They say a hero is only as good as his villain, but what happens when the villain tries to be as good as the hero?
That's the hook of DC Comics current run on "Green Lantern." Relaunched with a new #1 by longtime GL writer Geoff Johns and artist Doug Mahnke as part of the publisher's New 52 line of titles, the series has placed traditional villain Sinestro back in the garb of the space-faring police force of the Green Lanterns while series lead Hal Jordan has lost his power ring thanks to the punishment of the Guardians of the Universe. In the opening arc, Sinestro has made a simulation of a GL ring for Jordan as the two find themselves unlikely allies setting off for the villain's home planet of Korugar – still under the thumb of his former, fear-based corps.
And while readers may be wondering how long this period of two GLs at odds can last, Johns is promising that Sinestro won't be giving up the Lantern's Light any time soon. In his first major interview on the series since the relaunch, the writer tells CBR News that Sinestro as Green Lantern is a plan he's had in place for a while, and moving forward both he and Hal's conceptions of heroism will be tested as the pair battle the Sinestro Corps, discover the secrets of the mysterious Indigo Tribe and wait for the colder, crueler Guardians to launch a brand new army of interplanetary peacekeepers.
CBR News: "Green Lantern" was a solid success before the New 52, though you spoke early in the launch of the new line about changing even books you were familiar with to make them more accessible. Here, that's come through an expanded role for Sinestro – once again a Green Lantern and pretty much the co-lead of the book now. What about that character and that place for him made the book feel new for you?
Geoff Johns: One of the things I wanted to do was get back to a very character-based story with maybe a smaller cast. We've been so big for so long. And I'd always wanted to build up to Sinestro forcibly getting a Green Lantern ring and Hal Jordan at the same time having his removed. It's just an interesting turn of events to see what Hal's going to do if he's not Green Lantern and see what Sinestro is going to do if he is Green Lantern. So to team those guys up? As soon as they're teamed up and they're both wearing a green ring, sparks just fly for me. Those characters fly off the pages when they interact. And so they're essentially co-leads now in the book, and the stories we're going to be telling keep Sinestro front and center with Hal.
Issue #6 is a stand-alone issue that kicks off the next year and a half of "Green Lantern," and the next arc we have starting in #7 is called "The Secret of The Indigo Tribe" where we really challenge whether or not Hal believes Sinestro can be redeemed. Is it possible? At the same time, we'll learn more about Abin Sur's connection to the Indigo Tribe and some more of what the Guardians are really up to behind the scenes as they try to march on and replace the Green Lanterns Corps and how they're going to do that. And then the next storyline after that is a story that's going to again have Sinestro come face-to-face with some of the sins of his past and having to make a real choice. So the whole tapestry I've built for the next two years of "Green Lantern" is centered on these two characters and their journeys of how Hal's going to balance his life as Green Lantern and whether or not Sinestro is going to accept [that role.]
The standout line to me from these first new issues is the one where the Guardians refer to Hal being "all drive and no foresight' while Sinestro is "all drive and no altruism." These guys do seem very, very similar even as they've been enemies. What have you been discovering about what they share even as they clash?
I think they're very, very similar characters, and that line you point out is something that happened as I was writing that scene. It became very apparent that they're both incredibly strong and incredibly driven, but as they come closer and closer together, the more they understand that. Some of that is in issue #5 and 6, and the more they understand that, the more they might start to reluctantly rely on one another. What happens when Sinestro can turn around and Hal can turn around and they can fight back-to-back without looking over their shoulder? Are we going to get to that point, and if we are, what happens then?
It stands out too that we hear the line on Hal of "he's the greatest Green Lantern that ever was," but Sinestro seems to have all the will power you could want in his certainty that his way is right. Is he better than Hal as a GL?
Sinestro is obviously more skilled with the ring and knows how to do more things with it. He's been using a yellow ring for a long time, and so now using the green ring, I think it's taken a little extra effort. He's getting back on the horse and figuring out again what to do. He'll definitely teach Hal some more things from here, and Hal will teach him some stuff. But it's a huge thing for Sinestro. You've got to take away all these murders and these horrible things he's done, and then maybe you can say he's the greatest Green Lantern. What defines the greatest Green Lantern? Is it how skilled they are with the ring and what they can accomplish with it? Or is it the people they save and the things they've done? There are two definitions, I guess. And they've called both of these guys the greatest, but the question is "Who's going to be the greatest now?" We'll find that out.
A big part of that is, of course, Korugar and Sinestro's relationship to the people on his home planet. The journey for him reminds me in some ways of the things people always say about Magneto...is his position at all defensible? How do these new cast members challenge or expand upon that journey, and do you want to question the readers take on his status as villain?
Absolutely. But it's not only questioning the readers. It's questioning Sinestro's own conception of himself. I don't think he really realizes yet...he knows what he's done, but he's still learning about the effects he's had on people. It's easy for him to fly over Korugar and say, "I ruled that planet and protected all those people, and they're safe" and another thing for him to be down on the surface and see the faces of kids and of a former ally like Arsona who was essentially his Commissioner Gordon when he was a Green Lantern on Korugar. There's that betrayal in her eyes, and he really comes face-to-face with that in the next issue. But the idea is "How does it feel to look at the victims who have suffered because of your actions?" I don't think he's ever done that.
And if you look at the first four issues, you can actually see emotions we've never seen Sinestro have. One of my favorite things is when he laughs. Hal Jordan says, "Don't think you're better than me." And I remember typing to Doug, "This is the first time we've ever had him laugh because he thinks something is funny" and Doug did a great job. He pauses and then he laughs and tells Hal, "Jordan, you know I'm better than you. Stop fooling around, and let's go."
Looking forward, I feel like questions about the secrets of the Indigo Tribe are ones I've heard a thousand times on conventions panels. Have any of the readers you've spoken to figured it all our yet, or do you think this new story will be really surprising to even the longtime fans?
There are some things we've hinted at that people have figured out, and there are some things that are completely new revelations we haven't even gotten close to. It'll be a bit of both. I think it depends on how much you've been paying attention. We've certainly laid a lot of clues on the Indigo Tribe out there that you can draw some conclusions from, but other things are very new.
And the one thing I love about this arc is that on the surface, it looks like we're exploring the Indigo Tribe, but under that surface, it's all about exploring the relationship between Hal and Sinestro again. Every arc has got to be about them, and it's got this extra Green Lantern setup going through it.
Last time we talked about this book, we talked about Hal as a workaholic. Now we see him without that job role and having a bit of a crisis over what he does with his life. Do you expect him to find more balance because of what he's lost, or is his cocksure-ness a real stumbling block to that growth?
You'll see a big change in Hal in issue #5 and even further into issue #6 and even more in issue #7. There's something ongoing with Hal in that he's got to find his identity – not only his identity as Hal Jordan but his identity as Green Lantern again too. As he's going through this terrain, what's he going to do differently? What's his life really all about? Why is he doing this? I think Sinestro made some very good points when he said, "You're just a guy fighting people in costumes. That's all you're doing with this ring. You're not changing anything. You're not making anything better. This ring can do anything, and you haven't made your world a better place." On the flipside of that, Hal can say to Sinestro, "You've basically enslaved your world. You're forcing people to be a certain way. You're imposing your will on everybody." So there's a massive yin and yang there about how they'll behave as people and also what they want out of life. What is there beyond wearing that ring? There's got to be more to it.
Finally, we know the Guardians have a plan for a "third army" for policing the galaxy that is neither the Manhunter robots or the GL Corps, and they've bent Ganthet to their will to comply with this idea. How soon until we see a major movement on that? Will it remain in the background for the time being?
You'll see in the very next issue more on that. It's an ongoing arc that will build to something big – maybe in a couple of arcs. It's going to be an ongoing plot that will stay around.
"Green Lantern" #5 goes on sale January 11. Stay tuned to CBR in the weeks ahead for more from Geoff Johns and DC Comics!