Green Lantern Corps Vol. 2: Alpha War is just plain great, in the spirit of some of Tomasi's successful Corps stories past.
Tomasi has always written a good Guy Gardner, but in the two adventures collected here Tomasi's Gardner crackles on the page, not to mention Tomasi's pretty fantastic new origin for Gardner and how Tomasi ties that origin to the present action. This is stellar stuff.
[Review contains spoilers]
Following events in a variety of Green Lantern titles (including some pre-New 52), Alpha War's two stories each turn significantly on the Guardian's manipulation of the Corps toward trying to get the Corps to crumble from within. In "Alpha War," the Guardians' target is their in-Corps police force the Alpha Lanterns (with Gardner and Lantern John Stewart as their pawns); in the first two chapters of "Rise of the Third Army," the target is Gardner himself.
In both stories Tomasi crafts a wonderfully intricate plot in which the characters believe they act of their own volition, but are instead manipulated by the Guardians. Though this does cause some repetitious overlap between the two stories, Tomasi's Guardians are so underhanded, and the moral quandaries to which they subject the heroes so engaging, that the reader will hardly mind the book's extended encore.
Alpha War offers a fine, though at the same time unfortunate, comeuppance for Guy Gardner. Gardner is an accomplished Lantern, worthy of praise, though his brash attitude has often put him at odds with the Guardians. Here, the Guardians finally give Gardner his deserved recognition, promoting him to Lantern Sentinel, and Gardner in his hubris accepts -- never suspecting that the promotion is a Guardian ploy to bring about Gardner's downfall. There's a great mix here -- of Gardner's pride, of the rightful yet tragic promotion -- that demonstrates Tomasi's clear understanding of the character.
Even better is Tomasi's Zero Month issue (perhaps the best Zero Month issue I've read so far), in which he provides a new origin for Gardner. Gone are Gardner's previous beginnings, which have become confused with time (something about an abusive parent, a brother in a coma, and a super-soldier-type program, maybe); now Gardner's origin is more mundane but relatable, the black sheep son in a family full of law enforcement. Gardner's attitude, his dedication to heroism, and even his odd costume all make sense now.
Further, the argument Tomasi depicts between Gardner and his father is pure brilliance; I tell you, nine out of ten writers would simply have had two talking heads yelling at one another, and it's a rare mind like Tomasi's that would have Gardner take his father's cane and start smashing photos on the wall as they argued.
And what's more is how Tomasi allows the Zero Month issue to function on its own, but it also leads in to the two "Rise of the Third Army" issues. Tomasi trumps the end of Geoff Johns's first Green Lantern series, in which a frustrated Hal Jordan returns to Earth stripped of his ring; Gardner suffers the same fate, but the final page with Garnder crying against the self-same motorcycle from the Zero Month issue is considerably more heartbreaking, and ties the present issues superbly with the one set in the past.
My gripes about Tomasi's New 52 Corps have to do with the level of violence in the book, and the seeming lack of any good examination of the violence within the story. I am fairly certain that Tomasi himself wrote Guy Gardner's avowal not to take a life after the Guardians permitted the execution of Sinestro Corpsmen (pre-New 52), and it's hard to rectify that with Gardner's killing two Sinestro Corpsmen in Green Lantern Corps Vol. 1: Fearsome and then murdering Alpha Lanterns in this volume.
Both books deal heavily with John Stewart killing another Green Lantern before that Lantern could crack under torture, and in the final sum Tomasi seems to suggest that murder was justified. I had hoped this second Corps volume would take some critical look at the violence in the first and in that way mitigate it, but instead Tomasi doubles-down. In the New 52, Tomasi writes Corps as a military/war book rather than a cosmic/superheroic book, and it doesn't sit well with me, a kind of Man of Steel-ization of Green Lantern Corps that I don't like. (Thankfully, Tomasi at least acknowledges in-story the ridiculous preponderance of blood on Stewart's hands, often in the name of "mercy killings.")
The plot-generated violence in the book is joined by a constant amount of seemingly gratuitous gore in these pages as well; see, for instance, the overly bloody manner in which Gardner's fellow recruits die in the Zero Month issue. Tomasi's Corps stories have always been excessively violent (his Batman and Robin, too) and I have at times praised Tomasi's targeted use of gore; all of that, however, was with Patrick Gleason on art chores. Gleason's is a semi-cartoony style, such that the gore is at the same time shocking and also muted; with Fernando Pasarin's more realistic style, however, I think the gore begins to distract.
My preference would still be Gleason on this book, but Pasarin grew on me a little here. There's a sameness and static-ness to his figures that still rubs me the wrong way, but some of his crowd scenes had clear shades of George Perez that helped me better see how Pasarin "fits" with this title.
As has happened before with the Green Lantern franchise, I had all but given up on Green Lantern Corps, but Green Lantern Corps Vol. 2: Alpha War, as they say, has pulled me back in. Given that this is Tomasi's penultimate volume of the series, I'm glad to see it hit such a high note (despite my concerns); I'm eager for but also regretful of the coming finale.
[Includes original covers, sketch pages by Fernando Pasarin, scripts by Tomasi with sketch page comparisons]
New reviews coming soon!