Monday, August 17, 2015

GREEN LANTERN #48 – January 1994

Emerald Twilight Part One: The Past
Credits:  Ron Marz (writer), Bill Willingham (penciler), Romeo Tanghal & Robert Campanella (inkers), Albert de Guzman (letterer), Anthony Tollin (colorist)

Summary:  Hal Jordan visits the remains of Coast City.  With the power of his ring, he recreates an emerald version of his city and has conversations with replicas of his father, mother, and teenage girlfriend Jennifer.  When Hal’s ring loses its charge, he screams that it isn’t fair.  A holographic projection of one of the Guardians appears, ordering him to surrender his ring as punishment for using it for personal gain.  Hal is infuriated by the request and instead absorbs energy from the hologram into his ring.  He declares that he will return to Oa, but the Guardians won’t like him when he gets there.

Irrelevant Continuity:  The future Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner, debuts on the final page with his girlfriend, watching a “shooting star” (Hal on his way to Oa) and commenting that he’d just like to escape one day.

“Behold, the Unrivaled Imagination of Hal Jordan!”:  Hal Jordan has been mocked over the years for unimaginative uses of his ring (the common complaint is that he always defaults to a giant boxing glove), but he’s full-on ring crazy this issue.  Not only has he created an emerald sling for his wounded arm, but he’s recreated the entire municipality of Coast City and he’s having interactive conversations with its inhabitants!  

Total N00B:  I’m not familiar enough with Hal Jordan continuity to know the origin of his white temples.  You might think it was simply a decision to slowly age the character and distinguish him from other heroes, but I’m going to assume that there’s a needlessly complicated comic book origin behind the change.

Creative Differences:  “Emerald Twilight” began as a completely different storyline conceived by the previous Green Lantern writer, Gerald Jones.  DC even went so far as to solicit the original plans in Previews and run an ad for the aborted storyline in Darkstars #15.  According to online sources, series editor Kevin Dooley considered Jones’ plans too tame to attract new readers, and a new storyline was conceived at the last minute by Mike Carlin, Paul Levitz, Archie Goodwin, and Denny O'Neil.  
Courtesy of here’s the original solicitation for this issue:
   by G. Jones, Cobbs, & Tanghal
   "Superman and the Justice League gather by Green Lantern's side as Hal confronts the horror of the destruction of Coast City. Meanwhile on Oa, the Guardians of the Universe find themselves fighting a lethal battle against...the Guardians of the Universe!?"
   Cover by Kevin Maguire & Romeo Tanghal.

Review:  “Emerald Twilight” just might be the most outrageous stunt pulled by one of the major comics companies during the ‘90s.  Commercially, the impetus for the story was the success of Batman and Superman’s concurrent “event” storylines, ones that featured the iconic characters broken, killed, replaced, and ultimately returned as the stars of their titles.  Hal Jordan isn’t going to be so lucky.  Sure, he’ll eventually don the mantle of Green Lantern again, but quite a few creative teams and editorial regimes must pass before the traditional status quo is restored.

Creatively, the inspiration for “Emerald Twilight” would appear to be two of the most famous storylines to emerge during the Jim Shooter years of Marvel.  “The Death of Phoenix,” or “The Dark Phoenix Saga” as it came to be known, is the story of founding X-Man Jean Grey corrupted by a cosmic power and transformed into a villain.  (And I’m sure no one reading this has ever heard of that storyline before…)  “Born Again,” Frank Miller’s final Daredevil epic, brings the hero to the brink of insanity after an effort by the villainous Kingpin to systematically destroy his life.  To say that these stories were quickly elevated to the status of “classics” would be an understatement.  DC’s main competition in the category of “groundbreaking superhero work” at the time consisted of Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen.  Watchmen is an erudite science fiction novel told through the medium of superhero comics, and not an obvious inspiration for a monthly mainstream series.  Dark Knight Returns does star a slightly unhinged, more violent interpretation of Batman, but he’s still a hero by the story’s end.  DC had yet to produce an in-continuity story featuring a hero experiencing some form of trauma that pushes him into villainy.  Actually, I’m not an expert on DC continuity, so it’s entirely possible at least one character was put through those paces in the ‘80s or early ‘90s.  DC hadn’t attempted such an arc with a character like Hal Jordan, however; a hero with roots that go back to the beginning of the Silver Age and an established fan base.

I’m not sure what it says about the climate of comics at the time that the arc of driving a hero insane and recasting him or her as a villain was considered the pinnacle of sophisticated storytelling, but that attitude certainly existed.  It was one of those important stories that you never thought you’d see, yet it just had to be a great story, right?  “The Dark Phoenix Saga” prevaricated a bit by establishing that Phoenix had been brainwashed by the Hellfire Club, and years later we learned that Phoenix was never truly Jean Grey at all.  “Born Again” had Daredevil act crazy for a few issues, but ultimately the hero triumphs over the odds and is able to move forward with his life.  How great would it be if someone didn’t wuss out on the concept?

“Emerald Dawn” certainly does not wuss out on the concept.  DC will eventually begin to backtrack on its characterization of Hal Jordan, tying itself in knots for years looking for ways to redeem him until it’s ultimately decided just to restore Hal to his classic status quo.  There’s no hint of any second thoughts in the original issues, though.  It’s full-on fan wish fulfillment, and I mean that in a horrible way.  Yes, when you’re twelve, you think you want these comics, but ultimately they prove far too cynical and grim to work as superhero stories.  They’re not about inspiration or imagination, but instead exist as exercises in tearing heroes down and offering no means of redemption.  There’s a reason why Phoenix sacrificed her life in order to save her friends at the end of “The Dark Phoenix Saga,” and Matt Murdock walked happily into the sunset with Karen Page during the finale of “Born Again.”  Without those endings, the stories are just exercises in misery.

All that said, I have to confess that the first chapter of “Emerald Dawn” reads as an adequate Green Lantern comic.  Bill Willingham evokes a bit of John Byrne and a bit of Neal Adams, creating an iconic Hal Jordan and an emerald recreation of Coast City that does seem like a nice place to live.  The story, at this point, doesn’t come across as something written by committee, but is instead a melancholy reflection on what Hal’s lost and his frustration that he’ll never truly recreate it.  The previous creative teams clearly didn’t know how to address the destruction of Hal’s hometown -- he’s gone from indignant fury in Green Lantern #46, to a much more passive role during the subsequent Superman chapters of the crossover, to a seemingly non-sequitur team-up with Green Arrow in Green Lantern #47.  So, he yelled for a few pages, beat up a bad guy, and kind of got over it.  Ron Marz’s interpretation is at least grounded in human emotion.  It’s hard not to emphasize for Hal during the story, even if you do know where this is all headed.  And once Hal dons that evil grin at the end of page 20, this is going somewhere bad indeed.  If only DC had commissioned a story that allowed Hal to properly mourn the loss, fruitlessly search for a resolution, and then learn a lesson and move on.  If editorial wanted to use this as an excuse for Hal to retire and for the more “relatable” Kyle Rayner to take his place, fine.  Instead, things are just going to get nasty…


j said...

I think you are correct re: the grey hair. I think they just gave it to him when the new volume of Green Lantern started to distinguish him.

Comicbookrehab said...

The tenples were retconned by Geoff Johns as a corrupting effect of the Parallax entity on Hal Jordan.

Yes, it wasn't his fault - he was possesed by an alien.

Harry Sewalski said...

I actually sort of like the idea of an established hero becoming a villain. It happens the other way around fairly regularly, why can't a hero decide they'd rather be a villain? Of course, things like that will always eventually be reversed by someone who preferred them as a hero, but it would be a fun exercise, I think.

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