80 Years of Lantern light! Top creators fill this massive celebration. But how do those stories hold up? Spoilers ahead, let’s find out!
The Green Lantern 80th Anniversary Special is kinda great – but it’s not without its issues. A star studded anthology it’s mostly representative of a few recent eras, coincidentally enough it touches on just about every point my interest in the character was high. While that’s great for me, I would have liked to see a bit more diversity in viewpoint. Instead of just pinups, maybe feature stories with the newer versions of the characters next time? It kinda gives off a vibe of “We had some of these in the drawer as space fillers for years so let’s use ‘em”. That said, nearly all of my personal favorites are represented in some way so I don’t have much to complain about. We’ve got a bit of a ‘hug it out bro’ melodrama from Tomasi/Paquette, goddamn Marz and Banks back together for a modern Kyle Rayner story, Mahnke back in the saddle for Sinestro, Venditti killing it with the ‘four corpsmen’, even Johns and Reis pop out exactly the kinda story you’d expect.
Overall the stories maintain a fairly high level of quality, though it’s all a little light. I get why they’d want to do something slight and representative instead of continuity significant but I’d like to have seen a better balance between the two. In fact, if you’re a hardcore GL fan and you somehow missed this special, with very minimal exceptions you don’t miss any major events in the lore. And that’s a bit of a shame, it ends up making the whole thing feel a bit inconsequential. But at the same time it seems deliberately designed that way. While it seems most of this aligns with current canon, it also features stories (like the final Dennis O’Neil GL story) that seems to exist outside of it. Green Lantern has actually been “lucky” that so much of its history has not been retconned throughout the various Crisisisiesishhhs so it’s not entirely unfitting for the special to have canon be a bit loose.
As to the stories themselves – the bag is, as if always is, a mixed one. But literally all of them have strengths that overcome their flaws. Where the content is slight in one regard, it’s picked up and/or carried by some element in every story. The Sinestro story is pointless and doesn’t do anything for the character really, but The Mahnke touches my buttons so I love seeing it. Jessica Cruz’s story is very thin but it finds a unique and appealing way to describe the characters anxiety. The Simon Baz story is super duper on the nose with its intentions but that’s also incredibly earnest and sweet and that’s good – there are moments that feel transcendent, like when Simon describes up in the air how his faith helps him see the world (and the art is absolutely beautiful, Villalobos knows what the fuck he’s doing). The Marz/Banks Kyle story is also kinda pointless but it’s wonderful to look at and at least the first half of it works to justify the characters place in the lore.
And there are some strong stories in here as well. The Alan Scott story has Gary Frank for goodness sake, and seems like an overt shoutout bordering on swipe to generational conflicts about forbidden sexuality that we’ve seen in dozens of movies since Brokeback but it’s handled in as light a touch as possible. And it’s overall suggestion that the thing inside us that’s most beautiful may be seen as most shameful but actually is the source of everything great? Come on, that’s an old lesson for a good reason. Johns’ story is as contrived as anything else he’s ever written (including the inevitable shoehorning in of Batman) but I have to admit the punchline was pretty good. Almost seemed like Johns was poking fun at himself a bit, which I like. I was quick to make fun of the Johns era (for good reason IMO) but I’ve come around to it a lot more recently, since it’s far enough behind us it’s goofiness doesn’t need to be taken as seriously.
My personal favorite is Venditti’s story, which also would seem to be the most canon-significant if I even thought for a second it was supposed to count (I don’t). But in its short runtime, it captures what was so good about Venditti’s writing on the title. A safe high concept idea, and a little corny, but told with enough characterization and fun details that you find yourself going along with these characters for the ride. It lays it on a little thick but that’s ok; it’s a story about nostalgia and how it’s not so bad. Also it works as a pretty good but not quite perfect “final” GL story. I admit by the time they got to the bit about the table at the end, I laughed out loud in real life in my own home.
A brief word about the O’Neil/Grell story, especially in light of recent tragedies. I don’t know how much to personally say about this story other than it’s exactly the kind of thing I expect Dennis to have written. Realistic but with a heavy dose of melodramatic flair, meaningful but a bit dated. Above all it felt earnest and that’s what I love and will miss the most. As the story tells you in the simplest possible terms (though I disagree with its implication that abdication of responsibility is necessary), take some time to step the fuck back and think about the world and your larger place in it and what we can do to make it better beyond the ways that we’ve been forced to learn. Goodbye and thanks Dennis.
The smattering of pinups are great too, the Rafael Granpa one a sugar buffet for my soul in particular. The sourcebook in the back featuring tons of known GLs is wonderful and the kind of thing I love about the Corps, especially as a young kid. It’s a little out of place considering how much hardcore knowledge you have to have about the character to appreciate or even understand all these stories, but even so reading through them it reminded me of tons of great (and even not so great) stories I’d totally forgotten about.
Ultimate a bit weightless for my taste, even I was won over by this issues many charms. And perhaps most successful of all, I’m going through back issues as we speak. A legion of top creators celebrating each of the characters we’ve loved forever. I dare you to not be smitten. To Green Lantern, here’s to 80 more. Shine on you crazy diamond.