Thursday, February 19, 2009

How NOT to Convinct and Execute a Renegade Green Lantern

So SallyP over at Green Lantern Butts Forever brought up some interesting points about Korugar, the Zamarons, and the execution of Sinestro (the first time), and it got me thinking about some things -- enough that I got a craving to read those issues again, and I'm really glad I did.

Specifically, I'm talking about The Green Lantern Corps #222: "The Last Testament of Sinestro", which tells the story of the trial itself. I'm not going to do an in-depth review because I'm lazy today, but there are a whole lot of things that I find interesting about it.

The story is narrated by Sinestro himself, which is an interesting and effective decision on the part of Steve Englehart (whom I've always felt indifferent about as a writer up until now). It's not very often that we get to see things from the villain's point of view -- it's unusual enough that DC just made a whole big event out of something like that just last month, remember. It isn't so much that he's telling the story (other than a short flashback at the beginning to how he got his ring and how he later fell from grace), but rather that we're seeing his thoughts about what's happening around him as the panels and dialogue show us the Green Lanterns gathering to decide his fate.

But think about that for a minute. What we're reading, as we flip through these pages, are the thoughts and feelings of a soon-to-be-condemned man during his own trial and subsequent execution. That's deep. That's scary.

But what's most scary about it is Sinestro's tone throughout the whole thing. It exemplifies those character traits of his that Geoff Johns has latched onto in the past few years to make him into such an amazing villain. Even in the midst of this trial, even when the death verdict comes across, Sinestro never, for even an instant, gives even a hint that he believes he's done anything wrong. He's not sorry, not even a tiny bit. He's bored with the whole proceeding before it even begins. And he's arrogant to the point of madness. He dismisses their concern for their friends, and laughs at their efforts to come to a majority decision. Even after the death verdict is passed he believes, right up until the very last moment of his life, that they won't actually go through with it.

His arrogance is also his undoing, of course. Sinestro knows that killing him will be the end of the Corps, because he found out that little tidbit of information by skulking around a Korugarian political meeting of some sort back when he was a Green Lantern. He even offers to tell them the secret -- if they'll let him go first. But they don't go for it, and rather than just say it, he tries to bargain until it's too late and he's being blasted dead. Ow.

But look at the trial, too. Sinestro thinks it's a farce, and after reading the issue a few times, I'm actually inclined to agree with him.

It's presided over by the Old-Timer, the only Guardian (okay, ex-Guardian) left since the little blue men departed this universe to do their little blue baby-bop. This is the same fellow who was supposed to whip Guy Gardner into shape after the Crisis, and who would later go insane and form the Mosaic. He seems sane enough here, with the exception of two decisions:

Prosecution: Kilowog
Defense: Katma Tui


On the surface, it seems like a sound enough decision. He's picked two veteran Lanterns, both of whom are known and trusted by their peers, and who have had multiple run-ins with Sinestro. And Katma is Korugarian, which might perhaps give her some insight into how the accused thinks and what his motivations are.

But the whole catalyst for this trial was the destruction of Kilowog's homeworld (again). John and Katma and Arisia swore to 'Wog that they would seek trial for Sinestro as soon as possible, and they did -- even to the point of putting aside some other, more pressing matters, such as Ch'p's defection and the fallout from the Millenium crossover. I suppose, from a certain perspective, it makes sense for the person most hurt by the defendant to be the one prosecuting, but it seems a bad decision overall. Kilowog was practically mad with grief only a couple of issues ago. And his decision is already made -- he came in the door thirsty for blood. When Skirl expresses disbelief that they're even considering execution, Kilowog's reply is "You got it!"

But that I can forgive more than Katma as Sinestro's defender. Even she protests. "But-- I despise him especially, because he is of my race!" This was written before the Emerald Dawn retcons, but Sinestro's history as a dictator-like ruler of Korugar is established within this very issue, too, so to say that she has issues with him is an understatement. She hates him. Later on she expresses a grumbly, almost childlike sort of reluctance to defend him. Like I said, this is before Emerald Dawn, but looking back on it from a modern perspective, knowing what he now know about Sinestro's first trial, makes this even stranger. Katma Tui fought to overthrow him on Korugar. She testified against him in the trial that stripped him of his ring. She's lost to her own homeworld forever because of the legacy he's left behind. And she's supposed to defend him here?

And when the time comes, she fails him utterly. She has no rebuttal to the case presented against him. Not a word. It could even be argued that she hurts his case by blurting out exactly what she feels: "There is nothing anyone can say to that!" I promise it doesn't do your client any good to let on to the jury that even his defense attorney thinks he's guilty as sin and deserves to die.

The Old-Timer's reasoning behind his choice is that Katma's integrity is legendary. And in any other trial, I'd say she'd make an excellent lawyer. She's smart, she's honest, she can be very business-like when the situation demands it, and her peers respect her.

What's curious, and most relevant to the Blackest Night the Corps is facing now, is what the Old-Timer has to say is response to her protests: "You can place your intelligence before your emotions -- which is what will be required of everyone here!"

D'oh! That's exactly what the Guardians are trying to force the entire Corps to do right now. Proof once again that they don't, nor have they ever, understood how powerful emotions are to mortals. And look how it panned out for them last time!

The vote itself is interesting, too. The Lanterns are instructed to make a decision individually, then beam their vote into the CPB, which will then announce the collective decision (the assumption is that it will go with a majority vote).

So, how did each individual Lantern vote? We don't know! We know that the majority chose death, but what about Hal? What about John and Katma and Arisia?

This is a burning question to me. I think it's safe to assume that Kilowog went with death, as he was practically foaming at the mouth for it. I'm going to guess, from little things she said and did in this issue, that Arisia also voted death, though we can't know for sure. Katma? I'll go with death, though she was obviously really torn up about her inability to defend Sinestro there at the end. It seems that she really wanted to be able to say something for him, but just couldn't think of a single thing. (This is why I find Katma to be such a wonderfully deep character.) John? Hard to say, he could have gone either way.

But Hal? Earlier in the issue, Sinestro seems certain that Hal would never vote to kill him, but who can really say? Though I'm inclined to think that, in this case, Sinestro was right. Hal was unusually silent throughout this issue, and the few times he did speak, it was to say something that expressed his reluctance to go as far as execution. He even says at one point that he flat-out doesn't want to kill Sinestro -- but then, he was also acknowledging that such a thing might be necessary, so he might have voted for it anyway. But somehow I doubt it.

And while I realize that they were making this a decision for the entire Corps, does it seem a little wrong to anyone else that Kilowog and a handful of others who had already openly expressed their desires before ever even hearing the trial be allowed to vote? I recently had the dubious pleasure of sitting on a jury for a murder trial, and we were questioned up one side and down the other about any pre-existing prejudices, or situations from our past that might make it hard for us to judge based solely on the facts. We weren't even allowed to discuss the case with our fellow jurors until the entire case had been presented, because we weren't supposed to form opinions until after we'd seen and heard everything. I'm not sure that giving a jury spot to someone whose entire race had been obliterated by the defendant was a particularly just idea.

I have to wonder now, too, how much of the execution itself was responsible for Hal's later grim-and-gritty stage that led up to his full-on Parallax possession. A small group of the Green Lanterns themselves carry out the death order with their own rings. (How could they even do that? I thought they couldn't kill with them...) They stand around Sinestro in a circle, raise their rings, and fire all at once.

Can you imagine how that must have felt to an angst-bunny like Hal? He just killed a man with (practically) his bare hands. While staring him right in the eyes. A man who, we now know, was someone he considered a friend and mentor once-upon-a-time. How badly did this weigh on Hal? How often did he think about it later, when he was travelling across America alone? Or when Katma died because she had no way to defend herself from Star Sapphire? Or when Parallax was slowly but surely whittling away at him?

In a way, what happens next with Salakk showing up and the Corps being destroyed is almost anti-climatic and detracts from what should have been emotional fallout rather than tangible, physical fallout. I'm not going to argue that Sinestro didn't deserve to die, because what he did to Bolovax Vik alone was reprehensible, not to mention all the other things he had done.

But that's not really the point to a superhero, is it?


SallyP said...

That really was a good issue. I think that you are dead-on about the strangeness of the selections of Kilowog and Katma.

What really confuses me, though, is that Appa Ali Apsa, as a former Guardian MUST have known that they weren't allowed to execute a Korugarian Male. Or did becoming mortal somehow result in amnesia for him?

Therefore, did he have an ulterior motive in the trial? Maybe that's WHY he appointed Katma as the defense. Maybe Sinestro stole his girlfriend...who knows?

But one thing is for sure. You really have to keep your guard up around the Guardians.

Duskdog said...

During the course of the issue he keeps saying that he's not sure about things and that the knowledge might have been stripped from him when he lost his immortality or whatever, but I don't buy it for an instant.

They're shifty little bastards, aren't they?

It's also interesting that Sinestro expresses some distaste for the way the GLs still seem to worship the Guardians in this issue -- his distrust of the little blue guys goes way back, and Geoff is using it well these days.

SallyP said...

Shifty little bastards sums it up pretty darned well, actually.