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Tony Bedard’s Run on Green Lantern Corps – Revolt of the Alpha Lanterns & The Weaponer (Review)

As with Green Lantern and Emerald Warriors before it, Tony Bedard’s run on Green Lantern Corps feels like it’s trapped between two larger events, flowing out of Blackest Night and into War of the Green Lanterns. I think Bedard suffers a lot more than Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi from this, merely because he’s new to the franchise – he did great work on R.E.B.E.L.S., but this is first time working with the cast of characters from Green Lantern. So, while Johns and Tomasi fall comfortably into their familiar routines, Bedard seems to struggle to find his feet, while telling his own story and managing the obligatory set-up for the next large-scale event.

That's the last time Sinestro calls Kyle a second-stringer...

Having read all three tie-in books, I think that the biggest problem with the run-up to War of the Green Lanterns is the fact that the editorial team seem to have scattered narrative breadcrumbs across the three books. In the build-up to Blackest Night, Geoff Johns was sewing the seeds in the main book, while Peter Tomasi was playing with the same themes. It didn’t feel like he had a checklist of plot points to hit before the titles jumped into what might be described as “event mode.” All Tomasi had to do when writing Green Lantern Corps was to create the impression of a universe under siege.

In the lead-in to War of the Green Lanterns, is contrast, we’ve ended up with any number of plot points shoe-horned into stories that are in progress. Guy Gardner’s convenient exposition-filled explanation to Kilowog and Arisia was a bit distracting, and it was an obvious attempt to synchronise the reveal, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the stuff Bedard has to deal with. We open with some shady deal being made between the Guardian Ganthet, Guy Gardner and Atrocitus, which has more bearing on Green Lantern and Emerald Warriors than it does with Green Lantern Corps (since Guy and Atrocitus seem to be doing stuff about the deal, while Ganthet just goes along with whatever’s happening).

Corp cast...

More awkwardly, Bedard does his “synchronised reveal” in the most ham-fisted way possible, when Ganthet starts vomiting blood in the middle of an unrelated rescue mission. We’re treated to several pages of Ganthet explaining everything, none of which matters to the event at hand. Even the bad guy, the Weaponer, seems mildly frustrated that his plotline has been interrupted for this moment. Ganthet might as well have introduced his revelations with the line, “and now for something completely different…” Still, the tie-in aspect of the story aside, how does Bedard do?

There’s a sense that the writer is trying to find his feet here, and that’s understandable. Geoff Johns has been driving the Green Lantern franchise since Rebirth, and he has a clear idea of where he wants his story to go. Similarly, Peter Tomasi has been on-board since the end of the Sinestro Corp War, and he’s got his “Green Lantern writing skills” down. Bedard is the new guy on the block, and he’s playing with toys that other writers have guided to the centre of the DC Universe, with the franchise now second only to Batman among DC’s top-tier heroes.

Forging onwards...

So the first arc, Revolt of the Alpha-Lanterns, feels just a little bit limp. It’s the same story we’ve seen before, with a Green Lantern foe we’ve seen in a similar position, and a very obvious mistake on the part of the Guardians backfiring in a very obvious way. However, one can’t help but feel that Bedard knows this, that perhaps the cyclical nature of it all is entirely intentional. A recurring theme of the Green Lantern stories, and something more obvious since the revival, is the idea that the Guardians of the Universe are incredibly old, but not necessarily incredibly wise. For an immortal species, they seem to refuse to learn from their mistakes, repeating them over-and-over again. You could argue that it’s a critique on the American comic book industry, with superhero comic prone to cannibalise themselves over years, but that’s a discussion for another time.

For those unfamiliar with Green Lantern history (and there’s quite a few), the Guardians are the blue beings who tried to bring order to the cosmos using the green energy of willpower. Before they came up with the idea of giving the power to lesser beings to wield in their name, the Guardians built a robot police force to enforce peace across the universe. The idea was that a bunch of emotionless automatons would not be susceptible to mortal vices. That went as well as any science-fiction fan might expect, with the Manhunters malfunctioning and causing death on a massive scale. So the Guardians started recruiting mortals to do their work.

Showing his hand...

Any sane organisation seeking to learn a lesson from that unfortunate incident might have decided that using soulless killer robots as an intergalactic police squad might not be a good idea. However, in the wake of the Sinestro Corps War, the Guardians recently created the “Alpha-Lanterns”, to police their police force. The Alpha-Lanterns being a bunch of soulless cyborgs, with any hint of emotion removed, rendering them cold and logical. Revolt of the Alpha-Lanterns follows through on the “history repeating” aspect of things, as an old enemy (who hijacked the Manhunters, for an extra sense of symmetry) hijacks the Alpha-Lanterns. It’s an interesting idea, to explore how societies can fall back on familiar and flawed methodologies in the face of a crisis, but I don’t think Bedard really delivers.

It doesn’t help that Bedard seems to have a bit of a tin-ear for dialogue here. Addressing Nekron, the Cyborg Superman declares, “You there! Angel of Death! Put an end to my suffering! I’m talking to you!!” It seems like the Cyborg Superman has suddenly become an inner-city jerk. Bedard even struggles to make the character’s back story seem sympathetic, which is something of a feat given it involves a dead family and a suicidal character who can never actually die. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that Bedard writes the character with so many clichés that you feel he should have a twirly moustache.

He's no Superman...

After providing the mandated back story, the Cyborg Superman attempts to justify taking an opportunity to tell John Stewart what he already knew. Apparently “new readers” is a bit too meta, so he comes up with the trite, “Because I want you to understand: I am not a monster. I’m the victim.” Ganthet is devastated by the loss of a Lantern, and asks, “What is this terrible… ache in my chest?” The Cyborg Superman, evidently having used his down-time to take a masters course in melodrama, replies, “It’s called grief. One of those wonderful emotions you little blue know-it-alls ignored for so long.”

All this makes it sound like it’s bad. It’s not. It’s fairly okay, and there are moments where Bedard seems to demonstrate his talent and aptitude, as if he’s finally getting his groove on. Although it’s just a bit “after school special”, I like John Stewart’s observation, “I guess in spite of being ‘a ghost in the machine’, Hank Henshaw still has a very human need to be understood.” It’s not exactly subtle, but it gets the point across much more efficiently than a lot of the other stuff going on.

A Sinestro chant...

Bedard’s second arc, The Weaponer, is much stronger, even if it does feel a little bit weighed down by the lead-in to War of the Green Lanterns. Part of the reason it works better is that it features much stronger character work, but also because it feels a bit different from the types of stories we’ve been seeing in Green Lantern. In fairness, despite the story threads linking them, I respect the way that each of the three books in the Green Lantern have their own unique style. Green Lantern is a vehicle for Geoff Johns’ emotional spectrum stories, while Emerald Warriors allows Peter Tomasi to tell new space stories. If Green Lantern Corps fills a unique niche, it’s that the book has the strongest ties to the pre-Johns Green Lantern.

Tyler Kirkham might not have been a nineties comic book artist, but one can see the influence of the artists who worked on the X-Men line in the nineties, including Jim Lee, Tony Daniel and Marc Silvestri (who Kirkham even worked with at Top Cow). There’s a wonderful rough quality to his artwork that stands in contrast to the sleaker style of more modern artists. Green Lantern Corpslooks like an old-fashioned comic book, with lots of bright colours.

You don't need to Hank him...

There’s even a very “nineties” crossover with Brightest Day, where the hero Firestorm just so happens to stumble across our heroes while on a quest in his own book (which you can buy to read all about!). He even appears on the cover as an awkward means of cross-promotion, and is completely inessential to the story being told. It just feels like a distracting attempt to advertise an on-going “event” book. There’s another, slightly more relevent, tangent where a minor scene in Brightest Day forms the basis of The Weaponer. (“Deadman’s White Power Ring created the white-energy construct net in Brightest Day #3,” we’re informed). It’s the type of thing that is all-too-common in modern comics, but the sort of gimmicky “special guest star” nature of Firestorm’s appearance calls to mind the nineties.

More than that, though, Bedard seems to evoke the era before Hal Jordan come back. Of course, the presence of John Stewart and Kyle Rayner bring to mind the nineties, when Kyle was the “only” Green Lantern in the comics, and John Stewart was appearing in Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. Indeed, Bedard seems to have picked his villains cleverly from the earlier comics. Though Geoff Johns redefined the Cyborg Superman as a Green Lantern bad guy, he played a huge part in the fall of Hal Jordan in the nineties. Similarly, although Sinestro and his yellow lanterns were based on Qward, we saw very little of the indigineous culture in the pages of Green Lantern. The Weaponer himself might be a new character, but Bedard seems to relish the opportunity to resurrect old pieces of comic book mythology like the “deadly qwa-bolts” and the Weaponers and the Thunderers.

Sinestro runs rings around the Weaponer...

Even Bedard’s portrayal of Sinestro, one of the highlights of The Weaponer, seems to hark back to classic portrayals. Geoff Johns has done a great job establishing the character as a well-intentioned extremist, a character who embodies fascism not out of sheer comic book villainy, but out of a belief that it can harness order from chaos. Johns version of the character has made him one of the most compelling villains in the DC Universe – I’d argue making him almost as fascinating as the Joker or Lex Luthor. However, Bedard’s story renounces any suggestion that Sinestro is an anti-hero who surrounds himself with scum, instead portraying the character as a genocidal war lord. That said, Bedard acknowledges the more nuanced portrayal of the character in other books, hinting that Sinestro is, in his own warped way, trying to be a decent father. Most parents don’t promise genocide as part of their paternal duty, but he’s new to this.

“What an unbelievable jackass…!” Kyle remarks of Sinestro, after telling the villain that his daughter has been kidnapped. The Weaponer holds his daughter hostage, and yet Sinestro can only remark, “He seeks to rob me of my dignity.” At the same time, Bedard understands what makes Sinestro so dangerous is his capacity to contaminate others with his ideas and philosophies, as the embodiment of fascism or authoritarianism within the DC Universe – perhaps coming to challenge Darkseid as its champion, if only because his portrayal is more nuanced. “Sinestro corrupts everything and everyone he touches,” his daughter observes, and she’s right – he has shaped the evolution of the Green Lantern Corps even as its deadliest enemy.

He's so Jaded...

Bedard shows promise with the characters here, even if there’s only so much room for him to work. In particular, I love that he acknowledges Kyle’s standing as “the other Green Lantern”, relegated to the shadows once Hal Jordan returned, after replacing him in the nineties. “Where is the real Green Lantern?” the Weaponer demands at one point. Kyle responds, “You want the real Green Lantern? You’re looking at him!”

It’s a nice way to acknowledge that – although Kyle is doing far better than most legacy characters – he does stand in the shadow of the franchise lead, who carries the same code name and has the same powers. I imagine part of the reason Bedard has opted for such a “retro” feeling is because Kyle is his lead character, and he’s trying to evoke that sort of feeling with the book. I’ve never subscribed to the idea that each book in a line needs a niche, but Bedard gives Green Lantern Corps a fairly distinctive voice.

Blue and green should never be seen...

I do feel a bit bad about John Stewart. I came of age with the Warner Brothers cartoons, so John Stewart is the Green Lantern that I most closely associate with the Justice League, and I don’t think he’s ever worked so well as he did there. Guy has a strong enough personality that he defines himself in any situation, and Kyle’s status as an artist and a long-term lead of the comic book help him fit into the broader Green mythos. John Stewart, on the other hand, was defined as a very grounded individual, an awkwardly social-conscious creation who was originally written to help give the series a more earthly feeling. I think John Stewart works in the context of the Justice League because he’s the most grounded member – he has a power ring, but it’s just a uniform. He’s not a billionaire, or an alien, or a goddess or a hawk-person or a guy who experiences life at close to the speed of light or an underwater king. He’s a guy who had an ordinary life, an ordinary career, and who got handed this incredible gift.

It’s not really a problem with Bedard’s writing, because a lot of writers have struggled with the question of what to do with John Stewart. He falls back on the characterisation we’ve seen a lot in the last few years, playing up John’s military background, while only acknowledging his life as an architect in passing. It probably makes sense, as Kyle is an artist and there’s overlap there, and also because a military space cop is an interesting enough hook, but nothing ever seems to come of it. There’s a lot of emphasis on tactics, as John infiltrates the Cyborg Superman’s lair, or makes remarks like, “Anyhow, what I saw told me a lot about how he thinks. And sometimes that’s all the edge you need.”It feels fairly generic.

Packs a punch...

Still, there’s enough of interest here that I want to see Tony Bedard continue writing these characters. I think, free from having to tie into an event and allowed to find his feet, Bedard might be able to give us an interest Green Lantern book that has its own place and finds its own voice. I’m glad that Bedard will be allowed to continue writing Kyle Rayner post-reboot (or -relaunch or -resomething) and I hope New Guardians is distinctive enough to carve its own place in DC’s expanding Green Lantern franchise.

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