Green Lantern Corps #23 Review

on August 15, 2013

Van Jensen is pretty much rocking John Stewart as hard as anyone has ever rocked him. Bruce Timm, Gerard Jones, Steve Englehart… Van Jensen has proven that he’s right up there. John Stewart is so interesting in that a lot of creators haven’t seemed to want to use him, so he would sit idle for long periods of time. But when those creators come along who have a story for John, they’re consistently the best stuff you’re going to find Green Lantern doing. I’m talking about runs like the Steve Englehart period of “Green Lantern” in the ’80s, “Green Lantern: Mosaic” in the early ’90s, “Justice League” and “Justice League Unlimited” in the 2000s, and now, post-Geoff Johns “Green Lantern Corps.”

It’s my perception that Van Jensen approached monthly comics especially carefully, since he wasn’t used to doing them, hence why Robert Venditti is helping with the task. What it seems to me, though, is that Jensen puts more thought into them than most veteran monthly comic writers do.

It’s amazing how many characters Jensen juggles and gives meaningful roles to, while still firmly establishing that John Stewart is the lead in this book. Jensen’s use of space and his pacing are immense! He never lingers on anything too long, but always makes sure whatever he does has a powerful impact.

The Lanterns are neck deep in trouble this time. The issue opens up with the Khunds preparing their execution. It’s nice to see John Stewart outside of his uniform.

Jensen continues to fire on all cylinders as he picks up from last month’s foray across the stars.

The Khund have captured the Green Lanterns on Nellewel 3 and plan to execute them. As the Khund commander goes on about the sacred tradition of Khundian capital punishment, there is a strong sense of excitement and glee from him, delivered crystal clear through Jensen’s script and Bernard Chang’s expressive art.

An especially cool touch is that the Khund commander recognizes John Stewart and knows him by name, just like the Durlans did from issue #21. This gives the impression that John Stewart is a big deal, even way out in space, and reminds me of the kind of respect Bruce Timm and co. gave the character. They established John Stewart as a major player, recognized, respected, and competent.

It’s easy to tell Jensen has done his research, picks up on such aspects, and knows that shades like that are a large part of why John Stewart appeals to his fans. Jensen’s take on John is both familiar and refreshing.

This is not John Stewart the screw up.
This is not John Stewart the sad mopey guy.
No, he’s not there just to make some other character look cool.
Jensen makes every John Stewart writer since the JLU crew seem incompetent and/or apathetic, as he brings out the best in John with seeming ease and mastery.

Bernard Chang draws John Stewart as well as anyone I’ve ever seen.

But it’s not just John who shines! Going into how Jensen adeptly manuevers these characters, we learn that Feska, one of the Green Lantern recruits, has a serious problem with being trapped and locked up. She also displays some of that legendary determination that mothers are known for when protecting their young is involved.

Faced with the frightening prospect of dying on Nellewel 3 and leaving her young son to fend for himself, it is she who saves the Lanterns from seemingly certain doom. She escapes the Khundian trap that binds her through contorting her body in a very strange way, which is completely unexpected. Perhaps that ability is something unique to her species.

She manages to reach the power rings, which the Khunds have apprehended, but the Khunds spot her and open fire. Fortunately, the power is restored to the rings, which died on the Lanterns last issue.

As the Green Lantern rings’ functions return, so too does Fatality’s Star Sapphire ring. The story zooms to a moon above the planet Cheorg where Fatality has been defeated by a group of shape-shifting Durlans who she followed back in issue #21. The Durlans best her again in a very deviceful manner. A Durlan morphs into a small alien wasp and flies into her ear canal to give her internal stings, and when finished, comes out of her bloody nose. The Durlans then drag her away for surgery.

Back on Oa, we get to see “Green Lantern Corps” characters that have been gone for some time. Vath Sarn, Isamot Kol, Princess Iolande and Soranik Natu gather around an Oan cafateria table and discuss the unreliability of their rings. Jensen does a good job getting each character across well, with Vath and Isamot’s one upmanship between each other, and Iolande being rather snooty.

Soranik spots Kilowog and asks him to find Salaak, as he’s their best hope at uncovering the mystery of the unstable rings. The Lanterns are becoming desperate at this point, because things seem to be in shambled without the Guardians.

These Lanterns add nice color to the book, and fans of the previous “Green Lantern Corps” runs will no doubt appreciate seeing them again. This scene is another example of how Jensen uses characters and space so effectively. He’s able to take us out of the action and balances the quieter moments well, making them as captivating as the slobberknocker going on elsewhere.

Kilowog finds Salaack in the Ring Foundry, where the Slyggian Lantern is looking for the template to the power rings’ construction, in order to discover why the rings are messing up. He delivers a powerful line when, concerning the old Guardians and the messed up rings, he says, “One last thing to wipe out their failed Green Lantern experiment.”

It’s easy to tell how personally Salaak takes the Guardians’ betrayal. It broke him, even to the point of making him seem a bit mad, but has also given him the drive to solve the mystery and protect the Lanterns from any hidden threats from the Guardians. Salaak finds there is nothing wrong with the rings themselves, which draws suspicion to their power source – the Central Power Battery.

Last issue, Jruk was highlighted really well. This time, Jensen focuses more on Feska. These characters are certainly more interesting than I thought they would be.

Back on Nellewel 3, the Green Lanterns are at full power again and are having it out with the Khunds. The constructs the Lanterns forge are stunning and the action is very dynamic. We see Feska using her ring to tie up a Khund while yelling, “How do you like it?!” This draws more attention to the dark things in Feska’s past, which involve some manner of abuse. Her character is turning out very interesting. There’s more to her than just being a mom.

One of the moments of the issue that will likely resonate with readers is when John forbids his unit from killing any of the Khunds. Rewinding to issue #22 for a bit, I was honestly surprised at the killing that took place and how nonchalant it seemed. John sprayed Khunds with a blast from the boiling sea, and Jruk took out his fair share as well. While I didn’t have a problem with it, something seemed jarring, though not in a clumsy way. Actually, some of the killing parts were the best in the issue! But here, it’s revealed the jarring sensation was completely intentional. In this issue, it becomes… an issue. John’s reasoning for not killing makes sense. The Green Lanterns have appeared like bad guys for so long that it’s no wonder the universe doesn’t view them as heroes anymore.

There are quite a few splashes in the face to the Geoff Johns run in this comic. Jensen has politely said that the Green Lantern books became unnecessarily gruesome and dark under Geoff Johns’ guidance. This is something I agree wholeheartedly with. Why the killing in #22 was so jarring was because it seemed like something that may happen in a Johns book, but it was somewhat at odds with the tone that “Green Lantern Corps” has now, which is bright, vibrant in visuals and story, fun, exciting, and adventurous. Those features in themselves are near opposites of what was going on in the Green Lantern franchise before.

To further signify the shift in direction, Jensen, through John Stewart, calls the previous run out. What were the Green Lanterns doing, but going around participating in Lantern on Lantern crime, ignoring their real cause, and killing people?

The Khunds get reinforcements, as their battle ship dispatches a large amount of Khund soldiers mounted on their airborne battle platforms. We see growing camaraderie among the Lanterns as Jruk says that he’s happy to fight it out till the end alongside John Stewart.

Interestingly, it doesn’t come to that. Instead of staying to fight some epic battle, the heroes retreat. This is actually refreshing. Van Jensen leads us to believe the Lanterns would not have won, but they didn’t have much point in fighting anymore, as the dam holding back the boiling sea, which was damaged last issue, was stabilized.

Instead of fighting for the sake of an epic scene where limbs and heads are flying around, it’s realized that there’s no real reason to fight anymore, which is interesting, because that’s not what you would usually see in a superhero comic book.

We’re then taken to a rather eerie scene of Fatality stripped naked (don’t worry, nothing shows) and strapped down on a table in a shadowy room with other bodies on similar tables. We can’t tell if they’re alive or dead. The Durlans have been doing something to her, but we’re not sure what. However, we overhear them talking about trying to remove her ring from her finger, which they aren’t able to do.

I’m really impressed with the interactions between John and Soranik. Under Jensen, these two bounce off each other incredibly well.

Fatality wakes up and uses her Star Sapphire power to tether to John Stewart, which launches her out of the creepy lab and across space toward the Green Lantern. She makes it to him just as he is approaching Oa, but she’s in bad condition. John takes her to the Corps doctor, Soranik Natu, for immediate treatment.

Fatality should be up and at’em in a few weeks and John and Soranik share another great moment. Soranik catches on that John and Fatality are an item, and John confides in the Korugarian Lantern, stating that Fatality’s simple outlook on their complicated relationship feels weird to him. Soranik, however, looks at Fatality’s ability to put aside the past as quite a gift. This harkens back to the Gerard Jones John Stewart, who, for better or worse, often over thought things instead of just taking them as they were. This is another example that shows Jensen’s understanding of the character, which I stressed in the review for issue #22.

John apologizes to Soranik for his rude behavior to her and the new recruits from last issue. In true John Stewart form, he comes to have respect and admiration for his comrades now that they’ve proven that the rings chose them for a reason, and he fesses up to his earlier gruff behavior.

Elsewhere on Oa, Salaak and Kilowog inspect the Central Power Battery and are surprised that its light is dimming. They’ve never seen that before, but readers witnessed a similar situation with the Zamaron battery last issue. John catches up with them, and as he arrives, the trio hears a voice from the battery. Suddenly, the Ion Entity -the living embodiment of the Green Lanterns’ power- emerges, asking for help.

Some of the other Entities for the other parts of the Emotional Spectrum appear, and they confirm to the three Lanterns that they are all dying. They take Ion with them, so they all may die at their home. This will lead right into the “Lights Out” event in which the villain, Relic, seeks to destroy all powers derived from the Emotional Spectrum.

There is a lot to enjoy in this comic.

I love how the book gives strong roles to the sort of characters who usually don’t get them, especially in the comics medium. Firstly, it stars John Stewart, a black man. A minority. He is depicted as strong, handsome, respectable, and competent; a real leading hero, just as good as Bruce Timm showcased him as. Maro is disabled in a way that may make him feel worthless to his people, and yet he’s a very capable person and hero. Feska is a single mother who, as mentioned, apparently has some darkness in her past involving being trapped or confined. She shows great fortitude, bravery, and ingenuity.

They show a kind of strength -a particular quality- that you usually don’t see in comic books, and rarely do you see it handled this gracefully. They truly are not your typical heroes in your typical roles. Not even John. The only one who seems like he came off a checklist, as great as he is, is Jruk, being the bloodthirsty barbarian type. “Green Lantern Corps” has a lot to offer many different types of people, and it doesn’t stick to boring formulas. For example, there are great female characters, but none of them are just “the chick” trope. There’s Feska, Fatality, and Soranik. All are very different from each other, and none of them overlap or take away from the other.

When comics try appealing to people who usually don’t get heroes to represent them, it’s often hamfisted in some way. Yet, in “Green Lantern Corps” everything fits so comfortably. None of it is forced or given too much emphasis.

Bernard Chang and Marcelo Maiolo have become some of my favorite Green Lantern artists. This issue is filled to the brim with great visual details like Feska’s lean muscles when her body is contorted, the dramatic expressions of the Khundians as they’re firing at the Lanterns, and the wreckage in the Ring Foundry. I’m really enjoying Bernard Chang’s starship designs. He seems to really puts a lot of thought into things like that instead of doing something generic. There have not been many instances of John Stewart looking as great as he does under Chang, and it is nice seeing him out of his Green Lantern uniform for a bit.

Marcelo Maiolo stuns with his beautiful coloring work.

Marcelo Maiolo’s coloring is as grand as ever. Sometimes he impresses me with just the simple things, like a panel in which Fatality is swinging her spear at the Durlan wasp, which has her set against a bright fuchsia backdrop. It pops out at the eye incredibly well, and without being garish! There is also the soft starry sky that presides over Oa, which adds a lot of atmosphere, further lending to the strong sci-fi vibe.

Maiolo works to complete Chang’s rather open art so seamlessly, adding in just the right amount of shading in just the right places. One of the scenes I find most stunning is the first panel on the final page of the issue, which depicts the Entities in front of the Central Power Battery. It’s not so much the Entities that impress me, but the beautiful coloring Maiolo does in detailing cascading prismatic lights. It is glorious to behold. I’ve rarely seen a colorist portray light as well as Maiolo, so a Green Lantern book is perfect for him. If there is anything I can complain about, it’s that John Stewart’s eyes don’t shine green enough. Maiolo does well with Fatality’s violet eyes, but I’d like to see a bolder look for John’s.

In closing, I’ve heard that some John Stewart fans are anxious something bad is going to happen, like DC Editorial is going to pull a stupid move and ruin all of this, because it’s too good to be true. I understand the pessimism. Indeed, John Stewart fans have every right to be pessimistic after the neglect and shabby treatment of the character for so long. What we’re seeing in “Green Lantern Corps” right now is a complete 180 from that. John fans need to pinch themselves to make sure they aren’t dreaming.

I beseech DC Comics to use common sense, and not to mess with what is going on in “Green Lantern Corps.” It is shaping up to be one of the best runs in Green Lantern history. Van Jensen has said these past three issues were just him warming up, and getting used to his new environment. If that’s true, just try to imagine all the greatness in store for us! I would weep if DC Editorial did something to disrupt that. But let’s be optimistic! The comics are great, the creative team displays a lot of heart, and the sales are strong. Maybe it really is John’s time to shine again.

Perhaps in the long run it is better that only those special creators who have a strong story to tell work on John Stewart, and the ones who don’t put him away. Think about how Kyle Rayner petered out and dragged on under part of Judd Winnick’s run, and all of Benjamin Raab’s, or how Geoff Johns’ “Green Lantern” became so redundant and painful to read after “Sinestro Corps War.”
Maybe it’s better that John Stewart is left pristine, rising to shine only when creators with a strong vision come to tell his story. Creators like Bruce Timm, Gerard Jones, Steve Englehart… and Van Jensen, Bernard Chang, and Marcelo Maiolo.

5 out of 5 stars.

Read Green Lantern Corps #22 Review.