Green Lantern: Rebirth, A Ten Year Retrospective

There are milestone comic book stories that define characters, that define whole eras in the minds of comic book readers due to the impact they have and the impressions they leave.  Since 1959’s Showcase #22, which established the modern definition of what a Green Lantern is, there’s been plenty of stories such as the famous Denny O’Neil / Neal Adams run which have served as milestones in the history of the DC’s greatest cosmic mythology.  October of 2014 marks the ten year anniversary of Green Lantern: Rebirth, the starting point of perhaps the most commercially and critically successful period for the Green Lantern mythology so far.

Black Hand goes on to shape the Johns’ era Green Lantern mythology

To say that Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver re-defined Green Lantern is an understatement.  Over the course of six issues this creative team took forty five years of continuity, muddled by repeated editorial miscues, fan derision and creative missteps and firmly rebuilt everything which was tarnished and torn apart, setting the Green Lantern universe free to live up to the potential that John Broome and Gil Kane imagined all those years ago.  Ten years later Green Lantern: Rebirth stands as one of the greatest Green Lantern stories of all times and continues to shape the comics we read today.

Emerald Twilight

It’s a little hard to appreciate the brilliant simplicity that Johns used to untangle the Green Lantern Corps web without reviewing the state of the mythology back in 2004.  Ten years prior to that the infamous Emerald Twilight story changed the Green Lantern landscape in dramatic fashion as DC Comics once again found themselves in a position where the Green Lantern franchise had floundered under the weight of internal stresses between writer and editor and the company pulled the plug on Gerard Jone’s own attempt to shake up the series.  Mike Carlin, Denny O’Neil, Paul Levitz, Kevin Dooley and Archie Goodwin hastily crafted their own plot and brought Ron Marz in to write the script which sought to implode the Green Lantern universe and jettison the Corps concept completely, leaving John Stewart in a wheelchair, Guy Gardner as an alien hybrid and Hal Jordan vilified by taking on actions that many fans found hard to swallow.  John Broome would later comment that the Hal Jordan he created would never do the things that were depicted in the story and while many fans welcomed Kyle Rayner, it was far from a graceful exit for Hal Jordan and spawned a whole movement to return him as well as one of comic’s greatest fan debates.

Rebirth re-solidified who Hal Jordan is, adding layers and fleshing out the impact of the death of Martin Jordan

Green Lantern: Rebirth wasn’t Geoff Johns’ first attempt to restore Hal Jordan, that was 1999’s Day of Judgement wherein Hal Jordan was bonded with the Spectre and led to a short lived series.  Rumors were that Johns originally wanted to have the Spectre choose the Enchantress as a host and having Hal returned to the land of the living as a normal person as a side effect, perhaps as a first step to eventually making him a Green Lantern.  True or not the miniseries gave Hal Jordan fans half of what they wanted and five years later with the Green Lantern series once again facing falling sales numbers and bowing to the continued fan pressure, DC greenlit what became Rebirth.

What Geoff Johns chose to do, rather than simply wipe the slate clean, was to address a number of issues head on as Hal Jordan would do, without fear.  Emerald Twilight would remain in continuity, as would the grey temples, the yellow weakness, all the trappings which made writing Rebirth a creative challenge in addition to a commercial gamble.  Rather than take anything away, including a Kyle Rayner Green Lantern who had earned his own following, Johns added to the foundation, filling in blanks and coming up with ways to make some of the missteps of the past make sense.

Green Lantern: Rebirth revealed what really happened with evil escaped Hal Jordan’s sight

Emerald Rebirth

From the first page of Green Lantern: Rebirth readers could sense that this was something special.  It’s no secret to anyone who’s ever interacted with me, listened to The Podcast of Oa or read anything on this blog that I am a die hard Hal Jordan fan.  He helped me to overcome my own fears and while it sounds corny, I firmly believe I would not be here if it wasn’t for the inspiration that Hal gave me while dealing with life endangering side effects from a birth defect during my childhood.  I started this site five years ago out of a sense of duty for the character and wanting to be a positive ambassador for the mythology.  I quit comics back in 1995 after giving Kyle a chance and it was Johns’ run on JSA that brought me back and when his name became attached to the triumphant return of the Green Lantern mythology that meant so much to me I could not have possibly been any happier.  The first issue of Green Lantern: Rebirth was all I needed to know to that my faith had been well placed and that we were going to get back what we’d lost.

Johns settled the whole “Hal vs. Kyle” debate with the gesture that was needed, a symbolic handshake which represented not only the mutual respect between two fictional characters but the acknowledgement for fans that the mythology was strong enough that each ring bearer could shine their light brightly without it being at the expense of someone’s favorite character.  As a long time fan that was really important for me and I give Geoff tons of credit for taking the high road.  While I loathed what DC did to Hal in the ’90’s and Kyle Rayner wasn’t a character that I cared for, he is for others what Hal is to me and the last thing I would have wanted was for those fans to go through what we did.

Ganthet reinforces why the ring chose Hal in the first place

Geoff Johns went much further in Green Lantern: Rebirth by creatively explaining Hal’s actions as well as the long standing joke of the yellow weakness, paving the way for an expansion of the mythology once his subsequent ongoing series gained traction as Rebirth gained tremendous support from fans and critics alike.  The first issue went back for four printings and by time the event ended everyone seemed to be talking about Green Lantern in a way that hadn’t happened in a long time.

Looking back on it readers can see the foundation that Johns’ built for his run on the title.  The seeds for the eventual Sinestro Corps War and Blackest Night are there if you look, right down to the Sinestro Corps logo showing up in Ethan Van Sciver’s amazing artwork.  Hector Hammond’s appearance re-established him as one of the most offbeat creepy characters in the Green Lantern rogues gallery which would elevate him to a regularly appearing character, even serving as one of the major elements in the 2011 motion picture.  Even more prophetic is the use of Black Hand, who has had a huge impact on the mythology in the ten years since the Spectre took his hand in the pages of the first issue of Green Lantern: Rebirth.

The handshake that mended fences

While some people to this day think that Parallax is a bit of a cop-out, I’ll gladly and respectfully disagree.  The concept of the yellow impurity representing another facet of a yet-unexplored emotional spectrum and how it impacted Hal over prolonged exposure was a simple yet elegant way of addressing a multitude of hurdles that needed to be passed in order to move forward, explaining the premature grey hair, the indecisiveness that writers weighed the character down with for years and at last providing a plausible reason for the actions which puzzled so many readers.  As for the emotional spectrum itself, well it’s something so logical that it escaped every writer from John Broome on despite how obvious it seems now.

You cannot talk about Green Lantern: Rebirth and not include the incredible contributions that artist Ethan Van Sciver made to the mythology.   His highly detailed work leaps off the page and takes an already great script and increases its impact exponentially.  Ethan takes the far out science fiction elements and sells us on the plausibility of it all simply by executing each page with a realism that makes it easy to believe.  I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say it – in every era there are artists who’s work defines the look for that character and like Gil Kane and Neal Adams before him Ethan Van Sciver is the Green Lantern artist for the modern era.

One panel which clearly defines the struggle between the best of friends and the worst of enemies

Ethan’s contributions go beyond the pictures on the pages due to Johns’ collaborative nature.  I recently had the great honor to interview Ethan as part of a celebration of Green Lantern: Rebirth and Van Sciver outlined some of the creative input that shaped the story, including resurrecting Sinestro and returning him to the place he holds in Green Lantern history by proving to be the architect of Hal’s fall.  You can watch our interview with Van Sciver here, or listen to it here.

The past ten years have seen the Green Lantern mythology rise to unprecedented heights.  The Sinestro Corps War and Blackest Night all start here.  The popularity of the characters continues today and this one series provided the spark which unleashed the emerald light and established Green Lantern as a recognizable brand.  Spawning everything from the animated films, a fantastic animated series and a major motion picture it’s hard not to see the impact that Green Lantern: Rebirth made regardless of the success of the movie.  And it’s only just begun.

Damn straight!

Green Lantern: Rebirth remains my favorite Green Lantern story of all time for what it accomplished and how it managed to untangle the continuity web while being an epic tale of the ultimate triumph over adversity.  You simply cannot read this story without getting pumped and seeing the potential that the Green Lantern mythology has always possessed so fully realized as it is here.  The Absolute Edition remains a story that I return to on a regular basis and something that I often turn to when I need a little inspiration.  Ten years on and the emerald light of will radiates from the pages of Green Lantern: Rebirth just as brightly as it did back in October of 2004.  In the words of Brad Meltzer, “Hal Jordan hasn’t just returned.  He’s returned to greatness”.

(Note: For a look back at Rebirth from the eyes of a Kyle Rayner fan and fellow blogger, make sure to check out the article over on Flodo’s Page!)

The look of shock and joy on Guy’s face is priceless!
Any book that has Hal telling Batman off and punching him out gets an A in my book!

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About the author

Life long Green Lantern fan and co-host of the Podcast of Oa. I’m a Barbecue snob and aficionado of blues music. Hal Jordan is my co-pilot!

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