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The End of Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern Epic!

I came in very late to this party.  Beginning back in 2004 with Green Lantern: Rebirth, writer Geoff Johns began weaving an epic outer space saga in the pages of Green Lantern.  Not only did Mr. Johns completely revitalize and re-energize the Green Lantern comic book (returning original modern-day Green Lantern Hal Jordan to comic-book life and reinstating the character as the central focus of the Green Lantern comic book), but he radically reinvented and expanded the Green Lantern mythos in a way that I can’t imagine ever being undone.  For years, readers of Green Lantern accepted the book’s premise that the space-faring peace-keeping group the Green Lantern Corps were powered by the green energy of will, but Mr. Johns expanded that idea to suggest an entire emotional spectrum — different colors representing different emotions, which each color having a ring-bearing corps of its own.  This is such a clever idea, and has quickly become so accepted in the DCU that I can’t ever imagine that concept not being forever linked with Green Lantern moving forward.

I had read about what Mr. Johns and his talented artistic collaborators (among them Ethan Van Sciver, Carlos Pacheco, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, and Doug Mahnke) had been doing with Green Lantern for years, but I never actually read any of those comics until the relaunch of the DCU with the “New 52” universe-wide shake-up.  Green Lantern #1 was one of the many new DCU issue #1’s that I sampled, but after the dust cleared, Green Lantern was one of the very few new DC titles that I continued to read.  (I also stuck with Green Lantern‘s sister title, Green Lantern Corps, as well as Brian Azzarello’s Wonder Woman.)  I was immediately hooked into the story (that began in the re-numbered Green Lantern #1), which launched with the intriguing notion that villain Sinestro had somehow again become a Green Lantern, while Hal had been booted out of the corps and was now stuck on Earth, powerless.  A few issues into the re-launched series, I decided that I wanted to start from the beginning and catch up on everything that I had missed.

And so began a year-long re-reading project, in which I tracked down the collected editions of Mr. Johns’ lengthy run.  I wrote about this Green Lantern saga repeatedly here on the site.  In my first post, I discussed Green Lantern: Rebirth, the mini-series that re-launched Green Lantern, and the first several story-lines of the relaunched Green Lantern comic book.  Then I wrote about The Sinestro Corps War, the massive crossover event in which GL’s nemesis Sinestro forged his own corps — using the yellow power of fear.  This was a phenomenal story-line, probably the highlight of Mr. Johns’ whole run, in my opinion.  Then I wrote about Secret Origin, Mr. Johns’ wonderful, detailed re-telling of Hal Jordan’s origin, as well as several story-lines that served as preludes to Blackest Night.  Then I wrote about Blackest Night, another massive crossover series that spanned the entire DC Universe, in which a terrible new enemy returned deceased friends and foes of our heroes to life, and the newly-revealed spectrum of different-colored corps stepped into the forefront of the story.  Then I wrote about War of the Green Lanterns, in which the villain Krona turns the Guardians of the Universe against Hal Jordan.  Finally, I wrote about Green Lantern in the New 52, summarizing my (very positive) thoughts on the first year-and-a-few-months of the relaunched Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps titles.

In an interesting turn of events, just a few months after I found myself all caught up with Mr. Johns’ saga, the news broke that Mr. Johns would soon be ending his nearly decade-long run on Green Lantern, that he would be leaving the book.  I was disappointed with that news, but very interested to see how Mr. Johns would wrap up his story.  Mr. Johns’ tenure on Green Lantern concluded with two crossover stories: “Rise of the Third Army” and “Wrath of the First Lantern.”

Rise of the Third Army — As I wrote in my last post about the Green Lantern books, I found this story-line to be strangely disappointing.  In a weird choice, just as another galaxy-spanning event seems to be beginning — the Guardians have decided that the Green Lantern Corps has failed them, just as their Manhunters did millennia ago, so they decide to wipe out the GLs and create a new, Third Army of peacekeepers, creatures unencumbered by emotion or free will of any kid — both Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps began focusing on much smaller-scale, Earth-bound stories.  In Green Lantern, Hal Jordan has vanished and is perhaps dead, so another Green Lantern is chosen for Earth: Simon Baz, a young, troubled Muslim youth.  Over in Green Lantern Corps, the brash Guy Gardner is humiliated and drummed out of the corps, and attempts to regroup with his family back on Earth.  Actually, I really loved both of those stories.  I really enjoyed the development of the new GL Simon Baz.  Mr. Johns gave him a backstory far different from that of the other predominantly white-male super-heroes out there, and I enjoyed following Simon’s fumbling attempts to make things right with his family while also beginning to discover the larger, very dangerous world of the Green Lanterns.  (I particularly loved Simon’s fight with the Justice League in Green Lantern #14.)  Meanwhile, in Green Lantern Corps, I really enjoyed getting to know Guy Gardner’s family and exploring their complicated relationships with one another.

But what was weird was that these small stories were being told in comic books labeled with the big “Rise of the Third Army” banner on their covers.  I was expecting big cosmic action, not these smaller-scale character stories.  We did occasionally cut away to what was happening on Oa or elsewhere, but it seemed like the big galaxy-spanning adventure had been relegated to a subplot.  Speaking of being relegated to a subplot, Hal Jordan only appeared for a few pages in those issues, trapped with Sinestro in some sort of death-like nether-world.  I enjoyed the stories in those issues very much, but I was ready for the “real” story to begin.

Wrath of the First Lantern — Sadly, that didn’t exactly happen (at least not right away).  In Green Lantern Corps Annual #1, the Guardian’s Third Army is wiped out, but a new threat is unleashed — the mysterious “First Lantern” Volthoom, who had long been imprisoned by the Guardians.  Volthoom appears to be all-powerful, with command of all the colors of the emotional spectrum, as well as the ability to re-shape reality to suit his whim.  For the next several issues of Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps, we see Volthoom toying with our main characters (including Guy Gardner, John Stewart, Sinestro, etc.), looking into their memories and playing with their pasts, presenting them with alternate histories of their lives.  Meanwhile, Hal Jordan continues to be stuck in “the Dead Zone.”  While the individual stories were interesting, and it’s always fun to look back at the complicated continuity and history of these characters, once again the individual issues in what I thought was going to be a big galaxy-spanning epic turned out to be surprisingly small in scale.  And they felt, dare I say it, like time-wasters.  Nothing much happened in the first several issues of “Wrath of the First Lantern.”  It was just the same story told several times, of Volthoom toying with our heroes.

And I never really understood why.  I never felt Volthoom’s story was clearly told.  I didn’t really understand his history, why he was originally imprisoned by the Guardians, or why he cared about playing with the Green Lantern characters and re-writing their histories now.  I also never really understood his powers — what exactly could he do, and where/how had he attained such great power?  I think had those questions been more definitively answered, Volthoom would have been a more effective villain and I would have enjoyed these stories more.

Things picked up in Green Lantern Corps #19, written by Peter Tomasi and gorgeously illustrated by Fernando Pasarin and Scott Hanna.  Finally we got some great action as Mogo returns and there is a huge, bloody clash between legions of Green Lanterns and Volthoom.  This is what I had been waiting for!!

Then we arrived at Green Lantern #20, the hugely over-sized (around 60 pages) climax to the story, and Geoff Johns’ final issue.  This was a fantastic issue.  We finally got the big epic action, and exploration of the Green Lantern mythos, that I had been waiting for.  It’s a tremendous, very satisfying conclusion to the Third Army/First Lantern story-line.  The issue is very dense, jam-packed with plot and circumstance.  And it’s all gorgeously illustrated by Doug Mahnke, absolutely knocking it out of the park.

If I have any complaint, it’s that Green Lantern #20 is so good that I feel like, rather than the time-wasting previous few issues, the story of this issue should have been expanded to have taken place over the last several issues.  There are certainly several points in Green Lantern #20 that would have made great issue-ending cliffhangers for previous issues (Sinestro’s bonding with Parallax, Hal’s raising of Nekron).  Also, as exciting as this final issue was, I still have questions that I think could have been answered had this story been spread out over a few issues.  (How exactly did Hal raise and control Nekron?  How exactly did he return from the dead?  Why was Nekron able to defeat Volthoom when the other-colored Corps were not?)  Finally, new GL is pretty much sidelined in this final issue, and I think had this story been expanded it would have been nice to have seen more detail on Simon Baz’s involvement in these climactic events.

I was also very pleased to see that Green Lantern #20 was written not just as a conclusion to this last year-or-so of story-lines, but to Geoff Johns’ entire Green Lantern saga.  I expected the issue to end after Sinestro departs and we see the book of Oa closed… and indeed, there is a “The End” caption playfully imposed over the last panel on that page.  But then the issue continues for several more pages, and we get epilogues for most of the main characters.  These are delightful, and it’s great to see definitively happy endings for our characters, endings that have been very well-earned.  I have no idea whether future writers and artists working on Green Lantern will feel bound to stay consistent with the endings that Mr. Johns has written for these characters (I was shocked by how specific and definitive were the endings given to each of the characters), but I don’t really care.  For here and now, I loved it, and I think those epilogues really made Green Lantern #20 a special book.  (Let me also just say that I adored the hint of redemption given to us about Sinestro.  That glimpse of a pink hand under the Green monk-like robes was perfection.)

Green Lantern Corps #20 gave us another nice epilogue, written by Peter Romasi, that tied up a few dangling loose ends (Salaak gets rescued!) and gave us a nice little present-day happy ending for John Stewart and for Guy Gardner.  It’s a very small-scale issue, but it felt just right coming after the big events of Green Lantern #20.  I loved it.

And with that, Geoff Johns’ story is over.  I am delighted to have had the opportunity to read his epic from start-to-finish.  It’s been a terrific comic book yarn, and it certainly stands among the best lengthy runs of a writer on a super-hero comic.  The changes and expansions that Mr. Johns made to the Green Lantern story will last long after the publication of his final issue at the helm.  I have never before followed Green Lantern regularly, but Mr. Johns quickly won me over with his imagination and creativity.  Ably assisted by some of the very best artists working in the business today, Geoff Johns has created a spectacular saga.  It’s been a blast, and I look forward to someday reading it all through again from the beginning.

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