Rebirth Green Lanterns: Crossing (Out) Jordan
One of DC’s Rebirth titles I have looked forward to the most is Green Lanterns (Story by Sam Humphries and Geoff Johns, art by Ethan Van Sciver, Ed Benes, Jason Wright, and Travis Lanham). Following two relatively new Green Lanterns, Jessica Cruz and Simon Baz, sounded like a great jumping-on point, both for newer readers and fans like me hungry for something new. Allow me to elaborate on my position regarding DC’s space cops.
I trade-waited the various Green Lantern series ever since becoming a teen services librarian, partly to hold my own in conversations with young fans who wanted the reading order for Blackest Night and also to exchange trivia about the color-coded corps for each emotion. The premise of “Space cops taking orders from grossly arrogant and hypocritical little blue men” proved to be evergreen, because I was hooked. From Rebirth (2005) to Blackest Night to Alpha War to Rise of the Third Army to Lights Out to Godhead, my reactions wavered between two feelings. Sometimes I was beset by a sort of grave, helpless frustration akin to how Dumbledore choked down that poisoned chalice near the end of Harry Potter. Other times, especially over the past few story arcs, I felt pleasant surprise, even defensiveness, over DC’s rainbow-colored Kool-Aid. Where Matthew Brady of Hooded Utilitarian saw one dunderheaded writing or design decision after another (and he’s not wrong), I was comparably accepting of the series’ shortcomings in favor of holding out for the bits I liked. However, there’s one hang-up that only got worse the more I read: Hal Jordan.
There is a concept in storytelling called “power creep,” referring to a character who constantly reaches new plateaus in power, technique, and skill until they become difficult to antagonize. Consider Superman’s ever-increasing power set over the decades. He started in the 30s as a tough guy who jumped high and ran fairly quickly, but could be knocked out with a grenade. Fast forward to the 90s and he was a nigh-invincible demigod zipping across the universe faster than the speed of light with ready access to heat vision and freeze breath. What’s the point in writing a villain for him to punch? (Cross-reference with Goku’s power creep from Dragon Ball Z and the tiresome debate over who would win in a fight between him and Superman, with each side citing supernatural speed and strength and revisiting the debate each time one of them gets a little stronger.)
The same criticism can be leveled at Hal Jordan, especially when his adventures over the past decade have generally involved him spearheading, and winning, one save-the-galaxy battle after another. Why was the premise of each adventure bottlenecked into splashy showdowns, pretty as they can be? Hal rallied and worked together with the other corps of the emotional spectrum (anger, hope, fear, compassion, greed, love, death, life), but was also one of the only lanterns to wield their rings, because why stop at perfection of willpower?
Rebirth: Green Lanterns bringing Simon Baz into the spotlight from off the back burner and Jessica Cruz over from Justice League went a long way in my book, both for the diversity they brought to the roster of Earth Lanterns (Simon’s a Lebanese-American Muslim battling the label of “Muslim terrorist” in Michigan, and Jessica’s a Mexican-American with intense anxiety) as well as bringing fresh blood to the Hero’s Journeys in progress among the corps. Show me Jessica struggling to focus as a matter of personality, as opposed to some Superhero 101 childhood trauma. Simon once used his ring to bring his brother out of a coma, a healing ability never performed by another Green Lantern. Bring his experience with the impossible into conflict with orders from his superiors.
Heroes who win too often become boring. My favorite Green Lantern stories, Mosaic and The Omega Men, rely on placing the archetypical “all-powerful superhero” in morally gray situations. John Stewart’s esoteric qualities were on full display as he struggled to figure out ways to keep alien culture clashes under control in Mosaic. Kyle Rayner’s status as a life-affirming White Lantern was put to the test in a tragic, slow-burning showdown between a ruthless empire and a group of rebels/terrorists called The Omega Men, with both parties embracing the ideas of collateral damage and acceptable casualties. In addition, Guy Gardner’s tenure in Red Lanterns, particularly the stories written by Charles Soule, balanced Guy’s hot-headed nature with his sense of duty. He even teamed up with a raging baby. It was great.
Now two relatively rookie Green Lanterns will be forced to work from the same power battery like squabbling siblings? Yes, please! There are any number of ways this could go right, starting with how Hal Jordan excused himself to outer space by the end of the Rebirth: Green Lanterns issue. Jessica Plummer characterized the past ten years of Green Lantern books as “marinating in their own mythology,” and I agree, but I also welcome trying new ingredients in the sauce, including those overlooked in the past. Rebirth: Green Lanterns #1 acknowledges the perception of Simon and Jessica as entering a superhero tradition that’s already getting crowded, but that’s one of the things I like about the different lantern corps: anyone who fits the criteria of “overcoming great fear” can join. Do American citizens with traditionally non-white last names or skin have anything to fear?
I also hope for a new round of introductions to all the different corps. Saint Walker of the hope-based Blue Lanterns was and continues to be one of my favorite DC personalities. Reciting an “all will be well” mantra at disasters can be simplistic, but I nonetheless cannot resist the optimism on display. Geoff Johns wants to bring hope back to the New 52? Shine some light on the superheroes whose whole deal is literally spreading hope. The Blue Lanterns’ best moments to date had nothing to do with winning fights and everything to do with defusing hostile situations, such as reigniting a dying star or nullifying Red Lanterns’ rage. Their influence gave Guy Gardner one of his finest moments (Futures End: Red Lanterns) and made Flash a great force of optimism. (Full disclosure: I still check the merch racks at conventions for that blue Flash logo t-shirt, inspired by Barry Allen’s short stint as a deputized Blue Lantern).
The past decade of Geoff Johns stories led me to want to follow imperfect Green Lantern trainees over a legacy winner like Hal the Green Goku. Every Lantern is more interesting than Hal; the only exception is his recent tie-in issue to Justice League: Darkseid War that introduced a compelling religious element to his bravery. Hal used to beware the color yellow, but has since overcome that barrier and must now achieve… what? Green Lanterns need weaknesses and hurdles more personal and defined than “might get scared.” Hal is a hero who’s been written so far into a corner that he had to be turned evil only to be redeemed and made a champion again, then turned into a lone wolf renegade just to give him something to do. Hal loves aircraft company owner Carol Ferris and flying planes, and neither of those qualities are inherently interesting. As noted above, I’ve been reading his books for years and still wonder, who the heck is he? Given all his victories as well as leadership position within the corps, let him assume an elder statesman status guiding the next generation. Johns breathed new life into Hal’s popular status with 2005’s Green Lantern: Rebirth comic, now it’s time for some new underdogs to step up.
I hope that the fusing of Simon and Jessica’s power batteries means neither of them will jump directly to single-handedly saving Earth. I look forward to seeing their relative inexperience in action via weird sci-fi encounters that force them to examine their values and judgment in a universe larger than their limited human experiences. Rebirth: Green Lanterns #1 ends with the Red Lanterns itching for a fight, but I hope that’s just the orientation tour for Simon and Jessica on their way to a weird, wild ride.
On a final note, regarding costumes: I was grateful to see Jessica’s Green Lantern uniform did not include high heels, a boob window, or a loin cloth. These wardrobe items have been found on women in previous Green Lantern arcs while the guys were almost always in neck-to-toe bodysuits (so tight that, as with Simon now, they cling to rippling abs and stone-cut muscles). These sensible design decisions were balanced (negated might be the word) with a bizarre shot of the Justice League that featured all of the men in straightforward poses and Wonder Woman sharing the shadow of her butt and groin region. The pose was a sad oversight that didn’t help the issue make a positive first impression. Wonder Woman riding a horse through space would have looked less ridiculous, been ten times as exciting, and sealed the deal for plenty of new readers, myself included. I will hold my breath that the next issue has something more novel to center on a page.