By: Geoff Johns (story), Doug Mahnke (pencils), Christian Alamy, Keith Champagne, Mark Irwin (inks), Tony Avina & Alex Sinclair (colors)

The Story: For interstellar cops, Green Lanterns sure run up against the law a lot.

The Review: Importing the real world, with all its attached complications and subtleties and hard questions, into comics is a dicey move.  Of course, it can be done, but by and large, comic book writers tend to grossly oversimplify the issues or portray them in the most generic way possible.  It makes you think how rarely actual research, experience, or learning goes into these storylines.  What you get instead leans more toward stereotype and superficial understanding.

Things get really volatile when you start touching explosive—pardon the term—material like 9/11.  Over ten years later, we’re still living the consequences of that day, and the social problems that came out of it hit very close to home.  Johns manages to avoid the manholes that plague these kinds of storylines by keeping what he brings from the real world simple and understated, using them as a springboard for his centered style of character writing.

I find it amazing how frequently Johns insists on going overboard with his narration and dialogue when he comes off so much more powerfully with the “less is more” treatment.  I noted this on his opening for Aquaman #9, but when he just presents the story with no frilly pieces of text and lets you make the emotional and factual connections yourself, he truly becomes a different writer than the sensationalist of Justice League.  In two pages, you get our protagonist’s formative experiences with such quiet dignity that you can’t avoid sympathizing with him.

And it’s very important we sympathize with this would-be replacement for the (for better or worse) definitive Green Lantern of the current DCU.  Sometimes it’s very easy to forget how strong a character writer Johns actually is.  Unlike some of the powerhouses in that category (e.g. Pete Tomasi, Paul Cornell, Gail Simone), Johns can’t quite pull off outlandish personalities and make them seem believable, but he churns out characters that sound and feel recognizable.  We’d be less inclined to tune into Baz, hard as his life circumstances are, if he was disgustingly self-righteous.  What makes him a hero is he recognizes his own fault and the logic of his seizure, which is probably why Agent Fed treats him so respectably—until his hands get tied, that is.

In fact, events proceed with such convincing drama that halfway through you lose sight that this is a superhero comic.  Then the Green Lantern ring bursts into the scene, literally busts the place wide open, and it does have this wonderful fantasy to it.  It’s magical, actually.  Then Johns starts knitting other corners of the DCU into the story, something he does so very well, and you’re back in the Green Lantern groove.

One caveat you must keep in mind is that Johns can’t be as sophisticated as he is without Mahnke’s help.  In a different world, Mahnke would make a great film director.  He has a cinematic quality to all he does, using POV to give each panel maximum impact.  Whether we’re talking seeing an oncoming vehicle through a chain-link fence, or Baz’s face vaguely illuminated within the claustrophobic confines of a bondage hood, or the moment when the Green Lantern ring blasts into the holding facility and all the monitors in the viewing room shatter—I could go on and on, but there are literally dozens of intricately crafted moments like this.

Conclusion: I am agog at how well-crafted this issue turned out to be.  Even on the admirable Aquaman Johns hasn’t been this rock solid in a long, long while, and Mahnke’s brilliant art just sends the quality over the edge.

Grade: A

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I’m glad Johns isn’t going to beat around the bush where the fate of Sinestro and Hal are concerned.  All that “When will they come back?” angst gets tiresome fast.

– “You have the—error—ability to overcome great fear.”  The timing of that “error” sure does bode ill for Baz’s Lantern career, huh?