zone as the leader of a Black Lantern horde. But there is another character who steals a page or two. In fact, where the first half of this book really makes its mark is in its depiction of Thal Sinestro. It’s pretty obvious, even to a brand new reader, that Geoff Johns loves writing Sinestro. In that instant what many conceive to be the single worse choice made by any writer on a Green Lantern title becomes its greatest victory. The yellow Lantern finally fulfils his ultimate wish in bonding with the fear entity, Parallax. Even as I’m reading I pay silent tribute to the character that Johns has championed over the course of his long tenure. It’s no accident that Sinestro has been borne from the dubious status of arch-villain to become one of the best loved anti-heroes in DC Comics today. It’s great to see Sinestro as Parallax . Unlike all of our favourite GLs from Earth, most infamously Hal Jordan himself, the entity does not possess his latest host. Sinestro is able to control the power of Parallax while retaining his own persona. This reminded me of Ion in the Green Lantern lore. Both Kyle and Sodam Yat absorbed the will entity without being enthralled by it. This perfectly captures the notion of characters being in tune with one element of the emotional spectrum. I would suppose that there are only a few people that can safely bond with each of the emotional entities.
Interspersed throughout the issue are pages of tributes and testimonials thanking Geoff Johns for his long service. The great and good of comic books and its associated media grace these pages. Each one is picked out in a different colour and carries a Lantern representing that colour, a bright purple sheet with Indigo-1 in the corner for example. The words appearing there are heartfelt and often poetic. Dazzling nuggets celebrating one legendary writer’s journey. Well… I’ve got to be honest with you. After the first one I skipped them all. In fact, I didn’t actually pause to take in any of them until my third read-through. The story is that good. Nothing was getting between me and the end of this book.
If I can take a segue on that topic for a moment, I have to commend the editorial team on their arrangement of Green Lantern #20. The only advertisements in the issue are for other Lantern titles, pointedly the all new creative teams appearing on the shelves next month and the much talked about offering from Keith Giffen and Scott Kolins who will launch their interpretation of Larfleeze from the pages of the Threshold anthology into his very own solo book. The first ad doesn’t appear until almost the end of the story. In this sense the book is spoiler free. None of the forthcoming plotlines are thrown in to break the spell that Johns and Doug Manhke have cast over us in the first 50 or so pages. Of course, I’ve long known that there are changes just around the corner. How could there not be? But while I was submerged in that narrative for the first time my thoughts were not wondering at some distant future. I could barely contain my excitement over what would appear on the very next panel.
At my core I felt for the first time in years that I was reading a comic book of the same quality as I hold Blackest Night to be. I’d never turned away from Green Lantern in the intervening years but neither was I fool enough to consider that all of the writing had been equal quality. It was exactly this thought that was going through my mind when Nekron popped up in all his splendid scythe wielding glory. “No, Geoff… you haven’t!” He only bloody well did, ladies and gentlemen. “Mind officially blown.”
I’m not even going to try and talk about the art in any great detail. I may be in danger of repeating myself here but, for me, panel after panel, image after image, reference after reference was jaw dropping. In fact, I tweeted as much to Geoff Johns. I said “… @GeoffJohns That was the sound of my jaw hitting the floor! #GreenLantern” And Geoff tweeted me back in a private DM, “ :) ”. Now this might not seem like very much to the rest of the world but let me tell you as Green Lantern uber-geek, to know that I made Geoff Johns laugh (even digitally) on ‘Geoff Johns Day’ was a special moment for me. He was very quiet on his public feed that afternoon but I like to think he was logged in and following some of the many reactions that were bubbling across social networks that ‘New Comic Book Day’. I’m never going to wash this Twitter account again…
That the First Lantern would be defeated was inevitable, of course, and he was dispatched in rip-roaring fashion. What I finally understood in its full complexity was the psychological battle that was being played out in this arc. Up until now I had looked at the First Lantern’s mind games as a literary device to underpin the action. All of a sudden it hit me like the proverbial 10 ton truck. The underlying goal of ‘Wrath…’ was to heal Hal Jordan’s one remaining scar, the childhood trauma of his father’s death. I wasn’t quite moved to tears when the GL comforted his younger self but I was hugely taken aback by the powerful impact the scene had on me.
And after all that the Green Lanterns won the day. “As if there was any doubt, folks…”
One thing I was glad to have resolved, although I am undecided of my genuine reaction towards, is the demise of the Guardians of the Universe - or their well-deserved comeuppance you might say. The Guardians were executed by Sinestro. It doesn’t come as much surprise. They had basically become irredeemable over the last year or two and if anybody was going to finally off them it would be Sinestro. Appearing last August for the first time, the Templar Guardians were the heralds of their brethren’s doom, for they were the obvious morally stout replacement for the corrupted immortals. Even so, it was nice to have any lingering doubts dispelled.
And with that all is right with the world once more. The narrative jumps back to the future Lanterns and that is the end of the story… except it isn’t. And by the same token it wasn’t for me that day. Geoff and his many artistic cohorts had banded together to keep the story going. He refused to let go the reins and we kept on riding together.
If everything up to this point had been Blackest Night, what came next was different, something special. Something befitting the end of an era. In my time as a comic book fan I can only think of one suitable comparison, ‘Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?’ In brief for those who don’t know, ‘Whatever happened…’ was a two issue story from Alan Moore giving a kiss good-bye to the Silver Age of Comics before John Byrnes issued in a new era for Superman in 1986. These last few pages have that same feel. Geoff Johns allows us to travel with him into the twilight of our heroes lives to find out what became of them. I didn’t know how I felt about this. If this is how the story ends what freedom do other writers have to take the ‘Tales of the Green Lantern Corps’ in their own direction? My concerns were fairly short-lived, however, because the story itself was a thing of beauty. Each of our Earth Lanterns got his own happy ending. This is how I resolved it in my mind. Like the Superman adventure I just mentioned, I see this as an ending that might happen, and could happen. That doesn’t mean it will happen in our continuity but it is the ending each of these ‘hard traveling’ heroes deserve. And it is the ending Geoff Johns deserves too.
There was one last thing to share with you on the book (besides Johns’ own letter to the fans that I completely missed first time around). I was just getting to the very last page of the issue. The keeper of the Book of Oa was sharing his ‘Jerry’s final thought' with his young audience, “Hal Jordan, The Greatest of all the Green Lanterns. The inspiration he left behind continues to burn bright.” And then I turned the page and disaster struck. The leaves were coming out of my book. The binding glue that I had been so proud of half an hour earlier was tormenting me with its shoddiness. A collectable heirloom was destroyed before for want of a metal staple. I looked again. I felt the edge of the page. I ran my nail along it gently. It was then I realised the paper was hinged on the wrong side and it sprung open at my touch. And with that moment my own journey was complete. I had opened Ethan Van Sciver’s glorious 4 page gatefold crammed with just about every coloured Lantern ever to grace the pages of a comic. I didn’t need the words in the lantern shaped logo in the corner to tell me this really was “The End”. And what a fabulous way to go.
Actually, it wasn’t the end. There was another three books I still had to read that day; Green Lantern Corps #20, Green Lantern: New Guardians # 20 and Red Lanterns #20. Each one dealt with the fallout from their namesake title in its own way. I had to laugh when I reached the final page of each book and was confronted with a similar lantern shaped logo to the one that I described above but this time the words that appeared read “Never The End”.
For all I said earlier, Peter J.Tomasi does manage to say a fond farewell to John Stewart and his favoured charge, Guy Gardner. By the end of the issue I think Guy is a character that most fans could forgive for his infamous smug demeanour. I read GLC #20 and then, quite by chance, I took a decision that made my day complete. I decided to read Red Lanterns next and leave New Guardians until last. RL #20 was ok. Peter Milligan has tidied up his run nicely and left it in a position to tell the sort of stories that I, personally, always wanted from the book but rarely got. Going forward I’d like to see less introspection from this title and more rage-fuelled cosmic punishment squad.
But it was New Guardians that was really the final piece in the jigsaw of my comic book week. This issue tells the story of Kyle through the eye’s of Ganthet and Sayd. …Spoiler Alert! Ganthet and Sayd are both alive. Sinestro let them live because they loved each other. What an old softy he is really. Here I nearly did shed a tear. Tony Beddard shows us why Kyle is the most powerful Lantern of all. How he can harness all of the emotions in the spectrum and use them, even fear, for the good of everybody. Kyle is the lantern that I began my own Green Lantern journey with in earnest. It was through his story that I came to know Ganthet, his father figure. I found myself thinking that Geoff Johns could have written both of them out of existence 10 years earlier with the quick flurry of a penstroke. It is a fitting tribute to the writer’s legacy that Kyle was allowed to remain and to flourish after Hal Jordan was reinstated as the lead role in main GL title. Where Green Lantern #20 is John’s final gift to us, I thought in those closing panels that Green Lantern: New Guardians #20 is our thanks to him for taking a geeky little story about a man with a magic ring and a bright green lantern and turning it into the stuff of legend.