Shiny Shelf

Green Lantern: Rebirth #1

By Jim Smith on 30 November 2004

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

It’s quite hard for me to express just how bad, and just how fundamentally wrong headed, ‘Green Lantern: Rebirth’ # 1 is. It’s quite clear from this impressively drawn, horribly written first issue that what DC wish to achieve is not merely the return from the dead of mass-murderer Hal Jordan but the reversal of every single attempt to push forwards this corner of the DCU which has occurred over the last ten years or so.

This, an issue which demonstrates, in every panel, the futility of endless Silver Age retro is, in a quite meaningful sense, the very epicentre of all that is wrong with contemporary comic books.

It’s been said, by people who don’t know what they’re talking about, that former ‘Lantern’ writer Ron Marz didn’t show sufficient respect for the title’s past when, ten years ago, he wrote out Hal Jordan and introduced longtime readers – myself included – to an insecure, untried, artistically gifted kid called Kyle Rayner.

Well, that’s rubbish. I own every ‘Green Lantern’ comic published since 1967 and it’s quite clear to anyone with more than half an ounce of sense that disposing with Jordan and the Corps was the only way to go after a breath-taking consecutive forty-seven bad issues from the pen of Gerard Jones.

Jones had, incidentally, pursued a blandly retro approach to the book himself; eschewing the innovations wrought by Steve Englehart in issues # 190 plus of the old ‘Lantern’ title and incautiously and quickly putting back together that which Engleheart had carefully and judiciously disassembled.

Jones was, we can be certain, driven by the same desire to recreate a mythical pre-lapserian era of ‘Lantern’ comics that drives Geoff Johns’ creatively bankrupt efforts now. Back then you ached for something with the smarts of James Owlsley’s two specials. Now you’re kind of gagging for something with the guts and heart that Judd Winick brought to Kyle’s corner of New York. In both instances the creators now responsible for the character are looking back far too far for their inspiration and, as a consequence, generating something which lacks even the dignity of pastiche.

Ron Marz’s efforts, incidentally, led some of the best ‘Lantern’ comics ever; and his ‘misuse’ of Hal Jordan led to arguably three of the best stories ever to feature the character; ‘Emerald Twilight’, ‘Emerald Night’ and ‘Emerald Knights’. While one may suggest that the situation surrounding Jordan and his mythology should never have been allowed to reach the state it did it, well, did.

After Marz’s innovations there could, really, to be no turning back to it which allowed the DCU universe, indeed the brand itself, to retain any kind of internal consistency and integrity. ‘Green Lantern’ (Third Series) #48 – 51 are every bit as “canon” (hateful concept, by the way) and every bit as valid and real as ‘Showcase’ #22. It’s a feeble irony that in ‘righting’ the wrong erroneously believed to have been committed by Marz, Johns and DC are actually committing that imagined sin themselves. They are disrespecting someone else’s work. They’re also doing it in the worst possible way – by hitting the re-set button very, very hard.

This would matter less is ‘Green Lantern: Rebirth’ #1 was a good comic book in its own right, but it isn’t. It’s not just a bad idea, it’s also a very badly executed version of this very bad idea. Dialogue which has the elegance of placeholder text floats across Ethan Van Sciver’s pages. Characters exposit to one another at terrible length telling each other things they must already know. John Stewart’s personality is twisted out of all shape in order to provide a mouthpiece for the Silver Age obsessions of a certain kind of comic book writer and fan (Johns draws some attention to this, having Guy Gardner claim that John has changed, but it’s a shabby ‘bait and switch’ at best). A confrontation between John and Batman is particularly dreadful; the writer unable to bring himself to admit that Batman is right in what he says about Hal Jordan because Batman’s point of view makes the whole excercise that is this series untenable.

The issue also dwells, in tedious detail, on the fatuous notion of Jordan being literally ‘without fear’. This idea was done to death decades ago, and thoroughly detourned in Larry Niven and John Byrne’s ‘Ganthet’s Tale’. It’s depressing to see it clung to now.

Hal Jordan was a decent comic book superhero. He had his time. Not the first ‘Green Lantern’ and certainly not the best, his generic existence was given dignity and poignancy by the circumstances of his self-destruction. Like Barry Allen – a character that Johns has, thankfully, not tried to resurrect yet over in ‘The Flash’ (a book he writes rather better than this one it must be said) – Hal Jordan actually functioned better as a longed for piece of the past than as an ongoing character.

Do we really need Carol Ferris back in the DCU as a regular presence? Do we really want the (inevitable) return of her alter ego, Star Sapphire? Do we want more scenes of aircraft testing and the rivalry between John, Guy and Hal that was mined out twenty years ago? Do we need space cops and little blue men cluttering up a title which, until the appointment of Ben Raab, was one of the neatest comic book superhero titles out there? Do we need ‘comedy ethnic’ sidekicks? Do we need it to be as it all was before they made it better? No.

‘Green Lantern’ is about a guy and his magic ring. No particular guy. A guy. The fetishisation of Jordan as some kind of God amongst Silver Age creations is faintly pathetic.┬áThe motivation behind fans’ consistent refusal (should it be actually necessary to dispose of Kyle Rayner – something I’m far from convinced by) to consider making John Stewart the DCU’s main ‘Green Lantern’ is questionable at best. There are precious few heroes of colour as it is, and a golden opportunity to make an already longstanding black superhero, one with an impressive history, large following and (lest we forget) *television presence* a standard bearer is being passed up every minute of every day.

‘Green Lantern: Rebirth’ is so bad I’m not sure I even like comic books anymore. How sad.

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