Green Lantern: The Road Back (1992)
by Gerard Jones, Pat Broderick, Bruce Patterson, & Anthony Tollin

There's a fundamental problem with being a Green Lantern fan, which is: there's almost no way to prove to anyone that Green Lantern is, in any way, cool.

Like Superman, GL is a crusty old character into which, try as they might, no one seems able to confer any hipness. For decades, writers and artists have given it a shot, only to end up with the same old nerdy fantasy shit.

The problems are easy enough to decipher. For one, GL's superpower comes from a ring, which is already pretty gay. But the power it gives him is unbounded willpower, that is, GL can literally create whatever he can imagine, and it takes form in a glowing green shape. Great, right? Except he always seems to make, like, giant see-saws or tennis rackets to swat away his foes.

Also, Green Lantern is, like Superman, too heroic when he is a hero, and too wishy-washy when he isn't. As Green Arrow is the poor man's Batman, Green Lantern is the second-string Superman. In both cases, the characters' self-doubts are both the source of dynamic change, and also the more embarrassing moments.

And: because GL is so moldy, he resists reinvention. You can put him through the ringer, but ultimately he always reverts to the indefatigably righteous superhero stereotype. And that's BOR-ing.

To their great credit, DC Comics made several attempts to reinvest in Green Lantern throughout the 90s, finally striking upon a genuinely shocking plot twist in which Hal Jordan, one of their most predictable and lame stock characters, went mad and completely destroyed his entire reputation. This is the linchpin in GL fandom … the most extreme demonstration comics could ever offer that anyone can go bad, and a brave sacred-cow-slaying to boot.

Hal Jordan's journey from unfailing hero to horrifically evil, and on to redemption, is totally fascinating. Though DC may have simply been trying to go "extreme" with the character (to keep in line with 90s comics trends), they struck the sort of gold that make great comics great … they created real mythology. Something to mark ourselves by, to understand humanity. Hal Jordan is more of a hero in the Joseph Campbell sense than Superman is, certainly … Superman doesn't change. Hal Jordan is comics' Odysseus. Or, uh, Perseus … or, um, Persephone? Shit, I better re-read Joseph Campbell.

Little of this has anything to do with The Road Back, except to place it in context. This book collects the first eight issues of Green Lantern's relaunched series from 1990 … after years fighting increasingly preposterous villains (and far too many space adventures), Green Lantern was finally going to be given the royal treatment. Green Lantern would become, once again, a first-tier book instead of one you'd follow mostly out of obligation and/or shame.

Unfortunately, it is extraordinarily wack.

Part of the problem is that DC had still not decided what to do with the book … they knew that Hal Jordan was much-beloved, but along the way they had created two other Green Lanterns (the self-doubting black one, John Stewart, and the hot-headed chauvanist one, Guy Gardner) … so their solution here is simply to have three Green Lanterns.

It's not pretty. The stories try to give equal time to each Lantern, but there's a real sense of embarassment in the "other two." Guy Gardner is probably the single most misguided character ever interpolated into this book. His "brash edginess" is the clear result of some old-school comics guy trying to bow to corporate ideas of "giving the book attitude." He's just horrible; in The Road Back, among other things, he goes to a porn shop!

And John Stewart (though chosen as Green Lantern in the TV cartoon "Justice League Adventures," entirely for racial balance) just withers on the vine, constantly questioning whether he deserves to be a Green Lantern. When a character offers that much argument against his worthiness, you can bet that the reader is already well beyond total agreement.

Then there's poor Hal … The Road Back finds him doing some soul searching by walking the roads of America, turning his back on his true calling. He finds meaning in the little moments of life, and especially in hard work (at one point he becomes a migrant field worker!).

So most of this tale consists of Jordan denying his destiny, Gardner jealously picking fights with Jordan, and Stewart hanging around like Mantan Moreland, all bug-eyed and skittish.

Though Green Lantern has never been well-written or drawn, the art and ideas here are notably sub-par. With many other GL stories, you at least get some real drama. But The Road Back mostly made me wince, and constantly look around to make sure no one knew I was reading it.

Some particularly shameful moments: Two rednecks steal Hal's & Guy's rings, and use them to make gigantic, glowing-green chainsaws and beer cans. Hal's paramour, trying to forget about him, turns on the TV, which is showing … Here Comes Mr. Jordan. The evil villain, from deep space, has a penchant for quoting old songs and movies ("I'll get you, my pretty," that sort of shit).

Not to mention the usual baffling cast of support characters from other parts of the universe … beings with giant fish heads but human bodies, giant diamond creatures (not made of thousands of diamonds, mind you … no, like, one six-foot cut diamond). Yuck. So very uncool.

And yes, the seesaw-and-tennis-racket scenario actually does occur here, in one of the climactic sequences.

Finishing the book, I felt like I'd crapped my pants early in the day, and then had to sit in my filth for hours, feeling dirty and suspecting that everyone could smell it. I tried to find ways to rationalize the book to myself, like "Oh, well, sure, it's not very good, but you have to read it to fully understand the story of Hal Jordan, the Greatest Green Lantern Ever!"

But you don't. This is insipid, reactionary claptrap whose only merit is that I am, by definition, interested in it. But I didn't get anything out of The Road Back that fed my notions of Green Lantern's grand mythology … just 192 tedious pages of insultingly bad comics.

Even as a case study in how not to reinvent a comic, this one was utterly unappealing. It sucks, too, that I really want to advocate for Green Lantern, yet can't pass along my appreciation without warning of the almost unbearable cheese through which you have to wade to get the gold.

As a result, reading The Road Back actually made me feel bad about myself, for spending the entire duration needing it to get better. Holy shit … I think I'm codependent with a fucking comic book character!

Review by La Fée