“Hold it right there!”
The Green Lantern is an ambitious voyage into the great history of one of the most enduring ideas in fiction. Debuting as one of the biggest books in the industry, the book has been nothing short of astonishing. With legendary Scottish scribe Grant Morrison, the comeback veteran artist Liam Sharp, the celebrated colorist Steve Oliff and the one and only iconic letterer Tom Orzechowski, this is an all-star title with an all-star lineup. It’s the mighty old guard here to make a statement on one of the oldest of characters, Hal Jordan.
Pitched very much much as a police procedural in the realm of Green Lantern, the book continues to expand and reinvigorate all corners of the DC Cosmos with a breathtakingly fresh energy and spirit. Every page and panel are packed with Morrison’s acute sense of humor, Sharp’s textured detail and a wondrous tone embracing the wild wonder and possibility of a book about imagination, with Sharp bringing art that channels Virgil Finlay, Dave Gibbons and Neal Adams. It’s a cosmic book unlike any we’ve seen before at the company, marrying the raw science-fiction potency of 2000 AD with the experimental oddities of Bande dessinées alongside the super-heroic ideals of the American comics world.
Morrison and Sharp’s approach to the title has been a great joy to watch, as they take relatively simple cop stories and re-frame them into heightened cosmic tales that not only stand alone on their own but also weave together to form a captivating long-form saga. The first installment was a shootout story with an old cop being called in to handle a case of a fallen one, with the realization that there’s a dirty cop on the force. The second was a police interrogation with the classic ‘good cop, bad cop’ routine, with a breakout taking place. Both were massive in scope, with fascistic armadas, cosmic conspiracies and planet theft. And yet, they also managed to be absolutely intimate, maintaining a careful balance by being thematically driven while also being character focused. They’re all ultimately about basic things we all understand. It’s the classic Morrison approach, one he used to the greatest effect in All-Star Superman, where he forged the ultimate contemporary solar myth and yet it was also the most personal Superman story imaginable. Factor in Sharp, who brings to life the fantastical but also makes it tangible and believable with his meticulous line-work and expressive characters, and you have work that blazes a new trail.
Coming to #3 and its cover, which depicts Hal arresting God, it’s easy to assume that it is a diversion from this approach. The idea that it’s no longer a police procedural once you scale up to such high scope isn’t uncommon, but for Morrison and Sharp, it absolutely still is. The issue fits perfectly with the previous two installments, effectively being a tale of Hal Jordan and the Green Lanterns busting up a trafficking-ring but on a giant intergalactic scale, where planets of great populations are sold away. The cop squad is on a stakeout and busts in to make arrests and the entire basic story is very much something you could see on a cop show. But at the same this is Green Lantern and thus it’s very specific to the DC Cosmic world, leading to scenes like the fantastic opening of the book. It’s a black market auction, Volgar Zo, the Dhorian slaver and trafficking boss, is addressing a wide assembly of super-villains from across the universe and pitching them on Earth’s value. It’s a wild scene packed with a wide array of DC cameos, from White Martians, Grayven and Mongal to even The Overmaster. Morrison and Sharp never let go of a chance to depict a lived-in universe that feels rich with history. The entire auction sequence itself is filled with an outlandish sensibility, as Zo goes into excruciating detail about the various benefits of buying Earth for a super-villain. It’s absolutely hilarious and almost reminiscent of Morrison’s Doom Patrol, with the writer progressively bringing more and more of himself to the work with every passing issue. Sharp also runs with this, making his characters perform and emote in the most extravagant and amusing ways, whether they be crystals pondering about conspiracies or Zo relishing in cartoonish delight at the prospect of cruelty.
And, at last, when God emerges to outbid the likes of New Gods and Dominators, things get really interesting. The Shepherd, as he is called, gains the Earth and takes off in his craft. Hal follows The Shepherd and engages in a philosophical debate with the being, discussing law, the will of all lifeforms and the authority of the Green Lanterns. The Shepherd claims to rescue planets to take them to his sanctuary, where they may roam free and fatten up. Hal, however, soon realizes that The Shepherd, who presents himself as God, is the farthest thing from it. In reality, he’s a Terravore, a planet-eater, an undying Lovecraftian cosmic horror who’s effectively buying a new chicken to fatten up and devour for his cosmic dinner time. It’s this kind of hysterical idea- a cosmic monster marketing itself as God for the sake of acquiring dinner, that feels so at home with works like Doom Patrol and yet it’s also a totally perfect fit for Green Lantern.
The issue also gives us a brief glimpse at the long-awaited return of Tom Kalmaku, essentially Hal’s Jimmy Olsen, the classic best friend as well as Hal’s current girlfriend Eve Doremus. Eve exclaims in great pulpy fashion ‘We don’t need superheroes right now, we need a supercop!’ as the image of a frozen Justice League covers the page. Sharp’s artistic sense really comes through as he lays out page after page with great thought, providing the story context to the actual telling of the story in the panels. The way he captures the disorientation of a space battle or the horror of being in an enslaved and shrunken planet through panel choices is inspired, as he conveys the feeling and the state of the characters perfectly. His splash with the Green Lantern squad led by Hal oozes Gibbons and Adams and feels like a classic shot in the making. Oliff’s lush and rich color-work leaps off the page and really sets the tone for this bizarre yet believable universe, while Orzechowski makes every bit of dialogue strike with maximum impact.
Then the issue caps off with Hal’s return, with the heroes capturing Volgar Zo’s slave-ship and its security, the Blackstars. Venturing in the Lanterns discover it’s run by enslaved children, who’ve deformed and aged due to radiation. Now all of them crave nothing more than death, as excruciating pain devours them every living moment. Volgar feels only glee at this, as the Lanterns watch in horror, as Dhorians do not have sympathy, and quotes the natural law of prey and predators. Enraged, Hal launches projectiles at Volgar and kills him, telling his onlooking Lanterns it was simply self-defense. It’s a visceral moment to end the book on, feeling evocative of Judge Dredd. It’s a very careful and deliberate choice that brings forth numerous possibilities from here on out and teases an unpredictable journey ahead for Jordan.
Beyond that, what’s really intriguing about The Green Lantern thus far is how Sharp and Morrison are building clever architecture and mechanics for Green Lantern. The believable cop setups with the wild and magnified DC cosmic context very much feels like a template for how Green Lantern can be done. It gives the world of Green Lantern a rich texture while helping establish a clever story engine that ties everything together firmly. Issue three propels us forward into new and unpredictable frontiers of space, we’re no longer in the safe zone here. So grab your lanterns, speak the oath and join the cosmic quest for light, because things are about to get really, really interesting.