This week, it's time to give DC their villainous due, and look at Sinestro, the yellow-bellied scoundrel you'll meet in The Green Lantern. (Let's give a hand to the rumor mill and Jackie Earle Haley for helping narrow down the choices. Gossip's guiding The Geek Beat this month, and I love it.) His name may be painfully obvious, his color palette a bit hokey, and his manner poshly British, but Sinestro is not a man to be messed with. Unlike other comic book villains, Sinestro isn't in the bad guy game for chaos, personal gain, or fun. He's in it purely because he believes fear and despotism is right, and the only way to maintain order and control in the universe. He opposes the Green Lanterns not because he dislikes their mantra, but because he thinks they're weak and irresponsible. He'd probably be best friends with Magneto.
Sinestro began as a humble academic on his planet Korugar. He was an anthropologist, and his expertise was in historical preservation. He recreated and restored the ruins of lost civilizations. That's a mild occupation, but playing with all those bones and ruins can unsettle a man. They can remind him of the cost of war, and the impermanence of everything he holds dear. He could begin to dwell unhealthily on what might become of his own civilization, and wonder if there will be an anthropologist reconstructing his hometown. Or he could just realize "Damn, my name is Sinestro. What the hell am I doing rebuilding lost civilizations? I should become a power-hungry villain!" (This is why you should really take care to name a kid something like solid and whole-wheaty Peter Parker, or Clark Kent. Those kids never become supervillains.)
As luck would have it, as Sinestro was lovingly restoring some ruins, a member of the Green Lantern Corps named Prohl Gosgotha crashed onto the site. Injured and dying, he thrust his ring into Sinestro's hands. A humble academic had seconds to become a badass warrior, defeat the killer of Gosgotha, and destroy his own ruins in the process. But he didn't mind so much since he was now wielding unimaginable power. But in a telling twist of fate, Gosgotha ended up gaining a second wind. "Hey, good job -- Sinestro, was it? Well done. Sorry about your ruins. Can I have my ring back so I can get some medical care?" Sinestro's response was to let him die, and claim the ring for himself. The Green Lantern Corps welcomed him into their ranks, having not heard of something like a background check, and working under the assumption that Sinestro meant "happy rainbows" in his language.
Sinestro became one of the Corps finest. But we all know the adage about absolute power, and killing your predecessor doesn't exactly bode well for your longterm career. Sinestro became obsessed with the order and safety in his sector, and preserving his home planet no matter what the cost. He believed the only way to keep Korugar safe was through dictatorship. As luck would have it, along comes a brand new Lantern named Hal Jordan, and Sinestro takes him under his wing. As both distrusted authority, it would seem to be a Master and Apprentice relationship made in heaven. But Jordan's sensibilities didn't run to the despotic, and he was horrified at Sinestro's brutal methods. Jordan believed in serving the people, not ruling them with an iron fist. Over the course of his training, Jordan exposed Sinestro for what he was, and the Corps banished him to the antimatter universe.
But our formerly green friend is one of those villains who always lands on his feet. Banish him to the antimatter universe, and he makes friends with the Qward Weaponers, who hate the Green Lanterns as much as he does. The Weaponers do what their name would imply, and make Sinestro one of the most vicious weapons of all: a yellow ring. Don't snicker! The Green Lanterns wield their power through green rings made of will, and yellow is unbearable to them. Through the various twists and (admittedly, somewhat hokey) turns of the color spectrum, yellow is also the color of fear. Sinestro's ring eventually became the living embodiment of fear itself. It was able to create constructs in the form of whatever its bearer could imagine. Sinestro now has an entire corps named after him, made up of the most sadistic men and women of the universe, all packing a yellow ring. If they want to imagine you impaled, wham:
As I've mentioned before in Lantern movie coverage, the universe of the Corps is a rather difficult one to wrap your mind around. Colors mean different powers, rings need to be recharged, and there's dozens of aliens good and bad to keep track of. Of all the DC and Warner Bros movies hitting our screens in the next five years, I really feel this will be one of the hardest sells for a general audience. Audiences can get behind Batman and Superman. Their stories are very basic, and their villains are often best left unexplained. But characters named Abin Sur and Lady Quark? That's the kind of thing that moviegoers and critics love to roll their eyes over.
What can make The Green Lantern palatable to general audiences is the gulf between Hal Jordan and Sinestro. At its heart, their origin stories are really just an interplanetary good cop / bad cop story. It's Training Day with weirder costumes and scarier consequences. Ideally, subsequent movies (perhaps even a hint at the end of this first one) will show the Guardians to be a little less perfect than Jordan wants to believe, and Sinestro a little more accurate in his assessment of their abilities. There should be something in Sinestro we identify and empathize with. At heart, all he wants is to keep his planet and its people safe, and he wants the Lanterns to come down harder on the scum and villainy. Who can't understand that, particularly in these troubled times?
While the better comic book movies do reflect a social or historical reality, this is one that could offer a very heavy mortality tale. We all want someone who will do anything to keep us safe. History has shown us again and again that populations are willing to sacrifice a few freedoms here and there in the interest of the common good. Before you know it, you've authorized a leader who can impale people with yellow light, and who thinks nothing of recruiting the dreck of the universe to work for him.
With such human hooks and angles, a very alien story becomes something that we can all relate to. The challenge will be walking that line, steering clear of heavy-handed allegory, and keeping the balance between good and evil. Both Jordan and Sinestro consider themselves heroes, and the question that should hang over this franchise-to-be should be a murky one. It shouldn't be who is right and who is wrong (that much is obvious), but something like the implications raised by Batman's endless battle with the Joker, or like any rogue cop thriller you've enjoyed. When is force necessary? When do you recognize the flaws in your organization? How do you prevent yourself from being corrupted? Sinestro shouldn't just be the menace of The Green Lantern, but its moral dilemma, and a man you can see yourself rooting for should a few gray areas shift.