The prospect of retooling DC Comics’ entire Green Lantern line last month was bittersweet. Geoff Johns had been writing Green Lantern since 2005 and Peter Tomasi had been involved in Green Lantern Corps since 2008, which gave the whole GL universe a sound foundation and a vast back catalogue of events and places and characters within immediate continuity to draw upon. But at the same time, with the dawn of DCs New 52 the Green Lantern titles were less rebooted than they were given an easier jumping on point for new readers. In fact the progression from the pre New 52 “War of the Green Lanterns” and the first New 52 Volume of Green Lantern, “Sinestro,” is seamless. So while the idea of leaving the Johns’ guided Lanterns behind was a frightening threat to the quality of Green Lantern and its related titles (Green Lantern Corps, Green Lantern New Guardians and Red Lanterns), it was also an exciting shot in the arm with the potential to see the world of the Lanterns injected with new ideas from new creators.
Geoff Johns’ shoes are hard to fill. There’s a reason that he’s been named DC Comics’ Chief Creative Officer: he knows how to present characters with their best traits forward. He did it with Green Lantern and is now doing the same thing with Aquaman and the Justice League. But as Johns stretched his creative talents further across the DC Universe the cracks in his Green Lantern books did start to show. “Wrath of the First Lantern,” Johns’ last penned arc for GL, was hardly his most inspired work: a rainbow man teases literally everyone in the galaxy by remixing their memories and Hal Jordan is trapped in a book. Luckily for fans Johns managed to cap off a mediocre arc with a phenomenal finale that saw his entire run wrapped up nicely.
The torch has since been handed to writer Robert Venditti and artist Billy Tan, who made their debut in Green Lantern #21. The title of Venditti’s first issue, “Dark Days Ahead,” is no doubt indicative of thoughts many GL fans have lurking in the back of their minds now that Johns has departed the series, but despite the lofty president Venditti is up against he and Tan absolutely deliver.
Right away Tan’s art is noticeable. Characters all look vibrant and detailed, whether they’re boring people being boring in a boring earth building or old blue rasta-elves on alien planets, or orange imagination monsters in space. Of particular note is Tan’s Carol Ferris/Star Sapphire who, for the first time in nearly a decade, doesn’t look like a pink-bimbo-stripper.
Venditti’s writing of Ferris is also commendable. She and Hal Jordan have been on and off the rocks more times than anyone would care to give a shit about, but Venditti manages to infuse their relationship with emotional substance. Venditti’s Carol Ferris is a woman who respects her own powers as a space hero in their own right, rather than as being a subservient byproduct to Jordan’s own powers, and in GL #21 she proves that they are more important to her than Hal – an earth-shatteringly logical stance for a woman in a superhero comic to take. I legitimately look forward to seeing what Venditti does with Carol in the future.
Unfortunately I can’t say the same for Venditti’s take on Fatality in Green Lantern Corps, who falls more in line with what is expected of women in superhero books. Ferris’ fellow Star Sapphire seems less interested in her own abilities than in following a guy around through space asking him if he loves her too. Illustrator Van Jensen’s otherwise terrific art does little to help as it ditches space-stripper Fatality in favor of ethnically ambiguous space-stripper, which makes it even more difficult to invest in a character whose presence in Green Lantern Corps #21 is little more than a hindrance.
Fatality aside, however, Venditti’s Green Lantern Corps is a pretty solid book. The shifted focus from Guy Gardner to John Stewart is a welcomed one as Gardner’s “I’m a Boston cop and I’m angry” shtick had just about reached lethal dosage in the title. John Stewart is one of the few prominently featured black superheroes in the DCU, he’s a retired marine and he’s an architect. In other words he has infinitely more character to mine than the ever one-dimensional Guy “One Punch” Gardner.
But who needs character mining when you can have space sharks? Author Justin Jordan and artist Brad Walker’s Green Lantern New Guardians is a book full of imagination and promise. Where everything that has had anything to do with Green Lantern over the last decade has been wrapped up in the various color-coded Corps of the emotional spectrum Jordan’s New Guardians looks poised to explore a universe of science fiction wonders outside of Roy G. Biv. In his first issue (NG #21) alone there’s the aforementioned space sharks, some crazy hippo monster guy, a giant space pimple called The Anomaly and the chronological debut of the intriguing new villain Relic, who is first glimpsed in a flash forward that begins Green Lantern #21. If New Guardians #21 is any indication there are exciting things on the horizon for Kyle Rayner and his rasta-elf buddies.
While the new creative teams behind Green Lantern, Corps and New Guardians have all brought their own improvements and unique spins to their respective titles Charles Soule and Alessandro Vitti’s Red Lanterns manages to read nearly exactly the same as the previous creative team’s run. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, but Red Lanterns was a terrible, uninspired, shitty book. If you were an idiot you would think a comic focused on an entire cast of characters whose powers are essentially being really, really, unreasonably angry would be anything but one-dimensional and you would be an idiot and wrong.
Red Lanterns #21 sees Guy Gardner take center stage and quite frankly the character and the book deserve each other. The dialogue is forced and hollow, the characters are bad impressions of bad impressions of antiheroes and the art, with its thick, burdensome lines, invokes a thirteen year old doing his best Spawn fan art on the back of a math test in 1998. I had high hopes for this title given Charles Soule’s nearly universally praised work on Swamp Thing, but Red Lanterns should have just been buried like the bloodied, bloated corpse it is.
Given the quality of Red Lanterns I had almost no hope for Larfleeze #1, the premiere issue of the new series centered on the one and only Orange Lantern. Larfleeze has been consistently entertaining in the various Green Lantern series since his debut in the “Agent Orange” storyline of Geoff Johns run, but the idea of giving the creepy, comic-relief warthog man his own series was a gamble. After all, if the rage of an entire corps of Red Lanterns can’t fuel a book, can the greed of one Orange Lantern?
Yes. Holy God, yes.
I love the character of Larfleeze, but I cannot express how low my expectations for this series were. Luckily, I can’t express how blown away those expectations were either. Writers Keith Giffen and J.M. Dematteis have crafted the most hilarious, demented book in DC’s current catalog. While the art, by Scott Kolins, is nothing to write home about, his vivid interpretations of Larfleeze’s laughably hellish upbringing are somewhere between gut-busting and stomach-turning. He may not bend the forth wall, have his own video game or beg to be portrayed by Ryan Reynolds (yet), but if Larfleeze’s role in the DC Universe keeps expanding and maintains the same caliber of vile humor on display in Larfleeze #1 he could become DC’s very own Deadpool.
Theoretically four solid Green Lantern series and one unspeakably shitty one are better than three solid Green Lantern series and one unspeakably shitty one by like five percent. Particularly if you just don’t read that one unspeakably shitty title. And with that in mind it’s a good time to be a Green Lantern fan. A time that could have seen a steep diminishing of one of DC’s most celebrated franchises has instead proven to be an invigorating new start to the celestial corner of the DCU. Red Lanterns aside the new creative forces behind the various Lanterns lean far closer to brightest day than blackest night.