The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 11: DC Comics – Green Lantern

For those of you who aren’t familiar with DC, and their approach to storytelling, and how it differs from Marvel’s approach, let me explain: DC’s priority is always plot – i.e. Event X happens to Character B. Marvel’s priority is always characters – i.e. Character B copes with the events of Event X, and also how to pay the rent that month. There are positives and negatives to each approach. One of the big negatives to the DC approach is that you need a constant stream of MAJOR events in order to keep the wheels of the DCU turning. And since death is a fairly major event in someone’s life (right behind getting your first pony), it’s a well we see DC going to fairly often.

Enter Green Lantern, specifically Hal Jordan.

Green Lantern of Earth One vs. Green Lantern of Earth Two.

Now Hal wasn’t the first Green Lantern. That was Alan Scott, back in the 1940’s. But when DC started to focus on superhero comics again in the late 1950’s/early 1960’s, they realized that the Green Lantern concept was cool enough that it was worth bringing back. Although the Hal Jordan Green Lantern has always been well-known, and is identifiable as one of the DCU’s top heroes, he was never that important in regards to sales, and never really had what could be considered a successful book.

So in the mid ’90’s, DC decided to kill him.

Now that’s pretty bad in the great scheme of things, but DC went one step further. They made him evil. Like, planet killing evil.  He killed other Green Lanterns, some of the Guardians of OA, and he started the Zero Crisis, which is one of those universe-destroying events that DC has every 6 months or so. And I think he kicked a puppy somewhere in there too.

Evil Hal Jordan. It's ok though since he has a yellow parasite in his head telling him what to do. We don't know that yet.

A few things happened next: DC created a new Green Lantern, named Kyle Rayner. The problem is, EVERYONE hated Kyle Rayner. Everyone. Including his fictional mom  Also, DC was surprised to learn than not only did DC fans hate Kyle Rayner, but they actually liked Hal Jordan quite a bit, and while it was one thing to kill him, it’s quite another to actually turn him evil, flying in the face of 40 years of character continuity. And so the great DC back pedal began. We’ve seen the back pedal often. It’s when DC does something really dumb to one of their characters, and then spends years trying to fix the damage, eventually putting the character right back where they were at the beginning (for further info, see Superman, Death Of; Batman, Breaking of Back of, or anything to do with Hawkman, Aquaman, the Silver Age Wonder Woman, the Golden Age Wonder Woman, The Silver Age Flash, the Modern Age Flash, Stephanie Brown, Jason Todd, and pretty much every person that has ever appeared in a DC comic book. Ever. ) often with alternate realities, time travel, or usually some sort of cosmic reboot that is just lazy writing, goddamnit!

And so 2 years later, they brought Hal back from the dead, but he was really sorry. And so

Hal Jordan as the Spirit of Vengeance. He's a ghost that wears a mask. On purpose.

he died AGAIN, but actually saved the planet this time. And then they brought him back from the dead AGAIN, but now he was the Spectre, a character that is essentially the DC’s Spirit Of Vengeance. He’s an undead corpse that has unlimited magical power and goes around killing evil people for the Lord. So he’s essentially the DC version of Stephen Harper. 

Now you would think this would be enough for DC fans. But noooooo, they didn’t just want Hal back, they wanted him back as GL. And so 10 years after DC got rid of him the first time, they hired Geoff Johns (also known at DC by his other name, God) to fix the mess they created, and bring back Hal Jordan. And he did. In style.

Green Lantern - The Geoff Johns Trades (Rebirth, No Fear, Revenge of the Green Lanterns, Wanted – Hal Jordan, Sinestro Corps War, Secret Origin, Agent Orange, Rage Of The Red Lantern, Blackest Night)

First of all, let me tell you that I HATE Green Lantern. Hate the concept, hate the character, hate the T-Shirt, etc.. The character never did anything for me, and the mythology did even less. So as you can imagine, it was going to take a hell of a great comic book to make me care about the return of Hal Jordan. I’m here to tell you that Geoff John’s Green Lantern is quite often a hell of a great mainstream superhero comic book.

Geoff Johns has a knack. It’s a particular talent, and it has served him very well at DC. He fixes problems. Specifically, continuity problems. He has the gift of being able to fix whatever tangled mess of continuity damage a decade of DC hacks has done to a character. Not only does he fix it, but he even makes you think that the dumb stuff was actually good, and he makes it an integral part of the story he’s telling. And so he turned his magic scalpel to Hal Jordan. He brought him back, but he didn’t just bring him back, he brought back the entire Green Lantern mythology. Over the past 60 plus issues, he’s taken this utterly devalued D list character, and rebuilt him into the lynchpin of an incredibly complex, action packed space opera, that is arguably the only real interesting part of the DCU anymore.

The successes he has here are many: Explain the reason why the green rings are useless against yellow in a believable way? Check. Explain why a great hero would actually kill his former colleagues? Check. Have him punch out Batman? Check. Somehow turn a purple skinned alien with a receding hairline into one of the greatest villains in the DCU? Check. Bring back the Corps, the Guardians, the Zamorans, Nekron, and a host of other old GL concepts that just seemed really lame when you read about them as a kid and actually make them cool for once? Check.

That being said, this isn’t a perfect book, though it often comes close by mainstream superhero standards. Although a LOT happens to Hal Jordan every month, much of it just bounces off his back as he goes from adventure to adventure. I’d like to see the book slow down occasionally. Although a lot has happened to the character from an event standpoint, I can’t say that Johns has actually done much with the character emotionally. Any person that would have as much shit thrown at him as Jordan does would need some time to figure stuff out, to adapt, to change, etc.  

My other quibble is that the book is often a little too smart for its own good, and the overly complicated, continuity heavy scripts pretty much guarantee that any new reader would be lost immediately. Pretty much everything in this book is a huge, universe-killing epic crossover, and occasionally you wish that the series would take a bit of a break and a just have a story where GL rescues a kitten out of a tree.

KEEP

Green Lantern & Green Arrow – Vol. 1 & 2.

This is one of DC’s most famous storylines from the 1970’s, and it’s aged about as well as that purple couch that keeps showing up in all of your mom’s photo albums has. It’s 1972, and Green Lantern’s book is struggling. DC puts two of their hottest young talents on the case (Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams), they change the name of the book to Green Lantern and Green Arrow, and so a legend is born.

The premise of the arc is that conservative galactic cop Hal Jordan, and liberal hippie Ollie Queen, are both disillusioned with the state of America. They decide to get in a pick-up truck, and take a millenia-old asexual blue alien with them on a road trip where they encounter racism, overpopulation, slavery, drug addiction, sexism, cults, and even excessive jaywalking and littering. At the end of the story they discover that a 9-year-old socialist muslim nazi from Kenya/Hawaii is to blame for everything bad that ever happened to anyone ever, and so they travel to 1984 to enlist Ronald Reagan to come back in time with them to kill the socialist vampire with freedom bullets.

The reason that people still talk about this story today isn’t that it’s that good, it’s that it was the first adult-issues story that DC ever had it’s characters take part in.  The problem here is that while these stories were absolutely cutting edge for the era they were created in, they just seem dated and preachy now. Although the issues they are trying to deal with are very much of the real world circa 1970, O’Neil still uses early 1960’s comic book language and narrative devices to deal with them, and the results are often clumsy and heavy-handed. That being said, this is still an incredible important storyline for numerous reason, one of them being the art by grandmaster Neal Adams. 

I’d love to see DC try to do a sequel to this, using modern-day issues and narrative devices, possibly with some new characters.

KEEP

Next Up: The Green Lantern Corps!

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 10: DC Comics – Green Arrow

Green Arrow is a character I’ve always liked, because for a long time he was of of the fewDC heros that I would say had any real character depth. He’s abrasive, passionate, and has numerous flaws. In short, he should have been published by Marvel. He’s never taken off from a sales perspective, and DC finally decided to smother their grandma with a pillow and killed him off in 1995.

5 years later, they brought him back . They enlisted Kevin Smith, who had a bit of a rep as a character saver due to his work on Daredevil, to do the deed. He concocted an extremely convoluted, yet entertaining epic that brought Oliver Queen back from the grave. It was a huge hit, and since then GA has been a prominent part of the DCU.

Green Arrow - The Longbow Hunters

This is often considered one of the great DC stories of the 1980’s. Keep in mind the context of the time. Year One, Watchmen, and Dark Knight had been huge successes, and so DC did numerous reboots that brought some of their characters back to their grim and gritty roots, even those that had never had grim and gritty roots. This brings us to Green Arrow, and The Longbow Hunters. GA and Black Canary move to Seattle, and even though she used to be a member of a group that saves planets on a regular basis, Canary gets kidnapped by drug dealers and GA has to save her, which isn’t so good for Black Canary, but did turn out to be pretty good for Gail Simone, who ended up making her career on fixing the damage done to Canary in this story. Arrow goes a little nuts, and there’s a lot of complicated spy stuff that isn’t very interesting, and this sets the tone for Green Arrow stories for the next 7 or 8 years.

When I compare this to some of the more recent Arrow stories, I can’t say that this is a very good book, though Mike Grell’s artwork here is stunning. For me, I prefer fun and cocky Green Arrow to angry and brooding Green Arrow. Not that I don’t want emotional conflict in my superhero books, but the GA stories around this time seemed to fit Batman much better than they did the Emerald Archer. Again, this might be more of a personal taste thing than anything else, but this incarnation of Green Arrow just leaves me cold.

KEEP, just barely due to the great art and the importance of the series.

Green Arrow –  The Kevin Smith Trades (Quiver/Sounds Of Violence)

So now GA has been dead for 5 years, and his son has been wearing the mantle of GA in his absence. Only problem is, he’s extremely boring. So DC decided to bring back the original, and got Kevin Smith and Phil Hester to do it.

To my surprise, there’s still a LOT to love about these trades. They require a pretty serious love of obscure DC continuity, and Kevin Smith uses every single DC character he’s ever heard of in an attempt to really bring Ollie back in style. Smith really had a knack for this character, and this arc would be the basis for Ollie Queen’s characterization for most of the next decade. There’s also plenty to hate here. Kevin Smith never met a word balloon he didn’t love to fill, and his inexperience with the medium is apparent time and time again. Every page is crammed with text and art, and the story is so busy that sometimes you forget to breathe. That being said it’s still a good “back from the dead” story, and Phil Hester’s art is what I’ll always think of when I think of Green Arrow, mostly due to his stellar work here.

KEEP

Green Arrow –  The Archer’s Quest

For the follow-up to Quiver, DC enlisted well-known novelist Brad Meltzer, to write his very first DC story. Since then he’s written numerous arcs for DC, but this may still be his best. It’s essentially a love letter to Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams famous “Hard Travelin’ Heroes” Green Arrow/Green Lantern stories of the 1970’s, and remains one of my all time favourite Green Arrow arcs. It’s a story that really shows off how many shades of grey that the character has, and is must reading for any DC fan. Phil Hester is still doing the pencils here, and still knocking it out of the park.

KEEP.

 

Green ArrowThe Judd Winick trades (Straight Shooter, City Walls, Moving Targets, Heading Into The Light, Crawling From The Wreckage, Road To Jericho)

So having guys like Kevin Smith and Brad Meltzer write your books is great when you’re trying to create interest in a character relaunch, but when it came time to finally get a permanent writer for Green Arrow, DC went to Judd Winick. Winick seems to be one of the most hated writers in comics. Now, you should take that with a grain of salt, as the same people who call for a writer’s death are also the same people who are buying every book that writer is involved with. It makes no sense, but that zombie-like habitual buyer is part of the reason why comics is in such a state of flux right now.

Now, I happen to like Winick’s writing for the most part. I find him to be an extremely character focused writer, and as such he comes up with occasionally unconventional scenarios for his characters, and his story arcs tend to focus on the emotional after effects of superheroics, rather than the actual superheroics themselves. To that end, Winick created a rich supporting cast for Ollie here (His son Connor, the new Speedy, a great new villain in Brick), and spent several years building up the notion that Ollie Queen had an extended family in the truest sense of the word.

Now, if you went to an average comic book message forum, you’d probably get a lot of people who disagree with me. Why? Because Winick puts his grown up characters in grown up situations. That’s it. It’s that simple, and the fact is that many superhero comics fans are only fans of a certain type of comic, which means that anything that challenges their narrow definition of what comic books are must be hated and feared. Probably the biggest controversy of his arc was that he gave Green Arrow’s young sidekick the HIV virus. This was an extremely gutsy move on Winick’s part, and to this day it’s stands out for me as a great example of character development. It added a lot of layers to both that character and to Green Arrow proper,

Now, that’s not to say the run is perfect. It loses steam near the end of the series, and the art is very inconsistent in places (though seemed to get better when Scott McDaniel took over the penciling duties. But all in all this was a good run for a mainstream superhero book.

KEEP

Green ArrowYear One.

Although GA is one of the most interesting characters in the DCU, he also has one of the least interesting origins in the DCU: He was rich, got stranded on an island, and then when he got off the island he became a superhero. So by that logic the cast of survivor could apply to be in the Justice League. Andy Diggle and Jock attempt to salvage something interesting out of it, but to no avail.

CULL.

 

 

Green Arrow & Black CanaryRoad To The Altar, The Wedding Album, Family Business, A League Of Their Own, Enemies List

So imagine you are an editor at DC comics. You have lots of popular characters, but lots of those characters can’t actually sustain their own books. Two of your writers have spent the last several years rebuilding two of these characters from scratch, and brought them to the point where they both have successful books that are also critically acclaimed. So what do you do? If your answer is “Cancel both books and completely fly in the face of the last 5 years of characterization and have those characters marry each other and then start a new book with the two of them that isn’t remotely as interesting as the books you cancelled?” then you should be in charge of DC Comics. Yep, they married Green Arrow and Black Canary (yes, technically they didn’t cancel Birds of Prey until later, but the removal of that character from the series was the first real nail in the coffin of that book), the two characters least likely to actually settle down in a monogamous relationship in the DCU. Batman and Superman would make a better couple. But they did it, and so it was Judd Winick’s job to salvage the baby from the bath water. While I’ve read MUCH worse, and this wasn’t a horrible series by any means, it also wasn’t great, and from the beginning of the arc the whole thing screamed “EDITORIAL MANDATE”.  I’m keeping the first arc that features the wedding, but getting rid of the rest.

The Wedding Album: KEEP. All others. CULL

Next up: Green Lantern!

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part Eight: DC Comics – Checkmate To Deadman

I know, I know. You haven’t heard of any of these people. Where’s Superman? Where’s Green Lantern? Where’s Ambush Bug? Don’t blame me, blame whomever invented the alphabet.  So I guess Al Gore. I’ve always known that I gravitate towards lesser known characters, but doing this cull has confirmed it. For example, I have exactly one trade featuring the Flash, but I have 7 trades featuring the Question. And I wonder why no no one wants to borrow my comics. The question here is why? Why do I prefer characters like Checkmate or the Question to characters like Superman or Hawkman? I’m pretty sure the answer is flexibility. If you have a character that doesn’t have millions of dollars in licenseing fees attached to it, or isn’t the hero to millions of kids, you can do more with that character. For example, you can show Kate Spencer’s Manhunter smoke cigarettes, be divorced and kill people, but still can’t show Wonder Woman kissing a boy. Or a girl. Unfortunately.  

Checkmate 3 trades (A King’s Games, Pawn Breaks, Fall Of The Wall)

Checkmate was created as DC’s answer to SHIELD in the late 80’s, essentially a spy agency dealing specifically with superhuman problems. It never really caught on, and was used sporadically until the 2000’s, when DC started to use it heavily as part of it’s Infinite Crisis storyline. Greg Rucka, the writer of the best spy comic ever in Queen & Country, took up the reigns, and gave us a short lived, but unique and interesting take on the superhero spy genre.  I really like this book, and I’m definitely keeping it. But sometimes it tries too hard to shoehorn well known DC characters into it’s storyline, and you suspect that maybe Rucka would have been better served by removing it from DC continuity even more than he already did.

Connor Hawke - Dragon’s Blood.

This was a mini series that Chuck Dixon wrote a few years ago starring Green Arrow’s son, and unfortunately like a lot of Chuck Dixon’s stuff I forgot what it was about 5 minutes after I read it. Not a bad story, but Connor isn’t anywhere near as interesting a character as his father, and can’t really hold his own book as a lead.

CULL

Deadman - The Deadman Collection

One of my all time DC favourite characters, with pencils by one of my all time favourite DC artists. Life is good. Deadman was created by Arnold Drake and Carmine Infantino for the Strange Adventure comic, but his strip was taken over soon after by Jack Miller and Neal Adams, and it’s Adam’s run on Strange Adventures that is still remembered today, and it’s what is collected here, in addition to some odds and ends by other writers and artists.

The character is still used by DC regularly, but it’s never quite gotten back to the brilliance of the original Adams stories. The premise is this: A trapeze artist becomes a sentient ghost after being killed during a performance. He’s given the opportunity to move on to Heaven, but only if he finds his killer. It’s like The Fugitive, but with more ghosts and less Tommy Lee Jones. He has the ability to temporarily posses living humans, and uses them as he tries to find his killer.

I love this book. I love it because the motivation for the character is so easily defined and explained. In fact, I’ve always thought Deadman would make a great episodic TV show for those reasons. The stories are tight, and self-contained, but usually have to do with Deadman trying to find the man who killed him. The art here defies description. Neal Adam’s Deadman is both terrifying and heartbreaking, and his art work here is a high mark of the bronze age of comics.

KEEP.

Next up: Doctor 13, Flash, and maybe even some Green Arrow!