‘I had done all I could do, save tell them the truth.’
Mark Russell’s work to date, for the most part, is on the sidelines and the corners. But that changes in this one-shot, as the writer known more so for his odd yet fascinating takes on the likes of Prez, The Flintstones, Snagglepuss and Wonder Twins tackles Sinestro in a one-shot that ties in with the current going DC Comics Year Of The Villain event. Having written the character briefly in the Green Lantern/Huckleberry Hound one-shot, Russell is no stranger to the character, but while he wrote him there in an isolated context of an odd teamup, this is him writing him front and center in the DC Universe proper.
Joined by Yildiray Cinar, Julio Ferreira, Hi-Fi and Steve Wands, the team is a fun one for a special all about the iconic antagonist of the spaceways. Cinar’s art is classic superhero fare, loaded with great action and spectacle, while Hi-Fi’s palette is a bit more restrained here, less the overflowing energy you might expect from their Flash work and more sci-fi movie with a mundaneness to it, even as it revels in chaos of cosmic beings and ideas.
While the Sinestro of the Green Lantern/Huckleberry Hound special that Russell wrote previously was a deliciously despicable and scummy villain, in classical fashion, the characterization here feels slightly different, while very much in that vein. He’s the smug, intelligent jerk, but given that he has more than 4 panels to use him and his purpose isn’t to solely be a jerk in them, there’s a whole lot more there as well. In classic Russell fashion, the work here is less the sort of typical fare you’d expect and more a vehicle to discuss broader issues that pertain to us and our culture. Power is something Russell always grapples with, due to its nature as a key fixture of superhero fiction and this issue is no different. It’s all about power and more specifically the power that is levied and used to make people serve. Sinestro’s a character that’s both stood in the face of authority, unwilling to serve, having served and he’s someone who’s imposed authority and made others serve him. Thus here he becomes a perfect vehicle to explore these ideas.
Nothing may express Russell’s ethos better than the antagonists in play here. We’re met with Kirby-esque celestial entities, huge, unstoppable beings who heal instantly. It’s expected, that’s what these things would be like. And then Russell, Cinar, Ferreira, Hi-Fi and Wands tear down all expectations and recontextualize. How do these beings heal? Well, they have miniature civilizations, entire societies, that live out their entire existences busy healing these beings’ bodies. They live for mere microseconds, but all they spend those moments, which seem eternal for them (time is relative, after all) trying to serve these beings, who they believe to be their gods, who they require and thus must serve without question. Instantly, the tropes and pieces that are taken for granted are called into question and twisted and this disturbing and terrifying notion is presented. One might not have expected a Sinestro one-shot to delve into power systems, fascism, faith and capitalism, but boy does it.
Wands’ captions, bearing Russell’s words, carry the story on, as Cinar, Ferreira and Hi-Fi paint the horrific reality of these ‘Microns’, which is, of course, a commentary on the nature of our own. Here’s a culture that drives you to do nothing but work, work, work and thus serve to empower the all-powerful, the almighty even more so, even if they’re the most cruel, murderous, evil beings in the universe committing genocide. Why do we continue to bow to and serve tyrants and their systems and let them abuse us, the book asks, while delivering the truth on the nature of power and how it’s us, we, the people, that grant these overlords their power. Their power is our own. The narrative shows us how incredible and liberating it can be to truly understand that, to realize that and break past the systems and yet also how tragically easy it is to fall back into them, as a warped culture manipulates you into servitude.
This is a Sinestro story that is less interested in what power source or special move Sinestro will pull out to beat the foes and much more so in these hard questions that are universal to all life. It’s proper science-fiction with Sinestro, a terrible supervillain with nuances at the heart of it. He can be both the liberator and the tyrant. He can the hero and the villain. He’s a complex mess of cruelty, violence and power and allows for the readers to examine things in ways that might be difficult with more traditional and archetypal heroes of the DC Universe. In any case, the story isn’t interested in easy answers or deus ex machinas, but harder ones, which play into its thematic ideas.
All in all, it’s a solid one-and-done story that really works. It’s shortcomings might only be that if anything, it has so, so many ideas and thoughts it wants to dig into that it doesn’t quite have the time to. This doesn’t just read like a YoTV tie-in one shot, it reads like a #0 for an ongoing that doesn’t exist. It’s very much like a pilot for a Sinestro series that Russell would love to write, as even the ending teases that out, setting up a status quo to be explored with the character, that almost ends on a ‘To Be Continued’ and given Russell’s consistent interest and comments on wanting to work on Green Lantern, that tracks. There are definitely scenes here which would work better if they had the room to be unpacked in a proper ongoing capacity, as there are moments that need to be skipped over due to lack of room in a one-shot. A perfect example would be the planetary destruction and carnage. With Sinestro being the survivor of such an event that destroyed his own people and planet, Korugar, for which he claimed to do all that he did, a home he practically worshipped (or wanted to be worshipped on, take your pick), you’d assume he’d have more of a reaction to incidents like these. Given how hard Korugar’s end broke the man, it definitely feels off and like a missed opportunity to not have him react more, as Sinestro is lot more likely to have his cold facade break for a moment. Then again, the choices serve the story being told in this one-and-done, so one can understand why Russell doesn’t distract from his narrative, which is part of why an ongoing might work rather well.
Sinestro: Year Of The Villain #1 is a great little Mark Russell one-shot which is a strong recommendation for any fans of his. It’s so him and it’s really interesting to see him operate in this mainline superhero event status quo and sort of balance his approach and voice alongside those expectations and conventions that come attached with the regular stuff.