Across the Lantern corner of the DC Comics Universe, the “Rise Of The Third Army” crossover event marches on as the Guardians of Oa attempt to eliminate free will and destroy ever color Lantern Corps in one fell swoop.
In “Green Lantern,” written by Geoff Johns with art by Doug Mahnke, the Guardians’ instrument of annihilation, the Third Army, is still slinking around in the background even as new Lantern Simon Baz works to clear his name while simultaneously fleeing the Justice League, which remains hot on his trail after Baz stole a car with a bomb in it — marking him as a terrorist in the eyes of the United States.
The Third Army has also been skulking in the fringes of “Green Lantern: New Guardians,” written by Tony Bedard with art by Aaron Kuder. But while Kyle Rayner attempts to master the full emotional spectrum, with help from Carol Ferris and his ex-New Guardian teammates, it’s clear that his path will cross with the Third Army’s in the near future as it continues to assimilate and conscript human and aliens into their ever-growing ranks.
As the Third Army begins to make its presence known across the Lantern books, Mahnke and Kuder spoke with CBR about the artistic challenges in bringing this monstrous regiment to life, what fans have to look forward to and the trials and tribulations of drawing Hal, Kyle, Baz and the Lanterns that fight with and against them.
CBR News: From the artist’s point of view, how does a crossover like “Third Army” work? Is this something where you meet and talk with the other artists and you all trade designs and ideas?
Aaron Kuder: The way it’s worked for me so far is that a lot of the information that comes to me is through the editors. Because the process needs to have, especially with so many books involved, one person that oversees all of it, that’s where Geoff [Johns] comes in and that’s where people who have been on their series for a long time come in. With character design and stuff like that, I generally get rap sheets and character design sheets that I then figure out how to tweak their design into my style — and hope they’re OK with that!
Doug Mahnke: Regarding the original Third Army designs for the characters themselves, I think Ethan [Van Sciver] did that, and then some of the other stuff coming our way is stuff that I’d done. You’d think we would be a little more in each other’s way and creeping up on each other, but surprisingly, no. I’m so ridiculously busy getting this stuff out, that by the end of the day, if I actually had an opportunity to talk with somebody, that would have been the day! That would have been, “Hey, I have some time on my hands and can actually communicate with other artists? No way!” [Laughter]
Was the final design all Van Sciver’s, Doug, or did you come in and do a take before it went out to the other artists?
Mahnke: He did an initial drawing; I wasn’t even aware of his very first sketches that he had done. I saw them through the interpretation of another artist, and then I saw Ethan’s. As it has moved generationally through whoever has been drawing this stuff, it’s evolved a little bit. Some of the detail gets shifted around and changed as each artist adds their own spin and interpretation. Then you see what somebody else does and you go, “Wow, I kind of like the way that turned out! Maybe I’ll add some element of that to mine.” As long as you’re true to the original spirit of it, they’re always a work in progress. Hopefully they’ll all still look like the Third Army by the time we’re done with them, but I do find it interesting to see what other people do, and then to see what I focus on.
The Third Army certainly has a distinctive look. When you get those designs and rap sheets, how do you approach turning that into your own style?
Kuder: Issue #15 is the first issue where you get to see how I represent that metamorphosis. I don’t want to give too many clues to how I go about it, I don’t think it’s particularly different. When you’re dealing with some sort of alien liquid, I like to represent it as if the liquid itself has thought, so every time it moves, it’s a calculated move.
Mahnke: The first thing I did when I was even looking at [the Third Army] was, if you were to go over and see some of the original stuff, just try to add a little bit more of a monstrous quality to it. Like I said, it’s still a work in progress: focusing more on their musculature, their sinews, make their eyes bigger or smaller, do they pop more? Less? I think I downplayed the eyes a bit — it’s little details in trying to make the face work for you. When you finally get it done, as I first interpreted the Third Army and then looked at Ethan’s original drawings, for example, I go, “Ah, I was a bit off, but I started to pull it back in that direction.” And then when I see what other people do, I think, “Oh, they’re adding way more!” The brain part, the glowing part that sticks out, at first I didn’t use very much of that because what I saw in the Annual was slightly different. Then I saw — I think it was Ivan [Reis] who did a big poster shot of the books that is supposed to come together as one piece of art, and I saw how he interpreted them, which is always fun to see. There are little tweaks; it’s not major stuff. Even their size, for instance, or how they physically work. I’ll probably continue to try to take a little humanity out of them and put a little more monster in them.
How is the Third Army different from other foes the Lanterns have faced, and how do you visually approach depicting how they’re more terrifying than, say, Arkillo or Sinestro or other villains?
Kuder: I think the way we represent terror in a story is always interesting. We’re scared of the boogeyman, we’re scared of vampires, we’re scared of Frankenstein’s monster and these are all different representations of the creepy crawlies in the back of the mind. Arkillo represents that big galoop of a monster, and he has one of the most powerful weapons in the universe, so we’re representing him as — I have a pit bull, and whenever I want reference for Arkillo, I look at my pit bull! [Laughs] He’s the sweetest dog in the universe! I think if Arkillo were an animal on Earth, he’d probably be a pit bull, because he has a heart but he’s got this appearance!
But with the Third Army, I love the fact that it’s like giant space alien zombie beings; it represents that fear of this mass horde of something that we have such a hard time defeating, they’re nearly indestructible. What do you do? I think they represent themselves in the story, and visualizing that is the easy part. Dealing with that element of a large army tromping down your steps, that’s the story.
Mahnke: Yeah, they’re supposed to all be the same, they’re all interconnected. As they move through a population and go from one person to the next, they all become carbon copies of each other, and I believe they’re all connected, nervous system-wise. I don’t know if they have any intelligence or how they’re supposed to operate, but you look at any group shot, and they’re all the same. It’s not like one gets to be any different than the next, which can be a tedious in terms of drawing them. Unlike, if I go back to “Blackest Night,” where you have villains, once again, a mass of them, all of these creatures becoming the Dead — but they were all still individuals. Maybe they had a theme running through them, but they were unique each to themselves. Third Army is really just a wave or a mass of monsters coming your way.
In “New Guardians,” we’ve seen Kyle trying to master the emotional spectrum, and each time he does, he’s been getting a new costume. Aaron, what’s been the thinking behind each of Kyle’s different uniforms?
Kuder: Well, I drew most of issue #0, that part of the script, so I did the rough outs, and Andrew [Bressan] who came in and did issues #13 and #14, he ran with most of the designs I did, but he came up with the Red Kyle, which I thought was just crazy cool! It was absolutely bizarre. I had a totally different design for it but I really liked his design more than my own. That’s part of the fun of it, in this industry in general, that you get to take these longstanding characters and just every once in a while, you get to represent them in whatever way you choose. In issue #15, there’s a scene where you see him in one of the color spectrums, and I got to go absolutely bizarre. It was really, really fun!
Besides a different uniform for each color of the Lantern spectrum, you’re also going to have to tackle different ring constructs. Because Kyle is an artist himself, does coming up with those constructs make it easier or more challenging for you?
Kuder: [Laughs] Well, as of right now I haven’t drawn him creating any particular constructs, and the theory that I have behind that — I spent a lot of time sitting down and thinking, “OK, Green is the power of Will, Blue is the power of Hope, etc.,” trying to come up with visual cues to show what each energy looks like on its own without a construct. With Blue, I use this water ripple effect because I want it to emphasize calm and cool, healing and stuff like that. Red is very fire-like, it’s very jagged. Thus far, I’ve been trying to set a standard look for each power. Then, playing around with how Kyle has a very easy time moving from Green to Blue, I incorporate a lot more ripple effects in his power constructs and the way he represents things, because that seems more of an organic next step in visual cues. Whereas for my idea for how Fear is represented — Fear and Rage — I feel like there are a lot of gray zones in the way they’re represented in the comic books, so I try to think about how Rage is pure anger and just ravaged and jagged and chaotic, and then Fear is a lot more calculated. The power constructs they create are going to be a lot cleaner lines, a lot smoother transitions in visual cues and the way that they’re represented.
You’ve obviously put a lot of thought into the color spectrum. When it comes to drawing all the characters in your books (Carol, Kyle, Arkillo etc.), do you try to incorporate the way you draw their constructs or envision their powers into the way you depict them?
Kuder: Yeah. It’s a little more difficult when it comes to page design, because when you have so many colors on the page, the colors are going to dominate the image. I try really hard to make sure that the design of the page not only represents the characters and the mood and the story and all of those sorts of things, but also isn’t going to be a complete visual clash of colors. I try to make it as smooth as possible. Or, you know, if the clash is necessary, make the clash be more of a clash.
Doug, how do you approach creating ring constructs, not just for Hal and Sinestro, but Simon Baz as well? Is there a lot of car research going on?
Mahnke: Well, yeah. I mean, cars — artists either love or hate them because they are complicated things to draw quickly. I have things that I’ve kind of fallen back on and rely on; I certainly hope we’ll see some other stuff in the near future! For Hal, we pull off quite a bit the use of jets or something that has to do with his flying experience. The idea with Simon is that he’s using the same thing. That’s the nice thing about off-our-world type characters when they create something, like Sinestro for instance. I don’t worry nearly as much about the construct for Sinestro. If he wants to create a weapon, he’s coming from some technology that doesn’t exist except for in our imaginations most of the time, so even a knife is fanciful and easy to come up with. But Hal has always been more detailed in terms of having to look at something. Simon, so far, hasn’t been any different.
You’re also dealing with multiple characters. How do you approach drawing long-running characters versus creating a brand new character like Baz?
Mahnke: Well, let’s face it: I’m an artist, and I’m working with Geoff [Johns]! It’s his concept, and he’s very specific and very detailed about the character and motivation and who he is. So for me, it’s not so much creating a character as much as trying to fulfill him visually, and Geoff’s been pretty happy with the way things turned out. When it comes to designing his look, it was primarily me. Then, with feedback from Geoff, we got to the point rather quickly about the character design. When something clicks, it clicks, especially the way I see it. I really like the way Simon looks and he’s easy to draw for me, highly different from any Green Lantern, but there’s no doubt that’s what he is. One thing that’s interesting is to see how other artists approach Simon and how they deal with the details, because I know the costume really well. I’m always curious to see another artist put their stamp on him and see how they interpret the imagery.
While working on the Third Army event, what has been the biggest challenge for you as artists? What’s been the biggest thrill?
Kuder: This is the first time I’ve done a major title series, so it’s been a challenge to make sure I’m representing the characters in a way that is symbiotic to the way other people are representing them. On the other books I worked on, that wasn’t really as important, or I had a little more freedom, or I was working with somebody who had a similar enough style so it wasn’t a big jump.
Mahnke: Actually, out of the entire experience working on “Green Lantern,” the part that I’ve enjoyed the most is to work with Sinestro and to develop his character in a totally different light from how he was perceived before and to create a hero out of a character who clearly hasn’t been for — who knows how long? Yeah, I know he has a history as a Green Lantern, but everybody knows Sinestro is a villain! Working from “Blackest Night” forward, to take a character with his history, we sort of reinvented him in a very logical fashion as Sinestro is a good guy. That was really very fun. I really like the character. I never thought I’d really enjoy this character as much as I do, his little mustachioed face and his eyebrows and all that! I always enjoy when I sit down and draw Sinestro, even more than Hal. Sinestro is pretty fulfilling as a comic book character, and I get to interpret him in my own way. Of course, you’re using what people have done before, but I’m accentuating whatever I sought in him and wanted to use. There’s definitely something specific to drawing him. I suppose everyone has their own interpretations of characters and, like Aaron said, getting to put your own personal spin on it. Even if you look at Sinestro in the past three or so years I’ve worked on him, what we’re doing with him is dependent on how we presented him. He’s not quite as evil and haggard looking. We really did have to noble him up to make him a good guy, but not completely!
Has anything surprised you about working on this crossover, either working with other people, how the crossover has functioned or what you’re doing in your own books?
Kuder: It’s all been one big surprise; I’m new enough to this that I don’t really have any expectations. I’m just flat-out trying to represent the story as best I can. Hopefully I do it well enough that no one yells at me! [Laughter] I wouldn’t say any surprises, no more than sort of just the fact I work in comic books is a surprise to me sometimes!
Mahnke: Not really on the crossover — for me it’s been so much about focusing on Simon and what’s going on with him. Now that we’ve got this established with what’s going on, we can move forward a little bit because we’ve just alluded more or less to just elements of Third Army-esque stuff. It’s there, but it’s totally been secondary to the story of Simon. Now, I think we can move past that and dig directly into the fun of this date with destiny and the Third Army.
Finally, without giving things away, is there an aspect of the Third Army or your books that you are most excited for fans to see?
Kuder: The thing I really like about working on “New Guardians” in particular is that it’s far outside the regular Green Lantern titles. It’s really fast-paced and you have to believe in a lot of different ideas and a lot of different storylines going on at the same time. I really appreciate that, because it’s a difficult thing to be able to draw all those different stories and give them as much emotion and time as they need. I’ve really enjoyed that and I really enjoy the way they’re coming together in the next few issues.
Mahnke: There’s stuff I know I can’t say, but I do know there are significant things that are going to change, the kinds of things that Geoff is famous for. He doesn’t do anything halfway when it comes to writing, and he really likes to give fans something to chew on — that is Geoff Johns! So the stuff I know that’s coming their way is significant and the kind of thing they’ll sit up and take note of because it changes the Green Lantern universe. Those are the things fans really get to enjoy, and a writer like Geoff, he doesn’t disappoint where that’s concerned!
“Green Lantern” and “Green Lantern: New Guardians” #15 both hit stores December 19.