Yesterday, a man retired. He is a man who has been idolized by many, and hated by others. This man was elected by men to rule a universe, to decide good and evil, right from wrong, and to guide his children in the light. I'm speaking, of course, of long-time Green Lantern writer Geoff Johns. What, did someone else retire yesterday?
Geoff Johns has helmed the Green Lantern comics for over nine years, and now he's stepping down from the comic and the character most associated with his name, after issue #20. To say he's been a success would be an understatement. He revitalized the character. He's arguably contributed more to the Green Lantern universe than anybody, ever. His Green Lantern work was so well-received that it led to DC naming him Chief Creative Officer back in 2010, and now he helps steer all of DC's comics, as well as writing many of its most major titles, including Justice League. And while the Green Lantern movie was terrible, the only reason it was ever made because Johns' work on the Green Lantern comic was so fresh it catapulted the character not just in comics, but in all of pop culture.
But that's not to say Johns' work on GL has been infallible. Many critiqued him for essentially shoving then-GL Kyle Rayner in the corner to resurrect Hal Jordan when he took over the series. Although Green Lantern's comics sales were slipping before Johns took the helm in 2004, there are still many comics fans who can't understand the appeal of the square-jawed, Silver Age machismo of Hal Jordan over the more nuanced, interesting Rayner. Some readers have criticized Johns for what they call "the Skittles Lanterns," saying that by adding so may Lantern Corps, each with their own colors and rings, they dilute Green Lantern's importance. And his massive Blackest Night story, the culmination of his Green Lantern "trilogy," which began in Green Lantern: Rebirth and continued in The Sinestro Corps. War, was just kind of a mess (especially when it became Brightest Day).
The question is, now that Johns is leaving the comic that made him famous — and that he made famous in return — what will his legacy be? I'd posit that his GL accomplishments can be boiled down to three things, not coincidentally, those mentioned above: 1) Bringing back Hal Jordan; 2) Creating the Yellow powered Sinestro Corps, and then adding the other Lanterns of the color/emotional spectrum, including Red, Orange, Blue, Indigo and Violet; 3) The mega-event Blackest Night, which not only helped solidify Johns' Green Lantern universe, but had a vast effect on the entire DC universe that continues well past the DC New 52 reboot.
So let's start with #1, shall we? There's no denying that Hal Jordan never stood out among Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and even Aquaman, personality-wise. There was a reason DC replaced him with Kyle Rayner, and that's because so many fans found Hal Jordan boring in the first place, and wanted someone more fun and relatable. But there's also no denying that when Johns came on board, Green Lantern comic sales were down. You could argue that Johns could have written his stories with Rayner instead of Hal Jordan, but the fact of the matter is Johns loves his Silver Age characters — which is why he's resurrected so many of them throughout his DC career. Moreover, one thing Rayner could not have done was have Jordan's relationship with his nemesis Sinestro, which Johns has slowly turned into one of the most interesting, yet-still-mostly-adversarial relationships in superhero comics.
Whether or not you prefer Rayner (or Guy Gardner, or John Stewart, or the new Simon Baz) over Hal Jordan, at the end of the day Johns' decision worked. Even if bringing back Hal was only essential to Johns, the decision was part of would make the next nine years of Green Lantern comics so successful.
As for the Emotional Spectrum — that is, the addition of the yellow, fear-powered Sinestro Corps, the raging Red Lanterns, the greedy Orange Lantern (there's only one, because he's greedy!), the hopeful Blue Lanterns, the compassionate Indigo Trible, and the violet, love-powered Star Sapphires — it's very possibly the best thing to happen to Green Lantern since DC rebooted the series in 1959. Johns not only broaded the Green Lantern universe immeasurably, he also made it make a sort of sense. Look, any story about a man who has a magic ring powered by a lantern that radiates "the green light of willpower" is not a story that is too concerned with reality. But Johns' additions answered unspoken questions like, why just green? How does the Green Lantern's power actually work? Why don't the Green Lantern rings work on yellow? Finally, Green Lantern was sort of logical — it's own peculiar logic, but logic nonetheless.
And Johns didn't just expand the GL universe by adding more enemies for the Green Lantern Corps. to fight or ally with — the whole emotional color spectrum and its power rings have now become a fundamental part of the DC universe, both before and after the New 52, which opens up stpry-yelling possibilities for other DC characters. How awesome was it when Sinestro revealed his Sinestro Corps. members to be most terrifying beings in the DC universe, including the Anti-Monitor? Very awesome. How awesome was it when the various color rings found familiar DC heroes and villains during Bleckest Night, turning Lex Luthor into an Orange Lantern, Batman's nemesis Scarecrow as a Yellow Lantern, Wonder Woman as a Star Sapphire, and more? Very, very awesome.
In my opinion, Johns' emotional spectrum was the idea that Green Lantern was waiting for. Let me put it another way: There's a reason the Green Lantern movie was based on Geoff Johns' interpretation of the character's origin, which included the basics of the emotional spectrum; and there's a reason the new Green Lantern animated series used the full "Skittles Lanterns" concept right off the bat, and that's because it's so perfect for Green Lantern it's amazing no one thought of it earlier.
Which leaves us with Blackest Night and Brightest Day. While the emotional spectrum remains — indeed, barely any part of Johns' Green Lantern stories were rebooted during the New 52 (which happens where your comics sell well and you're the Chief Creative Officer). Honestly, Blackest Night is too unwieldy to go down among the great stories of modern comics; maybe it was dividing the main storyline among so many different comics (a standard practice, generally but not when it makes a single comic seem completely unintelligible); maybe it got away from Johns. Maybe it's just the incredibly low-stakes sequel Brightest Day and its eclectic cast of less-than-thrilling characters that bringing Blackest Night down.
But while Blackest Night may not be all DC hoped it would be, it's where the Johns' concept of the emotional spectrum was completely revealed, makes it important if not necessarily "great." it won't tarnish Johns' overall run on Green Lantern, or the legacy he gave the character. And while Johns certainly has some flaws as a writer — all writers do — they didn't prevent his more than 100 issues of Green Lantern from being great reading, or revolutionizing the character and his universe in a way that already an integral part of the Green Lantern universe. It makes too much sense, it provides too much storytelling potential for Hal and the other GL characters. And no matter how many reboots DC puts its universe through, it is absolutely never, ever going away.
One more thing, a personal note, if you will: Before Geoff Johns came along, my perception of Green Lantern was about people who had magic rings that didn't work on yellow and whose members included a talking squirrel. I actually met him, at a friend's wedding in 2006; when I learned he was writing Green Lantern (this was shortly before the "Sinestro Corps. War" began) he very politely tried to explain to me the appeal of the character and the concept without, you know, telling some rube all of his upcoming plotlines. I didn't understand what he was talking about then, but I do now. And man, did that guy know what he was talking about.