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Geoff Johns’ Run on Green Lantern – War of the Green Lanterns (Review)

I think that Geoff Johns deserves to take the majority of the credit for pushing the Green Lantern series forward as one of the mostly highly regarded properties in DC’s stable of intellectual property. That the Green Lantern continuity was allowed to remain almost entirely intact represents a huge vote of confidence in Johns as a creator, and the work that he has done. Still, War of the Green Lanterns can’t help but feel like a bit of a disappointment. An attempt to do a “mini-event” contained to the franchise (similar to the successful Sinestro Corps War), War of the Green Lanterns suffers because it doesn’t have the same thematic through-line as its predecessor, one that engaged the reader throughout the carnage and crossovers. That’s not to say War of the Green Lanterns doesn’t have any good ideas, but that it’s too jumbled and mixed up to be great.

Mogo doesn't socialise...

On paper, the idea sounds intriguing. Part of the success of Johns’ approach to the title has been in drawing any number of “big hitter” villains to face the intergalactic police squad, giving his saga a wonderful sense of scale. The Anti-Monitor, the “big bad” of the original Crisis on Infinite Earths, has played a key part in both Sinestro Corps War and Brightest Day. Hell, Sinestro’s army brought together any number of popular Superman villains as a means of upgrading the somewhat restricted pool of villains that the title had. While Nekron was no stranger to the franchise, Blackest Night pit the Corps against death itself.

So it seemed logical to bring back Krona. Krona was the Mad Guardian who was originally introduced in Green Lantern, so he has a historical attachment to the title, even if he’s gone on to bigger and bolder things (like being the central villain of Avengers/JLA). I figured it was a matter of time before Johns got back to Krona, given the recurring suggestion that the Guardians were not the perfect peace-keepers that they claimed to be. Focusing a story around a “rogue” Guardian would provide ample ground of contrast and exploration, especially given the gift Johns has for characterising villains, surely? Sadly, not quite.

Sinestro leaps out at the blue...

Krona never feels more than one-note here. He’s just a genocidal madman. It’s a shame, because there’s potential set up. After all, surely the Guardians themselves have made enough screw-ups that Krona perhaps offers an alternative or contrast. The one aspect of his characterisation that I enjoyed was Johns’ decision to root the most fascist line in the famous Lantern oath back to Krona himself. “Beware my power” always sounded a little ominous, like a none-too-subtle threat. It wasn’t the kind of motto I expected from a camp hero with a weakness to yellow. It’s a clever touch tying that idea back to Krona, as if to suggest that he has a greater influence on his colleagues than they’d like to admit.

Less successful is the decision to explain the massacre in Atrocitus’ sector as the work of Krona reprogramming the robotic Manhunter force. The Guardians claim that this was an attempt to demonstrate how any police force without emotions would surely fail, but I don’t see that – it was more a comment on how robots will do exactly what you programme them to. It isn’t as if their decision-making was faulty, it was because Krona told them to wipe out an entire sector. This plot development is particularly frustrating because it would work really well if you replaced the word “emotion” with “will.” After all, the robots might not have done it if they had been allowed “free will.”

Light 'em up...

In fairness, Johns’ reinvention of the series has been based around the idea that “will” is the centre of the “emotional spectrum.” I love the idea, and I think it’s brilliantly “comic book-y”, but there is a point when that approach doesn’t work – using emotion as a synonym for free will was that point for me. I still think that the “crayola cavalry” is a wonderful addition to the mythos, but this isn’t a good use of his underlying theme. Given that the event seems specifically focused around the Green Lantern Corps (in that none of the other colour lantern corps appear, only their representatives), I think it would have been fair to stick with “will.”

There are other problems. The event flies by, but the pace feels a little off. In the early issues in particular, it seems like Green Lantern Corps and Emerald Warriors are merely biding their time as they wait for the next issue of Green Lantern, which seems to be driving the crossover. So we get an entire issue documenting a brawl between Hal and Guy on an ice world, which feels like the space could have been better used. In fairness to Tomasi, he does try to use the title to do some characterisation, but the confrontation could have been handled in a page or two. While the introduction seems to stop and start, the end of the event just flies by, with no real room to appreciate the ideas being thrown out.

Hal of Guy...

The event also suffers a bit because it feels like a conscious attempt to consolidate the Green Lantern mythos across multiple forms of media. While I’m glad that the franchise is doing so well, it feels like a lot at once. We have the introduction of Aya, an artificial intelligence who would appear in Green Lantern: The Animated Series. We also have continual references to “the First Lantern”, who also had his own section in Green Lantern: Emerald Knights. It just feels a little strange to see all this stuff introduced in the middle of an event that is already slightly overcrowded.

It’s a shame, because there’s some good stuff here. In a way, this feels like a spiritual sibling to the other event Geoff Johns was driving at the time, Flashpoint. It’s fascinating that both events centre around heroes who fail to be heroes – here the Green Lanterns become brainwashed killing machines, while that alternate timeline was the result of a moment of weakness for Barry Allen. It’s somewhat fitting that these two franchises – the flagships of DC’s Silver Age – should see out the existing DC universe in a similar manner, with paragons of virtue infected and corrupted, with the relaunched universe arising as a response to that decay and erosion.

Stars no longer his destination?

“What does it mean when the greatest of our champions continue to fall from grace?” the Guardians ask themselves, though it could have been taken from an editorial meeting at DC. “The First Lantern. Then Krona. Sinestro. Now Hal Jordan.” After all, the company has spent the last few years trying to backpeddle furiously away from the corruption of some of their iconic properties pushed “darker and edgier” – the paranoid loner Batman and the mass-murdering Hal Jordan chief among them.

In fact, like Flashpoint, the series explores what might happen if our heroes were to lose their moral compass completely, surrendering to cynicism and despair. Here the fear is personified with the corruption of Mogo. “If John and Kyle can’t free Mogo,” we’re told, “Krona’s army is going to keep growing. And the universe is going to be overrun with mindless and violent Green Lanterns.” It’s a fitting case for a reboot, or a relaunch, or at least a conscious re-purposing.There’s something almost touching about Hal’s final line of the event, observing, “This isn’t how it was supposed to end.”

Colour Hal surprised...

Of course, books like Deathstroke and Red Hood and the Outlaws suggest that the worst of past excesses are still with us, but Johns seems to write a shared universe that is still in shock from the darkness of the nineties. In doing so, he seems to almost justify the relaunch as an attempt to “start over”, much as Barry Allen signalled the death of the old universe with his single moment of weakness in Flashpoint. He seems to acknowedge that his heroes have failed, repeating key images – playing that familiar scene of John failing to save a planet, or putting Parallax back in the battery. Johns and Tomasi did something similar in Brightest Day, replaying the loss of Aquaman’s hand, another key moment in the “dark age” of superhero comics, for the purpose of immediately reversing it.

While Johns is never going to be the master of meta like Grant Morrison, there’s a wonderful reflexiveness to his stories bubbling beneath the surface, if only because I think the man writes the best straightforward superhero narratives you will find today. There is, for instance, something faintly clever about Kyle Rayner saving the day by drawing a way out of a book, a book that trapped the characters in earlier forms of characterisation. Sinestro is literally trapped by his past, as much as he might tear at the pages of the book we’re reading – it’s a nice little touch.

Book 'em, boyo...

In fact, I continue to like Johns’ handling of Sinestro here. Johns has managed to turn a second-tier villain into a wonderful character, and perhaps one of the best-written bad guys in mainstream comic books. I do like that Johns went to the hassle of setting up his new Green Lantern series within the event, and I think it’s a fascinating new direction for the character. I’m very much looking forward to the relaunch, if only to see how this plays out.

Johns continues to hint that there might be a sympathetic character beneath Sinestro’s arrogant and fascist exterior, and even raises some fascinating questions. Of course, the character was a dictator before he was expelled from the Green Lantern Corps, but Johns wonders how the use of fear as a weapon might have corrupted him even further, pushing him more to the extreme. Is it possible that Sinestro was manipulated by Parallax while he was inside the battery? Guy even observes that the yellow ring has a dramatic effect on Hal’s personality. “You’re the one that’s sounding like Sinestro,”he remarks, only a few hours into their mission. Meanwhile, Sinestro demonstrates enough willpower to nearly pull himself out of the book that’s hold him, perhaps trying to become a three-dimensional construct after being trapped on a two-dimensional page.

Never drink and fly...

There are some good ideas here, and I appreciate them, but it feels like Johns has been overwhelmed by all his other obligations and is almost writing this on autopilot. It’s a big event, full of spectacle, and with the mandatory earth-shattering ending, but in the end it just doesn’t have enough emotion.

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