Monday, February 8, 2021

The Green Lantern, Before the End

If The Green Lantern is to be Grant Morrison’s last work writing a monthly title for DC, the final two issues should be a grand gesture, long remembered. With twenty-five of the issues behind us, what can we say of Morrison’s love letter to Hal Jordan? Where has this journey led and how will it finish?

In some regard, Morrison’s earlier runs with Batman and Superman (on Action) are two of a kind, with this Green Lantern run as the third in a set. These are not just runs that start with a story, followed by another story, then another, until there’s a last one. Morrison builds a structure. His Batman run had, primarily, three arcs, with a Big Bad lurking in the shadows until late in each run. His Action run, the shortest, had just one such season, with one primary Big Bad, Vyndktvx. Morrison’s run, thus far, organized around three distinct titles of 12, 3, and 12 issues, has had one clear Big Bad in the first, but the third has not, so far, suggested any one central villain lurking.

All of these plot lines have rosters of villains backing up the main one; sometimes they are underlings of the boss, and sometimes they are parallel, lesser, but unrelated threats. The Batman stories had Doctor Hurt and Talia as the central villains, but Ra’s al Ghul, the Joker, and Darkseid’s Hyper-Adapter and several others played major roles. In Action, Vyndktvx was the central villain, but Super-Doomsday was pivotal, the muscle in some respect, to Vyndktvx’s brains. And in The Green Lantern’s first twelve issues, the Qwa-Man, Hal’s antimatter double, is something like that for Commander Mu.

The structure even for Season One (the first twelve issues, not formally named as a season) was more complex than “seasons” of Morrison’s other runs. It appeared, near the end of issue 6, as though Commander Mu’s plan had reached fruition, and he had just about built the machine at the center of his master plot, hinted as far back as issue 1, and then… he was killed, by Alanna, no less. Furthermore, Hal and the universe as a whole were at death’s door along with him. But then, late in #12, we found out that Mu had not died (and perhaps could not die), and the plan suddenly went forward just exactly twice as far into the story as when it had seemed to have been halted the first time. And just as before, Hal was faced with imminent death. Just as before, creating, and giving to Mu, the miracle machine (Geh-Jedollah, the very same ultimate wishing machine from Final Crisis) seemed to be the only way for Hal to save his own life. And then, once again, Hal feigned compliance but at the end of the three-issue mini-season, Green Lantern Blackstars, it turned out that Hal had a massive ruse going, letting the Blackstars win in a different universe. Belzebeth believed that she would be able to fight back, but, once again, Mu had turned out to have escaped death and perhaps to be beyond death. Even fifteen issues in, the run had turned out to be a sort of Möbius Strip of repeated subplots. Has Mu won? Has Hal? Yes, no, yes, no, yes, no, yes.

For Hal, too, being on the verge of death, and actually dying, has occurred three times so far: around the midpoint of each season, and then at the end of the first. Everything is cycling; the run is not only a flashback to each of the major themes of Hal Jordan’s publication history, but a repetition of them. Old girlfriends come up early in each season. The Qwa-Man and Zundernell come up in both seasons. Marriage comes up near the end of each season. Each season has a buddy team up with a Silver Age JLA member important to Hal’s lore: first, Green Arrow; then, the Flash.

And, of course, as with Morrison’s Batman run, this run features plenty of alternate Green Lanterns; what the League of Heroes and other imitation Batmen were in that run, the Green Lantern Corps and Green Lanterns of other Earths in the Multiverse (no pair being more memorable than Batman Green Lantern and Hippie Green Lantern) are in this one. Hal succeeds where Superman and the JLA fail in Season One, manipulates and bests Superman in GL Blackstars, fights and ultimately bests the Superman surrogate Hyperman in Season Two. Repetition is everywhere, until even Hal, in Season Two #2 (two twos like Harvey Dent is behind it) says, “Feels like I’m trapped in my own history.” Morrison’s Green Lantern run is a carousel ride, repeating Hal’s history while it also repeats itself. Girlfriends, Silver Age -style sci fi plots with aliens, coming back to Earth, going back to space, buddy team-ups, the anti-universe, death, weird doppelgängers, his Guardian bosses, betrayal, defeat, victory. It all repeats, then repeats again. Morrison’s GL run is a microcosm of Hal’s publication history, but it’s also a microcosm of itself, loops upon loops.

And what is the story of Hal Jordan? Limitless talent, limitless self confidence, limitlessly prone to screwing everything up and then getting it all back again. He works as a pilot and is on the hot seat. He works for the Guardians and is on the hot seat. His knack for disobeying authority makes him the ultimate inside agent to bring down the Blackstars from the inside. He faces death and survives. He even dies and comes back. He wins over the lady and then blows it. His real romance as Green Lantern is with the power ring, personified as Pengowirr in Season One. His big scary enemy, the (yellow!) Zundernell, he shrinks down into a harmless joke. He’s a little bit comfortable in absolutely every situation and at home nowhere. In Season Two, the big universe-ending Crisis on Infinite Earths gets remixed and turns into another riff. Morrison didn’t invent any of this – it all goes back to the dawn of the Silver Age. Morrison simply refines it and repeats it. And this is the perfect time to pause and consider the story before its final arc because in the last story line, a proposal to Carol Ferris just might break the loop couldn’t do that because, as Carol said, “In the end maybe but it’s not – it’s not the end… not yet.”

This isn’t just the story of Hal Jordan. It’s also a work – potentially his last DC work, potentially a touchstone work – by Grant Morrison, and it may be following one long, slow-developing story that is taking perhaps the medium and perhaps the author on a path towards disenchantment.

After Final Crisis, Morrison’s three high-profile series have been Action, Multiversity, and The Green Lantern. FC and Superman Beyond delivered a message of optimism about the medium, that Superman was bigger than the writers, bigger than any of us, and the story of Superman drew so much power from its optimism that it was destined to go on forever. But in the three subsequent runs, we see this optimism undercut by metatextual messages in the stories as Morrison works in subplots that are about the superhero medium and the superhero as merchandise. In Action, perhaps the most ominous foe faced by Superman is Superdoomsday, “a brand” with “maximum cross-spectrum, wide-platform appeal, a violent, troubled, faceless anti-hero... a global marketing icon.” In Multiversity, The Empty Hand, symbolizing the economic pressures on the publishers and The Gentry, symbolizing the market and market forces that pervert the heroes, often, into something darker and more sensational, reinforce the message that marketing and branding would lead to something violent and troubled. And while I didn’t see it at first, I feel sure that it is significant that the agents of The Empty Hand, seemingly sweet and benign but dark and possessed were the Little League of Earth-42. Above all others, these are the versions of the DC characters aimed directly at the youngest, most innocent readers. And is there a common thread here? Yes, definitely: The Little League first met darkness when Superdoomsday from Earth-45 arrived and killed their Superman. And by the time we see them in Multiversity Guidebook, they are evil, possessed, red-eyed agents of marketing as perverted into darkness.

And now, in The Green Lantern, two subplots echoed and built upon this pessimism. First, the darkly satirical metatexual opening to GL Blackstars #2 amplifies the grim tone of Heroes in Crisis, the Dark Multiverse, and other works, with a Depressoverse, culminating with a clearly Batman Who Laughs -inspired Batmanson who is infectious, making the real Batman, the paragon of conviction in the DC Universe, “give in.” Later, quite parallel to the Little Leaguers, the team-up with the Flash in TGL Season Two #4 introduces Hal and Barry and Olivia Reynolds to an enemy world of toys. The world itself is a toy, smelling of “canned plastic” and ultimately, Olivia’s career expertise in toys allows her to defeat them, but not before we see how dark these toys are in a very modern way, “beta-testing” the heroes, play until they break, and when the lead toy, Quing, is broken, how unsympathetically he is replaced with one of the others as the new Quing.

In all of this, we see the underlying optimism – an affirmation of the superhero medium – turn to a darker metatextual comment with marketing as the enemy that may corrupt superheroes for once and for all. And it may not be coincidental that this message has picked up pace now as Morrison is, perhaps, moving on.

And so, a run that is full of repetition is going to stop repeating soon, because the end is coming. The big finale (#11 and #12) will take place on Athmoora, a world first shown in two panels of GL #16 back in 1962. Morrison places Hal on Athmoora in Season One #9, where Hal visits just for the fun of the adventure of brawling in combat where his ring is weakened. That is one of astonishingly many times in the run that Hal has voluntarily forsaken the security of his ring, confident in his ability to face danger in any circumstance. Now he returns to that danger again. If we have just two issues left of new Morrison monthlies to enjoy, I will be enjoying them and looking forward to seeing on what directions he takes Hal and us in his finale.


  1. Wonderful post as always Rikdad!

    The solicits for the next two issues also hint at a confrontation with Hector Hammond (seems a bit out of place what with all the other villains on the table) as well as a coalition of foes from across both seasons ready to take down the emerald knight.

    They also state that the final issues will touch upon every single plot point introduced over the entire run; I hope this finale sticks the landing!

    1. Thanks, Son! I think that Hector Hammond means a journey to the center of Hal Jordan's mind, perhaps like we saw with Batman during Last Rites. And it's hard to imagine that Sinestro wouldn't show up for a finale. The stage is set for something big!

  2. It's also worth noting that Morrison's Batman run, which wrapped up after FC, ended on quite the dour note - Damian was dead, but Ra's had the ability to make more evil Damians; Talia was dead as Kathy slipped back into the shadows; and Batman Inc. was essentially dead as a concept at DC since Snyder was ripping the Bat-family apart again.

    I might have been projecting a bit in there . . .

    1. Yes, and maybe we should have an eye out for the birds under Hal's care are serving as his Robins.

  3. Hey Rikdad! Great insight about the Little League of Earth-42 being the versions of the DC characters aimed directly at the youngest, most innocent readers.

    With Morrison leaving monthlies, do you read into that as Morrison considering that they (Morrison's new pronoun!) have brought the medium to its farthest point of meta-storytelling possible, the type of thing extrapolated in Final Crisis, Multiversity, and Action Comics, and now essentially completed with GL? I know Morrison is also focusing on TV projects, we can't ignore that as being a major reason for going too—but it does seem akin to Alan Moore leaving the industry, except Morrison will always love and respect "superhero funnybooks" and would never burn bridges, still playing the role of white mage to Moore's black mage.

    In any case, do you see Morrison's departure as a sort of "everything's been done now" kind of thing—that Morrison has effectively completed their mission or life's work in terms of comic book storytelling? I'm sad to see Grant go.

  4. Great questions, Collin. As I look at this Season Two of GL, I continue to see something resembling disenchantment on Morrison's part, and I think that the storyline here, as with Superdoom, the Little League, the Gentry, and The Empty Hand, as a metanarrative about problems in the industry. I said a bit about that in this post and as I prepare my thoughts on #11, I see it even more so.

    On the other hand, Morrison records a different dialectic in Supergods, wherein they also saw, at times, a loss of purpose in the superhero comic genre, but it was a long and winding tale, with redemption coming at times from Morrison's own work, and at times from others' work.

    Perhaps the moment in Blackstars where Batman says, "I give in" is putting Morrison's words in Batman's mouth. At the same time, there's no way to miss the fact that that line was meant to be funny.

    I think one of Morrison's best issues of the last decade was the Thunderworld issue of Multiversity. TGL has gone to that same wellspring at times, indulging in sheer fun. It's hard to feel that, with Morrison writing stuff like that in this run, that they don't have any more of it to write.