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Is a Green Lantern more than a Blackstar?

A deeper look at Grant Morrison and Liam Sharp’s ambitious cosmic saga.

The Mystic Lamp. The Batter Of Power. It’s an object that’s had many names over the ages. It’s the heart of the entire concept, the wellspring from which everything emerges: it’s The Green Lantern. The core central power battery that the Guardians possess and protect, the mythic source of all the Lanterns’ power. The irreplaceable engine of light and energy that represents all that the lanterns are and stand for, it is their ultimate asset. It’s the very symbol all of them bear on their chests and rings, the insignia of cosmic law and order.

And yet, despite all of that, throughout history, it’s an object that casts a grave shadow. For despite its purpose as a purely benevolent tool, it has been abused and served the wishes of masters who weren’t as altruistic as one might hope. And this is where one gets into some of the fundamental issues that crack the foundations of the Green Lantern concept. They’re an intergalactic police force, but nobody chose them or elected them, not really. They’re not held accountable to their actions and do as they please. And the only people they are accountable to are The Guardians of the Universe, who are perhaps the most problematic part of the Green Lantern concept. They’re distant, immortal beings who decided, without anyone’s consent, that they would begin to police the universe, exerting their ‘law’ and code of ‘justice’ over everything. Nobody got a say in the matter and through sheer might, the Guardians have done as they pleased, establishing the status quo as we understand it to be in Green Lantern. When one looks at it that way, what one ends up with is a fascistic, private military force that exerts its own code and will across the cosmos, which is a terrifying notion.

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Geoff Johns’ run really ran with this thread and rather than alter or reconstruct the concept, leaned into it. The Guardians, in the Johns era, became even more distant and geriatric figures, portrayed as harsh and cold beings who’d abandoned all emotion. Throughout the course of the run, they progressively got worse, more secretive and became more villainous. We’re told of the forbidden secrets of Atrocitus and the Sector 666 massacre, which was hidden and we get even more context for the Guardians and their past. These are beings of privilege and power who built an entire military force which massacred an entire sector and rather than atone or make up for it in any meaningful way, they buried it in the past and moved on, learning seemingly nothing.

In a lot of ways, the Johns era was driven by the problematic nature of the Guardians, with all the chief players loathing them or wanting to take them down. From Atrocitus’ quest for vengeance to Sinestro’s disdain to Hal Jordan’s distaste, the Guardians were the figures almost everyone had issues with. In a run all about emotion and its potent power, they were the failures, the ones who’d thrown away all emotion and thus had to pay the price for that. It’s why by the end of the story, all the original Guardians, save for Ganthet and Sayd, are murdered and replaced by The Templar Guardians. It was an attempt by Johns to address and move past the issues, with The Templar Guardians being relatively innocent and free from the crimes that all the others had a hand in. It was a chance at a clean slate for the moment, but at the same time, those roots still remain. The fascistic underpinnings are very much there to this day and nobody even knows what ‘law’ and ‘justice’ the Lanterns enforce. Who decides what they are? And are they not subjective considering the vast array of worlds across the cosmos, all with different beliefs, cultures at different stages of development? These are issues that were never truly addressed or resolved and they remained ignored, with a broad and vague veneer over it all.

Enter The Green Lantern.

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Right out the gate, Morrison and Sharp’s new series took it upon itself to change the game. Morrison, in interviews, expressed similar feelings on the Guardians and their past portrayal, the lack of clarity on the actual laws the Lanterns enforce and talked about trying to pull off the entire concept without making it cosmically fascist. Re-framing The Guardians’ mission and viewpoint, Morrison and Sharp succinctly put forth all the best aspects of the Green Lantern Corps, highlighting what generations have loved about it. In what is perhaps the best and most majestic encapsulation of the core concept of the entire franchise, the team presents The Guardians as benevolent, wise and welcoming figures who champion diversity and open themselves to all. It’s a choice that moves away from the distant, geriatric figures of the past and the team is very much here to re-contextualize things.

The Guardians’ drive here is almost tied to a cosmic Dharma of sorts, the way of things, and the team is laying the groundwork to truly dig in and explore what that really entails in this uncharted territory. Once you move away from The Guardians making up their own codes and tie them to an almost cosmic Dharma, you strip away some of the more problematic elements at the root of the concept. Now it is no longer the Guardians being enforcers of their strict, age-old beliefs, but them as part of the fabric of the universe. They’re no more judgmental than, say, gravity is. They’re simply a part of the order of the cosmos, serving the fundamental basics of creation and existence. It’s for this reason that the series continually brings up the natural laws of the universe, the ones that are true no matter where one treads. From the first issue’s invocation of The Square-Cube Law to the latest’s in regards to Predators and Prey, it’s all incredibly deliberate. The book seeks to explore what law and justice can even mean on such a wider scale and explores the struggle of enforcing them as well as the lines one must carefully tread whilst doing so.

Enter The Blackstars.

Originally created by the Guardians’ darker, more extreme counterparts, The Controllers of the Universe, The Darkstars were a more morally ambiguous police force for the ’90s world of comics. In recent years, they experienced a revival in Robert Venditti and Rafa Sandoval’s Hal Jordan and The Green Lantern Corps, albeit being used vastly differently. Whilst the previous incarnation was acknowledged, the new Darkstars were a super-villainous hive-mind (powered by captive Controllers) that got destroyed by the end of the story. It was a usage that didn’t quite have long-term potential and took the concept in a full on villainous direction, but the choice was noted by Morrison upon his arrival onto the title, where in he read through the entire history of the character and franchise. Not wanting to use The Darkstars or the regular Controllers, Morrison and Sharp created The Blackstars, a separatist sect run by the lone Controller Mu. It served the purpose of their story, a proper villainous force led by a Controller, but beyond that it also accommodated for a more classic take on The Darkstars in the future, while The Blackstars occupy the villainous spot, allowing creators to have their cake and eat it too.

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The Blackstars may be new, but they have a mission rooted in the past. They hope to assert total control over the cosmos and to do so, they’re assembling components to build what they call “The Ultimate Asset.” They require five components and to date, they’ve acquired three. The first being a Venturan Luck Dial, the second being an Anti-Matter Heart and the third being an Auran Star-Band. The choice of The Blackstars and Mu as the chief antagonists of the story is very, very deliberate here. There are very clear parallels to be drawn between the The Green Lanterns and The Blackstars. Both are private militaristic armadas run by immortal figures who have grand plans and visions for the cosmos and both very much like to assert control and feel it right to impose their rules on all life across the universe. The two groups also have a history of working with super-villains and allying with them should the need arise, even as recently as the previous series.

But beyond that, when one observes the components the group is acquiring, one notices the even deeper parallels and the clever thought at work. The Venturan Luck Dial is a wishing tool that makes the impossible and the improbable into realities, which is very much a feature, a powerful aspect of The Green Lantern. The Auran Star-Band is a will-powered light weapon, which is, again another aspect of the lantern, represented in the ring. Only the heart remains the mysterious part, but there are some intriguing hints in regards to it as well. But most importantly, here you have a private, fascistic armada accountable and answerable to no one, dedicated to imposing its order on all, which hoards terrific light weaponry for itself and wields mighty wishing tools and more. There’s a lot in common with the Green Lantern Corps here and it is chilling to think about.

For a series determined to tackle and re-contextualize the fascistic underpinnings of the concept, this is a great move, all things considered. Here’s what The Green Lantern Corps could very well be, here’s all the worst aspects of them, your fears and terrors about their horrific potential out on full display. And therein emerges the core theme of the entire run: What separates a Green Lantern from a Blackstar? It’s a question posed within the latest issue and it is a hard-hitting striking query that is worth considering. What is the difference and more importantly, is there a difference? It’s a thought that cuts through to the essence and asks what truly makes the core concept special, unlike what it could very easily be construed to be.

In a lot of ways, the approach is reminiscent of Morrison’s work on Batman, which sought to cut to the idea of Batman in similar ways. From the Three Ghosts of Batman, each of whom represented some of his facets and took them to the worst extremes, to the antagonist Doctor Hurt who questioned if Batman was anything more than tragedy, it was a beautifully well constructed and thoughtful look into the essence of the idea and what truly, indeed, made it special and unique, amongst any and all others out there like it. With the tease for The Green Lanterns of the Multiverse, one is also very much reminded of The Club of Heroes and its evolution Batman Incorporated in that same epic saga, which explored the wondrous twists and extensions of the core idea, as well as its potent power.

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And thus we come to the title again, The Green Lantern. The all-important article refers to this mighty central power battery, after which the book is named, and in exploring what makes the essential idea of the property special, one inevitably arrives at this object around which everything is built. To reflect the true contrast and juxtapose with the Lanterns, the Blackstars will certainly need their equivalent of the object, the thing that which is at the core of their concept and sums up their stance and place. And that’s where the answer to what the “Ultimate Asset” is lies, as, ostensibly, if one were to guess, it is the Blackstar equivalent of The Green Lantern. Their answer to the central power battery. For all we know, it could be anything from a literal star to just another living being, there’s no telling how or what the Blackstar counterpart will truly be, with it having to be specific to their ideas. It could very much even be Countess Belzebeth, the vampire commander of The Blackstars and Hal’s parallel on their side.

But in any case, it’s this duel, it’s this conflict of two sides, two ideals, who both share a lot of parallels, that drives the entire saga. Is a Green Lantern more than a Blackstar? If so, how and why? It’s a question worth asking and digging into, as it really makes one wonder, what happens when you strip away everything that makes Green Lantern what it is? What is it about it that still makes it unique, once you’ve taken off all the baggage and features? What is it at the beating heart of this thing that makes it so radiant, so powerful and special, unlike anything else that seeks to imitate it?

It’s a question we’ll be asking ourselves more and more in the coming months as we head further into Morrison and Sharp’s voyage of space. And it’s one most definitely worth asking.

The Green Lantern #3 is out now!

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