So, I think we can all agree that the much-ballyhooed "Rise of the Third Army" storyline didn't really seem to live up to its hype. However, with the release of Green Lantern #17, Green Lantern Corps #17 and Green Lantern: New Guardians #17 (from Geoff Johns/Doug Mahnke/Dan Jurgens/Phil Jimenez, Peter Tomasi/Fernando Pasarin and Tony Bedard/Aaron Kuder, respectively), that appears to be by design.
There are a couple of panels in GL #17, the first part of the current GL teams' final storyline before a complete creative shift, that indicate that the whole notion of the Guardians of the Universe becoming soulless enough to try and completely eliminate free will from the cosmos was all a feint to set up the "Wrath of the First Lantern." A being named Volthoom, whom the Guardians have imprisoned for untold millennia and whose power fueled the Third Army effort, says "You leeched my power away, but now I draw it back to me – and without it, your Third Army becomes dying embers of your most recent mad plan. They don't matter. They never did. They are rotting away just as your souls have been doing since the day we met."
The Third Army doesn't matter. It never did. It was just months of hype that told us they would. Hell, the Third Army was hinted at even before the New 52 launch. So while it's understandable that our noses might be out of joint for having such an anticlimactic end to that storyline, it seems the writers are actually viewing "Wrath of the First Lantern" as the true climax to their long-simmering theme of "The Guardians of the Universe, creators of the Green Lantern Corps, are actually horribly wrong and kind of evil." It's starting with the #17s and ending with the #20s, so let's check out the first three chapters and see what's really been cookin'.
Green Lantern #17 opens with some classically-styled Dan Jurgens/Phil Jimenez art, taking us back to the pre-shrunk days of the Guardians, and the mad Krona's obsession with learning the secrets of the creation of the universe. He manages to accomplish this feat, or so it seems. The massive "hand of our creator" emerges in a whirlpool of galactic energy – and it appears to be wearing a Green Lantern ring. Suddenly, there's an explosion, and then there's an astronaut hovering above them, a reversed permutation of the American flag on his chest and holding either a blue or a white lantern. He takes his helmet off, showing his human face looking a lot like a crazed Magneto, and he announces his name is Volthoom.
Cut to Simon Baz in lockup with his unconscious B'dg buddy and face to face with the Black Hand, while the current incarnation of Volthoom: The First Lantern (which looks to be a neon Slim Goodbody sort of thing) dresses down the Guardians for all their crimes against him and the known univese at large. Volthoom is now some kind of creature who feeds on emotion, read people's entire lives like an open book and harvest points of psychological trauma, and he can also apparently reshape reality. It is that last bit that seems to imply that Johns & Co. are planning a radical shift in the status quo of the GL world.
Volthoom tries to go back to the moment in time when the Guardians decided to sever their ties to "The Great Heart," i.e. emotion – and I'm also guessing it will be revealed that he is in some way responsible for reducing the Guardians to their diminutive stature, by the by – and attempts to change it, so that Ganthet convinces his brethren to hold on to their feelings and not fear them. However, he currently remains too weak to truly alter reality, but we see a momentary ripple of it in the Baz/Hand confrontation – Black Hand reverts back to his innocent human form, apparently never having become the scourge of the galaxy, while in Baz's place, we see Abin Sur alive and well. It's only a ripple, though, and once they've returned to their true states, Baz freez the still-emotionful Guardians in prison, and then Black Hand shoves Baz into the dead zone with Hal Jordan and Sinestro.
Green Lantern Corps #17 and Green Lantern: New Guardians #17 are essentially 'this is your life' chapters for Guy Gardner and Kyle Rayner, respectively, as Volthoom searches for emotional warehouses to recharge himself. There are no better choices than the volatile Gardner and the master of the spectrum Rayner. We get all the crucial moments of Gardner's life, including the revelation of the tragic event that got him kicked off the police force, and Volthoom keeps shifting things around in his mind, changing history as he remembers it, and he has to fight to hold on to the truth. However, GLC #17 ends with Volthoom's ominous warning that "If this is what I want – then this is what is."
He does the same thing with Rayner, although there is a very curious shift that may or may not hold over into the aftermath of this storyline. Volthoom presents one of several potential options of reality-shifting to Kyle, including one where Alexandra DeWitt, the infamous "Woman in Refrigerator," is alive and well, and one where he was raised by his father instead of his mother, and all he did was fix cars. At the end, Volthoom makes Kyle an offer, that he can choose which way his life will be rewritten, and he picks the one where Alex is alive, no matter what happens to him. Of course, Volthoomrelishes the taste of despair, so he reneges on the deal and denies it, but considering all the reality warping that's likely to happen before this story is finished, we can't help but hope they might use this opportunity to erase that ugly trope.
So the big picture here while witnessing Volthoom's rampage is that we're starting to see why the Guardians forsook emotion, with a feeling-sucker like this running around threatening to bend reality to his whims. He calls himself "emotionally evolved," but he's just playing with people, manipulating them to his own ends, so one wonders where the love and compassion comes in on the spectrum.
How does it all read, you ask? Well, they're trying really hard to make Volthoom interesting, but he still kinda feels like an 'oh, by the way' addition to this story, a suddenly all-powerful being to put buttons on their plotlines on their way out. I'm much more interested in how this will affect the GL mythos going forward than what this guy's all about. Will he rewrite it so that the Guardians have been in touch with their emotions since the beginning, resulting in the GL sector of the New 52 actually rebooting a year and some change after everybody else? Or will he perhaps restore their emotional connection from this point on and thus shifting their focus – or maybe just restore Ganthet, as Volthoom seems to have a little bit of favor towards the one Guardian who prized emotion? Will we get Alex DeWitt back, or will John Stewart get to rebuild Xanshi? Will Mogo come back and smack Volthoom around?
The crew has done enough with this story so far to have me interested in following it, at least. Mahnke's art is great, Pasarin's is pretty cool, too, and Kuder's leaves a bit to be desired, with baby Kyle Rayner looking like a balding Popeye and all. Digging into the origins of all the Lanterns and threatening to rewrite history could have some interesting ramifications. Maybe Hal Jordan will come back from the dead as less of a douchebag – or maybe the new crew coming in will have a complete clean slate to work with going forward.
While it's not a supremely exciting story so far, it is compelling enough to keep following along just to see what happens.
GREEN LANTERN #17
GREEN LANTERN CORPS #17
GREEN LANTERN: NEW GUARDIANS #17