Friday, March 26, 2010

Trade Waiting - Green Lantern: Agent Orange

Although Green Lantern: Rebirth and The Sinestro Corps War were my entry points to DC, I have found myself less and less enthused by Geoff Johns's current work on the Green Lantern franchise. Part of this is because of my changing taste in comics and part of this is because I have no interest in Blackest Night. I'm not a fan of zombies in any way nor do I particularly care about many of the characters Johns is showcasing in the series but Blackest Night is the culmination of John's run on Green Lantern to this point so I still have some interest in it. Luckily, my library got a copy of Green Lantern: Agent Orange, which is billed as a prelude to Blackest Night, and I decided to give it a look to see if it could rekindle my interest in Johns's work. Hit the jump for my review.

Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Philip Tan, Eddy Barrows, Ivan Reis, Rafael Albuquerque, and Doug Mahnke
Collects Green Lantern #38-42 plus material from Blackest Night #0

Much like every other comic I've read from Geoff Johns's Green Lantern run that wasn't either Rebirth or Sinestro Corps War, I found this to be kind of dull. Not bad per se, there are some bad bits, but dull none the less. This might be because I read Rebirth and Sinestro Corps before I read anything else from his run but that still doesn't really justify the fact that I found this collection to be less than stellar.

The story is competently told, for the most part. I guess the biggest probably I have with it is that it's all set up for what comes after - Blackest Night. It really does feel as though Johns introduces Larfleeze just so he would be ready to appear in Blackest Night. His introduction is done well enough and it's easy to get a good sense for Larfleeze but it just felt like a waste of time to me. This would mostly be because I have zero interest in Blackest Night even if I'm interested in what Johns is doing with the various Lantern corps. I do like Larfleeze but I never got the sense that the arc was about him, for the most part. Even though I thought he did carry a large part of the story, and was easily the most interesting character in the story, it still felt as though the story wasn't really about him. I think a large part of this is the fact that the collection is billed as a prelude to Blackest Night despite the fact that it had almost nothing to do with Blackest Night, aside from a couple of brief interludes involving the search for the Anti-Monitor's corpse and the Black Lantern Battery. It felt as though Johns was simply getting the pieces into place first and foremost without telling a compelling story to go with that, which leads me to my next problem.

To me, Johns's plotting has gotten incredibly loose and sloppy. This is mostly because he's going for the "big moment" rather than logical storytelling. There are two examples that especially stand out to me in this regard. First up, the Controllers, a splinter group from the Guardians of the Universe who are searching for the orange light, are all killed within the span of two pages by Larfleeze's Orange Lanterns. They literally put up no fight and are just slaughtered yet regular Green Lanterns are able to stand up against the same Orange Lanterns. So, we are supposed to believe that, even though the Orange Lanterns have been shown to be capable of killing Guardian-level beings, that any given Green Lantern is going to be able to stand up against them?

The other big example has to do with the blue ring Hal Jordan has. At one point, the ring rejects Larfleeze because it says, and I quote, "Hope is selfless." How does Jordan get it to activate? By snarkily hoping that the ring will quit asking him what he hopes for. Jordan's wish is utterly selfish yet, because he is sincere, it activates for him. You know who else's hope was sincere? Larfleeze's. So, why did the ring work for Jordan but not Larfleeze? Well, aside from the fact that Jordan is the hero, he also activates the ring when Larfleeze is about to crush the Green Lantern Corps and Johns need a "cool" moment for Jordan to show just how awesome he is. When you eschew logical storytelling by going for the "moment" you end with a bunch of moments strung together in a way that doesn't make any sense and you are not left with much of a story.

I suppose you could say that I'm over-thinking this but these stood out to me on the first reading! I wasn't even looking for anything like this, it was just there, staring me in the face. Not to mention the fact that you can't really over-think a solid piece of fiction because a solid piece of fiction can withstand scrutiny and, like I already said, these things leapt out to me on my first reading, not because I was looking for flaws in the book or even reading the book with an eye towards writing a review. I suppose you could also say I could just "turn off my brain" or whatever and just enjoy the book like that but that says to me whatever is being discussed isn't actually good enough to stand on its own when compared to other stories of a similar type. I thought that The Sinestro Corps War did a good job of balancing action and plot so it's not like Johns isn't capable of doing it, he's just not doing it now.

The other major problem has to do with how Johns writes the Guardians, which takes the idea of plot induced stupidity and just utterly breaks it. The biggest, and best, example of this would be how they end up dealing with Larfleeze. When they start out to go confront him, they bring Jordan along to see how the blue ring works and, after they see just how well it works, they just give up the Blue Lanterns to Larfleeze since, well, I can't honestly think of a logical reason why they would do so. I know that Johns has been writing Guardians as fanatics but he's just taking it too far in my mind and it warps the story he is trying to tell.

This goes back to my point about Johns having become a sloppy writer. Having read Blackest Night #1, I know that the Guardians realize that they've been doing the wrong thing but, having read this story now, it seemed more like a story beat Johns wanted to hit and was more interested in hitting that story beat rather properly building up to that point. In fact, the whole trade read like some story beats Johns wanted to hit, some "cool" moments and some Blackest Night set up all thrown together without regards as to how all of that would work as a story, which it doesn't. It's just a sad contrast to the more methodically plotted Rebirth and doesn't reflect well on Johns as a writer.

Finally, I had a problem with the collection itself. The Agent Orange storyline is only four issues long so DC put in a bunch of extras in order to pad it out. They are two back up strips, a sketch book and then the various corps profiles from Blackest Night #0. Personally, I found none of these of value for various reasons. One of the two back up strips is the Origins and Omens one for the title, which I'm not sure actually said anything. It just seemed like a recap of Jordan's and John Stewart's current status quo so it didn't add anything on that front. The other back up strip is about Glomulus, the only Orange Lantern to be named in the story I believe. I'm honestly not sure why he got a back up strip though since his only defining characteristic in the Agent Orange story was being able to pronounce his name so, again, I don't really see how it adds anything worthwhile to the collection. Not to mention that it wasn't particularly good either. Philip Tan's sketch book is interesting enough but, 1) all of the images where previously available online so it doesn't seem like added value when you can get them for free and 2) it's more of a reminder that Tan should be drawing posters and pin ups rather than comic books than anything else.

As for Tan's art, it's passable enough. The tone of this artwork clashes with the whole brightly colored characters clashing in outer space aspect of Green Lantern but he does handle some of part of the story well enough. There is more of a vibe, not horror exactly, but dark tone to some of the Larfleeze parts of the story and Tan's art works better there but his Image inspired style still doesn't work too well with the overall tone of the story. His characters tend to grimace too much in a noticeable way and his art is just generally a little too gritty for a superhero space opera like Green Lantern. His story telling is passable as well and nothing stands out in either a good or bad way. His Orange Lantern designs do stand out at times though, which is probably the only plus for his work on the title.

Care for a second opinion on Green Lantern: Agent Orange? You can check out Kirk's reviews of the individual issues by clicking here.

Verdict - Byrne It. Although there are some entertaining and interesting aspects to Agent Orange, Johns many missteps and poorly told story, whose sole purpose seems to be to set up other stories, prevent the collection from being of interest to anyone who isn't already interested in his work on Green Lantern.

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brandon said...

Nice review!

I picked this up in singles and felt like this arc, and especially the Secret Origin one, had only one purpose: Set up Blackest Night.

As stand alone stories they just don't stand out as anything other than a few cool splash pages.

When you consider Blackest Night ran out of story like three months ago maybe they should have folded some of these other "arcs" into it and done away with a string of mediocre comics.

Johns struck gold with Rebirth and Sinestro Corps War but since Sinestro Corps War things have been on autopilot it seems.

Lucho said...

I´m quite in reverse mode.
I didn´t like Johns before.
Infinity Crisis was a mess only to bring back the stupid multiverse.
Then his work on JSA and GL totally amazed me.

Agent Orange is indeed setting up the pieces for Blackest Night. I enjoyed it very much. It was all about Larfreeze, one of the best characters in years. Funny, dark. Kept me interested.
So it has some non sense, so what? It´s a comic book about a damn green ring.

Johns is amazing. You should enjoy the ride.

Eric Rupe said...

Brandon - It seems to me that, much like Bendis at Marvel, Johns is taking on way too much work and his writing is suffering for it.

Lucho - "So it has some non sense, so what? It´s a comic book about a damn green ring."

Just because Green Lantern is a superhero comic that doesn't mean that blatant plot inconsistencies don't matter. I love high concepts in superhero comics, and I generally like what Johns is doing with the Lantern corps, but bad writing and inconsistent is still bad and inconsistent writing, no matter what genre it's in.

Lucho said...

I wouldn´t call Agent Orange arc "bad writing". You want to see some bad writing go and read the McFarlane penned issues of Spawn or Youngblood. That´s bad writing.

Oh and everything Mike W. Barr has done in Batman is awful.

Agent Orange might not be Johns´ best but maybe we have to wait and see until the story is actually finished so we can enjoy the whole thing.

Eric Rupe said...

Lucho - Like good writing, there are shades of bad writing and Johns's work on AO is weak enough for me to consider it bad. Yeah, it's not the worst thing I've ever read but it's not really good either.

If AO doesn't stand on its own and can only work as part of Johns overall arc, then it isn't a particularly strong story either. AO should have been able to stand on it's regardless of whether or not it was it was lead to Blackest Night or not.

brandon said...

I like the comparison to Bendis. Overworked leading to being spread too thin seems very likely.

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