When I started reading DC Comics I quickly came upon a saying, a cliche. I learned that a Green Lantern ring was “the most powerful weapon in the universe” and quickly it became clear that the series that not only understood this but understood why were some of the best that DC had to offer. But in seeking to understand that, DC and I made a mistake. We heard that phrase and we focused on “the most powerful”. Far Sector #3 is a comic that understands the significance of it being a “weapon in the universe”.
Initially Far Sector left me a bit cold. It’s world building felt like an expertly arranged meal I had no interest in eating and its characters felt bland. But, whether something in it changed or I did, the subsequent two issues have really changed my opinion of the first. Slowly the City Enduring came alive, its species and history became fascinating, and its anti-emotional politics grew beyond the simple us and them thinking of familiar sci-fi tropes of its core ideas. Any skilled SF writer knows that ideas, while often powerful, are cheap, it’s execution that makes or breaks series, and N. K. Jemisin is a skilled SF writer–with all the Hugos and Nebulas to prove it.
The issue is divided into two major scenes with a brief interlude between them. Each one has a function and they serve their purpose well. First up is the conclusion of Lantern Mullein’s visit with councilor Marth. Marth… Marth is slimy. We’re not in the room, we can’t truly feel the heat between him and his Green Lantern (and make no mistake, I think he sees her as his Green Lantern in one form or another), but Jemisin knows that and probably knows that most readers aren’t going to give him the same benefit of the doubt that this rookie Lantern is going to provide a handsome governmental official. So it’s very easy to distrust Marth all the more after this. At the end of the last issue, I wondered if he would be portrayed as an idealist, a junkie, or a rich boy out of his league. Throw those out with increasing seriousness, he’s not quite any of them.
Just as the Lantern stories that respected the power of the Ring caught my attention in my early days of comics reading, Marth benefits from Mullein’s, and by extension Jemisin’s, reverence for him, not only as a major political force but an intelligent and irremovable connection within the City Enduring. Mullein’s story continues to look at what it takes and how it benefits to treat people as valid and meaningful actors within the narrative, eschewing the frequently used detective fiction view of other characters as either allies to be gained from, leads to be coerced into support, or adversaries out to obstruct progress. Marth doesn’t fall cleanly into any of these camps, though he’s clearly not a safe choice of ally.
Jemisin also does a fine job of painting Marth as an understandable and, at times, sympathetic character despite the abuses of his privilege and does so in a way that still allows Mullein to give him too much of a wide berth. For any flirtatious dancing they were doing an issue ago, Mullein is clearly aware that this is her political superior and gives him the appropriate respect. Seeing her assumptions about him and the City Enduring battered by his words is a rather brilliant stroke. It reminds us that even a hero deeply concerned with context and history can fall victim to a people’s self-aggrandizing legends while also providing a template for those who may not have considered how such deprogramming occurs in our daily lives.
The back and forth between Mullein and Marth is fairly clever and does a nice job of presenting a clear and flowing exchange without becoming unnatural or predictable. Quite the contrary, Jemisin’s dialogue proves very realistic and engaging.
The @at remain the most comedic and least defined of the Trilogy, but, while she (they?) does little to combat this impression, @CanHaz is a positive addition to the series, both as a potential Watson and another connection, another string that Jemisin can pluck at any time.
I’m also very interested to hear more about Jo’s father. I admit, when he was brought up I was kind of surprised–it’s rare enough for a hero’s parents to be alive, much less brought up if they aren’t an immediate support system. Instead (the presumed) Mr. Mullein just hangs over the proceedings quietly. It’s not a new concept, but it’s cool to address the difficulties of galactic communication for character reasons rather than plot convenience.
The majority of this issue concerns a protest in Platform Forget Not. I adore the way that both sides play into problematic tropes and distrust of authority without portraying either one as without some validity. Even better, that realistic mix of right and wrong extends to our hero to some degree as well. Lantern Mullein is obviously a character that’s trying to have her cake and eat it too, but it’s nice to acknowledge that a character inexperienced in the field (if not in life) that tries to act above it all will occasionally regret it.
Of course, part of this swagger is in service to Mullein’s overall concept as a modern woman of color. Without stepping out of my (ever liminal) lane I think its safe to say that Far Sector is not only written with a black audience in mind but with a consciousness of what it means to produce a mass market work into a universe as used to assuming a white reader as DC’s. The series is littered with quotes from respected black thinkers and allusions to cultural touchstones relevant to the black community. Perhaps the best example is a footnote, a reference to the philosophy of Martin Luther King Jr. This note is inserted at the beginning of a section on the two kinds of peace, a subject that Dr. King spoke about frequently. It’s interesting because it’s placed at the beginning which is somewhat awkward. You could technically read it as a pretty hard repudiation of King’s legacy if you didn’t know better. But I think that’s precisely it; you’re expected to know better.
Jemisin’s desire to center the black experience in a mainstream publication while also not allowing white audiences to tune it out is a familiar struggle, but one that is fought with impressive ease here. Often stories for marginalized communities are ghettoized, little trinkets just for that audience, where the experience of white people is assumed to be universal and evergreen. Putting a Green Lantern at the heart of a black narrative again does a lot to fight that and I use the word fight, because I do think that all of this was a conscious choice. However, I don’t get the sense that Jemisin spent that much time on this element. What comes through in this issue is the fierceness of Jemisin’s feelings but it all flows naturally, as if it was entirely natural for the writer to navigate and, all things considered, I wouldn’t be surprised if that kind of code-switching is second nature to her. To be clear, this issue walks a very delicate line with confidence and I suspect that a large part of that is Jemisin’s substantial skill as a writer, but part of it also seems to be the benefit of allowing marginalized voices to write their own stories and not only their own stories.
This issue ends in a very satisfying place, where the lies and protocol have begun falling away and people are able to show some of their true selves. Will there be consequences for that? Maybe, but, if there are, you can bet that people like Councilor Marth won’t pay them. That feeling of finally being able to call it like it is, even incompletely, is a huge part of this issue and I’m fascinated to see how it continues or retreats in this strange city beyond the stars.
And all of this is best exemplified in one of my favorite moments of the issue. Asked to disperse the protest, Jo jokes that her ring isn’t great at non-violent solutions. Quietly, rather brilliantly, Jemisin is striking at the heart of Green Lantern. A Power Ring is the most powerful weapon in the galaxy and it is so powerful because it runs on will and imagination, with those two things almost anything is possible. Green Lantern has become synonymous with will, especially since Geoff Johns‘ tenure, but fans who see rings conjuring more and more laser blasts and fewer and fewer baseball mitts already know that imagination waxes and wanes within the franchise. And it is imagination that is needed to solve the problems of today, not will, which is already in healthy supply. This simple line, presented not as a major moment but a thought passing through Mullein’s mind, at once calls upon us to think about the modern Green Lantern, but also takes the franchise back to its roots as an outgrowth of Aladdin’s lamp. Lantern Mullein can have anything her heart desires, the Power Ring is the most powerful weapon in the universe, so the question then is ‘what do you ask for?’
Even more so than in the case of most artists, I doubt very much that this series would be what it is without Jamal Campbell. Campbell’s colors and effects are central in creating the mixture of awe and intimidation that define the City Enduring and his grounded, straightforward characters keep names, places, and motivations clear even in this foreign, emotionless setting.
The design of Lantern Mullein’s uniform remains a standout, with her belt in particular being used to great effect. You can really see the difference between Jo in uniform and out this issue and that comes down to both Campbell’s skill as a storyteller and the strength of the costume.
Admittedly, my biggest repeated criticism of Campbell’s work is that it can look too smooth and overproduced. I can’t say that this actively isn’t the case here, as I’m sure some will find certain panels jarring, but I’m happy to report that even those prepared to level this criticism will find a much more specific look to the issue. For a world that doesn’t actually feel anything, the City Enduring is absolutely full of characters who emote spectacularly. By and large, Campbell is always saying something with a character’s face and that provides enough direction to overcome my greatest complaints. Marth is a particular standout in this regard, his lack of restraint tangible.
Speaking of Marth, there is one thing regarding how he’s drawn that is bugging me. The good Councilor is seated for the entirety of his appearance but it’s not clear where his quills have gone. Was this a mistake, a necessity of blocking, or do the Nah just have a way of tucking them away? I’m not sure, but I’ve been thinking about it more than I perhaps should have been.
The setting of this book brings out the best in Campbell, allowing him to really use his lighting and color theory and clearing space for him to craft a stylish futurism. The wild excesses of the setting make Jo’s night in all the more meaningful. This kind of contrast is used all throughout Far Sector #3, punctuating moments with changes in movement, lighting, and line weight to ensure that you feel when Campbell wants you to pay attention. There are a couple of panels in this issue that you’ll feel all down your spine.
Far Sector #3 is what any Green Lantern story should be: whip-smart and unafraid. This one is a tension building issue, clarifying and turning up the pressure on Lantern Mullein, leading to an explosive ending. In this its legacy will depend on subsequent issues, but as a single chapter it is pretty spectacular. Jamal Campbell’s art is being utilized beautifully and remains just as stunning as ever, if not more so. In the end, the specificity that Campbell and Jemisin imbue the world and characters with is potent and the series’ willingness to tackle big heady issues of race, genre, and power without dumbing down, or even assuming that its readers need it dumbed down, makes for a unexpectedly classic Green Lantern adventure, in all senses of the word.
Far Sector #3 is currently available in comic shops from DC Comics.