Ah, good old 1990s superhero comics. Whenever deadlines, work, or any other real world stressor gets the best of me, it’s great to know that I can always turn to the completely mindless, though thoroughly enjoyable, action romps of my youth to dull my senses. I can’t always turn to 1980s superhero comics for this because, while they laid the groundwork for the angst-fuelled “grim ‘n’ gritty” stories of the ‘90s that I poured over as a child, the decade is too well known for stories like Alan Moore’s ‘Watchmen’ and J.M. DeMatteis’ Spider-Man masterpiece, ‘Kraven’s Last Hunt’ – superhero adventures which explored the inner-core of their characters, creating a level of depth that revolutionised this bastard genre. Nor can I turn to the last decade to satiate my need for entertaining testosterone-fuelled heroics. Because, while the 2000s saw some pretty mindless action, it was largely an appeal back to the glory days of the ‘90s, nothing more than a pale imitation (though, just so I don’t give anyone the wrong impression here, there were indeed some incredible superhero comics produced in the 2000s). But the ‘90s – they really were unique in their own way. And, let it be clear that I say none of this disparagingly. For what they were, I absolutely love 1990s superhero comics. The grimness and violence of these “heroes”, and the sheer absurdities of the stories, are so downright fascinating. It’s a world of entertainment that only a select few of us “get”, and colourful action and over-the-top soap operas don’t come any better.
Out of all the many long running superheroes that were redesigned, rekindled and rejuvenated for the “extreme” image of the 1990s, perhaps none are epitomised quite as perfectly as the Green Lantern. And the two stories collected together in this trade paperback, ‘Emerald Twilight’ and ‘New Dawn’, represent the starting point of that new take, reprinting the “last” story of the second-generation (1960s-1990s) Green Lantern, Hal Jordan, and the first story of the third-generation (1990s-2000s) Lantern, Kyle Rayner.
The first story, ‘Emerald Twilight’, depicts the downfall of the greatest of all the Green Lanterns, Hal Jordan. The premise is strong, one of the all-time classics of modern superhero comics, in fact. What could possibly push this brilliant superhero over the edge, cause him to turn against his own allies and become “evil”? How about witnessing the destruction of his hometown, the deaths of millions of people, and being “robbed” (in his eyes) the chance to set everything right again by the very people who gave him his great power in the first place? The idea that even a great hero like Hal Jordan would snap is believable but, unfortunately, the execution is anything but. This is mainly because so much is crammed into so little. The book opens up with Jordan kneeling over in the destructed Coast City with a broken arm (which magically seems to heal 15 panels later). A few pages later, and he’s already snapped. A couple more pages later, and he’s taking out other Green Lanterns and craving power, like a true supervillain. I don’t care how angry Jordan is, but there’s no way he can take on all of those Green Lanterns and come out standing. A potentially brilliant storyline wasted, as we’re rushed through fight scene after fight scene, hurrying Hal Jordan’s descent into madness in an entirely unconvincing manner.
The next story, ‘New Dawn’, introduces us to the new Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner. This is probably the better written of the two stories. Kyle is immediately likable, and so it isn’t entirely surprising that he took off, despite the overwhelmingly negative fan response against turning Hal into an evil supervillain. But it requires some serious suspension of disbelief to follow the premise that this handsome, athletic American young man was randomly selected out of everyone in the world to become the new Green Lantern. And though it’s a compelling idea that Kyle, unlike Jordan and every other Green Lantern in history, has to learn the ropes by himself, the appearance of Superman at exactly right place and time to help him in his first major supervillain battle ruins that all. Deus ex machina is a large problem in this story.
A big gripe I have with this collection as a whole is that it’s incredibly disjointed and incomplete. First of all, we never really learn what actually happened in Coast City and why. In order to get that story, you need to read ‘The Return of Superman’, which is actually the final chapter of a trilogy which began with ‘The Death of Superman’. Then, towards the end of the story, Alan Scott (the original Green Lantern) appears out of nowhere, confusingly filling us in on the exploits of Hal Jordan since he went crazy. Wouldn’t it have made more sense for that stuff to have been collected alongside ‘Emerald Twilight’?
This collection presents one of the modern-day staples of DC Comics lore, the transformation of Hal Jordan into Parallax. The writer, Ron Marz, became a beacon of anger for “destroying” Hal Jordan in such an out-of-character fashion, and I can’t really say that that hatred was unjustified. Furthermore, it also lives on in infamy for the fate of Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend, an episode which has since become synonymous with chauvinism in superhero comics (see: “Women in Refrigerators”). I wanted to love this book, but there are just too many problems with it to make it essential. To be honest, this story is so important to the continuity that you can’t really get into DC Comics without hearing everything you actually need to know about it somewhere else (just about every Green Lantern since, for example). I did enjoy it though, so if you must read it for yourself, and you’re not expecting anything challenging in any way, then you probably won’t go wrong. But it is, ultimately, a missed opportunity.
3 out of 5