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The Green Lantern: Blackstars #1 review: Brave New World

Grant Morrison, Alan Moore and Geoff Johns’ works intertwine in a whole new era!

Warning: Major spoilers below!

The Green Lanterns are no more. Scratch, that, they’ve never existed. Controller Mu has rewritten reality. Welcome to The Age of Blackstars. Following on the heels of The Green Lantern‘s first season, this Blackstars mini serves to close out the plot threads of the first season while being a lead-in to the next. It’s effectively akin to the Doctor Who Series 4 Christmas Specials, if you’re familiar with that sort of thing. The season wraps. The specials deal with remnants. Then the next season kicks off afterwards. And given Doctor Who is a very clear influence, that structure is purposeful.

Xermanico, who’s been doing lovely work on Wonder Woman takes over the book in Liam Sharp’s stead, visualizing this dark, inverted world of horror. Paired with series colorist Steve Oliff, he brings to life a gloriously terrifying and awe-inspiring cosmos, that inspires equal parts dread and beauty. Series Letterer Tom Orzechowski takes a break, as Steve Wands steps in to letter this mini. Wands also notably lettered #6 of Season 1, so he’s no stranger to the title and he fits in perfectly with the approach and aesthetic Orzechowski laid out, while bringing his own especially standout and noteworthy touches. So if you’re expecting what you got out of The Green Lantern, all that’s there, the pulpy flair and spirit, the sci-fi oddity, but just in a vastly different sense. The illuminated wonder of the cosmos is now much darker and grimy, drenched in crimson, like Countess Belzebeth herself in the story. There’s a desperate sense of unease that hangs over the whole story, in a way it didn’t with the first season. All of which is to say, this works. But that aside, there’s a lot in play here that makes it work to begin with and that’s worth examining.

Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns and Green Lantern

The Wizard, The Magician and Geoff Johns

Back in the 1980s, in the age of Dark Knight debuts and Watchmen welcomes, Alan Moore wrote 3 Green Lantern stories. 2 six pagers and a twelve pager. All in all, 24 pages. Not much, really. They were called ‘Mogo Doesn’t Socialize’ (w/ Dave Gibbons), ‘Tygers’ (w/Kevin O’Neill), and ‘In Blackest Night’ (with Bill Willingham). Each introduced something we now know fairly well, from Mogo, The Demons Of Ysmault and Rot Lop Fan, The F-Sharp Bell. Moore may have written very, very little GL, and it may not have meant much for ages, but when Johns took over Green Lantern, he pulled heavily from these stories, much like he did many others. But chief among all that was Tygers, the 12-pager starring Abin Sur, Hal Jordan’s predecessor. Tygers was and is Abin’s big ‘final’ story. It’s a prophecy story, detailing how Abin Sur will die, how and what comes after his passing, both directly relating to him and the corps itself. It’s in this story that Abin learns of ‘The Final Catastrophe’, the event that would go onto take shape in the form of the 2009 DC Comics blockbuster epic Blackest Night. Many of the things prophecized would come to light during the entire Johns era of Green Lantern, with the popular character Atrocitus being retconned into Tygers and given his roots in those Moore beginnings. Tygers is, by all accounts, the most important Green Lantern story, in that sense. It’s the inspiration and foundation of all of modern Green Lantern. It’s Abin Sur’s best tale and one of the finest stories of Green Lantern to be published. Moore’s importance to Green Lantern is unquestionable.

But how all does all that relate to this? That’s a good question and that’s what this is all about. The Demons we see and meet in the opening scenes of Blackstars #1? They’re also, much like Geoff Johns’ Atrocitus, built off those Moore beginnings. They’re The Demons Of Ysmault, who have taken over Oa and beaten the Guardians, which is a key, vital part of the Tygers prophecy Moore put forth. Morrison brings that to life here. But that’s just one choice among a number of intriguing ones. But to really get at that, one has to get a sense of Johns’ handling of them. The chief, modern inheritors and weavers of Tygers’ Legacy in the modern era very much have been Geoff Johns and Peter Milligan (both good friends of Morrison) and they altered the original intentions, spirit and vibe of Moore and O’Neill’s Tygers, making it much more, relatively speaking, straightforward and superheroic, to tie better into Atrocitus’ origin as The Red Lantern. They were serving that story and weren’t much else. Moore and O’Neill’s Demons were horrific, impossibly monstrous beings who could not be comprehended, who haunted the nightmares of the most legendary lawman of the universe, but Johns and Milligan’s were figures who faced almost instant death to serve Atrocitus’ story. They weren’t very incomprehensible, scary or truly odd. They didn’t quite have that 2000 AD spirit that pervaded Tygers and just Moore’s Green Lantern work in general.

Enter: Grant Morrison.

Morrison’s consistently made it clear, alongside Liam Sharp, that 2000 AD is one of the absolute go-to influences for this run. Morrison, when asked to pick Top 5 Green Lantern runs, put Moore’s short stories right up there, calling them some of the best. And beyond that, anyone who knows Morrison knows that while he and Moore have had a longstanding feud of sorts, Morrison is very much a huge fan of Moore’s work. Or at least, a good chunk of it from a certain era. And his Green Lantern, much like his Miracle Man (Marvel Man, take your pick), is something that clearly appeals to him. And so from all that we arrive to this, Grant Morrison using Moore’s biggest contribution to Green Lantern, which has since been ‘normalized’ quite a bit, if you will, for an American comic audience. (It’s worth keeping in mind that after all, Kevin O’Neill’s art was such that after Tygers, the powers that be didn’t really want him near the superheroes, given it was so terrifying and out there, far closer to a sci-fi horror strip of 2000 AD than anything else.)

Qull Of The Five Inversions

The ‘normalization’ or ‘simplification’ of Moore and O’Neill’s work is perhaps best represented in Qull Of The Five Inversions. He’s very much the being that grants Abin Sur the prophecy (thus dooming him) and he’s a figure Johns and Milligan bring back in. But what’s curious is how Johns and Milligan interpret Qull. Look at that name. Qull Of The Five Inversions. What do you reckon that means? Johns and Milligan very much went for the obvious implication, the idea of ‘Inversions’ as in a gang or a group of individuals. Meaning there’s 4 more like him. But that is decidedly not at all what Moore and O’Neill intended. It’s a misreading of the true implication. Read over that name again and look at the design. It means exactly what it says. Qull, afflicted with Five Inversions. So his head? It’s a giant tongue. His mouth, it’s not horizontal on his face, it’s this giant vertical slit that reaches his chest. His hands? They’re thighs, really. So on and so forth, five inversions he is suffering from. Reading in, some of the inversions are not just physical, but likely psychological and moral as well, in regards to behavior. That is the kind of utterly weird, odd, surreal and strange that was intended. That was the goal. This incomprehensible ancient monstrosity.

But that’s not what was (quite) taken away, as we got more conventional superhero comics-y fare. Less Doom Patrol and more Justice League, if you will. But Morrison? He’s the guy who made Doom Patrol weird again and skyrocketed it to its popularity. And he’s a huge Alan Moore fan, one who clearly understands Moore’s intent. So here we get the utterly alien, incomprehensibly weird Demons again. Johns and Milligan’s work endures, as Morrison makes reference to their original characters, the other 4 Inversions made to accompany Qull. But while acknowledging and nodding to the work of his friends, Morrison leans hard and firmly into the Moore and O’Neill spirit. The idea of these beings being defined by the inversions that they bear becomes central here, as that’s how Belzebeth convinces them and wins them over, reasoning that the only inversion they haven’t yet experienced is being good. They’ll be full of self-loathing and despise doing it, but it’s a fresh experience for these immortal beings and the one thing they haven’t indulged in. And just like that, the bridge between Johns and Moore is drawn, uniting their efforts, the additions, which came about via misreadings, and the original intended spirit, all honored. But at the same time, this is a Morrison original. And so he cranks out originals of his own, with new Demons of Ysmault, bearing names like UQ’UQ’LLT’S, Z%zuille, Vocratis, Thulth and Lady Mururum.

And that’s very much the appeal of this entire run, in a nutshell, really. It’s a sort of grand unifier of history, but one that never just sits and rests on it. It adds to that history, it brings the new. It puts new toys in the box, while dusting off and shining up the old ones. In a lot of ways, this is perhaps the most Doom Patrol issue of Green Lantern, alongside The Green Lantern #3. This whole debut very much feels like a healthy cross between Moore and O’Neill’s Tygers and Morrison and Richard Case’s Doom Patrol. And that’s a curious, interesting flavor.

If The Multiversity saw Morrison’s last and possibly final critique of Moore in the form of Pax Americana, The Green Lantern sees him embrace, revere and reconcile Moore’s work. If the Moore fan became a Moore critic for ages, this is him returning to his roots of that fandom and building off it. It reads like a Morrison who genuinely adores Moore’s work in this regard, more than anything and that’s really refreshing to see.

The Night-Eons and The Eternal Night

The Night-Eons

But that’s just not it. It can’t be it. There’s gotta be more. And there is. The opening sequence of Blackstars isn’t just a fun return to old characters and one to solely serve this small mini-series, dear lord no. It serves a dual purpose. Read caption one of panel one above. That’s from Tygers, which describes the history of The Demons Of Ysmault. They are, or rather, once were, The Empire Of Tears. But much more vitally and fascinatingly, they ruled during The Night-Eons. That’s interesting. Morrison calls back to this within Blackstars, having Belzebeth refer to the demons as ‘The Grand Aristrocracy of The Weeping Night Aeons’. But even apart from that, repeatedly, Morrison doubles down on that motif that Moore and O’Neill gave them, which since then has been ignored by everyone else. They are dubbed ‘The Night-Kind‘ by Belzebeth and again ‘The Night-Spawn‘. And that’s not nothing. That’s deliberate. That repetition, dedicating so many pages to them in this mini, re-establishing some of the core ideas there, that’s with reason.

Think back, has there ever been anything akin to that in the run prior, that night motif, particularly with the hyphen? Oh yes. Oh yes indeed there has…

The Night-Gate

In The Green Lantern #11, when we met Zundernell, The Golden Lantern, he tells us of his oath to guard The Night-Gate. The issue is very clearly set up for a later macro plot, as it drips with terms like The Eternal Night and The Multi-Crisis. And so what all this really means is this- Morrison is doing what Geoff Johns did, in a sense. Johns took from Tygers. Alan Moore at the time was notably displeased with this, which led to Morrison firing back at Moore in defense of Johns. But now for Morrison, who then defended Johns’ usage of Tygers as inspiration, to also take from it, given his history with Moore, is rather amusing and strangely fitting. And Morrison grabs the stuff that Johns didn’t and left out, which is all the supremely weird, magical dark fantasy stuff. Ostensibly Zundernell, who says his people call from a place called The Over-Sky, is part of a group that effectively acts as ‘The Angel’s to Moore’s ‘The Demons/The Devils’. It would make sense and given it’s Morrison, he is likely to be very amused by the notion of him making the counterpoint to Moore’s devil legions.

In any case, big things are afoot in the DC Cosmos, under the stewardship of Grant Morrison, Liam Sharp and Xermanico and it’s really interesting to see so much from the past being pulled back in, remixed and added to in fresh new ways to tell new stories. Morrison’s long been drawn to the ignored, the forgotten and overlooked elements of a character’s history or story and so digging up the bones of Tygers and plunging right into the whole thing is fun, given that is a story that is packed with possibility. Moore and O’Neill made a story that implied a massive, rich tapestry and it’s worth using.

Fascistic Law: Give in! Submit to Will! So says The Controller!

All that fun history aside, the basics at the heart of this issue are the same as any other issue of The Green Lantern. Wrestling with fascism. Green Lantern is about a group of intergalactic law enforcers who were created by immortal old people, who hoard will-powered light weaponry, impose order on the entire universe and enact the will of aforementioned old people. There’s very clear fascistic underpinnings to that. Even the Johns/Reis/Mahnke era recognized that and made The Guardians the supreme antagonists, ending in the bloody murder of them all and replacement via the Templar Guardians, who are supposedly all good and chill. But still, given the past, the history, that reading and underpinning, that foundation exists. It needs to be contended with. And so this run does.

What we’re shown is a horrific cosmic police state, where brutality is the name of the game, where control is the goal and will is the operative word. It’s a fundamental perversion of the Green Lantern myth. And it’s via that extreme contrast, by embodying and literalizing all that the Green Lanterns could be and can be read as but are not, in the form of  The Blackstars, that the work makes its point. This is what a Fascist Guardian looks like, this is what a fascist police force is. And what they are is a terrible cult. That’s why you have the very name. ‘Green’ ‘Lantern’, ‘Black’ ‘Star’. Black is a darker, more absolute color, it’s darkness, it’s poison, it’s the night, it’s the shadow, while green is nature, harmony, peace and calmness and order. And a star is much more powerful and brighter than any lantern. Thus ‘Blackstar’, a fundamental extremist perversion of the GL idea. And it’s why their top operative, Hal’s equal and partner, is a literal vampire, to contrast with Hal. It’s why the antagonist is not a ‘Guardian’, it’s a ‘Controller’. To guard and to control are two different things. This entire status quo came about because both The Guardians and The Controller believed in Hal Jordan. But Mu’s belief is submission of will, where as The Guardians’ belief is the freedom of will. They trust Hal and believe in him to do the right thing, where as The Controller is not capable of such faith. He’s a fascist. The Guardians? They’re more akin to enlightened cosmic super sages or monks, masters of a higher DCU Dharma, a higher cosmic law.

A lot of the run has been built around getting the GL idea close to the tendrils of fascism, to look it in the eye and perhaps even drape itself in its clothing and imagery, but only to reject it outright and say ‘No’. Nothing embodies that more so than the book’s hero and his reborn name- Parallax. It’s a loaded name and it’s a title of shame. But in this run, he takes it willingly, with agency and it’s not a tragic, character-breaking fall, it’s a show of his heroics, as he goes undercover, pretending to be a fascist only to beat the living hell out of them and break their whole network. It’s currently the darkest hour, as the universe is in darkness, all is uncertain, so that when Hal sheds off all the shadows, the light is that much brighter by contrast.

It’s why in this reality, where in Hal Jordan is made to believe his past reality and life, the very idea of ‘Green Lanterns’ were fake and mere dreams, our hero is also impervious to mind-reading. He cannot be read, because for all we know, while Mu intends for Hal to believe they are dreams, he has secret awareness. The world isn’t right, but neither is Hal Jordan. Even his Blackstar allies do not trust him, because he is who he is. Any second, he may break out of that Blackstar mantle and let the green light fly. And make no mistake, he will.

And getting back to Mu, fascist and cult imagery are all over the place here, as rose petals are thrown about in celebration as this cosmic guru of oppressors arrives from his secret base after meditation. He takes down tyrant after tyrant, only to become THE tyrant himself. Belzebeth even takes one of the purest, kindest and nicest phrases in Lantern mythology, often said by Saint Walker and perverts it here. ‘All Will Be Well’ is uttered and it is, for once, utterly chilling rather than comforting in any measure. It only inspires dread.

Familiar Faces and Elements!

Amongst all this chaos, we’re treated to some friendly (and some not-so friendly) faces. We see everyone from Jessica Cruz, John Stewart, Kilowog to Mongul and Warworld. Mention is made of many Superwatch members, as well as Atrocitus and the opening even has a rather fun nod in the form of ‘The Atrocity Wars’, which sounds like a 90’s cross over comic that never got made. Mongul gets the most play amongst all of them, which makes sense, given a) he’s the star of a beloved Alan Moore Superman story and b) Morrison is a gigantic Jim Starlin fan. And so Morrison gets to have a short burst of fun with one of Starlin’s more relevant DC characters here in the cosmic space. And within all that dark fun and it is a great deal of fun, mind you, there’s big Legion callouts, as seen above, with things like PLANET-EATER LASS, the Interlactic translation of Belzebeth’s name.

If all this proves and says anything, Xermanico did not and does not have an easy task for him, especially coming into this book with the high bar laid down by Liam Sharp. But he does solid work, delivering expressive work that captures the whirlwind sensibilities of the story and the horrific power of this world. The battle sequences in particular are as stellar as any Ivan Reis sci-fi battle and there’s a certain dotted texture to armor and some other things that works rather nicely. His composition and layouts also try to draw as much as possible from Sharp’s, as is evident in the double-page spread above particularly. But even then, he makes it distinctly his own and differentiates this alternate world from that of Sharp and Morrison’s main world and with a master like Oliff on colors, it makes for a curious combo.

Though really, one of the big champions of the issue is easily Steve Wands, who comes into Orzechowski’s role once more, but fits right in and then letters these prose caption sections in third person beautifully, giving them almost a fantasy storybook vibe. You feel like you’re reading a myth or a folk tale and that’s a great little touch, where in the lettering just adds so much to the storytelling.

Green Lantern: Blackstars #1 is an incredibly solid debut. It’s a wonderfully weird, surreal story that’s counting down like a clock to the inevitable moment of total galactic chaos. It weaves together a great many things of the past, while offering plenty of the new and it’s effectively The Green Lantern #13. If you haven’t read the season prior, this #1 may confuse you or have you a little lost, but if you have been reading, you’re in for a treat.

The Green Lantern: Blackstars #1
Is it good?
Blackstars breaks open a world of cosmic mayhem, pulling on Alan Moore, Kevin O'Neill and plenty more to deliver Grant Morrison oddities with the lush work of Xermanico.
Xermanico's artwork is terrific, full of epic scope and scale as well as horrifyingly odd imagery and cool layouts
Steve Wands' letters are wonderful here, as he nails the prose captions that evoke a fantastic tone and nail the storytelling
Weirdness has been unleashed and it is an absolute delight
The macro plot that's slowly brewing is terribly exciting
It's easy to be confused if you just jump on this #1 without having read the Season of GL prior
9.5
Great
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