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I’ve been a fan of J. Michael Straczynski’s (JMS) since the days of Babylon 5 and in particular how well he writes character-driven stories. So when I first heard that he was returning to DC for some freelance work I looked forward to seeing how he would handle a cosmic set of characters like the Green Lanterns. Not that I want Geoff Johns or Peter Tomasi off their books, but I’d love to see Straczynski turned loose on the Green Lantern mythos for a mini-series or two. This week we get a glimpse of how well he can handle Hal Jordan in a very unusual story taking place in issue 30 of The Brave and the Bold.

By unusual, I just mean that this story is all character moments and very little action. Not that that’s a bad thing but maybe it’s just that it is really the polar opposite to this week’s action-packed roller coaster ride Green Lantern Corps issue that makes it seem so different. A team-up between Hal Jordan and Dr. Fate is a great opportunity to explore both characters by creating a story where the dynamics of their personal philosophies come to the forefront, and that’s exactly what this issue does.

The story really revolves around Dr. Fate and the early issues of Justice League International. Kent Nelson seeks solitude as he ponders his future high above the Earth, encountering Hal as he leaves for Oa. Hal talks to Fate, checking in on his friend before leaving on a handshake that proves….well fateful.

Jump ahead in time and Hal is on a lifeless planet fighting for his life, a victim of misadventure. Now I don’t question that JMS knows his Green Lantern stuff, but I found it strange that Hal was so easily caught off guard by a bunch of little flying robots and severely wounded by one of them before putting up a shield around himself, but hey, since we’re suspending our sense of belief anyways I can let it slide a bit there. Hal tries to leave the planet, but the poison in his blood affects him enough that he cannot summon the willpower to break orbit and he comes plummeting back to the surface and passes out.

As Hal lay there thinking about how this really isn’t the way he’d like to die, he tries to see if there might be a power source on the planet that he could harness to help him since his ring is nearly out of a charge. The ring tells him that the only other power source is inside the ring and out pops Dr. Fate. See, when the two shook hands Fate put a little bit of himself in Hal’s ring so that, at a later date, he could pop out to see how his life turned out. Hal explains to Kent about how both he and his wife Inza rapidly aged and died. Fate is of course saddened to hear that he and his wife are no longer among the living and it’s here that we see JMS’ strength in writing characters.

The sliver of Dr. Fate has very little power left, just enough to save Hal before he must get snapped back in time. But the robots return and Kent has to save them both, using up enough power that he now cannot help his friend and return – he will have to choose one path or the other. Hal tells Kent that he can change his fate by using his knowledge of the future and we are treated to some great dialogue that really illustrates the contrast in their personal philosophies.

Fate accepts that his path is predestined and that trying to change the universe through force of will is useless once you realize that will must “give way to fate, which gives us order and meaning.” Hal, of course, is all about free will and I love his counter to Nelson’s statement where he says that fate and destiny “are the training wheels we need until we’re ready to throw them off and go where will takes us.” JMS’ understanding of the essence of the two heroes is very evident as Hal tries to convince Kent to use his knowledge to save himself, telling him that perhaps this sliver of himself is the part whose absence causes his death and that in saving Hal he might very well cause his own death. Kent simply accepts that if it’s true then that’s simply how it is destined to be and therefore must happen as fate would have it.

In the end, Fate believes that the whole reason that he put the sliver of himself in Hal’s rings was that he was meant to reappear at this very moment to save Hal and he uses what little is left of his energy to transport Hal to Oa before dissipating. In the past, Dr. Fate awaits the return of the sliver he sent with Hal that should have returned moments after it left. Fate’s inner monologue ends the story with a bit of personal philosophy about the simple truth that we cannot change the starting and ending points of our lives, but we can focus on the part in between that we call life.

This story is really good, if not a little preachy, and it’s a nice change of pace to have a “one and done” story amidst the Blackest Night event. I’ve always liked the Dr. Fate character, so it was great to see Kent Nelson again, especially in a team-up with Hal. I also have to say that I really love Jesus Saiz’s artwork in this issue and he’s definitely an artist I look forward to seeing more from. The book is really gorgeous, although there is a bit of slip up when Hal’s bandages disappear for a panel or two.

Nine out of ten lanterns.

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