Review: Greeen Lantern Corps Vol. 4: Rebuild trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, January 19, 2015

I am maybe overly picky about my Green Lantern Corps titles, given that the Peter Tomasi/Patrick Gleason run on the title ranks as some of my favorite comics ever. That said, it was always going to be tough for new series writers Van Jensen and Robert Venditti, with artist Bernard Chang, to really wow me with Green Lantern Corps Vol. 4: Rebuild. Indeed I did not love this book and found it less strong than Venditti's Green Lantern Vol. 4: Dark Days, but I liked it enough to keep reading up to the book's cancellation later this year.

[Review contains spoilers]

I fully recognize artist Chang's long career in the comics industry and the legion of fans of his work. Without intending to take away from that, I have to say that one of the major drawbacks of Rebuild for me was the art. Characters are neither poorly drawn nor disproportionate, but Chang's style has a simplicity and animation that I simply didn't like in portraying the Corps characters (Gleason, arguably, has a similar sparse and animated style, but with more "grit," giving the art an extra punch).

In the first pages there's a lot of what I felt were too-big close-ups of Green Lantern John Stewart and Star Sapphire Yrra's faces, and later on too many clenched mouths and sparse, overly angular backgrounds. Also I didn't feel Corps was inked and colored as well as it could be. There are too-dark panels, and at times Lantern constructs are colored a solid green-white with no varying tones; some flashback sequences have a harsh orange overlay that seemed a poor choice against all the green. All of this did not ruin the book for me, but in parts where Rebuild's story was weaker, neither did I feel the art ever helped bolster the book's story.

One positive aspect of Rebuild right off is that the writers make good use, fairly quickly, of Lanterns Vath, Isamot, Iolande, and Natu. They are all former stars of the Green Lantern: Rebirth-era Corps title, somewhat neglected in later years, and the writers include enough references to those adventures to signal they're familiar with them, too. The writers do especially well giving Natu an early scene that recognizes and puts in some context the recent loss of her homeworld and the revelation that she's Sinestro's daughter. The others don't receive specific storylines per se (and the writers perhaps over-emphasize Vath's disagreeable personality), but I was heartened to see them here.

Another good sign is that Jensen and Venditti introduce new Lantern recruits who are interesting and offer a lot of story potential. The breakout stars are surely Jruk of Oranx and Feska of Zarox. Jruk hails from a warrior planet where even political debates are solved in a gladiatorial arena; Jruk's confusion over the concept of diplomacy endears him to the reader, and there's plenty of story potential in his dealing with his lost arm and also now being cast out as a pariah from his home. Feska, more even-tempered, makes for a good partner to Jruk, and I appreciated that the writers introduce a Lantern who's a single mother and has to leave her child with relatives to fight for the Corps, not unlike the sacrifices made by our real military.

To that end, the final chapters of the book that deal with Jruk's homeworld and with sudden attacks on all the Lantern Sector Houses are the most engaging, because they utilize these characters the best. In contrast to Green Lantern Vol. 4: Dark Days, where the first and fifth parts of the "Lights Out" crossover were among the most exciting chapters, Rebuild includes "Lights Out" parts two and five without any explanatory text pages, and there's some significant jumps between chapters where characters appear in entirely different situations; I was a bit confused and disoriented even having read Dark Days. Rebuild, as opposed to Dark Days, works better when it's telling its own stories.

Unfortunately, I thought Rebuild's stories on average were weaker than the aforementioned Tomasi work. All the Green Lantern-family titles these days are mostly given over to the shape-shifting Durlan storyline, and it causes Rebuild to be repetitious -- the Lanterns get a distress call about some natural disaster or attack, they go to a planet, they fight the Durlans or some Durlan-inspired enemy (often the Khunds), they go home. The writers' own "Lights Out" crossover doesn't give them time to tell any detailed stories, and so the book lacks the strong political intrigue or espionage-type tales that made Green Lantern Corps's previous recent iterations so good. The bright spot, as I mentioned, is when the writers dig into the planet Oranx's culture, but here again the title only gives it an issue before it's off to something else.

Rebuild includes a "Batman: Zero Year" tie-in issue. It's an odd choice, and odder still that at least the Batgirl and Batwoman issues involve a bit of vigilantism and the Flash issue has Barry as a police detective, but the Corps issue lacks any sort of cosmic science-fiction-y elements. The story regards Marine John Stewart in a Hurricane Katrina-like situation as his squadron faces resistance trying to rescue people from a pseudo-Superdome. Some might appreciate this look at Stewart's past, but the lack of overt Lantern-type content made it feel generic to me, not authentically about John Stewart. Though the overriding message is that Stewart needed to question the Marines (and now the Corps), the story uses a trite too-violent lieutenant and bloodthirsty soldiers in a way that made its larger points about community organizing, police violence, the trauma of Katrina, and etc. seem reductive.

Green Lantern Corps Vol. 4: Rebuild ends on a cliffhanger as it bounds from the "Lights Out" crossover now toward the "Uprising" crossover. Given the relative strength of the final two issues and my interest in the "Durlans are everywhere" storyline (with shades of the Changelings invading Deep Space Nine), I'm inclined to keep reading; that I know there's a stopping point when the title ends this summer helps considerably. Under the new team Green Lantern Corps does not achieve its former glory, but I do appreciate that the writers acknowledge and also seem to be fans of what came before.

[Includes original covers]

Later this week, a new team takes over Green Lantern: New Guardians.
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  1. I liked Chang's art on Superman and Supergirl, when he was paired with colorist Blond. On this book, however, he was paired with Marcelo Maiolo, whose colors manage the feat of being of being flat and overbearing at the same time. Nowadays, I'm especially annoyed by go-to gimmick of highlighting certain "impact" panels by coloring them only with red and white. When he does that with Andrea Sorrentino's chiaroscuro art, it works, but with any other artist, it falls completely flat.

    Also, Jensen has a tendency to cram a lot of panels and dialogue in every page, and thanks to that, Chang rarely has a chance to draw the kind of splashy visuals Tomasi gave Gleason and Pasarin when he was writing the book. As for the Durlan storyline, it does get less repetitive and more filled with politics and espionage in the next volume, but I think they let it run for way too long.

    1. Funny you should mention Andrea Sorrentino (and, presumably, Green Arrow), because that's a title where I really like the artist, but I have found some of the off-palette panels too harsh and overbearing in much the same way -- colors that clash, colors without sufficient depth, etc. It's sometimes tough to tell issue-by-issue in a trade who's coloring, but I'm interested to hear that what I'm noticing may be due to a colorist's style that I don't favor.

  2. I think the GLC books got stronger during the Uprising crossover. That being said, I was reading them as single issues where the intersection with the main GL book was natural.

  3. GLC was the book I liked least of the four after the creative team changes. But it still had some good stuff in it, so I will continue reading. Strangely I found the the John/Fatality moments to be the strongest part of this collection.
    As soon as I have all phase 5 GL collections together (still waiting for New Guardians) I will get into them.

    1. "Phase 5" -- I like it. How are you counting the "phases"?

  4. :)

    Well, since the New52 started, the collected editions of those titles always came in phases. The first collection was Justice League, Vol. 1 on 2012-05-02. The last New52 vol. 1 collections were Captain Atom and DC Universe presents on 2012-11-28. So the period from May to November of 2012 is phase 1.
    The second phase was January - August 2013, which included all the second volumes of the first wave, plus the first volumes of the second wave, like Batma, Inc and Dial H.
    Phase 3 was September '13 until February '14 and included all third collections of the first wave and so on. The fourth phase was March - August 2014.

    And here we are now at the end of phase 5 (September '14 - February '15). By now we have volume 5 of alle the first wave New52 titles like Justice League, some volume 4 collections like Earth 2, some volume 3 collections like Phantom stranger and even some volume 2 collections like Batman/Superman. Plus some volume 1 collections like Superman/Wonder Woman, all in phase 5.

    And since the GL stories are so interlocking, I wait until I have all the collections to read them.

  5. I gave all 3 of the Lantern books (I don't read New Guardians) 5 or 6 issues to try the new creative teams. I dropped all 3 books. The post Johns/Tomasi era is just sad & you can see the results w/ Red Lanterns, GL Corps & New Guardians all being cancelled. I just wish they would get a better team for the main GL book.