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Into the back issue box #9

by  in Comic News Comment
Into the back issue box #9

This week: could it be?  A regular mainstream superhero book?  Why, yes it could!  But what?  WHAT?????

You can check out the ground rules for this little exercise here.  I link because I care!

Green Lantern #138 (“Away from Home, Part One”) by Judd Winick, Dale Eaglesham, and Rodney Ramos.  Published by DC, July 2001.

I have not read very much by Judd Winick.  I know he’s Mr. Popular around the halls of DC, and I know his little indie comic is much adored by many, and I know he holds the testicles of Dan DiDio in his palms and squeezes them whenever he wants to do something (“Let me darken Captain Marvel, Dan!  LET ME!!!!!”).  But other than the Infinite Crisis stuff, I haven’t read him.  So when this issue of Green Lantern showed up at random in my hot little hands, I wasn’t cringing going in like I would have if this had been a comic with, I don’t know, a Pulido involvement.

But I soon was.  Okay, it wasn’t all that bad.  But this issue, from what I have heard about Winick (and, to be fair, that is just hearsay, no matter how reputable the sources might be), seems to highlight his basic flaws as a writer.  Namely, he thinks he’s a lot more clever than he actually is.

Let’s take the first three pages.  Kyle Rayner, our hero (and I call him that only because I know his name - he’s called “Kyle” several times during the issue, but his last name isn’t used), gets a phone call from J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter, who wants him to go to a planet called Tendax as an ambassador.  J’onn says they called the JLA (and I would hope that anyone picking this up as their first comic book ever might be vaguely familiar with what those initials mean, but it’s not that important) and asked for “the Green Lantern.”  This is where is gets goofy.  Kyle says they must have meant Hal Jordan, and J’onn confirms this and says he told them Hal was unavailable.  I’ll let the panels do the talking after this:

               

This joke gets old far too quickly, and it really wasn’t that funny in the first place.  Kyle finishes by saying, “For the sake of time let’s just pretend they asked about me next time.”  Well, shit, can we?  Maybe it would help the story get started!  Kyle says he’ll go, as long as he can take his girlfriend, a green-skinned woman emptying a grocery bag at the time.  Then Winick indulges us with a page of summation for those of us who might be unaware of the comics before this.  We find out he just fought some guy called Nero, who makes “Hannibul Lecter [sic] look like a wuss,” he works as a (presumably) artist on a comic book, his assistant is gay (not that there’s anything wrong with that), and the city he calls home (which would probably have been easier to just name) is quiet.  After the tedious joke of the first few pages, it’s a pretty good wrap-up of Kyle’s situation.  Winick even hints that the ring Kyle has on his finger is the source of his powers (remember, a first-time comic reader wouldn’t necessarily know this).  But then we get back to the dialogue.

               

Say what you will about Bendis and his characters’ interminable stuttering, but when you read it, you can imagine people actually saying it.  And say what you will about one of the old-school writers, like Claremont, who have their characters spout plot summaries in the middle of fighting galactic threats – at least those have a point, and we can suspend our disbelief because we know they’re not talking, they’re just reiterating things for us, the audience.  Winick, unfortunately, is in neither camp.  He obviously wants to be in the Bendis camp, but he’s just not talented enough to pull it off.  As Kyle and Jade (his green-skinned girlfriend; we find this out when they reach Tendax and she introduces herself) fly through space, Jade says about the experience, “How can you not just bust out into song?”  It’s such a poetic thing to say, but it’s also something no person would ever actually phrase in that way.  They banter, and Kyle finishes by saying, “But it’s the grand mal of doofiness singing while flying through space that clinches it.”  There’s some punctuation missing there, I’m sure, because I’ve tried to parse that sentence and I can’t (admittedly, I’m not that bright, but still).  But with or without punctuation, it still smacks of a writer putting words in a character’s mouth that sounds awkward because it’s the writer trying too hard to be clever.  We do learn, however, that Jade has recently turned down his proposal of marriage, so give credit to Winick for including that information.  It begs the question of what they’re still doing together, because I always thought a proposal was pretty much a make-or-break kind of thing – if the lady declines, isn’t the relationship pretty much over?  Maybe not – I’ve only proposed once, and the woman said yes.  So I’m a bit inexperienced.

             

Anyway, there’s more of this throughout the book.  Winick does a good job describing the planet Tendax and its situation, through narration by Kyle, but always with that kind of cheekiness that is not as clever as he thinks.  Not a lot happens in this issue, either, until the very end, when a train carrying a bunch of children explodes, killing 43 of them plus hundreds of others.  Considering Kyle was there as an audience of a historic peace treaty, this act doesn’t go over well, and Kyle and Jade offer their services to the leader of Tendax, which is where the issue ends.  Winick has taken us through 20-some pages of not-very-witty banter in order to show us that Kyle is going to get involved in a war.  Since we knew this from the instant he arrived on the planet, what’s the point of the whole issue being devoted to this?  We don’t learn too much about the leader of Tendax, who was once a terrorist and will surely be more involved in this explosion than we first think, nor do we learn about the “enemies” – they are barely mentioned.  We don’t even learn all that much about Tendax, beyond that it’s a paradise world where any sentient being can exist because the atmosphere magically adapts to them.  So we learn very little that might carry over into later issues (and I have no idea how long this story is), and we don’t get a lot of insight into Kyle’s character, except that he’s not terribly mature.

                   

Yes, Kyle doesn’t act much like a grown-up in this issue.  Devon used to do a feature called “Kyle Rayner:  Adult!” so I suppose this is part of his “characterization” (and speaking of which, what the hell happened to “Kyle Rayner: Adult!”?  We need to know, Devon!), but this issue shows it in all its glory.  Kyle’s not unlikable, he’s just kind of childish.  He draws comic books, for crying out loud!  Can anyone think of a more immature job … oh, wait a minute, bad example.  Anyway, at the beach, Jade takes her top off, and Kyle gets all bent out of shape.  Okay, that’s reasonable, I suppose, but when Jade asks him why he’s upset, he says, “That’s [Jade’s boobies] none of anybody’s business but mine.”  WTF, Kyle?  Jade, surprisingly enough, doesn’t kick his teeth through the back of his head, so she must be used to this juvenile attitude.  Later, while Jade is actually getting information about what the war is all about – which might be handy to know – Kyle amuses himself by playing an alien version of Rockem Sockem Robots with the chief minister’s daughter.  And getting whiny when he loses.  I’m sure (well, reasonably sure) that throughout his tenure as Green Lantern, we got a much more nuanced portrait of Kyle, but based on this comic, it’s not that we hate him, but we do think he’s kind of a wuss.

                        

Finally, why does Kyle wear his ring on his middle finger and not his ring finger?  Is this usual?  Did Hal wear it that way?  I own a few older Green Lantern comic books, but I never noticed.  I could look, but I don’t feel like it.  Why should I, when someone will know the answer!

                                  

Eaglesham’s art is perfectly fine, as you can see from these examples.  He’s not really called upon to do all that much, and only has to stretch a bit when the train explodes and there is carnage to draw.  He’s gotten better, I know that much.

                  

This is a decent enough comic book, but remember – we’re trying to sell this to a first-time comic book reader.  It’s fine that it’s Part One, but would a neophyte come back for Part Two?  Well, the only thing stopping them, really, is the dread that the story would move as slowly as it does in this issue.  Someone reading this without having been inured to “decompressed” storytelling might wonder why he or she just paid $2.25 for, really, not a lot of story.  It’s frustrating reading something like this in monthly installments, because you fear that it will be a lot of padding and not much bang for your buck.  Long-time comic book readers, as I’ve mentioned, have become numb to this sort of thing, but if you think about it, it’s not really the best way to sell a product to a casual fan.  This book ends with a bang (literally), but by that time, it might be too late.  There’s far too much exposition and attempted cleverness, and by the time things start to happen, the danger is that we just won’t care anymore.

So how does this end?  Is the leader of Tendax evil?  Wouldn’t that be a shock!

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