Green Lantern reviews: Archives v7, GL Corps v1, Red Lanterns v1

Green Lantern Archives Volume 7

DC Comics, $59.99

Stories by Gardner Fox and John Broome, art by Gil Kane and Sid Greene

Reprinting Green Lantern (Vol. 2) #48-57 (Oct 66-Dec 67)

This is it, Marvelites: This is where Hal Jordan went off the rails.

I say "Marvelites," because these are the issues where Julius Schwartz and his writers, Gardner Fox and John Broome, tried to juice up Hal Jordan ... by making him Peter Parker.

But let me say on the front end that the comparison I just made, to Peter Parker, is entirely my own invention and supposition. Other reviewers and historians may have different views. Heck, they will almost certainly have different views. But this has been my private attitude for 30 years, and I'm sticking to it.

You see, in late 1966, my two favorite comic-book characters were Spider-Man and Green Lantern. One was the guy I pretty much was, the other was the guy I wanted to be. And to my horror, DC changed the latter into the former.

Here's the backstory:

I loved Peter Parker, because he was just like me: Skinny, clumsy, so smart he ruined the grading curve and made everyone hate him, geeky, nerdy, physically small, interested in science, the lot. But Amazing Spider-Man taught me that even with all those flaws, I had worth. That I had something to offer the world. That my "flaws" were actually virtues outside of high school. That I could grow up to be a man with something to offer. That maybe someday a girl would look at me and say, "That's what I've been looking for." Boy, I loved Amazing Spider-Man.

And I loved Green Lantern, because Hal Jordan is what I imagined that Peter Parker (and, by extension, myself) might grow up to be. Confident, good at his job, admired by his co-workers, a guy women went for -- and so damn cool that a cosmic police force would recruit him.

Yeah, Hal Jordan might have ALWAYS been that cool and lucky and gifted. But I preferred to believe that he, like Peter Parker, was given swirlies in junior high. And that THAT is what gave him the character to be the conscientious, heroic and considerate man he was as an adult, once his frame caught up to those who bullied him. Because bullies don't grow up to be Hal Jordan. Peter Parkers do. Bullies grow up to be Guy Gardner. 

But I digress.

Of course, I knew that I was assigning to Hal Jordan background that wasn't there. And, conceptually, wasn't meant to be there. Hal Jordan was created in 1958 or '59, when America's biggest hero -- outside of Eisenhower or MLK, possibly -- was Chuck Yeager. And I know nothing about Yeager that wasn't known then, or now. All we kids knew about Chuck Yeager is that HE WAS THE COOLEST THING IN THE KNOWN UNIVERSE. And that's who Hal Jordan was created to be.

And during the Mercury 7, and the beginning of Apollo -- the world I grew up in -- Hal Jordan was still THAT GUY. The cool guy, the astronaut, the test pilot, the vision of the future. An AMERICAN future, cocky and proud and can-do. That was Hal Jordan. As I've said before, in the early 1960s Peter Parker was the guy I was, and Hal Jordan was the guy I wanted to grow up to be. Like a million other Americans. (And some of them were women, like Sally Ride. And she, and dozens of other women, DID grow up to be Hal Jordan, because, dammit, it's America, and they could.)

So now you know my position when I read Green Lantern (vol. 2) #49 (Dec 66), included in this volume, where Hal Jordan told "Pieface" (a racial insult that this Tennessee boy learned from Green Lantern comics) that he was going to propose to Carol Ferris. As a veteran comic-book reader at that point (almost two years!) I knew that this sort of change didn't happen in DC Comics, and that some villain or misunderstanding or fifth-dimensional imp or something would prevent any sort of marriage, and that our heroes would have a laugh at the end about silly women, or something. (Not that I enjoyed that -- even as a boy, I knew that Lois Lane was an idiot, but even so, that Superman shouldn't treat her that way, nor should he and Batman have a laugh about it. If you really think she's an idiot, you should help her, not abuse her. See my comments above about bullying.) Anyhow, I knew the marriage wouldn't happen.

So when Carol said "I'm in love with another man" I thought, "Well, now our hero has to fight extra hard to win her heart!" Barring that, he ought to be an adult about it, and hey, there might be some good stories about us learning how to be a grown-up as he faced his ex-girlfriend and her new beau, and we will see how Chuck Yeager deals with disappointment. After all, he's an American archetype, proud, cocky and can-do.

But, no, none of that happened. He was can-don't. When Carol told Hal she was in love with another man he -- and there's no other way to put this -- had a temper tantrum. A pity party. An adolescent snit. He quit his job, his CAREER, and became the LAST person I wanted to grow up to be. He became a whiner, a self-pitier, a non-career job-taker -- and a loser.

He became Peter Parker if Peter Parker never grew up. He became a 35-year-old teenager. 

Now, again, that's my call. You may see it differently. But obviously Schwartz, Fox and Broome thought that Green Lantern needed goosing up, and the only reason for that would be sales. And what was the best-selling book in 1966? Well, it was still Superman. But within two years it would be Amazing Spider-Man, because sales on that title were so explosive that nobody could miss them. And my theory is that Schwarz & Co. tried to emulate Amazing Spider-Man's success by turning Hal Jordan into Peter Parker. Which they did (IMHO) in the stories contained in this Archives, where Hal Jordan is the biggest loser and crybaby you'd ever care to meet ... and it will only get worse in the next Archives.

The problem is that Peter Parker is a boy, a college student (or thereabouts) trying to learn how to be a man. His misadventures are amusing, and when he finds his feet and does something heroic, it's inspiring -- it's telling us all how to grow up, how to learn to be an adult. But Hal Jordan is supposed to be an adult already ... and turning him into Peter Parker doesn't work because Jordan was already 35-ish, and should have already learned the lessons Parker had a whole comic-book series learning. What looked goofy and foolish and fun on Peter Parker looked ... well, AWFUL on Hal Jordan. He looked brain-damaged or something. Confusion about his or her future is normal for a 20-year-old, and sympathetic. On a 35-year-old, it looks pathetic.

And in these stories (and the ones in the next volume), Hal Jordan looks incredibly pathetic. He's not a hero. He's a loser. He doesn't deserve that ring. And, eventually, what happens here leads inexorably to "Emerald Twilight."

Green Lantern Corps Volume 1: Fearsome

DC Comics, $22.99

Stories by Peter J. Tomasi, art by Fernando Pasarin and Scott Hanna

Reprinting Green Lantern Corps #1-7 (Nov 11-May 12)

Somewhere along the line, I got the idea that I liked Tomasi's writing. This book set me straight.

Now, I admit I've never been crazy about Guy Gardner in any of his incarnations. And I've never liked John Stewart either, who's had multiple origins and backstories, but never once an actual personality, except for his "angry black guy" intro in the early 1970s, which lasted exactly one issue and was off-putting anyway. Neither of these guys is "Green Lantern" to me, or anything else of note.

 But even so, I've been patient and hopeful as DC has re-written these guys over and over and tried to turn their collection of writers' tics and supporting-character eccentricities into actual characters I could give two craps over.

And, for the most part, they've succeeded. Gardner is no longer the obnoxious bully he used to be; he is now obnoxious because he WAS bullied, and is therefore a bit more sympathetic. And John Stewart is now, uh, um ... black.

Oh, well. DC is 1-for-2 in making me care for the stars of this book. Because John Stewart is no longer the "angry black man" of the '70s, no longer the angst-ridden, tortured, PTSD survivor of Green Lantern: Mosaic, no longer the strong family man he was with Katma Tui ... now he's just the black Green Lantern. John Stewart had a personality and background in the Justice League cartoon, but in the comics, he's just a cipher.

At least to me. Maybe you have a different opinion.

Anyway, getting back to GLC, I was ready to forget all that, and hope for a great comic book. Remember, I had this idea that I liked Tomasi's work. So I was hoping to be, if nothing else, entertained.

But I wasn't. First, I was offended. In the first issue, several people are eviscerated in unpleasant detail. Yikes. That would be cool, if it was important to the story, but ... no. The "invisible" aspect of the killer in the first issue is taken away pretty quickly, so the awful stuff we saw in the first issue was just there for shock value. 

And when we find out the problem, it's HUGE! Huge enough that everybody in the cosmos ought to fight it! Green Lanterns! Justice League! Darkstars! L.E.G.I.O.N.! Lobo! Justa Lotta Animals! I mean, EVERYBODY!

But, no, Guy decides he needs to take a picked task force to take on an ARMY of villains who are invulnerable to Green Lantern rings. An ARMY. Guy wants to take six or seven GLs to fight them, although they've already killed dozens of GLs. 'Cuz that's the way he rolls. (And why he ought to have been dead 30 times over -- he substitutes aggression for being smart.)

And when he DOES pick his GLs, he finds ... The Dirty Dozen. Yeah, the movie. He finds tough, battle-hardened, veteran GLs that are so tough and mean and nasty and dirty that we saw them in EVERY 1970s WAR MOVIE THERE WAS. 

*sigh* Folks, this goes beyond cliche. I don't know how old Tomasi is, but I've seen this scenario so many times that when I saw his crew -- one of them is even named for Charles Bronson -- that I put the book down for the night, and almost didn't pick it up again. 

Because I have seen The Dirty Dozen. The Great Escape. The Magnificent Seven. The Guns of Navarone. Even modern movies like Red and The Expendables. I like those movies. But I don't want to see them lifted for a comic book, especially when Tomasi does nothing at all with them. Evidently their mere existence is supposed to make the whole thing cool.

After we meet the Dirty Dozen (I think it was actually six), nothing actually happens except for a big fight where the good guys win.

Oops, spoiler alert.

Honestly, don't spend your money on this, unless you just want to see the art, which is really good.

Red Lanterns Volume 1: Blood and Rage

DC Comics, $14.99

Story by Peter Milligan, art by Ed Benes, Rob Hunter

Reprinting Red Lanterns #1-7 (Nov 11-May 12)

 

I generally enjoy Peter Milligan's work. Well, sometimes I'm just baffled by Milligan (Enigma), but usually I love his work, like X-Statix -- no matter how mainstream he gets, he remains aggressively the outsider, and that's where most of us live. He's not just venal and outsider-y and angry and shocking, he's also smart and practiced and a wonder.

Not here. 

I swear to God, I've never been as bored as I was by this collection. Atrocitus -- the biggest, baddest, meanest bad-ass in the Green Lantern universe -- is freakin' Hamlet. And I NEVER enjoyed Hamlet, even though I know he was written by Shakespeare, whom I'm supposed to idolize. A guy on the horns of indecision is interesting, but it's not very dramatic.

For seven damn issues, Atrocitus soliloquizes. He walks around and thinks "deep" thoughts to himself. Seriously, for seven issues he walks around and talks to himself. And he never leaves his home planet (Rylut? Ry-stuff? Ry-who cares?), or engages with anybody not wearing red, or can think coherent thoughts. (He built a whole Lantern corps where nobody can think! They just throw up red blood and stuff! He's the only one who can think! And we've got seven issues of that!)

On the rare occasions that he actually takes action, he does REALLY STUPID STUFF. Like when he thinks one of his Corps is turning into someone who might challenge him for leadership, he makes SURE of it, by giving that Red Lantern her free will. And when that turns out REALLY badly ... he does it THREE MORE TIMES. And STILL nobody leaves the &(&*%%$$ planet! It's not Red Lantern Corps, it's Strange Interlude Comics. Gah!

So. I generally enjoy Milligan's work. And maybe he's building to something here. Or he's got some sort of sneaky, subliminal philosophical idea working underneath the superhero trappings. 

But he'd better hurry up. These are the most boring comics I've ever read.

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One of [what I like to think of as] my “great unwritten posts” is “The Wienie-izing of Hal Jordan, Part 2.” I’m sure you remember the original discussion from the old board; I’m pretty sure you started it. (It could have been the Commander, but I think it was you.) Anyway, I approached the matter from a somewhat different point of view, but I came to pretty much the same conclusion as you concerning Peter Parker and Hal Jordan. I followed with interest the original “wienie-izing” discussion, but I didn’t really have much to contribute, never having had the opportunity to read those issues myself. When DC released GL Archives Vol. 7 several weeks back, though, it went right to the top of my reading list.

Several years ago I vowed not to let my ability to post dictate my reading pace. Unfortunately, I read V7 during a “busy period” when I didn’t have the time to write a detailed reaction, and the details of what I would have said have long since faded from my mind. Fortunately, your review gives me the opportunity to iterate what I would have said, and that is that I didn’t find the stories themselves so bad in comparison to other stories of the era, but they did a definite disservice to the character of Hal Jordan, as you enumerated above. Actually, I take that back. These stories weren’t so bad in comparison to other DC stories of the era, but they were pale imitations of that era’s Marvel’s. Julius “Be Original” Schwartz broke his own cardinal rule when he green-lighted this one.

Still, what’s done is done and I’m looking forward to reading more of this direction (from an historical perspective) in the next volume.

Funnily enough, I think one of the reasons I never liked Hal Jordan was because he seems very much like the guy in high school who would give out swirlies, not because he enjoyed being a bully but because he was one of the cool kids and that's what they did.  So we end up with a Flash Thompson type character who doesn't grow up and mature over time (really, I think Flash has gotten the better end of the stick character-wise over the years).  So I guess the idea of Hal turning into a whiny, "woe-is-me" slacker isn't that odd to me.

I had pretty high hopes, for Red Lanterns, Cap, since I usually like Milligan's work. In the end it don't think I made it to issue 7 before I dropped it. I thought he was building towards something big as well, but at the pace it was moving I didn't care.

Even though as a young reader in the 70s, I bought Green Lantern regularly (and I could even boast of having #90 to 200 as I feel that it's a great run for the most part), I never got into the Silver Age GL. Oh I enjoyed the reprints but I never thought that much about them. I don't even have one volume of the Green Lantern Archives though I have the Showcases.

But definitely Hal went from cocky to immature to depressing. And in many ways that cycle continues to this day. Of the DCnU books, I only buy Green Lantern where he is too much "Ryan Reynolds" for my tastes. (But hey, if the GL movie leads to a long and happy marriage for him and Blake Lively, then good for them!) And the Justice League version is too full of himself.

Sometimes I think that I prefer Guy Gardner when he was the villain in Green Lantern Corps.

Cap, I agree with your assessments of both GL Corps and Red Lanterns.  I thought I liked Tomasi too- and I remember liking him on other books before this- but the new GL Corps was a mess.  Red Lanterns had the potential to be a superhero version of Sopranos- the gang leader keeping his associates in line- but it turned out to be, well, boring with Atrocitus standing around doing nothing while waiting for his henchmen to overthrow him.  Yech!  I dropped both of these series after a few issues and, considering you read all the way through to the end of the first trade, it looks like I made the right call. 

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