NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS for Green Lanterns #18
If you're a fan of DC's Green Lanterns, you know one thing: no matter how proud or noble the Green Lantern Corps may be in its defense of the galaxy, the Guardians of the Universe are guaranteed not to notice. The little blue men who created the Corps are among the oldest, wisest, and rational beings in existence - just ask them. But the Green Lanterns weren't their first creation to defend the galaxy from harm... or their second... or their third.
The story has been told and retold before the Crisis, Post-Crisis, in the New 52 and Rebirth of the Guardians' decision to entrust the power of the Green light of Willpower to only sentient, feeling beings. That was a lesson learned after the cold, calculating, robotic Manhunters glitched out and eradicated all life in an entire galactic sector (reappearing as villains here and there ever since). But there was a solution that arrived before the Lanterns, and before the Manhunters, too. And while the legend of that monstrous galactic menace has been known for years, the "Rebirth" of this series is re-writing history in a BIG way.
Volthoom, The First Lantern
The honor goes to Volthoom, known in stories told by the Guardians as 'The First Lantern.' The new story being told in the current Green Lanterns comic melds the creation of the Corps with the arrival of Volthoom, but in previous versions, the two events had been framed as separate incidents. Before the Guardians had evolved into their small, blue stature, they were once members of a proud race called Maltusians. As a society, they had achieved master of all technology and wisdom: immortal, unerring thinkers. And then, according to their account, they discovered the Emotional Spectrum, setting them on the path to founding their Lanterns. But the first step began with the Guardians divorcing themselves from the emotions they sought to wield, placing them inside of a lantern known as the Great Heart.
Eventually, that story was updated in DC continuity to include a traveler known as Volthoom, who appeared in close proximity to an experiment by the traitorous Maltusian Krona. Volthoom knew truths of the Emotional Spectrum, but claimed the Great Heart for himself, gaining the power of the Guardians' emotions, going mad, and essentially being corrupted... at least, that's hot the Guardians tell the story. They then imprisoned him for ten billion years, eventually returning to his cage driven mad with power, murdering the guards left to watch him, and siphoning power away from him to fuel a terrible new army.
If those details have you thinking that the rest of the Guardians' account of Volthoom should be re-examined, you're not wrong. And it's where writer Sam Humphries is beginning his new origin of the Corps.
The Actual Story of The Travel Lantern
Volthoom has already played a villainous role in the Green Lanterns "Rebirth" so far, but it's in Issue #18 that he tells his own origin story, explaining why he would return in an effort to destroy the Guardians for good. And, fittingly enough, his story begins with emotion, too - love. Love for his mother, and family, and homeworld. He was forced to watch it all destroyed when his home of Earth-15 in the year 3079 AD was consumed by a 'Destroyer Pulsar,' bringing an abrupt halt to his and his mother's work following their discovery of the Emotional Spectrum - culminating in an experimental device known as the Travel Lantern.
Described as an experimental piece of technology, Volthoom and his mother (both brilliant scientists) had created the Travel Lantern as a means of harnessing the Spectrum's powers to travel in three different directions: through space, through time, and between realities of the multiverse. And at the very last moment that Volthoom witnessed his entire world blown to pieces, he obeyed his mother's final command, leaping into the unknown and activating the Travel Lantern. He didn't know how to use it, but he had to learn quickly.
As a self-titled Acolyte of the Spectrum, Volthoom began traveling through time, through universes, eager to share the wisdom of the Emotional Spectrum in hopes that some race, some planet, some mind would be able to use it to return him home with a means to prevent the Destroyer Pulsar. When he met the brilliant Maltusians, his hopes were raised. Together, they began a rich partnership. He taught them of the Spectrum, and they gave him their brilliance.
And as they learned of the power of emotion, they realized that devotion of their intellect meant the sacrifice of emotion - pouring them into a Lantern not unlike the one Volthoom had brought with him. But when the Lantern - the Great Heart - came into being, it brought a ring with it. Volthoom saw it as the answer to his prayers, claiming it for himself, and becoming Volthoom, The First Lantern... and that's where things went wrong.
The Guardians' Betrayal
It doesn't take much to turn Volthoom's plight into a sympathetic one. Sure, the Guardians of the Universe were pursuing an all-encompassing knowledge or control of Emotion, but the one who brought it to them in the first place just wanted to get home and prevent the death of his family and untold millions. The ring needed work, and Volthoom took to beating back the darkness in the galaxy, with the Guardians event implanting the Great Heart itself into his chest to act as a power battery. But as his connection to emotion grew stronger, raw emotion began to take its toll. He kept it a secret not out of avarice or evil, but determination not to fail his mother.
The Guardians drew their own conclusions and rash actions - as they are downright famous for doing - and destroyed the Travel Lantern, fearing that Volthoom was too powerful, and too uncontrolled. Without a hope of returning home, or completing the mission given to him in his mother's dying breath, Volthoom... well, lost it. Tried to kill all of the Guardians who had used him to advance their wisdom and (in his opinion) betrayed their agreement. And the Guardians were forced to come up with a new way of bringing their old ally to heel.
The True Origin of the Green Lanterns
After detailing his breakdown and rage, Volthoom explains that Rami, the most brilliant of the Guardians who had been his closest friend, created seven Power Rings to seek out worthy wielders using the Great Heart for guidance. Those chosen became The First Seven, charged with bringing Volthoom to justice. Rami created a cell to hold his former friend, and he sat imprisoned - for ten billion years. Ten billion years to think about his failures, his fallen family... and those blue monsters responsible for it all.
In other words, the Guardians found a clever (if completely inefficient) way of creating their most devoted and enraged enemy. The First Seven were also the last seven for billions of years, Volthoom informs the reader, since the Guardians reclaimed the rings and sole power of the Emotional Spectrum for themselves once he had been locked away. Thankfully - if you're the kind of person who likes to see a wrong man lead a mission of vengeance - Volthoom's true story in Green Lanterns' "Rebirth" is just beginning.
The previous issues showed him latching onto some kind of physical form, ultimately taking over the body of Rami, and promising to train Earth's two new Green Lanterns in disguise. And now that we know what revenge and just anger is driving him... well, the Green Lanterns story looks to be ramping up, taking twists, and re-writing its own history as 2017's story begins. Hop on now... there's no telling what part of DC history they'll change next.
Green Lanterns #18 is available now.