Review: Green Lantern Vol. 4: Dark Days hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

When Geoff Johns's run ended on Green Lantern, I took a little hiatus from the title. For one, I wanted to properly recognize and process the end of a run I'd been reading for almost 10 years, one which really changed the whole landscape of the DC Comics universe in its wake. For another, Green Lantern and its related titles in the run-up to the conclusion had seen a number of inter-series crossovers -- no less than two in a row at the end, deservedly or not -- and I needed to let go some of that event fatigue, especially since the new Lantern titles would also almost immediately feature a crossover, the first of quite a few.

It is, counterintuitively, DC Comics's announcement of the cancellation of almost all of the Green Lantern titles that has brought me back. My event fatigue had waned (and my interest grown, with the new Green Lantern/New Gods crossover "Godhead"), and the fact that if I started reading now, there would indeed be an end sooner than ten years from now was a great panacea. And so, I cracked open Robert Venditti's Green Lantern Vol. 4: Dark Days.

Ultimately I liked this book more than I thought I would. Hal Jordan is a tough character to write -- especially the stubborn, impetuous, playboy version of recent years -- and what I enjoyed about Venditti's take is outweighed well enough by some details that bugged me. I certainly think that, in terms of the Green Lantern mythos, Venditti adds elements that seem perfectly compatible with Johns's multi-hued epic and take the stories in a different but believable direction. And the hints of New Gods involvement even this early on don't hurt my excitement, either.

What's notable here -- maybe for the best, maybe for the worst -- is that the parts of Dark Days that hum for me the most are the ones that do indeed involve crossover with the other Green Lantern titles, and less so the parts that don't. Will Green Lantern work for me as a title on its own, as Johns's often did (and Peter Tomasi's Green Lantern Corps even more so), or does it only work as part of the whole? Fortunately or not, crossovers seem more the norm in these new Green Lantern runs than independence does, so maybe the concern is moot. Either way, I'm pleased I gave Dark Days a try.

[Review contains spoilers]

Venditti wisely adheres to but also slips the reins of what Johns established before him by making the Lanterns' threat du jour a "Relic" from another universe similar but different from our own. As it turns out, Relic's claim that the various Corps deplete a finite wellspring of energy when they use their rings appears to be true but isn't fully substantiated, perhaps giving later writers an "out" if they don't want to use what Venditti has established. I definitely have to give Venditti credit for not making it easy on himself, turning the defining characteristic of these characters, the Lantern constructs, into something the characters now have to be hesitant to use; that surely makes for difficult Lantern storytelling.

Through the involvement of this other universe, Venditti is able to immediately distinguish his run from Johns's by using an entirely different vocabulary, most notably "Lightsmiths" for the Lanterns and "resolve" instead of "willpower." The basic definitions are the same, but I thought Venditti succeeded in taking some concepts that had begun to feel stale after ten years and making them sound fresh again. Relic himself fits right in to the pantheon of Green Lantern rogues in the scientist-turned-cosmic-terror vein of Krona and others.

That Lantern power might not be infinite seems to me a logical concept that no one's explored before but that doesn't conflict with Johns or others; there's also a nicely topical environmental element to it. Dually interesting are the ideas that the Green Lanterns now have to debate before using their rings whether it's truly necessary or not, and also now that some Lanterns have sworn off their rings while still intending to be Corps members. That Hal decides to police multi-hued ring use while at the same time using his ring is weirdly hypocritical, and it was mostly but not entirely clear to me that Venditti recognizes the irony in-story. How exactly Hal intends to enforce his mandates long-term seemed vague, but I do like the tension Venditti has raised among the Corps.

Hal's poorly-conceived pronouncements, however, aren't the only aspect of the character that felt "off" to me, and that's part of the reason I'm not sure if the problem is Hal, purposefully in-story, or Venditti's external conception of the character. There's a poor scene in the beginning where Carol breaks up with Hal for muddy reasons that boil down to "Hal doesn't love me as much as his ring"; it reflects badly on Carol and also ignores much of the development in Hal and Carol's relationship, blurry as that was, in the final volumes of Johns's run. And then later on Venditti portrays Hal as ridiculously jealous of the friendship between Carol and White Lantern Kyle Rayner, which comes off as forced machismo and ignorant of the long-standing friendship between Hal and Kyle. I'm hopeful Venditti is hinting at some mind-control affecting Hal, otherwise I think his portrayal of Hal himself reads a tad childish.

Much as I like the beginning and middle material involving Relic (the "Lights Out" crossover), some of the "filler" material didn't work as well. Venditti introduces the villain Nol-Ang, "Prixiam" (princess) of a planet of outlaws, but he introduces her as if Hal and the other Lanterns have battled her before, which caused me some confusion in the first issues. We're told repeatedly what bad guys Nol-Ang's Braidmen are, though I'm not sure we see them commit many crimes per se. After the Lanterns rollicking battle against Relic, new Corps leader Hal going off to arrest Nol-Ang feels like small potatoes (even if it's supposed to), and his eventual summoning of the entire Corps like overkill (even if it's also supposed to). This seemed to me like a story maybe right for Green Lantern Corps, not Green Lantern proper, and left me rather eager for bigger stakes in the next crossover, "Uprising," to come.

But again, what landed for me in Green Lantern Vol. 4: Dark Days was more than what didn't, and I'm enthusiastic to continue reading the debut volumes by the new Green Lantern-family creative teams. Aside from the deft creativity involved, I neglected to mention Vendetti's Green Lantern is funny, too, with some maybe-juvenile but humorous one-liners (Hal's reference to a planet with "a fart for an atmosphere"). And I can't deny there's a thrill seeing the four Earth Lanterns side-by-side again, squaring off against a foe. I've been away from the Green Lantern titles for a while; it's good to be back.

Next week, Green Lantern Corps and more.
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  1. I liked Lights Out and the build-up to it, although I agree that the Hal/Carol break-up was poorly handled. What I really couldn't warm up to is Billy Tan's unexciting art. I'll never understand how he got so many plum assignments at Marvel (including Uncanny X-Men, New Avengers and the Shadowland event) to the point that DC decided to poach him and hand him one of their biggest books.

    After this crossover, this current Green Lantern era only went downhill for me, but I'd rather elaborate on that once you review the next two volumes.

    1. It went exactly the same for me, shagamu. I enjoyed Lights Out (quite a bit, actually) and kept with Green Lantern for a few more months based on that, but my enjoyment quickly faded. I'm glad I dropped GL, because I was tired of the constant events that had crossed over into EVERY Green Lantern title for the previous few years, and which continued until now.

  2. I actually liked Uprising better than Lights Out.