green-lantern Green Lantern #52, Geoffrey Johns, Doug Mahnke and Christian Alamy

So a white light entity created the universe starting with Earth and on that Earth the first emotional beings were born and through them emotional energy was unleashed upon the rest of the universe (which evolved after Earth, naturally). And some of that energy became special beings like the Predator (made from love, naturally), and Ion (made from the emotion we call willpower, naturally), and Parallax (made from fear, or should that be other people’s fear? Whatever, dude). And then came the Guardians who harnessed that energy and made the Green Lanterns.

Amen

But did you know that Adam and Eve and the story of Cain and Abel and probably all that religious shit to do with Jesus and Buddha was tied into this stuff? It makes sense if you think about it. It all fits. It all comes back to Green Lantern and it’s all getting laid out and resolved in the pages of Blackest Night by these guys.

these-guys

Fair enough Final Crisis had the Earth as the gods’ battleground, as a kind of notional universal center, but Morrison had so much other stuff going on that it would be silly to accuse him of geocentrism. His Earth was the center of the universe because it’s the center of the fictional construct (the DCU) that was the meta-textual concern of his very meta-textual story, and he went to great pains to get us to understand that that was where he was coming from. If Final Crisis is a story about DCU stories, which it undeniably is, then of course Earth is the most important place in the universe. Also, whether or not you like Final Crisis, whether or not the series succeeds, Morrison was undoubtedly trying to say interesting stuff with his mythological noodlings: about genre conventions, about art and about life. It’s striving to be bigger than the sum of its parts,  and at the very least provides us with some fun, internally consistent, higher order game playing.

Johns on the other hand, he’s not saying anything that isn’t written on the tin and what’s written on the tin is genuinely weird*. The Green Lantern concept allows Johns to quite literally reify just about anything he likes and so he has: Life? Check. Death? Check. Avarice? Check. Rage? Yup. Everything is reduced to spandex and glowing energy. In that way he’s not entirely unlike Kirby or indeed any number of other writers, but unlike some of those writers Johns has none of Kirby’s wild creative energy, add that to the very particular world view that comes through in his comics (love=the Predator remember) and the overall deficit of broader, non-DCU, non Green Lantern orientated concerns gives Johns’ mythology a parochial and bizarrely concrete feel. It seems to me that unlike Morrison Johns can’t easily sidestep questions about how his new mythology relates to the physical history of the universe. Morrison doesn’t need to worry over much about things like physics because he understands and he wants you to understand – as he explicitly demonstrates in Final Crisis – that the history of the DCU is the history of a fiction, and within fiction things are more flexible, ambiguous and open to interpretation. Johns mythology is modelled rather more on the history of real places, it’s an unambiguously physical history of life the universe and everything. The consequence being that the reader – even the reader disinterested in big C Continuity – is tempted if not quite compelled to start asking really awkward questions like: is DCU Earth older than the Sun? What about all those other ancient DCU civilisations? What about evolution? How does this fit in with all that other DCU mythology?

That all this is rolled up in the continuity of the writer’s favourite character and you have a comic that makes me struggle for words. Johns’ vision is so personal and odd, what he seems to be saying about the world so strange (if he actually thinks love=the Predator is a good fit he’s not talking a language I understand, if he doesn’t but just thinks the idea is cool then I’m happy to be a dweeb), his focus so narrow, that I’m just left scratching my head.

Jarvis Cocker once made a TV series about American folk-artists and their eccentric, obsessive work, and there’s a sense in which Johns reminds me of one of those guys and I want to like his work more than I do because of it. Johns is an original: there’s no-one out there doing what he does, no-one else who would feel it important to explain the historical significance of Ion, and that’s probably a big part of why he’s so successful. But where others see awesomeness, I see comics that are fixated on comics and nothing but comics – Green Lantern comics in particular. I suppose there’s a kind of awesomeness to that, but it’s not a variety that I enjoy.

I award this comic 5 anti-brains

*I know I’ve condemned the word “weird” as a short cut to thinking before now, but if anything ever qualified it’s this.

27 Responses to “Late on Tues, it’s our reviews: Green Lantern #52”

  1. Linkblogging For 30/03/10 « Sci-Ence! Justice Leak! Says:

    [...] talks about Geoff Johns as outsider artist, while Tucker’s Comics Of The Weak is a thing of beauty this [...]

  2. Tweets that mention Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » Late on Tues, it’s our reviews: Green Lantern #52 -- Topsy.com Says:

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by David Uzumeri. David Uzumeri said: THIS. This is what I was thinking about GL52 but didn't know how to phrase. http://is.gd/b7cLM [...]

  3. uberVU - social comments Says:

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by DavidUzumeri: THIS. This is what I was thinking about GL52 but didn’t know how to phrase. http://is.gd/b7cLM

  4. Terrence Says:

    David Uzumeri’s phrase “Johnsian Literalism” applies so well here.

  5. Justin Says:

    That guy, eh? I mean, clearly he’s invested some amount of thought into what he’s doing, meshing the book of Genesis with Green Lantern and the rainbow at the end of the Flood and all that, but what’s it all in service of?

    There are far worse writers than Geoff Johns out there, but I usually feel that I *understand* where they’re coming from, at least. Exactly what Johns thinks he’s doing remains a TOTAL MYSTERY to me.

    Comparing him to outsider art is the sharpest thing I’ve read on the internet AT LEAST in a week.

  6. Shiny Jim Says:

    I’m convinced this is actually just one of aspect of the broader Morrison-Johns-Rucka mythos. I’d be suprised if Final Crisis wasn’t written with what’s revealed in this issue in mind.

  7. Papers Says:

    The only good Johns has done is make me dream of writing a comic where violet-costumed Star Sapphires of varying genders, species, and orientations fight evil with love.

  8. The Beast Must Die Says:

    It all sounds so important. I bet it is!

    I really don’t keep read his work, so am unable to comment with any knowledge, but it does at least sound like Johns piles it on each month, and hysterically overblown, super colourful cosmic carnage definitely has it’s place in my heart. And he’s successfully reinvigorated GL’s popularity to a, frankly, baffling dgeree

    The two issues of GL I have read though just seemed kind of clunky and exposition heavy. Everyone was talking at the SAME! EXTREME! TEMPO! the whole time.

  9. Zom Says:

    Whether or not Morrison had a hand in this is beside the point. Morrison wouldn’t make a comic like this if left to his own devices because he isn’t a literalist in the way that Johns is

    Terence, Johnsian Literalism indeed. His books are a face punch of DO!YOU!SEE!

  10. Gunderic Mollusk Says:

    I really want to see a male Star Sapphire, and I want his happy trail in full view, with that asinine star distorted by his package, a la Love Sausage from The Boys. That’s just my two cents.

  11. Justin Says:

    I’ve read a lot of “But Morrison does this sort of thing too” on the internet, and in response I might propose that Johns is to Morrison as Belloq is to Indiana Jones. “I am but a shadowy reflection of you. It would take only a nudge to make you like me, to push you out of the light…”

    Although I think Morrison actually might have been nudged at some point that Johns wasn’t, and that’s why things are The Way They Are.

  12. amypoodle Says:

    the similarities are superficial at best. i don’t think they go further than ‘let’s unpack superheroes’ and ‘let’s philosophise a bit’. one of them does it well, one doesn’t.

    also, it’s not just that morrison isn’t a literalist, it’s that he’s got better, more robust, ideas.

  13. Andy G Says:

    And compared to Morrison his stuff is squarely pitched at the hardcore geek brigade that don’t want to engage in meta comics a la Final Crisis but want this exposition-tastic narrative as Role Playing game rulebook.

    I found the series suffocating, none of the ideas had any wiggle room and it struggled to bring any of its characters to life. Necron in particular was really flat as a villian.

  14. Bucky Sinister Says:

    Geoff Johns as outsider artist is a concept that will keep me smiling for days. Thanks, Zom! That’s spot-on.

  15. The Satrap Says:

    Yeah, both Morrison and Johns have great faith in the relevance of heroic fiction. So what. So did Ayn Rand, for that matter.

    Anyway, what about the other big similarity between Final Crisis and Blackest Nice. I’m talking about the Mahnke. Is he good on this? I find he’s a kind of heir to George Pérez, but far less boring. He knows how to draw ugly things, for one.

  16. Zom Says:

    Mahnke’s good. He’s by far the best thing about it

  17. Dave Says:

    Well… this is what a not very good Prismatic Age comic looks like. The concerns are there — proliferation and variations on themes and “fantastic” reinterpretations of reality, hell, even an actual, literal rainbow.

    It’s just told with the literary verve of a Fundamentalist preacher interpreting Genesis.

    Over in the Green Lantern Corps, there was some stuff I liked. Miri, the vaguely tolerable Star Sapphire, is a good example, though this is maybe because she’s more “Space Naughty Nurse” than “Space Stripper”. Guy Gardner, Christmas-themed chainsaw murderer, was also pretty amusing. Or Mogo and his amazing meat-seeking gravity.

    Also, all the scenes where Dead Person tells the protagonist what to feel, then there’s a lovely color-coded panel showing what the protagonist feels, then *SPLOORCH* out comes the protagonist’s heart — after about the fourth or fifth repetition, it was hard not to start giggling.

    Pity the authors weren’t deliberately attempting black humor.

  18. Colin Smith Says:

    I thought this was splendid, thought-provoking and funny. I don’t like to leave comments which don’t quickly explain why I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read, but I can’t here, ’cause you set my mind off thinking about something I reckon I’ll get a blog entry out of. So, thank you for (a)this top review, and (b) the inspiration. (Promise I haven’t nicked anything you actually wrote!)

  19. amypoodle Says:

    you get the feeling that if it was morrison doing GL, rather than emotion, you’d have some kind of chakric schema. i’ve nothing against light being used as a way in to metaphysics, but i really dislike the arbitrariness of john’s approach.

  20. It Burns Says:

    I thought you’d all enjoy this tid from Wonder Con in San Fran:

    Fan asked about the use of the emotional spectrum in Green Lantern and if the goal was to “socially engineer the mass consciousness,” and if it’s meant to be something we apply in our lives.

    Somebody give this man a kick in the testes.

  21. It Burns Says:

    Ok it could have been a woman…

    Give this woman a kick in the ovaries.

    Equal opportunity and all that.

  22. Chris Miller Says:

    Yeah, overdetermined as the word may be, “weird” is indeed hard to avoid applying to this issue.

    Laying my cards on the table, I generally *prefer* straightforward, rational/causal approaches to storytelling over the Morrisonian metatext-over-text approach. I like psychological realism in my characters, and SF tropes over fantasy ones.

    That said, Geoff Johns’s consistently two-dimensional literalism takes that kind of storytelling to a ridiculous extreme… and this issue was in some ways the apotheosis of it. His retcon of the entire DCU’s cosmology with the whole “life began on Earth” thing bothered me in several ways.

    On a plot level, it simply wasn’t necessary, and was ridiculously out of proportion to the “reveal” that it was supposed to justify, of a “life entity” buried inside Earth.

    On a scientific level it was, as your post noted, absurdly geocentric. Indeed, it seems to harken back several centuries to the whole pre-Copernican fallacy, in which Earth is the center and source of all things. Earth has only existed for 4.5 billion years of the universe’s 13.7 billion year existence, and the notion that nothing important happened until life began here is just… well, flatly ridiculous.

    It’s also staggeringly arrogant, and thus failed on a thematic level as well. In Johns’s universe, apparently it’s All About Us. All intelligence, will, emotions, can be traced back to our own little mudball. All life in the *entire universe* is linked to a big white glowing creature buried in our planet. It doesn’t really explain anything important about the story; it’s just a brash assertion of Terran Exceptionalism for its own sake.

    (And then there’s the none-too-subtle Biblical symbolism tied into the origin of the “emotional spectrum.” As a secular rationalist this would bug me on its own terms, even if it weren’t radically at odds with the SFnal roots of the whole Green Lantern concept. And the attempt to cross-pollinate evolution with Biblical creationism is just… bizarre.)

    Finally, speaking as someone who *does* enjoy and care about shared universe continuity, it’s totally inconsistent with what we know about the DC Universe. The DCU has a well-established history of ancient life-forms and intelligences that predate the very existence of Earth, never mind life on its surface.

    My fanwank rationalization for all this: we saw in this issue that the first creature to demonstrate “will” immediately sparked with green energy and bootstrapped itself into Ion. We know that Ion has tremendous powers to traverse spacetime. Thus, we may speculate that Ion travelled back into the much earlier universe and enabled the creation of life there. (We may also speculate that the origins of the other emotional entities occurred not on Earth but on other, older planets, and to heck with the Biblical subtext.) It preserves the “began on Earth” idea in a strictly causal sense, but not a linear time sense.

    There may be an even better explanation; I’d love to see one. At any rate, I strongly suspect that what other writers and editors know about (A) basic science and (B) DCU will result in this retcon being quietly swept under the rug, one way or another.

    In a way, this single issue encapsulated the incoherence of Blackest Night as a whole. The one thing I really liked about the series was its psychologically disturbing aspect — the way the Black Lanterns were able to pry at the deepest insecurities of the people they attacked, often in ways that demonstrated disconcerting insight. I wish that angle had been played up more, and explained at least a little. Instead, it fell by the wayside.

  23. plok Says:

    Now that’s downright brilliant, as everyone keeps saying — “outsider art”, yeah, this really snaps everything into focus. Johns is like a modern Fletcher Hanks, he’s so thoroughly imbibed the underwear-on-outside symbolic formula that all he can do is play with it, play with it, play with it. He’s almost like a Morrison character at this point, everything but everything must be personified in his work, to the point where it breaks stuff it’s meant to do. Imagine the hero confronting a moral issue in FF # Whatever or Spider-Man # Take Your Pick…the superhero logic means he gets to physically spar with his moral issue, almost get beaten by it, finally defeat it. And then he does a little exposition about it to draw out the lines, to show he gets it, to show it meant something to his character. But in Johns’ stuff you could almost imagine that brief expositional denouement being itself personified as a spandex-clad character, and the resulting character development being personified too, and running off into the hills someplace to frolic…or going off to hover in time and space and observe the hero from then on as a physical reminder that he learned something about himself there. So you lose the nominal character change in the hero, because it turns into “Catharsisto: the Purginator!”, but you could almost have a whole standalone series about Catharsisto at that point, just watching him personify what happens to readers when they get to the end of stories, issue after issue and year after year. And it’s just plain mad, clearly, but almost admirable when it’s taken to such extreme lengths…it’s a lot of what made some Eighties Marvel comics absolutely unreadable garbage, but maybe that’s because it was only incompetence there, and here it’s flat-out commitment.

    So, wow — what a catch here, Zom. Amazing. And as a little plus for me, I don’t feel quite so weird anymore for treating solitaire games as narratives spelled out in cards…Johns has got me completely beat hollow for “weird”.

    I think this is it: this is the secret, maybe. This is why Johns is so popular, this is why people defend him so loudly exactly when he’s at his worst — because he’s found a new colour in the aesthetic “spectrum” that they really wanted to see. Infra-stupid! Ultra-super!

    Stellar stuff!

    LOVE this.

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