They can’t all be winners.
This week, Green Lanterns takes a break from telling the story of our two favorite Green Lanterns, Simon and Jess, and focuses on the villain that has been working in the shadows over the last few arcs. It’s Volthoom, the first lantern, and if you haven’t heard of him before, don’t worry. This comic is strainin’ to do some ‘splainin’.
What’s a Volthoom?
He practically jumps off the first page. Volthoom is “The First Lantern” (more on that in a bit). He’s so incredibly powerful that even the most bestest lantern ever, HAL JORDAN (Collective eyeroll from all of us) couldn’t defeat him!
On the very next page he is a wretched mess. He’s in some kind of limbo pouring his heart out to Nekron (who is an avatar of death, again more on that later) about not being able to die. Over the course of the issue, we get a crash-course on the milestones of Volthoom’s life as told from his perspective. Let’s not mince words, this issue is a massive infodump.
Where the Rubber Meets the Road (of Comics)
This is why it’s intimidating to start reading superhero books. There is an incredible amount of backstory to some of these characters. Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) has been around for a long time (since 1940) so there is obviously a lot of history there. Fortunately, most books don’t dip nearly that far into that past. DC books nowadays rarely reference anything that happened before Crisis on Infinite Earths from 1986. If you ever hear anyone referring to “Pre-Crisis”, and “Post-Crisis” this is what they are talking about.
A couple of things have happened in Green Lantern lore specifically that are important to know here. Firstly, the Sinestro Corps War (SCW) happened when Sinestro decided to destroy the Guardians with yellow fear energy rings because they are dicks. This event established that there are more than just green rings. There is a whole emotional spectrum of rings with each color corresponding to an emotion. That makes seven different rings, with green in the middle as the fulcrum maintaining balance. Confused yet? Don’t worry it gets better.
Sometime after SCW came Blackest Night (BN). This was a line-wide story in DC continuity that involved the entire spectrum of rings, but also added two more. Black rings, which were basically undead rings that reanimated previously dead heroes, and white rings which combined all the powers of the other seven. The Black Lantern Corps fights against all light because the Guardians are dicks. Both SCW and BN were the brainchildren of Geoff Johns who has been involved in most of DC’s epic events from recent memory. He’s also been the driving force behind Green Lanterns in general up until the most recent Rebirth re-launch.
The New 52 Reboots Everything But Not
The New 52 (N52) reboot started every character in DC continuity over again. But not all of them. Ok, some of them still remember things from before and some don’t. But some of them are still the same–you know what–don’t think about it too hard, because DC didn’t either. Green Lanterns in particular appeared to keep going without a hiccup. One of the GL’s first big bads in N52 was the Third Army. This was a troop of beings that were attempting to suck out out all the emotion from the universe. The Guardians created the Third Army to control all life because they are dicks. The Third Army was fueled by energy the Guardians siphoned from a previously unknown being locked away in a vault for billions of years (Yes, billions. Don’t question it!). This was Volthoom, the First Lantern. That sounds familiar! He’s called the “First Lantern” because he was the first one to wield the emotional spectrum. Unfortunately, it corrupted him. Also, the Guardians are dicks. We might have mentioned that before.
Why did we tell you all this? (Because the Guardians are dicks?) Partly to illustrate a point that with story lines that run over decades, it gets a little hard to follow. This is especially true of Green Lanterns lore which has a tendency to get weird and cosmic. Not everyone has read everything, nor should they be expected to. We hope that in the short time we’ve been covering Green Lanterns we’ve earned the series a few more fans, because the stories they’ve been telling lately have been really great. But if you’re a new reader, you’ve got no idea who Volthoom is.
Issues like this one are a mixed bag. By giving us some context on Volthoom and where he came from, it makes whatever they have planned for him in subsequent issues more compelling. They also, unfortunately, feel like throwaway issues. For those of us who know Volthoom, there isn’t anything new here. There are some fun references to things like how Volthoom was briefly imprisoned in an evil Green Lantern’s ring, but not much story to chew on. For those of us that don’t already know him, the issue drags as we are fed information that may or may not pertain to the present storyline.
Back to the Issue
So, Volthoom is hanging out with Nekron, who comes directly from the BN event. Nekron is tough to pin down, but is basically the guardian of darkness, or anti-light. He created the Black Lantern Corps. He’s kind of death but also kind of not. Anyways, for the purpose of our story here he is an avatar of death. Volthoom, having been alive for eleventy billion years, most of which were pretty crappy ones, wants to die. In N52, at the end of the Third Army storyline, he was killed by Nekron, but Nekron explains that by being bound to the light (that is the light of the emotional spectrum) he cannot fully die. At least not by the hand of Nekron.
There isn’t much going on here except tragic villain backstory. His home planet blew up and his mom died. He hopped around the galaxy looking for a way to save his planet. He thought the Guardians would be the answer, but that didn’t pan out, and he ended up corrupted by the very power he sought to save them. He’s kind of got a prequels Anakin Skywalker thing going.
By the end of the issue, Volthoom is back alive and not really happy about it. But then he catches sight of his old friend Rami, the outcast Guardian who’s been pal-ing around with Simon and Jess. Volthoom sees the phantom ring that Rami created, and in it, an instrument of his revenge on the Guardians and their dickish dickishness. That about brings us up to speed.
It isn’t all bad. The artwork does what it can to uplift what is essentially all backstory. The events of his past are rendered well and give the story some life even though it’s all being retold by Volthoom in a very matter-of-fact kind of way. He’s a pretty cool villain in his own right, and his fall into darkness is captured well by the artwork. We just wish that the story itself was as compelling as the art.
One More Thing
Oh yeah, that evil ring that Volthoom was imprisoned in? That was Jessica’s first ring for awhile, and Volthoom totally dominated her. She learned to control it over time, and was eventually able to beat him. She earned her own Green Lantern ring by overcoming great fear and sacrificing herself (but actually, the Volthoom-ring). Jessica has history with Volthoom, which will certainly come into play in the next few issues. If this one didn’t do it for you, don’t give up. Issues like this are necessary sometimes for context, and for newer readers, provides some valuable insight without having to dig into five or ten-year-old events to get it. We’ll be back with Simon and Jess in two weeks.
Green Lanterns #18: The Last Testament of the First Lantern
Writer: Sam Humphries
Pencils: Robson Rocha
Inks: Daniel Henriques
Colors: Alex Solazzo
Letters: Dave Sharpe
All Images Courtesy of DC Comics