“You’re asking a lot for a Man With No Name.”
Light. Darkness. The Green Lantern. The Blackstar. These are the key ideas at the heart of The Green Lantern. It’s a book about light, yes, but more importantly, it’s a book about the nature of light in contrast to darkness. That’s vital, that makes all the difference. Forged by the phenomenal lineup of Grant Morrison, Liam Sharp, Steve Oliff and Tom Orzechowski, this is a book determined to spotlight what makes the insignia of the corps so special, even in dire days of the dark.
The entire issue follows the book’s mission statement of being understandable cop narratives, like the issues before it and is thus framed as a conversation. Two strangers sit across one another in broad daylight of Rann’s two suns and talk. One, a lady in full silver and red costume with a metal mask covering her face, and the other, a bearded man dressed in cowboy attire. The two are recounting stories to one another, while discussing The Blackstars and The Green Lanterns. The issue even opens with the story of the former, which takes place on the planet of Weirwimm. The entire issue is very much structured as a back and forth, with parts of both individual’s stories being conveyed, interspersed with commentary and more conversation. The lady’s chronicle is the tale of Countess Belzebeth, the Commander of The Blackstars, and her conquest of the world Weirwimm. The cowboy’s chronicle, on the other hand, is that of Hal Jordan and his crew of Green Lanterns. The common thread among both tales is their involvement of Sun-Eaters. However, the key difference in their inclusion is, while Belzebeth exclaims that the Sun-Eaters are her kin and unleashes a wild herd of them onto a sun to consume light, Jordan and the Lanterns face the Sun-Eaters as opponents. The Blackstar story revolves around plunging a world into darkness, turning its people into monsters of the dark and feeding on light, whilst the Lantern tale is about safe guarding the stars of the cosmos and all life that lives off the basic ingredient of existence: Light energy.
With every piece of the story the cowboy and the lady exchange, their interest in one another grows. The cowboy is looking to meet with Belzebeth to join The Blackstars, whilst the lady expresses great interest in Hal Jordan, the leader of the Lanterns who wrestle Sun-Eaters. The Belzebeth narrative, intriguingly, ties back to the very first issue of the book. We find out that Weirwimm and its secret vault is where The Blackstars acquired the Anti-Matter Lantern and his casket, which is very much a key element of the plot. The Lantern narrative, meanwhile, introduces us to two legendary Sun-Eaters, a breeding pair where in one is pregnant. One is Bloviatraum and the other is Tiamathrodon, with the latter being pregnant. The former is slain by Jordan in an attempt to save his fellow officer, while the latter is defeated and captured by a clever plan involving wishing a sun into existence, until a Sun Lantern arrives for back up. Following that, Jordan faces the consequences for his actions in the previous issue and held before a tribunal of Guardians, he is suspended and escorted off to a world of his choosing to await psychiatric evaluation and investigation. After the stories have been exchanged, the issue concludes with the revelation that the cowboy is Jordan himself, whilst the lady is Countess Belzebeth.
In many ways, The Green Lantern #4 is not only the most important issue of the book to date but perhaps the best summation of what this run is. It’s It’s a back and forth between two sides, the light and the dark, the Lantern and the Blackstar. And those fundamental concepts are represented here, quite literally, in the form of Jordan and Belzebeth. A key moment is when Belzebeth declares herself to be “The Blackstar,” while dubbed Jordan “The Green Lantern,” which tells the reader all they need to know. And it’s this dynamic, this push and pull, their exchange and interaction of ideas, this almost philosophical confrontation, that makes up the beating and radiant heart of this title. Even the stories they tell clearly outline the differences between the core concepts and the fundamental differences there in. The Lanterns do not like to kill and those who tend to kill, unauthorized, are punished, while The Blackstars have no such lines. The Blackstars are very much represented by their vampiric leader, who feeds and consumes until all light falls and only darkness remains. Artist extraordinaire, working alongside the illustrious Steve Oliff, accentuates this fact with the two suns of Rann going setting through the course of the entire issue, with us witnessing the sunset and thus being led into the night, where in Belzebeth feels free revealing herself. In a book about light, this is incredibly vital, as we’re closing in on the halfway point and the sun’s gone down, leading to night time. That speaks to where we’re at in the narrative the creative team is weaving together.
While many tend to decompress stories in the market these days, Morrison and Sharp decide to pack in absolutely as much as possible into the 20 pages here. There are effectively three solid standalone narratives at play here: Belzebeth’s conquest, Jordan and crew’s police work and the conversation on Rann. The book is serialized, to be sure, but it’s also incredible standalone procedural stories that give the reader far more than they’ve come to expect. Morrison’s love of hypercompression is as evident in this epic as ever. There’s enough content in here that would, in most other books, take up at least 40 pages. Sharp and Morrison, however, manage to get it all in there, carefully picking between moment to moment and achieving storytelling clarity, whilst keeping a great pace to the entire narrative. Even the transitions between stories, which in the hands of a lesser team could be harder to discern, is extremely well handled, with Oliff’s colors helping set the tone for each individual narrative and Sharp’s dynamic layouts leading the reader through. Orzechowski also makes it all the more possible with his stunning letters, guiding the reader from visual to visual while presenting an array of quirks in order to contextualize the story. His alien speeches, for instance, actually feel alien when the story calls for it, much like in the opening where the letters are wavy and uneven, rather than in the conventional straight line. You immediately get a sense of the characters and the scene’s context through simple things like that.
Digging into Hal Jordan himself, the issue literalizes another key aspect of the run that may be overlooked. Geoff Johns and Darwyn Cooke, with their respective turns on the character, explored a great facet of Jordan: the ace test pilot. However, that era of his life is long past and The Green Lantern has been exploring him as a nomadic cowboy hero. That subtext is now brought to the forefront as we see Jordan in a cowboy outfit, with an explicit reference being made to The Man With No Name, the iconic cowboy protagonist of the Sergio Leone film trilogy. Evoking the legendary Clint Eastwood character, Morrison and Sharp immediately establish what they’re going for here in their epic. Reading Jordan’s scenes in the issue, one can practically hear Morricone’s iconic The Ecstasy of Gold playing in the background. It’s the absolute perfect connection to draw between the two icons of pop culture and it absolutely works.
It should also surprise no one that Grant Morrison would help create a Sun Lantern, adding to the legend of not only the Corps but DCU mythology. It wouldn’t, however, work or exist without the incredible ingenuity of Liam Sharp, Steve Oliff and Tom Orzechowski. They bring the new creation, Hyperia-3, the artificial sentient sun hero to life. Throughout, the team helps build a rich, lived-in DC Cosmos, filled with Hawkmen, Xudarians, Sun-Eaters and obscure Lanterns of the past. But perhaps that spirit is best embodied in The Countess herself, who hails from Sun-Eater lineage and Starbreaker Vampire lineage. The story’s title is very much a reference to Starbreaker, the classic cosmic foe, as is the cover of the issue. The legacy lives on and the creative team blends together Legion of Super-Heroes mythology with Justice League mythology and Green Lantern mythology, building out a textured universe that has a rich sense of history. Sharp, in particular, gets to cut loose on this issue and unleashes page after page of cosmic worldbuilding and characterization that leave one in awe. With elements of Giger, Finlay, Adams and Gibbons, he forges a distinct aesthetic that could only ever be Liam Sharp.
At the same time, it’s worth noting that Morrison’s great penchant for names comes through brilliantly on this title. It’s evident to anyone who’s ever read Morrison before but it stands out especially in the delightfully pulpy and classic titles of this series. In any case, it’s never not impressive. A great example is the name of the antagonist herself, The Blackstar at the center of so much conflict. Belzebeth is an amalgamation of Elizabeth, a name that suggests nobility and Beelzebub, a name that suggests demonic and hellish ties. It’s a name that tells you all you need to know about the character and is deviously simple but is, at the same time, ridiculously clever in how effortlessly simple it ultimately is. Even the Sun-Eaters’ titles such as Tiamathrodon allude to Tiamat and mythology, suggesting a level of thought and texture that grant the book a certain weight even when it comes to such small details.
Ambitious as ever, dense as one might hope, The Green Lantern continues to be a meaningful tour of the DC Cosmos and its rich history. This builds off the ’70s sci-fi sensibilities of the previous issue to push into a new territory, helping set up the descent into the gothic darkness that is coming. Plots within plots, cops and due process, undercover identities and western confrontations, it’s all in there. Charge up your batteries, folks, we’re heading into realms of dark possibility now.