I held off on my review of the Green Lantern Annual until now for a couple of reasons, one being the frantic pace of my day job this time of year and the other being that I just wanted to really allow myself the chance to review the book on my terms rather than trying to get content published for the sake of being topical. I sometimes wrestle with feeling like I'm rushing a review just to get it out there and this is a book that deserves more.
I hold the team of Johns and Van Sciver in very high regard since they were the ones responsible for re-igniting the Green Lantern franchise which has spawned so much since they tackled Green Lantern: Rebirth back in 2004. Seeing them return in a book being touted with the infamous phrase "things will never be the same" actually adds some validity to the promotional claim, and Annual #1 indeed sets in motion events which could quite honestly change the Green Lantern mythology forever.
The Story -
The Guardians have changed from the altruistic beings of old, and either by way of external tampering or a cold realization that they simply must change their way of thinking they have made a fateful decision to not only pull the plug on the Green Lantern Corps, but once and for all eradicate what they now deem to be the root cause of all the problems in the universe, free will. Somehow the Guardians still feel it is their right to make the decision to change all sentient beings and remove their ability to make their own decisions and no one will be allowed to prevent them from achieving the ultimate cosmic order. The Guardians recount their failed experiments of the past, logically charting the thought process that has brought them to a fateful decision that will change the course of the universe.
Back on Earth we discover what Black Hand has done to Sinestro and Hal Jordan since the explosion at the end of issue twelve. In a scene ironically familiar to Ryan Reynolds' film Buried we find Hal Jordan awaking in the dark, buried alive. As Hal recounts recent history he uses his love of Carol to fuel his courage to dig free from his makeshift grave and claw his way to freedom. He discovers that Sinestro is buried similarly and attempts to dig him out until Black Hand returns to tempt Hal by offering to raise Martin Jordan from the dead.
|Hal's finally realized what matters to him the most.|
The Guardians in the meantime arrive at the Chamber of Shadows and on their way they see that Black Hand has returned to power and entertain the thought that they might be able to use him in the coming days. Turning their attention back to the task the Chamber is opened to reveal another set of Guardians who willingly chose isolation to protect the universe from what is stored in the Chamber while the rest of the Guardians make the universe safe. Dressed in clothing reminiscent of the Manhunters, Reegal and his followers hope that the Manhunters achieved their goal and that their fellow Maltusans have returned to set them free now that their mission have been accomplished.
However Ganthet and the Guardians we've known inform Reegal that not only did the Manhunters fail but that they need the First Lantern to rid the universe of its ills. It is then that the line is drawn in the sand as Reegal and his band of followers chose their path based on the decision that no one should set him free and anyone trying do so would be destroyed, even their fellow Maltusans. And with that the Guardians and their kinsmen engage in battle.
|And now for something totally unexpected - more Guardians!|
In the Coast City Cemetary Hal finds strength in himself to deny Black Hand and prevent him from desecrating the memory Hal has of his father by slamming Hand's skull into a moment, eye first. Sinestro arrives to prevent Hand from killing Hal and as Hand comes to his feet and begins to summon an army of the dead, Hal convinces Sinestro to join rings, thinking that there is enough residual energy between them to allow summon Sinestro's power battery. The tactic works and both men are able to recharge their dead rings.
Meanwhile the battle between the Guardians rages on until Ganthet kills Reegal and uses his energy to reveal the chamber of the First Lantern, literally a lantern shaped confine colored by all the emotions of the spectrum. The First Lantern cries the now familiar "Let me out!" shout heard in all the Green Lantern books throughout the month and now heard coming from the rings of Hal, Sinestro and Black Hand. The Guardians take the First Lantern and leave the Chamber, sealing what remains of Reegal's followers inside.
As the Guardians travel back from the Chamber they see that Hal Jordan wears a power ring despite stripping him of it way back in Green Lantern issue 67 and realize they need to eliminate him once and for all. Transporting themselves to Coast City the Guardians supercharge Black Hand and he proceeds to pull both Sinestro and Hal into his ring. Right to the end both men clash over how to proceed, hoping to in some way will their re-fused ring to find the person to deal with the Guardians and at the very least embed a message to warn him. With Carol's name on his lips Hal disappears along with Sinestro, their fates unknown. Their rings reintegrate however something is wrong and the ring begins emitting an error message before fling away.
|Even facing death Hal and Sinestro can't agree on a course of action. And about that message.....|
With Hal and Sinestro out of the picture the Guardians imprison Black Hand in the Chamber of Shadows so that he can be used later as they turn to the First Lantern to set the rise of the Third Army in motion. While the First Lantern defies the Guardians and promises to free himself and take revenge on them, the Guardians siphon energy from him and use it to combine bits of their own flesh to make the first of the Third Army. They are discovered by a patrolman responding to reports of all the violence and flashing lights and he is overtaken by the first of the Third Army who transforms him by rewriting all his organic matter, removing his heart and decimating his mind and thereby his sense of free will and individuality. As the issue comes to a close the Guardians send one of the beings out into space to begin assimilation while the other does the same on Earth.
Wow, where to begin! Geoff Johns does a great job of providing enough information in the opening two pages that anyone not reading the title on a regular basis is brought up to speed with recent events. Seeing how Black Hand has evolved and how much of a threat he can be shows just how much Johns realizes that the hero can only be as good and their opposition is a threat. Hand, and Sinestro, have both greatly benefited by the handling that Johns have given them and they are in my mind at the pinnacle of their comic book lives.
Hal has evolved as well and we see here how much he's matured from the young man we saw in Secret Origin. Gone is the need to showboat just to prove how unafraid he is, but clearly he will take the risks needed to get the job done even at the risk of his own life. But his love for Carol now fuels his will to fight and that's a clear indication of how he's grown.
If Blackest Night is Green Lantern as Night of the Living Dead, then the Third Army is Johns doing the Borg from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Rather than the threat of death consuming the universe it's now the threat posed by assimilating all life into a collective, and while this could easily be construed as being very derivative of that iconic television story arc I think it's more of a case of Johns playing with some very universal themes and applying them to the Green Lantern universe in a very compelling way. What I've long felt was the strongest part of the mythology was its ability to be used to tell a wide variety of stories and that's why we've seen such diverse stories over the decades. This story couldn't be further from Green Lantern: Willworld if it tried and yet they are both woven from the same fabric.
I loved the reveal of the other set of Guardians and I have on more than one occasion caught myself thinking about the original basis for what would have been Emerald Twilight had DC followed through on Gerard Jones' original script. The history of the Guardians is a rich one, but one mired in mysteries that I hope we one day get to read about. Of the utmost importance to me is the road traveled from the early days of Krona through the formation of the Green Lantern Corps. This issue is not the first time we've seen the Guardians linked to the white energy and seeing Reegal and his followers wielding it was not only indicative of how long they'd been locked away but hinted that the Guardians did more than just dabble with it but that it was probably their focus in the days leading up to the creation of the Manhunters.
The First Lantern was not quite revealed here, with Ethan Van Sciver keeping the details in the shadows. While he doesn't look like at all like he appears in the visions from Green Lantern 62 I've always considered the visions to be interpretations and a literal portrayal. Something that's entered my mind about the First Lantern is trying to decide if he is called that because he was the first to wield the power, or if he is a living power supply and literally is the first lantern. The design of his prison certainly contributes to that notion, but only time will tell what his origins are. There's a lot of speculation on him being somehow connected to Abin Sur given his profile, but I personally think it's unlikely, although there certainly must be something about his identity that calls for him to be kept in the shadows for now.
|The first one to wield power, or is he literally THE first lantern?|
While some have thought that this book would mark the deaths of Hal Jordan and Sinestro it's pretty clear that they still exist in some fashion and their appearance at the end of the zero issue clues us in that while their story will play out in the background they are not being taken off the playing field entirely. In fact knowing that they are in Black Hand's ring inside the Chamber of Shadows surrounded by the "Lost Guardians" I'm pretty sure that they are going to play a crucial role before long. I wouldn't be at all surprised is Reegal is raised in the near future and that Hal will indeed become the greatest Black Lantern leading an army composed of Mogo and the occupants of the crypt on Oa.
The Third Army themselves are definitely a disturbing creation even though the allusion to Frankenstein made me laugh out loud. Capable of multiplying by assimilating others they are an affront to any free thinking being and it's a terrible notion to think that who we are and what makes us each unique can be wiped from existence in such short order. With this one story we have perhaps the greatest challenge ever created for a comic book - beings who appear to be unstoppable and are capable of such complete cold obliteration of our spirits. If we follow the notion that the good guys are only as good as the bad guys are bad then the good guys will need to very good indeed.
|The Third Army - Politicians!|
The Art -
It only took getting to the second page to realize just how much I missed Ethan Van Sciver's presence in the Green Lantern universe. Every page was gorgeous in his part of the book and it really elevated an already excellent script to epic proportions. The weight and drama of the story was conveyed expertly and with his creativity unleashed Ethan creates a very visceral sense of reality to the conflict between Hal and Black Hand. The panel of Black Hand telling Hal that he was going to kill him resonates very strongly with me and still stands out in my mind when I recall what stood out for me the most.
The page layouts were also very dynamic and again gave me the sense that I wasn't reading just any comic as the story unfolded before my eyes. No, this book is something special and Ethan definitely made it a landmark issue in terms of the visually storytelling. He has recently stated he is looking to return to a monthly title and as much as I've like Doug Mahnke overall, I'd do cartwheels if Ethan were to jump on board.
As much as I love the visuals in this book, the art isn't perfect and there are a few things that caught me eye. There is a scene where Hal's ring is on the wrong finger and the number of Guardians doesn't stay consistent throughout. And as much as I relished Ethan's work, Pete Woods' work on the epilogue didn't have nearly the same dramatic punch to it. In my own opinion the whole sequence would have been better left to Van Sciver to keep the tone visually consistent throughout the book - and I think it would have looked a hell of a lot creepier.
What Do I Think?
The word epic is thrown around a little too easily these days but this book is, well, epic. The Guardians have perhaps put in motion events that will either doom us all or in the very least change the way we perceive them going forward. That is, if they are really acting on their own accord which I'm not thoroughly convinced of. Hal and Sinestro meet a fate that will also change their status for at least a short time while the stage has been cleared for the arrival of Simon Baz, the fifth Green Lantern of Earth.
Green Lantern Annual #1 takes the characters that Geoff Johns has been playing with and turns them on their ears, forcing us as readers and fans to re-evaluate what we think we know. While only a handful of people are aware of the road we're going to be taken down, I think most of us would agree that this issue sets us on our way in grand fashion. Five out of five lanterns.