Sunday, October 3, 2010

Prelude To Blackest Night: Green Lantern: Agent Orange Sets The Stage (Little Else).

The Good: Good artwork, Great ending
The Bad: No real character development, Plot is pretty bland, Artwork is erratic.
The Basics: At the outset of the Blackest Night, “Agent Orange” is revealed!

I have been getting distracted in my pursuit of my Wonder Woman Year where I set out to learn all I could about the Amazon Princess. Part of the problem has been that Wonder Woman participates in many of the crossover events and some of them have positively titillated me. Chief among those is Blackest Night which was just released in graphic novel form a few weeks ago (check out my article on how to read the Blackest Night Saga by clicking here). But before that, my desire to read the Blackest Night story was put on the backburner (I only read the stories when I can read the whole thing, not issue by issue). So, when I saw on the spine of Green Lantern: Agent Orange that it was a Prelude to Blackest Night, I said “All right!” and I picked it up.

Truth be told, I know remarkably little about Green Lantern. I read the comics in Green Lantern: Rebirth and I understand the basic concept. The Green Lanterns are a group of humans and aliens responsible for policing the galaxy. Their primary tool in this effort are rings which they wear. Each ring allows the Green Lantern to create whatever they need using their imagination and willpower. The rings are connected to a central battery which recharges them every day. As it turns out, green is not the only color in the color spectrum and Agent Orange explores the consequences of two of the other color batteries and teases the discovery of another one.

While Hal Jordan struggles with the effects of being saddled with a blue power ring, one which operates on the power of hope, the Guardians of the Universe (the bosses of the Green Lantern Corps) make a decision. For their tenure, the Green Lanterns have been forced to avoid the Vega System. The Guardians declare that in order to protect the galaxy, the Vega System may no longer be off limits and the Green Lantern Corps is sent in to rid it of criminals. On the planet Okaara, where a Green Lantern was recently killed, the Lanterns discover Larfleeze, a giant mammal who controls an orange power battery. As Larfleeze comes to covet the blue ring Hal Jordan wears, a battle breaks out with Larfleeze revealing he is entirely consumed by greed and avarice. He raises an army of Orange Lanterns, projected from the forms of the Green Lanterns he has killed to try to wrest the blue ring from Hal Jordan.

Meanwhile, one of the other Green Lanterns, John Stewart, encounters a woman from his past who is now a Star Sapphire, which is essentially a Green Lantern in the purple spectrum who is motivated entirely by the power of love. As Stewart deals with the woman he wronged, the conflict spills out and the Guardians are led to a choice which sets off the Blackest Night conflict!

Green Lantern: Agent Orange is a very simple story and the four chapter story is so direct that the subplots dominate at times in order to flesh out the actual story and conflict. Geoff Johns does a good job introducing Larfleeze, but the whole point of the book seems to be largely to do only that. Larfleeze is not much of a character and the story is very much a story already in process. Those unfamiliar with power rings and Star Sapphires and the like are easily lost.

What is perfectly clear is that the Guardians are not infallible and they cannot predict the future accurately. As well, the conflict with Larfleeze is well explored and he is a pretty sensible character, at least within the confines of what Johns needs him to be. He is monolithically greedy and the resolution to the story works remarkably well because of that single-minded focus.

That said, Agent Orange is not much of a character study for any of the regular protagonists. Hal Jordan, apparently, does not believe in hope. That's interesting, but there is not a great distance Johns is able to go exploring the lack of hope, at least within this book. It does, however, give Hal Jordan a very distinct voice which is much more muted and sarcastic than that of, for example, Superman. Jordan reads as more cynical, like Batman, as a result and that makes this easily readable for the character's voice at the very least.

As for the artwork, it is phenomenal. Mixed in with the usual pencil and ink panels by Ethan Van Sciver are panels that are painted artwork. They make Hal Jordan, Larfleeze, John Stewart and the Star Sapphire look amazing. Van Sciver has a good sense of movement, so panel to panel the graphic novel does what it is supposed to as far as using the visual medium well. For my tastes, I wish the book stuck with one or the other. Either paint everything and make the book look awesome or keep it looking like a comic book.

Either way, the very basic bridge story of Agent Orange gets a weak “recommend” from me. It is well-constructed, but not sufficiently complicated to bring a reader back to a second time.

For other DC Universe graphic novels, please check out my reviews of:
Wonder Woman The Circle
Batman: Knightfall Volume 1: Broken Bat


For other graphic novel reviews, check out my index page!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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