“…Hal Jordan must die to live!”
DC Comics has a rich history of cosmic vampires. Stretching all the way back to Starbreaker from old school Justice League comics, we’ve seen a number of vampiric figures over the years. They’re useful, interesting concepts, acting as the cruel, parasitic consumers of life, in stark contrast to the heroes we tend to enjoy reading about. They remain the darkness to their light and in a world of archetypical wonder and sublimated fantasy, they’re a powerful tool with a great deal of potential. But where do they come from? What do we really know about them? Not much. That territory remains fairly unexplored and untouched, with an air of mystery surrounding both the aforementioned Starbreaker and his kin. Until now.
The Green Lantern has been a fascinating tour of the DC Cosmos. Its debut issue took us to Ventura, the gambling world of The Luck Lords. Its second whisked us off to Oa, the central police precinct of the Lanterns, as well as The Southern Supervoids, where beings live in darkness. The third drove us to The Antares Corridor, a system of worlds rife with a trafficking problem. The fourth brought us to Rann, the interstellar tradehub and science-capital of the cosmos, while also giving us a peek at the ancient lands of Weiwimm. All of the above are distinct parts of the wider DC Cosmic tapestry and the book’s showcased what makes each distinctive, but beyond that, the book is also an exploration of eras.
Each issue and world carries different sensibilities to reflect different genres, periods and inspirations present within the wider comics history. If Ventura was 2000 AD gloss and strange, Oa was Valerian wonder. If The Antares Corridor was ’70s Bronze Age Starlin pop, Rann was the ’60s Silver Age Broome/Kane serenity.
The creative crew of Grant Morrison, Liam Sharp, Steve Oliff and Tom Orzechowski have a journey mapped out and we’re touring with them. Issue five keeps with this larger design and showcases us not only a whole new world, but one that inhabits an entirely different genre and sensibility, calling back to varied influences. We visit Vorr, the world of the Vampires within the DC Cosmos. Very much in the vein of a ’70s Warren Comics Gothic tale, the issue sets up Vorr as a distinct setting coated in crimson and blacks, bringing a whole new aesthetic to the book. Sharp and Oliff are key here, as they stick to their established styles and defined look for the title, while also shaking things up just enough to provide the book the elasticity it needs. The end result? A love letter to horror storytelling with various references and fun allusions (Yorga, in particular, is a fun one).
Sharp continues to be the star of the title here, growing continuously through every issue, getting inexplicably better. His layouts have long been stellar and Morrison’s story is very much letting him experiment and play around, delivering career best work for the creator. Whether it be flowing blood as panel borders, which also double as wings to imply their emergence off-panel or bony blue-fluid panels to imply their absorption, Sharp does more than tell a story through what’s in the panel. He conveys that which isn’t and gets across meaning through simple choices in his composition of the page, which is what makes him such a fantastic creator. The perspective-based shots, the careful framing to fit story, every choice enhances every scene and packages it in the most visually interesting, exciting manner. His use of textures and his ability to set an atmosphere are also huge benefits here, as he makes the world of Vorr a very specific realm charred in eternal blacks and crimson colors of danger.
Oliff works perfectly in sync with Sharp as one would expect, and crafts a bleak, dark world that is never muted or visually boring. It’s easy to make a space like Vorr seem dull, but Oliff grants it an air of mystery, intrigue and an eye-popping sense of danger with his choices. He’s very much essential to why the book can be as versatile it is in its storytelling and set-ups, as he brings that much needed cohesion and ties it all together, effortlessly weaving together cosmic Oas, dystopic Vorrs and wondrous Ranns.
But for all its world-building, the heart of the issue is still very much Hal Jordan. In a book fundamentally about light, this issue acts as the descent into the dark (the last issue being the sunset), where even the sun is not radiant and warm, but cold, parasitic and symbolic of death and darkness. Jordan is thrust into this hell and must face a series of trials in order to survive and claim his prize. It’s a classic narrative and one of mythical power. But underneath all that, the team makes the story very much about Hal Jordan and Countess Belzebeth, the key antagonist whose relationship with Jordan makes for the essence of the story. Building on the last issue, we get to see their back-and-forth and the issue fleshes out their dynamic and relationship further. Through every trial Jordan must go through, in order to claim the three pieces of his Blackstar Mantle-The Visor, The Gauntlets and The Exo-Mantle, Belzebeth’s there. A very obvious play on Elizabeth Bathory, with a dash of Beelzebub, the Countess is very much symbolic of this issue, playing into the Gothic horror at the heart of things.
The story zeroes in on Hal Jordan and Belzebeth, digging into one of Jordan’s core attributes across the ages: who he really is vs. who he pretends to be. The character’s long had various personas, going to Pol Manning in the original Silver Age run to even Parallax in the contemporary. Whilst the latter was retconned to be a monster, the conceit of Jordan having these personas beyond Hal Jordan is very much a part of him. This is very much a man who plays different roles to different people and for that, he puts on different facades and personas, showing different parts of himself when the situation calls for it. He’s a simple man on the surface, but there are layers and levels of complications, innate contradictions and facets, all the things that make up what feels like a real person. A true character.
Morrison, Sharp, Oliff and Orzechowski understand this perfectly, as they put down what is undoubtedly one of the best Hal Jordan moments in the issue. Faced with the worst of odds, Hal looks on boldly and exclaims “I’ve fought armies of the dead, I’ve beaten down gods and cosmic tyrants. I was possessed by a monster called Parallax. I’ve lived, I’ve died, I’ve been reborn. I’ve relived my dad’s death and every betrayal a thousand times. I’m a founding member of the Justice League of Planet Earth, so let’s get serious…I don’t do inner demons and I don’t do regrets”. It’s powerful, it acknowledges Jordan’s rich history and it’s a succinct summary of not only the character but this interpretation of him. This is very much a post-Johns Hal Jordan, one who could only exist after the events of the tales prior. But while doing this, they show us a narrative that requires Hal Jordan to ‘die,’ with each trial meant to alter his perceptions on his path to being reborn as a ‘Blackstar’. The contrast is not only fun to read, but informative, as it cuts to the idea of who Hal truly is vs what he projects himself as.
The Parallax mention isn’t incidental either and it plays into the above statement on Hal, with the creative team finding a fascinating way to grant the title back to Jordan, with him having agency this time, alongside perfect context to fit the choice. There’s a great elasticity to Jordan and the team capitalizes on this massively. Morrison’s trademark strength of big ideas, additive and progressive character work are all present here, as he weaves together history and lore to forge something special. Orzechowski’s lettering plays a key role in the book here, working with Morrison and Sharp’s work and delivering the story in the best way possible, so that the reader may navigate it effectively. Whether it’s the bulky, retro red typeface for the ringing bells, the smaller case lettering to indicate a surprise or a moment of shock or the size shift to convey volume difference, he nails it all with great expertise.
The Green Lantern is proof of what is possible with cosmic storytelling and more importantly, comic storytelling. Epic as any grand opera, mythic as any premise you’ll read, it’s at heart an intimate look at a character that doesn’t need to sacrifice scope for substance. It understands they’re not mutually exclusive and that the joy is in the mixture and despite being a cop narrative we all understand, it’s packed with glorious conceptualization of Blackstars, Vampires and Wishing Rings. For a concept that’s built on imagination, it’s the perfect book, for it shows you what all can be possible, if you just wish it.