If ever one was lead to believe that comic books are just ten minutes of escapist entertainment, the first volume of Tales of the Green Lantern Corps argues firmly in the other direction.
It's not just because the stories collected here are each in their own way thoughtful deconstructions of the Green Lantern concept -- though they are. Rather, it's because there are concepts introduced in this book that are still in use thirty years later -- letting alone writers and artists involved with these original stories who still influence the Green Lantern titles today. Comics may not yet have fully achieved mainstream status, but in this story that's continued for more than half a century, I see evidence of an unrecognized American mythology.
Tales of the Green Lantern Corps volume one collects Mike Barr's three-issue Green Lantern Corps miniseries from 1981, and the Corps back-up stories from 1981 to 1983. I missed these books the first time and only came to Green Lantern shortly before Emerald Twilight, but it's amazing how recognizable the characters are in this book -- Arisia (making her first appearance), Stel, and Green Man are here (as are later deceased Lanterns Katma Tui, Tomar-Re, and Ch'p), as well as the villain Krona and the Spider Guild. It's hard to believe that thirty years later, these characters still fight beside Green Lantern Hal Jordan; it's a benefit of the comics medium that for the most part we can't see in television or in movies.
The issues collected here build themselves directly on stories written previously, just as these events and characters would be used by writers later -- Arisia, for instance, continues into a number of Green Lantern Corps and Justice League books, Beau Smith's Guy Gardner: Warrior, and ultimately Geoff Johns and Dave Gibbons' Green Lantern and Corps. Some would argue that this constant reusing of characters limits creativity and story growth, but I love the breadth of the tapestry, that one can read the latest crossover or stories thirty years old and still find something familiar; the monthly relay race of continuing stories, as demonstrated by Tales of the Green Lantern Corps through to the current Green Lantern title, deserves more credit even than what it's already beginning to receive.
In terms of readability, while dated, Tales of the Green Lantern Corps holds up fairly well. The three-issue miniseries is somewhat simplistic and spends much of the first and second chapters recounting the origins of the Green Lantern Corps, which will be familiar to modern readers but might not have been at that time; one bright point is that the story focuses on Hal Jordan's classic heroism in the end, as well again as all the familiar Lantern characters.
The Corps back-up stories might at one point have annoyed me given their loose connection to any main plot, but in this collection -- with the purpose of spotlighting the variety of the Lanterns -- they shine. Especially intriguing is the way each story bends the familiar Lantern concept; one story offers a Green Lantern forbidden by her culture to use violence, while two others follow Lanterns placed in forced retirement by the Guardians, something we rarely hear about today. A couple of Lanterns actually die before the end of their stories, and indeed I checked my copy of Tales of the Sinestro Corps -- all of them are there in the Green Lantern memorial spread.
A few of these stories are actually pencilled by Gibbons, who thirty years later took a hand in introducing the Green Lantern Corps to a new audience (including me). Brian Bolland drew covers for the Green Lantern Corps miniseries back then, and returns to cover the new collection now. There's also stories by long-time DC editor Paul Kupperberg, and renown artist Carmine Infantino.
I do wish DC Comics had included Green Lantern #163, which is the first part of a "Green Magic" series, since they include the second and third parts. The stories are not inextricably tied -- the second part explains, somewhat vaguely, what happened in the first -- but they still feel unfinished, and the third part's cliffhanger is entirely unclear. At base it's the story of a young Green Lantern from an island of persecuted magic users, and the uncommon combination of Green Lanterns and swords and sorcery makes for an intriguing combination, unfortunately left incomplete in this volume.
A shared universe has its pitfalls, no doubt, but among its benefits are a sense of heritage and tradition -- Johns inherits, for instance, what Barr set up before him -- and also continuity, not in the "does Jimmy have a consistent broken arm this month?" sense, but in that a character that you read yesterday is still around today and could still be around tomorrow. If you're in to that kind of thing, I think the first volume of Tales of the Green Lantern Corps is worth taking a look.
[Contains full covers]
Coming up next -- as we start the countdown to the Blackest Night collections, a little more Green Lantern ...