Monday, August 31, 2015

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: The Comic Strip - November 18, 1991 to December 27, 1991

Heaven’s in Here
Credits:  Dean Clarrain (writer), Jim Lawson & Dan Berger (art), Mary Kelleher (letters)

Summary:  The aliens Brik and Brak arrive on Earth, their spaceship disguised inside a meteorite.  They crash into the Hudson River and travel inside the Sub-City to find Ka'kfa the Cockroach King.  The Turtles, suspicious of where the meteorite has landed, investigate and soon come across Brik and Brak’s meeting with Ka'kfa.  Ka'kfa explains that money is more powerful than humans, and if Brik and Brak want power, they must attack Wall Street.  Brik and Brak offer Ka'kfa alien worlds to infest with his children if he aids their invasion.  Overhead, Michelangelo is bitten by a roach.  When he screams, the Turtles are exposed.

Continuity Notes:  
  • Brik and Brak appear to be the same characters Bean and Scul from the Archie Adventures series.  Why they have been renamed, I don’t know.  Bean and Scul debuted in the Adventures series not long before these strips were published.  Perhaps Brik and Brak are intended to be different members of the same alien species.
  • Ka'kfa the Cockroach King seems to be a strange combination of Maligna and the Rat King.
  • Sub-City is the deepest level of the sewers, previously seen in the comic strip’s first arc.

Pizza References:  Picking up where the first arc left off, the Turtles are eating pizza with April O’Neil when the story opens.  Michelangelo wants more “jelly bean and broccli ‘za.”

Were Killing the Earth! :  Much like Scul and Bean, most of Brik and Brak’s dialogue consists of them commenting on how polluted and “stinky” our planet is.  In the opening strips, they enter Earth through the hole in the ozone layer.

I Love the 90s:  April tells the Turtles she’s taking some time off before covering the 1992 presidential race.

Review in a Half-Shell:  It’s the alternate version of Bean and Scul, and unless you’re obsessed with TMNT continuity minutia, there isn’t a whole lot of interest here.  Bean and Scul were only memorable for their utterly disgusting power -- they literally defecate stink bombs out of their heads, a stunt that Brik and Brak haven’t pulled yet.  I actually like Ka'kfa the Cockroach King; his dialogue is amusing and his design is pretty outrageous by the standards of daily comic strips.  The idea that he’s joining with Brik and Brak in order to find intergalactic apartment complexes to infest is lovely.  But, geez, Clarrain/Murphy is still under the delusion that having a character comment on the environment is somehow inherently interesting as a story, and he’s just wrong.  If we’re going to be bringing in characters from the Adventures series, why not Cudley the Cowlick, or the Intergalactic Wrestling Federation?  Why not entertain kids instead of constantly preaching at them?

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Bat, The Cat, The Penguin...The Ride

This is a clip from Batman Adventure: The Ride, which was only featured at theme parks in Germany and Australia.  This is the original ride, filmed on the set of Batman Returns.


You can view it with English subtitles here... 

Years later, a second CGI version debuted, featuring Kevin Conroy as the voice of Batman.  I remember Six Flags' close relationship with Warner Brothers during the height of Batmania.  It's bizarre to think these rides never showed up there.  (Or is Six Flags totally opposed to these indoor motion rides?) 


Thursday, August 27, 2015

BATMAN: SWORD OF AZRAEL #4 - January 1993

No One Is Innocent
Credits:  Dennis O’Neil (writer), Joe Quesada (penciler), Kevin Nowlan (inker), Ken Bruzenak (letterer), Lovern Kindzierski (colorist)

Summary:  Alfred is shocked by Azrael’s brutal assault on Harcourt’s guards.  Inside, LeHah murders Harcourt and flees.  Later, Nomoz chastises Azrael for pausing briefly to check on Harcourt’s body instead of pursuing LeHah.  Alfred questions Azrael’s bloodlust, but Azrael explains that he can’t help himself when The System kicks in.  The trio track LeHah to the oil refinery he owns in Texas.  Inside, Bruce tricks LeHah into taking off the Batman costume, but discovers that LeHah is now adamant about killing him.  Alfred, Azrael, and Nomoz arrive in time to stop LeHah.  Azrael’s battle with LeHah starts a fire; against Nomoz’s wishes, Azrael rescues Bruce, but refuses to spare LeHah.  Outside, Azrael tells Alfred that he now remembers his true name, Jean-Paul.

Irrelevant Continuity:  LeHah explains that he stole the Batman costume in order to “sow confusion and discord,” which is a responsibility of a follower of Biis.

Review:  Batman?  More like Fatman, amiright, folks?  (That’s a reference to the cover, of course.  That’s LeHah in the costume, and he really is getting fatter each issue.)  Okay, the Azrael introduction mini is over, and I think I can now make some sense out of those cryptic references in “Knightfall.”  I still maintain that the Jean-Paul we saw during that event isn’t quite the character Denny O’Neil introduces here.  This issue we see a savage Azrael unleashed by The System (he kills several security guards, and even a dog, which is a rarity in comics), but by the end of the story we discover that underneath it all, Jean-Paul is a decent young man who’s strong enough to fight against his father’s programming and do the right thing.  The fact that he allows LeHah to die in the fire indicates that he isn’t quite as respectable as the traditional superhero, but the implication on the final page is that Jean-Paul is on his way to learning about true heroism and becoming his own man.  

The Jean-Paul presented to us during “Knightfall” starts off as a Ken doll who seems to be chosen as Batman’s replacement based on his jawline, and within a few issues, he’s a raving loon that’s choking Robin and letting citizens be mugged because they need to be taught a lesson.  Azrael didn’t seem to struggle with right vs. wrong during his days as Batman; any internal conflict was dramatized by periodic “bad trips” involving medieval Catholic imagery that always ended with Azrael screaming into the heavens.  It is possible that the “Knightfall” trades skipped some of the issues that fleshed out Jean-Paul in-between this miniseries and his debut as Batman, I’ll acknowledge.  (I’m assuming some story established what happened to Nomoz, right?)  But based upon the story that DC is keeping alive in the reprints, Jean-Paul simply comes across as nuts.

As for the finale of the miniseries, let’s see…Quesada renders an Azrael that’s McFarlane-worthy, Kevin Nowlan’s distinctive faces are popping up again, there’s no payoff to Azrael losing his sword (based on the series’ title, I assumed this would be important), Batman has very little to do, and no one has acknowledged yet that Nomoz looks like something out of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.  We also don’t receive a real explanation for why LeHah turned against St. Dumas and worshiped a demon instead, leaving him more of a caricature than a legitimate villain.  I did enjoy his brief conversation with Bruce this issue, which has Bruce smugly telling LeHah that he’s been serving his own “demon” ever since his parents died.  Great trash talk that’s unfortunately not paid off.  I understand that Azrael needs to have a grand heroic moment at the end, this really is his miniseries after all, but Batman’s presence in the final two chapters hasn’t amounted to much.  I was expecting Bruce to participate in LeHah’s defeat in some way; ultimately, he’s merely a prop to be rescued in the finale.  Speaking of Bruce, why does he have Mad magazine-style rectangular word balloons throughout the miniseries?  I’ve never seen Ken Bruzenak do this before, which makes me wonder if perhaps Joe Quesada was taking an active role in designing the word balloons.  It’s just an odd design choice, and if we’re being honest, Quesada’s made a few of those over the years…

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

BATMAN: SWORD OF AZRAEL #3 - December 1992

Direct Action
Credits:  Dennis O’Neil (writer), Joe Quesada (penciler), Kevin Nowlan (inker), Ken Bruzenak (letterer), Lovern Kindzierski (colorist)

Summary:  Jean-Paul’s life is saved when LeHah’s bullets hit his duffel bag, which contains his Azrael armor.  Bruce Wayne arrives with Alfred.  Bruce confronts LeHah inside the hospital, while Alfred escapes with Nomoz and Jean-Paul.  Bruce is drugged with ether and taken captive by LeHah.  LeHah’s attempts to interrogate Bruce fail, but he does steal the Batman costume Bruce was wearing under his clothes.  After killing the St. Dumas member Borgeron, LeHah travels to London to kill another brother, Harcourt.  LeHah dons the Batman costume just as Alfred and Azrael arrive outside Harcourt’s gates.

Irrelevant Continuity:  LeHah discovers Bruce’s secret identity because he’s wearing the Batman costume under his clothes.  Meanwhile, Alfred just casually reveals to Nomoz and Azrael his connection to Batman.  

I Love the ’90s:  Socks the Cat appears again in the alley behind the hospital.

Review:  In retrospect, it’s obvious that Dennis O’Neil wrote this miniseries with the intent of introducing Jean-Paul into the main titles as the new Batman.  This issue sees Jean-Paul stand up to his brutish mentor Nomoz and spare Alfred’s life (Nomoz declares that Alfred knows too much about the Order of St. Dumas and should die), just a few pages before he cracks the case and correctly deduces LeHah’s next move.  It’s amusing to read these passages today, because as I’ve mentioned earlier, the creators actually working on the monthly titles didn’t seem concerned about following the lead established by O’Neil in this series.  Not only was Azrael portrayed as a particularly lousy detective, but he was also much closer to Nomoz’s persona than the young idealist he appears to be in this issue.  O’Neil edited those comics, so if he had a real problem with their portrayal of Jean-Paul he could’ve done something, but it’s just odd to look back on this series and see how quickly Jean-Paul’s existing personality was tossed out in order to make him a strawman argument against vigilante anti-heroes.

There is a danger in this story of turning Batman into a bit of chump, and while I doubt O’Neil pleased everyone, I think he’s been able to prevent Batman from being totally overshadowed by Azrael so far.  Batman does lose the fight this issue, but O’Neil at least has him put up a respectable fight against LeHah, and the botched interrogation scene reads like classic O’Neil Batman.  It’s one thing for a drugged Batman to lose a physical fight, but there’s no way a punk like LeHah is going to break Batman’s will.

Every issue so far has had some excuse for a hallucination scene, presumably written with Quesada in mind.  This chapter has Batman hallucinating in the hospital after LeHah drops a shelf full of ether bottles on him, which is probably the best use of the gimmick so far.  Drugging Batman provides a credible excuse for him losing the fight, and allows Quesada a few pages to go even crazier, presenting a hazy Bruce vs. Demon action sequence.  Even when the story doesn’t require exaggeration, Quesada can’t help himself.  Azrael now appears to be ten feet tall in costume, while LeHah is growing shorter and fatter each issue.  Some of the signs of Quesada’s later excesses are already here, but I think he’s still at the stage where his overindulgences aren’t a major concern.  Looking over the issue, I do wonder if Quesada ran into deadline troubles during this month.  Some of the pages aren’t as heavily rendered as the ones in the previous issues, and it certainly seems as if Kevin Nowlan is doing more than standard inking on several pages.  Almost every panel of Bruce Wayne that isn’t a close-up looks like a Nowlan drawing, for instance.  I’m not complaining; Quesada and Nowlan don’t seem to be an obvious match, but I think the combination is interesting.  The panels that have Nowlan overpowering Quesada do take me out of the story, however.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

BATMAN: SWORD OF AZRAEL #2 - November 1992

Azrael Does Not Protect
Credits:  Dennis O’Neil (writer), Joe Quesada (penciler), Kevin Nowlan (inker), Ken Bruzenak (letterer), Lovern Kindzierski (colorist)

Summary:  Batman and Alfred crash into the snow, while Nomoz leads Jean-Paul away from the remains of their chalet.  LeHah attempts to escape with his lackey, but the avalanche created by the rocket blast causes their helicopter to crash.  During the crash, LeHah becomes convinced that he is now the servant of the demon Biis.  After they recover, LeHah kills his assistant as a sacrifice.  Nearby, Jean-Paul attacks Batman on Nomoz’s orders.  Nomoz saves the outclassed Jean-Paul from the fight, leaving Azrael’s sword behind in the snow.  Later, Batman and Alfred continue to investigate the Order of St. Dumas while LeHah compiles a list of brothers to murder.  Nomoz and Jean-Paul, in his new Azrael armor, travel to a hospital where one brother is being treated.  Before Jean-Paul can don his armor, he’s shot repeatedly by LeHah.

Irrelevant Continuity:  
  • Nomoz reveals that LeHah was once the treasurer of the Order of St. Dumas.  LeHah looted the Order's accounts months earlier, which is why Nomoz sent Jean-Paul’s father to deal with him.
  • I have no idea what’s happened to Nomoz’s assistant, Heinreich.  He doesn’t escape the chalet with Nomoz and Jean-Paul this issue.
  • Quesada’s interpretation of LeHah doesn’t match his appearances during the later chapters of “Knightfall.”  Based on those comics, I assumed LeHah was thin with blond hair; in this story he has a massive build and gray hair.  (It’s hard not to notice he looks like Cable, right down to the scar over his eye.)  Or maybe the character Azrael thought was LeHah in the later stories wasn’t him at all…he was going insane in those issues.

Not Approved By The Comics Code Authority:  LeHah’s rampage at the hospital is pretty bloody.  Also, we see LeHah nude from the back during one scene as he rants into a mirror.

I Love the ‘90s:  Cable LeHah, after taking the form of Biis, whips out a giant Chiclet gun.

Review:  I’ll admit that I was confused by the opening sequence of this issue, and even after rereading it, I had to go back to the previous issue to make certain I could follow what was going on.  The sequence of events has LeHah and an unidentified associate launching a rocket from the ground, acquiring a helicopter off-panel, and then being caught in the avalanche created by the rocket blast minutes earlier.  Intercut with their story are two other plots involving Batman/Alfred and Nomoz/Jean-Paul escaping the chaos.  Most of my confusion stems from the fact that a) Quesada kept LeHah in the dark for the majority of the previous issue, so it was difficult to place him this time, and b) O’Neil doesn’t seem to identify LeHah by name until the issue is half-way over.  The fact that a gratuitous Batman/Azrael fight is thrown in during LeHah’s descent into madness doesn’t help matters, either.  

After clarifying that the character I kept calling “Cable” was in fact LeHah, the rest of the issue seemed to be straightforward enough.  LeHah has betrayed the Order of St. Dumas, a secret organization with connections to the Crusades that avenges evil to this day.  Jean-Paul is destined to replace his father and adopt the role of Azrael, while LeHah has convinced himself that he is now the living embodiment of the demon Biis.  What this has to do with Batman isn’t clear, but whenever he does appear in the story, Quesada does make him look cool.  Okay, in fairness, O’Neil also provides a respectable amount of cute Batman/Alfred banter throughout the story.  I can’t say that Batman feels totally shoehorned into the plot, but its hard to pretend that he isnt coming across as a guest star in Azrael’s story, either.  

The title of the issue eludes to something Nomoz tells Jean-Paul during the final scene.  Nomoz hasn’t brought Jean-Paul to the hospital to “protect” its inhabitants from LeHah because “Azrael does not protect.  Azrael avenges.”  That brief line sums up the difference between Batman and Azrael, a point the Bat-titles spent almost two years trying to make.  And yet, even over the course of dozens of comics, I don’t think this aspect of Azrael’s backstory was ever explained clearly during “Knightfall.”  Azrael just comes across as unhinged during the storyline; I don’t think the concept that he was literally created to serve vengeance and vengeance only was truly addressed during his time as Batman.  It’s obvious O’Neil had this idea from the beginning, but the writers of the monthly titles seemed far more interested in exploring Azrael’s mental instability than the concept of justice vs. vengeance.  

Monday, August 24, 2015

BATMAN: SWORD OF AZRAEL #1 - October 1992

Vanishing Angels & Sudden Death
Credits:  Dennis O’Neil (writer), Joe Quesada (penciler), Kevin Nowlan (inker), Ken Bruzenak (letterer), Lovern Kindzierski (colorist)

Summary:  Azrael confronts weapons dealer Carleton LeHah, and is shot repeatedly.  He stumbles into a nearby parade and accidentally causes a riot that kills several people.  Near death, Azrael reaches the apartment of his son Jean-Paul.  Azrael leaves Jean-Paul a cryptic message before dying.  Following the directions left by his father, Jean-Paul travels to the Swiss Alps.  He meets his tutor Nomoz, and Nomoz’s burly assistant, Heinreich.  They train Jean-Paul to follow in his father’s footsteps, while Batman investigates Carleton LeHah in Gotham.  His investigation leads him to the ancient Order of St. Dumas, and to the Swiss Alps.  As Batman and Alfred fly overhead the Order of Dumas’ chalet, LeHah fires a rocket that destroys the building.

Irrelevant Continuity:  
  • According to Nomoz, Jean-Paul’s father has been preparing him to become Azrael since childhood.  His secret conditioning (“The System”) would go on to play a major role in many “Knightfall” stories.
  • Carleton LeHah debuts this issue.  He’ll also become important later during “Knightfall,” even though the stories reprinted in the Knightfall trades never get around to really explaining who he is.
  • A reporter named Sherri Port is killed during the riot.  Batman claims that he knew, and liked, Sherri.

Dramatic Exits:  After receiving information on the case from Commissioner Gordon (Azrael had a sword that no one’s recovered), Batman disappears in the middle of their conversation.

I Love the ‘90s:  Quesada sneaks a Socks the Cat balloon into the parade scene.  I guess Socks was going to be Quesada’s Felix the Cat for a while there.

Not Approved By The Comics Code Authority:  Like most of DC’s special miniseries projects of the day, this doesn’t appear to be Code approved.  Aside from a few bloody panels, there’s nothing that would cause any problems with the CCA, however.

Review:  Unless something snuck by me, Sword of Azrael has been out of print for over twenty years now.  I have no way of knowing why, but the only reasonable explanation I can think of would be a simple desire to prevent Joe Quesada from earning reprint royalties.  It’s not as if this miniseries is a forgettable, gratuitous cash grab from the salad days of 1992.  Sword of Azrael is the basis of a multi-year Batman event that’s still inspiring material to this day.  By all rights, it should’ve been included with the phonebook Knightfall trades; its absence is impossible not to notice if you sit down and try to read those books.

My memory is that Sword was one of the few breakout hits from DC during the early ‘90s.  There was Lobo, “Death of Superman,” and the Batman miniseries by that hot new Quesada guy.  In the pre-Image days, DC’s mainstream titles tended to resemble Jim Shooter’s (or more accurately I suppose, Mort Weisinger’s) platonic ideal of superhero art -- midlevel shots, plausible anatomy, and simple page layouts that any kid could follow.  Sword broke that mold, presenting a Batman comic that could easily compete with any of the wild visuals seen in those Image books.  Quesada’s art is certainly tied to this era, but it’s not embarrassing in the way a second-tier Extreme Studios book might be viewed today.  Quesada’s pencils take elements from everyone from Mike Mignola to Michael Golden to Bart Sears, and his panel layouts are reminiscent of Todd McFarlane’s more imaginative pages.  Anything that can be exaggerated is, which leads to another obvious McFarlane comparison -- Quesada’s Batman is almost identical to the Batman we’ll see a year later in Spawn/Batman.  I don’t know if Quesada extrapolated this look from Todd’s early Batman work in the ‘80s, or if Todd saw this miniseries and was inspired, or if it’s all a massive coincidence.  Nevertheless, this Batman has the longest cape in the world, a chest wider than a Mack truck, and a tendency to literally become a shadow when he steps out at night.  Needless to say, Wizard loved this series, and the entire run became a hot collector’s item a few months after its release.

Written by Dennis O’Neil during his days editing the Batman line (this specific mini was overseen by the legendary Archie Goodwin), I’m sure most Bat-readers had some idea this story would pay dividends in the future.  I doubt many people knew it was the first step in a lengthy meta-commentary on just what Batman is supposed to represent, but surely you had to know this Azrael guy was going to be important if Denny O’Neil is plotting his debut story arc.  The first issue is mostly setup, establishing Jean-Paul’s origin while slowly drawing Batman into the story.  Quesada certainly runs with the visuals; a riot during a parade might be a chore for many artists, but Quesada seems to enjoy the chaos.  And while Azrael (the senior Azrael, not the one who’ll soon replace Batman) is a fairly dull vigilante cliché this issue, the outrageous visual is more than enough to sell him during the opening scene.  

Quesada’s so over the top, it’s hard to tell when he should or shouldn’t tone things down.  For example, is Nomoz supposed to look like the creature Billy Barty played in the Masters of the Universe movie?  As far as we know, there’s no supernatural element to the Order of St. Dumas, outside of a flaming sword.  If Nomoz isn’t supposed to be inhuman in some way, then why does Quesada draw him like this?  If there’s no need in the story for this character to resemble a troll, rendering him that way makes no sense.  (Then again, maybe Nomoz is supposed to resemble something out of Tolkien and I’m just getting ahead of myself.)  At any rate, for an issue that largely consists of cryptic hints and exposition, there’s enough here to keep the reader going to the next chapter.  Jean-Paul will go on to become an insufferable character, but thankfully there’s no hint of that in this issue.  Right now, I’m curious to see if Jean-Paul’s already a crazed loon by the end of the miniseries.

Friday, August 21, 2015

GREEN LANTERN #50 – March 1994

Emerald Twilight Part Three: The Future
Credits:  Ron Marz (writer), Darryl Banks (penciler), Romeo Tanghal (inker), Albert de Guzman (letterer), Steve Mattsson (colorist)

Summary:  Sinestro battles Hal Jordan outside of the Central Battery, goading Hal to remove all of his recently acquired rings.  Hal agrees, defeating Sinestro in a bloody battle that ends with Hal breaking Sinestro’s neck.  Kilowog reemerges and tries again to prevent Hal from stealing all of the Green Lanterns’ energy from the Central Battery.  Hal declares that he can’t go back and blasts Kilowog until only his skeleton remains.  As Hal enters the Central Battery, the Guardians decide to sacrifice their own lives and give their remaining power to Ganthet.  Hal emerges wearing new armor.  He crushes his power ring and flies away.  Later, Ganthet reforms the ring and flies to Earth.  Outside of a nightclub, Ganthet hands the ring to Kyle Rayner.

Irrelevant Continuity:  Hal Jordan’s new identity after stealing the Central Battery’s power is Parallax, although he doesn’t use the name this issue.  I’m assuming that comes in his next appearance.  Years later, Geoff Johns will reveal in the Green Lantern: Rebirth miniseries that Parallax was the name of the “fear entity” that possessed Hal throughout this entire story arc.

“Behold, the Unrivaled Imagination of Hal Jordan!”:  Hal resorts to generic energy blasts for most of the issue, deviating a few times to create a shield, a battering ram, and a handheld laser cannon (which simply shoots the energy beams his ring fires anyway, so you tell me what the point is…).

I Love the 90s:  Kyle Rayner is wearing a Nine Inch Nails t-shirt, although it doesn’t feature the rectangular NIN logo that was everywhere during 1994.

Total N00B:  I’d love to know how Kilowog’s death was retconned.

Gimmicks:  This is a forty-eight page anniversary issue, featuring a pin-up gallery in the final pages.  The cover price is $2.95.  Looking at the GCD entry, I don't see any indication that there was an enhanced cover.

Review:  There’s a moment this issue when Hal Jordan’s friend Kilowog returns unexpectedly, giving Hal one more chance to end this insanity and turn himself in.  Kilowog is one of the more popular Green Lanterns, with a lovable grouch persona that’s reminiscent of the Fantastic Four’s Thing.  (Judging by his appearances in all of the TV and film adaptations featuring GL characters, DC is under the impression that everyone loves Kilowog.)  During their conversation, Hal reveals that he actually didn’t leave any of the Green Lanterns to die; that even though he stole their rings, he left them with enough power to escape outer space and return home safely.  This reads as a very abrupt attempt to backpedal away from the previous issue, which gave absolutely no indication that Hal was concerned about sparing the lives of his friends, but hey…maybe cooler heads have prevailed.  No one explicitly died last issue, and the only person killed by Hal so far is the villainous Sinestro, so there’s still time for Hal to redeem himself.  He’ll have a trial, lose the ring for a few issues, and then the status quo will be restored.  It’s all a little melodramatic, but nothing too outrageous by the standards of a superhero comic, especially in the early ‘90s.

Oh, what’s this?  

No, they’re doubling-down on this nonsense.  Ah, well.  

“Emerald Twilight” concludes, with Hal Jordan officially becoming a supervillain, effectively killing the entire Green Lantern Corps and flying off into space in his shiny new set of villainous armor.  Bizarrely, the issue ends with a series of pin-ups dedicated to Hal Jordan, with a portion of the Green Lantern oath pasted in typographic print on each drawing.  Yes, let’s pay tribute to the gallant hero whose character we’ve assassinated over the course of the past three issues.  I can only assume that these pin-ups were already in the drawer when DC decided to radically change plans for “Emerald Twilight,” because the decision to run them after this storyline is mind-boggling.  

There’s not much to be said about the issue that I haven’t covered before.  Visually, it is an improvement over the last chapter -- Darryl Banks’ interpretation of Hal Jordan is reminiscent of M. D. Bright’s, and I don’t have a problem with that.  There’s a sense of incredulity throughout the issue, although most of the shock value was already exhausted in the previous chapter.  That issue led us to believe that Hal was actively killing his friends, while this issue allows him to claim innocence.  The decision to back away from the apparent murders in the last issue seems odd initially, until you realize that it’s all done to make Kilowog’s death this issue seem even more dramatic.  If Hal’s already killed a dozen Green Lanterns, it doesn’t mean as much when Kilowog is blasted into bones.  Of course, we’re supposed to infer by the end of the issue that the rest of the Green Lantern Corps died when Hal stole the power from the Central Battery, but it’s more of an incidental death now.  I can’t imagine this placated anyone -- Hal’s still clearly on the hook for all of these deaths.

The final pages end with the introduction of the new Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner.  I get the sense that he’s still being developed as a character, because no effort has been made thus far to establish anything about Kyle, aside from the fact that he’s young.  I’ve heard people remark before that Kyle was a random citizen who received the ring while drunk outside of a nightclub, but he appears sober this issue, commenting that he needed to “leave the dance floor for some air.”  The “random” part of his origin might be true, with Ganthet commenting that Kyle will “have to do,” although Ganthet’s actions in the final pages are so poorly dramatized it’s hard to discern what’s happening.  He flies all the way to Earth, for reasons that aren’t explained.  (Hal Jordan’s sector didn’t just include Earth, right?  And there are no sectors now, and only one ring, so why did Ganthet travel so far?)  For more unexplained reasons, Ganthet decides to stand outside of a nightclub, and after giving the ring away, he simply disappears.  I have to assume that Kyle’s origin was fleshed out in upcoming issues, because it’s hard to imagine that such a choppy origin story didn’t receive at least one retcon or two.

Whether or not Kyle Rayner was a worthy successor to Hal Jordan is ultimately irrelevant.  He’s taking the mantle after a conscious decision has been made to twist Hal into a murderous psychopath, and there’s no way the existing fan base would stand for it.  DC had to know they went too far with this story, because the rest of the ‘90s are spent trying to find ways to redeem Hal Jordan without totally negating the events of this storyline.  And DC was outright stubborn about this.  “Peter Parker Shouldn’t Be Married” stubborn.  Eventually, it took a fan-turned-pro who never got over this story to pull the ultimate retcon, and regardless of what you might think of Geoff Johns’ later work, his enthusiasm for the Hal Jordan character did lead to a legitimate revival for the hero.  Hal was finally redeemed, even though it took longer than any of us expected.  DC used to defend “Emerald Twilight” by touting it as “daring,” but it’s clearly shock value storytelling; poorly conceived, poorly executed shock value at that.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

GREEN LANTERN #49 – February 1994

Emerald Twilight Part Two: The Present
Credits:  Ron Marz (writer), Fred Haynes (penciler), Romeo Tanghal & Dennis Cramer (inkers), Albert de Guzman (letterer), Steve Mattsson (colorist)

Summary:  Hal Jordan flies to Oa, and is confronted by various Green Lanterns along the way.  He easily defeats Lanterns Ke'Haan of Varva and Jayd Laira and steals their power rings.  Hal then faces his friend Tomar Tu and Jack Chance; he defeats them both and leaves them to die in space.  Using the power of the various rings he’s stolen, Hal brutalizes the final Lantern defender, Kilowog.  He arrives at Oa, announcing he wants the Central Battery.  The Guardians reluctantly release Sinestro to face Hal.

Irrelevant Continuity:  Years later, Geoff Johns will reveal that the Sinestro Hal faces in this storyline is actually a hard-light duplicate that Sinestro is controlling from inside the Central Battery.

“Behold, the Unrivaled Imagination of Hal Jordan!”:  Hal sticks to his typical energy blasts for most of this issue, although he does briefly create a giant replica of himself during the Kilowog fight.  And…I guess that’s supposed to be a knife, but we’ll get to that one later.

I Love the '90s:  I’m assuming Jack Chance was DC’s attempt to create a Green Lantern “for the ‘90s.”  He has a trenchcoat, a giant gun, and a bad attitude to go along with his gambling gimmick.  I’m going to guess that he was created as an intentional parody and just accept the joke.

Approved By The Comics Code Authority:  Hal creates what appears to be a knife with his power ring (the art isn’t clear), and severs the hand of female Lantern Boodikka when she refuses to give up her ring.

Creative Differences:  The original solicitation for this issue reads:    
   by G. Jones, Haynes, & Tanghal
   "Green Lantern is caught up in a battle raging between two equally powerful groups of the Guardians of the Universe. Hal's side loses, and the winners' first act is to take away the power rings' 24-hour time limit, and their yellow impurity. Their second act is to appoint a new leader of the Green Lantern Corps---Sinestro!. This issue leads directly into the landmark Green Lantern #50, a major turning point for the series."
   Cover by Kevin Maguire

Review:  I didn’t hate the previous issue of this event.  I thought that Ron Marz conveyed Hal’s angst in a credible way and, given the limitations of a single issue, established the enormity of Hal’s loss in a manner that didn’t feel cheap.  This issue, I hate.  It’s everything I assumed “Emerald Twilight” would be, and even if my affection for Hal Jordan is limited to his old Super Powers action figure, I can’t read this and not feel some empathy for anyone who grew up enjoying Hal’s adventures.

Before delving into the sheer ghastliness of the story, I’ll mention that the art is a major disappointment after the Bill Willingham job last issue.  I’ve always liked this cover (which appeared in numerous fan magazines and promotional materials at the time), but the interior art is far too rough for a professional job, let alone an “important” storyline that serves as Hal Jordan’s big finale.  Ugly faces, feeble backgrounds, pointless rendering, weak anatomy…it’s exactly what I would expect a ‘90s rush job to be.

The plot of the issue I’ve been familiar with for over twenty years, even though I’m only now reading the story.  Everyone knows about the time Hal Jordan went nuts, killed his friends, and tried to steal the Guardians’ power.  The execution this issue is about as deep as that summary -- Hal’s here, he’s crazy, and people are going to die.  (Okay, aliens are going to die.)  Even today, this is frustrating on numerous levels.  It’s just such a pathetic attempt to imitate what DC thinks someone like Alan Moore would do with the book.  It’s the hero as the villain, driven mad by grief and power, and aren’t you kids just thrilled to watch his killing spree?  Out of sheer morbid curiosity, of course this is going to bring attention to the title, but surely someone had to realize that this was disastrous short-term thinking.  

DC is extremely lucky that Ron Marz was able to create a replacement character that managed to attract his own fans and keep this book alive, because it’s difficult to imagine why any hardcore Green Lantern fan would continue to follow the title after this issue.  Was Green Lantern even in such a dire need of a reboot, anyway?  DC was publishing three Green Lantern titles at the time, so I’m assuming the brand still had some commercial appeal, and I don’t recall any antipathy towards the Hal Jordan character.  Maybe a segment of the readership was burned out on Hal, but did anyone really want to see this happen?  Yes, some writers are able to create stories that aggressively fly in the face of what the audience wants while still keeping the readers onboard, but this event has no real creative merit.  It was conceived as a hit piece on Hal Jordan’s character and a flagrant sales stunt.  At least “Death of Superman” and “Knightfall” had a point to prove.  This is just ugly.
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