Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best of the Decade #2

During 2009, I spent a lot of my comic-reading time reading stories from the Thirties forward. By and large, the older stories were formulaic and offered no surprises to readers who remembered how the previous month's stories went. The hero received notice of a problem; he faced the problem; he beat the problem. Repetition of this formula continues to the present day, although by and large, for a story to be interesting, it has to offer something else. In my view, the opening scene of Final Crisis #5 simply carried out this simple formula to perfection, and if the genre were to be summed up in six pages (the typical length of a Thirties story), it would be hard to do better than Grant Morrison's depiction of Hal Jordan bursting free.

The story up to that point was one of unstoppable losses for the heroes. The strongest players in the DCU were either banished, captive, in retreat, or diminished. Darkseid's grip on Earth had been hammered home in issue #4, and the heroes who were holding on showed broken confidence in their defiance. Issue #5 opened with a hero who by definition refuses to acknowledge underdog status. And so Hal Jordan faced a trial whose outcome he had already predicted with, "I'll be fine."

The trial concept was, in fairness to earlier creators, a refinement and retelling of earlier stories. In Green Lantern v2 #11, writer John Broome put Hal on trial on Oa for the first time. Later, Steve Englehart's wonderful story in JLA v1 #140-141 repeated the premise, with the Manhunters in that story serving very clearly the inspiration for the Alpha Lanterns in Morrison's version. In all three stories, Hal was being framed; in all three, he went willingly before the Guardians. And in Final Crisis, Hal was utterly confident that he was to be vindicated by the proceedings.

The last-minute appearance of Guy Gardner and Kyle Rayner turned suspicion to Hal's accuser, the Alpha Lantern Kraken who was hosting the mind of Darkseid's crony Granny Goodness. When she took advantage of her location to try to seize the power of the Central Power Battery, Hal Jordan effected the miraculous turning of the tide that defines superhero comics.

Despite being the only person in the room who did not have the power of a Green Lantern ring, Hal broke apart his green-energy chains and ran across the room to charge the evil god with pure physical intimidation pitted against her power ring. With a head-butt and a left cross, he put the villain on the floor while a veritable squadron of Green Lanterns did little more than watch and defend themselves. For the record, the matchup of fists against Kraken's power ring was the same struggle Batman had lost three issues earlier.

With his own imprisonment suddenly cast off, Hal heard of the predicament of Earth, and the possible universe-destroying threat created by Darkseid's fall. Against the backdrop of the Justice League on the run and the Justice Society under siege -- with Batman and Wonder Woman trapped and Superman sidelined -- the news of Darkseid's conquest was received with awe even by the Guradians. This same threat prompted Hal merely to reach out and accept the most powerful weapon in the universe in his outstretched palm and give a cocked-head promise to kick Darkseid's ass. So the tide of the crisis turned, and in perfect born-without-fear style, Hal showed as much concern for the task of beating Darkseid as he might have shown for removing a raccoon from a garbage dumpster. Sealing the victory, a Guardian declared Hal innocent of all charges and announced that Jordan had 24 hours to save the universe. An interesting quirk of this scene, one I regard as virtually untoppable for its purity, was that it was released for free on the web as the preview for the issue.

Just one scene remains in this countdown, and the only hint I'll give is that it was penned by a writer who hasn't made the list so far.


  1. Though I consider Final Crisis to be more of a Superman story than a Green Lantern story, this was a very good scene.

  2. Excellent choice. final crisis was practically full of incredible scenes (with little narrative linking them - something I liked, for the record). I hadn't put together that green lantern won where batman lost, and I think thats kind of a cool quirk. batman may have the skills, but hal's got the will, I guess ;-)