As much as I can’t believe it, 2021 marks the ten year anniversary of the DC Comics publishing initiative known as The New 52. For a variety of reasons, DC made a clean break from the previous continuity by blowing it up and starting it all over from scratch — except when they didn’t. Over the course of a year, I’m going to go back and re-read every single debut issue from The New 52 line-up to see how much it changes things from the way they were before, how much of this new status quo stuck around and just how well the comic holds up ten years later.
The New 52 was a bold new take on the DC Universe with radical reinventions of some of the most beloved characters in all of pop culture… unless those characters were halfway through an eight year run spearheaded by one of the driving creative forces of The New 52. In that case, it’s business as usual, which is what we see with Green Lantern #1 which picks up exactly where Geoff Johns left off a month earlier with Green Lantern #67 as if the entire universe didn’t just get rewritten due to Barry Allen’s selfish, selfish actions.
Following the return of Volthoom and the War of the Green Lanterns, the Guardians have stripped Hal Jordan of his ring while Sinestro once again wields the emerald light of willpower. No-one is happy about this arrangement; Hal doesn’t know how to function as a normal person with his feet on the ground, Sinestro wants to get back to instilling peace through fear and The Guardians of the Universe have their own thing going on in the wake of Volthoom’s rampage.
There’s a lot to take in for a #1 issue as part of a new initiative designed to entice new readers, but I don’t think it’s entirely unsuccessful. This is going to sound like I’m damning it with faint praise, but Green Lantern #1 is nowhere near as impenetrable as it could have been for the first issue of a comic. Johns balances the two protagonists of Hal and Sinestro well, dovetailing their stories nicely into the rendezvous on the final page and Doug Mahnke has always been one of the strongest draughtsmen in comics, so his steady hand and crisp storytelling, aided by Christian Alamy, Tom Baron and David Baron, keeps things on track nicely.
Mahnke is someone I’ve been a fan of since he stepped in to help finish Final Crisis in its final issues, but he had already established himself as a top-tier superhero artist with work on titles like Batman: The Man Who Laughs and JLA. The one criticism I have with the art in Green Lantern #1 is the way Carol Ferris is drawn, and it may be more a criticism aimed at the inkers rather than the penciller. Mahnke’s style is one that benefits from a strong inker, but Carol’s face looks untouched by the inker’s brush; I get what they were going for in terms of making her look “unblemished” or “flawless” but compared to the way every other face is inked, she looks like she has skin made of plastic.
One of the big problems with Green Lantern #1 is just how cliche it feels. I can no longer forgive or excuse any work of fiction that does the thing where someone is being attacked and the hero intervenes only for it to turn out that they’ve actually crashed a set and interrupted the filming of a movie. It makes somewhat sense in stuff set in New York or LA but when it’s happening in the apartment across from Hal Jordan’s window in Coast City, it just feels like a really lazy and tropey way to tell us that Hal is a good guy who looks before he leaps.
However, the biggest problem with Green Lantern #1 is that it continues Johns’ story at all and it really highlights how The New 52 tried to have its cake and eat it too when it comes to continuity and I remember at the time that it didn’t feel fair. DC’s pick-and-choose approach to what got to carry on as normal and what got fully rebooted contributed massively to the overwhelming feeling that they didn’t know what they were doing and didn’t have a plan in place for how everything lined up. As we’ll see with the other four titles in the “Green Lantern” line, everything that happened in Johns’ run still happened — and everything that Johns’ run builds off still happened — but with the new five year timeline, it all happened a lot faster.
It doesn’t really effect the story in the moment, but if you think about it for a second, you can fall down a rabbit hole trying to reconcile four Green Lanterns over the course of five years, as well trying to think about how stories like Cosmic Odyssey and Zero Hour can still happen in this new timeline. I’m not sure what the better alternative though is, because fans would not have reacted well to the kind of “start again” approach that The Flash, Superman and Wonder Woman got if it meant that characters like John Stewart, Guy Gardner and Kyle Rayner didn’t exist anymore the way Wally West, Superboy and Donna Troy didn’t exist anymore.
Thinking about Green Lantern #1 is really thinking about it as two different comics; Green Lantern (2005) #68 and Green Lantern (2011) #1 and it succeeds and fails at different things depending on which comic you view it as. However, I feel that you need to think about it as a first issue and in that regard, it’s not as wholly a clean break, new start, fresh take like Action Comics, Justice League or even Batman to a lesser extent. Johns kind of trapped himself into this by ending the previous volume on such a monumental cliffhanger that needed addressing if he wanted to continue his larger story but on the other hand, it does play into the “this isn’t the DC Universe you thought you knew” aspect of The New 52.
The ultimate problem with Green Lantern #1 is that no-one is going to use it to answer the question “where should I start with Green Lantern?” which is kind of the goal for all of The New 52 #1s. In an ideal world, DC Comics would have published fifty-two stone cold classic issues which redefined their characters for a new decade and serve as introductions to their worlds for years to come, and that didn’t happen with most. Green Lantern #1 is a good issue of Green Lantern but not a great #1, but as we’re going to see as we get into weeds with The New 52, it’s better than a lot of the comics which came out alongside it.