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“Ancient wise immortals don’t exactly grow on trees”

This week sees the launch of the second season of the Liam Sharp / Grant Morrison collaboration with the release of The Green Lantern: Season Two #1.  Unlike the twelve issue first season, this second and final season will be comprised of only eight issues, making way for yet another shift in DC Comics’ publishing plans.  The new issue picks up shortly after the conclusion of Hal efforts to defeat Controller Mu during the three month long Blackstars miniseries and the issue opens with the Green Lantern Corps deep in celebration mode as they hail the conquering hero.

I really like the opening which showcases the wonder of the Green Lantern Corps; that Hal Jordan is surrounded by the most bizarre and amazing aliens the creative team can dream up.  The lack of humanity is refreshing given the glut of Earth Lanterns in the DCU right now and it reminds me of how much more I enjoyed the mythology as a whole when you could count the number of human ring bearers on one hand.  The gathering is a formal occasion and Liam Sharp has Hal decked out in more formal attire as the Guardians provide Hal with a new power battery.  The new battery has a more Aladdin-esque design than what we’ve seen over the years and I’m very much on the fence about what I think of the redesign.  The Guardians also tell Hal that his upgraded battery has some new features that Hal might find interesting which we start to see later in the issue.

With the celebrations out of the way the Guardians of the Universe come to Hal in the middle of the night to announce that they are leaving the universe at the beckoning of the Cosmic Grail.  If we recall from the first season, Hal and the Guardians of the Multiverse went to Earth 15 where the Grail was supposedly to be found.  Hal’s use of the Miracle Machine to create a new reality on Earth 15 has led to the Grail becoming real and now the Guardians need to fulfill their destiny.  I feel as though Grant Morrison has chosen to ignore the Templar Guardians altogether and in fact might be ignoring the original Guardians as well, given that none of the Guardians we’ve come to know over the years seems to be among them.  The scene is a little emotionally dull in that regard and I feel like there should have been a little more to it that what we get – Hal’s history with the Guardians is a long and storied one which should have injected their abrupt departure with some emotional energy and we simply don’t get that here.

What comes next is one of the most visually entertaining double page spreads I’ve seen in some time as we peek in on a Law Enforcement Symposium comprised of some of the most bizarre and interesting characters.  Sprinkled among the familiar characters are some others from DC’s past, such as Carmine Infantino and Gardner Fox creation Xanthos from 1962’s Mystery in Space #76.  There are others like the Watchdogs of the Universe whose names sound familiar and others unnamed who look like I’ve seen them before but my 55 year old brain can no longer recall who they are.  They are a couple of particularly humorous images as well, like an anthropomorphic dog sitting at the bar with a squirrel on his shoulder and both Liam Sharp and Grant Morrison taking it all in from their spots in the lower left hand corner of the page!  Sharp really let loose on this whole issue.

This scene introduces us to a fun new character, Rykaktoro from the planet Karalyx.  Karalyx is another Fox/Infantino creation pulled from the pages of Mystery in Space, this time from issue 71.  Rykaktoro is a refreshing new character who’s banter with Hal provides some of the lighter moments of the issue.  Ryka brings out the best and the worst in Hal and eventually we see that he just might become the newest member of the Green Lantern Corps.  Rykaktoro has a great deal of potential as a character and only time will tell if he’ll become more of a regular fixture in the DCU.  Both John Stewart and Jessica Cruz make cameos, serving to underscore Hal’s loss of interest in life on Earth, something that will come back to haunt him by the issue’s conclusion.  John looks like he stepped out of the pages of his Bronze Age debut, complete with a full head of hair and a more traditional Green Lantern uniform.  It is interesting to note that Kyle Rayner, Simon Baz and Guy Gardner were nowhere to be found either during the symposium or the preceding celebration.

Hal gets assigned a new partner.

Hal’s dismissal of Rykaktoro also comes back to bite Hal’s backside when Saal sends Jordan on a mission to find young Guardians to take over leadership of the Corps.  Saal, a female Guardian, is also a new creation for this issue who partners Ryka with Hal as they are sent to Maltus, the Guardians’ birthplace, to find these new Guardians.  Saal makes reference to Mother Juna, a character who played an antagonistic role in the Hard Travelling Heroes era in Green Lantern #81 from 1970, who is a creator of life.  Again Sharp turns in a spectacular effort with his depiction of the various lifeforms on Maltus and the struggle Hal and Ryka face in making contact with Mother Juna.  Maltus looks like a planet plucked from a science fiction movie with set designs by H.R. Giger, complete with hover cars, space gorillas and serpentine aliens.  Two images from Sharp immediately struck a chord with me, one where Hal and Ryka arrive with Ryka doing a great Silver Surfer impersonation and another where Hal attacks a space gorilla with biplane constructs straight out of King Kong.

Hal’s ring displays a couple of new properties that are very reminiscent of the Silver Age with regard to how far out and overpowered they are.  At one point Hal shrinks many of the apes, aka the primorgs, to action figure size, and then at another he literally de-evolves the creatures to the point when they were nothing but seeds in Mother Juna’s laboratory.  I’m not sure how I feel about what appears to be rather significant enhancements to the power ring.  On one hand it’s almost a renaissance of what the rings did way back “in the day”, but at the same time I feel like even back then the power ring was often used like a deus ex machina that suddenly produced a convenient new ability when needed.  It’s also a criticism I’ve leveled at some of the newer Earth Lanterns who all seem to have some unique abilities because it feels like the writer is too lazy to do their research and have their characters function within the realm of what we have collectively come to know the power rings capable of.  I’m all for creative fiction and the suspension of belief, but at the same time I’m heavily invested in a mythology that I want to be treated with respect and consistency – as if it were a fictional reality with rules about how things work despite them not working like they work here in the “real world”.  It reminds me of the time when I ran a Star Trek fan club and we produced a fan fiction magazine and every third person wanted to create an avatar for themselves which were amalgams of all the things they fancied about different races without any of the downsides.  Back then I coined the phrase that “if you want to live by the ears then you need to die by the ears”, that you can’t for example have a Vulcan stand up comedian just because you want to be utterly logical and immensely intelligent one minute and then turn around and tell one liners the next because it violates what we know about the Vulcan race.  In the same regard if we have a power ring that has no limits then how do we ever expect to have dramatic tension when a Green Lantern in put in a tough situation knowing the writer can dream up anything they want to get the character out of it?  Perhaps I’m taking it too seriously, but I’ve never been one to look at serialized fiction as anything other than an ongoing series of exploits existing in an alternate reality governed by rules more fantastical than my own.

Ryka passes what turns out to be his Green Lantern induction test and both he and Hal return to Oa with the seeds for a new set of Young Guardians sown from the DNA of Guardians, Zamorans and Controllers.  I’m on the fence about what I think about the idea that the Guardians of the Universe were bred in test tube, but for now I’m going to go with it.  Once hatched the Young Guardians begin their administration of the Green Lantern Corps and we get the immediate sense that the Young Guardians aren’t impressed with what their predecessors did with the Corps.  There is the somewhat ominous statement that “you traditional methods of policing are currently under review” which hints at changes coming over the course of this season, and perhaps a butting of heads with Hal, who has made a second career out of disagreeing with the Guardians.  But before their review is complete there’s an urgent matter in Sector 2814 that requires immediate attention, a being who killed an as yet unnamed Green Lantern with its bare hands.  The event took place on Kanaltine, a planet that first appeared in 1980 in issue 467 of Adventure Comics.  Hal’s face goes from stern to a grimace as he realizes he’s being assigned to the mission and must return to Earth for stakeout duty.  This leads to the issue’s conclusion where we find Hal much like we did a the beginning of the very first issue of the run, wandering the desert.

Hal can’t wait to get on the road again.

Overall this is a good start to the new season despite some of my initial misgivings.  While Morrison likes to pack a lot of history in his books it doesn’t get in the way of a new reader who might be trying Green Lantern for the first time.  It’s like an extra layer that is there for those who recognize it or want to go looking for the tidbits, but not knowing any of the minutiae of DC Comics lore doesn’t prevent you from enjoying the story.  I don’t know if I completely buy the whole notion of Hal not wanting to be on Earth, but I can see where a writer could draw those conclusions, especially for Hal who never seemed to be completely grounded in a stable life and for whom the Corps presented perhap his only chance to be the best version of himself.  My experience with Grant’s work has usually been very hot or cold, either I’m all on board or I find myself not invested in any way.  His Green Lantern run has me mostly in “I’m all on board” mode, but then some things like my criticisms with a couple of things in this issue that give me pause.  I enjoyed the issue and I think it’s a good jumping on point for new readers, but at the same time I’ve got this feeling in the pit of my stomach that this is going to go off the rails for me as a reader.  There’s an abundance of creativity in Grant’s script and like most of what I’ve read I expect anything that doesn’t make sense now will before too long.

What I’m not feeling any doubts about is the work of Liam Sharp and Steve Oliff.  You can tell that Sharp got at least a brief respite during the intermission because his work is utterly fantastic this issue and this is perhaps the best single issue of the run when it comes to his contributions.  I love the design and character he has put into Rykaktoro as well as all of the creative energy that seems to fill each page from edge to edge.  The detail work is spectacular and in all the years of reading Green Lantern I feel confident in saying that the Green Lantern universe has never looked this fantastical before.  Steve Oliff’s colors do a great job of spotlighting Sharp’s pencils, helping to provide depth and texture to some already amazing visuals.

The Green Lantern: Season Two #1 is a good jumping on point for anyone who is interested in seeing what this creative team is doing with the cosmic corner of the DCU and missed out on the first season.  Grant Morrison appears to be redefining the Green Lantern Corps and this is  ground zero where the seeds of change are being planted.  Liam Sharp has returned from the break and is running wild with some of the most beautiful work seen in any book by any publisher on the stands.  Eight out of ten lanterns.

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