Wednesday, February 16, 2005

GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH (repost)

GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH #1 (27 October 2004)... Part of me is relieved. Hal Jordan as the Spectre was never a good fit and the continued efforts to keep them joined meant that both the Spectre (a character that has no place in the modern age DCU; he's Vertigo) and the Hal-Spectre kept showing up. But the rest of me is so gravely skeptical because I can't imagine a scenario where Geoff Johns can bring Hal back and do so without defecating all over Kyle Rayner and all that has happened since Hal went sproing! back in 1993.

This is going to be a miniseries all about retconning, both within the text and meta. Some of it's going to be minor, some of it's going to be major, and a lot of it is going to piss off someone. We start off with the minorly eyebrow-raising stuff. After years of weekly beer-and-bitch sessions with the living GLs -- Kyle, Guy, John, and Alan -- that John and Guy have any undiscussed opinions about Hal is a little silly. That John keeps in contact with Hal -- when Ollie has problems finding him -- is also a little hinky. That Hal is losing control of the Wrath within him, however, is not surprising at all.

After that, Hal gets a little nutty, Kyle crash-lands, Guy wishes he didn't come back from Our World at War, John takes Guy's baiting to heart and goes after Batman, Carol Ferris gets nostalgic, Pieter Cross gets another call from the moon, and Coast City springs up out of nowhere. All that was missing was Pieface.

While this wasn't a bad issue at all, I withhold all judgment until this mini is complete. Because it's gonna take a damned good reason to convince me that this was necessary as anything other than a marketing ploy.

Also, and nontrivially, I'm positive that the timing of this series could have been better. Unless Rebirth is tied in to Identity Crisis -- and a lot more firmly than Hal promising Ollie that he was working on a return -- then this should have been held off until after IC was finished and War Games a little more wrapped up than it is. Too much stuff going on in the DCU right now to have something so major as Hal coming back. 



GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH #2 (24 November 2004)... Okay, so I liked Ollie calling the Guardians "testy little elves". And I will forgive Ethan Van Sciver for drawing Carol Ferris in heels standing on a grate when she'd really be walking around it. And I will ignore the voice in my head that screams out that Kyle is being given the role of the strong one now because he's going to fall hard and fast in #5 ("learn the final fate of Kyle Rayner!").

This is a very hard story to review with any sense of objectivity. Much like Identity Crisis -- it pushes too many hot buttons to easily read it for the story and not the changes it brings. Especially, again like IC, when the changes aren't ones I'm looking forward to occurring.

Johns is charged with the task of redeeming a character many would say is irredeemable. And, two issues in, it looks like he's doing so by splitting Hal's various aspects -- Hal the person, Hal the GL, Hal-the-madman-who-became-Parallax, Hal the Spectre -- into distinct, discrete entities. Peel away Parallax and leave the rest and Hal really isn't a bad dude.

Of course, this presupposes that you can peel away Parallax and that is where I am tripping up. Because Parallax is Hal -- Hal became Parallax not by some external force but from his own internal growth. He went nuts because he'd been living by an insupportable code -- it's not sane to be truly fearless (as opposed to mastering one's fear); it's a sign of psychosis -- and the destruction of Coast City exposed that untenability. It was Hal's worst, most secret fear realized and it made his own self-identity implode spectacularly.



GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH #3 (22 December 2004)... Fully admitting up front that, unlike Identity Crisis, I'm not at a far enough distance from this book that I have any good perspective...

* Why does Kyle keep calling Ollie 'Oliver'? Who calls Ollie by his full name? And why does Kyle keep repeating it? It's not like the narrative is so confused that we'll forget who he's talking to from panel to panel. Nor are either of them concussed and in need of reminding. We had to sit through the crap that was GL/GA: Black Circle -- I think they're on a nickname basis by now.

* I've had cause to point and giggle at Geoff Johns's science before. And the Willpower Color Spectrum/fear-and-antifear business looks like it might be another one. His explanation for why GL rings never worked on yellow defies logic and a few laws of physics. So if the green is the "most pure" and yellow is the least pure... are there Purple-Pink Lanterns out there who are of ambivalent willpower? Do they fight evil half the week, run in fear the other half, and take Saturdays off? Do the Blue Lanterns have to coordinate their schedules so that they're cowards only on days when the Orange Lanterns are feeling the mojo? Talk about your rainbow coalition....

* I'll gladly accept the retcon for why Kyle went off into space back around JLA 76/GL 156 because the original reasoning made little sense. Kyle had just performed acts of incredible bravery and personal sacrifice (see JLA: Obsidian Age) and then flaked out when Terry got beat up? It was a hastily written departure forced by the popularity of John Stewart over in the cartoon universe and never worked.

* I will wave my hands vaguely in royal acceptance and dismissal at the whole revamped Why Hal Became the Spectre business. Because any reason is better than no reason. And Alan Scott is still not looking too good with that choice.

* I am not so ready to accept the retconning of Parallax as an entity apart from Hal Jordan. In fact, I'm not ready at all. On a story-building level, I understand the need to externalize Hal's villainy -- short of divine forgiveness, there's nothing that can exculpate Hal from what he did as Parallax. There are some situations where "I'm sorry" just won't cut it and annihilating the GL Corps before setting out on a career of destruction and mass murder presumably qualifies. It's what they had to do with Jean Grey and Dark Phoenix, too. All that said, the new story for Parallax... is lame and dippy and stupid. The Phoenix Entity's no stroke of genius, but it's better than this.

"Parallax" was a name that made sense for a villainous Hal Jordan; Hal was most definitely seeing things from a different perspective after Emerald Twilight and it fit with his pre-occupation with re-setting time. It's a pointless name for a cosmic fear vampire. The GL Corps had a purpose and an opposite number already; wedging a giant yellow locust into things without adjusting for Krona, the Controllers, the Manhunters, and the Darkstars (and the Monitor and Anti-Monitor and the Qward and...) is lazy. Conveniently forgetting that Sinestro and Guy and everyone else who ever did the yellow ring thing was never driven by fear -- or caused any, really, beyond the obvious.... bah.

Courtesy of Neil Gaiman, we've got eight concepts that have been around since anything began: Destruction, Death, Dream, Delirium, Delight, Desire, Despair, and Destiny. (Delight became Delirium, for those who didn't get through Sandman.) While I'm sure fear is covered by one of the Endless, I'm willing to accept the less spiritual version that the DCU invariably takes (i.e., why the DCU has The Spectre and Vertigo has Raguel, archangel of vengeance) and go with the immortal instead of the eternal.

So what do we have? The Big Yellow Locust of Fear has survived this long by inciting terror when he's hungry and chowing on the results -- the cosmic version of microwave popcorn. Eventually and by means not made clear, the Guardians trapped The Big Yellow Locust of Fear, rendering him powerless... but apparently putting him too close to the Central Power Battery.

[Johns does not do a good job of setting up willpower and fear as equal and opposite forces; he tells us that they are and we're supposed to buy it. In the dictionary, "will" is defined as a combination of choice and passion and intent, "power coupled with desire". Johns agrees that willpower doesn't mean fearlessness... but then says that "only those capable of overcoming great fear" could ring-sling. I'm trying to decide if it's just poor word choice or merely circular reasoning.]

By similarly unexplained events, The Big Yellow Locust of Fear woke up. And realized it was parked too closely to the Central Power Battery. Reaching out to find someone to serve as host -- whether it needed a host before is not said, although it is never shown as having a host -- it latched on to Hal.

Now, here's were we step off the Path of Loose Comic Book Logic and wander into the thicket of This Makes NO Sense, which is bordered by the river Hunh? and leads to the valley of I Really Hope This is AU and Never Gets Mentioned Again.

Accepting that the Guardians just made a boo-boo parking The Big Yellow Locust of Fear next to the Power Battery on Oa -- hey, the little blue dudes in red dresses have a glorious history of poor judgment... how, precisely, does The Big Yellow Locust of Fear use his opposite force -- the green willpower energy -- to do anything? By some sort of yellow-and-blue-make-green kind of power? (Or is that Ziploc?)

And once we wave our hands and run quickly over that bit of thin ice... why Hal? If you're a Big Yellow Locust of Fear, a little groggy from a long nap and with a serious case of the munchies... why pick the one creature out of 3600 who is immune to fear? If you're looking for a quick fix, you go with someone easier -- not everyone in the Corps is a paragon of virtue and righteousness; willpower is not a force of good and enough of the Corps have turned or failed or otherwise proved that willpower is a fancy kind of stubbornness. You can get power -- and fuel -- without engaging in a battle of strength with the one fellow whose willpower (your own personal antimatter) is so great as to have eliminated his suscepitibility to your own kind of power? Ch'p would have served as a host, let alone Mogo or any of the others whose claim to fame isn't fearlessness. Why not pluck Sinestro out of his prison (especially if Sinestro is the reason The Big Yellow Locust of Fear woke up), or find Guy, Sinestro's former pawn?

Let us continue on our tour. For reasons I cannot explain without resorting to But The Story Doesn't Work Otherwise (and neither can Johns), The Big Yellow Locust of Fear goes with Hal. And.... I have to pause here because we're on page sixteen and we've just been told that the whole reason Hal got gray hair is because of The Big Yellow Locust of Fear and I find this unbearably funny. And what happens next is not.

I've recently re-read Emerald Twilight (and re-read my comments on it) and... this retelling of the story is frankly disrespectful to Hal -- as if the original version wasn't bad enough. The start of Emerald Twilight (GL 48-50) has a griefstricken Hal desperately seeking peace in the wake of the destruction of Coast City. He's wandering around in a construct version of the city as he wants to remember it -- a more peaceful and innocent version from his childhood -- and looking for closure (really, for forgiveness) from the people he has lost. Callous treatment by the Guardians demonstrating their aforementioned poor judgment sends him over the edge, but the true fall doesn't occur until Hal has blown past (not killing) the Corps members sent to stop the rogue Lantern. Hal faces -- and kills -- Sinestro, released by the Guardians to kill him (the Guardians know they can stop Sinestro, but aren't sure they can stop Hal), although it is significant that he does not use the ring to do so -- Hal never wanted to break with the Corps or repudiate their code. I'd posit that the fall happens when Hal uses the ring for the final time to kill his best friend in the Corps, Kilowog, after which he takes it off and throws it away.

What Johns has done here is rob Hal of his grief and, to an extent, of his personal code of honor. Now, instead of genuinely grieving his loss and reacting angrily -- and wrongly -- to the Guardians' autocratic demands, Hal is acting out of fear. He's not mourning; he's "terrified". Hal's conscious decision to not kill his fellow Corpsmen en route to Oa, his choice of not using the ring to kill Sinestro, his decision to finally repudiate the GL Oath by killing Kilowog... are no longer his own choices -- they are guided by the heavy hand of The Big Yellow Locust of Fear.

It would have been just as easy to skip over the Why Hal's Hair Went Gray and keep The Big Yellow Locust of Fear away from Hal until the moment Hal charged into the Central Power Battery. Make it a fortuitous coincidence that The Big Yellow Locust of Fear got its perfect host delivered like a pizza instead of trying to make us believe that Fearless Hal was a puppet on a string.

Giving Parallax an origin apart from Hal's own decisionmaking is a cop-out, plain and simple. It excuses everything Hal-as-Parallax ever did because it wasn't really Hal doing it, same as Jay Garrick didn't really kill Terry Sloane (and, hopefully, as Ray Palmer didn't really kill Sue Dibny). I find that cheap, unimaginative, and unworthy of Hal Jordan as a character and a legacy. Sure, Emerald Twilight was lame, but it wasn't intrinsically a bad concept, just a poorly executed one. Undoing it with a move that is conceptually flawed disappoints me greatly -- if perhaps not as much as the fact that my favorite Green Lantern will be sacrificed (not literally) to accomplish it.

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