Green Lantern: Sector 2814 Volume 1 & 2

By Len Wein, Dave Gibbons, Steve Engelhardt, Joe Staton and Bruce Patterson

 

The Len Wein-Dave Gibbons run on Green Lantern is one of those mythical comic book creatures.  I’ve heard others mention it.  I’ve seen it advertised in house ads while reading other back issues.  But I’d never seen it or read it myself.  So I was fairly excited when DC announced that they would collect the entire run in a series of trades.

            Despite my enthusiasm, the first volume was a huge disappointment.  The biggest problem was the lack of compelling villains.  GL fought the Javelin, the Shark, the Demolition Team and the Predator.  The Javelin would go on to be a decent addition to the Suicide Squad but he shouldn’t have given GL any difficulty by himself.  A lot of artists have tried to draw an interesting and intimidating human-shark hybrid… and most of them have failed, including Dave Gibbons.  The less said about the Demolition Team the better.  They’re an awful concept, full of caricatures, slogans and bad puns.  Finally, the Predator is set up as the biggest threat but he too looks silly.  His costume is a bundle of contradictions- a German panzer helmet, glider wings and pointy claws.  It’s also way too busy.  With a parade of hapless villains like this, Sector 2814 has a hard time keeping up any semblance of tension.

            However, the bad villains are only half of the story.  In the other half, Hal Jordan, the current bearer of the Green Lantern ring, is considering stepping down from the superhero scene.  He’s tired of answering to the Guardians of Oa and he’s ready to settle down with the love of his life, Carol Ferris.  This side of the story allows for some fun, but brief, cameos by the Flash, Green Arrow and Superman.  Unfortunately, the story doesn’t carry the emotional impact it should.  Gibbons displays a real knack for showing a character’s emotional state through small glances and changes in posture by the time he works on The Watchmen but his characters are a little stiff here. 

            After the first volume, I was disappointed when the second volume showed up in my pull file.  I had forgotten that the order for the second had been due before I read the first.  Much to my surprise, this second volume was significantly better. 

            First of all, Wein and Gibbons introduced John Stewart as the new, full-time Green Lantern after Hal Jordan quit at the end of the first volume.  John makes for an interesting hero.  Wein wisely makes him more than “the black Green Lantern.”  He has Stewart draw from his experience as an architect to figure out and experiment with the ring.  And he gives Stewart a different attitude from Hal.  Stewart is a little ambivalent about the ring, but he also seems to have more fun with it whereas Hal was always deadly serious.  

The change is also fun for the readers.  We get to watch reporter Tawny scramble to figure out the mystery of the new Green Lantern.  And we get to see more of Katma Tui who is assigned as John’s new mentor in the way of the Corps.  Joe Staton, who takes over as writer partway through this second volume, does a good of juggling the characters and complicating their lives in interesting ways. 

            Len Wein wisely keeps Hal around as well, instead of writing him out of the title.  Hal continues to be a central figure as first Wein and then Joe Staton show Hal’s sometime difficult adjustment to civilian life.  Gibbons also steps up his game in the early issues giving us the subtle facial expressions we’ve come to expect from him.  His Carol Ferris is especially improved.  It’s almost too bad that he’s pulled from Green Lantern to work on The Watchmen in the middle of this volume.   

            Finally, my biggest complaint about the first volume is quickly corrected.  Since John Stewart is a new Green Lantern, the writers make sure to set him against major foes so that he can establish himself.  We get to watch a veritable parade of classic GL villains from Major Disaster to Eclipso to Sonar.  Staton even manages to make the Predator interesting as he reveals that the Predator is a corrupted construct of the Star Sapphire ring- shades of future stories such as Hal’s descent into madness as Parallax and the eventual rainbow of rings during Geoff Johns’ run.  After a dismal start, I’m actually looking forward to the third volume. 

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I didn’t start reading DC Comics (to any great extent) until the 1980s, and I consider the Wein/Gibbons / Englehart/Staton era to be “my” Green Lantern. My “first” issue was #181 (I was attracted by the cover), but I quickly accumulated all of the Wein/Gibbons back issues. I recognize the flaws you point out, but my perception is colored by nostalgia. When Steve Englehart takes over, he quickly makes the title his own, moving it in a slightly different direction, yet remaining true to Wein’s set up. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the next volume.

If it would have been me, I’d have chosen this for the cover to volume one.

Joe Staton had enjoyed a previous run as the title's penciller in 1979-82 (following an earlier issue and a couple of GL stories that appeared in Adventure Comics during its giant anthology period). A good part of that run was written by Marv Wolfman, who culminated his time on the title with a story in which the Guardians got angry with Hal for being preoccupied with Ferris's problems and Earth crime and neglecting the rest of his sector. Hal lost his temper and declared his intention of quitting, but in #150 (spoiler warning), the climax of the storyline, he explained to Arisia that he had been speaking in anger and hadn't really meant it. For neglecting his sector the Guardians sentenced him to exile from Earth for a year.

 

The exile lasted twenty issues, during which the title was handled by various creators. Mike W. Barr had a run as writer (and Gil Kane did the art for #156) but in the final part of the period the title didn't have a steady creative team. The Len Wein/Dave Gibbons run followed. Wein had earlier scripted the three-issue 1981 Tales of the Green Lantern Corps mini over Mike W. Barr's plot. That had also been pencilled by Joe Staton, and was the story that introduced Arisia.

 

At the time I thought the run might get great, I suppose because Gibbons's art was different and classy, Wein's writing had direction, and their approach seemed to be one of getting back to the feature's basics and doing them well. I was prepared to like it more than I actually did, though. In those days I couldn't buy everything I wanted to, so I missed a lot of the issues. The "Hal quits" storyline struck me as a rerun of the Wolfman one. Today I think it objectionable: it was out of character and that version of Hal isn't a character I can identify with. The stuff with Clay Kendall evidently had to do with Wein's plans to introduce a new hero called the Image. According to one of Dick Giordano's "Meanwhile" columns, Wein meant him to take over the title's back-up slot, was hopeful he'd get his own title, and described him as "the most off-beat hero since Brother Power, the Geek!" (The quote's from memory, so it may not be word-perfect.) Instead, he and Gibbons suddenly departed the title. I've not heard why they did so.

 

In my recollection, Steve Englehart's John Stewart was a real person in a way that Wein's was not. Englehart's issues really worked for me, although I still often missed them. Although he was a writer who shook things up he was also a writer who knew how to make his series satisfactory for fans. However, I think it's fair to say aging Arisia so she could be Hal's new girlfriend, which he did later in his run, wasn't his best idea. But the older Arisia did work well as a character if one left aside her relationship with Hal and the explanation of how she'd aged. The title became The Green Lantern Corps with #206.

This might be controversial but I think Steve Englehart and Joe Staton are just as important to Green Lantern as Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams. They made the GL cast seem like real people including the aliens!

No controversy from me. I actually prefer it. I find them much more re-readable over the O'Neil/Adams run.

Philip Portelli said:

This might be controversial but I think Steve Englehart and Joe Staton are just as important to Green Lantern as Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams. They made the GL cast seem like real people including the aliens!

My first issue of GL was #174, which was used for the cover of Sector 2814 Vol 1.  I agree with Jeff that #181 would have been a better choice.  I must have enjoyed the title at the time as I tracked down the two previous Wein & Gibbons issues and continued collecting it until it was cancelled a few years later.  But re-reading Volume 1 was almost painful, it just did not age well.  Chris is dead on about the villains.  The Predator was the best of a bad lot and it was fairly obvious who he was before Englehart turned the character into being something completely different.  I got more enjoyment out of all of the supporting character stuff to be honest.  The Ferris Aircraft employees were all well handled, not just Mr. Lodge and Veronica Carl Ferris and daughter Carol, but lots of time given to the others.  Too bad Wein never got to do anything further with Clay Kendell and the rest.

I remember the letter pages having people just lambaste the previous outer space era where Hal was exiled.  Was it really that bad?

Philip, Travis, none from me, either. I've not read the franchise's current titles, but it sounds like their approach builds on the approach of the later Englehart era.

John Dunbar (the mod of maple) said:

it was fairly obvious who he was before Englehart turned the character into being something completely different.

It was? Who was he (implicitly)?

There was this rather oily background character named "Smith" who resembled the Predator a bit.  He warned Congressman Jason Bloch to leave Ferris Aircraft alone on behalf of his employers.  Bloch ignored him and was later killed by the Predator.  I took it to mean Smith was the Predator.  Having the Predator turn out to be Carol was not where I suspect Wein was going and was purely an Englehart idea.

Wow.  I leave for my weekly swim and I come back to a bunch of comments.  I'm glad to have sparked some discussion.

Luke Blanchard wrote:

Instead, he and Gibbons suddenly departed the title. I've not heard why they did so.

Based on the timing, I would have guessed that Gibbons was pulled off of Green Lantern to work on The Watchmen.  But looking at the dates, Gibbons had almost a year and a half between his last issue on GL (#186, March '85) and the first issue of Watchmen (Sept. '86).  That's too much lead time, even for Gibbons, so it must have been something else. 

Like Philip and Travis, I, too prefer the Englehart/Staton GL to the O’Neil/Adams GL/GA. I didn’t read GL/GA until DC reprinted it in the ‘80s, and although I liked it at the time, Commander Benson “ruined it” for me by placing it in historical perspective and pointing out its shortcomings. More recently, though, I’ve come to see the O’Neil/Adams GL/GA springing more from the Steve Ditko Hawk & Dove/Creeper style than from the Broome/Kane GL and I’ve come to appreciate it again in that light.

Speaking of Denny O’Neil, he was writing Iron Man for Marvel at the time these GL issues were coming out, and I saw a lot of similarities between the two titles at the time (at least on the surface) in that in each a long-running white super hero character was replaced by a black man.

Thanks, John. Regarding whether the exile period was really that bad, it's very difficult for me to answer, because I've read too few of the issues.

 

In #151 Hal wound up his affairs on Earth, so the exile started in #152. At the start of the period Hal was the only regular character, and since he was interacting with aliens, sometimes he was the only real character in the story. But Denny O'Neil wrote some good GL stories in that vein when his feature was appearing in the back-up slot in The Flash, so I've seen it done.

 

Staton continued on the art to #155, and Mike W. Barr took over the writing with #154. Keith Pollard pencilled ##157-65. I've only read one of his issues, so I can't comment on how well he did. Today I think him a very solid artist, but his style wasn't as exciting as those of the period's fan favourites so it may be he didn't get credit he deserved.

 

The first story (##152-53) was a high concept SF tale by Wolfman, Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn of the kind where the high concept is revealed at the end, explaining its earlier mysteries. #156, by Barr and Gil Kane, had a forgettable story. A number of Barr's subsequent stories drew on elements from Hal's Silver Age tales. I think the "Meanwhile" capsule description of #157 said that it was about Hector Hammond recovering his mobility and heading into space to kill Hal. That sounds an exciting idea to me but I don't know what Barr and Pollard did with it, and it was apparently all over in an issue. #159 had an Evil Star story; I have that one but it hasn't stuck with me. The next storyline featured the return of Dorine and the Headmen from "Green Lantern's Explosive Weekend!" in #36.(1) I flicked through #160 when it came out, and it had a very strong sequence in which the Headmen set Hal up for execution by overriding his control of his ring. I don't recall seeing any of the later issues. Hal had parted from Carol in #151 in terms that precluded him starting another relationship, but apparently Dorine stuck around for a bit. #162 has a classic gross cover.(2) #165, Barr's and Pollard's swansong, had a story teaming John Stewart as Green Lantern with Green Arrow.

 

From #165 the covers were by Gil Kane. A couple of these were generic pose covers, which I find interest-killers, but some of the others are good. #166 was the first of three issues by Joey Cavalieri and George Tuska. I missed their issues entirely. Cavalieri was a fairly new writer at the time and I remember his work as having sensibilities I like but not compelling. George Tuska was a talented artist - I like his work on the Buck Rogers newspaper strip - but his 70s/80s superhero work often had a hastily-drawn, stock-poses-and-expressions quality.

 

The remaining three issues were apparently fill-ins. Cavalieri wrote the lead story from #169, and it reportedly consists of a framing sequence around a story told by the Guardians. #170 was written by Cohn and reportedly consists of a framing sequence drawn by Tuska around a "Tales of the Green Lantern Corps"-type story drawn by Mike Sekowsky. #171 had art by Alex Toth. According to the GCD it was a Cavalieri rewrite of a Keith Giffen/Robin Snyder story and the three asked to have their names taken off it.

 

The "Tales of the Green Lantern Corps" series continued in the back-up slot in this period and up to the beginning of Englehart's (although it sometimes skipped issues). For much of its run the feature didn't have a regular creative team (Paul Kupperberg was its regular writer for a while). Sometimes the instalments were forgettable and sometimes they were very good.

 

(1) In this (Showcase reprint spoiler warning), while staying out of town, Hal gets interested in a woman called Dorine because she's uninterested in him despite the obvious matchmaking efforts of one of their hosts. Responding to the challenge he tries to arouse her romantic interest, and has no success. She turns out to be Ona Murtu, an alien refugee from a human-looking race ruled by a race of big-headed spindly-bodied tyrants called the Headmen, who keep her people enslaved by subjecting them to a control ray at birth. She has finally developed a ray that can cancel its effects, but the Headmen are close to finding her. Hal rescues her from the Headmen as GL and she heads off into space to free her people, leaving behind a note for Hal saying that she's fallen in love with him but duty calls her away. Hal, the cad, responds to note with thoughts of satisfaction that the old Jordan charm hasn't lost its magic.

(2) But in the interest of combating a science fallacy I must note that according to Lyz of the And You Call Yourself a Scientist! site it's not true that that a human body would explode in a vacuum. (A hat-tip to the Commander for this link, which he provided the last time the issue came up.)

Let's just say that the Exile issues were a lull period between Marv Wolfman's energetic run and Len Wein's controversial stint.

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