Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Not Really Off-Topic: Extended Comic Book Review For RED LANTERNS #36 *SPOILER ALERT*

This comic book is a part of the GODHEAD crossover, and it features the sole remaining Red Lantern Guy Gardner and the most recent human addition to the Green Lanterns, Simon Baz. I have chosen this comic for an extended review because it brings up a great many theological themes, many of which are prominent throughout the GODHEAD series.

The comic begins right where the last RED LANTERN left off, with Guy Gardner rising from the ashes of yet another New God attack. Simon Baz is right along side him, and the comic takes off from that point upon two important thematic paths. Each has some theological significance.

The first main storyline has to do with Simon's analysis of Guy's approach to the New God threat, which seems to be 'rush head long in and fight until you win or die'. Baz correct detects in Guy's attitude a death wish. Indeed, Guy sees this entire scenario as an opportunity to commit a kind of noble suicide. He has led a great many people into battle, only to see them all die as he survives. He believes this to be some kind of sick joke by a perverse universe, and he's going to thumb his nose at destiny by dying himself, in battle with a god.

Simon quotes the Koran as he tries to plead with Guy that life is a gift from God, and there is only one God (as Baz argues) and that not working to preserve that life is an affront to the meaning of life. I really like this exchange, and it brings up the central issue for me when it comes to God's existence.

I've seen people in religious debates get asked what it would take to change their minds. Is there anything, anything at all, that could convince you to change your religious or irreligious beliefs. In my case, there is such a way. If you can convince me that life is not worth living, that being (existence), life and consciousness are not inherent goods, however surrounded they may be by other evils, then you can convince me that there is no God worth worshipping.

The basic religious choice, it seems to me, is not whether God exists or not. It is whether the most sublime encounters with life itself are worth affirming. Is being better than non-being, inherently? Is life better than non-life? Is consciousness better than non-consciousness? These are the basic human questions. They lead inexorably to questions about the way we ENCOUNTER life. Are humor, play, joy, love, beauty...are these experiences worth trusting? Can you accept them as they come to you, alongside other forms of experience, like sense experience? If the answers to THESE questions are also 'yes', then and only then can you argue for a God worth worshipping.

But Guy doesn't even get that far. The responsibility of the power he has received, coupled with the great loss he has experienced as a result of that power has led him not to atheism but to maltheism. He is very much like Ivan Karamazov in THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV by Dostoevsky. He does not deny the existence of God or gods, he has rather chosen to 'give back his ticket'.

The High Father and the other New Gods seek what they see to be a good for the universe...for all universes...the defeat of Darkseid, the universe's ultimate evil. But they seek to accomplish this goal by using the very tools that Darkseid uses. For they want to use the Life Equation (contained in the White Lantern's ring), to mutate and control all life in the Earth-1 Universe, and use that Equation and those transformed beings to destroy Darkseid. They see this as a justified means, since it will save countless other universes from a similar fate under Darkseid's boot. They take up the very corrupting power that Darkseid seeks to destroy what they see as a greater evil.

Since these actions match up to the indifferent, harsh divinity that Guy Gardner has come to believe in, Guy identifies them as truly divine, since they live as he thinks the divine lives. His attack on them, then, is more than retribution or justice for himself and the other lanterns. He seeks to attack what he perceives the divine to actually BE.

This brings up the second story line, which involves the New God who attacked Gardner, Malhedron. He is a former servant of Darkseid who has come to serve High Father and the other New Gods. Malhedron sees that the power of the life equation has corrupted High Father, and that High Father's plan is frighteningly similar to the operation of Darkseid himself. He can see now that the line between good and evil becomes blurry where power is involved.

This is perfect illustration of the difference between the common conception of God and that given to us in Christ Jesus. Jesus rejects the tools of the enemy. His power is persuasive and loving, empowering and uplifting, rather than controlling or coercive. Jesus rejects the mantle of Caesar lest he become satan rather than the God He truly is. Gardner is wrong about what God really is, and Simon Baz is right that the New Gods, however mighty in coercive power, are in no way divine. Gardner's suffering is sad, but much of it is the result of his own misuse of free will. He cannot blame God for the path he took. That he was called to duty and justice does not imply that all his uses of his own power were in line with God's will.

Gardner's pain is only God's 'fault' to the degree that God has created a universe of freedom rather than control. Freedom is good, despite the costs. Life is good despite the evil that may arise within it. That Gardner has mistaken the New Gods for true gods is a perfect illustration of his mistake. He derides and hates the freedom he has been given, and sees responsibility and choice making as a burden. Thus he truly hates the life he has been given, and probably truly hates God, but not for the reasons he thinks.

Simon's simple faith that despite life's difficulty God still cares is not a specifically Christian faith, as he is a Muslim, but it comes far closer to the truth. God grants the world freedom, and us freedom, that is just what it means to exist. The choice is not between a perfect life and a life of freedom but a life of freedom and no life at all. Existence is self-creation. That is just what being is.

So thematically, this book had it going on. Aesthetically, it also is very strong. The only negative aspect was the end. It is too abrupt and there is not enough action where there should be. But that is a minor problem in an otherwise amazing issue. The art is good, the pacing is a little off, but the storyline and dialogue are what really drive this issue.

Storyline: 4.5 Stars
Dialogue: 4.5 Stars
Pacing: 3.5 Stars
Art: 3.5 stars
Overall: 4.5 Stars

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