Hal Hordan finds his destiny in the stars.
Note: this is a spoiler-free advance review for Green Lantern: Earth One, which will be released on Wednesday, March 14.
It’s difficult to understate the influence writer Geoff Johns has had on the Green Lantern franchise since 2004. Johns drastically revamped the mythology, introducing an entire spectrum of Lantern Corps and restoring Hal Jordan to greatness in the process. Even though Johns ended his Green Lantern run in 2013, his influence is clearly felt in every book that’s come along since. That’s all well and good, but at some point there comes a need for DC to try something new and push Green Lantern in a drastically different direction. If only for variety’s sake. Therein lies the appeal of Green Lantern: Earth One. For the first time since Green Lantern: Rebirth, it feels like we’re seeing a wholly unique take on the story of Hal Jordan.
Like all of DC’s Earth One graphic novels, Green Lantern: Earth One offers a streamlined, continuity-free take on the title character. Generally, these books haven’t strayed too far from the norm. The biggest change in Batman: Earth One is the fact that the Dark Knight is more incompetent than his traditional counterpart, while Wonder Woman: Earth One made waves largely by resurrecting the character’s Golden Age trappings and bondage subtext. Green Lantern: Earth One feels like the first case where the creators really tried to fundamentally rethink the character and the universe in which they operate.
The most immediate and obvious change is that Bechko and Hardman have re-imagined Hal as an astronaut rather than a test pilot. And not even a glamorous astronaut, but a blue collar space miner straight out of the Alien franchise. The opening sequence in this book is more than a little reminiscent of that 1979 classic, with Hal and his co-workers slogging through the dreary cold of space and worrying more about earning bonuses than savoring the thrill of exploration. Even though Bechko and Hardman do include most of the familiar elements fans associate with Hal’s origin story, they’re often subverted in unexpected ways.
The result is a Green Lantern comic that’s more steeped in science fiction than the superhero genre. That’s part of why this new take stands out as much as it does. Yes, it tends to wear its sci-fi influences on its sleeve (with the initial Alien homages making way for more Star Wars and Star Trek-inspired fare), but not to the point where the book loses its own sense of identity. The characterization of Hal himself also goes a long way towards distinguishing Earth One. He’s depicted as a far more melancholy hero than he is in the traditional comics, with past tragedies weighing him down and diminishing that cocky swagger. Furthering that is the decision to downplay the willpower aspect of being a Green Lantern. In this universe, the rings are pretty much equal-opportunity tools, and it’s up to the wearer to make the most of their newfound power. All of this serves to make Hal a more likable and relatable figure than he often comes across elsewhere.
Hardman’s artwork is as responsible as anything else for giving this book its unique sensibilities. Green Lantern: Earth One takes a drastically different visual approach. Hal Jordan isn’t the sleek, muscular hero wearing a skin-tight costume. Many of the franchises more colorful trappings have been toned down. Hardman’s art brings a harsher edge and a more moody sensibility to the page. That goes hand in hand with this downbeat take on Hal and the Lantern Corps in general. The alien characters actually look alien in many cases, not simply humans with funny-looking heads. This more realistic approach only falters with Hardman’s depiction of the Manhunters. Their design still has a cartoonish quality that clashes with the rest of the universe Hardman lays out.
The goal with the art here is clearly to establish a strong sense of tone rather than bombard readers with intricately detailed pages. There’s a subdued but palpable sense of emotion to the story as Hal slowly finds his place in a universe from which he’s done his best to retreat. Hardman and colorist Jordan Boyd work hand-in-hand to make the most of the space environments and Lantern effects. There’s often a cold, barren quality to the environments, with the empty blackness of space threatening to overwhelm the characters. That only makes the Green Lantern constructs and other displays of energy stand out all the more. Hal truly lights the way in a dark, bleak universe.
All of DC’s Earth One books have struggled with pacing, and Green Lantern is no exception. The graphic novel format simply isn’t ideal to contain the stories these creators are trying to tell. Bechko and Hardman show more ambition than most when it comes to the scope of this origin story, but there are still clear compromises that have to be made. The third act in particular feels very rushed and truncated, with some characters dropping out of the story abruptly and others never being given their full due. Some characters that most would consider vital to Hal’s origin story are relegated to mere cameo status or don’t appear at all. As effective an overhaul as this Earth One revamp is, it’s hard not to wonder how much it could be improved with a longer page count or by being converted to a limited series.