Comics 101: Green Lantern Part 1

In Comics 101 I breakdown a comic character’s back history in an easy to understand way for newbies.

The story of Green Lantern began in 1940 with Alan Scott. Unlike the latter and more long running Green Lantern, Scott was based in mysticism and magic. He is a railroad engineer at the time and discovers a mysterious green lantern that imbues him with a magic ring. The ring gives him the power to fly as well as manifest constructs from it. Scott ended up being a founding member of the Justice Society of America, a World War II era precursor to the Justice League. He also had two children out of wedlock, Todd and Jennie who would grow up to be the super heroes Obsidian and Jade, respectively. Scott is still around, as a member of the JSA, and partnered with his old pals plus some new blood. But the core of the Green Lantern story really began in 1959.

In the late 1950s, the Silver Age of Comic Books began. DC has sort of pulled back its superhero publishing, with Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman being about the only remainders. Julius Schwartz, the editor in chief at the time was wanting to take names used by heroes back in the 1930s and 40s and create all-new characters around them. This time around, Green Lantern was to be ace pilot Hal Jordan. While testing an experimental craft for his employer Ferris Air, Hal was pulled by a mysterious force to a crash site in the middle of the desert. There lay a dying alien wearing a strange green and black uniform. His name was Abin Sur and he told Hal he was part of the Green Lantern Corps, an intergalactic police force. Sur was dying as a result of the crash and Hal was deemed the only one on Earth worthy to wield the ring. Hal accepted and became Earth’s Green Lantern. The ring held 24 hours worth of energy and would have to be recharged in an accompanying lantern. The only catch in its seemingly invulnerable power was an impurity that made it vulnerable to the color yellow in spectrum. Hal would go on to battle a cavalcade of odd 60s appropriate villains, but his arch-nemesis would always be Sinestro.

Sinestro was also a Green Lantern, but unlike Hal, he saw his place as using the ring to control the population of his home planet Krougar. The masters of the Green Lantern Corps were known as the Guardians of the Universe, small blue skinned men whom demanded total submission from all the Corpsmen. Sinestro and the Guardians clashed and as a result he was stripped of his ring. Enraged that this power would be taken from him, Sinestro sought out other sources. He found a way into the Anti-Matter Universe, a sort of reality underneath our own and home to the Weaponeers. The Weaponeers constructed a new ring for Sinestro, a yellow ring that specifically affected the power of the Green Lanterns. While the green ring used the aspect of Will, the yellow ring tapped into Fear to feed itself. For years, Sinestro plagued Hal Jordan and was eventually killed.

Along the way, other Earthmen took up the ring. Hal would become increasingly annoyed with the Guardians dictates and leave the Corps. In time social worker Guy Gardner became a Green Lantern, as well as architect John Stewart. Hal also befriended many of the alien Corpsmen: Kilowog, a lumbering brute, Tomar-Re, one of the most noble of the Lanterns, Salaak, a typically annoyed and distant being, and Arisia, a young girl whose family were a long line of Lanterns. Things went dark when Hal’s home town of Coast City was attacked by Mongul, an alien warlord. Mongul’s massive engine city/ship destroyed the city and killed everyone there. Hal became obsessed with using his power to fix things, rebuild Coast City. This obsession led him into madness and he began to kill other Green Lanterns to amass a large collection of rings. The Guardians were desperate to stop him and resurrected Sinestro. The two old enemies clashed and in the end the Guardians, the GL Corps, Hal, and Sinestro were obliterated. Except for one solitary ring.

This ring found its way to Earth and into the hands of young artist Kyle Rayner. Unlike Hal, Rayner had no one to teach him how to use the ring so he underwent a lot of trial and error. In time, he joined the Justice League and established himself as the one true Lantern. Hal returned as a villain, Parallax, infused with an almost infinite power. Parallax attempted to destroy reality and recreate it in his own image but the heroes of the DC Universe stopped him. He returned once more when Earth’s sun was being devoured by an alien Suneater. Making the ultimate sacrifice and redeeming himself, Parallax flew into the sun, reigniting it. He was rewarded for this act of bravery and made The Spectre, the manifestation of God’s wrath. Kyle Rayner continued on as the Green Lantern and eventually unlocked a power in his ring that turned him into a being called Ion, a sort of pure manifestation of the Green power.

Things changed suddenly when Kyle crashed to earth, after having been missing in space for a few months. Along with this, Coast City suddenly appeared rebuilt. All of Earth’s former Lanterns (Guy Gardner, John Stewart, and even Alan Scott) became involved as Hal Jordan was reborn, as well as The Guardians of the Universe and all of the dead Corpsmen. It turns out that the source of the rings’ power was a cosmic entity known as Ion, while Sinestro’s ring was powered by Parallax. The Lanterns battle the now unleashed Parallax entity while Sinestro returns from the dead. In the end the Corps is restored, but Sinestro returns to the Anti-Matter Universe with some big bad plans for the Green Lanterns….

Continued

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Criterion Fridays – Summer Hours



Summer Hours (2008, dir. Oliver Assayas)
Starring Juliette Binoche, Charles Berling, Jeremie Renier

It’s always refreshing to see a film made for grown ups. Too often American dramas dumb things down, maybe out of a lack of talent in the writer or maybe a lack of confidence in the audience’s intelligence. Here director Assayas looks at the strange dynamic of being both the adult child of a parent and a parent to your own children. In one position you are still looked on as an infant or adolescent and in the other you are the supreme authority. This difficult place is used to examine how we deal with death and responsibilities placed on us by the dead. The whole thing is a very naturalistic, quiet piece of cinema that is rewarding and ambiguous. The answers we receive will be as open ended as the characters in the film, and like them, we have to learn to happy with that.

Helene has just turned seventy-five and has come to terms with the fact that her life is coming to an end. She takes her eldest child, Frederic aside and explains to him how the family’s vast art collection and the country home they grew up in is something she wants him to maintain and make sure her grandchildren can bring their children to. Helene dies soon after her children make their last visit to the house, all of them caught up in busy lives: Frederic in Paris, Adrienne in America, and Jeremie in China. Frederic comes together with the siblings who all want to sell off the artwork and the house as they don’t have the funds or time to maintain the property. Frederic concedes and they go about cataloging the contents of the home. Frederic maintains a sense of guilt as he watches the promise to his mother fade away.

Summer Hours is a film that will demonstrate how programmed you have become by cliched Hollywood plot devices. There is a never chance anything of major conflict with occur, no one is going to explode in an emotional rage and there will be no ironic twist of fate. This is a very relaxed film about a family and the compromises we all make as a part of families. Frederic never really puts up a fight and its hard to be angry at him. As much as his mother loved the collection her uncle had amassed and she inherited, it is almost impossible for her children to maintain it. What is interesting is how Frederic’s teenaged daughter, Sylvie feels a strong emotional connection to the country house. The opening scene is of her and her little cousins running through the woods, playing, being children. The final parallels this, but with a more bittersweet tone as it is the last time she will be there.

This is not a film that has a message for you. Assayas simply tells the story of these three adult siblings, lives without melodrama, dealing with the aftermath of the death of a parent. What you are meant to get out of the film is what ever you want. So often in American mainstream cinema scripts are locked into formulaic beats and its all about hitting certain plot notes by certain page numbers. Here no one is rushed along, no one reveals some deep dark secret. Its very refreshing, and beautiful, and ultimately stays with you a lot longer than a script that sloppily goes didactic. If you are looking for an incredibly thoughtful film that lets you decide what you want it to mean, then I think you’ll be in for a treat with this one.

Event Fatigue: The Thanos Imperative



The Thanos Imperative: Ignition
Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Art by Brad Walker

The Thanos Imperative #1,2
Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Art by Miguel Sepulveda

The year I really got into reading comics seriously (1991) was the same year Marvel released the epic mini-series The Infinity Gauntlet. At the time, it was just a really cool cosmic story with all the big Marvel superheroes (Spider-Man, Hulk, Captain America, etc.) battling a cosmic despot named Thanos who had gathered the Infinity Gems, jewels imbued with great power and sought to sacrifice existence to Death, his lover. He actually succeeded, destroying reality, with a few heroes saved inside a pocket with him. Captain America eventually got his hands on the Gauntlet and brought back all of creation and Thanos was exiled. For years since, Thanos has returned, seeking the sweet relief of Death, which is what he believes is perfection. About five years ago he was finally killed off, but it seems someone doesn’t want him to have the rest he craves.
For the last six years, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have been redefining the cosmic elements of the Marvel Universe. Starting with a mini-event called Annhilation, they brought together The Silver Surfer, Thanos, Nova (think Marvel’s Green Lantern), and many more to tell a story that created a status quo for the space faring characters. Since then there have been two more Annhilation mini-series, a War of Kings storyline, and then a Realm of Kings storyline. It sounds like a lot, but instead of doing monthly series its all been pretty much contained to 3 to 6 issue minis. Along the way Nova has gotten his own ongoing, and some of the characters have assembled into a team known as The Guardians of the Galaxy, but its the sort of epic crossover event that isn’t taking up a billion titles and becoming too complex to follow. Abnett and Lanning really cut their teeth on handling a huge cast with DC Comics’ Legion of Super-Heroes in the 90s, a futuristic science fiction series featuring over two dozen adolescent metahumans and aliens. What they’re doing at Marvel is taking all these disparate elements that made up the cosmos and finding logical connections that make the whole thing much more cohesive.

Storywise things kicked off when the Inhumans, an earthbound race of people genetically modified by aliens decided to track down their creators and usurp them. Their creators were the Kree Empire, a militaristic society devastated during the aforementioned Annihilation storylines. The Inhuman leader Black Bolt took the throne of the Kree Empire and went to war with neighboring Sh’iar Empire. If you are familiar with your X-Men comics, you’ll know the Shi’ar are partially responsible for poor Jean Grey becoming the Phoenix. At this point in time, the Sh’iar were ruled by Vulcan aka Gabriel Summers, brother of Cyclops. Vulcan was a cruel leader and he and Black Bolt clashed in a epic battle that ended with them both dying and a tear forming in space. Over the next few months, both the Kree and Shi’ar dispatched vessels to probe this growing tear in space time and what they found was parallel universe where death no longer existed. Sounds good, right? Well, the way death was nullified appears to be through some sort of arcane pact with Lovecraftian elder gods. Now the forces of this parallel reality are swarming into the Marvel Universe attempting to “bless” them with undeath. When you have a character like Thanos who has a bizarre romantic relationship with the embodiment of Death there’s bound to be some conflict.

The first thing that stands out about the three pieces of these mini-series so far is the stellar artwork. There’s a two page spread in Thanos Imperative #2 that involves joined fleets of Kree, Shi’ar, other species, Galactus, The monolithic Celestials, and other cosmic beings battling the enemy fleet emerging from the tear in space. Its one of those moments where a still image is anything but static. Despite the lack of sound in real space, you can hear the unloading of thousands of laser cannons, energy blast explosions, and all out cosmic war. The Silver Surfer is drawn in a very interesting way as well by Sepulveda. He is almost featureless, his face simply a blank silver head and it really works. The effort has always been to humanize the Surfer but I like the idea of really making him alien and distant. The level of power he possess should eventually make him feel that he has little in common with mortals.

The series has shown great pacing and made its shocking reveals perfect. Every issue so far has ended on a well earned cliffhanger that’s making me chomp at the bit for the next issue. It was also a brilliant idea for the ongoing series of Nova and The Guardians of the Galaxy to go on hiatus till the end of this mini series. It helps avoid the glut of cross overs that fill space until we can get back to the core of the story. Because these are not core Marvel characters the stakes actually feel high. Reading an earthbound Marvel title, you know that Iron Man isn’t going die and that Spider-Man will make it out alive. With these characters you know its not beyond the possibility that they could die, that the heroes could lose. Because of the quality of work of Abnett and Lanning with the Marvel cosmic line so far I have huge confidence in this story to deliver. It’s definitely worth your time and puts a lot of summer blockbuster films to shame.

Hypothetical Film Festival – Brothers

It’s as simple as the title, films that have very prominent brother relationships at their core.



American History X (1998, dir. Tony Kaye)

Everyone remembers Edward Norton as the terrifying, swastika tattooed skinhead. The scene where he curbs a young black man who had broken into his house is gut wrenching. What’s interesting is how he so embodies evil in the flashbacks during the film, yet is an incredibly sympathetic character when reformed. His younger brother, played by Edward Furlong, is high school student struggling to understand how his older brother has turned his back on their family’s white power ways. In many ways the film is a race against time picture, Norton is desperately trying to get his little brother to stop being motivated through hate before something terrible happens to him.

Capturing the Friedmans (2003, dir. Andrew Jarecki)

In the 1980s, Arnold Friedman, a Long Island resident was arrested for possession of child pornography. As investigations continued police believe that Arnold and his son Jesse were sexually molesting students of private computer lessons they gave in the home. The two other sons in the family become strained as the family is marked as a pariah in the neighborhood. The evidence for the case is based entirely on the testimony of the students, and it could be interpreted that these confessions were encouraged by the authorities. But that doesn’t explain the magazines, or the overall strangeness of this family and these three brothers. A very disturbing film that, much like in real life, leaves you with a lot of answered questions.



Straw Dogs (1971, dir. Sam Peckinpah)

While the main plot concerns Dustin Hoffman and his British bride being plagued by the local thugs of her hometown, those thugs are brothers through their life together in this small village. In particular, David Warner as Henry Niles, a mentally handicapped man whom tags along with the boys in a major piece in the story. The film is violent and hard to watch. Hoffman basically cracks after being pushed too far by the thugs and precedes to murder them all. By the end of the film Hoffman has take Warner into his care, and Warner has shifted from being the brother of his villagers to a brother with Hoffman. His final line of the movie “I don’t know my way home” is incredibly poignant given the larger context of the film.



Mean Creek (2004, dir. Jacob Aaron Estes)

Mean Creek is a film about actors you are familiar with doing very dark things. Actors from Nickleodeon and Disney Channel shows are featured here as well as a Culkin brother. It seems Sam (Rory Culkin) is bullied endlessly by George (Josh Peck). Sam’s brother and his friends invite George out for a rafting trip with the intention of humiliating George on camera and then showing it to the kids at school. Things go wrong, someone dies, and the group are forced to deal with dark subjects you would never expect them to have to. A body has to be hidden, police have to be lied to, and their innocence is completely destroyed by the end of the film.



Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007, dir. Sidney Lumet)

Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke star as brothers whose choices have led them down some very sad paths. Hoffman is a successful investor who has been dipping in the company till to fund his drug habit. Hawke is divorced and estranged from his daughter, he needs money to prove he can share custody. Hoffman suggests they knock over their parent’s jewelry store, knowing that insurance will cover the losses. They send in a third party and things go very bad. The film is told out of sequence and it definitely works well. We see the heist, not knowing who any of these people are, then we jump back and see how it was put together. We see a funeral then we see the brothers hatching their plan. This is probably one of the darkest films about brotherhood and a criminally overlooked film from a master director.

Mature Reading: Sweet Tooth



Sweet Tooth #1-11
Written and Illustrated by Jeff Lemire

This blog is intended to be mostly for people unfamiliar with comic books and what’s out there. I know some friends who read Watchmen for a college English class or people who may not be up to date on the newer series out. For those of you not too up to date, DC Comics has an imprint called Vertigo which specializes in non-superhero fare aimed at adults or adolescents with literary maturity. Most of the time the series their present are great, a few seem to fall flat. Sweet Tooth is very much the former. It’s a post-apocalyptic story about mutants and survival and humanity becoming incredibly tribal. The art style increases the uneasy feeling you’re meant to have reading that this scary and violent world. And its all the work of Jeff Lemire, recently signed as an exclusive creator for DC Comics.

Gus is 9 years old and lives with Pa in the middle of the forest. He’s never left the forest and Pa has warned him that outside of it is all the evils in the world, and if Gus doesn’t want to go to Hell he’ll stay put. Then Pa dies and Gus is left alone in the world, slowly running out of food in their desolate cabin. Then one day some men enter the woods carrying guns, and when they see Gus they know they have found something special. You see, Gus has a pair of deer antler growing from his head. His mother died in childbirth and Pa ran away with Gus to keep him safe. The hunter surround the little boy but he is saved by Tommy, a lone mercenary who becomes Gus’ protector. The duo set off to a place Tommy says will be safe for Gus. Along the way they encounter roving bands of killers and thieves that populate the now devastated American Midwest.

Sweet Tooth is a slow burn, and its perfect that way. Almost one year in and we still know very little of the mystery behind Gus. We know that his mutation is one of many that occurred as a result of a virus that killed millions. All the children born in the wake of the virus had animal mutations. There’s even a brothel they run across where a few women dress in animal masks to satisfy the cravings of some of the more perverted clientèle. The environments in the comic are very wide and very open, because its the Midwest it was already like that, but the apocalyptic air increases it a million times.

The artwork in Sweet Tooth is incredibly aesthetically inventive. In one of the more recent issues, Gus is put under hypnosis to pull out his memories of his life in the woods. The way Lemire stages is this is by miniature versions of Gus and the hypnotist walking along the full size Gus’ head, crawling into and out of his ears. It runs through the entire issue and is just one example of the creativity and interesting storytelling at work. This is a very easy one to get caught up on. Only two collections out right now so you could be ready to follow it month to month by catching up in day. A series that I am looking forward to seeing where it goes.

Event Fatigue: Shadowland



Shadowland #1
Written by Andy Diggle
Art by Billy Tan

Daredevil #508
Written by Andy Diggle and Antony Johnston
Art by Robert de la Torre

A few months ago if you had told me I would be excited to read the new issues of Daredevil I would have said you were nuts. Daredevil has been one of those characters that never clicked with me, not even the critically acclaimed Frank Miller run or Bendis’ over 100 issues on the series. Blind lawyer vigilante just never appealed. However, Andy Diggle’s current run on the character seems like a shift towards a very interesting change in the fundamental aspects of Daredevil. The once by the books lawyer has abandonded the law in favor of pure street justice and has walled in Hell’s Kitchen, turning into Shadowland, his realm under his protection. And those who get in his way will die.

It began with Norman Osborn. The former Green Goblin assumed control of America’s top security forces after saving the world from an alien invasion and some epic PR. Put in charge of SHIELD, renamed HAMMER, Osborn set out to turn New York’s heroes into criminals in the eyes of the public. HAMMER agents were told to target an tenement in Hell’s Kitchen labeled as a hiding place of the notorious ninja clan known as The Hand. The building was firebombed and 100 innocent people were killed. Daredevil blamed himself for not being able to protect his fellow residents of the Kitchen and pledged himself to The Hand, his long time enemies. They promoted him to the leader of the clan, over all else, and along with his lieutenants Black Tarantula and White Tiger they drove the NYPD from his kingdom. Unbeknownst to Daredevil, the other leadership in The Hand are pushing him down this path in an effort to unleash a level of power their group has never experienced. In the background Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin is slowly reassembling his crime cartel after being released from a long stay in prison.

The events of these first two parts finds Luke Cage and Iron Fist, two fellow street level heroes venturing into Shadowland to talk to Daredevil, who has distanced himself in the preceding months. What they find is that he is unwelcoming to any interference. Just around this time, Daredevil’s arch nemesis Bullseye arrives, newly escaped from a prison transport. How Daredevil deals with his longtime enemy shows Cage and Iron Fist just how different their old friend is. Foggy Nelson, Daredevil’s former law partner and Dakota North, a private eye and former lover of Daredevil, drive to the borders of Shadowland but are stopped by White Tiger and some Hand agents. As the two leave they are attacked and their card explodes due to a masked archer on the rooftops. Needless to say things are getting worse and worse in Hell’s Kitchen.

The idea of making Daredevil a villainous figure is very intriguing to me, and the main reason I have started reading this current run of the series. The blind superhero part of Daredevil/Matt Murdock has always been a yawn for me. What is more interesting is the fact that he is/was a lawyer. How does a man who has devoted himself to the law justify vigilantism to himself. The Shadowland story is revealing how years of tragedy (the murders of Elektra and Karen Page first and foremost) have scarred Murdock. The embrace of some of his worst enemies in The Hand, while pushing away his closest friends marks a major change in the psyche of the character. This is one of those character arcs that you can’t see them coming away from the same every again. In many ways this is probably as close as we would get to a storyline where Batman takes over the Gotham crime families, a story that would be amazing.

Next up: Shadowland #2 in August!

Review: Justice League: Generation Lost #1-5



Justice League: Generation Lost #1-5
Script by Judd Winick, Breakdowns by Keith Giffen
Art by Aaron Lopresti (1,5), Joe Bennett (2,4), Fernando Dagnino (3)

When I was eight I met a Justice League that was a complete stranger to me. I grew up watching the Super Friends and from what I could tell they were the Justice League also. Imagine my surprise when I picked up Justice League America #42 and found characters like Blue Beetle, The Huntress, and Mister Miracle among others. Even though these were not the people I was expecting, I was intrigued. Later, in my first two years of college I was able to track down a complete run of this Justice League through dollar boxes, all sixty issues of Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis’ Justice League/International/America. The series went through some title changes but it was always the League to me. DC has recently gotten this ragtag group of heroes back together again for a bi-weekly 26 issues series that has their former benefactor leading them on a global wild goose chase. So how do the first five issues bode for the series so far?

Once upon a time, a wealthy businessman named Maxwell Lord assembled a group of heroes and formed the new Justice League. There was no Superman or Wonder Woman. Batman was there, albeit briefly. Instead the core of the group were the following characters:
Blue Beetle – computer whiz Ted Kord and the second man to go by the Blue Beetle identity
Booster Gold – visitor from the 25th Century attempting to get rich quick using future tech as a hero
Fire – A Brazilian who could turn herself into a pillar of green fire
Ice – A Scandinavian woman who could turn water molecules in the air to ice
Captain Atom – a jarhead turned living nuclear bomb due to a botched test bombing
Rocket Red – an armor clad Russian with a rather easy disposition

Maxwell went a little evil, ended up trying to kill earth’s heroes, and Wonder Woman was forced to kill him. But, as is the way in the world of comics, the dead don’t stay dead. Max was resurrected during one of those big cross company events and immediately set about causing trouble. Max had an ability to manipulate the minds of others and now he knew he would be the most hunted man alive. Using considerable effort and straining his body beyond its natural limits, Max erased his memory from the mind of almost every living being on earth, except for his old Justice League crew. Now they are hunting him down, with the world around them believing they are crazy, attempt to stop Max before accomplishes what ever it is he’s up to now.

So far the first five issues have had their ups and downs. While DC brought back the original plotter of this Justice League, Keith Giffen, they paired him with Judd Winick, a writer whose work is some of my least favorite ever put to paper. Winick has a very grating way of writing and is not very good when it comes to handling action. Shouldn’t be a problem with a Justice League that was always more about the humor than the action. Once again he fails, nothing is funny and the characters are way too serious. The thing that always drew me to the Giffen/DeMatteis League was that unlike the Silver Age goofy JLA or the cosmic trippy Morrison JLA, theirs felt like people having fun. Blue Beetle and Booster Gold are my all-time favorite comic book duo. It was like a great comedy team and super heroes rolled into one. They frequently used Max’s funds to invest in get rick quick schemes or antagonized the team’s token Green Lantern, Guy Gardner. Now Ted Kord is dead and replaced with Jaime Reyes, the new Blue Beetle. He’s an equally interesting character but there is something lost in the dynamic.

Because of the extended 26 issue story these first five feel like nothing has happened, and really it hasn’t. We’ve seen the characters assemble and some battles that seemed very pointless occur. The only part you could really call plot development would be that the heroes have realized Max has manipulated them into reuniting and that Max seems to have some unwanted side affects to his resurrection. The artwork is also back and forth, as to be expected in a series that comes out more than once a month. Three artists have been employed rotating, the best of which has been Aaron Lopresti on the first and most recent issues. He just a cleaner, more detailed style than the other two. What’s impressive is that DC’s last foray into publishing a title more than once a month was Trinity, a 52 issue weekly series with Mark Bagley handling art on every single issue without a miss. And it was better than this series, which has multiple hands to choose from.

Overall, my excitement for this series before it was released has really waned. You’d be better off checking out the collected volumes of Giffen and DeMatteis’ original Justice League run which is up to four volumes so far. Here’s hoping The Lost Generation can pick momentum in the next twenty-one issues.