Warning: Spoilers below!
‘Go now! Before it gets here! Go!’
At the dawn of The Silver Age, when Julius Schwartz was in the midst of his great DC superhero revival through a science-fiction lens, a certain issue hit: Showcase #22, featuring a familiar title with an unfamiliar hero. That hero was Green Lantern, but with a fresh face, a fresh costume and a fresh context. Creators John Broome and Gil Kane told within those pages what would become the first proper Green Lantern story. Not the Green Lantern with a collar and a weakness to wood, no (although he is equally fantastic in his own right, god bless Alan Scott), but a cosmic cop of the super-galactic system. And in doing so, they laid the foundations for an entire mythology and most importantly, a cosmic universe.
While previous issues of Showcase did feature the likes of Space Ranger and Adam Strange, neither proved to be as prominent, definitive or important to the DC legend as Green Lantern. And it’s in the tales and myths of Green Lantern that so much that we know and love, so much that DC now values and hypes, emerged. From the legend of The Guardians Of The Universe to The Anti-Matter Universe and The Hand Of Creation, it’s impossible to imagine a DC Universe without Green Lantern. It’s the bedrock for all that DC Cosmology is, everything that it can be is built on top of it, leading to everything from The Legion Of Super-Heroes of the 31st Century to The Solar Councils of the 58th Century. And it all began through that one short story in Showcase. It all began with that one very first story title, in fact. S.O.S.!
The term holds special meaning, as the beginning of the DC Cosmos proper and thus it’s no surprise that Grant Morrison, in his seminal work The Multiversity, established that as the code-word for all heroes across the cosmos. You utter that term and the magic happens. The Multiverse stirs as heroes from across its various branches arrive to provide aid. The term is asking for help and that cuts to not only the heart of superheroics, but the DC Universe as well. You need only speak that magical, cosmic word and will it, wish it. And in a blaze of light, help will come, hope will arrive. And isn’t that perfect? Isn’t that the most Green Lantern thing? It was a beautiful touch in Multiversity, bridging the efforts of the two legends, Gardner Fox and John Broome, who fleshed out so much of the DC cosmology, while nodding to the beginning in honor. And now, within The Green Lantern #9, once more the word is uttered. One more help is asked for. In fact, S.O.S. is what the entire issue is structured around, so it’s worth digging into. Split into three sections, all of which feature a different S.O.S. but have connections, even if they do not seem obvious at first glance. The book looks the reader in the eye and unleashes its mad magic, asking them to hold on, because the ride’s about to speed up.
The frenetic pace of the title should not come as a surprise to those familiar with Morrison’s work or the title thus far, as right from the very first page, beams of energy break out in a cacophony of cosmic chaos. That should really set the tone for you here, as the book drops you right into the action, as armies of superheroes lie beaten, facing an insurmountable threat of Anti-Matter. Liam Sharp’s artwork has been getting better and better over the course of the run and in this, he really gets to dig in and pack in a lot of things into the title he wasn’t quite able to prior. First we have the sort of almost the big, event superhero team book-esque opening, operating in the pure bombastic, disaster movie-style setup. This is a fresh element for the title, as it’s strayed from this sort of thing on purpose for a good few issues. But now it brings it all in, being epic enough to be a summer blockbuster event title. Yet, again, Sharp employs splashes and never spreads, considerate of the real estate they have and the point they’re trying to make. This has incidents occurring that could, technically, be an event, but it’s not an event. It’s the every day struggle of a cosmic custodian.
And this, this first opening segment with members of a fallen super-squad, as one is sent out to get help, that’s the first S.O.S. For those unaware, the characters in these opening pages are all old, existing characters from DC mythology. Most of them are ridiculously obscure and some you could never even find a wiki-entry for. All of them are plucked from old Silver Age issues of comics, usually featured in 1 issue at best or sometimes even a single panel. The whole lot of them are alien superheroes, with next to no Earth ties or origins. The title has always been about tying together and weaving one proper, cohesive DC Cosmic universe and consolidating everything, even the things no one remembers. Thus all those old forgotten pieces that few others seem to care about get new renewed purpose here in the form of a brand new cosmic superhero team: The Superwatch!
Operating from Throneworld and working with The United Planets, it’s a cosmic superhero team of alien heroes that numbers up to 21 at the very least (although those numbers fall in this issue). Answering the question of ‘Well, why did they never show up after that one issue?’ with ‘Well, it’s because they’re all buddies and they’ve been teaming up for ages and having their own cosmic adventures saving the universe, you just never knew about it until now!’ is pure Morrison. It’s a pure, deceptively simple idea and he just throws it in here, resolving a longstanding problem of DC Cosmic. While Earth has cops and a superheroic community, the cosmos only has cops. Yes, there are alien superheroes like Hawkman and Prince Gavyn’s Starman, but do they ever interact or appear to be part of a larger cosmic community? For an Omniverse of heroes, the DC world is often too Earth-centric and choices like these lead to the universe feeling small and underdeveloped, a problem which the DCU avoids a 1000 years into the future with Legion.
This is why titles like Guardians Of The Galaxy are so vital to Marvel Cosmic. They showcase a thriving, rich cosmic community entirely unaffiliated with Earth. Heroes like Hawkman or even Adam Strange are ultimately too tied up with Earth, one way or another, to fill that space. And teams like The Omega Men are locked into a space they do not tread out of, whilst the likes of L.E.G.I.O.N or R.E.B.E.L.S could never sort of fill that fundamental gap to create a rich sense of textured cosmic heroic community. But Sharp and Morrison resolve that issue completely here. The Superwatch exists, it’s existed for ages and all these random space heroes know each other! It’s a retcon full of such love and belief in this universe, so additive and considered, that one can’t help but grin. It feels like someone yelling ‘If it doesn’t work, I’ll make it work!’ and that never gets old.
And there’s also a strange fitting beauty to making The Superwatch, who work with The United Planets, have their base on Throneworld. It’s the birthworld of Prince Gavyn Starman and a creation of the legendary Paul Levitz and Steve Ditko. Levitz created the place, but he’s the legend he is for his Legion work, for his contributions to the efforts of The United Planets. And so linking those two here is a nice touch that not only feels right, but works. But really, artists Liam Sharp and colorist Steve Oliff are the mad wizards here, who take all these old school, forgotten Silver Age designs and update them for today, working with a ridiculous amount of reference material to match the list of 21 characters that make up this team, which is not the only team in this book.( For more on The Superwatch, a detailed breakdown of the cast and their histories as well as appearances, check out our focus piece here.)
From there, we move to the 2nd section of the issue, another S.O.S. Hal Jordan arrives on the fantasy world of Athmoora, which is an old, old planet set up in Sector 2814, gone unused since Gardner Fox came up with it. Until now, of course. The Green Lantern’s entire ethos is taking that which is the forgotten, the discarded and dusting it up to present it in a fresh way for a new, contemporary audience. And Sharp, again, really gets to cut loose here. He’s a creator that excels at fantasy, as should be evident to anyone who read his excellent Wonder Woman run with Greg Rucka and his Brave and the Bold mini-series. Even beyond that, his painting work, his love of Don Lawrence, with Lawrence being his key inspiration and personal mentor, it’s incredibly obvious. It’s a massive strength of his. It’d be criminal to not use it. And so the team does. Hal Jordan comes to Athmoora for some Rest and Relaxation, but finds none, as he is forced to answer the S.O.S. of the world’s people as Sir Hal Of The Lantern!
Most just play D&D, Hal does it quite literally by going to fantasy worlds. Facing the green beastly hoards of the evil sky wizard Ah-Bah-Nazzur, a new menace on the world, Hal is aided by Samandra The Sorceress and Fekk The Faun. Featuring fantasy dialogue to match expectations, rhymes and and spells alongside swords, it’s a tale made for Sharp’s sensibilities. He cuts loose and just delves into the action with gargoyle armies, giant forces in battle and a lot of classical, high fantasy imagery. The issue is, very much, as the cover promises, the ‘Fantasy’ issue of the book, so Sharp, alongside Oliff, leans into that. The beginning is the Holy Knights order uncovering a perilous ancient being that razes, while in another land, the noble guardian of the realm, alongside his trusty sidekick and partner, making a trio, faces an evil wizard plaguing that land, who also has ties to the larger narrative in play. The structure is easy to grasp, even as all the pieces seem too much to juggle. That sort of compressed weight, that sense of ‘Oh man I’m so full’ is the kind of meal the book seeks to provide.
There’s a lot of Barry Windsor-Smith and Mike Grell in the work here, as Sharp’s love of both Conan and Warlord is evident and comes through in the pages. With duels of two Lanterns, as the cover promises, unraveling the obvious truth that Ah-Bah-Nazzur is actually Abin Sur of Earth-20, a new set of questions emerge. Abin snaps back into consiousness once Hal severs an Amulet around his neck, which obscured his speech and also made him the malevolent mind-controlled sorcerer he was. And wouldn’t you know it, on the Amulet? The Blackstar insignia. The sign of The Controller. Controller Mu, one of the key antagonists of the book. Dead or otherwise, his people and ideals live on and clearly there’s something big at work here. Free will in the face of control has emerged as a dominant theme in the run thus far, embodied in the very name of its antagonist and so the literalized choice here works.
Once Abin catches Hal up and lets him know of The Green Lanterns Of The Multiverse and that his mission was originally to find him in order to prevent catastrophe, things seem clearer. While the man has no recall of what was done to him, The Blackstars got to him and have played him for their purpose, although we do not know what it is yet. And once we learn that, everything goes so, so wrong. Reality splinters, as a cosmic pentacle forms. Crystalline structures barricade Hal and Abin, as a Half-Human, Half-Cybernetic monstrosity arrives from ‘The Reverso-verse’, a nickname Morrison’s fond of when referring to The Anti-Matter Universe. This is The Qwa-Man, the Mad Lantern. And he wants Hal Jordan, though we know not why. Tom Orzechowski, who’s been terrific throughout, as one expects of the legend, also just lets loose this issue and especially in this segment. With Abin’s mind-control spell-speech, he uses a distinct alien font that he’s developed, really selling the distant, incomprehensible nature of the character in the sequence. But for The Qwa-Man from The Reverso-verse, he opts for a simple but very effective idea. Just reverse the text. And boy does it work. The eerie, uneven, horror typeface, delivered with serpentine balloon tails just lands perfectly, selling the concept and character instantly. And then everything escalates even further from there, as Abin Sur, like he once did in that oh so old Green Lantern story (albeit a different Abin), calls for S.O.S.
And what do you know? Help does arrive, as Sharp brings to life The Green Lanterns Of The Multiverse, as Abin yells out ‘The Guardians Of The Multiverse!’ Thus we have Flashlight of Earth-36, BatLantern of Earth-32 and Magic Lantern of Earth-47 arrive, to safely rescue the two Lanterns away from The Qwa-Man’s terror. And that’s it, that’s the final S.O.S. The one that goes back to that very first and yet simultaneously brings in all these new things since. It’s very, very Morrison and that almost circular idea is beautiful, to say the least. You can feel the palpable excitement in the pages here, as he does his final mainstream work with his partner-in-crime, finally getting to do all these ideas he’s waited ages to do. Magic Lantern goes back over 30 years, to his Animal Man run, he hasn’t gotten to really use him since. The Guardians Of The Multiverse and The Green Lanterns Of The Multiverse are ideas that go back over 20 years ago, to Hypercrisis. And the final thing that the stinger teases, ‘The Quest For The Cosmic Grail’, that was teased and setup nearly 5 years ago. And now the payoff is coming, all in one glorious finale of a decades long career.
The Green Lantern #9 continues the trend of the book constantly reinventing itself every issue, packaging something new, while drawing on the historic tradition and rich mythology of comics, giving readers old and new something exciting to really dig into in compressed chunks that pack in big ideas as well as cosmic fun that feels equal part DC, Doctor Who and Douglas Adams. There’s cosmic super-armadas, Anti-Matter Devils and Hal Jordan riding a magical dragon in D&D land. The frenetic, imaginative experience of this title is one of a kind.