“It Was Self Defense!”— thoughts on Grant Morrison and Liam Sharp’s Green Lantern V1: Intergalactic Lawman

From The Green Lantern: Intergalactic Lawman (art by Liam Sharp and Steve Oliff)

We need to talk about how Grant Morrison has become The Man. He once was the agent provocateur within the pages of DC Comics. His Animal Man, Doom Patrol and even his JLA all showed us things didn’t have to be the way they always were. The old power structures weren’t to be trusted as we had the power to forge our own paths. These comics used the old characters to find the new that was in front of us. Each series, in their own unique ways, was Morrison casting a spell to usher in a new age. With Morrison telling us these stories in the late 1990s, it looked like the 21st century was going to be a time where anything could happen. His Invisibles and New X-Men runs were the culmination of this magic, trying to topple over the status quo, to tear down the way things were for the way we wanted things to be. He was our own comic prophet, challenging us to follow him boldly into the future.

It is now 20 years later and Morrison is writing stories about little blue men, space cops, and law & order instead of rebels and fighters. Teaming up with stellar artist Liam Sharp (a comic artist who you can honestly say has gotten better with age) they are telling the stories of Hal Jordan, a fairly white-bread character who had a stunning resurgence in 2005 under Geoff Johns’ pen but who has been rather unremarkable for many years since then. Morrison and Sharp’s first issue opens with a bored Hal Jordan, trapped on Earth without a magic lantern to power his magic ring, not because of some indecresion or unexplainable whim of his bosses but because his magic lantern is getting an upgrade. Hal Jordan is basically on vacation but all he can do is mope around under desert skies, wanting to be back in space administering little blue-men justice. That says all we need to know about Jordan and his inability to have a life outside of work. His life is his badge, or in this case, his lantern.

Morrison creates a strange lack of drama in the book when he early on introduces the idea that there is a traitor within the Green Lantern Corp and then has Jordan chafe against the rules of the little blue men, ultimately killing an unarmed criminal. “You all saw it. It was self-defence,” he tells the other Corp officers on the job with him as if we’re supposed to believe that Jordan has finally given in to his darker motivations. In an age where police brutality is more and more a thing that we’re seeing on the nightly news, Morrison’s depiction of Jordan’s heel turn feels forced in this story. It’s at least unexplored, coming from the writer whose older comics openly rebelled against police forces and police states. Kicked out of the Lantern Corp, Jordan runs a gauntlet to join the competing Blackstars but the story has little weight to it as Morrison doesn’t explore Jordan as a character. He puts Hal Jordan through all of these paces and trials without any introspection or challenge for the Green Lantern. There’s no questioning of his actions or motivations. And when you have a character who is essentially a cop switch sides to become a galactic criminal, there’s got to be some kind of obstacle or thought given to the actions of the person.

In typical Morrison fashion, he throws all kinds of concepts, aliens and characters into the story, giving Liam Sharp and colorist Steve Oliff an imaginative canvas to bring to life. Sharp takes each visual challenge from Morrison and creates images of fantasy, science fiction and superhero drama which expand our wonder about the galaxy that is Hal Jordan’s beat. In his pages, you can see some Kevin O’Neill, Neal Adams, H.R. Giger and even Frank Frazetta. There’s a rich and deep history of comics that Sharp mines to create these images. His artwork shows us sights like a vampiric world that we’ve never seen before in a DC Comic. That’s where the beatific horror of Giger shows through in the book. Or in the many alien Green Lanterns where we see the influence and history of Kevin O’Neill and his old Green Lantern stories. This call of history through Sharp’s artwork provides context for us to read Morrison’s story through while never getting so bogged down in the past to be merely just another homage to what happened years and years ago.

We feel this call of history most strongly through Sharp’s depiction of Hal Jordan. The square-chinned, heroically proportioned Jordan feels like he stepped right out of one of Neal Adams or Mike Grell’s comics of the character. As much as the sights and sounds around him may feel ripped directly from Morrison’s mind, Sharp’s Green Lantern is 100% a superhero thrust into this universe that hardly makes any physical or visual sense. These are things that we just don’t see in our world yet here’s this very classically drawn Hal Jordan treating things like the Earth being stolen as just another day on the beat. Sharp’s portrayal of his leading character grounds the story and gives us a familiar anchor in these otherwise unfamiliar conflicts. Sharp’s artwork and Oliff’s unearthly coloring provides a solid anchor for us even as they are nudging us closer and closer to an alien edge.

The conflict in The Green Lantern: Intergalactic Lawman exist in the situations but not in the character and that is its biggest weakness as Morrison tells the tale of a cop basically killing a perp in an effort to go undercover. That’s a big line to cross for our “hero” but its never given a second thought by Hal Jordan because we don’t get to know this Green Lantern. It’s like Morrison is so enthralled by the idea of space cops that he forgets who those officers are when their shift is over. And let’s be honest here, Hal Jordan turning against his bosses is hardly a new story; in fact it’s a central tenet to the Hal Jordan myth. At some point or another, he’s going to chafe against the orders and agenda of the little blue men and go off on his own in some way or another. It’s a story that almost every Green Lantern writer has told so while it’s fun to see Morrison and Sharp put their twisted spin on it, it’s also tired to see the character go down that road again without any introspection done on the character’s behalf.

But maybe this is the beginning of a larger story, one that will explore the abused power of those we put in charge of enacting the law. After all, here’s the story of a space cop killing someone based on the order of his bosses. There’s an awful lot to dig through here, such as the nature of those who give the orders as well as the nature of the person who carries those orders out. As Morrison and Sharp continue their The Green Lantern run, they could either address this or ignore it. But if they ignore it, the story then becomes about little blue men and their unchecked power rather than a story of a conflicted peace officer trying to reconcile right and wrong, which would be a far more interesting journey to follow Hal Jordan on. Hal Jordan has never been that deep or reflective of a character; that kind of self-awareness is more in the zone of other Green Lanterns like Kyle Rayner, John Stewart or even Guy Gardner. Hal is the hero, the ideal. Morrison and Sharp’s challenge is going to be turning the holier-than-thou Jordan into a man who has to struggle with his actions. Moving from telling us stories about rebels to stories about the powers-that-be and the enforcement of their order, Morrison needs to find the heart of Hal Jordan if we wants to show us how to continent to view our world in new and wonderfully different ways.

The Green Lantern: Intergalactic Lawman
Written by Grant Morrison
Drawn by Liam Sharp
Colored by Steve Oliff
Lettered by Tom Orzechowski and Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics