Thursday, May 14, 2009

Review: Green Lantern Corps #36

Green Lantern Corps #36

Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Penciller: Patrick Gleason
Inkers: Rebecca Buchman with Prentis Rollins
Released: May 13, 2009

In the classic Superman story "For The Man Who Has Everything..." we are provided with a glimpse into the heart of the villainous character Mongul to witness first-hand a depiction of his true desires, that which would make him most content. It is a vision of total universal devastation and subjugation at the hands of a control-hungry dictator, the ultimate abuse of power, seemingly, for the sheer thrill of being able to make such agony a reality. It is not a reality, however, only a fantasy hallucination brought about by contact with an alien fungus. He would have to wait to spin his wheat into gold.

Green Lantern Corps #36 shows Mongul getting one step closer, laying the foundation for a universal take-over with the domination and enslavement of the planet Daxam. He oversees the building of massive superweapons which are presumably capable of mass planetary destruction. He "commissions" a piece of self-aggrandizing public art, an immense statue of himself in classic Christ pose lording mightily in the Daxam skyline. He is a classic dictator ruling with draconian might and unrestrained ego in a throwback jersey. He is as retro as a Nelson lamp. 

In contrast, Sinestro now stands as a solitary figure, the deposed leader of his own Corps, escaped fugitive running from the law of the Green Lanterns, hunted bounty running from the vengeful rancor of the Red Lanterns. However, he is far from ineffectual, his unassailable power feeding not on the worship of an outside source, but blooming brightly from within. He is unswayed in his aims, confident in his abilities and assured in the outcome. He believes himself to be serving something higher than the pursuit of power, higher than his own ego. He believes himself to be in possession of knowledge, strength, and intellect beyond that of others and that it is his duty to rule for the betterment of the poor lesser beings beneath him. Where Mongul wishes to enslave through power, Sinestro wishes to deliver through power. It is a fine distinction to be sure. 

The most interesting part of the Superman Annual #11 featuring Mongul, published in 1985, is that no motivation is ever given for why this is his heart's desire, for why he wishes to bring about so much ruin and anguish. He is presented as an evil-doer so he then does evil things. He is not presented much differently in 2009. This is what makes Mongul a classic comic book villain. He is a black-hat, easy to hiss at when he appears on stage.

In truth, we know villainy to be much more complicated, and our need now as readers is to be shown the varying sides and motivations behind the twirling-moustache cliché of the classic bad-guy. Sinestro's storyline serves this function. We see him confront Green Lantern Soranik Natu with the revelation that he is her biological father. We see his tenderness and sincere love for his own child and the honor with which he sees the role of fatherhood and the sacrifices it requires. Through all of this, Sinestro becomes a fleshed out character, not just a scowling archetype, but a real man complete with estranged ex-wife and daughter and a career in law-enforcement that went off the rails. Underneath all this, the questions are there: How can this man be truly evil? How can we completely despise him? 

Once again, artist Patrick Gleason turns in another stunning issue. Where most superhero artists feel an overwhelming need to make every character beautiful or handsome in every panel from every angle, regardless of the content and context of the situation and the scene, Gleason understands that facial expression is an involuntary reactionary manifestation of emotions. He strives to present his characters in the glory of raw honesty and the drama is ratcheted up markedly because of this. Tomasi pens dramatic emotional conflict between characters with deeply personal connections and Gleason shows us the invisible bruises that are left by words, not punches. 

This issue is strong meat, displaying two characters who diverge in their style with which they wear the mantle of Villain. One is classic and retro, the other complex and modern. They are destined to clash. 

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