Well, if I am going to be reviewing controversial comics this week, I might as well pull out one of the big ones.
So, let’s talk about when DC made up a new Green Lantern in 1994 by the name of Kyle Rayner.
The controversy: Due in part to the original Crisis on Infinite Earths, a lot of different books at DC were having prominent issue numbers like a #50 or 75 or something along those lines at about the same time, and as is often the case with such milestones, these issues tend to be the beginning or the end of big stories or new directions. The point is that many of DC’s big heroes all had major shifts in their books all within a similar span of time. That more or less started with Superman’s death and then on to Batman’s back being broken. The Green Lantern series was reaching a #50, and there were plans that Hal Jordan would be next.
Boy, would it be.
Now, apparently, the story that became “Emerald Twilight” was not the originally planned story. The series up until #48 was written by one Gerard Jones, and Jones did have plans that, if I remember correctly from an interview he gave, involved Hal discovering a cosmic-level bad guy Jones had invented earlier named Entropy was secretly controlling the Guardians of the Universe, forcing Hal to become a rogue GL on the run from the rest of the Corps with a handful of loyal friends. I even remember an in-house ad for the storyline showing Hal flying between some Oan structures while various other Lanterns try to stop him.
That is….SO NOT what we got. Jones was removed from the book and replaced by Ron Marz, a writer who had been working on Marvel’s Silver Surfer up until then. The “Emerald Twilight” story that was produced may have been written by various DC honchos with Marz merely putting the rest together. I don’t know. But what came out wasn’t Hal on the run from the Corps because the Guardians were corrupt; it was Hal going nuts when the city he used to protect was destroyed while he was away and the Guardians wouldn’t let him use his ring to do the sorts of things Silver Age stories would have probably done without a second thought and just restore the place. That leads Hal to fly to Oa, take out numerous Lanterns along the way, some he’d personally recruited. He’d end up killing both longtime friend Kilowog and longtime enemy Sinestro, absorbing the Central Power Battery, and watching the Guardians all die save one, Ganthet, who promptly flies to Earth and tosses the last power ring to a random guy, a young artist named Kyle Rayner who had only appeared briefly on a single page in #48.
Jones, it should be worth noting, didn’t seem to be too happy about what ended up happening, and was even writing a Justice League title at the time where he did use Kyle Rayner briefly, and did have two of Hal’s friends just say Kyle was only temporary and Hal would be back before they knew it. As it is, Jones is currently in prison for…something. Look it up if you really want to know.
So anyway, DC made one of its classic Silver Age heroes, one of the guys who got the Silver Age going, a founding member of the Justice League, and made him a major villain. That didn’t sit well with longtime Hal Jordan fans, and they stayed unhappy, I’m guessing, until Green Lantern Rebirth brought Hal back in a way that said he wasn’t responsible for everything they did and tried to make Hal the DC Jesus.
AND YET that isn’t even the biggest controversy from the early Kyle issues. No, something bigger was on the horizon. DC could ret-con Hal away from responsibility in a story where Hal saves the universe as Green Lantern again and even punches out Batman (I really hate Green Lantern Rebirth), but some things you can’t take back.
No, events in Kyle’s book are what led Gail Simone to coin the term “women in refrigerators”.
Kyle’s personality may have been based on Peter Parker’s, and if so, then there is a narrative echo going on here. But Peter had his Uncle Ben, and Kyle had his Alex DeWitt, his on-again, off-again girlfriend who encouraged him to be a better person before a villain named Major Force brutally killed Alex and stuffed her corpse in the refrigerator for Kyle to come home and find. The idea is that Alex, like many other female characters in comics, was there simply to die and inspire the surviving man to do what he has to do.
Yeah, that happens here. It’s ugly.
The work: OK, let’s talk about the two controversies first. And, truth be told, I really don’t mind what happened to Hal. Silver Age heroes were such straight-laced characters, and I tend to believe many of DC”s Silver Age heroes were hurt by lacks of personalities after the Crisis since before then they were all more or less the same character. Barry Allen managed to avoid that by dying, but other characters were less fortunate. And why wouldn’t characters with rigid moral standings react poorly to the destruction of all they knew? Hal basically goes nuts because he wanted to use the ring to basically get some much-needed therapy and that was against the rules. Hal wasn’t really evil, even when he turned out to be the master antagonist in Zero Hour; he was more of a well-meaning extremist, someone who didn’t see why he couldn’t use the ring to make things right. It was all he’d ever known after all. Heck, the last issue before Kyle took over, Green Lantern #50, has Hal in the Parallax armor for the first time before he flies off to…well, he doesn’t say. It was actually a rather effective set-up for a mystery.
And heck, I rather like the whole set-up with Kyle. He’s given no instructions and has to figure things out on his own. True, I think his original look is about the ugliest Green Lantern costume of all time, but he’s a good character who seemed a lot more relateable than the fearless test pilot. Kyle was a lazy dreamer when we met him, someone who didn’t know what he was doing because he got absolutely no instructions or even an introduction from Ganthet.
But then there’s Alex.
Now, I read these issues when they first came out, and Alex was set-up as a nice character. She was maybe something of the standard girlfriend type, but she pushed Kyle to do the right thing and be a smarter hero, all while the two rekindled a romance. And then Major Force showed up and killed her.
And really, it’s harsh and awful the way Alex’s death is depicted. While Kyle is doing some heroic stuff, Major Force bursts into Alex’s place, chases her around, and then brutally strangles her. It was hard to read for an mainstream comic. And then, of course, Major Force stuffs her corpse into a refrigerator off-panel.
And with the benefit of knowing it was coming, I was able to spot all the clues. Kyle’s narration on how much he needed Alex to be who he was, plus various silent cameos of Major Force during a prison riot before he finally shows up suggest there was something in mind, and there we have it. Kyle has his “motivation” to be a better person. Kyle will mention Alex’s death for the next few issues, but I do wonder how long he kept that up. This volume ends before Kyle started his romance with Donna Troy and then on to Jade when editorial made the Donna thing stop. So, for all Alex was motivation, she’s somewhat forgettable over time. Though, to be fair, Kyle does also mention not having any family, and future issues will reveal Kyle does have a mother in the form of (originally) a short, chubby Irish woman. Later artists made her taller and thinner, but I always liked the original design.
But after all that, how was the book as a whole?
Not bad, truth be told. It wasn’t great comics, but they were charming in their own way when they weren’t killing female supporting characters. Kyle was figuring the rules out as he went along, and the rules were different in that he didn’t need to be fearless, charge his ring every 24 hours, or beware a primary color. He got to meet Superman and Alan Scott, fought some villains, and generally has a lot of promise as a more well-rounded character than Hal had been in many ways. Kyle’s book actually sold better than Hal’s did, so he stuck around for what was probably a lot longer than originally planned, and while I didn’t care for Rebirth, I did appreciate the way writer Geoff Johns kept Kyle around as an important part of the Green Lantern mythos. I was less enthused when Kyle also temporarily became Parallax, but the eventual reworking of the Green Lantern corner of the DCU that brought in the Emotional Spectrum and the Sinestro Corps War also made Hal ultimately a more interesting character, so maybe it did work out for the best.
Now, this volume does contain a few other comics in the form of one issue of R.E.B.E.L.S. and two Titans issues that did continue Kyle’s story, particularly how he did join the Titans after Zero Hour for what was a very weak Titans run. And for some reason, the pages in one of those Titans reprints were out-of-order. This plus Alex’s death affected my overall enjoyment of this 300+ page reprint volumes. I don’t think I’ll be jumping to the second volume anytime soon. 7.5 out of 10 crab masks.