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“It’s safer to have the bad guys be afraid of you”

As comic book readers we’ve come to think of annuals as over-sized issues which serve as a bookend as either the first or final act of a major story event.  It doesn’t always turn out to be that way and in the case of Green Lantern Annual #4 that certainly is the case.  Writer Robert Venditti’s script is first and foremost a Hal Jordan character piece which doesn’t drive the ongoing narrative on in a significant way, although it does provide some much needed background on the Gray Agents.

The opening to the annual serves as a flashback, showing the reader an altercation between Hal and the Green Lantern Corps prior to their disappearance from our universe.  The cameo by Lobo is entertaining and lays some groundwork for when the two cross paths again in December’s final issue of the ongoing Lobo series.   The flashback is interrupted by a return to the present where Hal is dealing with Darlene’s testiness while trying to determine Black Hand’s trajectory of death and destruction.

Hal puts his foot down

After some banter between Hal, Darlene, Virgo and Trapper the story resumes and we witness a major skirmish between Hal and his former comrades which is highlighted by a serious demonstration of the awesome power that Hal now wields thanks to Krona’s gauntlet.  The fight escalates before Salaak calls for a retreat, but something doesn’t “feel” right in terms of how Hal is depicted.  There’s a brutality that is out of character for Hal and the reader isn’t the only one who’s not fooled by Hal’s storytelling.

While Trapper is put in his place it’s Virgo and the understanding of Hal’s true nature through his actions that sees through the ruse.  What’s important for Hal is that people believe that kind of story, because as Hal succinctly points out later, functioning alone in a lawless universe he needs the protection that kind of reputation affords him.  Hal perhaps unwisely lowers his guard to Virgo after an emotional moment where Hal finds himself confronted with a gauntlet created visage of his former brothers in arms.

This particular scene is a strong one as Venditti lets us see some of the toll that these events have taken on Hal.  He may have an indomitable will but Hal is human and surely he feels a sense of guilt that he isn’t with the Green Lantern Corps to fight alongside them wherever (or whenever) they are.  Now, with Black Hand running loose and lawlessness spreading, Jordan finds himself without a true ally to be had.

Sometimes the best defense is intimidation

The other element that gets some page time are the Gray Agents.  Their leader, Marshal Rankk, explains it rather well – that in the absence of the Green Lantern Corps there is a struggle to see who the new sheriffs of the universe will be, and in his mind whoever captures or kills Hal Jordan will be the new peacekeepers.  On top of being a wanted man, Hal’s actions have elevated him in the eyes of many, perhaps demonstrating that there is no need for a formal police force – making him that much more of a high value target to groups like the Gray Agents.

For Hal the Gray Agents are more more obstacle thrown in the way to slow him down in his mission to stop Black Hand and then find the Corps, but the worst part is that he doesn’t know they are even gunning for him yet.   I like that Venditti is letting this threat build up in the background and fleshing out the characters and their motivations before we see them catching up with Hal.  It gives readers a chance to develop a better understanding of them so that when the time comes for them to take center stage they are a fully realized threat.

While I enjoyed the annual for the most part from a script standpoint, I feel like there’s a little bait and switch between what we were told we were going to get with this book.  The solicitation states that we’d learn about where Hal’s new look came from and, more importantly, how he came to be in possession of Darlene.  The cover implies that this issue features “Tales of Hal Jordan” which, while I guess technically true, doesn’t paint the most accurate definition of what the annual is about.  Truth be told I was really looking forward to those things and even though I don’t dislike the finished product I do feel a little disappointed that it’s not what I’d looked forward to.

Like Hal needed another reason for people to come after him

On the art side of the issue I’m not quite sure where to start.  Pascal Alixe and Martin Coccolo share penciling duties and their styles do not work together well at all.  Alixe’s pages are unique with less sharpness in detail which doesn’t mesh well with Coccolo’s more traditional approach.  And then there are the problems with Alixe’s consistency when it comes to Hal in particular that are more than a little disappointing.  Hal’s facial structure looks terribly out of model and the colorist didn’t bother to take the time to find out what color Jordan’s eyes are, making them blue instead of brown. And the Green Lantern Corps constructs…..white boots.  Coccolo’s work is certainly more consistent and, for me, more appealing.

This annual was originally solicited with Alixe working solo, and the finished product gives me the impression that he was unable to complete the work on time or was rushed.  At any rate it’s really a shame because it really has a negative impact on the enjoyment of the issue for me.  Given my own personal preference I’d rather have seen Coccolo take on the whole thing or someone like Ethan Van Sciver given some more work in the Lantern verse.

Green Lantern Annual #4 is not a book I’d recommend to someone who’s not already reading the main series.  Robert Venditti’s script is more of a character driven piece than what readers have come to expect from annuals, and it’s not exactly what was advertised – how Hal Jordan got his new looks and how Darlene entered the picture.  The annual is unfortunately further dragged down by inconsistent artwork and uncomplimentary art styles.  Six out of ten lanterns.

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