Last week saw the arrival of a very sad event in comic books. Geoff Johns, one of DC’s most popular and respected writers, turned his final issue of Green Lantern, the book he’s been writing since 2004. In Green Lantern #20, many of the themes, relationships, and subplots that have been slowly developing throughout his tenure on the book, came to a close. Under Johns’ tenure, the series became one of DC’s flagship titles, alongside the Batman and the Justice League books. Many fans and critics, including me, feel that Johns’ run on the character has been the definitive one.
This week on Most Heroic, in honor of Johns departure, we’ll be focusing on how he made Green Lantern one of the coolest heroes in the DC Universe.
Before Geoff Johns stepped up to write the book, Green Lantern was a book that was characterized by fans and critics as lacking direction. Many fans were still displeased with the way that DC had ended the story of Hal Jordan, the classic Green Lantern character. And they had every reason to be annoyed.
Back in the 90’s, the editors of DC had thought it would be a good idea to start with a clean slate, and in order to do so, they brought about “Emerald Twilight.” The controversial storyline had Hal Jordan go insane and become a villain, killing and maiming most of the Green Lantern Corps and most of their overseers, the Guardians of the Universe. After destroying the Green Lantern Battery on the Lanterns’ home world, Jordan took the name Parallax and used his immense new-found power to try to correct the wrongs of the universe by altering the fabric of reality itself. Eventually, the other heroes of the DC Universe beat him down
Historically, Emerald Twilight was not considered a good move. Fans didn’t have anything against the new character of Kyle Rayner, in fact they liked him just fine, once they got to know him. They were outraged that their heroic Hal Jordan was given such a disrespectful farewell after all the years they’d spent with him. DC’s management later took a bit of the sting away by giving Hal the death he deserved by having him sacrifice his own life to save the Earth. After his death he was bonded to the Spirit of Vengeance himself, The Spectre, to find redemption for his own past crimes.
Ten years after Emerald Twilight, the stories started to become a bit stagnant. Kyle was a decent character, but he had a lack of direction and the mythology needed some serious energy. Enter Geoff Johns.
Johns was a relative newcomer to DC, but he’d been a devoted lifelong fan of DC and he had a great track record with his past work. He’d already written an arc for The Avengers over for Marvel, and had written for a good time on The Flash. In late 2003, after successfully re-launching the Teen Titans, Johns pitched an idea to have Hal Jordan return from the dead and become a Green Lantern again……
It may not seem so now, but Geoff Johns had his work cut out for him. Not only did he have to bring back Hal Jordan from the dead in a convincing way, but he also had to absolve the character of the crimes he committed during Emerald Twilight. So what did he do? He took an approach no one would have ever expected. It was revealed that Hal had been infected by an ancient alien parasite that was composed of fear itself.
This entity, called Parallax, bonded itself to Hal’s soul, and had been controlling his actions even before the events that led to Emerald Twilight. In fact, this was the reason that his temples had started to go gray so early. Parallax had long ago been imprisoned by the Guardians deep within the Central Power Battery of the Corps. He slept inside the battery for eons, but even when he was inactive, he had a serious effect on the Green Lanterns themselves. Parallax was so powerful that his aura of fear prevented any of the Lanterns’ rings from affecting the color yellow. When Hal destroyed the Battery, the entity woke up and seize him and grant him its incredible power. It was later revealed that Parallax was prompted to choose Hal as its victim by none other than Sinestro, Hal Jordan’s archenemy.
Not long the revelation of Parallax’s true identity, Hal was finally able to separate himself from the both Parallax and The Spectre and his soul was brought back to his own body. After defeating Sinestro and Parallax, Hal Jordan and his fellow Lanterns reformed the Green Lantern Corps.
Now all that back story I just gave you? That’s a hell of stuff to read about, isn’t it? Believe it or not, Geoff Johns was able to fit all of that detail into one miniseries. It was called Green Lantern: Rebirth.
I’ve always loved Rebirth, and not just because it brought back my favorite Green Lantern. I manages to so much in so little time. It brought Hal back from the dead in a really creative way that enhanced the mythology overall. Even though this is the story of Hal Jordan’s return, each and every one of the human Green Lanterns are important, and they get the respect they deserve as well.
Geoff Johns clearly defined the differences between each of them, both in personality and in tactics, and showed their relationships with the larger DC universe. My two favorite relationships that Johns established in Rebirth were with Green Arrow and Batman. Green Arrow is one of Hal’s best friends, and is one of the few people on the planet who still believes in him, while Batman and Hal Jordan never, ever got along.
Rebirth isn’t perfect, but it’s still one of my favorite miniseries. Even nine years later, it holds up very well.
Once Geoff Johns had taken the time to thoroughly establish the new status quo of the lives of the Green Lanterns, he started to build up for big events in the future. The first one was the Sinestro Corps War. Sinestro formed his own lantern corps by recruiting the deadliest and most terrifying creatures in the galaxy, and gave them their own power rings. The major difference between this new Corps and the Green Lanterns was that these new rings were powered by fear instead of willpower. Sinestro then teamed up with Hank Henshaw, Parallax, Superboy Prime, and the Anti-Monitor himself. I won’t go too much into detail here, but it’s another excellent series, and very important to the Green Lantern franchise overall.
After the Green Lantern Corps inevitably defeated Sinestro and his corps, they discovered that they weren’t the only two Lantern Corps in existence. Much to their surprise, there was an entire rainbow of them!
Each one of these new Lantern Corps were powered by different emotions and called upon different types of creatures in order to master them. The Red Lanterns are powered by the emotion of rage, and their users are often victims of horrific tragedies and they live only to seek vengeance for both themselves and the other victims of the universe. There’s only one Orange Lantern, because that corps is meant to be powered by the emotion of avarice. The Gollum-like alien Larfleeze refuses to share his power with anyone else, making him the sole Agent Orange.
The Blue Lanterns are some of the most powerful Lantern Corps, and they are some of the most pure and optimistic beings in the Universe. They should be, because their empowering emotion is hope. The mysterious Indigo Tribe is known for using the light of compassion. And finally the Star Sapphires, who are powered by love and sport violet rings.
Since each and every one of these Lantern corps have their own differing agendas, it’s only natural that they conflict with each other all tie time. But over time, they’re forced to band together to fight against The Blackest Night.
Blackest Night was easily my favorite part of Johns’ entire run. I usually don’t like big crossover event comics, but it’s just that great. Johns had been leading up to the event for years, and when it finally debuted, it didn’t disappoint. After the Sinestro Corps War came to a close, readers could see the hints of a sinister new Black Lantern Corps beginning to rise. But this corps was made up of the dead.
The Black Lanterns were an army of zombified superheroes and super villains, thousands strong and capable of ripping the hearts out of the living to absorb their power and convert them into new Black Lanterns. Heck, the first time we actually see a pair of Black Lanterns in action, they kill Hawkman and Hawkgirl with ease! I’ll never forget my own reaction to reading the first issue. It remains one of my favorite moments in my comic-reading history.
As the series went on, the great moments just kept on coming. Johns conceived of some situations that broke your heart, scared the crap out of you, and really thrilled you all the way through. He also gave a great amount of focus to the entire DC universe and how they’re reacting to this new threat. I always love it when he makes us realize why characters like the Atom and Mera are so underrated.
After Blackest Night, Johns continued exploring these new Lantern Corps, as well as the ideas of emotion and how important it is. One of the aspects he used to explore this was with the Guardians of the Universe themselves. He’d established early on that the Guardians actually felt no emotion themselves, and as time passed by, the reader could see their actions becoming more and more corrupt. Eventually they turned on the Lantern Corps entirely to try to create a new army to replace their “failed” Lantern Corps. I particularly liked the way Johns describe them as “being driven insane by their empty hearts.” There’s plenty of poetry to that idea.
I won’t delve into too much detail there, because I’m sure that there’s still plenty of people who want to get caught up on the series in their own right, and I hate spoiling people who don’t want to be spoiled.
Suffice to say that when Green Lantern #20 hit the stands, Johns wrapped up every major theme together in a nice package, and he even got the opportunity to write some truly happy endings for the characters that we had all come to love so much.
I’m really sad to see Johns leave the series, because I love what he did with it. He made Hal Jordan one of the most admirable and likable characters in the DC universe, as well as his entire supporting cast, and he created a whole host of other characters that are sure to stick around for a really long time. Even though I wish that he could stick around, I can’t deny that this is probably the best time for him to leave. Besides, it’s not like he’s going to just quit writing. He still will be writing Justice League and Justice League of America, after all.
Geoff Johns did what no one else would have thought possible. He took a stagnant property and gave it one of the best sagas in recent memory, leaving some really big shoes to fill.
On a personal note, he showed me the right way to write comic books. If I ever get to work for DC or Marvel, I’ve got a really good example to look back on and learn from.
Thanks Geoff. You truly are Most Heroic!
Next Week on Most Heroic we’ll be talking about the greatest superhero of them all, and show why our world really, really needs him right now.