The world's changed a lot since I was a child in the 1990s, and one of the most remarkable ways is that comic books have become mainstream. Back in the '90s, if you were a comic book fan you were something of an outsider. The assumption, you see, was that comics were for kids. Nowadays, with the MCU becoming the highest-grossing film franchises of all time, the argument has lost a lot of force. In truth, though, it never had much force in the first place; anybody who reads comic books has always known they're not just for kids.
Like any art form, a good comic has power. The strongest comics have never been the best-selling, blockbuster arcs; more often they've been the standalone, one-and-done issues that delve deep into a character's mind. These issues — classics like Uncanny X-Men #303, that featured the painful death of an innocent little girl — bring their readers face-to-face with the truths of life, and encourage us to empathize with those whose struggles are different to our own.
Case in point: Green Lanterns #15.
Meet Jessica Cruz
As any #DC fan will know, Hal Jordan — while being the most famous ring-bearer of them all — is hardly the only human being to join the Green Lantern Corps. Jessica Cruz is the newest Green Lantern, and every day she must face her greatest foe.
You see, Jessica Cruz suffers from anxiety.
Writer Sam Humphries has been having a blast exploring the character of Jessica, encouraging her to face her fears. Green Lanterns #14 brought matters to a head, as she truly realized — for perhaps the first time — that she is a Green Lantern. Along with her fellow rookie Green Lantern Simon Baz, Jessica wound up going head-to-head against the power of the Phantom Ring: a Power Ring that can transform you into whatever Lantern best suits you. When Jessica put the Phantom Ring on, she expected to turn yellow; instead, she turned green. Even the Phantom Ring knew that she was a Green Lantern at heart.
A less competent writer — one who hadn't done their research into anxiety disorder — would have had this be the turning-point of Jessica's life. They'd have shown her growing in confidence, growing in skill, and standing tall and proud among her fellow Justice League members. The anxiety would have been forgotten. Sam Humphries, I'm delighted to say, is not a less competent writer.
Dealing with Anxiety
Green Lanterns #15 is a one-and-done issue, a prelude of sorts to Humphries's next arc. Called "A Day In The Life", the issue charts two ordinary days for Jessica Cruz, and uses text boxes to dive deep into her mind. It's a traditional approach, reminiscent of classic X-Men writer Chris Claremont, but Sam Humphries uses those text boxes to explore the nature of anxiety.
Every morning, Jessica Cruz faces the same battle. Every morning, she must fight against her most powerful foe; her own fears. Every day she gets out of bed is a victory. Every day she settles down to eat pancakes and actually have a conversation with a friend without just wanting to run away is a triumph.
There are times when it all gets too much for Jessica, and — just as for anyone who struggles with anxiety — those moments won't be logical. One minute she's catching a submarine, managing to beat Superman to the rescue; the next she's crippled with anxiety as she faces a bargain-basement supervillain! But that's the nature of anxiety, and it's the nature of every man and woman's emotional struggles; there is no logic, no rhyme, no reason.
Now let me be clear: Jessica Cruz is indeed a true Green Lantern, and ironically, this issue shows why. You see, the Green Lanterns possess the power of Will. And every single day of Jessica Cruz's life, she must face her inner demons and triumph. Every day is a triumph of Will. There's not going to be a turning point for her; the anxiety is a part of her. Ironically, it is this very battle that proves — once and for all — that Jessica Cruz is worthy to be a Green Lantern.
The beautiful thing is, she will never know that. That's a thought Jessica Cruz can never have. She doubts herself too much, she fears her inexperience, she wonders if the Ring chose the wrong person. She will never realize that the inner battle she fights every day is in fact the proof of her heroism. She literally cannot see it. But the brilliance of Humphries's script is this; we can see it. We can read into her words, see her triumphs, see her failures, and understand just why the Ring chose Jessica Cruz.
Of course, comics are primarily a visual medium, and the story needs to be presented in pictures as well as words. Thankfully, the entire artistic team is up to the task of Sam Humphries's script. Miguel Mendonca is on top form as penciler, while Scott Hanna's work as inker adds vibrancy to Mendonca's art. There are moments that just off the page, where the structure and layout of the panels emphasizes Jessica's inner battle. The whole comic is so artfully done.
It's not often that I read a comic and immediately consider it to be a classic. For me, those comics are the ones that inspire me; the ones that present me with a character so fully-rounded that I feel I know them. The action, the adventure, the intrigue — those are good. But give me a strong character, and all of those things have so much more power.
One-and-done issues like Green Lanterns #15 are few and far between in the modern comic book market. Issues like this push a creative team to their limits, testing their confidence and skill. Thankfully, Humphries, Mendonca and Hanna are up to the challenge, and in this issue they prove just why the comic book industry should dare to try these issues out more often. Because this comic is a classic.
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If anyone tries to tell you that comic books are for kids, point them to Green Lanterns #15. It's not an issue that changes the DC Universe; it doesn't shape the future of #DCRebirth. But it gives you a tremendous glimpse into the mind of a very real human being, and when you close the issue you're left with the sense that you've just met Jessica Cruz. In her battles, you find hope; after all, if she can conquer her demons every single day, then you too can conquer yours.
Did you enjoy 'Green Lanterns' #15?
(Poll Image Credit: DC Comics)