I’ve covered comic books a lot in my columns, but I’ve never actually reviewed any specific issues, or devoted a column to reviewing a specific issue, until now. I intend to do a whole series on Spider-Man, tentatively titled ‘Spider Spotlight’, but I think for a test run I’ll review an old Green Lantern comic book from the early 1980’s.
Today I’ll be looking at Green Lantern #156. Originally published in 1982, this comic book consists of a 17-page lead story featuring Green Lantern Hal Jordan, and an eight page Green Lantern Corps story featuring Wylxa (the aging Green Lantern of Space Sector 6) and his apprentice Tahr.
And here we have two things we don’t see very often in today’s comic books (particularly at Marvel and DC). We have not one, but two ‘done in one’ stories. Nowadays, it’s hard to find a comic book from either of the Big Two superhero publishers that presents a story that’s told all within a single issue (aside from a few subplots here and there that, in the best cases, have payoff in later issues). These days, every story has to be told in no less than six issues, so they can sell more trade paperbacks. But back then, it wasn’t unusual for ‘main’ stories to only last one, two, or three issues. Six to eight part ‘sagas’ were the exception in 1980-1984, as opposed to the rule (which they are now).
Anyway, for this article, I’ll be primarily focusing on the lead story, “Judas World”. Written by Mike W. Barr (known for Camelot 3000 and Batman and the Outsiders), with artwork by Gil Kane, and edited by Len Wein, this story takes place during the ‘Hal Jordan in Space’ era of the series.
TIME FOR BACKSTORY:
(A shame this isn’t a video review. Otherwise I could say that last line in a big dramatic voice):
At this point in the title’s history, Hal Jordan had been exiled from Earth by the Guardians of the Universe because he spent too much time caring about the problems of his friends Carol Ferris, Thom Kalmaku, and the rest of the supporting cast back on Earth, and not enough time focusing on the rest of Earth’s space sector. The Guardians (who, depending on the writer and/or the story are either wise mentor figures or a bunch of control freaks/’play by our rules or else’ types) felt that Hal Jordan needed a harsh reminder that he is the Green Lantern of all of Space Sector 2814, and not just the Earth, so they exiled him from Earth for an entire Earth year.
(Never mind the fact that when the exile ended, he’d be crossing over with the Flash, the Justice League, and other heroes for whom less than a year had passed. It’s best not to think about Comic Book Time too hard or else you’ll get a headache).
THE STORY BEGINS
However, none of this is actually mentioned in this story, aside from the fact that Hal Jordan is in space a ‘billion light years’ from Earth and therefore doesn’t expect to find what he finds here. But while I’m on the subject, how big are all these space sectors the Guardians divide the universe into, anyway? If Hal Jordan can be ‘a billion light years’ from Earth (as the story states in the second page), then the space sectors must be huge indeed. Naturally, it’s only the fact that the Green Lanterns’ Power Rings are capable of warp-travel that Hal is able to be this far away from Earth in the first place.
In any case, the whole thing was an excuse for Hal Jordan to have adventures in outer space, as Marv Wolfman (who wrote Green Lantern prior to the space era) left the book to focus on The New Teen Titans and the project which would eventually become Crisis On Infinite Earths. So our story opens with Hal Jordan flying through space when he receives a distress call.
“Hurry, Green Lantern — you are our only hope!” the distress call says. Well, if Princess Leia was able to contact a Green Lantern as opposed to an aging Jedi Knight, maybe they’d have arrived in time to save Alderaan from the Death Star. Come to think of it, that’d make an interesting cross-over fanfic. But I digress.
Anyway, Hal’s response indicates that he’s been receiving this ‘strange mental signal’ for sometime, and it’s ‘drawn me halfway across the universe’. I’m confused now – is Hal still in his space sector? It’s been established that the Guardians of the Universe divided the universe into 3600 sectors, and Hal’s sector is sector 2814. Unless Hal has left his own sector (in which case he’s risking being chewed out by the Guardians for deserting his space sector and not letting the Green Lantern of THAT sector handle it), I don’t think we should take his statement about following the signal ‘halfway across the universe’ too literally.
Anyway, Hal reaches what he believes to be the source of the signal … and it appears to be the Earth! “The Earth is a billion light years away from here — so how can it be in this Guardian-forsaken corner of space?”
Kind of interesting how he phrases that. ‘Guardian-forsaken’, as if the Guardians were God or something. Even though he knows by this point that the Guardians, though nearly immortal, are far from gods or even god-like. They’re very fallible beings who often err on the side of punishing the Green Lanterns even when the Green Lanterns had justifiable reasons for bending the Guardians’ rules. But the Guardians don’t actually appear in this story nor influence it much, so enough on them and back to the story.
Hal, of course, decides that obviously this planet can’t be Earth no matter how much trouble someone’s gone through to make it look just like the Earth. So he looks around, recognizes a few star formations, and realizes that the planet must be Pharon IV. However, the last time he passed through the area, Pharon IV didn’t look anything like Earth, so he decides to fly down to the planet’s surface to investigate, unaware that he is being monitored by scaly purple-skinned aliens. Seeing that the signal has stopped, Hal looks around the planet, and discovers it looks just like Earth on the surface as well.
Landing in what appears to be Southern California, he finds himself in front of an exact duplicate of the Ferris Aircraft plant (Ferris Aircraft being Hal’s employer prior to his exile). It’s just then that a voice calls him, and he turns to see what appears to be Carol Ferris rushing towards him. “I knew you’d come back!” she calls, and kisses him. Hal’s thoughts are “Her perfume — her touch — it is Carol.”
And then Thom Kalmaku and the rest of the Ferris aircraft crew arrive to welcome Hal home. Hal barely has time to take all this in, when elsewhere, one of those purple scaly aliens taps a console, and causes a tidal wave to appear headed for Ferris Aircraft. Hal deflects the tidal wave with a giant Power Ring created fan that blows the wave back (just roll with it), but it proves to Hal that this cannot be Earth no matter what his emotions tell him. “Tidal waves don’t come out of nowhere like that … and neither do phony planets!”
Which is just as well for Hal, seeing as how the Guardians would have chewed him out for violating his exile — oops, I’m talking about the Guardians again. This’ll be the last time this article, I promise. Back to the story.
Hal confronts Carol, Thom, and the rest, telling them they cannot be who they appear to be and demands to know who they really are. After Hal pressures them for a while, the false Carol and Thom change into magenta aardvark-like creatures that don’t quite match what the other aliens (who are more bipedal in nature and have tentacles) look like. They zap Hal with eye beams, and Hal pretends to surrender and makes himself disappear with his Power Ring.
Resuming their false appearances of Carol and Thom, the aliens follow the rest of the false humans to ‘the appointed place’. Now dressed in workers’ clothes, Hal follows them to a hanger where a large group of the false humans are gathered before a viewscreen. It is here that we find out what’s really going on.
The viewscreen depicts one of the Pharoid leaders, addressing his fellow Pharoids and announcing that the substitution strategy has nearly reached implementation, and now they can cheer. What follows is basically an expository speech directed at a bunch of people (namely the false humans) who know all of this already by heart and shouldn’t be reminded of it. The only person in the room who doesn’t know this already is Hal, and no one knows he’s there in disguise yet.
This is clunky, forced exposition, and could have been handled another way (such as having Hal find a computer, use his Power Ring to get past its safeguards, and discover the plans that way). But the awkward exposition isn’t the crazy part. The crazy part is the plan itself. Allow me to quote most of the speech.
Pharoid Leader: “For you have endured much … the conversion of your bodies to duplicate specific humans physically, as well as mentally … the reforming of your planet to duplicate the planet Sol III … much you have endured, yes, but even greater shall be the reward… for soon you shall travel to Sol III — called Earth by its inhabitants — and substitute yourselves for the Earthers whose forms you have taken.”
“For years you will live as Earthers, until enough of you have taken over a community … then you will install the Xeroz Tubes, our matchless weapons that will enable us to move the very planet through space … toward Dalgova, our hated adversaries for lo, these many aeons! Imagine the shock, the horror of their faces as they detect Sol III rushing toward them … and imagine our joy when we evacuate Sol III, as it careens toward Dalgova … destroying our ancestral enemies once and for all!”
Okay, read over those quoted paragraphs again. Try to take in what we’ve just learned before I go on with the article. Can you see everything that’s wrong with this plan? Think about it for a bit.
All right. I’ve given you a moment, so let me tell you what I think about it. This has to be one of the most needlessly-complicated plans I have ever seen in any work of fiction. Really, do the Pharoids have to go to THIS much trouble to create a weapon of mass destruction to wipe out their ancestral enemies?
Seriously, what’s stopping the Pharoids from using any one of the universe’s uninhabited planets in the same manner? There’s certainly no shortage of uninhabited planets and moons in the universe. If they’re capable of re-forming their home world to make it a stage for their dress rehearsal of an infiltration, then they don’t need to do the infiltration at all. If they have the means to do all that, then they most likely have the means to survive on lifeless, uninhabited planets and moons, too.
If they’d chosen an uninhabited world, they could have installed the Xeroz Tubes in a shorter amount of time — they wouldn’t even NEED to spend years living as Earthers until enough of them take over. Why waste their time turning their planet into a duplicate of Earth, practicing on their world, infiltrating Earth for years, and so on? It just doesn’t make sense!
Of course, I don’t approve of genocide, and neither does Hal Jordan. But I’d like to think that he’d rush into action to stop this even if Earth wasn’t involved because he’s basically a hero who doesn’t condone mass murder no matter who’s doing it to who. (Emerald Twilight doesn’t count. I may get to that another time). Anyway, Hal is ready to rush into action to stop this, when he’s discovered by the Pharoids.
After removing his disguise, Hal engages in a fight scene against the Pharoids, using his Power Ring to shield himself from their laser guns and sending repelling beams against them. Some are in human form, others are in the scaly purple biped form. In any case, some more of them are about to ambush Hal, when someone else shoots them from behind.
Hal’s rescuer is Trigus, the Pharoid who sent Hal the signal in the first place. Trigus explains that he supported the war against Dalgova for years until their leaders proposed using Sol III as a weapon. “To wage war is one thing, but to slaughter an entire planet of non-combatants is without honor!“, he says.
Trigus explains that he sent the signal into space, praying someone would hear it, and thanks Hal for responding. However, we shouldn’t really accept that Trigus is a good guy. To me, it sounds like if the Pharoids had chosen an uninhabited planet as a weapon of mass destruction instead, Trigus would have been all for the genocide of the Dalgovans. Hal, however, doesn’t seem to even think about this, and tells Trigus that it’s his pleasure to help, but he may be able to do more than just save Earth.
What does Hal mean? Well, first we pay a visit to Dalgova, where the council is finishing its work on the Genocide Gas they intend to unleash upon Pharon IV. I’ll say one thing for the Dalgovans — they may be just as mass-murder happy as the Pharoids, but at least they’re not using other inhabited planets as weapons in ridiculously complicated schemes. Of course, Hal Jordan puts a stop to this, using his Power Ring to lift the Dalgovan war center off its foundations and carry it into space.
He then goes back to Pharon IV, taking both the Pharoids’ Xerox Tubes and the Dalgovans’ Genocide Gas into space, and crashing them together to be destroyed in a harmless explosion. He then brings both the Pharoid and Dalgovan leaders into space in Power-Ring shielded domes, and gives both races the following speech.
Hal Jordan: “Now that I’ve got your attention — listen up! You may think that just because I’ve destroyed your weapons, I don’t want you to have any fun … but nothing could be further from the truth! The only thing is, I’m old-fashioned. I like the personal touch… so if you guys want to fight, you’ll have to go back to the basics — clubs, knives, hammers … get my drift?”
One of the Dalgovans asks “You would have us fight by personal contact?”as Hal creates a bunch of the clubs, knives, and hammers with his Power Ring. Hal says “That’s it.”, saying that the way they wage war, there’s no feeling to it. Whereas with the old way he suggests, they’d see their enemies as they try to cave their skulls in, hear their bones break, and see all the blood and gore. He then asks “How long have you been at this war, anyway?”
“Generations.” says one of the Pharoid leaders. “We… we have long forgotten the reasons for our hatred.”
“We too…” a Dalgovan replies. Hal then suggests maybe it’s time that they talk things over, and then splits up their generals. Half of the Dalgovan generals would meet with half the Pharoid generals on Pharon IV, and the other half of the Pharoid generals would meet with the other half of the Dalgovan generals on Dalgova. There, he says, both sides can talk it over, and splitting them up this way would make them think twice before resuming hostilities.
After telling them to restore Pharon IV back to its non-Earth appearance, Hal leaves and says “You guys work on something nice and lasting, okay? Because I’ll be keeping my eye on you… and if you don’t — I’ll be back!”
Of course, all this brings up the question as to why Hal hasn’t done stuff like this on other worlds — including Earth. At the time this story was written, the United States and Soviet Union were engaging in one last bit of saber-rattling, increasing fears that there could be a nuclear war in the near future. This, of course, led to films depicting a nuclear holocaust and its horrifying aftermath (such as The Day After and its British counterpart Threads) and films about preventing a nuclear war (such as Wargames).
One letter column writer even noted that in this story, Hal made two races of aliens warring with each other sit down and discuss their differences, and asked why he didn’t do that on Earth. The editor in charge of the letter column pretended not to know what the writer was talking about, and said “What do you mean, make two races of aliens on Earth sit down and discuss their differences?”.
In any case, our final panel shows Hal Jordan flying over Pharon IV, thinking to himself “They’re basically good people, I think — too good to continue fighting a war there’s no need for any longer!”
Excuse me, Hal, I hate to sound racist against the Pharoids and the Dalgovans, but where’s your evidence that either of them are ‘basically good people?’ The only ones we see on-panel are those who either show no signs of opposing genocide, or were all for the war until the Pharon IV war leaders proposed using an entire planet of non-combatants as a weapon of mass destruction. Did Hal fly by Pharon and Dalgova and see a bunch of peaceful families living their day-to-day lives, going to work, sending their kids to school and all that stuff? It would have been nice if we’d seen any of that, because then we’d have evidence that Hal was right.
In other words, that thought bubble violates the ‘show, don’t tell’ principle of storytelling. We only have Hal’s word for it that they’re basically good people who won’t continue a war when they’ve forgotten how the war started in the first place. Perhaps if the story had been longer than seventeen pages, there could have been a better way of actually showing us this. But as it is, we know next to nothing about the Pharon IV and Dalgova cultures outside of the warlike tendencies of their leaders.
Of course, stories that aren’t ‘done in one’ can be full of plot holes and illogicalities too. But I’ll get to those in other columns.
In any case, Hal muses that all both races needed was a little push. “I’ve given them that! From here on, they’re on their own! May the Guardians give them wisdom…”
Uh, Hal, considering the stupid stuff the Guardians… oh, I promised not to talk about the Guardians again in this review. Sorry. Anyway, Hal finishes with this final thought.
“…for to wage a war is simple, but to wage a peace is the truest test of civilized beings!”
No argument here. I agree wholeheartedly with that last statement. It’s one that applies to the real world, and not just to alien civilizations a billion light years away. Still, ending on a good, applicable line doesn’t excuse the rest of the story and its glaring flaws.
One last nitpick. Why is this story called ‘Judas World?’ Was there anything about betrayal here? Aside from Trigus betraying his leaders because of their crazy scheme? Not really.
All in all, I’d have to say this story is like Superman IV. Its heart is in the right place as it attempts to have a superhero address the real-world issue of war and possible annihilation by nuclear weapons. But in both cases, the execution is poor. In this case, there’s a lot that could have been done better, if only this story had had more pages to work with and more time to establish more about the Pharon IV and Dalgova cultures.
As it is, this story is basically a ‘filler’ issue that serves mostly to have legendary artist Gil Kane be the guest artist on the issue (he’s hyped on the cover in the blurb ‘A special one-shot story by premiere GL artist — GIl Kane’). I’d have to say Gil Kane, like writer Mike W. Barr and editor Len Wein, has put out much better pieces of work than this. While I’ve read far worse comic books than this, this one just wasn’t all that good.
Well, that’s it for this review. Feel free to leave your comments and thoughts below.
Categories: Chris Langs Commentaries, Comic Books