Understandably, it was easier during the Cold War. Easier to just get by, easier to understand who the enemy was, and easier by far to write space opera. What George Orwell laid down in 1949, in his novel 1984, was a sociological survey in advance of living out the Cold War in the great geopolitical powerhouses; America, Western Europe, Japan and on the other side, Russian, China, Eastern Europe. What Orwell’s low-level scifi of 1984 leaves out is the Americas, Asia, Africa, the vast Third World where the great geopolitical powers play.
If 1984 was prescient of living in America or living in Russian during the Cold War, the entire subgenre of space opera scifi wrestled with those geopolitical superpowers growing embroiled in the Third World. Escaping Mos Eisley’s on Star Wars was also effectively a cinematic catharsis for bugging out from Vietnam. And the thousands of grand and less-grand space opera that filled the bookstore shelves and video racks were each their own wrestlings with the thousands of minor skirmishes of the Cold War from the Korean War onwards.
Deep down, it would be hard to get at space opera without appreciating fully the jadedness of spirit that is so expertly portrayed in movies like Flight of the Intruder or Air America or Apocalypse Now. But what happens to space opera as a subgenre, after the Cold War? What happens when that sense of geopolitical embroilment isn’t anywhere near as palpable in the hearts and minds and lived behaviors of audiences as it was during the Cold War? What happens when the digital age of social networking and mass-relationship structures becomes cultural zeitgeist? At its heart, Green Lantern: New Guardians Annual #1 deals with exactly this dilemma—the shifted cultural context and the relation of the space opera subgenre to it.
But before we get fully into that discussion, a sidebar. Don’t for one second think that because writer Keith Giffen struggles with grander issues of genre, there isn’t rollicking good fun to be had with the story itself. “The Show Must Go On!” is a pure romp of wild space opera joy. There’s a sense of alien worlds orbiting distant suns, of powers and kingdoms and customs, none of these our own, of getting in and getting out by the skin of our heroes’ teeth. Part of Giffen’s craft here is to expand the reader association beyond Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, and introduce Star Sapphire Carol Ferris as the chief protagonist.
The inclusion of likable dirtbag and “failed” Green Lantern Jediah Caul is the precise counterpoint needed in terms of characterization. Carol Ferris is the perfect character to show us how the Zamorans (the women-only sister-species of the Guardians of Oa, and keepers of the Sapphire/Love emotional spectrum energies) become embroiled in both New Guardians politics and the Rise of the Third Army (the Guardians of Oa’s bid to destroy of freewill in the universe). But it’s the introduction of Caul that expands the story-cosmos even further and allows readers to dive into the Tenebrian Dominion, run by Lady Styx, a disavowed Zamoran who has much to lose in siding with either the Zamorans or the Guardians.
This drama of embroilment, of negotiation and temporary alliance, or distrust and infiltration really does make for beautiful, pitch perfect space opera. Giffen’s 21st century twist on the subgenre is twofold—by bringing on board two artists, Scott Kolins and Andrei Bressan, who loop one into the other, in an infinite tango, and by immersing readers in the Tenebrian Dominion. It’s this second move, the more overt one, that allows readers to begin to appreciate just how much Giffen has reimagined what the subgenre is capable of. The Dominion is not a simple “thieves’ world”, not simply a wonderhell of vice and iniquity and freedom. Rather, it is a complex economy, one assaulted by every form of new media we ourselves have experienced since American Idol and Big Brother and on all the way through Facebook and Twitter.
While the New Guardians are ready to meet life in the Dominion as an abstract notion, they’re in no way prepared for the realities of the social complexity that life engenders. To navigate that particular morass the New Guardians need that likable dirtbag, Jediah Caul. And Caul is cool, he’s smooth, he’s an operator with pretty much all of the Tenebrian Dominion wired to his every need. And all of that political and social advantage hinged on his deep cover. If only the saintly, peaceable Blue Lantern Saint Walker didn’t inadvertently cause Caul’s cover to be blown…
And if that sounds exactly like the perfect setup for the launch of a new series…that’s because it is. Threshold, which chronicles the further adventures of Jediah Caul in Dominion space now that his cover’s been blown, debuts this February.