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Are great comics about love or hate? Let's ask an expert

Comic Books

Are great comics about love or hate? Let’s ask an expert

I spoke with ‘Green Lantern’ writer Geoffrey Thorne about how these feelings inform his work.

People equate creation as an act of love.

Which is to say, especially in the world of arts, there’s a sense that the best creators always have some affinity for their character or subject if they’re going to make something of real, transcendent value. That feels especially true for the land of comics: writers and artists have spent years adoring and fawning over these larger-than-life heroes. Their resulting stories are then a kind of celebration of these entities, and the more these creators have studied and obsessed over heroes and their backstories and abilities, the better or more robust these celebrations could be.

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But what about hate? Why isn’t that as big a deal?

Kurt Vonnegut once said, “Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.” Some creators have clearly taken that heart; it’s perhaps why Tom King has had such success with runs of both Batman and Mister Miracle: he’s willing to be cruel to test their greater mettle. But even that kind of book, exposing the true heart of a hero by setting their very life ablaze, is still rare enough. No, I’m talking about a creator who makes decisions based on some part of a character, series, and/or franchise that’s born out of hatred. Or, at the very least, some semblance of disgust, boredom, or outright indifference.

Cue Geoffrey Thorne.

The actor, screenwriter, and comics writer has made it clear in the past that he’s not a fan of the OG Green Lantern, Hal Jordan. That very dynamic has caused some minor “controversy” among fans and comics journalists — especially as Thorne recently unveiled the first of two issues of Future State: Green Lantern. (Thorne is also behind a great Vixen story for DC’s Truth and Justice.) For anyone who’s read the GL book, Thorne’s ideas about Jordan, and his profound interest in John Stewart, rest at the very heart of the story. It makes sense that his “preference” for Stewart is a reflection of his thoughts on Jordan, and thus so much of the story/project is about uplifting Stewart in new and novel ways. But does hating a character really disqualify someone from writing about them? Some folks are quick to say “heck yeah,” and argue that just as many great projects are about a creator’s “love affair” with some comic icon. You can look at someone like at Donny Cates: as a lifelong Venom fan, his interest and obsession have arguably informed a groundbreaking take on the character.

Are great comics about love or hate? Let's ask an expert

Courtesy of DC.

For whatever it’s worth, I disagree entirely with the notion that all creators must love their subjects. Not only is hate just as powerful of a motivator or creative “tool,” it clears the mind of biases and results in some real honesty. But I needed to see how my theory held up, and so I touched base with Thorne to get his insights and perspective. The resulting conversation, which occurred over email, is both an exploration into Green Lantern but also a look at this much larger love versus hate debate as it exists within the realm of art. Thorne makes some genuinely solid points, and he’s less trying to defend himself (not that he’d ever need to) and instead outlines why his unique stance works within this character and this specific story. Even if you disagree with him, it’s a unique take and some really great insight into the creator and their relationship with their art. It’s also the sort of thing we should all consider when opening up our favorite books.

Ultimately, though, this issue isn’t so binary as love or hate. Thorne’s insights point to a much more “complicated” formula. Great art, at last when it comes to comics, seems to be about some nebulous connection of the two “ideas.” He clearly loves GL as an idea, even if some parts of it (Jordan) don’t always seem so grand. So then it becomes about smashing these things together and finding some value in what’s left. Love is a grand and uplifting sentiment, but it’s hate that keeps us grounded and focused. Great art seems to ride that line more than anything else, and it finds a way to balance these extremes as a means of developing characters, creating and reflecting worlds, and letting us peer behind something’s velvety curtains. It takes measures of both if we’re going to truly delve into something and appreciate what it is, what it never can be, and the sheer potential within.

Love or hate, the end results are often something we can at least respect and appreciate.


Courtesy of DC.

AIPT: There’s been some calls that you “hate” Hal Jordan, which isn’t something I think we can actually discern (or lend heaps of credence). Still, from a creative standpoint, or as someone with a deep read of comics, what are the biggest issues with the character?

Geoffrey Thorne: LOL. Well… The Twitter record — because, wow, kids, there’s a Twitter record —  is pretty clear but the way it was assembled makes it out to be something it’s not.

Over about five years, periodically, someone on Twitter would ask something like, “what is your most outrageous hot take on DC comics that will make fans want to murder you?” I have exactly one of those. “Hal Jordan is boring.” Lots of fans think this and when it came up I wasn’t writing GL or even thinking about writing GL. That happens about four times a year, BTW. So, y’know, shrug.

Until I sold DC this story, I spent almost zero time thinking one thing or the other about Hal Jordan. The- let’s call it a ‘news story’ for politeness sake- lines those tweets up so they look like a rant. Nope. False narrative used to generate clicks. It’s the wild west out there in Comics News Site World, so I’m not bent about it but the impression conveyed was false.

Has he always “sucked” or has the character been written into a box somehow?

Hm. “Sucked” may be strong. Let’s just say, for me there’s no there there. He’s just Standard Square-Jawed Hero Guy #348.2 Which is fine for those that like it but there’s nothing there for me.

My beef was the fact that Warner’s made a huge mistake not keeping John as “the” Green Lantern in all media after they debuted him to the larger audience in the two JUSTICE LEAGUE animated series. I thought it at the time and I think that now. There are many purely business reasons for why I think that which have nothing to with fan discussions.

Are great comics about love or hate? Let's ask an expert

Courtesy of DC.

AIPT: I feel like John Stewart has always felt “trapped” as the Green Lantern of the animated universe. Why has there been some hesitation or delay among some creators to bring him up to the same level as, say, Hal Jordan or Kyle Rayner?

GT: I couldn’t say. I don’t really think about this stuff in those terms. Geoff Johns loved Hal so Hal was his focus. Ron Marz gave us Kyle so he had the spotlight for a decade. When Guy Gardner was Warrior, I lovvvvvvved that book. Different writers focus on different Lanterns. Green Lantern is a job, after all, not an identity or an individual. There are thousands of Lanterns and that’s just the Green ones.

As a fan, “my” GL is John. But the reason he’s the focus of this book is, of the many stories I pitched DC — none of which had anything to do with GL — this story was the one they wanted to get behind. So, this is the one I get to tell.

AIPT: Why do you think some people want to cultivate this notion that creators can love or even hate a fictional character? Is it about controversy generating traffic and/or sales? Is there something to a writer/artist with a “combative” take on a character that can actually make for a meaningful or successful story?

GT: Well. Fans interact with the characters differently than creatives have to. Almost entirely from an emotional place. They love them or hate them. Those are luxury items the creator can’t afford while they’re making the story. After it’s done we can re-adopt those emotional positions if we want, I guess, but, during? No. You have to write, which means you have to be able to be cruel to the characters you might otherwise “love” if that’s what the story needs. At least that’s how I work. Nothing matters but what the story needs. Nothing.

I don’t think most fans understand this very real difference so, when they don’t like something a creator does with or says about a given character, they attribute to the creator the sort of feelings that would make them- the fan- do or say those things if their positions were reversed.

That’s not how it actually works but there’s no way to get that across, apparently. More shrugging.

Creators may certainly develop affinities for different characters. Dave Cockrum “loved” Nightcrawler, John Byrne “loved” Wolverine; Walt Simonson pretty much owned Thor. But, when you sit down to actually make a story with these fictional constructs, you have to set your fanboy in the back seat and put him to sleep. He will make your work suck if you let him drive. That’s how it is for me, anyway. I never let him in the front seat, much less near the wheel.

Are great comics about love or hate? Let's ask an expert

Courtesy of DC.

AIPT: Having read the first issue of Green Lantern’s Future State book, I love your take on Stewart, and I think he comes off as a dynamic hero that feels informed by old-school comics ideals (bravery, selflessness, etc.) Is it intimidating to write a character you “respect?” Does liking a character somehow complicate the creative process?

GT: Nope. See previous answer. My job is to smack John around for a while to show how he can take it and why he’s cut out to be a hero. It is not to make him into some omnipotent perfect paragon of anything. Snore. A hero is only as good as their challenge, their journey. They’re only as interesting as how they overcome their flaws. If you want to make that omelet ya got to crack those yolks, man.

AIPT: You’ve written some about the important distinction between speaking as a fan and operating as a writer. How do you maintain that separation given your unique position (a fan with some “power”), and why is it so important?

GT: Short answer? It’s my job. I was a fan of leverage before I worked on it as a writer. I was a Trekkie for decades before anyone hired me to write Star Trek. I do this, literally, for a living. Just like a guy who loves cars but who is also a professional mechanic. And, yeah, it’s important to be able to separate your fan self from your writer self. The ratio should be something like 85% Writer, 10% fan, 5% heckler. Seriously. Otherwise the work will suck.

AIPT: You also said you’d write all GLs, including Hal, as they have been depicted. How do you think your Hal Jordan might come off, and are the more intense fans among us going to have an issue with any possible depictions?

I should clarify. Their characters, when I start, will be as established. Will they end as they started? I guess we’ll all see. Not every character makes it to the end of every story, after all. Sometimes some of them run into… trouble. Evil laugh.

But, in Hal Jordan’s case, specifically — Hal is a hero, a Good Guy (yes, with caps, please). Before he was a GL he was an adventurer. Pushing the edge of achievement and endurance in the pursuit of knowledge and, yes, distinction. You don’t get much more daredevil-y than test-pilot. Astronaut, maybe? He’s brave as hell, honorable as hell and, if he has a fault, it’s that he’s never met a rule that would stop him from doing whatever he thinks is right. No long-term fan will have any problem with how I write Hal. But he’s not the focus of the story I’m telling.

AIPT: How much of these “issues,” and the weird attention they’ve received, inform you work on both the Future State story and what’s to come in March’s new series?

GT: Zero. The story is the story. I’m here for the story and that’s it. Some folks will like it. Some folks will love it. Some will hate it and some will be indifferent. Just like always. Every story. Every time. That’s the life we signed up for.

We have a little preamble in Infinite Frontier but Green Lantern #1 drops in April.

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