Pitchgiving 2021, Part 2: Green Lantern Corps.

Author’s Note: Sorry about the late start, folks. Pitchgiving should continue from here on out as a weekly Friday post featuring a pitch for a new DC movie, and should continue on into Pitchmas, when we switch over to 12 Marvel in December. Happy Pitchgiving!

The story starts with a flashback. Sinestro leads Hal Jordan through Sector 0666; his ring complains that they’re entering forbidden space, and Sinestro has Hal give him his ring so he can mask their trespass. He’s reluctant, at first, but hands it over, and Sinestro silences it. He explains the Sector as the Guardians biggest failure. The predecessors to the Green Lantern Corps, the Manhunters, were robots; their moral inflexibility led them to raze the sector, killing every living thing within it during the war against the Empire of Tears. “Well, almost everything.” Sinestro is still in his Green Lantern uniform, though subtly we keep showing him with lighting that yellows it. They land on Ysmault, and speak with the Five Inversions, most prominently their leader, Atros, and their seer Qull. Atros is trapped in a pool of blood with walls that prevent him from clambering out; Sinestro lifts him out with his ring to speak to him, before dropping him back in. The other Inversions are crucified, stuck to the walls; it is their blood that Atros is drowning in (but it flows at just the right speed to replenish that lost to evaporation, making the mix ever more concentrated). They tell Jordan about the Blackest Night. Jordan, horrified, asks if they can stop it, and how. The Inversions set the pair of Lanterns on a course, instead, to cause the Blackest Night, utilizing their fear. Subtly, Sinestro smiles as he watches Jordan give into it (and we see him, again, cast in light that tinges his uniform yellow).

We head to Earth, as Kyle Rayner, feeling like an update of Marty McFly from the first Back to the Future, is woken up by his alarm. We see from his sketch table that he’s an artist, very manga and comics inflected. He stumbles, blearily, out of bed and starts to dress. Only it isn’t his alarm at all. It’s Jade, using her own ring to mimic his alarm. She offers him a slot in the Green Lantern Corps. He asks if it will make him green, and she smiles flirtatiously, and says that’s all her. He smiles back, and tells her green would not have been a deal breaker- it looks great on her. Continuity note: This Jade is the great grand-daughter of Alan Scott, along with her brother, Obsidian; their grandmother was Scott’s only daughter, fathered with his wife who remained his wife even after he came out, and raised their daughter with his partner after Scott disappeared with half of the JSA.

We cut to Oa, where the Oans have recruited a whole new crop of Green Lanterns. Supposedly, they claim, the emergence of Parallax has made them question whether or not the rings can be trusted to seek out those worthy themselves, and have decided to take a heavier hand in candidate selection. They claim most of the current Lanterns are dealing with an Intergalactic threat. That’s why there are multiple humans in this class: Guy Gardner, Kyle Rayner, John Stewart, Jade, Simon Baz, Jessica Cruz and Sojourner Mullein; there are also other known lanterns from the books in their class, as well, like Soranik Natu and Laira. The first part of the story is one-half military training (with John, the one with Marine Corps. experience, becoming the natural leader of the human contingent, I expect with some rival squads under other named characters); also, to maintain some continuity between this movie and Justice League Interplanetary, John would need to have been trained as Jordan’s back-up, in the event that something happened to him- then got tapped when Sinestro’s forces started killing Green Lanterns, so he’s a little more seasoned than the rest. As we pick up steam, the human lanterns begin to question the Oans- something just doesn’t smell right.

Around the midpoint of our training, Kilowog, their trainer, offers Stewart a drink. He slips them information that leads the Terrans (Earthlings,  if you prefer to be known as dirtpeople) to a recording taken by Sodam Yat. He was tasked with following Sinestro. Yat finds him, and Jordan. Sinestro is still wearing both rings, only now Sinestro’s ring and uniform are yellow. He stalks around Jordan, who is crucified similarly to the Inversions. Subtly, they’re on the military base by Coast City. Sinestro is berating Hal- that he’s heard the truth the Guardians tried to keep from them, that the entire Universe will fall unless they can stop the Blackest Night. Hal tries valiantly to resist, even though he is terrified of what the Inversions told them.

The Terrans return to their truncated training, which culminates in an obstacle course where the teams have to disband and help each other to survive (something they aren’t told and have to figure out for themselves); for my money it’s Kyle who reaches out to save Soranik Natu, that spurs John to realize that this isn’t a fight any faction can win, and rallies them together, falling in line after Soranik when she’s reluctant to follow him. After that we get their graduation, with a big, swelling version of the oath: “In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight. Let those who worship evil’s might, beware my power–Green Lantern’s light!”

The earthlings confront Kilowog. He shares with them another video from Yat. After Parallex failed its assault on Earth, the disillusioned Sinestro rescued it from its imprisonment within the Sun’s gravity. There’s a cut to the dark side of the moon, where Sinestro forged a new Yellow Lantern battery. Kilowog explains that the Yellow Lantern exploited a flaw in the Green Lantern rings, which made them susceptible to its power- that it makes sense, when you think about it, that willpower is naturally susceptible to fear. More video, of a group of Green Lanterns attacking Sinestro, a batch immediately recruited into the Sinestro Corps just by being exposed to this yellow light; others in the contingent tried (but failed) to resist, and were killed. Of those remaining, only Hal Jordan, from Earth, was able to truly fight back. But he was outnumbered and outgunned. He was able to prevent the outright destruction of Oa, but not to prevent severe damage to the central battery.

Most of the rest of the Green Lanterns died in an incursion to try and free Jordan and defeat the Yellow Lanterns, leaving only a handful on Oa, including their trainer, Kilowog. Now that we’ve established the rings also work as bodycams, that should give us an opportunity to have some Saving Private Ryan-esque special effects photography, to really sell the Lanterns losing badly.

What we find out, however, at the midpoint, is that things are even more dire than we realized. Sinestro took Jordan to try and figure out why he was able to resist. In trying to unlock his secret, Sinestro took Jordan back to Earth, where he tortured him, and threatened those he cared about, including anyone from the first Green Lantern movie we can convince to do a cameo (you could kill two birds with one stone by enticing Taika Waititi back to direct- I’m sure this story could pretty readily be mapped onto one about imperialism/colonialism). But Sinestro underestimated himself and the Parallax entity, and accidentally destroys Coast City while torturing Hal- which breaks him.

Sinestro is cautious about Hal’s conversion, and tells him he needs to swear it to accept his ring, and recite: “In blackest day, in brightest night, beware your fears made into light, let those who try to stop what’s right, burn like my power, Sinestro’s might!” Jordan glares at him, and tears free, and ringless beats Sinestro half to death, simply shrugging off his attacks, whether made with his yellow or Jordan’s green ring.

Jordan takes his ring back from Sinestro, then tells him to call his goons. A rain of Yellow Lanterns attack, hitting the place Jordan stood with a hail of yellow spears. For a moment we think Hal’s gone, and then we see that his constructs, now a yellow-green, were able to parry the fear-weapons enough to spare him. He walks through the Yellow Lanterns like they’re mist, snatching their rings and flinging them away, claiming the rings for himself.

The rings resist him, and Sinestro tries sneak attacking him. Jordan beats him, green ring to yellow, before Sinestro’s ring, too, is removed. Jordan now has a ring on each finger, and he gives the oath, “In blackest day, in brightest night, beware your fears made into light. Let those who try to stop what’s right, burn like my power, fright’s awful might!” It’s as he finishes the oath that his ring switches from green to yellow, too. Jordan’s suit becomes bulkier, looking more like a suit of armor, and a cape grows out of it.  

Hal then tries to use his stolen rings to try to recreate Coast City, succeeding for a moment before it all falls apart. He collapses, utterly defeated, until he’s roused from his melancholy by Sinestro’s laughter- that even with all of the power of his Corps- even his Corps and the power of Oa- you can’t just will people back into existence. Jordan strikes him, and Sinestro cowers, but Jordan walks away.

Sinestro says he’s surprised Jordan doesn’t kill him- but Jordan says he will, but he’s saving him for last- after he takes care of everyone who let this happen- everyone who put a demented little madman in charge of a weapon like the rings- including the Guardians and their Lantern Corps. Parallax leaps from Sinestro’s chest into Jordan’s, and Yat gasps loudly, falling. Jordan notices him, and charges at him, and the last thing we see before losing the video is Yat raising his hands defensively, as yellow constructs slice through his green shield like it wasn’t there.

The new Lantern recruits assemble for an attack on Mogo, the living Green Lantern World, that Sinestro was able to convert to a Yellow Lantern- which means that the only rings the Green Lanterns have left are those left by Lanterns who fell in the defense of Oa, and they don’t have access to more. Ganthet explains to them the truth of the lanterns, that it wasn’t their genius that led to the lantern’s creation, but the discovery of an emotional spectrum, and entities that seem to feed off and feed into this spectrum. At the heart of the green battery was one of these creatures, a being known as Ion; when the Yellow Lanterns attacked, they kidnapped Ion, and without it, the power of the battery, and in turn all of the Green Lanterns, is fading. So the battle is two-fold. On one half of the planet, Sinestro and his Corps keep the imprisoned Ion caged. They need to free it, or the war is lost already. On the other, Jordan is garrisoned with the other half of the Yellow Lanterns, protecting the yellow battery. The plan, then, is to send most of their forces after Jordan, hopefully diverting the Yellow Lanterns to the main battle, while a smaller team inserts in an attempt to rescue Ion. With the entity returned to the green battery, perhaps they can stand a fighting chance.

We split our humans in half; personally, I’d keep the newer and older ones separate, with the older timers doing the stealth mission. That would also keep tensions higher, since we could potentially kill off newer and less well known characters, but the name Lanterns are probably relatively safer (it might make sense to add a newer, completely original character to this story to kill, just to cement that this is a war and not the usual superhero patty-cake).

The team with Stewart, Rayner and Gardner wait in the shadow of a moon as the majority of the Sinestro forces rally to protect their battery from the main Green Lantern assault. We’d get a few moments of it, think the D-Day landing from Saving Private Ryan but in space, but most of this section would be focused on the characters who have been around longer. For my money, I’d bring along Jade and Soranik Natu, too, because I like them, and this is otherwise a little sausagey (plus, love triangle).

They sneak past a few Yellow Lanterns, incapacitate others. They work decently well as a team, despite Gardner being a hothead and John being enough of an authority figure for Guy to buck against; Kyle plays peacemaker, and between them they do well, until they hit Sinestro’s throne room. He’s got guards, and it takes some intense fighting before they’re subdued and Sinestro taken captive. However, the facility is massive. The battery has been hidden deep beneath Mogo’s surface, so deep, in fact, that they’d never get to it without help. So it’s fortunate that Sinestro is freaked the hell out. He felt the Guardians had betrayed them- all of them- and wanted to make them pay; he was fooled into thinking Parallax felt similarly. But he’s seen it with Jordan- now he knows real fear– not just for his plans, or his Corps, but for the galaxy- and there’s enough of the good man he’d been to want to help them.

Sinestro leads them, imprisoned in green cuffs, to the containment; as they’re lowered through a cavern dug through the planet, Sinestro casually whispers to Soranik that she “Looks so much like your mother.” She reacts violently, as if he had something to do with her mother being harmed.

Guy says he just assumed they were related, because they look alike. “That wasn’t racist, was it?” Everyone turns to him and says “Yes” in unison. They arrive at Ion’s prison. It uses a giant yellow ring wrapped around part of Mogo to generate a yellow prison to keep Ion trapped. While the others work to free the planet, Kyle is distracted by the entity behind the field. He’s drawn into the barrier, where it takes on the appearance of one of the Guardians, so as not to perturb him overmuch.

It explains that its friends mean well, but that it can’t survive in its current state without aid- that they’re about to kill it. So far from its battery, the only way it can live is through a host- provided the host can survive the process. Ion sighs wearily. He killed many hosts inadvertently until he and the Guardians discovered one another, and they were able to build it a containment that would allow it access to the energies upon which it feeds, while finding ways to utilize its byproducts. It doesn’t wish to imperiously harm another living soul again; it would rather die, than risk another unwitting life. Kyle says he’s witting… he understands the potential cost, but also the consequences if he doesn’t, for the Corps., probably for the Universe. He accepts.

We cut outside of this vision, to see the others manage to free Mogo by cracking the yellow ring, dissipating the field. They’re surprised to find the container gone, and Kyle doubled over. He’s not-so-subtly glowing, the green light growing in intensity. John asks, “Kyle, what have you done?”

Kyle stands up straight, turns towards them, and when his eyes open they glow green, as well. “Not Kyle,” he says with two voices. “Call us Ion.”

We cut to the planet’s surface, as they fly very fast. John’s lost control, but is still trying to reason with Ion. “I still think we should follow the plan; get you back to Oa. If we lose you, the whole universe loses.”

“Correct,” Ion says. “But if we lose the Corps., there will be no one to protect Oa. Our fellow Lanterns are falling, even now. And I refuse to hide while we lose any more.”

“What about him?” John asks about Sinestro. “He’s a war criminal- he started all of this. Taking him off the board has to matter more than a few more warm bodies in the field.

“I’ll watch the Wicked,” Natu says.

“What about you, Big Guy? Back on the side of the angels?” At first we don’t know who John’s talking about, until trees shoot up out of a continent below, forming the symbol of the Green Lanterns. “Well, with him, we just might have a shot.” At that, the Lanterns scatter, as a yellow blast shoots through the middle of them. They engage the battle.

It doesn’t need to last long, but between the addition of these troops, as well as, more importantly, Ion’s power, Mogo, and Ion himself, the Corps turn the tide. Our heroes land, reuniting with the other humans, to storm Jordan’s golden citadel. They fight a handful of straggler Yellow Lanterns, but find the yellow battery cracked, and a big smoking hole in the back wall where Jordan and the rest of his forces escaped. Our heroes fly into the atmosphere, where Kilowog and a few remaining Green Lanterns are seeing to the wounded. Depending on the rating we’re shooting for, they might be awash in a sea of zero g blood. Kilowog says that they did what they could to contain Jordan, but that he was more powerful than ever- and they were outnumbered ten to one. Stewart asks about their numbers. Kilowog asks his ring how many of theirs survive- and whatever the number says that the Yellow Lanterns escaped with 3 times their numbers- assuming none of their injured succumb to their wounds… Kilowog realizes he’s hitting the panic button a little hard, given that he trained most of them, and they look up to him… and says that they have Mogo back, and the entity, and Green Lanterns are always outnumbered- but never outclassed. He says the first round back on Oa is on him.

We cut to a montage, as the human Lanterns (sans Kyle) all discuss how they feel about things. There’s some controversy over excluding Kyle, but Gardner expresses what John’s uncomfortable to: they aren’t sure he’s exactly still one of them. John uses that as a pivot, which serves as a nice transition for Kyle and Soranik, as John says and Kyle mouths: They feel responsible for Jordan- he’s one of theirs. Soranik tells Kyle she knows how that feels. He asks her if she wants to talk about it. She says, “Nah,” and leans her head against his shoulder, “I just want to look up at the stars and appreciate how pretty they are, without thinking about the trillions of planets each with billions of life forms that we’re responsible for.” We pan up into the stars, and start the credits.

Mid-credits scene: We’re submerged in a vast pool lit by dim red light. We see an alien, muscular, whose body seems to be skinless, so his jagged, yellowed teeth aren’t encumbered by lips, and he looks like he’s constantly wearing a snarl; we recognize him as Atros from the prologue. He narrates, “I hear it.” He opens his eyes, which glow yellow. “Beating like a war drum.” As a brighter light illuminates the pool in the shape reminiscent of the Green Lantern symbol, but on the top side it is lopsided, so the beam reaching the central sphere is amplified as it exits. From its center, the alien sees a shining object, and swims towards it, and as his outstretched hand touches the ring, it slides onto his middle finger. The alien rises from the pool, which is ringed by skeletal husks. “For millennia, I have roiled in my rage for the Oans.” As he narrates this next line, we pan past the half-destroyed body of one of the Manhunters. “Their Manhunters massacred my sector; I am the last of a race annihilated by their android enforcers. And from my hatred is born the means to pass judgement, on Oa and all her guardians.” He pulls from the pool of blood a red lantern, and speaks the words of the Red Lantern Oath: “With blood and rage of crimson red, ripped from a corpse so freshly dead, together with our hellish hate, we’ll burn you all–that is your fate!”   

Relevant Review: Shang Chi comic

This review is about the recent Shang Chi comic series by Gene Luen Yang, Dike Ruan and Philip Tan (and it’s free if you’ve got Amazon Prime or Comixology Unlimited or a special relationship with the perv at your local comic book store- no links for him, though). I’m not terribly familiar with Shang Chi. He’s been hanging around in the background in some Avengers books I’ve read, or standing around in Heroes for Hire, often in the worst costume of the bunch. I really don’t blame him. He’s kind of like Luke Cage in that regard, both 70s debuts chasing movie trends (blaxsploitation for Luke, martial arts movies for Shang Chi), both not quite prominent enough to have long-running books and dozens of costumes from which to evolve their own iconic style. The solution that stuck for Luke was just putting him in street clothes and losing his tiara; Shang never even had one of those to ditch.

First things first, they got Asian people to work on this! It’s a positive development; while there are exceptions, in general you’re going to get a more authentic and nuanced story about a certain group of people from somebody intimately familiar with them; it’s essentially ‘write what you know’ applied to hiring decisions.  

Case in point, the team leans into the martial arts roots of the story, but find a good balance between building a fantastical superhero world, martial arts action and intrigue, and building in just enough slice of life to make Shang Chi feel like a person in his own right.

The story itself is… just okay. Shang Chi’s sister (adoptive, I think) became head of the House of Hammers to impress their adoptive father. And failed, because he was a dick. So after his death, she kills the head of the House of Staffs to try to become the Supreme Commander of their five houses. The problem is, even from the grave daddy is withholding, and chooses Shang Chi as the new Supreme Commander, a title (and even a life) he doesn’t want. Hammer dispatches assassins to kill Shang Chi, but he’s saved by the heads of the other houses, who quest with him to find the tomb of their uncle, their adoptive father’s brother, to gain insight on how to handle their sister.

Everything up to this point feels pretty good, enough action but also enough character work to make it more endearing than just your average martial arts pastiche- which is smart, because what separates Marvel from its competition is its superior character work. You’d absolutely get a donut with Tony Stark, just to talk. You’d only ironically hang out with Batfleck, to hear him rant for a half an hour about how the waitress deserves to be branded for bringing him coffee that was only warm and not hot.

Unfortunately, the ending is where Shang Chi stumbles. The resolution is a bit too metaphysical, with not quite enough kung fu fighting for my taste, and it feels like a rushed ending. It seems to imply there’s more coming, so maybe we should be reading this story in the sense of an episode of the old He-Man show, where Skeletor slinking off at the end of the episode isn’t meant to give a weak climax, but to imply that the story is ongoing. But I’m not grading this on a curve. It should have a satisfying conclusion, because nothing makes me less likely to pick up the next volume (or issue, if you’re into floppies) than the previous volume underwhelming; an audience will usually forgive a slower beginning or a sagging middle, but the end is where you want to hit them hardest. It’s the difference between a team leaving it all on the field, and it being clear they’re holding back their best stuff for the playoffs. It might make for sound strategy, but as an audience member it’s suboptimal. But I also don’t want to hold this to an unrealistic standard, either; it was a Shang Chi book that until the last chapter was fun and fast-paced, and even that last chapter was all right, it was just missing that feeling of completion, that this story was over, even if Shang Chi’s would continue.

Regardless, I’d suggest reading this book in place of viewing the movie. That’s because, seriously, I don’t want tragedy to befall you just to see a movie. I’m stoked for Shang Chi, too, and would love to have had a chance to have an Asian Black Panther on our hands… but the cost is too high right now (maybe by the sequel we’ll have this pandemic thing worked out and it can break out*). No one should risk their or anyone else’s life for a superhero movie. Read a comic instead- this one, as a show of support if you want, or literally anything else. We can all stream it together when it’s available for that.

*Also, the sequel should involve cloning, and be set exclusively within the confines of Wisconsin, and called Shang Cheese**.

**Personally, I think it’s brave to make jokes even dads roll their eyes at.