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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Alan Moore: The Architect of the Blackest Night

Recently, DC's Chief Creative Officer, Geoff Johns, wrote an eight part epic entitled "Blackest Night." The story referred to the Green Lantern oath which states "In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight." Johns took the second part of the sentence, and made a literal Blackest Night, imagining what would be the most horrific thing the Green Lantern Corps would have to deal with. The genesis of this idea came from Alan Moore's short story "Tygers" first published in Green Lantern Corps Annual No. 2 in 1986. But that's not the only thing Green Lantern owes to Alan Moore. In the same story, he mentioned/created a character named Sodam Yat who was said to be the most powerful Green Lantern in the universe due to his Daxamite abilities. Geoff Johns took these two ideas and wrote first, "The Sinestro Corps War," and then "Blackest Night." Both of these ideas, their ripple effects, and their genesis owe themselves to the creative genius of Alan Moore. If not for his work on Green Lantern, the current crew of space police in sector 2814 Could very well have been much different characters.

Alan Moore's influence on the Green Lantern universe begins when he started writing for Green Lantern Corps in the 1980's. Two stories in particular, "Mogo Doesn't Socialize" and "Tygers" played a major role in the development of the current writing on Green Lantern. "Mogo Doesn't Socialize" is a story about Bolphunga, a brute alien who traveled from planet to planet seeking out the greatest warriors so that he could best them in a duel. In this story, he seeks out the Green Lantern Mogo, who is said to be the most feared and mysterious lantern. The reason for this is that Mogo is the universes' first planet sized Green Lantern. In more recent years, Geoff Johns, Dave Gibbons, and Peter J. Tomasi have expanded Mogo's role. It is his duty to control the rings of deceased Lanterns so that they may find new owners. Indeed, he is now the soul of the Green Lantern Corps. Without him, the rings are flightless and the corps would never regenerate. All lanterns travel to Mogo in order to face their greatest fears as he can alter his landscape to challenge anyone. His power, therefore is infinite.

"Tygers," another Green Lantern Corps story, is about Abin Sur, the lantern whom Hal Jordan replaced. When Abin Sur's ship crashed in Showcase #22, published in 1959, he said it was the sun's yellow light which blinded him, and caused his ship to fail. The color yellow became a major hindrance to the green ring, and later became the color of Sinestro's ring and corps. But in Moore's story, "Tygers," it's revealed that it was not the color yellow so much as a deeper-seeded impurity: fear. In the issue, Abin Sur travels to the mysterious planet of Ysmault. There, he meets a world of horrors; disproportionate monsters with no defined features, mangled bodies, and distorted limbs. It's a visual horror (and Kevin O'Neill should be celebrated for making such visuals come to life). Once there, Abin learns of the "Empire of Tears," a place where demons, disembodied monsters, and dangerous minds remained imprisoned by the guardians of Oa. But it is a place where Abin must travel to find a downed spaceship, and save the alien child that survived the crash. Here he meets Quill of the Five Inversions, a humanoid being who speaks the closest to truth on the entire planet. After helping Abin find the baby, he tells him of a prophecy, a "final catastrophe" where the enemies of the Green Lantern corps will rise against them and destroy them. Quill tells him, "Sodam Yat, a Daxamite hailed as the ultimate green lantern, will perish battling the lobe-spawn. The planet-form Green Lantern named Mogo will be the last to fall, as Ranx explodes a blink-bomb in his core. And after that, there will only be the demons, dancing in the ruins of Oa to the rhythm of drums bound with taut blue skin." The images are horrific and concrete. They also serve as the basis for Geoff Johns' "Blackest Night" series. Abin eventually leaves the planet but not until Quill has poisoned him with a lantern's biggest weaknesses: fear and doubt.

It is these two themes that serve as the basis for "Sinestro Corps War" and "Blackest Night." "The Sinestro Corps War" is Geoff Johns' second act in what he called his "Green Lantern Trilogy," the first part being "Green Lantern: Rebirth" where he reversed the ills of the past, saving Hal Jordan from a life as The Spectre. The reason for his fall was an impurity known as Parallax, a fear construct which found its way into the green battery. Once Hal vanquished Parallax from the battery, he returned to his normal safe and became, once again, the universe's greatest Green Lantern. "Sinestro Corps War" follows a few plot threads introduced in the regular Green Lantern series. Specifically, Sinestro uses fear to create his own group of followers, all of whom sport yellow power rings. It is fear that allows them to create constructs and kill Green Lanterns. Fear and doubt play key roles here because the lanterns fear death, and doubt their ability to overcome fear. At one point, Hal and Kyle Rayner both become hosts for the Parallax entity because they allow fear into their hearts. By working together, the Green Lanterns save the Earth from a fear invasion.

But "Blackest Night" continues Alan Moore's prophethetical vision in "Tygers." The prophecy Quill mentioned comes true, and the Blackest Night comes upon the Green Lanterns. Here, the key themes are inevitability and death. In "Tygers," Moore explores the idea of fate as a weakness because if one hears that ones fate is not pleasant, a seed of fear is planted. This seed is a weakness of the Green Lanterns, and leads them to destruction. Death is also an inevitability, and this is really where "Blackest Night" takes form. Any character who has experienced death is at risk of fear, and if they weaken, the black lanterns win. It is only through celebrating life that the Earth is able to defeat the lanterns of death. Since the rings are based on willpower, it is up to the lanterns to rely solely on them. It was this moment of weakness that caused Abin Sur's demise, and it is what saves Hal Jordan. He strength and resilience are what save him, and help him destroy Nekron, the leader of the Black Lantern Corps. But where Abin failed, Hal survives.

No one can say with any certainty that without Alan Moore, the Green Lantern universe would be completely different, because that would be a logical fallacy. But, I think any fan can say, with a strong degree of certainty, that Alan Moore's scope, his depth regarding mythology and characterization has indeed played a role in how Geoff Johns crafted his Green Lantern trilogy. The one thing that Green Lantern has on its side is its world of infinite possibility. In a never ending universe, the number of characters and the number of possible situations grows exponentially. And therefore, one must look beyond what is accepted and expected. A writer must be willing to move his characters into possible uncomfortable situations in order for them to grow. Moore made Abin Sur more than just a footnote in Green Lantern history. He created two of the greatest characters in Green Lantern history: Mogo and Sodam Yat. Lastly, he broadened the horizon for any other writer of Green Lantern. Much like Hal Jordan, Alan Moore is a man without fear. As Abin Sur says in Showcase #22, the first appearance of Hal Jordan as a Green Lantern, "It is our duty . . . when disaster strikes . . . to pass on the battery of power . . . to another who is fearless . . . and honest!" John Broome wrote these words in 1959, twenty-seven years before Alan Moore would craft "Tygers." Little did he know he was speaking of one of Green Lantern, and even comics' greatest writers.


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