Review: Green Lantern Corps Vol. 3: Willpower hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Since Geoff Johns relaunched the Green Lantern series in the mid-2000s, Green Lantern Corps has almost always been by its side. First by Dave Gibbons and then by Peter Tomasi, Corps has often been as good if not better than the main book. And while the series's focus characters have shifted and changed, very often due to the demands of other books across the DC Universe, this iteration of Corps has almost always been Guy Gardner's book, and a book that's presented him reasonably and well.

Guy Gardner is no doubt a difficult character to write, not in the least because his hard and sarcastic edge, bordering on buffoonery, has many times lent itself to cliche and stereotype. Beau Smith stemmed that tide in the 1990s, writing a Guy Gardner still brash and foolhardy, but with a strong moral center. Gibbons and especially Tomasi preserved this, and Green Lantern Corps Vol. 3: Willpower, Tomasi's sixth or seventh and final Corps collection, is a book that spotlights Gardner and reaffirms his character as this Green Lantern era comes to a close.

[Review contains spoilers]

All of the volume three Green Lantern books collect their individual series's parts of the "Rise of the Third Army" and "Wrath of the First Lantern" crossovers, issues #0 and #13-20, except Corps, which with the vagaries of collections has issues #0, #13, and #14 in Green Lantern Corps Vol. 2: Alpha War and issues #15-20, the first annual, and Green Lantern #20. While Alpha War has a good cliffhanger and Willpower reads as a complete volume, taken together it's clear Tomasi is writing a specific Guy Gardner story that begins in the Zero Month issue and continues to the finale.

That Zero Month issue is the reader's first post-Flashpoint introduction to Gardner's family. Previously, Gardner was the son of an abusive father, would have been a football star if not for an injury, and feuded with his older brother Mace after becoming a Green Lantern. This time around, Gardner still has a strained relationship with his father, but because a controversial decision got Gardner kicked off the police force, whereas Gardner's father, brother Gerard, and sister Gloria are all cops.

Though Gardner's old origin worked at the time, especially for Beau Smith and Chuck Dixon's rebuilding of the character, Tomasi's draws a straighter line to what being a Green Lantern means to Gardner -- a way to serve in the tradition of his family even if he can't be a police officer. In issues #13-14, the beginning of the "Third Army" story, the reader finds Gardner's family status quo pretty much unchanged; Gardner has to return to Earth to protect his father, brother, and sister, the latter two still on the force, from a vengeful enemy. Though it comes late in Tomasi's run, this also gives Gardner a supporting cast, and humanizes him a bit in demonstrating a brother and sister who love and get along with him.

Alpha War ends with Gardner kicked out of the Corps due to the Guardians' machinations, and again that's a suitable cliffhanger even as this book picks up where that left off, with Gardner trying to be a hero even without his ring. Unfortunately, this leads to his interrupting a sting operation spearheaded by his sister, and Gardner's siblings must put him in jail. With this, the reader begins to realize that the Gardner family's earlier appearance was not just a tool by which Tomasi could illuminate Gardner's motivations, but rather they are recurring characters important to this final story.

Such begins the kind of push-and-pull in Willpower that's somewhat indicative of how the Green Lantern Corps series have been all along. The meat of Tomasi's story (and where artist Fernando Pasarin shines best) would seem to be Gardner's arrest by his sister, the family fighting together against the Third Army, Gardner's flashbacks to why he had to leave the police force, and his reconciling with his family. Interspersed with that, however, are enjoyable but less effective space-faring issues in which Gardner and the Corps face off against one enemy or the other. These are necessary such to connect Corps to the other Green Lantern titles, but I'd as soon just have read a book about Guy Gardner and his family.

Of the four Green Lantern books involved in the two crossovers, Willpower probably reads among the best on its own. There is a little back and forth between Willpower and Green Lantern Vol. 3: The End in the "Third Army" chapters, but Willpower can probably still be understood on its own; Willpower benefits from having both the conclusion of the "Third Army" storyline, Green Lantern Corps Annual #1, and Green Lantern #20 (the end of the "First Lantern" story) both included, so it's less necessary to flip between this book and the others if one isn't inclined to do so.

The "First Lantern" issues especially (#17-20) remind me a bit of Tomasi's part of the "Blackest Night" Corps crossover -- largely separated from the main action, and largely involving the sentient Green Lantern planet Mogo saving the day. The conceit of "First Lantern," evinced in most of the titles issues #17-18, is that the First Lantern can view alternate timelines -- so Corps looks at the possible lives of Guy Gardner and then John Stewart, New Guardians looks at the lives of Kyle Rayner and then Carol Ferris, etc. Tomasi uses the Gardner issue well, bringing the book around again to Gardner's family, and really showing less what might have happened and more what actually did happen when a tough call ended Gardner's police career. In revealing this in issue #17, Tomasi shows good command of the pace in which he rolled out Gardner's full story.

Weaker, I thought, was the John Stewart issue. I like Stewart and the enemy-turned-ally Star Sapphire Fatality, though their romance seems too pat and too easy. I also haven't liked Stewart's angsty, hard-luck turn on this title since Tony Bedard's tenure, where it seemed like Stewart ultimately had to kill anyone who went out on a mission with him. In issue #19, Tomasi moves the Corps to Mogo where they "fight their own demons," essentially an issue standing still that marks time until Green Lantern #20's conclusion and Corps #20's epilogue.

That final Corps issue, again, is Gardner with his family, trying to adjust to some kind of normal life on Earth before he again sets out to the stars as a Green Lantern. This is inevitable, and just as it should be; Tomasi must leave vague, for the benefit of the next team, just what comes next for Gardner, but we get a sense of Gardner being more at peace with himself (maybe?) even as he returns to ring-slinging.

Peter Tomasi's Green Lantern Corps has been one of my favorite titles for just short of ten years now (and especially with artist Patrick Gleason -- if you haven't read Emerald Eclipse, go do yourself a favor and pick it up), and I'm sorry to see that come to an end. With Green Lantern Corps Vol. 3: Willpower, however, Tomasi puts a great exclamation point on the story he's been telling of Guy Gardner all along. One can only hope future writers will take this as a textbook for how Gardner should be written in the future.

[Includes original covers, gatefold covers #19 and Green Lantern #20, cover sketches, and script and pencils pages.]

Next week, keeping on the Green Lantern theme for a bit with New Guardians, and then Injustice: Gods Among Us Vol. 2.
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