Monday, July 13, 2009

Review: Green Lantern #43

Green Lantern #43

Writer: Geoff Johns
Penciller: Doug Mahnke
Inker: Christian Alamy
Released: July 8, 2009

There is nothing confusing about the story being told here. A boy, whose fascination with death is nurtured by his growing up in the family mortuary business, becomes a teenager isolated by his discomfort with human interaction, becomes a man obsessed with extinguishing the bright light of life. He goes from murdering small animals for taxidermy practice, to the cold-bloodied slaughter of his brothers and parents, and then to his own suicide. It's all very macabre and morbid, with a Gothic sense of romanticism about it. It's a disturbing story, as it's meant to be I assume. I don't think it's meant to be the type of story one finishes, puts down, and then immediately high-fives their best friend about, exclaiming emphatic joy. Good thing, too, because it doesn't inspire this at all.

That is what is confounding about this comic. It doesn't inspire outright hatred, or even mild loathing, either. It is a powerful and sad story written by Goeff Johns with solid skill and pacing, if with too much narration, and it is unquestionably beautifully drawn and colored by the team of Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, and Randy Mayor. I found myself languishing on panel after panel, in awe of the small rectangular pieces of inked beauty gracing each and every page. Mahnke is a breathtaking artist of immense skill. The detail of his panels is mesmerizing. His rendering of the Hand family portrait, surrounded by mounted taxidermy rabbits, birds, and squirrels, hanging in the formal dining room of the Hand home against a fleur-de-lyes wallpaper is stunning. When William Hand decides to become The Black Hand and make his own costume, we are treated to a view of him in bedroom, carefully cutting the eye-holes of a mask, scattered tissue-paper pattern pieces adorning the floor along with snipped corners and ends of the fabric trimmings. On the bed behind him we see William's sketches of the mask he is now making. I rarely point out the work of colorists, but Randy Mayor provides a stark neutral, yet warm palette that immaculately captures both the sterile environment and tightly-wound formality of the Hand family home.

The perfection of the art is what leads to my one and only criticism of the writing, the inclusion of more narration than is actually needed. I read this comic through several times, first reading it in its entirety and then reading it through but skipping over all narration boxes, and found that while some of the narration was necessary to telling the story at hand, much of this comic was far more powerful when the panels were allowed to exist with only dialogue or in silence. I found many instances where the narration felt repetitive, the story elements already being clear through the dialogue and art.

The final sequence of this comic demonstrates this point perfectly, as Johns allows William Hand's suicide to play out without dialogue, narration, or even any sound effects. There are no booms, crashes, or splats to distract from the grotesquerie on display as we see, over the course of one disturbing splash page and three long panels, this man blow his brains out, fall dead to the floor, and lay there in a widening pool of blood. The meticulous attention to detail brought by the art team which allowed for such beauty in earlier story beats, means that gruesome and brutal sequences such as this are given equal attention and care, as well. This is unvarnished gore, rendered with unflinching skill. It's what leaves the reader questioning their emotions at issues end.

It is established in the story arc "The Alpha-Lanterns", Green Lantern #27, that the average term of service for members of the Green Lantern Corps is just over 4 years. They are space cops, the thin green line of law and order in a universe perpetually in chaos. Members of the GL Corps are destined to die, not retire. Over the course of the last several years, the main characters of the GL Universe have been witness to more abhorrent death and torture, much of it happening to their fellow officers and loved ones, than any other members of the DCU. In the process, they have turned more militaristic, more combative, more brutal and cold. It can be argued that this is indicative of the DCU in general. If so, issue #43 drives that point home like a nail into the pine lid of a coffin. We are given a flash card review of the grisly deaths suffered by many heroes and villains over the last 25 years of DCU history, and in this we see a pattern of horror emerge, and a terrible foreshadowing of the ultimate fate that seems to await all those who don a costume; murder at the hands of the editors, writers, and artists tasked with telling their stories.

DC decided long ago that Superhero comics were no longer the medium of children's tales and simple parables of good triumphing over evil. The waters have been muddied with the bloody stuff of uncertainty and ambiguity, adult drama replacing childhood innocence. It has made for compelling storytelling, some true gems and classics amongst the chaff. It has also brought about a fair amount of cynicism, some may even argue, a hopelessness. Green Lantern #43 and the Blackest Night story line that it leads into represent the DCU's headless chickens coming home to roost. The dead shall rise, and the questions they inspire can not be ignored.

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