This month marks the debut of the newest Green Lantern title, the John Stewart led Green Lantern: War Journal by the creative team of Phillip Kennedy Johnson and Montos. When we interviewed Mr. Johnson on episode 223 of The Podcast of Oa, he mentioned that he plans on balancing John’s comic past with the military background added to the character for the Justice League animated series. With the series’ launch we do indeed get some character building for John that doesn’t include him having a sniper rifle in his hands, as well as providing Stewart with an arch enemy of his own in the making.
If you haven’t been reading Johnson’s back-up story in the main Green Lantern title you may find yourself a little bit lost, but the backstory will no doubt get more filled out for those that don’t go back and pick up the first three issues of the other series. For those that are jumping into the story here, all you really need to know is that, in another universe where John is the greatest hero in the universe, a being known as the Revenant Queen is out for revenge on that universe’s John. She flees that universe, and their John sends a lantern by the name of Shepherd to pursue her by tracing the energy signature of the Star Sapphire ring she’s wearing. Shepherd’s instructions are to pursue her and make contact with that universe’s John Stewart. The ring and some comments made by the Queen hint at a past history between her and John that goes beyond her wanting to take revenge on him for killing her son. While the issue give two whole pages to the title and a little backstory, it seems like some space should have been provided to give readers just a bit more of what’s going on.
That brings us here, with a powerful cosmic opening which shows the Queen arriving in our universe in one of the most terrifying entrances in recent memory. It reminded me a little of the opening of Green Lantern: Earth One Volume One in terms of tone, setting, and gritty reality. The opening does far more than set the stage for the arrival of the Queen, Johnson smartly uses it to juxtapose the cosmic storytelling that has been a landmark of the Green Lantern franchise with the mundane life that John is currently living here on Earth. It immediately helps us understand and relate to John keeping one eye on the traffic light waiting for it to change as his life ticks by the seconds with the other eye looking to the skies knowing that out there somewhere there are major life and death struggles where each one of those seconds could be the margin of survival.
This is John struggling to fit back in and trying to unplug from a lifestyle that has you operating in a place where you have to be “always on”. Added to that John is taking care of his mother Shirley, who is shown to be suffering from dementia. I’ve been fortunate in my life so far to not have a loved one deal with dementia, but I have friends who have and even though I cannot directly relate to it I understand it to some degree. Shirley has forgotten the loss of her daughter Eleanor and begins fretting about her being late.
When Green Lantern Varron shows up to arrest John under the assumption that he’s still got his power ring, things heat up. Under the United Planets’ governance the Green Lantern Corps standards for who can wield a ring have slipped, and Varron is show to be rather lacking in both the willpower and ring slinging departments. Varron puts John in chains and he doesn’t react well to it. This is perhaps the one scene that goes a little too far in my opinion as John’s reaction is very over the top for him, even going so far as to assault Varron despite him yielding to Stewart. Racial undertones aside, in my opinion John would still “respect the ring” and would have dealt with this with more restraint, but that’s just my opinion. I can also see John having some pent up anger over his situation, having all this power and being helpless in having to watching his mother slip away, and Varron provides him with a chance to channel some of that anger I suppose.
With Varron’s distraction out of the way John returns to his mother and her fretting about Ellie, who died when she and John were children. John creates a version of her to show up so that his mother won’t have to relive the loss and Shirley begins to repeat a story that she had just told John moments before. It’s here that Johnson and Montos’ teamwork really shines as you can see John struggling a little bit, but at the same time knowing that her repeating the story gives her so much joy. Again, I can’t specifically relate to this, but as someone who lost his mother nearly twenty years ago I can understand just being able to hear her voice would be a greatest gift of all, and in John’s case it’s tinged with the knowledge that the worst is yet to come.
The issue end with Shepherd’s arrival in our universe and his encounter with the Radiant Dead, which takes cosmic horror in a different direction than, say, “Blackest Night” did it. The Dead are indeed bodies of the formally living, but it’s implied that there numbers will continue to grow with every living being they kill adding to their numbers. And the only way to destroy the Dead? By killing the Queen. And that sets up the next issue as Shepherd needs to find John and warn him that he’s got a target on his back.
There’s some interesting interplay between Shepherd and his ring, which we didn’t see before. There’s an implication that the ring doesn’t have an AI so much as it is inhabited by the essence of a fallen lantern. With the comments about blindness my assumption at this point is that this is the “soul” of Kyle Rayner, who was shown as blind in the Dark Crisis universe and was also the one who instructed Shepherd to seek out Guy Gardner in the back up story in Green Lantern #1. Either way, the dialogue between the two is fun and shows another way that the ring’s AI could have evolved rather than the more computerized AI we’ve seen for the past couple of decades. I actually rather like the idea if I’m being honest, although I suppose it does create a metaphysical quandary if you believe you soul goes somewhere when the body dies.
This all leads to where this series is going as John Stewart will be placed in a situation where he may think he’s done his bit for king and country, but the king and country are going to be knocking on his door real soon. The timing will make this all very hard for John as it may very well draw him away from his mother just when she needs him most. I can see her telling John that he has to go and serve the greater good, yet the thought of not being there at the end of her life will be something that will haunt him should that come true. It’s the kind of character development that John sorely needs and no writer has been able to deliver….until now.
I haven’t said enough about Montos’ art and it deserves high praise. The opening sequence lands so well in large part to the visual storytelling and Montos’ ability to convey emotion. The chilling arrival of the Revenant Queen packs a lot of punch as we see the Queen leap into the body of Jane, the unfortunate astronaut who suffers a fate perhaps worse than death during her spacewalk. The cosmic stuff in this issue really shines, yet the work Montos does with the Earth bound moments really packs an emotional punch. Adriano Lucas doesn’t a fantastic job with the coloring, particularly during the space sequences.
Green Lantern: War Journal #1 is a very good debut issue. While I do think that the entry point isn’t necessarily new reader friendly, I think Phillip Kennedy Johnson will provide enough details as the series evolves to flesh it out for anyone who feels lost now. This issue is emotionally strong and brings the cosmic adventure that many fans have been missing with a Green Lantern title. While I think there’s one moment where things get a little heavy handed, all in all it’s a terrific start. Eight out of ten lanterns.