Breaking Bad Timing

An Eclipse of Venditti's Shining Moment?

by shathley Q

4 October 2013

Will Robert Venditti's singular achievement with the opening chapter of "Lights Out" be eclipsed by what appears to be sublimely prescient timing?

An open letter to @robertvenditti


I’m reading this final page of “Dark Days,” the opening chapter of Lights Out and it’s just awe and sadness that fills me. Especially Salaak. That close up of Salaak reads like punctuation and I can’t remember the last time I saw Salaak overwrought with emotion. Maybe around the late 80s post GLC #201 in the wake of the Green Lantern Corps having been dismantled and Hal Jordan restarting them on Earth. Much to my chagrin, and no matter how powerful the impact of that moment, I don’t rightly recall the artist’s name. But it’s going to hard to forget Billy Tan’s name, the poignancy with which he shapes Salaak’s usual stoicism into an expression openly on the verge of tears… that’s something worth seeing. Something worth waiting these interminable decades gone.

I know I’m going to take a little heat for that from you on that. I know you’ll say to me I’m being unfair, that the creative choice made around visualizing Salaak was made in favor of his stoicism. And that for the past couple of decades, it was a deliberate choice made by Ivan Reis and the slew of other artists over the years. But that’s really my point here—is that you and Billy and the entire team are now in a position to enact an entirely different choice matrix. All of you together, individually, can now tell different kinds of Green Lantern stories. And on this issue you and the guys have really come thru for me, and for us all.

I wanted to address that issue of legacy with you for some time now, but how can I really do that? Part of it is timing. You’ve been working on GL for about a year now, although we’ve only seen four issues thus far, and only now with the opening salvo of Lights Out do we get a strong sense of the momentum of things happening. This contrasts so strongly and so appositely with that bad-times-looming, brooding skies sensibility of the first three issues you penned. Part of my hesitancy then is not wanting to come across as one of those nostalgia-weaponizing old men on their porches who hanker after the recent past like it’s lost to the thermodynamic mists of time (the kind of person we thought we had to turn ourselves into back in the 90s, the kind of person it seemed the industry was ready to turn us into back then).

But it wasn’t only my not wanting to fall for the false and cheap lure of nostalgia (and not cheap in the good way), it was something else. Good ideas take time to incubate. And there’s no point whatsoever my crying out on the first note. I know your writing style, and I know that brooding, looming, dark-days-ahead was building to something. (And what a something it was, the destruction of Central Power Battery! And to top that, now we realize, it was only the beginning, and there’s an entire epic ahead of us still, waiting to be unfurled.) So why would I bring up time gone by, no matter how great those times were?

But I kinda, sorta ought to. As much out of a sense of respect to you and your project (and it’s clear you have a project), as to Geoff. Because the thing is, Geoff didn’t just turn Green Lantern into a highly marketable property again, didn’t just bring Hal Jordan back from the dead again (only to take him right back to being dead at the very end again, and then yank him back into the land of the living again), but because Geoff updated GL as a genre again, and made it relevant and worthy as an exemplar of space opera.

The story of the emotional spectrum, of Hal Jordan wielding all seven emotions (each of the seven colored rings of the seven various corps) was a socioculturally meaningful story as much as it was a geopolitically relevant one given the events since 9/11. And even although we look at Geoff as a new writer, a writer of our era, we can’t disregard the clear fact that his decade long work on Green Lantern is historiographically relevant to the character. And we’ve got to begin to take a measure of Geoff as having made a contribution to the iconography of GL similar in scope to Denny O’Neil when Denny took GL out on the road with Green Arrow and had the pair deal with fractious realpolitik of the 70s. Kinda like having known Elvis all your life, only to hear how big he’s made it all across the country. There’d be a deep sense of emotional participation in his success, but maybe also a kind of failure to perceive the full scale of that success.

There’s always this pressure on critics who immerse themselves in popculture, and I can’t say where it comes from, but there’s always this pressure on us to play thunderdome with creators and creative teams and even with high concepts. (As an aside, “Return of the Red Hood” arc 2006/2007-ishly reads like a meta-commentary on exactly this epiphenomenon, especially Judd Winick’s sublimely titled closing chapter, “All They Do is Watch Us Kill.”) I’ve resisted this idea, I’ve resisted this idea for the longest time, now I’m going to flat out denounce it. You know my views on perpetual fiction—that nothing done by any subsequent creator ever deletes work done by earlier creators, even if those earlier creators happen to be giants. The joy of reading comics is the joy of watching each new writer, each new artist bring to bear on the characters and settings that we’ve grown to love over the years, their own new and equally powerful and equally valid insights. Perpetual fiction, the kind of fiction that comics represents, is very much a liberation from the tortured and oppressive myth of individuated genius. It’s very much the promise that there can always be a different kind of magic, a certain kind of novelty.

And with the first chapter of “Lights Out,” you’ve certainly delivered on that promise, Rob. It’s a great time to be reading Green Lantern. It’s a time of hopefulness (exactly the same kind of hopefulness we see at the end of Chris Nolan’s Batman Begins, when Gary Oldman, Salaak-ly, looks to be on the verge of a different kind of tearfulness, one arising from relief, and says “You’ve changed this”). It’s a time of there’s-no-going-back, and not knowing where you’ll take us. And honestly I haven’t been this excited by a GL book since that cover back in 1984 where Hal quits the Corps (“I’m tired of being your whipping boy,” he exclaims at, the right preposition in this instance is at, the tribunal of Guardians). I’m rereading this while I write, and I’m looking at what you’ve achieved with GL #24 and you deal out genre like I shuffle thru playing cards. Over the course of just three pages there’s Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind and Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica. And I need to remind myself, I’m at the start of something, and nowhere near the end. And here’s you, just four issues in, and already drawing even with Geoff’s illustrious impact on the character, but taking us into as much unexpected, as uncharted territory.

Wouldn’t it be great if the story ended there? Sadly it doesn’t. Because there’s your own karma (is that the word? Is it “Tao?” “Magic?”) as a writer to consider. Something that seems to keep your work prescient by being just minutes ahead of the headlines. Your 2011 graphic novel Homeland Directive is a singular work. But after what we’ve seen play out in the news over the next 18 months, Homeland Directive seems more and more something that we ought to see on CNN (and I don’t mean the plot, I mean the structure and reach of the intelligence and security services you imagine). Most of us Rob, would have read your opening chapter of Lights Out on the day after the government shutdown which itself came the day after the series finale of Breaking Bad. That kind of tumbledown effect, that’s just wild. And more than Close Encounters or Galactica or Star Wars, the story of the last stand of Walter White, and the impact of the suspension of the governing infrastructure of our daily lives now seems to make Lights Out as a kind of commentary on our times. And the more I read GL #24 the more you read like Tolstoi or Dostoevsky or Kafka, a writer who’s able to subject the full and frank grandeur of history to a literary examination of the highest quality.

So now I’m thinking, as Sting’s chastisingly mordant “Ghost Story” winds to a close over iTunes, given the momentousness of your opening chapter of Lights Out framing our considerations of the series finale of Breaking Bad and the government shutdown, will anybody even notice the sheer scale of impact you’ve made on Green Lantern? Will anyone even notice that you’ve invented new genres for GL?

The point is moot, Rob. You’re a singular writer, and you’ve won my trust.


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