Comics

A Decade by Lantern Light: "Green Lantern" vs. "The Office"

In his last review for the U.S. version of The Office, Erik Adams of The A.V. Club explained that the final episode of one of the biggest TV shows of the past decade “…gets sentimental, but it deserves to get sentimental.” But it was also more than that. As was Geoff Johns decade-long run on Green Lantern…

In his last review for the U.S. version of The Office, Erik Adams of The A.V. Club explained that the final episode of one of the biggest TV shows of the past decade “…gets sentimental, but it deserves to get sentimental.” “Finale” was a chance to wrap up the season by tying up loose threads, giving answers to long-lingering questions, and to give the characters a sense of completion while still leaving their respective narratives open for viewers to imagine what happens.

But it was also more than that.

The final episode of The Office had to find meaning beyond being the last episode. It had to be a monument to nine years of dedication from the cast, the crew, the producers, and the viewers. It needed to be something that could convey the level of emotion expected from a phenomenally successful TV show that knew when to throw in the towel.

Sentimentality plays a big part in how we consume media. We have our favorite characters, our favorite fictional locations, our favorite bands, and our favorite episodes/issues/songs. Part of storytelling is being able to relate to the audience, thus, if the audience develops an emotional connection to the story, then the creator has done his or her job.

“This song is ending. But the story never ends.”

Comicbook readers of every age are often sentimental about the books of their childhood. While not an odd phenomenon, it’s a perfect example of how we chose to remember the past. My favorite Green Lantern is Kyle Rayner because when I was nine years old and my favorite color was green, I picked up Emerald Twilight. The little artist in me immediately connected with Kyle and his affinity for doodling, his general aloofness, his sincerity, and his amazingly detailed and creative constructs.  To nine-year-old Jay, Kyle Rayner was the coolest superhero ever. And that’s the way I choose to remember those Bronze Age stories: As fond reminders of the excitement I had for a character to which I could actually relate.  

But it wasn’t all good, of course. Much of the art was typical of the era: overly saturated and air-blown. Kyle’s girlfriend met the same refrigerator-based end as a frighteningly large number of female love interests at the time, and the villains were pale comparisons of their Silver Age counterparts. Similarly, while the Office had it’s fair share of low points, sentimentality compels us to remember the good times, and remember them fondly. I’ll always love “Café Disco”, but I don’t have to re-watch any of season eight.

Green Lantern #20 is Geoff Johns’ final issue of the series and the franchise. Nine years ago, Johns wrote Green Lantern: Rebirth, a six-issue limited series that resurrected Hal Jordan, the most popular Green Lantern ever, brought back the legendary Green Lantern Corps after a nearly 15-year absence, expanded the Green Lantern mythos farther than ever before, launched the franchise into a popularity it had never experienced in the past, and created a whole new paradigm for how the Green Lantern corner of the DCU would work. With over 100 issues under his belt, Johns spent the time in between developing new lore, an ever-growing idea about the power of emotion, and a cohesion in narrative structure that couldn’t be rivaled. Green Lantern #20 is not perfect, but it’s rooted in sentimentality because it deserves to be.

“If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.”

There are three narrative elements that have stayed consistent throughout Johns’ run on Green Lantern, and the first two are the emotional spectrum and the betrayal by the Guardians of the Universe. Subsequently, both elements are a big focus of “Wrath of the First Lantern” as we learn how the Guardians have manipulated emotion since the beginning of the universe, with the revenge of Volthoom, the First Lantern, as the straw that broke the camel’s back. In the past, the Guardians have always found a way out of taking responsibility for their bad decisions. Now, they have nowhere else to run because the one thing they were afraid of has happened: emotion won.

The third and arguably most relevant element of Johns’ tenure is Hal Jordan. Much like Jim Halpert on the Office, Hal is the protagonist. Though it sounds like a no-brainer, the fact is that the Green Lantern franchise is a big one that has to accommodate for a lot of leading names: Guy Gardner, John Stewart, Kyle Rayner, and most recently, Simon Baz. The Office populates each episode with storylines from all the employees, but the true overarching narrative is about Jim, his relationship with Pam Beasley, and his growth over the course of a decade from a simple paper salesman to a family man and executive of a sports marketing firm.

The emotional spectrum and the Guardians of the Universe may have been the backdrop and the catalyst, but Hal Jordan is the focus; his journey of redemption upon being resurrected, his trials against the Sinestro Corps, his victory against Nekron during the Blackest Night, and his final stand against the corruption of the Guardians. Johns sent Hal through the ringer over and over again to prove—perhaps to himself, to the readers, and to the character—that Hal could overcome, no matter the circumstances.

“I left the ending ambiguous, because that’s how life is.”

The joy in reading Green Lantern #20 comes from this sentimental sense of finality. Hal Jordan needed his happy ending, and though it can’t happen right this moment, Johns gives us portents of the future, or at least a future. We get to see our favorite Green Lanterns with gray hair, after they’ve shelved the rings and found peace and happiness in normal life. I'll be honest; I shed a tear or two after seeing Glomulus—constructed out of white light this time—next to Kyle, aiding those in need even into old age. The continuity-obsessed out there will grind their teeth at the prospect of a predetermined future, and the super-critical will cry foul by calling it manipulative, but that’s not really the point. This is the emotional payoff to years of stories dealing with the idea of emotion. If it seems like Johns is trying to make his audience cry, then that’s okay because he deserves it, and so do we.

Green Lantern: Rebirth got me back into comics. It was the series that ushered me into the modern age of comics and showed me that creative minds can do extraordinary things with concepts I thought I’d come to know well. Geoff Johns changed the landscape of the Green Lantern franchise farther than it’s ever been taken and Green Lantern #20 is the explosive, exciting, awe-inspiring, emotional finale to it all.

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