Green Lantern Corps #21 Review

on July 8, 2013

Green Lantern Corps #21 marks the arrival of an all new creative team with an all new direction. Previous “Green Lantern” writer, Geoff Johns, bogged the GL books down in seemingly never ending crossovers, each more ridiculous than the last. His most recent ones saw the Guardians of the Universe become evil. They, along with some weirdo called Volthoom, devastated the ranks of the Green Lantern Corps. Both the Guardians and Volthoom were killed and new benevolent Guardians took the place of the evil ones.

Many readers have become tired of Geoff Johns’ nonsense and the new creative team seems fully aware of this. This issue begins with Green Lantern John Stewart doing… Green Lantern stuff! He’s being an interstellar peacekeeper, which is something we haven’t seen the Lanterns be in a long time.

John Stewart rockets through space as he heads for the planet Kosh, which is in danger due to a fusion reactor going critical. He’s followed by his lover, Yrra Cynril, a Star Sapphire who was once known as Fatality – an infamous serial killer who targeted Green Lanterns, and John Stewart in particular. Writer Van Jensen explains their history in one word bubble when John tells Yrra that he “destroyed her home world and she spent years trying to murder him.” Okay! Even if we’ve never read a Green Lantern book before, we now know where these characters stand, which… is in a very interesting situation.

We learn about the status of John and Yrra’s relationship through clever exposition. I can’t stress enough how gorgeous the art in this comic is!

We learn that Kosh’s population is 9.8 billion, so the stakes are incredibly high. Van Jensen throws us right into this adventure, but makes sure we know exactly what’s going on every step of the way. He doesn’t waste a panel, a word bubble, or even a word.

Yrra is preoccupied with the status of their love life, but John would rather focus on the job at hand. Obviously because it’s very important, but there are also certain commitments Yrra wants him to make that he’s not quite ready for. She asks John point blank if he loves her, and all John can say is, “It’s complicated.”

The dynamic between these two characters is fun. Yrra brings some levity to the dire situation without being goofy. “Fun” is something Van Jensen is aiming for. During the Geoff Johns run, Green Lantern comics were not “fun.” Gore, dismemberment, the subject of rape, gruesome zombies and other such morose things were the name of the game in many of his “epic” tales. Van Jensen takes a different approach, and it’s a much welcome breath of fresh air. There’s certainly serious stuff going on, but the comic has a fun and adventurous presentation that makes it more lively and upbeat than Green Lantern comics have been in ages.

Characters take center stage in this comic, not new ways to explode the universe.
On the second page we learn a lot about John. He’s shaken from the Guardians’ betrayal and is even entertaining the thought of leaving the Corps, which would make Yrra happy. He’s served the Guardians faithfully for a long time, but now he has his doubts. Despite that, he takes it upon himself to rebuild the Corps.

Wow! John taking the initiative to take on a great responsibility? John actually doing something of note? Serious!?
Within just the first three or so pages, for the first time… well, ever in comic books, I feel like I’m reading about the character that I came to deeply admire from “Justice League.” John has the same weight, authority, class, and commanding presence he carried on that show. At the same time, he’s still thoughtful and contemplative; attributes bestowed on him by Gerard Jones. He really cuts quite a figure here. Van Jensen has the best grasp on the character anyone has had since Gerard Jones.

Moving on, it turns out the reactor failure isn’t because of an accident, as John initially thought, but an attack!
The enemies encountered within the reactor would seem unremarkable, but they’re actually great! They’re big, brutish aliens, but they aren’t the typical type. They’re slobbering and they’re hulking, but they seem very intelligent and collected. They’re not yelling or using broken speech, and their word bubbles aren’t jagged, or anything like that. On my initial read, I took note of this, and there actually IS something to it!

While in battle, John and Yrra’s rings begin malfunctioning, which is really bad, considering they’re fighting powerful enemies in a highly irradiated area that they won’t be able to survive in.

Salaak and Soranik share a nice moment on planet Oa.

At that point, the story jumps to Oa and we see Salaak giving his notice of resignation to the New Guardians. He blames himself for not seeing the old Guardians’ evil ploy earlier. I really feel for Salaak. The Corps and the Guardians are his whole life, and when they betrayed him, it all came crashing down. Furthermore, some Lanterns believe Salaak was in on the Guardians’ plot and blame him for the deaths of many of their friends.

After Salaak is done talking to the Guardians -who convince him to stay with the Corps- two such Lanterns confront and attack him. He’s rescued by Soranik Natu, who drives them off.

Salaak and Soranik -who lost her home planet in the wackiness of the previous crossover- discuss what they plan on doing now that both of their lives have been turned upside down. Salaak plans on searching out any dark projects the old Guardians may have hidden, while Soranik isn’t sure. With her home planet destroyed, the Corps is all she has, but she doesn’t feel like fighting anymore. Just as she says that, Larfleeze, the Orange Lantern, attacks Oa, and all Green Lanterns on Oa are called to defend the planet.

Across the universe, power rings from many downed Green Lanterns seek out new recruits. Four such greenhorns are shown in this issue. Jensen quickly establishes who they are and what they’re about. Jruk is a gladiatorial warrior from a society that indulges in watching bloodsports. Feska is a single mother living in the slums who is struggling to feed her small son. Maro is a mute from a planet full of overbearing debators, and Ergann is an old man from a nomadic clan. Since he cannot keep pace with them, they leave him to die in the desert, and he accepts his fate peacefully.

Feska, one of the new Green Lantern recruits… whether she likes it or not!

When Green Lantern rings reach Jruk and Feska, both parties freak. The ring tears Jruk away from his battle and shoots him toward Oa for training. In their disappointment, the observing crowd who once cheered his name now wishes for his death. The most heart wrenching part of the issue is when the ring takes Feska away from her small boy, leaving the child to fend for himself. One area in which Jensen really succeeds is in imparting humanity into this outer space adventure. Even though this story takes place in the far reaches of space, and is filled with aliens, the emotional connections it makes are powerful.

This point brings us back to John.
One of the overarching points of John’s story is that he can’t say that he loves Yrra. Not yet. He’s very cautious about his romance with her, and there is a ton of baggage to work through. More human elements in this lovely space adventure! John is on an alien world, surrounded by aliens, but it’s easy to get invested in everything that is going on, because there is so much feeling behind it all.

John and Yrra’s rings suddenly start working at full power. They aren’t able to stop the reactor from blowing, but they contain the nuclear blast. However, the villains get away with large amounts of radioactive ruthenium. The blast is large, but for anyone who doesn’t know, a fusion blast has the potential to be considerably worse. We do not even have fusion reactors in regular use on Earth yet. Anyway, the explosion happens in a desolate area, so no one is hurt.

The duo chases the villains down to a space port and gets ready to mount an attack when the enemies throw them a curve ball. They shape shift into Koshan children, which look like anthropomorphic frog people. They cry for help and an armed Koshan defense force arrives to challenge the Lanterns. Jensen wants to get across that the universal populace does not trust Green Lanterns as a result of the Third Army attack (which was one of Johns’ crossovers). The defenders attack and occupy the Lanterns while the bad guys hop aboard a star ship and blast off right there, which would have engulfed the Koshan police in flames if John had not saved them with a trusty green bubble.

Yrra and John pursue the ship, but John is called away to help in repelling the Larfleeze attack. In the final scene, the villains reveal themselves to be Durlans; shape-shifting baddies frequently associated with the Legion of Super Heroes franchise! Jensen cleverly gives Green Lantern enemies that he can’t just battle in a straightforward manner, which has potential for really interesting stories.

As mentioned, it’s amazing how much feeling is in this issue. Even John’s ring is an entertaining character, especially for having no personality. But it’s not just the writing. Bernard Chang, on pencils and inks, evokes a lot of emotion through his art. Masterful touches include the sadness in Salaak’s face and body language, the exhaustion of Ergann, and the scene near the end when John and Yrra’s trails intertwine, followed by a panel where they embrace. It gets especially poetic in the following panel, where we see the enemy star ship zooming away in one direction, and John shooting across the stars in another. In the middle is Yrra, watching John leave her. The doubt in the relationship… the problems… but the love… it all comes through there.

Green Lantern Corps #21 is a comic full of emotion and character development.

And beyond that, Bernard Chang’s art is beautiful. He has a very open style, especially compared to previous artist, Fernando Pasarin. Though Pasarin’s work is more detailed, Chang’s is considerably better. The characters look great! John Stewart is dashingly handsome and, for the first time ever, I think Fatality is especially beautiful. The thought put into the alien designs is definitely apparent. The frog-like Koshans are cute and fun, and it’s especially entertaining seeing them heft around massive guns that are about as big as they are. The star ship the enemies use in their escape is sleek and cool looking, and the way Chang depicts Oa has a neat space age feel to it. Very sci-fi!

Colorist Marcelo Maiolo deserves a huge shout out. He and Chang do wonders together. Bernard Chang actually requested Marcelo to come with him on this book because they understand each others style so well. The coloring is bold, vivid, and bright, which are things I believe a Green Lantern book should be. I have never seen the emerald energy from a power ring depicted better than it’s depicted in this book. It doesn’t just look like something someone drew, it legitimately looks like light. Great effects include the way the light reflects off the characters, and the cool sparkles that the power gives off. All facets of the creative team work so well together that it’s honestly surprising!

This is definitely an unusually awesome comic book!
Most of the criticism I’ve seen online for this issue is due to dumb biased stuff. It often comes from people who either hate John Stewart (usually for appearing in a cartoon series instead of some other Lantern), or people who are upset that Guy isn’t in it, or people who dislike the pairing of John and Yrra. In other words, typically not people who are judging the comic on its own merits as a comic. I know it could be said that, I, too, am biased, but believe me, if John is in a bad comic book, I’ll be the first to complain!

This book clearly stomps every other Green Lantern title for the month of June 2013. Heck, it stomps every Green Lantern title from years and years back. It’s not even funny how much better this is than the stuff from Peter Tomasi and crew (the previous creative team), and this shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same sentence (whoops!) as the garbage from Geoff Johns, because it’s so, SO far above that. The old creative team is purely outclassed by this new one.

This book is everything Van Jensen set out for it to be. It is adventurous, fun, clever, romantic, and a breath of fresh air after the never ending cosmic calamities of Geoff Johns. This is a great jumping on point for new readers and a very promising start to a new era in “Green Lantern Corps.”

4.5 out of 5 stars.

Read Green Lantern Corps #22 Review.