Saturday, 19 January 2013

WHEN IS A DOOR NOT A DOOR? – Green Lantern: New Guardians Annual #1

The first thing that you need to know about the recently released GL:NG annual is that it has been universally panned in reviews by professional critics and comic book fans alike.  Many of my favourite comic book commentators have metaphorically (and possibly literally) ripped this publication to pieces.  In fact, I ran a straw poll on Twitter and I could not get a single one of my 475 followers to admit to liking the thing – and some of those guys are hard-core lantern fans!

So, barring a little bit of set-up, I’m not going to do a traditional review of the title.  Instead I’m going to tell you about my experiences of the book by expanding on the comments I left on the review posted by my fellow Green Lantern fan and blogger extraordinaire, Myron, keeper of the Blog of Oa (when you type Green Lantern fan site into Google you will be offered Blog of Oa as the very first hit!).  I normally don’t read other reviews of a GL title before I have written my own but my Twitter feed lit up last Wednesday night with a distinctly unimpressed verdict of Keith Giffen’s cosmic adventure and I felt obliged to turn to the inter-webs for a second opinion.

Green Lantern: New Guardians Annual #1 was solicited as the prequel to a new spin off title by Giffen called Threshold.  It introduces a previously unheard of Green Lantern recruit named Jediah Caul and pays the most basic of lip service to the story building in the on-going GL:NG title staring Kyle Rayner.  Kyle only appears in the opening pages here and the connection between this annual and the on-going title is vague to say the least.  Instead Arkillo, the Yellow Lantern, Blue Lantern Saintwalker and Star Sapphire Carol Ferris go behind enemy lines on some half-baked mission with Caul in tow.  By the end of it I’m not even sure if they did complete their mission but the upshot is that Jediah Caul is abandoned by the group, or put more specifically, by Arkillo’s fist.  At the books ending he is an unwilling participant in a reality TV game called The Hunted in which losing has fatal consequences

It’s worth noting that the art is heavily inconsistent despite the fact that, in Scott Kolins and Andrei Bressan, the title boasts two masters of comic book art plying their trade.  Additionally, the characterisation of the lanterns we are already familiar with is often taken pretty far from their previously established personas.
So let me set aside all of the hype and subsequent negative press and tell you about my own experience with Green Lantern: New Guardians Annual #1.  To borrow a phrase from the sports commentator’s handbook, this was very much a book of two readings for me. The first time that I read it was on my commute home from work.  I was travelling on a crowded, smelly train.  I was tired and cranky from a less than auspicious day at the grindhouse and to be perfectly honest with you I had to put the book down around half way through.  The narrative seemed to jump around inexplicably.  Tony Bedard’s work in the preceding monthly issues had been butchered in parts and ignored in others.  In the end I gave up and read Worlds' Finest instead (which I have to confess I thoroughly appreciated).

Determined not to leave the GL:NG unread I designed better circumstances in which to have another crack at it. The following afternoon I took the book to a favourite bar where  I sat down with a thirst-quenching beer and a fresh outlook. I put all I know and love about Green Lantern and the New 52 out of my mind and got stuck into a second reading with the attitude that this was a standalone title sharing no connection with modern DC continuity as I understood it. And do you know what… I actually really enjoyed it.

At this point I need to support my sudden turnaround with a little bit of context. Despite what you might think it wasn't just the beer talking.  Prior to having any meaningful contact with the American comic book industry I grew up on a steady diet of 2000AD.  For those of you who are not lucky enough to be familiar with 2000AD, this comics anthology has been bringing a variety of futuristic stories to the discerning sci-fi reader week in, week out since 1977.  More often than not these fantastic bawdy tales are told in a rough and ready art style and can be described as ‘off the wall’ to say the least. Despite having been the proving ground for some of the biggest names in the industry (Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis and Frank Quitely to name but a few) it maintains a very independent feel.

And it is that spirit that I took away from the GL:NG annual. I think DC made a huge mistake in trying to tie Giffen’s story into their other Green Lantern titles but I guess the reality is that this was the only way they could guarantee sales in any great numbers. The fact that they used established lantern characters seems irrelevant within the context of the story.  I know a lot of readers where put off by one scene in which Arkillo and Saintwalker are seen donning comical disguises like a space-age Abbott and Costello.  In my mind the story would have been stronger if we introduced to previously unknown characters that could, if necessary, bear vaguely similar attributes to Arkillo et al instead of trying to shoehorn characters into situations in which they would ordinarily have refused to find themselves.  I don’t consider this to be clumsy writing as such.  In my opinion Giffen has been let down by the poor decision-making of an editorial team who sacrificed quality in order to play the numbers game.

The obvious comparison to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The Running Man film is unavoidable but I don’t consider it to be particularly detrimental to the impact of the story - whereas the connection to the current Green Lantern continuity most definitely is. That said, I look forward to picking up the first issue of Threshold but, if this book is anything to go by, it is unlikely that I will choose to record Jediah Caul’s escapades here at Flodo’s Page on anything more than an infrequent basis.

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