Brightest Days: Geoff Johns and Green Lantern, Part One

Geoff Johns and Pete Tomasi have been steering the destiny of the Green Lantern Corps for nearly a decade. That all ends with this week's Green Lantern #20. We look back at some of the high points!

When DC Comics rebooted a significant chunk of their continuity and gave every title a fresh start with a new first issue, Green Lantern and its related titles remained relatively untouched. The reasoning behind this was simple enough. Geoff Johns has been carefully stewarding the adventures of Hal Jordan and his supporting cast since 2004, and in that time has done more to expand the Green Lantern universe than any single writer in decades, turning Green Lantern from a second-tier book and character into a must-read virtually every month. With the release of Green Lantern #20, Geoff Johns’ incredible Green Lantern epic (with a more-than-honorable-mention to Pete Tomasi’s work on Green Lantern Corps) comes to an end.When I was a kid, my first exposure to Green Lantern was through the Super Friends cartoon and the classic Kenner Super Powers toy line. It was clear that Green Lantern was a character with potential. Not only was he a superhero, but there was a whole army of aliens to back him up, each wielding a ring of virtually limitless power, protecting the entire galaxy from otherworldly menaces. As a child raised on the galactic mythology of Star Wars, the concept of the Green Lantern Corps was particularly appealing, and hinted at an entire legacy of cosmic mysticism that I was barely aware of. To make things even cooler, Green Lantern had an “opposite” arch foe in Sinestro, who wielded a similar ring of power that commanded a mysterious yellow energy. I naturally assumed that Sinestro also had an entire army of similarly powered aliens to back him up, and that Green Lantern comics would be awash in interstellar warfare between these opposing factions. I was wrong. And while I still found plenty of enjoyment in the Green Lantern comics of my youth, I often felt that the book’s concerns were too earthbound, too commonplace, and too wrapped up in traditional superhero storytelling, rather than the epic, Star Wars style mythology that I imagined.Geoff Johns helped to change all of that. When he took over writing duties on Green Lantern in 2004, it was to do the seemingly impossible: to bring the most famous of all Green Lanterns, Hal Jordan, back from the dead so he could reclaim his place as DC’s premiere ring-slinger. 2004’s Green Lantern: Rebirth was a roaring success, and was promptly followed by a new Green Lantern ongoing series. Johns wasted little time in laying the groundwork for the blend of heavy science fiction and mysticism that many fans had dreamed of since childhood. We were soon reintroduced to Green Lantern’s greatest enemy, Sinestro, who now had the raw power necessary to create his own alien army, powered by the yellow energy of fear. The battle between “fear” and “willpower” (which is what powers the green energy of the Green Lanterns) was a recurring theme in the Green Lantern title, which culminated in “The Sinestro Corps War” of 2007. Finally, fans got to see an all out war between the rings, with a significant body count on both sides. Anchored by terrific art by Ethan Van Sciver and Ivan Reis, all that the “Sinestro Corps War” lacked was a soundtrack by James Horner, Michael Giacchino, or John Williams to complete the big-budget, sci-fi flick picture! But Johns didn’t stop there. The Green Lantern titles went on to introduce a veritable rainbow of lanterns, each wielding an energy corresponding to a different color of the emotional spectrum. Most of the book’s earthbound concerns were left in the rearview mirror, as almost each new issue introduced readers to new alien races, new threats, and yes, even new Lanterns. The Green Lantern books seemed to be in a state of either constant warfare or a continual seeding of the next major conflict, which all culminated with DC’s immense, Green Lantern-centric crossover, Blackest Night, in 2010. While certainly entertaining (and anchored by some terrific art by Ivan Reis and Doug Mahnke), it all became rather exhausting. Be careful what you wish for, fans. In my case, I finally got the Green Lantern comics I had been dreaming of since childhood, but it became a breathless race to keep up with the events, new characters, and new rules seemingly introduced in every issue. When it was announced that Green Lantern, along with the other books in the GL family of titles, were being rebooted with new #1s as part of DC’s New 52 initiative, I breathed a sigh of relief. This seemed as good a time as any to bid a fond farewell to Green Lantern, go out on a high note, and take the opportunity to try some new titles. I couldn’t stay away, though. The “New 52” Green Lantern series picked up right where the last one left off, with Hal Jordan powerless after having been stripped of his Green Lantern ring, while Sinestro had somehow become a Green Lantern again. The first few issues, collected as Green Lantern Volume 1: Sinestro, detailed the personality conflict between Jordan and Sinestro, but this odd pairing served another purpose. Since Green Lantern’s history wasn’t affected in any noticeable way by any of the continuity changes to the DC Universe, starting the new series off with Hal Jordan relatively powerless and at the whim of Sinestro mirrored his early days, when he was Sinestro’s partner and student as a new Green Lantern Corps recruit. It’s a clever way to get backstory out of the way without endless exposition or yet another origin re-hash. Sinestro is one of the finest villains in the entire DC Universe, and, until recent years, he was criminally underused. Partnering up Hal and Sinestro for an extended run through the galaxy was an inspired choice. Sinestro needed Hal’s help to undo some of the evil that his Yellow Lanterns committed in his name, particularly regarding his homeworld, Korugar. Make no mistake, Sinestro is no hero, even in his best moments, but here, his characterization and motivation were more nuanced than we generally have come to expect. He even apologizes to another character at one point, and there’s a funny, wordless panel of Hal’s surprised response to hearing it! Sinestro’s methods may often be reprehensible, but it’s often difficult to argue with their results.  Volume Two, “Revenge of the Black Hand” collects issues 7-12 and Annual 1, and continued the Hal/Sinestro partnership, and leaned a little more heavily on the previously established (and complex) Green Lantern continuity, and suffers slightly for it. While the first few issues of the new series, with a few leaps in imagination and logic, could be read by someone only marginally familiar with the Green Lantern universe, whether it be via the film or the animated series, this second volume was virtually a sequel to the events of Blackest Night. Hal and Sinestro found themselves at odds with the mysterious Indigo Tribe, where we finally learned their secret history, which is considerably less sunny than their “compassionate” nature might indicate. Before the previous Green Lantern series ended, they had custody of Black Hand, the creepily-powered zombie animator who was almost responsible for the death of the entire universe during Blackest Night. Black Hand had been “rehabilitated” by the Indigo Tribe’s light of compassion…or so it appeared. When things go wrong (as they always do), Black Hand gets up to his old tricks, bringing the dead back to life in a few sequences that are so disturbing that your skin will crawl.Building throughout these issues of the “New 52” Green Lantern was the seemingly greater underlying threat is the Guardians’ continued drifting away from compassion and reason towards a more malevolent quest for “order” in the universe. Towards the end of “Revenge of the Black Hand” we get to see the first stages of this plan, and in the process, Johns expands the Green Lantern mythology even further. The cast of characters which has built up around this title is so impressive, that there’s virtually no mention of the superheroes in the wider DC Universe. And, you know what? It doesn’t matter! There’s enough going on without the Justice League sticking their noses in everything, right? Surrounding a character who is so embedded in the fabric of the DC Universe with a supporting cast so exceptional that they carry their own family of titles became a hallmark of Johns’ stewarding of Green Lantern.The majority of the art in the first twelve issues of these Green Lantern issues was handled by Doug Mahnke, who had also been handling art duties prior to the reboot. Green Lantern, perhaps more than any other superhero, is so profoundly reliant on visuals that the right artist is absolutely essential. Mahnke proves, page after page, that he’s the right man for the job, expertly handling the intricate energy constructs of the Green Lanterns and their energy-wielding foes and allies, as well as the endless procession of alien races, many of which are only vaguely humanoid, which fill the pages. I’m not sure that many artists out there could comfortably switch locales from Coast City to the far reaches of space in just a few pages, but like an expert film director with an unlimited budget, Mahnke makes it all happen.For the last nine years, Green Lantern has been offering up some of the most ambitious stories in the character’s long history, and all that’s missing from the full-on cinematic effect is some triumphant music from a Hollywood composer. The Green Lantern comic of my childhood dreams just kept going strong, but that’s all coming to an incredible, noisy, historic conclusion with Green Lantern #20. Part Two of this article will take you right up to the end of one of the most memorable DC Comics runs in recent memory.Part Two of our Green Lantern retrospective can be read right here!Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for all news updates related to the world of geek. And Google+, if that’s your thing!