"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
Film, Comic Books
This is a harder question to answer than you might think. There’s a lot to like about this comic, but it has plenty of flaws, too. I rarely read Geoff Johns comics except by accident, but recently I had a chance to get this six-issue mini-series cheap (and the first two issues were second printings, which helped), and given that Johns’ work on Green Lantern has gotten rave reviews (and it was #54 on the Top 100 runs list), I figured it wouldn’t be too much of a problem to check out where it all began. I also decided to do some annotations, given that it’s extremely tied into DC continuity. So you just know this is going to be a mighty long post. That’s what I do, after all!
So let’s dig into Green Lantern: Rebirth. Back in the day, Hal Jordan soared the skies of Earth with his magic ring, dispensing lightning justice and having a grand old time. Then those eejits at DC decided to make him crazy and give the ring to a new guy. Despite the new guy being pretty popular, a small sector of the fanbase with nothing much going on in their lives couldn’t deal with the fact that a fictional character wasn’t around anymore. They actually started an organization dedicated to hounding the DC bigwigs until Hal Jordan was redeemed and (after he died) resurrected. This is that story. The numbers in parentheses indicate issue number, page number, and panel number. I’ll use them when the information is within the text itself. And, of course, there’s always linking and footnotes. I love footnotes. And let’s get the boilerplate out of the way: Geoff Johns wrote it, Ethan van Sciver pencilled it, Prentiss Rollins inked it (except for issue #1, which Van Sciver did on his own; and issue #5-6, which also credits Mick Gray), Moose Baumann colored it, Rob Leigh lettered it, and DC published it in six issues, December 2004 through May 2005.
You ready? Strap in, and let’s go! We begin in the universe. Okay, our sun. Someone is narrating about the Green Lantern Corps, who patrolled space doing good things. Then one of their own destroyed it all. We see a space ship blast out of the sun and, between one panel and the next, end up on Earth. Given that the sun is 93 million miles away, that’s one fast ship. The narrator, we’ll find out later (1.5.3) is Kyle Rayner, “the last of the Green Lanterns.” We head down to Earth and end up in New Mexico, where two hikers are walking the perimeter of Nellis Bombing and Gunnery Range, which is closed up. One hiker says that they used to test stolen Soviet planes there, which is just an excuse for them to make a joke about not believing in UFOs as the space ship crashes down right next to them. When they go inside, they see Kyle, bloodied and beaten up. He can’t get his ring off. He collapses next to what looks like a coffin, narrating that he was the first to “know what fear really is.” Ooh, dramatic!
We switch to an abandoned airfield in Northern California. A woman stands outside it, talking on the phone to her husband, Gil (1.6.1 and 6). This is Carol Ferris (1.6.2 and 4), and she’s talking about growing up on the airfield. In the final panel of the page (6), she wipes the dust away from a cockpit to reveal the name “H. Jordan” stenciled on it. In a nice touch, this panel also shows her wedding ring. The significance of this scene will be seen later, but next it’s off to the Bronx, over Yankee Stadium, where two men are flying. One is obviously a Green Lantern, named John Stewart (1.8.4 for his last name, 1.10.3 for his first name), and the other is Guy Gardner (1.9.5). As they land, John tells Guy that he’s only trusted two people ever – Kyle and Hal. He tells Guy that no matter who they were fighting, he always believed in Hal. Guy mocks him and says he doesn’t miss being a Green Lantern, telling John that his role in the Justice League is as a “good little soldier” who lets Batman order him around. Guy says that when Hal first gave him the ring, John spoke his mind and did what he thought was right. This is a reference to John’s first appearance (but perhaps others, as well), which is in Green Lantern vol. 2 #87, Dec. 1971-Jan. 1972. In this comic, John uncovers a plot by a U. S. Senator to start a race war by paying a black man to fake an assassination attempt. John ignored Hal, who captured the fake assassin, and stopped a white man from killing a police officer, which would have been blamed on the black man. Moving on, Guy then says that John “made a mistake” and stopped trusting himself, and he allowed others to lead him around. The “mistake” that John made was in the second issue of Cosmic Odyssey, a 1988 mini-series written by Jim Starlin and drawn by Mike Mignola. In this issue, John and J’onn J’onzz are trying to stop a bomb that will destroy a planet from detonating. John arrogantly stops J’onn from helping him, confident that the ring can handle anything. When he finds the bomb, it’s painted yellow, the power ring’s only weakness. The bomb explodes, destroying the planet, and John spirals into depression. Sucks to be him.
John doesn’t want to hear Guy’s critique, but Guy’s point is that he, Guy, doesn’t miss being a Green Lantern, because his “Vuldarian powers” are enough – they’ve even brought him back to life! Guy “died,” by the way, during DC’s “Our Worlds at War” crossover in 2001. He wasn’t really dead, however. I know, shocking. He then tells John that Hal isn’t going to show up, because he’s a ghost (implying that ghosts don’t enjoy baseball). Hal died in The Final Night #4. This 1996 mini-series (and crossover) told the story of the Sun-Eater, who had come to, well, eat the sun. In the final issue, Hal somehow used his power as Parallax to re-ignite the sun (it’s not clear how he does this, but Immonen certainly makes it look cool). This heroic act cost him his life. However, Hal had died before, but we’ll deal with that later. His life as a ghost is also something we’ll get to. Speaking Hal’s name is Hal’s cue, and on the next page, he shows up. Before they can begin watching the game, something odd happens on page 11. People come up to Hal and start confessing their sins, including, humorously enough, Guy, who tells Hal that he cheated on his taxes. Hal says “the spirit of vengeance … it won’t give me a break anymore …” and he disappears. What’s this all about?
Well, after Hal died in The Final Night, he became the Spectre. The Spectre is God’s spirit of vengeance, but it needs a human host so it doesn’t run roughshod over humanity. Hal was chosen to atone for his actions as Parallax (and yes, it’s getting confusing; we’ll get to Parallax soon enough). While he was the Spectre, he tried to change the spirit’s mission from one of vengeance to one of redemption. This isn’t particularly surprising, given that J. M. DeMatteis wrote the series with Hal Jordan as the Spectre. So that’s what Johns is referring to here. It’s not very clear, and given that when the Spectre turns up later and doesn’t seem like a very nice spirit, kind of strange that Johns would reference it. According to Wikipedia, Hal simply returned to his mission of vengeance after the series was cancelled. So this scene is a bit odd. DeMatteis’s series ran from March 2001 to May 2003.
All right, let’s move on! The scene shifts to Star City, “the home of Oliver Queen. Green Arrow.” Ollie is talking to Mia (1.12.1), who is obviously his sidekick but also could be his lover. She’s not in the book again, so we’re never sure if she and Ollie are more than mentor/protégé. Before they can go out on patrol, an explosion rocks the house and a black-suited villain carrying a small clicking device enters. This is Black Hand (1.14.3), a foe of Green Lantern’s, and he’s using his “power device” to find a Green Lantern ring that Ollie has stashed away.1 Before he can move, however, Ollie shoots an arrow through his hand, pinning him to the wall. I’m not going to get into the way Ollie and Mia hold their bows (sideways), but it looks off to me. Where’s MacQuarrie when we need him? Anyway, Hal appears as the Spectre, telling Black Hand that he deserves punishment for his crimes. He turns Black Hand’s hand to coal and then disappears, but not before he tells Ollie that “there’s something wrong … This isn’t me. This isn’t who I am.” Enigmatic!
Back in New York, at Guy’s bar (obnoxiously if aptly named “Warrior’s”), John and the owner are hanging out discussing, in case you’re not sure who the book’s about, Hal. On the bar are four statues of Green Lanterns – Hal, Guy, Kyle, and Kilowog (2.20.3). Guy says that maybe Hal doesn’t deserve to enjoy life because of “what he actually did after Coast City.” John starts to disagree, but Guy interrupts to tell him he wasn’t there, so he doesn’t know. Hal “called himself Parallax, he went on tryin’ to rewrite history.” This is a lot of information in a couple of sentences. I’ll get to the Coast City thing when we get to Coast City in a few pages, but the second statement deserves some explanation. When Hal became Parallax (in Green Lantern vol. 3 #50), he went a bit nuts. As Parallax, he had immeasurable power, and he decided to use it to make things “better.” In Zero Hour, the 1994 mini-series that attempted to “fix” all the problems Crisis on Infinite Earths had caused, Hal tried to destroy, then rebuild, the universe so that he could erase all the crappiness that had happened in his life. He failed, and in Zero Hour #0 (the final issue, as it counted down from 4), Ollie appears to kill Hal. He shoots him in the chest with an arrow, and Waverider can’t save him when time reassembles. The narration on the last page specifically refers to “the death” of Hal. This death is not mentioned on Wikipedia, and obviously Hal was alive during The Final Night, but I can’t find where he came back to life.
John defends Hal, pointing out that he used his powers to reignite the sun, but Guy still isn’t buying it. Before they can speak further, Guy’s powers go nuts. On page 20, panel 1, we see that Guy’s powers somehow form weapons out of his very skin and bones. That’s creepy.2 He kind of explodes, destroying the bar and thumping John but good. Oh dear. I think it’s time for a scene change!
A plane flies over Northern California. One pilot worries about the radiation, but the other pilot tells him there isn’t any. Expositing for us, he says, “Seven million people died when Coast City was destroyed by that alien, Mongul or whatever.” The destruction of Coast City is what sent Hal over the edge in the first place. It occurred in Superman #80, during the “Reign of the Superman” storyline. Mongul, in league with the Cyborg Superman, wiped Coast City from the map. Hal, naturally, didn’t take kindly to this. The events in that comic led directly to Green Lantern vol. 3 #48-50, which is where Hal “lost his marbles,” to quote Guy (1.18.3). This is the highly controversial “Emerald Twilight” story arc, in which Hal first attempts to rebuild Coast City using his ring, and when that fails, flies to Oa, the home of the Guardians, and seizes their power for himself. He takes power rings from several Lanterns, kills his old foe Sinestro and his ex-friend Kilowog, and enters the Central Power Battery, gaining great power and renaming himself Parallax. And a generation of comics fans wet their pants and started to cry. The pilot also mentions that a “Haven commune” settled in the crater that used to be Coast City. This is an alien space ship that crashed there, but I can’t find anything else about it. The second pilot points out that if it was destroyed, what’s underneath them? It appears to be a street plan of Coast City with no buildings (but a honkin’ huge moon hovering above). What’s going on? We’ll find out soon, but it’s time for another scene shift!
Next we visit Belle Reve Prison in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana. Long-time DC readers will recognize this as the prison out of which the Suicide Squad operated during their excellent series, but it’s not important that we know that for this story. A guard is being taken away on a stretcher, repeating “He knows” over and over. One of the doctors implied that he looked at Hector Hammond (1.22.3), which drove him insane. Hammond is a prisoner, and we see that he’s a small man with a tremendously huge head. Apparently he’s telepathic, because he’s asking Kyle to “sing … a song of fear” for him. What does this mean? We’ll have to wait and see!
Up next: The Watchtower! Headquarters of the Justice League of America! See it and marvel! Guy is lying on an operating table, with bones and shit sticking out of him. Ewwwww! J’onn (1.23.2) says he’s going to “shut down his pain centers,” while Batman (1.24.1) thinks it’s best if J’onn just knocks him out. Guy objects, but J’onn does it. The third member of the team is Doctor Mid-Nite (1.23.2), who explains that “his body’s rejecting itself” and “his organs are twisting around inside” and that “his shape-shifting physiology … it’s fighting with him.” Well, that’s yucky. Mid-Nite suggests bringing Mr. Terrific to the Watchtower for assistance. Meanwhile, Superman (1.23.4) asks John Stewart if he’s all right, and John explains that his ring protected him. Batman wants to know what’s going on, so he asks Wonder Woman, who’s in New York at the ruins of Guy’s bar (1.24.1). She tells him that Metamorpho hasn’t found “traces of any explosive or toxic element,” which is odd, because we know that there wasn’t any explosive – Guy is the explosive! She mentions that the Justice Society is there, and Alan Scott and Jade found that everything in the bar was destroyed except for a statue of Hal Jordan.3 Alan is talking to “Jennie,” which is Jade’s real name (1.24.4), and reiterates that Hal tried to change the nature of the Spectre but “they” won’t ever forgive him. We also learn that Jade is Alan Scott’s daughter (1.24.4). There’s something wrong with Alan, but he says “it’s nothing to worry about.” Come on – this is a comic book! You don’t waste the letterer’s time like this! Of course it’s important! As they sift through the wreckage, other heroes on the West Coast are discovering something strange. The Haven commune in Coast City is gone4 and Flash (1.25.3) is zipping around the city telling Batman that there are roads, street signs, and stoplights, but only one building. Batman guesses that it’s 22 Sea View, and as Flash stops by Aquaman (1.25.3), all the olde-tyme heroes remember that it was Hal’s old apartment building. This spurs Batman to theorize about Hal. He says, “I’m beginning to suspect that Hal’s whole jump from Parallax to the Spectre was part of a bigger plan. He had power as Parallax, but as the Spectre, if he can tame the Spirit of Vengeance … he’ll be close to unstoppable.” World’s Greatest Detective, my Aunt Fanny! Everyone knows that the Spectre chooses you, you don’t choose the Spectre! J’onn points out that Hal is searching for redemption, but Batman, cynical as he is, doesn’t buy it. It’s interesting how Van Sciver draws Batman completely in silhouette, as his outlook is darker than everyone else. Batman rants that Hal always had an ego and was never prepared when things went FUBAR. He says they should have known he couldn’t be trusted, but before flicks of angry spittle can fly from his mouth, John Stewart steps in angrily. He says he’s tired of Batman’s disrespect, and claims he’s “always had a thing against” Hal, because Hal didn’t buy what Batman was selling. Hal was “the man without fear”5 and Batman has no power if you’re not afraid of him. This is weird. Johns is retroactively creating antagonism between Batman and Hal, at least to a certain extent. In my research, I found at least one meeting between the two that was extremely amicable. I know Batman being a nice guy doesn’t jive with the way he was being written back in 2004, but to imply that Bats has always been suspicious of Hal is ridiculous.
(From Green Lantern vol. 2 #1 (Jun. 1990) by Gerard Jones, Pat Broderick, Bruce Patterson, Albert de Guzman, and Anthony Tollin.)
Ollie interrupts this pissing contest to back Batman up, as he tells them what Hal just did to Black Hand. Batman tells John that the “real” Hal Jordan is back, and “he’s bringing the past with him.” Oh dear. We zip back to Ferris airfield, where Carol is hanging out in the rain. Suddenly all the planes are restored, and Carol looks up and sees Hal. And … cut! Let’s move on to issue #2, shall we?
Okay, some thoughts. The first issue is largely to set things up, which isn’t really that big a deal. There are a lot of references to prior DC history, but that’s also not that big a deal, because the people to whom this appeals are those who would know about DC history. The references are a bit cloudy, especially the one about Cosmic Odyssey, because that was a mini-series that never seemed to make much of an impact. Maybe I’m wrong, and it’s not like what caused John’s emotional state is that important – what we need to know is that he’s kind of a follower now as opposed to a leader. The story itself is somewhat dull because of all the set up, but Van Sciver brings a nice hyper-detail to the proceedings, and there’s nothing that’s too egregious … yet. But what of the next five issues? Only time will tell!
Kyle narrates again, explaining that a “race of immortal beings” decided to create an intergalactic police force called the Green Lantern Corps. There was an “impurity” in the plan, however, and it all came crashing down. As we watch, a green force erupts from the Central Power Battery (2.1.2) and zips across space. It’s apparently sentient, as it seems to be narrating that it needs to find Kyle. In New Mexico, Kyle is still recuperating from his injuries, and the two hikers are still looking out for him. We get an oblique reference to Kyle’s career as a comic book artist (2.2.3) and we also learn that Kyle is deliberately not using his ring. Why? Ah, that’s a question for another time! He mumbles something about seeing “it,” and the only reason he could because he’s the “only one of them that knows fear.” Then his ring starts talking, saying that Parallax is coming. Oh dear.
At Ferris airfield, Hal and Carol continue their reunion, as Hal asks if she remembers their first time on the field. She thinks he’s talking about when he was a hotshot pilot hitting on the boss’s daughter, but he’s talking about when they were kids. His dad was a test pilot for Ferris (2.5.1-3) and the plane he was flying exploded in mid-air, killing him. Hal has some goofy narration in this section. His father gave him his bomber jacket to hold while he flew, and Hal tells Carol that “he always said you could read a man’ integrity by the way he wore his jacket.” Really, Hal? According to our hero, his father “had it high on his shoulders, close to his neck, but open. Ready to offer it to anyone who needed it more than him.” Well, isn’t he just fucking Jesus? I’d like to know, if you wear it differently, you can’t take it off and offer it anyone? And what are the other ways to wear a jacket? How does that dastardly Lex Luthor wear a jacket? Jesus. Anyway, we learn why Hal isn’t ascared of anything – “when your worst fear happens in front of your eyes … there’s nothing left to be afraid of.” Check. To finish this dramatic narration (and except for the jacket part, it’s a fairly dramatic narration), Hal says he swore he’d always hold onto Dad’s jacket … and that he’d always wear it right. Well, I’m sure Kilowog would have been happy to know that you were ready to offer him a jacket just before you killed him, Hal. Hal tells Carol that his dad’s death, which was her father’s fault (Martin Jordan thought something was wrong with the plane, but Carol’s dad wouldn’t let him land because of all the investors who were there to see it), taught him question authority. I like how these days, the counterculture people are all cool, so the Hal of the early 1970s, who was accused of being a tough-as-nails company man, has transformed into someone who always questioned authority. Hal continues by declaiming responsibility for his actions. “Something’s been clouding my judgment, making me doubt the world and myself,” he tells Carol, “making me afraid of my own actions. My own willpower.” So Hal, who was always the hardliner, is now the guy who “questioned authority” and who refuses to take responsibility for his murderous rampages. You may think “Emerald Twilight” was a crappy story (and it was), but you can’t deny that Hal had a reason for going off the deep end a bit. His entire city had been destroyed and everyone in it killed, and he didn’t stop it even though he had the most powerful weapon ever created at his disposal. Grief is a tricky thing, and a grieving person who actually has the ability to do something about it is a trickier thing, and Hal used his ring and later the power of Parallax to try to change the horrors of his past. It might have been told poorly and DC might have crapped all over one of their flagship characters, but the point was that it wasn’t unbelievable that Hal would do these things. But when DC and Johns want to rehabilitate Hal, they have to not only make him atone for his actions (which was, I guess, partly what DeMatteis’s The Spectre dealt with), but they have to make it so it wasn’t his fault in the first place. This is the same debate, I imagine, that John Byrne and Marvel had when they decided to bring back Jean Grey. Hal Jordan is a murderer. So he obviously can’t come back and reclaim his place in the DC firmament. Johns is laying the groundwork here for his complete redemption, which, in my mind, makes him a far less interesting character. But that’s for later. Let’s move on.
Back at the Watchtower, Ollie and John Stewart are talking, as usual, about everyone’s favorite ex-GL. John asks Ollie when he got the ring, and Ollie responds, “Years ago. On the road.” Ollie is referencing the famous stories in Green Lantern/Green Arrow from the early 1970s (buy it here!). I still haven’t been able to find out if this is from those comics or if Johns is grafting on some retroactive continuity. It’s a minor point and isn’t all that relevant to the bigger story, so I’m not too worried about it. John offers to charge Ollie’s ring, but he’s not interested. Just then, Zatanna (2.9.1) finds Hal – actually, she finds the Spectre, because she’s a magician and can find mystical forces (and she takes a shot at Blue Devil in the process – poor Blue Devil!). Batman and Superman decide to go talk with Hal.
At the HQ of the JSA, Alan Scott needs to talk to Mr. Terrific. He’s feeling worse than before (remember, he was under the weather in the first issue), but he’s adamant. Mr. Terrific (2.10.2) is going up to the Watchtower to assist Dr. Mid-Nite, and he promises to keep an eye on the Green Lanterns. Terrific (who, I feel the need to point out whenever he shows up, is a black man wearing blackface make-up) mentions that Hal has “inflicted” plenty of “madness” on the JSA. This is presumably another reference to Zero Hour, during which Extant (working for Hal Jordan) aged several members of the Justice Society. If Hal did anything else to the JSA, I can’t find it.
Back in Cali, as Hal comforts Carol, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman, Zatanna, and John Stewart show up. Superman tells him about Coast City and Guy, and Hal tells them all he did today was fix the airfield. He does this as his eyes glaze over, which is never a good sign. Batman makes a snide comment about Hal fixing things (it’s probably a reference to Hal trying to rebuild Coast City in Green Lantern vol. 3 #48, but knowing Batman, it’s probably a general reference to Hal and the snotty way he always tries to make things better – Batman won’t have that shit!). John Stewart suddenly gets a headache (we know this from the green “pain” waves emanating from his head) and flies away, talking about how he is just a good soldier, but it’s time to speak up again. He blasts the JLA with his power ring, then zaps Superman in the eyes. This is Superman’s “weak point,” according to John, but it’s not clear why. As Hal tries to step forward and help stop John, the Spectre takes over and says that the fight is not theirs and that the Spectre is needed elsewhere. He disappears as John tries to blast Flash while we see ring-shaped narration saying “Parallax is coming.” Apparently John’s ring is talking too, like Kyle’s was at the beginning of the issue.
On the moon, Terrific confirms Mid-Nite’s observation that Guy’s organs are rebuilding themselves and his human DNA is “winning out.” J’onn, who is apparently a telepath, can’t “make contact” with him. Ollie suddenly realizes his ring is hot, and before their eyes, it duplicates itself, flies onto Guy’s finger, and there’s a flash of light. Guy wakes up, and J’onn reads in his thoughts “confidence, arrogance and … fear?” We get another “Parallax is coming” narration. There’s an explosion, and Guy stands among the wreckage in a Green Lantern uniform.
Back in New Mexico, the hikers ask Kyle what “Parallax is coming” means. Kyle tells them that “the weakness … the impurity” has a name. This is the impurity referenced at the beginning of the issue, when Kyle narrated about the origins of the Green Lantern Corps. Suddenly Kilowog shows up, and Kyle tells the hikers to run. Kilowog orders him to use his ring, but Kyle refuses. Kilowog starts blasting away at him, but Kyle avoids him. How did Kyle know that Kilowog was a bad guy? Hmmmm. Kyle realizes that the “coffin” is exposed, but before he can do anything about it, a green light shines from behind the coffin and a voice tells Kilowog to lower his ring. On the final page, we see that a small, floating, blue man is hovering over the coffin, which contains the body of Hal Jordan. It is, the blue man says, under the protection of the Guardians. So that’s a Guardian! They’re kind of small, aren’t they?
Well, it’s another issue in the book, and once again, it’s a slow burn. Not a lot happens, again, except for some posturing by the principals and a few more revelations about what’s going on. The idea that Hal isn’t really responsible for his actions is a depressing turn of events, but we’ll have to wait to see where Johns goes with it. Let’s move on to issue #3!
We’re still in New Mexico, and Kyle helpfully explains that the Guardian facing down Kilowog is named Ganthet (3.1.1). Kyle narrates that he’s “never seen the Guardian emote much of any emotion” (a lousy sentence in any medium) except when he, Kyle, returned from Sector 3599 and confronted him about Parallax. Johns is doling out the information judiciously, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Ganthet and Kilowog are ready to throw down, and Kyle watches as “Kilowog’s chest expands, a breath of air exits his nostrils like some hungry wild beast.” Van Sciver’s drawing of Kilowog blowing smoke from his nose is pretty damned impressive, I’ll give it that, but that sentence doesn’t make sense. If your chest expands, it’s because you’re sucking air into your nostrils. Go ahead, try it! So not only is it a run-on sentence (the comma after “expands” is a comma; I’ve checked), but unless Kilowog breathes differently than we do (not a complete impossibility, as he’s an alien and all, but I doubt that’s what Johns is going for), the breath wouldn’t come out of his nostrils until his chest contracted. Yes, I’m nitpicking. Sue me.
Kilowog and Ganthet blast each other, and Kyle is forced to use his ring to block the shrapnel. This is a mistake, as we find out what the ring is doing to the GLs. It reaches into his soul and shows him visions of Guy Gardner and John Stewart, both of whom have been taken over by the ring. Kyle says dramatically, “Damn it, Jordan. You better be worth this.”
On that note, it’s time to check in with the man himself. The Spectre has plopped him right outside the weird shell of Coast City, and he walks to his apartment building and enters his old room. There’s a lantern inside, which Hal picks up as he asks, “Who did all this? Who brought it all back?” An evil, masked face reflecting in the lantern tells him, “You did, Jordan. We did.” Well, that’s not good.
Back in New Mexico, Ganthet and Kyle exposit a bit. Ganthet says that “the residual energy he held as Parallax” has preserved his body. Huh? He also says the proper preparations have been made on Oa. Kyle reveals that Ganthet gave him the spaceship that crash-landed back in issue #1, and that he flew into the sun to retrieve Hal’s body. Okay, we probably could have figured that out by now, but it’s good to confirm it. So Hal’s body was put in the center of the sun (presumably at the end of The Final Night, although, as I mentioned, it’s kind of difficult to tell what’s going on when Hal saves the world), and somehow the energy he absorbed as Parallax preserved his body, much like a medieval saint? O … kay. Kyle says he can’t use the ring, but Ganthet tells him that “it” can’t sneak up on someone who knows fear. Kyle’s “flaw” spared him. Sheesh – Kyle isn’t really getting much respect here, is he? “Yeah, Kyle, you can save the world, but only because you’re a terrified little wuss. Real men don’t fear anything!” That’s pretty stupid, because everyone feels fear. Oh well. Ganthet zaps Kyle and transports him somewhere, telling him that willpower is their only weapon. Kyle appears at the Watchtower and finds J’onn, Dr. Mid-Nite, Mr. Terrific, and Ollie. He helps Ollie to his feet, and the first thing he sees is Hal’s body. Yeah, that’s going to need an explanation. But it must wait!
We’re back in Coast City, where Hal is talking to himself. Okay, not himself, but Parallax, who comes out of the lantern and says that he’s a part of Hal, and he can give him everything he wants – the city, the corps, the girl. As Parallax tempts Hal, the Spectre appears, and yes, the shit kind of hits the fan. Parallax scoffs at the Spectre, saying it’s nothing more than a host, like Hal is to it. The Spectre tells Hal that he must see the truth about Parallax and himself. That sounds like another chance to shift scenes to me!
Yes, it’s time for revelations! Kyle has a tale to tell, and no one is going to stop him! He tells Ollie that the light from the rings isn’t just light. The Central Power Battery “collects willpower from every living being in the universe.” This willpower is converted into energy. He says, “There’s an emotional electromagnetic spectrum out there that can be harnessed and used. Green willpower is the most pure …” Ollie wants to know what this has to do with Hal, but Kyle meanders about heading out to the stars because he didn’t feel like he belonged on Earth anymore. He found something on the edge of the universe, on a distant planet, whose inhabitants were terrified of his ring. They had a story that the universe would end at the hands of Parallax. Kyle finds out that the story was about “a creature that was born at the beginning of sentience,” “a yellow entity that was made of living fear.” Yes, the fact that we call people who are cowards “yellow” is an ancient memory of Parallax, apparently. Anyway, Parallax created terror in any civilization it contacted, then it ate their fear and destroyed them, moving on. Parallax was trying to destroy the entire universe, so the Guardians created the Central Power Battery to collect willpower as Parallax gathered fear. According to Kyle, “the opposite energies couldn’t destroy one another … but Parallax was imprisoned, put into a comatose state the Guardians believed it couldn’t awake from.” After thousands of years, Parallax became known as the “yellow impurity,” and the knowledge of the entity was forgotten so no one would try to free him. Because Parallax was fear itself, only someone “capable of overcoming great fear could master the power ring.” As Parallax lay “dead,” the Green Lantern Corps thrived.
“Until one day, somehow … Parallax woke up.” That’s the next line in the comic. In issue #4 of this comic, we find out that when the Guardians imprisoned Sinestro inside the Power Battery, he became aware that the impurity was alive and he spoke to it with his Qwardian ring. The Wikipedia entry on Sinestro (which I linked to above, but what the hell, I’ll do it again) says that Sinestro was executed by the Guardians but he managed to send his essence into the Battery. Johns at least lets us know at the end of this issue and in issue #4 what happened when Sinestro was inside the Battery, but again, is this a case of DC continuity getting in the way of the story? I have no idea in which comic Sinestro was “executed” and sent into the Power Battery. I guess most people reading this would, but maybe there could have been a bit more explanation in the comic itself?
Over the next few pages (16-18), Kyle goes over the revisionist history of Hal. Parallax attempted to make Hal afraid by influencing him from with the Battery, which turned Hal’s hair gray. This is a silly retcon, as in the first issue of volume 3 of Green Lantern, Hal mentions that it’s been fifteen years since he first became a GL. Let’s just assume he was 25 when he got his ring, because he couldn’t have been too hot-shot a pilot before that. So he’s 40 in Green Lantern vol. 3 #1. Lots of 40-year-olds have gray hair, especially just a little, like Hal did. He’s lucky he wasn’t bald! Anyway, we get a recap of Superman #80 and Green Lantern vol. 3 #48-50, and we find out that when Hal destroyed the Central Power Battery (in GL #50), he freed Parallax, which then “grafted itself onto Jordan’s soul.” It’s been there ever since, corrupting Hal. Even when he re-ignited the sun (in The Final Night #4, remember), that was just a “momentary glimpse of the real man shining through.” Kyle finishes by explaining that his ring didn’t have a problem with yellow because the impurity was no longer imprisoned – once Parallax was free, the weakness against yellow went with it.
The Spectre has been telling Hal the same story, and we also learn that he chose Hal because of Parallax, hoping “to burn out this Parallax like a disease.” Parallax reappears, telling the Spectre that he’s too weak, and now he has two puppets – Hal and the Spectre. That can’t be good. Back at the Watchtower, Ollie and Kyle discuss what’s needed. Ollie begins to speculate on who woke Parallax up, but before he can get too far, yellow arrows fly in from off-panel and pierce his flesh. Yay! It’s Sinestro (3.17.4), answering the question of who woke Parallax up. What a bastard!
Well, this was certainly a convoluted issue, as Johns tries to come up with a good reason why Hal would kill. He obviously knows his Green Lantern history, but the explanations he comes up with are a bit silly. This is why retcons are tough to pull off. As I wrote above, Hal has a perfectly good reason for going a little screwy. Similarly, DC in the late 1980s/early 1990s were doing some interesting things with their mainstream heroes. The success of Wally West as the Flash helped, and “aging” Oliver Queen and Hal Jordan was a natural progression from that. That’s why Hal’s hair is graying – DC accepted that their heroes aged, and could be replaced. That was the thinking behind “Emerald Twilight” in the first place. Times change, and these days, fanboys from the 1970s demand their heroes back – screw forward progression of the characters! So Johns, in this series and particularly this issue, has to perform some tricky fictional gymnastics to not only redeem Hal, but make him “younger” by getting rid of his gray hair. Van Sciver draws a nice battle between Kilowog and Ganthet, at least.
So, issue #4. We pick up right where we left off, with Sinestro hovering over Ollie and Kyle. Kyle narrates that Sinestro was the greatest Green Lantern before he “propped himself up as the ultimate authority of his sector.” For this he was stripped of his ring and thrown out of the corps. Hal helped the Guardians do it.6 There’s a big fight, and Sinestro explains that when Hal “killed” him, it wasn’t really him – Parallax is able to construct things, presumably Sinestro-shaped automatons. He knocks them around and approaches Hal’s coffin, but we’ll have to wait for that resolution – it’s time to check in on Hal and his problems!
Parallax has subjugated the Spectre, and “Hal Jordan’s soul no longer poses a threat,” so he has things to do! Here’s the classic “villain doesn’t take care of everything, thereby planting the seeds of his ultimate defeat” thing, as villains should never say stuff like “Hal Jordan’s soul no longer poses a threat”! Come on, Parallax! According to our villain, Hal’s psyche may be strong, but it’s “only food. It is only emotion.” But a random speech balloon says, “Emotions are more powerful than you could possibly imagine, Parallax.” Kilowog thuds to the ground near him, and when Parallax looks up, he sees Ganthet, who tells him that the Spectre helped free the ‘Wog from his influence. As Parallax rants about how Ganthet allowed this to happen because he needs evil in the universe to exist, Guy and John fly up and blast Ganthet. The Guardian, however, easily rips Parallax’s influence out of them, but the evil dude doesn’t seem concerned. Even when the entire Justice League AND Justice Society shows up to fight him. It’s always tough showing a big page with all the heroes on it – Van Sciver does a decent job, but for those people who don’t fly, it’s always a bit confusing. What are Batman and Robin swinging from? Cyborg and Gar Logan and (I guess) Bart Allen appear to be floating. Oh well.
Conspicuously absent from the gathering of heroes is Kyle and Ollie, who are still battling Sinestro on the moon. Sinestro is kicking the crap out of Kyle and insulting him to boot, but as he’s doing that, Ollie is powering up his own ring. Sinestro tells him that his “will is cynical. It is useless to the ring.” Sinestro says that Hal now knows what it’s like to be a villain, just like Sinestro, and says that even Ollie “betrayed him with [his] bow.” This is pretty much an explicit reference to the final issue of Zero Hour (see above), which seems to contradict what happened in The Final Night, but whatever. Ollie manages to create an arrow with the ring and shoot Sinestro in the chest, but he laughs it off. Then the room in which they’re fighting blows up. This is a confusing sequence. Sinestro left Kyle pinned to the ground behind him when he turned to face Ollie. He aims his ring at Ollie and, presumably, blasts away, causing the explosion. Kyle, however, somehow makes it all the way over to Ollie and rescues him. How? And why would Sinestro blow the entire room up, with himself still in it? Too bad it will be a while until we find out, as the JLA and JSA have an appointment … with danger!
Parallax is wiping the floor with our heroes. Batman is still grumpy about Hal. Alan Scott tries to appeal to Hal’s good nature, and Parallax tells him he tried to take Scott as well, but his power was different (which explains Alan’s illness in earlier issues). So he just decides to eat Alan’s head. However, Hal is still fighting inside him, and he bursts out, pleading with the Spectre to help. Ganthet opines that Parallax “chose the wrong soul to corrupt” (yeah, tell that to all the Green Lanterns Jordan killed) as the Spectre busts free and exposes Parallax for the ugly insect-like thing it is. But the Spectre doesn’t help further. He tells Hal that his soul is free of the disease, and as he needs a new host, he’s out of there. Boy, what a tool! Parallax decides to enter Ganthet (why not?) as Hal feels his soul being pulled away to Heaven (looking not unlike the special effects in The Frighteners). Before he leaves, Ganthet floats a green ball out and tells Hal to follow it. He sees his predecessor, some red-faced dude he calls “Abin,” and then he sees his father, who says, and I wish I were making this up, “You wear it right, son” in reference to the idiotic jacket-wearing philosophy Hal espoused in issue #2. But he’s not allowed to hang out with his dad and discuss how you can tell a man’s character by the way he ties his shoes, because Ganthet’s ball lightning whooshes away, and Hal follows it.
We’re back at the Watchtower, and Sinestro is still kicking the crap out of Kyle and Ollie. Suddenly Ollie’s ring flies off of his finger, zips by Sinestro’s surprised face, and goes into the coffin. As it moves onto Hal’s finger, the gray hair at his temples disappears, and he narrates that he’s finally thinking clearly again. He stands up and tells Sinestro to get the hell away from Ollie and Kyle. If you don’t think that’s a good place for the issue to end, you haven’t been paying attention!
Phew. Obviously, this story falls into a typical six-issue structure, as we got a lot of exposition for the first two-and-a-half issues, and now we’re into the slugfest part. Most of the silliness of issue #3 is left behind for just a big fight, and that’s perfectly fine. But how will Johns squeeze two more issues out of this? That can’t be possible, can it?
Okay, so Hal is standing there, challenging Sinestro. In a funny moment, Sinestro blasts him out of the Watchtower, bouncing him along the surface of the moon. Hal thinks it’s funny, too, as he picks himself up off the ground and smiles. He wants a fight, damn it! Sinestro is flying toward him, and he narrates something interesting: “Sinestro isn’t close enough for my ring to translate. Not yet.” It’s rather interesting that Sinestro, apparently, isn’t speaking English, because no one in this comic who doesn’t have a ring hears him speaking. However, Ollie speaks to him before he charges his ring, so what does this mean? Does Ollie’s ring translate, or does Sinestro’s ring translate for him? If the former, how does Ollie understand him? I suppose it doesn’t matter, really, but this is a comic that takes continuity so seriously that it’s not even funny, so it’s probably more important than I care to get into. Anyway, it’s fight time!
Sinestro is peeved because the Guardians took Korugar away from him and replaced him with a “naïve child,” Katma Tui.7 Hal narrates that what Sinestro can’t control, he destroys, which leads into a flashback. He’s flying a plane when he suddenly sees Sinestro, floating in front of him. The plane explodes and Sinestro holds Hal in a green bubble and tells him he’s wasting time. Hal doesn’t know who Sinestro is, so Sinestro introduces himself as his trainer. Sinestro tells him, “Never question a superior officer. Never challenge those more powerful than you.” Hal responds, “Um … yeah. That’s not gonna work for me.” This “first” meeting between Hal and Sinestro contradicts any number of earlier comics (I assume), including the two Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn mini-series. I don’t really care about that, but I’m going to assume the idea of Hal being a drunk has gone by the boards. This is also part of making Hal a counterculture hero when that’s not necessarily how he was always portrayed. It’s okay to retcon parts of someone’s origin, but Hal has always been kind of the “establishment” guy, and that’s pretty interesting in today’s world of rebelling against everything. When DC turns him into “Mr. Rebel,” he becomes less interesting. Plus, it leaves Guy Gardner, a caricature of a hard-ass conservative, as the example of a right-leaning hero. There are few conservative heroes in the DCU (unless you consider that all superheroes are essentially conservative), and Hal’s position as “supercop” was interesting. But I guess that’s neither here nor there, really.
The fight continues, as Sinestro tells Hal he’s going to force Parallax to consume Earth and then he, Sinestro, will kill Kyle. Speaking of the devil, Kyle appears and joins the fight and gives Hal the chance to smash his ring against Sinestro’s. A fierce and brief struggle ensues, and Sinestro’s ring cracks and shatters. As he disintegrates, he says, “Welcome back.” No, he’s not talking to Gabe Kaplan! I know we have to suspend our disbelief a tiny bit, but when Sinestro actually does say “Welcome back,” the only thing that’s left of him is one eye, a few teeth, and a few bones. How does he say anything with no vocal chords????? Well, as it turns out, he’s not actually dead – Hal confirms this on the next page, when the ring explains that Sinestro escaped into the “anti-matter universe,” where he was first banished back in the day. Hal officially introduces himself to Kyle, and the two of them fly off to Coast City to fight Parallax. Parallax, you’ll recall, had “infected” Ganthet in issue #4, and now he’s ready to kick some tail. Hal and Kyle show up to help John, Guy, and Kilowog, and Hal tells them to “remember fear” and they can shake off Parallax. Guy rightly asks “What kind a new science crap [sic] is that?” but apparently they’re all buying into it. Before they can fight Parallax, though, Batman hooks Hal with his Bat-rope and says, “As long as I’m standing … you’re not doing anything.” Cue dramatic music!
Yes, that’s the end of the issue. All I can say is, Really, Batman? You’re fighting this giant monster that appears to be somewhat omnipotent and you’re going to get into a pissing match with Hal? Shouldn’t you, I don’t know, trust that Kyle and Superman and Wonder Woman can keep him in line until after Parallax is dealt with? I mean, if then you want to prove you have the biggest dick on the block, be my guest. But is now really the time for it? Otherwise, this issue allows Van Sciver to cut loose a bit, and his fight between Hal and Sinestro is beautiful to look at. You can bash Van Sciver’s ultra-detailed line work all you want, but at least it appears he actually draws his stuff, rather than photoshopping it. Of course, I could be wrong and he’s using all the tricks of the trade, but it doesn’t look that way.
So, the final issue of this epic begins with Hal facing down the Justice League. Seriously, Batman is that much of a tool that he wants to confront Hal before stopping the giant yellow evil Guardian who is intent on infecting the world with crazed paranoia? I guess so. Hal frees himself from the Bat-rope, and then, when Bats tries to physically restrain him, Hal takes him out with … you guessed it, one punch. Guy even mentions it. Batman, idiotic as ever, says that they need to take on Parallax themselves, even though the Lanterns are flying off to, you know, take it on, but Alan Scott stops them and tells them it’s the Lantern’s fight. Hal and Kyle talk about their plan: The rings have a connection to the Central Power Battery, and if they open that connection, they can send Parallax back into the Battery. Um, yeah. They batter Parallax, and we learn some things about the various Lanterns, and just when it seems like things are going well, Parallax fights back and busts them all, except for our hero, naturally. Parallax tells him to give up, and Hal says, very dramatically, “I don’t know how.” Wait a minute – isn’t this whole series about a time when he did give up, and that’s why he needs to be redeemed? I mean, it’s nice that Hal came back to life and all, but he already gave up once to Parallax, if we accept the retconned reason for him going nuts back in the day. Sure, it’s a heroic thing to say, but it doesn’t make much sense, even in the context of this very mini-series.
Anyway, the Lanterns rally and force Parallax back into the Battery. Yes, somehow Parallax skips across the universe in a couple of panels, much like Kyle’s space ship traveled between the sun and the Earth in one panel. Around the Battery stand a bunch of Guardians, and they say “It is time.” Okay. That was kind of anticlimactic, wasn’t it? I mean, the fight was pretty darned keen, but the Lanterns just said, “Let’s do it,” and they did. There was no last minute resurgence, or even Parallax screaming, “I’ll get you, you baaaaassssssttaaaaardddddsssss …” as it got trapped in the Battery. Odd. Anyway, Ganthet is fine, Guy admits he misses his ring, and Batman is still grumpy. He speaks for all of fandom when he says, “Do you expect me to believe this?” He doesn’t buy that Hal was possessed by an outside force and it wasn’t Hal going off the deep end. Hal, speaking for Dan DiDio (it’s more fun if you interpret the scene this way), says, “I don’t expect you to believe anything. And quite honestly, I don’t care.” That’s the DiDio we know and love! Batman backs down, because what else is he going to do? And … we’re out!
Well, not really. We still need to wrap things up! We return, inexplicably, to Belle Reve Prison, where Hector Hammond sits, happy now that Hal is back. That was a waste of two pages, it seems. In the first issue, it appeared that Hammond was going to play some role in this series. Now, in issue #6, we see that he had nothing to do with it. I get that Johns is setting up the regular series, but can’t he do that in a first issue of the regular series? These two brief scenes are just pointless.
We’re back in NoCal, and Carol tells Hal she’s going to rebuild her airfield. She offers Hal a job, but he says he has other things to do. Back in Star City, he bonds with Ollie for a page, and Ollie finds an old battery for his ring. He says he can’t remember the oath, but Hal, as the series ends, says, “I’ll never forget it.” Neither will we, Hal, because you keep repeating it!
Well, that’s it. Phew! So, now that we know everything there is to know about Hal Jordan and this mini-series (I hope), is this comic any good? Well, I probably wouldn’t recommend it, but that doesn’t make it bad. It does what it’s supposed to, and Johns makes it fairly exciting. It looks great, although Van Sciver’s style isn’t completely to my liking – it looks great but feels somewhat sterile, despite not being heavily photo-referenced (or not to the point where we’d notice). Van Sciver obviously knows how to draw, and it’s refreshing that he hasn’t gone as far as Greg Land, but there’s something too perfect about the art. Even with that, the art on the book is the best thing about it, by far. It’s not that Johns does a poor job bringing Hal back into the fold, and it’s not as convoluted as it could be – evil things possessing good guys is a staple of fantasy literature, after all – but it lacks the thrill that truly great stories give us. It’s so obvious that this is a series that came about simply because fans clamored for Hal’s return, and they finally got a writer who was as much in love with Hal as they were. There was really no reason for Hal to return, and that’s what makes this series feel less like a great story than an attempt to shoehorn a character’s rather sketchy past into a series so he could be a hero again. It stinks of editorial mandate, and even if Johns went to DC and begged them to let him write a story in which Hal comes back into the fold (which was probably the case, I imagine), it still feels like the bigwigs at DC went looking for someone who could make “sense” of Hal’s fall from grace. Plus, it’s too long. This came out when the six-issue mini-series template was at its height, and it’s occasionally a tough slog, with several scenes and even somebody like Sinestro feeling tacked on to fill out the length. It gives Van Sciver plenty of “kewl” scenes to draw, true, but this could have been an extremely taut and exciting four-issue mini-series instead of an overlong six-issue one.
It’s also deeply immersed in DC history, as we’ve seen. There aren’t too many plot points that rely on a reader’s knowledge of older comics, but there are several places where a reader might wonder what the characters are talking about. For that reason, it’s not all that friendly to new readers, but it’s not meant to be, really. It’s one of those perfect examples of the way DC and Marvel cater exclusively to people who have been reading every one of their comics for the past 30 years. Not the best business model, I suppose, but that’s what they do!
More than that, as I’ve pointed out, it seems to go against what we’ve always been told about how wonderful Hal was. I can actually buy that he’s so heroic that he goes over the edge and tries to save the universe “his way” (as he did in “Emerald Twilight” and Zero Hour) before I can buy that some creature corrupted him. This mini-series is supposed to re-establish Hal as a hero, but it’s interesting that it seems to make Kyle more heroic, as he understands his fear and yet overcomes it. Hal gave into it and turned corrupt. Kyle resisted it and saved the day. And yet, fans still clamor for Hal, to the point that Johns later felt it necessary to corrupt Kyle with Parallax, just to show how uncool the “last Green Lantern” really was. Strange.
Anyway, this is a decent superhero story that goes on too long and has nice art. I wouldn’t call it a good comic, but it’s not awful. It has that kind of mediocre pedigree that far too many superhero books have these days. It’s not bold enough to take any real risks, but it keeps us entertained for the period of time it takes to read it. I don’t know if that’s enough for you, but there it is.
I hope you had fun with this. I apologize for the length of this post. As you know, once I get started, it’s tough for me to stop. Imagine what it’s like for my friends to have conversations with me! And if you have any other references to make, please do so in the comments. I tried to be comprehensive, but something probably escaped my baleful glare!
1 According to Ollie (1.17.4), Hal gave him the ring “in case of emergency.” I can’t find any citation for this anywhere, so I don’t know if Johns made it up or if there’s an actual comic book in which Hal gives a ring to Ollie.
2 You can read more about Guy’s powers here, but they’re kind of stupid and incidental to this book, as he doesn’t have them very long. Still, for convoluted stories, Guy’s Vuldarian powers are the way to go!
4 Nobody cares about it, either. So sad!
5 Isn’t that Daredevil?
6 According to this site, Sinestro was stripped of his ring in Green Lantern vol. 2 #7, “The Day 100,000 People Vanished!” It was definitely retold in Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn II #6, so I’ll use that as a reference. The fact that he was the ultimate authority on Korugar is also part of that mini-series.
7 Again, this is retold in Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn II #6, but I’m sure it’s been seen before.
Specific comics cited in this mini-series:
Justice League #5 (Sept. 1987) by Keith Giffen, J. M. DeMatteis, Kevin Maguire, Al Gordon, Bob Lappan, Gene D’Angelo, and Daniel Vozzo.
Cosmic Odyssey #2 (Dec., 1988) by Jim Starlin, Mike Mignola, Carlos Garzon, Steve Oliff, and John Workman.
Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn II #3 (Jun. 1991) by Keith Giffen, Gerard Jones, M. D. Bright, Romeo Tanghal, Albert de Guzman, and Anthony Tollin.
Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn II #6 (Sept. 1991) by Keith Giffen, Gerard Jones, M. D. Bright, Romeo Tanghal, Albert de Guzman, and Anthony Tollin.
Superman #80 (Aug. 1993) by Dan Jurgens, Brett Breeding, and Jon Constanza.
Green Lantern vol. 3 #48 (Jan. 1994) by Ron Marz, Bill Willingham, Romeo Tanghal, Robert Campanella, Albert de Guzman, and Anthony Tollin.
Green Lantern vol. 3 #49 (Feb. 1994) by Ron Marz, Fred Haynes, Romeo Tanghal, Dennis Cramer, Steve Mattsson, and Albert de Guzman.
Green Lantern vol. 3 #50 (Mar. 1994) by Ron Marz, Darryl Banks, Romeo Tanghal, Steve Mattsson, and Albert de Guzman.
Zero Hour #4 (Sept. 1994) by Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway, Gregory Wright, and Gaspar.
Zero Hour #0 (Sept. 1994) by Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway, Gregory Wright, and Gaspar.
The Final Night #4 (Nov. 1996) by Karl Kesel, Stuart Immonen, Jose Marzan Jr., Trish Mulvihill, and Gaspar.
Whichever “Our Worlds at War” comic in which Guy “died.” I can’t find which issue it was. Green Lantern: Our Worlds at War #1, maybe?
Possibly an issue of Green Lantern/Green Arrow, if Hal really did give Ollie a ring in those stories.
I’m sure there are others. Let me know!
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