Comic Book Review – Green Lantern: Rebirth/Secret Origin/No Fear

Green Lantern: Rebirth (2010)
Reprints Green Lantern: Rebirth #1-6
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Ethan van Sciver

Green Lantern: Secret Origin (2010)
Reprints Green Lantern #29-35
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Ivan Reis

Green Lantern: No Fear (2006)
Reprints Green Lantern #1-6 & Green Lantern Secret Files and Origins 2005
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Darwyn Cooke, Carlos Pacheco, Ethan van Sciver, Simone Bianchi, Jesus Moreno, and Prentis Rollins

Green Lantern was created by Martin Nodell in 1940, debuting in the pages of All-American Comics #16. But that is not who this review will be talking about. That’s because Green Lantern also debuted in the pages of Showcase #22, published in 1959, where he was written by Julius Schwartz. How is that possible, you ask? That’s because of the concept of Legacy, something that is paramount to how DC Comics has differentiated itself from its marvelous competition. That first Green Lantern was a radio announcer named Alan Scott, who wore a red shirt and a green cape, and whose ring had a weakness to any object made of wood. The ring was implied to have mystical origins. In 1959, readers were introduced to Hal Jordan, a hot shot test pilot who finds a dying alien that bequeaths his power ring to the man. Hal learns this alien was a part of the Green Lantern Corps, an intergalactic police force that wields rings that focus their will. The rings can manifest what is in the bearer’s mind until they break concentration. 

Both Green Lanterns existed on separate Earths for decades until Crisis on Infinite Earths merged all realities into one. Now, Alan Scott had simply been the predecessor. Even before this time, Hal Jordan had been the dominant presence when Green Lantern was used in the media. He was the GL of Super Friends and any other television adaptation. The thing is, a lot of readers find Hal really dull. He’s been temporarily replaced from time to time. First, it was Guy Gardner, a well-meaning man who ends up receiving a brain injury that turns him into a massive chauvinist. Then there was John Stewart, a Black architect who had to face racism as he protected Earth from enemies beyond. In the wake of the Crisis, the Green Lanterns weren’t doing so hot, and their title was eventually canceled. Hal was brought back for a soft reboot, but about four years into that, editors at DC knew the book needed a shake-up.

Hal Jordan was part of the Return of Superman storyline that saw the Man of Steel return from the dead to resume his heroic duties. His first heroic act is to stop the madmen Mongul and Cyborg Superman, who have invaded Earth. They completely destroy Hal Jordan’s hometown of Coast City, killing every member of his family and leaving him profoundly despondent. He eventually believes that if he were to have the entirety of the GL Corps’ power, he could restore everything and erase the deaths. Instead, Hal is driven mad and kills almost all of his allies. Ganthet, one of the Guardians of the Universe, an alien race who created the rings, sends a final ring to Earth, where graphic designer Kyle Rayner receives it. Hal would return as the villain Parallax, see the light and sacrifice himself to save Earth, and then return bearing the mantle of The Spectre, the embodiment of Yahweh’s vengeance. As The Spectre, he meted out karmic justice and began to find acceptance by his former friends. That’s when Geoff Johns came in.

Johns made a name for himself, writing JSA (Justice Society of America), a series centered on the senior heroes and the inheritors of their legacies in the DC Universe. The Kyle Rayner-led Green Lantern title was canceled with issue 181 (June 2004), written by Ron Marz. Fans would only wait a few months until Green Lantern: Rebirth was published in December 2004. In typical Johns’s fashion, he immediately begins folding in all the aspects of the Green Lantern mythos to make something cohesive and more significant than before. Kyle learns that deep in space, various alien races are lamenting the arrival of Parallax. But Parallax died when Jordan sacrificed himself; that part of his personality is gone, right? Former GLs, John Stewart and Guy Gardner meet up with Jordan at a baseball game and are having fun when the Spectre pulls Jordan away. He manifests in the exact location as one of his old foes Black Hand. Jordan’s old Justice League pals Green Arrow and Black Canary are already about to bring Black Hand in when the Spectre disintegrates the hand that holds the villain’s powers. It’s a brutal attack that leaves the heroes shaken and reveals more going on inside Jordan’s mind.

The big reveal is that Parallax was never Jordan; instead, it is an entity captured by the Guardians. They held it inside the Central Battery, which gave the rings their weakness to anything with the color yellow. Parallax is the living embodiment of the emotion Fear, and it is fear that weakens a Lantern. For a Green Lantern to do well, they must overcome their fears and strengthen their will. As usual with early Johns’ work, it’s a pretty clever tying together of many things. Johns even explains Jordan’s brief period of grayed temples in the 1990s as Parallax’s influence, slightly aging the character. Eventually, Sinestro, Jordan’s arch-nemesis, a former Green Lantern and wielder of a yellow ring, shows back up. Jordan is ultimately restored, and Parallax is purged, making the rings even more powerful. 

This is probably the most exciting period Green Lantern has had in decades. Johns knew how to infuse the series with exciting new ideas while staying true to the pre-established ones. I sometimes feel a hint of nostalgia to read Green Lantern again, but since the New 52, the spark has died again. What was happening in Rebirth was novel for its time but since then, DC has adopted this kind of reboot into their default formula. They even had Johns essentially recreate with The Flash: Rebirth, which has some ridiculously similar plot beats to Green Lantern: Rebirth. If you are new to Green Lantern, Rebirth should be a fantastic jumping-on point, but I’d argue it is one of the worst places for a new reader to enter. The whole story is predicated on decades of DC lore, which Johns does try to recap & summarize, but you will be lost by the second or third issue. However, for an old nerd like me, it is pretty satisfying and promises to return to some old characters in a new way.

The reading order for Johns’ run is a little spotty here, but I decided to place Secret Origin next. While this story was published about three years into his run, it is out of place there and can wholly work as a stand-alone. I’m sure you won’t be shocked to know this is a retelling of Hal Jordan’s origins as Green Lantern. They follow the standard set by Julie Schwartz in 1959, but Johns goes deeper regarding characters and their emotional arcs. Jordan has the most formative moment in his life framed as watching his father die during a flying accident. Jordan becomes a rebel, frustrating his mother and older brother, that are trying to heal from the trauma. Eventually, the alien crashes; Jordan gets the ring and is zapped off to Oa to be trained as a Green Lantern. 

One of the most significant additions to this new origin is Hector Hammond. Previously, Hammond had been a conman, a recurring villain, that eventually had his consciousness expanded. If you are familiar with MODOK from Marvel Comics, a nefarious giant floating head with a tiny body, then you can easily picture what happened to Hammond. In Secret Origin, Hammond is introduced as an astrophysicist dating Carol Ferris, Jordan’s on-again-off-again love interest. Driven by jealousy, Hammond helps recover the alien’s ship while Jordan is off planet but is caught in an explosion while trying to crack the vessel open. The chemicals that inflamed Hammond’s body leave him with telepathic powers and will eventually lead him to become that floating head in the present day.

Johns also sets up Sinestro as Jordan’s mentor, carrying over ideas planted in earlier versions of Jordan’s origin. William Hand is also introduced, the man who will become Black Hand. Previously, Hand had been portrayed as a pretty disposable member of the rogues’ gallery, mostly forgotten about. Johns reimagines him as the son of morticians, a man obsessed with death. Hand becomes a person of interest to Atrocitus, an alien being transported on the Green Lantern ship before it crashed on Earth. Atrocitus roams Coast City to take the power of the Black to William Hand, the man who is destined to be its host. The Black is similar to the Green of Jordan’s ring and even the Yellow that Parallax represents. Black is associated with death which is why Hand is so compelled to want to see and touch the dead at his parents’ business. 

Of all the parts of Johns’ run, I would argue this may be the best. It’s simpler than Rebirth because we see the story mainly through Jordan’s eyes. That means as characters show up, we are formally introduced to them. If you’ve never read a Green Lantern comic once in your life, you can read Secret Origin and walk away entirely sure of who is who and what is what. However, as Johns typically does, long-time fans will pick up on foreshadowing and hints of things to come or pieces of GL lore that are important. Atrocitus, for instance, was a one-off character featured in a story Alan Moore wrote for a Green Lantern anthology in the 1980s. Johns picks up the dark prophecies, the War of the Light hinted at in those pages twenty years prior, and starts building them into a contemporary epic. 

The most crucial thing in Secret Origin is the development of Jordan and Sinestro’s relationship. Sinestro has turned his homeworld of Korugar into a nightmarish dictatorship where the people live in constant fear of him. He has decided that only complete control, making the people afraid of you, can create a safe world. Jordan is a natural rebel, so he bristles at the Guardians and their often annoyingly cryptic edicts. Jordan is not a person who wants to just follow the rules; he wants to know why they are there and still push back. Sinestro likes this about Jordan, but he sees the Guardians as naive, driven by their own fears. Millenia earlier, their first attempt at policing the universe fell apart, their robotic Manhunters becoming engines of death instead of safety. The Guardians are much slower to act now, and Sinestro believes they must ultimately be overthrown and he should be installed as ruler of the universe.

And then we get No Fear, the first six issues of Johns’ ongoing Green Lantern run. Jordan establishes his human life and treads carefully, as many people only see him as the dastardly Parallax. An alien being arrives on Earth and begins processing all humans as threats and killing them. It turns out this being is a new model of Manhunter. The Guardians’ robots were not completely destroyed and are hiding somewhere on the very edges of the universe. One of them has been sent to recover the remains of a comrade that the military has in their possession. Jordan’s resurrection of the Green Lantern Corps has reawakened the Manhunters, and they want to see this revival quickly end. Their new upgrade is that their heads can replicate a Power Battery and drain the energy from a Power Ring. 

The emotional arc is centered on Jordan’s anxieties about being accepted back into society. Everyone has good reason to not trust him, but some people are willing to extend a hand. He finds a new friend in Jillian’ Cowgirl’ Pearlman, an Air Force pilot, and his younger brother and his family, who are some of the first to move back to the new Coast City. Jordan has recreated his previously decimated hometown, but it’s a massive urban ghost city. The art style changes a lot in the second half but not badly. I find Ethan van Sciver’s work to be the least palatable, with very long string bean people often drawn with ugly grimaces on their faces. On the other hand, Simone Bianchi’s work is much more visually pleasing & exciting, in my opinion. As with all of Johns’ work, these issues tell a story and tease bigger things. 

As a starting place for Green Lantern, these three books are a mixed bag. I think Secret Origin provides the best entry, but I don’t think you can read No Fear without also reading Rebirth. You will have a learning curve with all contemporary comics, but I think these might be some of the steepest because the lore is dense. What helps is that Johns certainly loves Hal Jordan and writes him with that sort of passion. I used to like Jordan more, but now the jury is out for me. I’m starting to think Green Lantern is a lot like Star Wars in that it seems only a handful of stories work in the universe, and thus it will feel like a merry-go-round, reliving the same things but with a different veneer. Johns’ most significant innovations are still to come, and he will set the trend at DC Comics that some might argue ruined the publisher and continues creating problems today.

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