Review: The Green Lantern Season Two Vol. 1 hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Sunday, December 13, 2020

If you are not a fan of Grant Morrison psychedelica, fragmented narratives and deep, deep references to the most obscure stories of yore, here's where you might want to get off. Morrison and Liam Sharp's The Green Lantern Season Two Vol. 1 hurtles headfirst, gleefully, into bright green weirdness; one senses here not so much the philosophical treaties of books like Final Crisis or even Morrison's Batman run, but rather a bacchanalia of whatever the Silver and Bronze Ages ever threw at Hal Jordan. We've seen this kind of celebration of the eccentric before — in Morrison's Batman, in his All-Star Superman — but here Morrison's Hal Jordan barrels through it mostly unfazed, a dashing straight man in this weird, weird world.

One could spend hours looking up every reference Morrison makes in this book (or find a handy annotation) or one can simply resign themselves to the twisty strangeness and go along with it. But this is not a book looking to kowtow to the reader's demands, not a book looking to explain or make excuses for itself. Anyone insisting on sense within these pages (at least, sense coming easy), turn back now.

[Review contains spoilers]

The three-issue Blackstars miniseries that bridged The Green Lantern's two seasons (which I'm glad was included here) is probably the most comprehendible of the book; after that, we are immediately deep into 1960s-1970s Green Lantern esoterica. Though this is not to say there are not overarching plots among Morrison's The Green Lantern series — often rearing their heads, as we saw toward the end of Season One, when they're least expected — this book follows the last volume's trend toward one-off stories, more follow-up to whichever old Green Lantern story Morrison's roulette wheel lands on than issue-to-issue narrative. That's fine, mind you; in a world where six-issue plots are the norm to a fault, a series of one-offs under a general umbrella is a nice change — especially, unusually, within the confines of a limited "maxi-series."

Among one of those overarching plots is that almost no sooner does Hal declare himself happier out in the stars than confined to Earth, than he's ordered to Earth "on stakeout" indefinitely. Whether Morrison intends this or not, having Hal state outright that "Earth feels like my backyard when I was a kid — before I knew there was a whole big world out there" helps settle an inconsistency about Hal from a little ways back. In the modern Green Lantern era, Geoff Johns' Hal started out largely earthbound, with a conspiracy about alien tech on Earth and a new pilot girlfriend, Jillian "Cowgirl" Pearlman; back in the "One Year Later" era, the two were even briefly prisoners of war together. In an in medias res about-face — which I believe came from Johns' sudden good idea for the Sinestro Corps War and the multi-colored corps that followed — Hal left Earth, rarely ever to return, and without much of in-story explanation. Morrison at least makes Hal's life out in space intentional, and then the irony of some of Hal's aforementioned earthbound supporting cast appearing (Jillian, Shane "Rocket-Man" Sellers) feels like having our cake and eating it too.

In this volume, especially, we see Morrison crafting again — whether intentionally or not — what feels like the fruition of Hal's stories since Johns' Green Lantern: Rebirth. In Season One (and even into the Blackstars story), there was that old flirtation with "Hal Jordan's gone bad, Hal's the Lantern that the others don't trust," though fortunately we were shown early and often that this was a ruse. In Season Two, Hal is lauded by the other Lanterns right from the start, we get a better sense of his place in things (out among the stars, preferably, even if he's sent to wait on Earth), and Hal gets an upgraded ring with almost godlike powers. We are near angst- and indecision-free as Hal hops from mission to mission (and often, dalliance to dalliance); in this book, Hal is truly the greatest Green Lantern, and this feels full circle from the time when it wasn't true, to when Hal was fighting for the title, to now that it's so true on the page that it barely even needs to be discussed.

"Dalliances" might be another connecting thread in this book, as among the stories we see the returns of Jillian, Eve Doremus, and Olivia Reynolds, each involved with or at least femme fatales at some point in Hal's life. All — Eve and Jillian, at least — seem to take Hal for the cad he is, with an appropriate lack of angst here too as Hal roams from town to town. In no small way, the appearance of all these minor loves in Hal's life underscores the fact that we haven't seen (our universe's) Carol Ferris in this series; she is the "hole in things," as Morrison is wont to say, the negative space made visible by the outline of the others. With six issues to go, I don't know if Morrison means to fill that space — and I'm not sure if this book needs the drama that Carol's appearance might bring — but I am curious what Morrison's take on Carol would be like.

For sheer weirdness value, I'll give the prize to issue #2 (this book's fifth chapter), "The Cosmidor Conspiracy." I wouldn't dare to try to explain everything that happens here, except that it's a riff on Green Lantern #58 from the late 1960s by Gardner Fox and Gil Kane, and involves Hal's sometimes-girlfriend Eve and her father's techno-forward creation, Cosmidor City. From there, I am much less able to reconcile the ancient alien bird whistle that causes every character to taken on stilted, lofty manners of speech; the sentient, tentacled, mind-controlling masks (drawn in gruesome detail by Sharp); or the baby dino-bird hatchlings who latch on to Hal and later, inexplicably grown and costumed, save his life. It is a must to turn one's brain off at this point; trying to piece together what's happening panel to panel would undoubtedly spoil the fun, but rather the whole mad experience should just be experienced and let go.

Sharp continues to demonstrate himself a talented chameleon in the pages of Morrison's Season Two. There is the attractive, straightforward work of the first chapters — which, not to undersell it, often involves Sharp doing his best Neal Adams impression. Then there's Sharp coloring himself in the issue that brings back Jillian — a totally different, photorealistic look for Sharp that echoes Simone Bianchi from that selfsame era of Geoff Johns' Green Lantern that the issue calls back to. Finally, Sharp goes to simple Silver Age-y lines (and some moire pattern effects) for Hal's battle with a Hyper-Family clipped from the funny pages. All of it provides a perfect canvas for Morrison's on-page looniness to unfold.

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4.0

Rating

From the Blackstars to raging cloud pets to a grotesque alien toy store, Grant Morrison and Liam Sharp's The Green Lantern Season Two Vol. 1 throws sense out the window and lets imagination reign — and, of course, imagination is a Green Lantern's superpower. And just when you think Morrison's gone too far, a quick search and you'll find a tie to some story decades earlier; if Morrison's "going weird," he's going weird on the backs of those who went there before. Again, very much in the style of the previous volume (which brought the return of "Xeen Arrow," let's not forget), The Green Lantern remains a raucous celebration of one of the quintessential Silver Age sci-fi heroes. Strap in for what Morrison's going to do for a finale.

[Includes original and variant covers, Sharp pencils and connected covers]

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2 comments:

  1. The brilliance of Morrison finally agreeing to tackle Green Lantern is that he so effortlessly proved himself wrong. He didn’t think the material was that interesting. But Green Lantern is about as pure superhero storytelling as you’re ever likely to find. Free of the constraints he barely acknowledged but still had to abide by with Superman and Batman, he gets to cut loose completely. This is stuff fans will be digging years from now. It’s not just Morrison being weird for the sake of being weird. I think he definitely indulges that in other work because he thinks that’s what fans expect from him, and he loves to indulge that image. But at heart there’s really no bigger fan of the medium than Grant Morrison, who never lets himself get bogged down by expectations. And sometimes it’s easy to get into and sometimes it isn’t. Actually, more often than not it isn’t, but it’s rarely a fault of the material, even though flummoxed readers often decide so.

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  2. There's an old Silver Age Flash story that had intelligent human headed birds on prehistoric Earth. I think it's Flash 125 and the first appearance of the cosmic treadmill. And of course they were never explained and probably never mentioned again. That's what I assumed the weird bird people were a reference too

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