Tales of the Green Lantern Corps
(1981 - three issues, DC Comics)
Writer: Len Wein (plot Mike W. Barr). Pencils: Joe Staton. Inks: Frank McLaughlin.
This has actually been collected in a TPB, along with a bunch of selected "Tales of the Green Lantern Corps" short stories that appeared in the pages of the regular Green Lantern comic. But since I've only read a few of those short stories, I've decided to leave my review of this mini-series here, as opposed to placing it in my main Graphic Novel/TPB reviews section.
Hal Jordan and the entire Green Lantern Corps must prevent a renegade Oan, Krona, from destroying the universe. Krona wants to witness the origin of the universe by recreating the Big Bang...and, to do so, has made a pact with an other dimensional entity...
What's fun about this three-issue mini-series is that it promises a big story (you can't get much bigger than the fate of the entire universe) and it delivers. There's a chillingly effective Apocalyptic ambience to this cosmic adventure. Sure, you know the good guys'll win, but it still evokes a shudder of dread as the Green Lanterns realize the universe is physically shrinking, reverting to the primal atom, and as the villains send an army of the undead to combat our embattled heroes. Lots of comics go for the "cosmic" thing, with threats of global, and even inter-galactic, dimensions (particularly these days when every year DC releases some sort of massive crossover "epic") -- but how often do you really believe in the threat? Let alone care? And here they do it in three issues -- as opposed to now a days where it would be stretched over a zillion issues, including crossovers into other titles. At some 75 pages, it's long enough to seem epic...and short enough not to wear out its welcome.
But a grand idea is only half the battle of storytelling. Without characters, dramatic scenes, and a plot that unfolds in such a way to keep you reading, the biggness fizzles. And that's where this mini-series proves its mettle. The Lanterns succumbing to despair, only to rally around Hal; the tragedy of fatalities; the oddly touching sub-plot of Tylot, one of the villains, finding himself being won over by the nobility of the Green Lanterns, the eleventh hour heroics of Hal, even the simple, mundane exchanges between the characters, all work well. It sounds silly, but, I'll admit, I got a lump in the throat on occasion. And the piece is structured well, building viscerally to its climax.
It's an action adventure story...but one where the "action" doesn't overwhelm the plot/drama.
Admittedly, if the Corps was a real-world organization (police, army, etc.) the rah-rah jingoism could be a bit...unsettling. But it ain't real, so you can allow yourself to be swept up in the "I'm a Green Lantern!" histironics.
Despite the implications of the title, Hal Jordan is still the star which, frankly, I don't mind one teeny bit. Still, other GLs get to share the limelight: Katma Tui, Tomar Re, Arisia (first introduced here) and Arkkis Chummuck. Of course, all this may seem a little esoteric for newer readers, since Hal and the Corps were later killed off by the editorial geniuses at DC (though he was resurrected as the new Spectre and, still more recently, resurrected completely and re-instated as Green Lantern once more). If you want an idea as to why older readers grumbled about the killing of the Corps and the desecrating of Hal, this is probably as good a place to start as any. Literally -- since the first issue contains some re-capping of Hal Jordan and Green Lantern lore for the uninitiated (including an earlier encounter with Krona).
The plot is credited to Mike Barr, but it's Len Wein who wrote the thing. And it probably works as well as it does because of Wein's scripting -- when he was on, Wein was as good as anyone in the business (and better than many) for conveying characters and relationships (sometimes with no more than a single line), for creating mood, and for telling a tale. There are simple scenes, conversations between characters, that resonate with me still, years later.
For a lot of comic characters, there are artists who are seen as definitive, no matter who came before or after: for instance, to a lot of people, Curt Swan and Superman are inseparable. Joe Staton doesn't have quite that position with Green Lantern...but he comes close. His figures are kinetic, his sense of composition dynamic. He also has a nice eye for drawing bizarre-looking aliens who still have a ring of plausibility. And here McLaughlin's inks rein in some of the cartooniness Staton could sometimes have.
Though I'd fallen back into comics over the last few years, I only gradually began to realize that, yeah, you know what? I am a bit of a Hal Jordan/Green Lantern fan. I'd never really thought of myself that way, but I realize that, stepping back, a number of Green Lantern eras and stories stand among my all time favourite comics, from the O'Neil/Adams run, a Marv Wolfman period, Gerard Jones' Road Back, and Waid/Peyers' Flash & Green Lantern: The Brave & the Bold, and, of course, this story (though I've been rather less impressed with the current revival helmed by Geoff Johns, more's the pity).
This is also a nicer, more amiable Corps than is sometimes envisioned, as some writers give the group a more militaristic, marine-style ambience.
The mini-series also features end editorials detailing some of the previously chronicled history of the Corps. The final issue was reprinted in one the Year's Best Comic Stories digests DC used to publish.
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