SPOILER WARNING! This column gives away all the details of Green Lantern #129-136, as collected in the new Green Lantern trade paperback! Reader beware!
Judd Winnick took the reigns as writer of "Green Lantern" at a time when few would envy the job. Old time fans were avoiding the book, saying there was too little respect being paid to the old standbys of the Green Lantern Corps. The comic itself, though once outselling all but JLA and some Batman titles, was steadily falling down the sales list. And of course the fan base for the book was still heavily divided over Kyle Rayner's character and an alleged lack of direction in the last few issues of the Ron Marz's run.
And then there was the fact that Ron Marz created Kyle Rayner. And taking over any character from the man who created him would be a task to make any writer nervous. Doubly so when fandom in general was rather resistant towards anything you could do. After all, you weren't really a writer... you were some guy pulled off of MTV to appeal to the masses and try and get normal people to read comics...
It was to most people's surprise that not only was Judd Winnick able to do an adequate job on Green Lantern: he excelled at it. Winnick managed to put new life into a book that threatened to become stale. He gave more In a few short stories, he reestablished some of the old mythology of the Green Lantern Corps. More importantly, he managed to reestablish some of Kyle's fading personality and make him likable even to the some of the fans still smarting over what happened to Hal.
In fact, the book has proven so popular that the first seven issues of Winnick's run have recently been collected in a Trade Paperback volume entitled ("Green Lantern: New Journey, Old Path" ). A doubly fitting title, for this book is as much about Winnick's taking up the path of another writer and trying to improve on it as it is about Kyle trying to continue along the old path of the Corps against some very old enemies.
Something Old, Something New (GL #129)
The story starts with a flashback as Kyle relives a childhood memory where he almost drowned as he wrestles with what appears to be a robotic squid in space. Despite a valiant (and for the most part silent) struggle, he is overpowered and dragged away by the mechanical beast for purposes unknown.
We go back to two weeks earlier, when Kyle was offered a new job doing his own full-page comic strip for a magazine called Feast. A nice balance to the multi-page fight scene earlier, we are given an insider's look at the world of magazine publishing in scenes that are more dependent on words than action. One gets the feeling Winnick is writing from personal experience as Kyle is told he is cute for a cartoonist and various people, male and female, comment on his butt and how the boss lady is going to love him for that alone.
Kyle and John Stewart talk about Kyle's good fortune over coffee in a scene that is both funny and touching at the same time. Winnick's writing here might draw comparison to that of Kevin Smith; another popular writer who started out "an outsider" who was brought into the industry as "a gimmick to bring in the mainstream". The conversation is tangential, with arguments over what music is "retro", why a black man can't listen to "A-Ha" and how it's nice that Kyle is building a life for himself outside of superheroics.
We are then introduced in short order to Terry, a teenage boy Feast hires as a personal assistant to help Kyle with errands and getting his artwork onto a computer. Not too long after, Kyle gets his new computer set up and is working on the first piece when the robo-squid crashes through the ceiling. Changing into costume, Kyle fights off the robot as he moves to into orbit, where we see him get captured again. When Kyle wakes up on the final splash page, he finds himself on a spaceshipfull of Manhunters.
Yes, that's right. Manhunters. The robots the Guardians used to ensure order before creating the Green Lantern Corps. THOSE Manhunters.
Prodigal Son (GL #130)
The next chapter starts with another flashback to an old Corps enemy as we open on the world of Qward in the AntiMatter universe. We find that the Qwardians are still alive, even as their ProtoMatter universe counterparts (The Guardians) have died. We see one of them, a leader of some kind, looking at a video screen image of Sinestro as he tells a minion to "make another... and make it yellow".
Cutting back to the edge of the Milky Way aboard the Manhunter's ship, Kyle tries to fight his way to freedom through a horde of Manhunters in another mostly wordless fight. Beautiful pages of ring projections and exploding robots...
Move back to Earth, where Terry has stopped by Kyle's apartment to find a caved in ceiling and more trashed furniture than one would expect to find in a New York apartment, even if Robert Downey Jr. were the one living there. Thankfully, John Stewart shows up just in time to explain that they were doing construction on the roof and they underestimated some equipment weight (Nice, plausible save from the architect!)
Back on the ship, the lead Manhunter explains what is going on to Kyle, who is now sporting a more severe bowl cut than Guy Gardner ever had and has a lot of circuitry connecting him to the ship. Kyle looks something like a Borg and even makes jokes about "being assimilated".
A brief note: Winnick brings more of Kyle's humor out. Of course Kyle has always been one of the most wise-cracking heroes this side of Spider-Man, but the trait is more noticeable under Winnick's writing. Aside from the Star Trek jokes, as the Main Manhunter explains what is going on Kyle says "Be a good Bond villain and tell me why I'm here." There's even a subtle visual joke as Kyle is chained in classic James Bond position, needing only a trailing upwards laser between the legs.
Anyway, the Manhunters have upgraded themselves after one of their number achieved self-awareness after interfacing with the computers of a ship that recovered it in deep space. They plan to use the ring to further involve and continue their plans of killing all life in the universe. Kyle protests, saying the ring won't work for them. The head Manhunters tells Kyle they thought about that and that the machinery Kyle is wired to will convince the ring that he is still controlling it, even as they give the commands. The issue ends as the main Manhunter puts on the ring and announces "The Ring is Ours!"
Outswimming The Undertow (GL #131)
After a brief history of the Guardians, the Manhunters, the Corps, the Qwardians, Sinestro and the yellow power ring, we find ourselves on Qward once again. The leader is presented with a yellow ring. He is pleased by it, and tells his underling to give it to "one who does not see evil - a chaos bringer".
Back on the Manhunter's ship, the lead robot's attempts to use the ring prove futile. As Kyle points out, the ring requires a will and a soul to power it; something the robots do not have. Kyle then turns their own machinery against him, as he uses his cybernetic connection to the ring to blow a few of them up before freeing himself and putting the ring back on his finger. One more spread of beautiful fighting later, Kyle is back on Earth; trying to recover as he chats with John and Guy Gardner about what happened at a café.
It should be noted that Guy hasn't been written this well in years. It turns out that he brought Kyle and John to THAT particular café because of four modeling agencies close by and spends most of the time commenting upon various women off camera. Guy is here mostly for comic relief, but it's a role he does well. And he is far more likable and respectfully treated here than he ever was in JLA.
We get another character scene here; of Kyle being charming and witty on a talk show. We then pull back to realize we are watching a tape and that Kyle is watching his appearance with Terry, much to his embarrassment. Terry reassures Kyle that he looks fine on TV. It is obvious here that the two have become friends now, despite Kyle's earlier protests of not needing an assistant. This might seem a bit fast, but the artwork shows that Kyle's hair has grown back. Presumably several weeks have passed since the Manhunter incident.
The chapter ends as Jenny Hayden (a.k.a Jade. Daughter of Alan Scott and one time Infinity Inc. member) calls Kyle to tell her that "she's back... down at the pier."
The Orphan's Heart (GL #132 - "While Rome Burned" Part One)
The "she" in this case is Fatality; perhaps the most interesting and long lasting villain to come out of the Marz run of the book.
Fatality, for those not in the know, is the last survivor of the planet Xanshi. A planet that was destroyed, in part, because of a headstrong decision made by a younger and more stubborn John Stewart back in his days as Green Lantern. She has since then become an intergalactic serial killer who hunted down and killed many Green Lanterns. She had fought Kyle and John twice before, seeking revenge against them both. This history is quickly explained to us as we see that Fatality now wields the yellow ring of the Qwardians.
We also get a quick cut to Bellevue Hospital, where doctors discuss a young man with the full 31 flavors of nuttiness; schitzo-affective disorder, paranoid delusions, delusions of grandeur and feelings of persecution. His name is Alex Nero and he is an artist. The kind of artist who draws "the worst parts of the Bible on crack".
We're treated to yet another beautiful smackdown scene between Kyle and Fatality, as the two duel: ring for ring. Kyle is momentarily distracted as Fatality tries to destroy a dock. It is only as Kyle is being thanked for his help that he realizes that Fatality was only distracting him to go after John.
When Kyle catches up with her, she has tied up Merayn (John's blue-skinned, elven, former-Darkstar love-interest) and threatens to torture her as John watches. Kyle shows up and using his mask for a purpose we've never seen before (a targeting site for calculating the trajectory of where he will hit her), he sends Fatality flying all the way to Long Island. He corners her there, questions her about the ring (she woke up with it) and he tries to take it away as Fatality bursts into tears and Kyle is struck by how childlike she seems and slides the ring off. Suddenly, the ring disappears in an explosion of yellow light. This blow's off Fatality's left arm. Ironic, because she lost her right arm in her first fight with Kyle and then had it replaced with a robotic one. Kyle takes her to STAR Labs, where we learn she will be given another mechanical arm.
The issue ends with the Qwardian leader retrieving the ring. It turns out the ring was given to Fatality temporarily as a means to test it. They think the ring will be an even greater weapon in the hands of the one they truly made the ring for: a young demented artist named Alex Nero.
Enters The Emperor (GL #133 - "While Rome Burned" Part Two)
We start again with Kyle, Jenny, Merayn and Guy visiting John in the hospital. Kyle is feeling horrible about the whole incident and the fact that he sympathizes with Fatality. He even ponders how much she is like Hal Jordan, who was also driven to inexcusable extremes by the destruction of all he knew. As Kyle leaves, Jenny follows after and asks if he'd like to get dinner with her.
Through two pages depicting a couple of months, Christmas and the coming of winter, Kyle and Jenny get back together. Terry shows up at the front door as the couple are getting dressed. It becomes rather obvious here that Terry does not like Jenny very much, as Kyle asks to meet him in Radu's coffee bar downstairs. Jade tries to leave here but Kyle wants her to stay and dodge work In an ironic comment upon what has happened in the course of five pages, Jenny tells Kyle she things they need to slow down a bit.
Things slow down indeed, as we cut to nearby as Alan Scott, the Golden Age Green Lantern now known as "Sentinel" is flying into New York and spots a group of yellow dogs chasing people on a bridge. Alan fights the dogs, as well as bats and other energy monsters which eventually overpower him.
At Radu's Kyle asks Terry what his problem with Jenny is. Terry shrugs it off as just being stress and worried about deadlines. Kyle doesn't buy this, saying they are ahead of all their deadlines but before they get much chance to argue, Radu signals Kyle with a fake phone call and points to the TV where the yellow ring projections are overwhelming Sentinel. Kyle gives Terry an excuse and flies off to a hurry. He grabs a wounded Alan from the fire as we see the man responsible for all the yellow demons: Alex Nero, now clad in a dark blue bodysuit and black coat... somewhat reminiscent of Sinestro's costume in color if not design.
In fact, this entire mini-series ("While Rome Burned") sets up Nero nicely as a Sinestro-figure for Kyle; something Kyle has seriously needed. The best way to make an archenemy for your hero is often to take the trait that your hero best personifies and carrying it to an extreme. For example, Sinestro was the perfect foil for Hal Jordan because Hal was just a basically good man who wanted to use his powers to ensure the order and safety of others. Sinestro too wished to use his powers to ensure order, but he was so obsessed with his power and his idea of order that he became a fascist and a tyrant as he sought the same goal Jordan did. Similarly, Nero is an extremist view of Kyle Rayner; the free-spirited creator with too much imagination.
All That Glistens (GL #134 - "While Rome Burned" Part Three)
Kyle tries to get Alan out of the scene, trying to talk and reason with Nero. When it becomes obvious that the new yellow ring wielder is too crazy to talk down, Kyle rushes him to Jenny's house. As he is patched up by his daugher, Alan loses his usually calm demeanor and tells Kyle to find Nero... no matter what. Kyle then goes to talk to John (now out of the hospital) and Guy.
A quick aside for a brief joke here. One of the hallmarks of the Marz run was that Kyle would run into a bad guy and then Alan, John or Guy would show up to explain who the bad guy was and why they were significant to the Green Lantern myths. Winnick parodies this subtly, in a scene where John and Kyle are discussing who the new ring wielder might be...
Guy: His name ix Alex Nero. He's a mental patient who escaped from Bellevue about ten days ago.
(brief pause as Kyle and John stare at him)
John: And how do you know that?!
Guy: (undoing MUTE on TV) It's on the news....
Kyle goes to the asylum as Green Lantern and asks to see Nero's record. He finds that Alex has a long history of mental illness and that there is speculation that he might have killed his own parents and framed his dad for murder/suicide. The notes of his last few sessions detail how he had been visited from above and been give great power by "the Qward". Naturally, it was assumed that he was delusional; a misconception Kyle knocks out of the water reallly quick.
The issue ends as Kyle assembles all of the JLA (and Warrior), explaining to them the danger of the situation and how they might even have to kill Nero.
Hiding in Plain Sight (GL #135 - "While Rome Burned" Part Four)
The weakest issue of the mini-series and the TP, this one is almost nothing but pure fighting between the JLA and the projections. The only exceptions are the scenes at the beginning where Kyle explains that he doesn't think they will have to kill Nero, but that they may have to leave the option open. Naturally this doesn't sit well with Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman but Kyle notes (to the horror and shock of most assembled) that he knows his ring has enough power in it to split an atom and that if it comes to that and saving the city and world, they should be prepared for the worst. There is some nice in fight dialogue...
Superman: Remember what G.L said, Guy! These are just constructs. No need to hold back.
Guy: I'm not exactly well known for my restraint, am I Blue Britches? So how are you doing? I know this kind of destruction ain't normally part of your...
(the severed head of a yellow energy demon goes flying in front of Guy as he turns around.)
Guy: ... repertoire. I guess he's doing okay.
Eventually, Kyle and J'onn are able to track Nero to Times Square, where the final showdown begins...
While Rome Burned (GL #136 - "While Rome Burned" Part Five)
This issue is also mostly pure fighting, but at least it doesn't seem so cluttered and meant to take up space.
The rest of the JLA work on fighting the projections and getting people out of the way as Kyle attempts to fight Nero one-on-one. This doesn't work nearly as well as Kyle hoped, the insanity around him shifting and being recreated before he can do much. Thinking that Nero probably has some parent issues (another trait Kyle has in common with Nero, but not quite as extreme), he asks the Flash to run to the psych ward of Bellevue and get a video tape of the Nero Family picnic. Making a big green TV/VCR, Kyle plays the tape for Nero. The tape triggers a breakdown as Nero's ring creates nightmarish visions of his parents yelling at him. Another explosion rocks the area, and Nero is gone leaving only a smoking crater.
The issue, and then the TP, end with Jenny reading the paper to Kyle in bed. Green Lantern is now the more-or-less official guardian of New York City. Kyle's professional career is taking off.
And that's when he drops a bomb on Jade and the reader, pulling out a second Green Lantern ring- the one she wore once before, that somehow got into Batman's hands (If anyone can explain to me how Batman got the ring Hal Jordan gave Kyle in "Emerald Knights", please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org ). He offers her the ring, saying she can use it to become a superhero again and that he would also like to marry her.
All in all, Winnick is doing a fine job in revitalizing Green Lantern. True, "While Rome Burn" seemed an issue too long and filled with some far-too meaningless action... but the humor, characterization and plots more than make up for the action issues sometimes being bland or long winded. I highly recommend picking up a copy of the TP, plus GL #137. That way you can find out what Jenny's response is to Kyle's proposal.