Taking the Teen Titans approach to the “Earth One” line, as opposed to the more traditional tack the Trinity adopted, Green Lantern: Earth One opens in the not too distant future where the dream of interstellar travel is dead. Instead humanity grows stagnant, settling for the material wealth of nearby asteroids at best, and turning the final frontier into a weapon to ensure the status quo remains in place at worst. Amid this dark vision of the future lives Hal Jordan, a former astronaut trying to combine the lack of responsibility of his new life with the ability to look at himself in the mirror that he had in the old days.
I think my favorite description of the modern Hal Jordan comes from Chris Simms who once wrote that, “I’m not sure that Hal Jordan has ever even heard a song that wasn’t ‘Danger Zone’”. Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko craft a take on Hal that is both a return to form and a step towards the future. This version of the Emerald Warrior is by no means as fun, but wonderful in the sheer feeling of exhaustion and natural heroism that he exudes. The quickness with which Hal understands his responsibilities on Bolovax Vik or accepts his crew’s unwillingness to save him at the porthole are surprisingly potent and telling moments.
And that’s really one of Earth One’s greatest strengths. There’s no denying that this script drags at times – Hal’s crusade is a slog, a slow erosion of his will as avenue after avenue of hope is shut to him, and that’s not always fun – but its ability to crystalize moments and create meaning through the sum of its actions, rather than merely using them to highlight ideas, is truly impressive. There’s a naturalism to the flow of plot that obscures the authors’ hands.
I also really like how Bechko and Hardman use the “Earth One” concept to refresh the Green Lantern mythos. Free from continuity, it’s not just Earth that gets a reboot but Oa, Bolovax Vik, and more. The knowledge of mainline canon can make for some clever tensions as you wonder which elements will fall in line and which will make their own way. And as the last two decades of Green Lantern stories have focused on the question of whether the Guardians are benevolent philanthropists or fascistic interlopers, it’s nice to go to the other extreme and see a Green Lantern Corps that is completely without guidance. The centrism of humans and Hal Jordan in particular, has also been a sticking point for some time and, as much as several volumes of comics and continual praise of the man he took the title from have sought to justify this, Hardman and Bechko deliver quite possibly the best reason for Hal’s place in the galaxy I’ve ever seen, before doubling back and subverting some expectations anyway.
That’s not to say that there aren’t problems. Taking away the omnipotently literal deus ex machina of the ring’s sentience does a lot for this story, but there’s not a lot of emphasis on willpower or creativity either. In putting the alien expansiveness of the universe and the human bravery of our protagonist in the front seat, we lose some of the fun and heart of Green Lantern. Here the ring is often little more than a repository of energy, which is expelled only as shields and vague blasts. Its power is diminished and the awe and excitement of wielding a ring are unfortunate casualties of the writerly need to kill your darlings.
The story can also start to blur as one planet after another fails to offer any apparent movement towards progress. The book can start to feel rather long as you realize how many adventures Hal starts, only to fail and improv his way through the next. Plus it’s all very bleak. As I said, I think it’s actually a very clever and subtle way of incorporating the Lantern requirement that Hal possess a particularly powerful will, but it’s not a pleasant experience for Hal and it can grate on the reader as well. Even victories are quickly revealed to have heavy costs or do little to solve hitherto unknown dangers of similar scope.
As for villains, there’s really no personality there, which is both a disappointment and an impressive surprise. I mean, I can’t help but think that a little more investment in our antagonists would have done great things for the series, but nonetheless it works. That’s no small feat!
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given how wonderfully subtle and thoughtful Hal’s arc is, one of the cruelest weaknesses of this book is that it doesn’t get to delve the depths of its most interesting elements. Beautifully told as they are, these ideas are merely dug up, uncovered, but not yet analyzed. It will take another volume or two to truly capitalize on what Bechko and Hardman have created here.
Though the fresh take on DC’s cosmic headliner is probably the biggest draw to this book, you’ll more than stay for the art, courtesy of Hardman and colorist Jordan Boyd. Color is a natural part of the Green Lantern universe, however, in a rather interesting turn, Earth One puts a little less emphasis on the ‘emerald’ than it does on the ‘light’.
Green Lantern: Earth One is a book about darkness. The light of the Lanterns has been snuffed out and what remains is the unfeeling blackness of space. That reads through the art, which aims for a gritty, textured aesthetic full of dramatic shadows and ominous lighting. The attention paid to how light falls and is obscured is excellent and memorable. At its most dramatic, slivers of figures emerge out of the darkness of the book, darkness, not light, being the natural state of its world.
At the micro level, Earth One is not a particularly pretty book. Even its largest and grandest panels put less stock on how attractive or consistent its characters are than the average comic. However, that’s largely because it’s putting its focus on tone and overall effect. Each page is striking. The look of each individual character is less important than the emotions between them and those are less important than the emotion that the book summons up within the reader. The result is beautiful, and beautiful in a way that you never forget but occasionally recognize again while reading.
Hardman offers readers a classic Kilowog, some incredible Manhunters, and a universe that holds every bit the mystery and wonder of the classic Hal Jordan adventure, even if it does away with any Silver Age whimsy. There’s a decided realism to the book that supposes that Jordan is flying not into DC’s cosmic toybox, but a fantastic view of what lies beyond our own atmosphere.
The green of this particular lantern is a little sicklier than many will be used to, perhaps a little more yellow, for a more fearful universe. But while the colors employed may not always be pleasant, they are certainly potent. Boyd’s palettes blend the unsettling reality of Hal’s situations with a cinematic urgency. Combined with some bursts of primary force and a restorative interlude on Bolovax Vik, Boyd proves able to activate Hardman’s intense inks no matter the situation.
Perhaps the most interesting of the Earth One series conceptually, Hardman, Bechko, and Boyd’s Green Lantern is worthy of praise purely for the unique place it takes the franchise to, but it also offers a beautiful and new take on Hal Jordan that’s ripe for exploration. The art is stunning and the whole package puts the experience of reading first, allowing readers to discover alongside the Lanterns and sample the fear and wonder of faraway worlds. The world and concepts of the book are wonderful, if not given time to fully blossom, but that merely means that I’m aching to see a sequel.
Green Lantern: Earth One will likely be looked at as an attempt to create a film-esque blockbuster success, and to some degree that’s correct, but it honestly shares more in common with a fine indie sci-fi movie than a superhero flick or an attempt at a Star Wars. Those looking for grander stakes and more bombastic energy should feel allowed to let this one pass for now, but those with piqued interest or a desire to see something different from the Green Lantern deserve the chance to experience this book. Though its not by any means a perfect book, it’s not a flawed one either. Instead Green Lantern: Earth One sets its own goals and meets them brilliantly, offering a strong comic for most readers, a new favorite for a very particular few, and an incredible reading experience for anyone willing to give it a shot.
Green Lantern: Earth One is currently available in comic shops from DC Comics.