Monday, March 15, 2021

The Green Lantern Season Two #12

On the last page, the hero flies off. We may not see him again anytime soon. He doesn’t know where his path will take him. Yes, that’s a statement about Hal Jordan, but it’s also a statement (give or take pronouns?) about Grant Morrison, and not an accidental one. Morrison, who identified with and championed Batman so intimately a decade ago fully took the Hal Jordan character to heart and for as long as this run has lasted, it’s been a statement that Jordan is Morrison’s champion, and that he is worth of being ours. And so, Morrison’s send-off is Hal’s send-off. For now.

For such a landmark issue, The Green Lantern Season Two #12 is remarkably formulaic for much of its story. Someone powerful faces off against Hal and Hal tells them, in essence, Fight with me or lose. He’s always right about that and he knows that he’s right about that. Earlier, I compared this upcoming ending to the end of Morrison’s Batman run, but Batman was beaten low, unconscious, out of his mind. Hal really never stops smirking at any point in this issue. He doesn’t negotiate with enemies; he threatens them, and along the way, he belittles them; he informs them that he has absolute control over the outcome of the conflict. “The ‘Golden Ones’ – I figured you’d show up eventually. You shouldn’t have… and you’ll wish you hadn’t.” Hal wins over his allies and takes down his enemies in sequence: Draatha, the supervillain surrogates, a brainwashed and transformed Fekk and Samandra, Hector Hammond, and finally the Golden Giants – and by extension, offscreen, Hyperwoman. Each time, Hal states the outcome in advance. Fekk and Samandra join him. The Golden Giants accept a deal. The others go down in a fight. Hal barely, at any point, seems worried. Ultimately, he wins with whatever weapon he uses against whatever other weapon. If his enemy has a massive space fleet and Hal has a sharp rock, Hal will win. Hal wins because he’s a winner and this is his story. This isn’t a clinic on combat techniques. It isn’t really about the way the Intelligence Engine (the issue’s title) works or how it selectively interferes with the power ring. It’s a parable about the comics industry and the hero genre itself. Everybody represents a larger class. The fighting always goes Hal’s way. The real story is in the talking.

As we’ve seen with other Morrison works, many supporting characters are drawn from DC lore that hasn’t been thought of as in-continuity in quite some time, but Morrison changes the original conceptions profoundly. I came into this run expecting that, perhaps, we would see many such characters from Hal’s past, but we rather saw many characters from throughout the Silver Age, but not specifically from Green Lantern, Volume 2 (1960-). The Hyper-Family debuted as heroes in Superboy. The Golden Giants debuted as antagonists in Flash. These characters look like their original versions but, like Doctor Hurt with respect to the unnamed doctor from which he originated, are profoundly corrupted: Hyperman and Hyperwoman turned from happy, smiling superheroes into psychopaths while the Golden Giants turned from primitive brutes into tyrants. Athmoora, from an Abin Sur scene in an early Hal story, is also rooted, stylistically in the past, but Morrison doesn’t change it so much as he makes it dirtier and grittier. In the 1962 original, Athmoora was a planet in the present that remained stuck in a medieval past, with knights fighting in swordplay – but not too busy to stop and explain to Abin Sur that alien invaders had stolen their “I-Factor” which trapped them in a less developed state rather than progressing.

The irony is that Hal Jordan was created as a representation of futuristic technology – a test pilot only years after the sound barrier had first been broken – but TGL Season Two is a parable about past and present. And it’s necessary to tease apart how these different takes on the past interrelate. We have the Golden Giants rooted in prehistory (25 million years ago, Flash #120 says) but they represent nothing from the past so much as a timeless greed. Athmoora, literally in the present but living in the style of hundreds of years ago, represents the style of superhero comics produced in the Silver Age but representing something that Morrison values today. Characters like Vartox (destroyed) and Hyper-Man (now evil) represent those Silver Age value corrupted and diminished. This is similar to how Morrison depicted the downfall of Earth-20’s Society of Super-Heroes, with everything going wrong as soon as the Atom killed a man. The Silver Age bit performers, the Golden Giants, and Athmoora’s warriors are the players representing the past but what of the present?

Every now and then a Morrison story has a line that doesn’t seem to fit – something jarring, out of character, or otherwise defying the expected logic – and, not seeing the reason for them, I read on, but there’s usually a very good explanation for them in the end. And in #12, that line is Hector Hammond saying, “I was an ordinary person once. Ordinary like you. Like all of us.” And then later, “I get to kill a superhero. Admit it! Wouldn’t you want to kill a superhero?” And the simple question is: Who is “you”? To whom is Hector Hammond narrating? And the answer is, us. Some of us, at least. And it’s Hal talking back to those who want to see his style of superhero destroyed when he asks Hector, in rage, “You did all this just to kick over my sandcastle?”

That’s Hal, the erstwhile man of the future, now a man of the past in certain ways, talking back to those – fans and creators – who want to see Athmoora destroyed. For what is Athmoora? The answer is way back in Season One #9. On Athmoora, the ring sassily says to Hal, “I don’t know why we come here” and Hal answers, “Don’t know about you. I came for a vacation.” And that, 18 issues back, is the simple answer to the simple pleasure that Morrison is standing up for in this parable. Why the hell does anyone pick a comic book up, anyway? Hal came for a vacation. An escape. Didn’t you?

The Young Guardians (recent DC writers), the Golden Giants of the Nomad Empire (the corporate control of creativity and “change for no sake other than change itself”), and Hector Hammond (the creators and fans who have nothing but disdain for this sort of comic) are ready to kick over the sandcastle, end the vacation, end the escape, and move on for no sake other than change itself. This is why Morrison showed Earth-15 with its dead Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. This is the Depressoverse. This is the ugly revamp of Fekk and Samandra into gaudy video game characters (they drop terminology from World of Warcraft).

Who is the real villain here? Hyper-Woman was a Silver Age character ruined by adultification. Morrison dismisses the Young Guardians (his colleagues, until now) as “knowing everything, understanding nothing” (Season 1 #7). The chattering online fans (“i h8 u!” “terf!”) represent the Ultrawar of everyone against everyone else. Hammond is their leading voice, but he’s just a pawn. The artwork seems to pin down the answer. The latest Quing of the Nomad Empire  – a mispronunciation of “king”… “Long live the Quing!” (Season Two #4) – is depicted as an infectious virus – the perfect symbol for the Coronavirus era. From his first appearance he’s looked like a particular type of virus called a bacteriophage, but now we see him land on Hammond’s overdeveloped cranium and infect him, leaving him babbling gibberish like a virus-infected cell (perhaps bacterium). Check it out:

This story is the encounter between Hal – good old fashioned superhero comics… a vacation – and those corporate interests, but he doesn’t crush them, kill them, or eliminate them. He makes them a deal. Morrison’s message is that Hal’s style of superhero is the real, pure thing. They’re the kind of heroes that people are really looking for. Not itchy-looking brutes like Draatha (who goes down hard after bragging of his superiority) or the World of Warcraft downgrades of Fekk and Samandra (who becomes a franchise in comics, movies, and games). Superheroes. That’s the Cosmic Grail that they had and lost. They lost it because of change for change’s sake. And Hal makes them a deal. They can just have it back and profit off it forever. And all he has to do to consecrate the deal is to summon up his will and say the oath, and let it sound all over the Multiverse. Love and will. And when he’s done saying his oath, the war is over.

If they accept this, Morrison is saying of the creative conglomerates, if they let the superheroes be superheroes, they will have what they want, taking the golden lamp (a wonderful and moreover profitable source of new stories) into the over-space. Maybe Morrison’s right. And maybe they will.

In the epilogue, the Young Guardians confess that Hal was right. They were wrong to want to end his tenure. Letting Athmoora grow and advance seems to be compatible with what Hal asked – it can still be a place for vacation. Hal asks the Young Guardians – Morrison speaking of the new new crop of DC writers – “the next generation of artificial Guardians will learn from your [the 2016-2020 writers] experiences, right?” Morrison’s hoping, but also preaching.

And then it ends where it began. Asked to stay around, Hal beams himself off in a goodbye that is temporary for Hal Jordan. But this isn’t just the last page of The Green Lantern, but perhaps, of Grant Morrison’s DC work. Until if and when our paths cross again.


  1. Great write-up. I dug this run overall, and most of my problems with it had more to do with Sharp's storytelling than with Morrison's writing, but I think Morrison ended up re-hashing ideas from his previous DC works, knowingly or not.

    We still have incredibly old and powerful entities trying to make the DC universe more desolate for their own benefit just like Mandraak and the Gentry, and while the Ultrawar concept felt intriguing at first, it ended up being another weapon created by old gods to make sentient beings fight among themselves, just like Mageddon.

    Honesty, out of the two big Morrison finales that DC released last week, I was more impressed with Wonder Woman: Earth One Vol. 3.

    1. There were certainly similar elements, and for good reason. However, I think Morrison was a lot more specific in calling out the problems here than in Multiversity. I have yet to catch up on GM's WW. It could be time now!

  2. Beautiful, but bitter-sweet of course what with the departure of Morrison. It's been a hell of a journey, and I can only hope we can enter a new renaissance of DC Comics sometime in the foreseeable future. It's always darkest before the dawn...

    1. Thanks, Son Of Batmann. You provided some very thoughtful and well-researched posts during the run. I look forward to picking up some new comics and seeing what's clicking in the new era. I haven't seen a Bendis issue yet that I didn't like, though I haven't blogged about his work yet.

  3. Do you think there is a connection between Ultra from Multiversity and the Ultrawar?

    1. Interesting thought, Anthony. I think it is simply the use of yet another prefix like "super" and "hyper" and there's a need to recycle them from time to time. Morrison's "Ultra Comics" issue of Multiversity itself pointed out that the name "Ultra" had been used more than once but I forget if he included only two references to it or even more. For me, and I think for Morrison, that was most strongly a reference to Ultraa from Earth Prime. So maybe, since Ultrawar was an allegory for things in the real world, it fits. My guess is that Morrison didn't intend this but would find it a neat connection if he read your comment!