(Green Lantern, 3rd series, #20-24, 1992)

Writer: Gerard Jones. Pencils: Pat Broderick. Inks: Romeo Tanghal.

In a nutshell, one could say this space based story arc is about Hal Jordan (and his fellow Green Lanterns) battling villainess Star Sapphire...yet again. But a nutshell hardly encapsulates it, which is why I tend to regard it so fondly.

After all, is old foe Star Sapphire the main villain...or is it Flicker, an intergalactic headhunter who goes around "recruiting" (that is, kidnapping and brainwashing) soldiers-for-hire, and who has his eye set on some Green Lanterns...or is it the warring alien battle fleets the GLs find themselves in the middle of? Is the story about the conflicting emotions Star Sapphire's presence stirs up for Hal being as how she is an insane version of Hal's old girl friend, Carol Ferris? Or is it about the rage she instills in fellow GL John Stewart for having killed John's wife long before? Or is it about Hal slowly rebuilding the then-recently revived Green Lantern Corps, testing some potential recruits in the crucible of the crisis?

Answer: it's all those things. And more.

I've often criticized modern story arcs (and their inevitable TPB collection) for being rather thin plots stretched out. Here, there's enough going on, enough disparate threads, and off-beat sequences (Hal's interrogation scene) that every time I re-read it I find that I've forgotten some aspect of it. It's pleasingly convoluted, while forming a cohesive whole, and more-than-justifies its 100-and-some pages.

Writer Gerard Jones clearly dug the GL gig, and clearly enjoyed writing, and exploring, the characters as much as writing the action, and here shows a good ear for dialogue. Heck, the first chapter is mainly just human drama and talk -- but remains interesting and energetic nonetheless. And there's enough casual dialogue establishing the characters and situations that it's easy enough to orient yourself as to what was happening with the characters and the Green Lantern Corps at that time. In fact, we don't even learn Star Sapphire will be part of the story until the second chapter, yet Jones has characters talking about her (and explaining what happened last time she was around) in the first chapter, so that when she does crop up it feels like a logically foreshadowed part of this narrative -- as opposed to some stories in which a foe suddenly cropping up has no resonance if you didn't already know them from their previous appearance.

Pat Broderick's art is robust and energetic. Broderick's penchant for overmuscled heroes borders on cartoony, but he has a nice, rounded, three dimensional style, and a good eye for telling the scenes clearly and artistically, moving the scenes along, whether it's guys just standing around talking, or getting into big space battles. He personifies the characters and the reality so that his "vision" can seem like the definitive vision of Hal and outer least while you're reading it.

There are a few flaws/weaknesses here and there. A sub-plot involving a couple of green (no pun intended) recruits certainly ads to the narrative richness...but is unsubtle and heavy handed. And I've said before that I haven't been entirely comfortable with the modern take on Hal as a kind of lady-killer, feeling it seems kind of juvenile, like the writers are living out vicarious fantasies through their character (and this for a guy who, in the old stories, had mixed success with women). Ironically, the first thing I ever read by Jones was his non-fiction book, The Comic Book Heroes, in which at one point Jones grumbles about how a comic he wrote (not GL) was criticized for a perceived sexism and Jones snarkily suggest his detractors just didn't "get" what he was doing. Maybe it's because of that, of knowing Jones himself had acknowledged he had been accused of sexism, that I'm more sensitive to things in his writing (and certainly ruminations on male/female relationships was a frequent topic in Jones' GL comics). But the back story to Star Sapphire is that she killed Katma Tui, a one-time Green Lantern and John Stewart's wife, and Hal thinks how Star Sapphire killed "the wife of my friend". It seems an odd dismissal of Katma Tui as a person, defining her simply as John's wife...when Katma was Hal's friend long before he even met John Stewart.

Maybe Jones just felt he had enough emotional themes to juggle that adding in Hal's own feelings over Katma's death would be too much. After all, make no mistake: Jones is juggling a lot of themes and emotional undercurrents for a lot of characters.

I also think Jones -- and current GL scribe Geoff Johns -- struggle to squeeze a round peg into a square hole. I mean, Jones' writing is all about Hal-the-person, about exploring his character. Yet it's funny how, like Johns, he wants to play up Hal as an inherent rebel who doesn't respond well to authority...when of all super heroes, he's the one who's part of an organization (the Green Lantern Corps) and defers to his bosses, the Guardians -- once even saying "My whole life is based on a respect for authority" (Green Lantern #79, circa the 1970s).

Star Sapphire is, herself, an odd villain...originally a "lighter" foe, and her origin stemming from a more sexist age, but then cranked up and turned into a homicidal maniac by writers for the "dark n' gritty" late 1980s. Although the emotional dilemma she presents (still being Carol somewhere inside) should make a great foe, she's pretty one note and can quickly exceed her "best before" date.

But all that maybe goes to show why this is so good. Because even with my qualms about aspects of the story...I still think the whole is a clever, engrossing saga -- adult and mature and nuanced more often than not. And with Hal front and centre as a person, not just a super hero.

Jones' tenure on Green Lantern in the early 1990s was frustratingly up and down, usually buoyed by his attention to character, but with some breezier plots or, as often happens with long running series, plots too mired in muddled continuity (which this could threaten to become, what with its clear intent to wrap up the long left dangling Star Sapphire thing). But this reminds me of his first arc on the regular series (collected as the TPB The Road Back) -- a nice mix of character drama and a twisty, multi-layered adventure plot that really justifies its page count, with a mix of tones: comedy, drama, action. It's maybe not as good as The Road Back, but it's still a superior, memorable arc.

I've said before that I had never thought of myself especially as a Hal/GL "fan"...but I'm surprised at how many GL stories, from different eras, are among the first to come to mind when I'm thinking of my favourite comic book arcs.