22 May 2013

Cover To Cover: GREEN LANTERN #20

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Keith Champagne, Marc Deering, Mark Irwin, Tom Nguyen, Wade Von Grawbadger et al
DC $7.99

Stewart R: And in an oversized flash of multicoloured light the curtain fell upon the Geoff Johns era on Green Lantern after 10 years of dedicated sweat, toil, input and restructuring. While a good many hours could be spent in heated debate as to whether he leaves the world of Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps in a better and more interesting place (I’ll state for the record that I belong to the camp that believes he does) this review must firstly look at this finale of the 'Wrath of the First Lantern' in some form of moderate isolation to see if it stands on its own merit. Only then can we see whether it lives up to the standard that Johns set during his tenure as an afterthought.

This bumper sized issue - there’s 60+ pages of story here - kicks things off in a way that exemplifies modern comics; in some far flung future a newly graduated Green Lantern seeks education on the story of Hal Jordan from the keeper of the Book of Oa. Nothing wrong with that at all as we know that all four Lantern series are continuing on with new creative teams and the Corps isn’t dying as an entity as we turn the last page of this effort. It’s just something of a shame to already have a good idea of how things will likely pan out thanks to solicitations that have appeared online, in preceding comics and in this book itself (not to get too caught up in the Green Lantern Corps #20 spoiler debacle as well!). The brief history lesson of Jordan’s trials as a Lantern, from his impromptu conscription, through the rise of the other Corps in the Spectrum of Light to his recent plunge into the the Dead Zone is a neat summary to bring everyone up to speed and remind the readers that despite our preferences and favourites, Hal Jordan is the greatest human Green Lantern to have wielded the ring.

And then this explosive and unrelenting whirlwind finale really kicks into gear. Johns pulls all of the major pieces into place and unleashes them in explosive waves as the battle against Volthoom ebbs and flows as every Lantern joins the fray with the sole purpose of preventing the First Lantern from rewriting reality, erasing the universe as we know it or, in the case of Atrocitus, stealing his vengeance from him. The biggest problem related to this event has been conceptualising and then realising Volthoom’s powers on the page as he’s apparently grown stronger as things have progressed, but without any clear indication of this other than certain characters - or the antagonist himself - stating it to be fact each time. To a degree that issue is sidestepped somewhat here with the endgame clearly in sight and the mission now to stop him at nearly any personal cost. Deals are made, die cast, gambits thrown into the mix in a last gasp effort and while not without its flaws, this part of the story is definitely exhilarating.

Once the dust settles there are still loose ends for Johns to tie up and he goes about his task of highlighting just what this series has meant to him, the tireless work done by his peers and how he envisions the bonds between some of the more prominent characters. In something of a ‘What If’ epilogue this Lantern writer extraordinaire offers up glimpses into the latter day lives of some of the main players ably accompanied by the artists from the associated series and drops the odd brain melter here and there to keep us talking for a few weeks to come. Within the space of 60 odd pages we have the event wrapped up, the story that kicked off a decade ago in Green Lantern: Rebirth rounded out nicely and things left in a reasonable position for the next generation of writers to pick up the reins and steer their own path.

So it’s a success then? Well, no, unfortunately not. Johns is hampered by the event fatigue that crept into this series through the past two years and the aforementioned problems with the First Lantern. There are far too many similarities to the Blackest Night event in terms of threat and pacing to make this truly stand out. Even with the hefty page count available to him I did get the general feeling that everything was moving at such a breathtaking pace not just because it suited the plot, but also because there was an element of clock watching going on with everything having to be tied off and shipped out to a tight schedule. Several characters get bit parts, some are nearly overlooked entirely, and the Guardians, for so long the guiding force and then the hidden villains for this franchise, are reduced to pretty much nothing more than a plot mechanism. One really important moment cranks the tension up several gears and then is dismissed in the click of fingers once it’s no longer required. It leaves this feeling more like a collection of terrific blockbuster scenes and sequences without time to glue it all together with substantial plot and the requisite quality dialogue.

Then there are the artistic niggles that have plagued Green Lantern for several years that turn up once again. The standard of the inking runs up and down the gauge of consistency from beginning to end with the usual large retinue of inkers once again all chipping in with their various styles. I’m not saying that this is a hideous blight to look at by any means as Mahnke’s handiwork is still a pleasure on the eyes and this still feels like a premium book, yet he’s surely a penciller whose work deserves the attention and care of a single inker. There are also instances where moments of gravity seem a little too constrained by the busy panel layouts and while I appreciate the requirement for DC to opt for a glue binding, it reduces the quality of some splash pages and makes some panels that flow across two pages to be lost between the darkened divide of the bind, never to be seen in their entirety. In a stapled book this effect would’ve been reduced and certainly won’t be a consideration in the digital format. When we’re all shelling out eight bucks for the privilege of reading this on paper however, that’s something of an unfortunate oversight.

While I’ve been heavy on the criticism here, I will say that the Green Lantern I've read has always been about Hal’s journey, from his Rebirth through Blackest Night, onto Brightest Day and out the other side, and Johns made that journey all the more poignant as we slipped into the era of the New 52. By bringing Sinestro along for the ride as Jordan’s mirror he spread the burden of doubt between the one time teammates and generated a broader vision of what it takes to be a Lantern in the first place. In this finale he does find a good amount of time to once again hold the hero aloft and show what makes his willpower one of the most immovable forces in the universe when it manifests fully, while also showing that whether hero or villain, the strength within Sinestro (and a handful of other Lanterns) is not constrained to just one part of the emotional spectrum. There are also a few smile-inducing moments that pay service back to those readers who have been involved for the majority of the ride.

While slightly lacking as an event, the 'Wrath of the First Lantern' has given Geoff Jones the opportunity to show us how many of the mechanisms of his complicated Green Lantern clockwork universe come together and there’s no doubting that in this finale he’s made a decent attempt at saying farewell to a title that he loves. A valiant effort that just falls short on substance and can’t survive on slightly shaky style alone. 6/10

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