When the concept of hero and anti-hero don't apply, what makes a character like Sinestro so compelling?
Sinestro #1Publisher: DC
Writer: Cullen Bunn, Dale Eaglesham
Publication Date: 2014-06
The line between hero and anti-hero isn't always clear. But like racist undertones in old movies, fans know it when they see it. There's usually a spectrum of sorts for heroes and anti-heroes. On one side, there are the heroic ideals like Superman and Captain America. On the other, there are the darker anti-heroes like Wolverine and Lobo. Yet while these characters may have vastly different methods and personas, the narratives are usually fairly similar. A hero or an anti-hero has a moment that triggers their journey. Then they go on that journey, often struggling to overcome the challenges along the way and not lose sight of their role. It's a journey that's so common that it might as well have its own wi-fi. But the journey for a character like Sinestro goes a completely different route and that's what makes Sinestro #1 both jarring and compelling.
On the spectrum of heroes and anti-heroes, Sinestro is one character who has historically not remotely qualified for even anti-hero status. For decades, he was just a typical villain. He was to Green Lantern what Lex Luthor is to Superman. He's supposed to represent everything that the Green Lantern Corp and the Guardians of the Universe are against. This succeeded in making him a formidable foe that constantly frustrated the Green Lantern Corps, but it didn't make him that interesting. He lacked the Joker's charisma or Darkseid's imposing presence. He might as well have been a humorless bully who was only a few bland traits away from being a robot.
Then in recent years, the emergence of the Sinestro Corp and the detailed history of Sinestro's home planet, Korugar, gave Sinestro some much needed depth. He went from being the obligatory villain that must frustrate the Hal Jordan and Jon Stewarts of the DC Universe to being an arrogant, headstrong warrior who sought only to protect his homeworld and his people. He's no King Arthur. He's more like an alien version of Vladimir Putin. He's willing to use the power of fear to instill order. And for a time, he used that fear to great effect. But like many strongmen, this fear inspired hatred from the people he was trying to protect. In the end, Sinestro's efforts to protect his world ended up destroying it. That's something that even the Joseph Stalins of the world can't boast.
The loss of Korugar essentially stalled Sinestro's journey. He no longer had a reason to keep fighting. He didn't care about being in the Green Lantern Corp, the Yellow Lantern Corp, or any corp for that matter. He relegated himself to lonely exile like a disgraced Congressman after a major scandal. And he probably would have skipped the part where he tries to pull a Bill Clinton and make a comeback, content to live out his lonely existence on some isolated planet. But a visit from Lyssa Drak, who could be considered Sinestro's version of Hillary, forces him back on that journey.
Much of Sinestro #1 revolves around Lyssa Drak convincing Sinestro to take up the mantle as leader of the Yellow Lantern Corps again. Never mind the fact that both she and everyone in the Yellow Lantern Corp hates his guts. Never mind they have their own agenda that involves them basically doing what they've always done in looking for new ways to frustrate their Green Lantern Corp rivals. But this is where Sinestro creates an entirely new spectrum. He's still not a hero or an anti-hero by any measure. However, it's hard to call him a villain. Lyssa Drak may hate him, but she doesn't deny that Sinestro is a strong leader. He doesn't care if everyone in the universe hates him. He just needs them to respect him. It's an approach that makes him perfectly equipped to bring order to this chaos. It would also make him great American football coach because even great leaders understand that respect can trump hatred and fear.
Yet even the disarray of the corps that Sinestro founded isn't enough to get him out of his rut. Lyssa also reveals that while Korugar may be gone, his people are not extinct just yet. There are survivors out there and they happen to be the target of a new threat that Lyssa Drak claims they fear more than him. And being someone whose power is fueled by fear, that's saying something. This finally inspires Sinestro to start being Sinestro again. And as strange as it may be, it's hard not to root for the guy. That's the biggest accomplishment of Sinestro #1. It doesn't give Sinestro excuses for being the interstellar bully he has always been in the DC Universe. It doesn't try to change him into an anti-hero either. It creates for him a very different struggle with a very different narrative that no hero or anti-hero can boast.
It's a narrative that introduces a number of new threats and themes. But some are only somewhat fleshed out. The threat that the surviving Kurogarians fear more than Sinestro is identified. It just isn't given much depth. However, this doesn't take away from the strength of the narrative because so much is put into just giving Sinestro a reason to be relevant again. It plays heavily to his ego. It also becomes very personal when his daughter enters the picture. There's a distinct emotional undertone to Sinestro's journey and it's not restricted to those of a fallen tyrant looking to salvage what's left of the empire he's destroyed. That's what makes circumstances so difficult to fit into the traditional hero/anti-hero spectrum. At times it's hard to understand what to make of Sinestro's journey, but it's one that is sufficiently intriguing.
Sinestro #1 began with Sinestro being an exiled tyrant and former Yellow Lantern. Sinestro #1 ends with him taking up that mantle again and confronting the harsh circumstances that he helped incur. But he does not apologize for anything he's done. He doesn't seek redemption and he doesn't try to change his ways. He's just back on the same journey he has always been and it's a journey that can't be found anywhere else in the DC Universe. It's still may be jarring to some, rooting for someone like Sinestro. But like a burned out punk rock star, he still has undeniable appeal.