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Geoff Johns’ Run on Green Lantern – Sinestro Corps War & Tales of the Sinestro Corps (Review/Retrospective)

Okay, now we’re into the meaty stuff. After quite a bit of set-up, Johns finally lets loose. Sinestro Corps War is a summer blockbuster in comics form, but it’s a summer blockbuster with ideas and characters that make it rich and fulfilling. Every inch an ‘event’ comic (right down to an arguably unnecessary spin-off), it manages to be perhaps the best event comic book that has been produced in quite some time. Most importantly, it seems to start to tie together a lot of the work that Johns had put into the earlier issues.

Red and yellow together? A confident choice, sir!

Red and yellow together? A confident choice, sir!

That isn’t to say Sinestro Corps War can’t be appreciated alone – it can. All you really need to know is contained within the books in question (which should have been released in a single volume, bu that’s unfortunately the way that DC works). However, this is the middle act in a series that Johns clearly has well mapped out – it feels like The Empire Strikes Back. It is stunning and magnificent even taken on its own, but it works so much better taken in context.

Johns gives us what is effectively a galactic-scale war comic. Everything comes under fire. The scale of events is breathtaking, as are the visuals. Unfortunately the creative team changes quite a bit over the main issues, but there are more than a few truly impressive set pieces. It feels like a massive event and Johns and his team manage to ramp up the tension and pressure in a shocking amount of time, while also creating the impression (rather successfully) that the really important stuff is happening behind the scenes.

Johns has done a great job building up his Corps cast...

That isn’t to say that this is just empty spectacle. Johns has his themes straight: the burden and responsibility that comes with maintaining order, how societies deal with their fundamental laws when facing seemingly impossible odds and the universal themes of death and rebirth. It’s no coincidence that the Cyborg Superman cannot die, nor the amount of time the series spends in graveyards, or mourning the dead. Once again Johns subtly sets out where he’s going and Blackest Night is echoing backwards through these pages even before the finale.

Johns manages to remedy the problem with his early work on the book – that the Green Lanterns lack a solid rogues gallery – here using two main devices. First, he imports villains wholesale across from other DC universe properties. The last collection included the prospect of coopting the Scarecrow into the club, but Johns has already helped himself to Mongol, Cyborg Superman, Superman Prime and the Anti-Monitor. The only other major member of the Sinestro Corps – Parallax – is a creature defined (if not strictly created) by Johns. He continues keeping these little threads flowing through – like Amon Sur’s cowardice – in ways that pay off a little bit here, but further later on.

Superboy's Primed...

The second major benefit that this collection has is that it features (obviously) Sinestro. Much as Johns understands Hal Jordan, he also understands Sinestro. The fact that you have a villain who believes he’s doing the universe a favour is interesting – that he shares the same goal as the hero (an ordered universe) makes it downright tragic. Sinestro believes what he says and he talks a good game. Johns writes the character as intelligent and articulate. What he does to knock it out of the ballpark is he allows Sinestro to win – after a manner.

Villains typically lose – good guys typically win. Sinestro isn’t so straightforward – he has wheels-within-wheels. It’s a shame that Johns’ brief history of Sinestro (printed in the Tales of the Sinestro Corps) doesn’t fully explore his fall from grace – it focuses on the meeting of the two rather than Sinestro’s apprehension and imprisonment (or even the discovery of his crime). Those last elements are confined to a panel at the end. Rumour has it Johns is planning a Sinestro: Secret Origin, and I really look forward to it.

Not quite mellow yellow...

Simply put, Sinestro (as written by Johns) is a fantastic foil for Hal Jordan. Not because he follows the old opposite approach that typical defines arch-opponents (Batman is order, the Joker is chaos; Superman is above human, Lex Luthor is the perfect human), but because they are so similar. Sinestro mirrors Jordan (right down to his arrogance and attitude to the ring – how is Hal Jordan violating international treaties and wrestling with Russian soldiers any different from Sinestro forcing his brand of order on his home?), and both realise it. It works and – if Johns can keep the relationship running beyond this and throughout his run – we might have a dynamite dynamic on our hands.

Despite the bright colours (including Sinestro’s red skin), Johns likes to keep it reasonably morally ambiguous. The bad guys are clearly identifiable (because Sinestro seems to have picked every thug and lowlife in the galaxy to join his merry band), but how far do the good guys go in fighting them? Johns claims in the special features at the back of the book that he gave the Lanterns the power to kill because he wanted to stir debate – and I believe that. It isn’t a sensationalist move – even this early we see members of the Corps coming to terms with the power to take lives and deciding carefully on a personal basis. This does receive suitable discussion in later issues, but Johns clearly wants a discussion. How can the Green Lanterns keep peace without the capacity to use lethal force if the situation calls for it? They’ve obviously been lucky that they haven’t had to make that decision until now.

Almost-certainly-not-mellow yellow...

Almost-certainly-not-mellow yellow...

Johns makes his War on Terror metaphors more overt here – the bad guys even use young cult members as suicide bombs. The emergence of the Sinestro Corps poses a danger so real that the Guardians must evaluate their way of living to adapt and change – but if the Green Lanterns change too much then surely the bad guys have already won? It is a tough call to make when facing an enemy as remorseless as those shown to us here (in fact, perhaps one of the better elements of the utterly unnecessary Tales of the Sinestro Corps are those brief few-page histories of various members, which give us a hint of the sadism of the villains), and it does change things – forever. Things can’t ever go back – you can’t reignite a dying star (we’ll come to that).

Still, regardless of the undertones of various scenes (including an ambush of the Pacific Fleet), the books deliver as a solid action-adventure yarn. There’s barely a moment wasted in the struggle between good-and-evil and it’s nice that Johns compartmentalises the universe quite well (the Justice League are mostly confined to Tales of the Sinestro Corps and thus avoid overcrowding the main storyline). It’s hard not to cheer at various moments near the climax, and you feel like you should have a bucket of popcorn (noticeably when Johns finally ties up the Coast City storyline in a sweet and heartfelt manner).

Ring out the old...

There’s even some time for character here. Johns reminds us of why he gave so much focus to the Jordan brothers – they anchor Hal. They give him something to come back home to. And – despite all that may have happened – they still stand by him. Johns gives us some powerful stuff (including Jordan’s confrontation of Parallax – and his fear of losing whatever family he has left), but doesn’t let it overwhelm the main storyline or the fifty-odd other characters looking for appearances.

The only real complaint that I might make is that it does seem overcrowded. The Cyborg Superman works well thematically (and the ending makes it clear he has an important role to play), but Superman Prime arguably has no place here. Sure, Johns writes the spoilt brat well – his feature is the best of the glorified bonus feature that is Tales of the Sinestro Crops – but I don’t see any reason for his presence beyond a ‘cool factor’ or the fact that Johns likes the character. Still, it’s a very minor complaint.

Clashing colours...

This collection feels like the middle act of a story, and a good one at that. Things are just starting to pay off, but big developments are still occurring. There are even more clues (and less subtle ones) pointing us towards the approaching climax. It’s engaging and entertaining. It might read slightly better if the reader has browsed Johns’ early work with the characters – so that moments pack bigger emotional punches – but it stands very well in its own right.

The Tales of the Sinestro Corps is more than a tad unnecessary, but comes with a back packed with all manner of special features and character biographies for a huge number of characters featured in the run, no matter how small the appearances. It’s this supplemental material that is more fulfilling than the main stories – though the story of Cyborg Superman seems to resonate with what Johns is doing thematically and the Superman Prime story is just fun – which are generally okay, but nothing special. Still, they do provide a slightly more rounded view of what was going on during the event – and we get a nice profile (arguably two) of Kyle Rayner thrown in for good measure.

Johns continues to craft a new depiction of the classic character, writing in a fresh and original way and giving the audience even thrills and fun that they keep coming back. I hope that the best is yet to come, but I’ll still be satisfied if isn’t.

I may even spring for the Absolute Edition if they ever release it.

Check out our reviews of Geoff Johns’ run on Green Lantern

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