Beware my Power!
Liam Sharp and Grant Morrison’s The Green Lantern #1 is a fascinating opening chapter for what looks to be the book of the year. It’s Liam Sharp’s first big run after his definitive contemporary look at Wonder Woman alongside Greg Rucka, Nicola Scott and Bilquis Evely. And it is also the big, long awaited return of the legendary Grant Morrison to DC comics in an ongoing capacity. It has been the source of much anticipation and excitement in the comics community since its initial announcement months ago – and now, the first issue is finally here.. It’s an incredible achievement that not only lives up to all of the hype, it somehow rises above it all to make a mark that we’ll all remember.
The core plot of the story is fairly simple and something you could expect to see in a regular cop story. We open at the Precinct, the Police Chiefs ask the officers to report, then we cut to Ventura, which is basically the big gambling casino area where trouble’s brewing with a gang of hired crooks. The crooks engage but are quickly taken into custody. Later, as one cop goes to investigate a certain lead, he ends up dead. Meanwhile the captured criminals escape from the transport vehicle and end up on our main protagonist’s beat. He comes across them and takes them down to the precinct. There he finds that someone has messed with the records- and that there’s a dirty cop on the force.
It’s such a simple story but in the hands of Sharp and Morrison, it’s blown up into and framed in a gigantic science fiction context of the DC Universe, featuring Luck Lords, Spider-Guilders from Vega, Controllers, Xudarians and so much more.
Right out the gate, as we’re dropped into the wondrous world of Ventura, we’re met with sights we’ve never seen before. Sharp has always had a great eye for detail and that comes through in the lovely little nuggets we’re treated to here, whether it be a spaceman at an arcade playing games we could never dream of, to a elephantine alien slurping away at a drink handed to him by a robo-waiter, with another waiting to be slurped away. It’s a series of beautiful image after beautiful image, all filled with rich textures, wild imagination and potent thought. This is Green Lantern unlike we’ve seen it before. From the very first moment, Sharp and Morrison establish an aesthetic, a tonality and a sensibility that is not only wildly different from that of past Green Lantern comics but also most american superhero titles as well. This is a comic that has far more in common with 2000 AD and Valerian than any other book out right now. It carves its own unique niche and makes its stand in a way that’s ridiculously thrilling as a fan.
The issue introduces us to the Melmoorian Lantern Maxim Tom and his astonishing partner, Floozle Flem. The former is a brilliant but weary officer and the latter is a super-intelligent all-purpose virus. Green Lantern is no stranger to such odd beings as we were exposed to Despotellis over a decade ago during the Geoff Johns era and Flem is a brilliant little addition to the mythology. In his first appearance, he inflicts what Tom calls The Emerald Flu onto the Spider-Pirate the two lanterns are fighting against. It’s a silly and absolutely hilarious scene with Tom Ozrechowski’s brilliant lettering bringing out all of its potential. Every funny little sound from Geeps! to Glorrt! and Flaart! is used to maximum effect here as the comic establishes a sense of humor that stands out. It’s the kind of almost cartoonish bit that would fit right into a Douglas Adams book or a Doctor Who story, or perhaps even Men in Black. And it’s humor like this that really lends The Green Lantern its incredible charm and levity.
Tragically, as Tom chases down his final lead, he meets his end with ring warnings about Anti-Matter. We see the outline of a humanoid in a metal case that’s been broken open and the brutal massacre surrounding it. Legs of the humanoid become visible in the panel as the danger warnings flare up and we see cybernetic devices coming at Tom before his last moment. Whoever was once in the case is out and more than that, they’re dangerous enough to take down Lanterns.
Then we cut to The Luck Lords on the next page complaining to another new Lantern, Trilla-Tru, a Xudarian woman. The Luck Lords are fun old school concepts from ancient Adventure Comics, much like their home Ventura itself and under the team of Sharp and Morrison, they’re all given a fun new overhaul. It fits perfectly into this weird, quirky and wondrous DC cosmos the team is trying to establish and build structure and architecture for. And it’s on this very same page that we’re introduced to (or rather reintroduced to in the case of one) Controller Mu, the big central antagonist of this run and Kommander Kraak, a criminal of the cosmic underworld. Mu is a fascinating new spin on the idea of a Controller, being played as a shady and almost religious cult leader with his own separatist sect of followers dubbed The Blackstars. Kraak on the other hand is an old obscure character from an issue of Batman (#128 “The Interplanetary Batman), with just that one single appearance. Now he’s back and revamped for action in the hands of this creative team, which leaves no stone unturned and no possibility unexplored.
The two individuals discuss the secret cargo and how it took the lives of four of the best pirates in the cosmos and a Green Lantern and how without a Venturan Luck Dial, they would have failed to capture it. This really foreshadows what’s to come as we then get to the prisoner plane of the lanterns, where Retlops, a four-armed sizeshifting beaver-alien breaks loose and causes the plane to crash. We’re also met with a hilarious remark by his robot crook who says “011100 HELL YEAH 11010”. Again, this is a very funny comic. This really leads into a mindblowingly well executed double page spread with Hal Jordan lying on the ground looking up, as the big bold words INTERGALACTIC LAWMAN hover about for the reader to see. It’s striking and immediately makes an impression and the title is such a perfect and succinct distillation of the simplicity and genius behind this approach to the franchise.
Then we witness Hal Jordan’s life and where he’s currently at. This is a bit of a different Hal than we’ve seen in recent years. He’s much more withdrawn, distant, quiet and he’s almost lost to the stars. He’s crashing with an old flame of his from the silver age, Eve Doremus, falling in line with Sharp and Morrison’s motto to bring back all his lovers and friends to compare, contrast and explore Hal’s character, evolution and bonds. We’re given a short summary of his history by Eve and then we get a particularly telling panel where Hal says “Yeah, I know. I hate me too.”. He says it with a big grin but it’s evident that there’s a lot of pain and suffering beneath everything and this is a man with a lot weighing on him. It’s powerful moment and one that sheds great light into Sharp and Morrison’s vision of this man who’s seen and done so much. Sharp follows this up with a passionate image of Eve and Hal under starlight as the alien plane falls from the sky in the distance. Every page is packed with information and broken down with thought in order to draw readers’ careful attention.
Hal hits the road the next morning and then we’re treated to what might just be the most oddly funny scene in a book full of scenes that share that sensibility. A collective of aliens appear in front of Jordan and they try quite poorly to mingle, in a fashion that is very Men in Black, but there’s no fooling our hero. Throw in a fun little guacamole line (oh there’s more!) and he takes them down quick and discovers the source of the alien menace: an alien plane crash, one with a wounded Green Lantern. The homage is evident, as is the clear passion of the creative team. The lantern is Chriselon and he informs Hal of the three dangerous crooks out loose, asking Hal to tell his children (protocystral solutes!) that he loves them very much. But the assured and confident Jordan lets him know that he can do that himself and he’ll return with the prisoners in tow and help Chriselon in time.
This is where we’re granted what might be most dramatic, powerful, awe-inspiring and jaw-droppingly iconic Green Lantern oath. Sharp’s art is very pulpy and he wears the influences of legends like Virgil Finlay openly, but there’s also hints of Neal Adams, John Totleben, H.R Giger, Barry Windsor-Smith and perhaps even Steve Dillon. All of those come through in this one sequence where Hal accepts Chriselon’s lantern and recites the sacred words of the oath that give any reader chills. Orzechowski’s impeccable lettering once again deserves praise for how it’s pulled off, as he consistently makes brilliant decisions throughout (Chriselon’s sharp crystal-shaped bubbles to match his look is a particularly inspired choice) the book.
Hal then walks in coolly to the crime scene and immediately rescues the citizens and begins resolving problems without a moment’s hesitation. Sharp and Oliff do mindblowing work on this page as Hal’s powers and entrance look almost ethereal and the page crackles with energy and power. This is no regular hero, this is a man who can instantly assess a situation and calmly fix it at the drop of a hat. After making the robot go Klikit he deals with Retlops by outsmarting him and then proceeds to ask the Spider-Pirate and robot if they really want to push him. Locking them up in a guacamole jar, he notes that the luck dial the crooks claimed to have was a fake, after which he’s greeted by a message from the ring. He’s been summoned to New Oa.
Hal simply looks up and says the words ‘So, I’m back in the saddle?’ before shooting off into space in what has to be one of the most majestic and sublime Green Lantern images ever produced. Steve Oliff’s colors are excellent throughout as expected of the legend and it’s on pages like these where he absolutely excels with the contrasts with the blacks and greens. But really, the big takeaway through all of this is Sharp and Morrison’s take on Jordan. He’s very much a cowboy. If Darwyn Cooke and Geoff Johns mined and explored the depths of Hal as the daring pilot hero, Morrison and Sharp are choosing to delve into the cowboy. A nomadic hero who journeys from place to place with nothing but his weapon and basic supplies and brings justice wherever he goes. He’s calm, gentle, soothing and charming but if you get on his bad side and push him, if you make him draw, the anger comes out and the fearsome fighter emerges. He’s someone that could be played by prime Clint Eastwood and it would work, even if he is perhaps a bit more talky. Though there’s far more Paul Newman than anyone else here, as the will, charisma and power of Newman protagonists like Luke comes through.
Reaching New Oa, Jordan learns the details of the case and finds that the legendary Book of Oa has been altered and tampered with and what do we see but Doctor Manhattan’s symbol on the cosmic book of knowledge and history? It’s a huge moment and not one that any readers were expecting from this book, but it makes sense. The cosmic history book of the DC universe being messed with not only makes sense but is a brilliant touch to include to build a sense of the shared universe. In any other series, this would be the big last page stinger, the bomb dropped to hook you. But this is no ordinary book, so it’s merely mentioned as we move along to other, more Lantern specific things the team wants to introduce us to.
This is where things get grand and epic in a way we haven’t quite seen in Green Lantern books for quite some time. The Guardian speaks of who they are, what their mission is and what the Green Lanterns stand for and relates a history of the franchise for both fans unfamiliar. It’s a majestic moment that inspires childlike glee, regardless of context. Morrison and Sharp show us The Great Attractor at the heart of things, rendered as a mighty green cosmic machine, through which the guardians see all, they give us Rot Lop Fan, an X-Ray Lantern and Mogo then drop matter-of-factly that the corps has Radio Lanterns, Gamma Lanterns, Microwave Lanterns and X-Ray Lanterns. These are big, big ideas that the team is introducing and they do so in a manner that makes it seem as though they’ve always been there and that’s a notion that’s at the heart of this take and Morrison’s own long storied view of superhero comics.
Lines like “We have chained demons, banished death and conquered fear” are both epic, broad lines that convey the scope, history and might of the Corps but for older fans, they’re succinct summaries of ages past. Whether it be Abin Sur chaining the Five Inversions, whether it be Blackest Night and Nekron or Sinestro Corps and Johns’ greatest theme of overcoming and beating fear. The book manages to build a sense of lived in history and showcases a living breathing cosmic universe with structure and clear designs, whilst being very accessible to new readers. One might argue that this the most accessible big franchise title Morrison’s written since X-men. It’s the perfect place for new readers to jump and experience this wild view into this weird, psychedelic and wondrous cosmic universe with magical wishing rings and spider-pirates, but it’s also immensely rewarding for longtime readers and followers of the book and franchise. Every alien race we see in the title is one that’s appeared at some point in a DC comic from the 40’s onwards to now. Morrison and Sharp have exhaustively researched cosmic lore and history to build this all encompassing depiction of DC space.
But that isn’t all, as we’re still in for more big surprises with this title. We learn there’s a traitor in the corps and that the Guardians already know who he is. From there we cut back to Controller Mu and his Blackstars, in their base dubbed Asteroid X. And it’s here we find Mu with the true Venturan Luck Dial once more, as he speaks of finding two of the necessary five components needed for them to build “The Ultimate Asset”, whatever that may be. This is when we’re revealed to the truth of the whole story, this is the big stinger. We find out that Mu and his Blackstars have captured The Anti-Matter Lantern, who is a splitting replica of Hal Jordan but seems to be a cybernetic being with organic parts placed within him and over him. We see his chest cut open and Mu commands for ‘The Heart of the Weaponeer” to be extracted. We’ve known characters called Weaponers of Qward for ages, they debuted in some of the very earliest silver age Green Lantern stories, starting with “The Secret of the Golden Thunderbolts”, but a Weaponeer? That is almost certainly new. Who is The Weaponeer? What is his heart capable of why was it hidden inside The Anti-Matter Lantern? And just who is the Anti-Matter Lantern and why is he a cybernetic doppelganger of Hal Jordan? What could “The Ultimate Asset” which requires five components and needs The Venturan Luck Dial, a tool to make the improbable probable and this special heart be? What is Mu’s endgoal?
The Green Lantern #1 is ultimately a science-fiction comic that grabs you by the heart and makes you question and it’s not the kind of book to let go. It wants you to join its cosmic corps to get on board the magnificent journey across the cosmos to crack this puzzle wide open, alongside Hal Jordan. The big final Coming Soon page very much plays into that and only adds to that, as it boasts the famed Green Arrow/Green Lantern teamup, a Green Lanterns of the Multiverse Union, a Blackstar group led by a Lady Vampire with ties to Sun-Eaters and cosmic vampires such as Starbreaker and even an event where the Central Power Battery shatters before a massive Green Lantern insignia-eye. This is a book full of possibility and it wants you to know that, so jump onto the saddle and ride along for this cosmic space trip. You’re bound to have some great fun and meet a Spider-Pirate or two.