Review: Far Sector trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Of late I begin to wonder if the best Green Lantern stories aren’t Green Lantern stories — Tom King’s Omega Men comes to mind, and now N. K. Jemisin’s Far Sector. Each of those has been better than the last vestiges of Hal Jordan’s derring-do, when the deeper we went the more inscrutable Jordan’s character became. Jemisin accomplishes here what Lantern writers have been trying to do for a while, stripping away all the cruft (not to mention bravado) that’s built up on the property over the years while still keeping the core of the Lantern mythos that clearly has so much untapped potential. With new Lantern Sojourner “Jo” Mullein, Jemisin spins the kind of dedicated space yarn that should be the rule, not the exception, for Green Lantern stories.

[Review contains spoilers]

Blessedly, Far Sector doesn’t make us choose between style and substance. Among what the story has going for it is Jemisin’s extensive world-building, on a level that demonstrates Jemisin’s formidable skills as a fantasy writer. There’s an entire planetary platform system here and three different species, each with their own cultures, cuisines, and political strife, not to mention history that goes back generations. Jemisin offers just enough of the everyday to ground us — broadly speaking, the species are animal, vegetable, and technological, and there, in-story cultural coincidence sees the computer beings called “At-Ats,” for instance — even as alienness abounds. (Also that cat videos are commerce.) Fans of Ursula Le Guin and Robert Heinlein will be familiar with the hard work required of the reader in the beginning to grok these societies.

Bridging that gap as well, however, is the style — Jemisin and artist Jamal Campbell bringing us the coolest Green Lantern in franchise history. There’s no small amount of Janelle Monae (rather a lot, actually) in the madcap sci-fi setting, but also the dressed to the nines Lantern in big glasses and buttoned-up-neat coat. Jo is also every-person, every-nerd — so confident are the creators in this character that her down-time can stand toe-to-toe with her superheroics, hence Jo relaxing in her pajamas on only the second-issue cover. Jo may struggle with the City Enduring’s culture, but not so much that she can’t enjoy their dirty fanfic.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Too, Jemisin’s intro pages are as often Lantern Guardian missives as they are random riffs on movie tropes — The Matrix, melodramatic romance, zombies — apropos of nothing and with only metaphorical connection to the story. This absurdity is a reminder that this is just a comic book and it’s OK to have a little fun, an intentional taking the piss out that also differentiates this from other self-serious Green Lantern books.

There’s plenty political metaphor in Far Sector, perhaps or perhaps not too much. Sector flits from societal ill to societal ill so quickly that the story feels less like a metaphor for any one thing than that there are just echoes of modern problems — disenfranchised voters, as one example, or an impoverished majority due to the self-serving decisions of the ruling minority. Depending on what you want, it might be better that Sector doesn’t feel heavy handed on any one topic, or it might be worse (police brutality, for instance, appears but gets a relatively short shrift). Most pointed, I thought, was the warehouse of people enslaved to make memes for others' profit, as good a send-up of the “you’re the product” internet as I’ve seen.

Having just come off reading five six(ish)-issue Hill House graphic novels, all of which felt satisfactorily complete, I would say Far Sector feels a little long at 12 issues. I struggle to say where it exactly gets too long, only that it’s a talk-y book, not always a bad thing, but one that requires slow reading on top of being 12 issues. Campbell depicts gorgeous characters, gorgeous settings and scene-scapes, but sometimes the actions scenes turn into a mess of figures (see the seventh chapter battle in the heavy industry district, for instance) that suggest those scenes could just as well be truncated.

Also, for Far Sector’s length, a time or two it felt Jemisin didn’t get everything on the page that she wanted. Jo is particularly torn up about Councilor Averrup’s death, when the audience barely sees them interact and not as friends. The murder victim’s widow appears toward the beginning of the book and not again until the very end, such that what seemed an awkward editor’s note had to reintroduce her. And Jo’s Lantern origins, which include a shape-shifting Guardian and a self-recharging ring, are very swiftly explained away in a text page, never really addressed in full.



Though too I wouldn’t necessarily fault N. K. Jemisin for leaving material for a Far Sector sequel, the radio silence out of Gerard Way’s Young Animal imprint (and no discussion of a sequel so far) makes that prospect seem dubious. And that’s a problem — it’s good that writer Geoffrey Thorne will be using Jo Mullein at all in his upcoming Green Lantern run, but this is a character that has to be written very carefully to stay true to Jemisin’s original.

It is a slippery slope, and one we’ve seen traveled far too often — for instance, Soranik Natu, originally a competent doctor and Green Lantern, whose costume became more revealing and whose neckline plunged with successive writers, ending up paranoid with romantic jealousy, nigh insane, and defecting to the Sinestro Corps. That’s a fate DC owes Jo Mullein and N. K. Jemisin not to have happen.

[Includes original and variant covers, introduction, interviews, and character sketches]

Comments ( 1 )

  1. While I wouldn’t say there hasn’t been any decent Hal Jordan material lately (I loved Morrison’s comic), I do agree Omega Men and Far Sector are great examples of what a Green Lantern comic can be but so rarely is. Too often it’s just another superhero comic, or too obsessed with whatever Geoff Johns was doing at the time (here I’m criticizing writers who weren’t Charles Soule and his equally standout Red Lanterns basically just doing exactly Johns was doing, even when there wasn’t a crossover happening, but with more Green Lanterns running around.)


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