Passion In Villainy: The Ballad Of Thaal Sinestro
An Editorial From Rafael Encinas
When it comes to iconic comic book characters, the protagonists themselves must be challenged by captivating and enthralling foils. Superman stops Lex Luthor. Batman incarcerates The Joker. Peter Parker overcomes Doctor Octopus. Ben Reilly tries to combat sabotaging creative & publishing teams. Basically, we need, no, we want great villains. Therefore, we see true acts of villainy from hundreds of different characters in all kinds of different comics. But what makes a villain so interesting? How does a villain stand out in the oversaturation of menacing grins and extravagant mustaches!? That can be hard to define, but it is also very primal and innate in human nature. A lot of the time, the villain has the same conviction as the hero. We see passion, determination, and focus in our villains; all traits we want to see in ourselves. However, though villains may have relatable motivations, the actions they take can be seen as less than ideal; after all, heroes are supposed to take the high road, but it’s more human and intriguing to think: What would we be capable of when we think no one is looking?
Well, Thaal Sinestro is the type of character who not only doesn’t care if someone is looking, but who will bare all with animated theatrics just to showcase his point and/or vision. And this is one of the many reasons that I am deeply captivated by this villain. Sinestro just so happens to be one of those villains that brings so much depth and awe to the DC Universe, specifically, the Green Lantern mythos. The greatest of the Green Lanterns; dictator of Korugar; alien super-villain; leader of the Sinestro Corps; reluctant anti-hero. These are all titles that Sinestro holds, and for good reason. Sinestro is one of the toughest and most terrifying villains in the DC universe.
I say this with clarity because of my background with the character. Green Lantern just so happened to be some of the first superhero comics I ever read, and Sinestro was always that villain who I disliked (I mean Hal Jordan is so cool) but still respected on a subconscious level. Sinestro stood up to the “out of touch” Guardians of The Universe. He put his life on the line to protect his people. He did do atrocious things, but there were layers to his actions. Reading through Geoff Johns magnum opus that was his 2000s era on the Green Lantern book not only revitalized the series but perfectly built on perceptions of heroism, redemption, and rebirth… not just for the titular character, Hal Jordan, but also for the refreshed Sinestro. Sinestro was written as THE villain.
We want menacing and believable villains. We want cool villains, and they don’t get much cooler than this bastard! He is the emissary of fear; his yellow power ring allows him to create any fearful construct his twisted mind can conjure. Afraid of spiders? Sinestro can create some and then have them eat you alive. He is also a being who relishes in the absolute control and order of all aspects of life. He is a villain of cool composure; ruthless and ever plotting. However, he is more than a super villain; albeit he may not even consider himself as the antagonist of his stories. And why should he? He is an enormously complex character, with motivation, depth, and humanistic tragedy. He is much more than the mustache twirling despot he is written to be at times. This is important because Sinestro started as a hero. His eventual fall from grace an be placed in two deeply rooted and relatable human aspects: tragedy and revenge.
First of all, Sinestro is one of my favorite bad guys because I can relate to him to a certain extent; specifically his tragic fall from grace. He’s a guy who values his self-worth, which to him is engulfed in his prestigious title as one of the greatest Green Lanterns of all time. He focuses solely on the ideal of order in a virtuously order-less world. He is strong-willed, and he will do everything that is necessary to protect the citizens of his home world, Korugar. His actions are aimed at Utopia, at control, and at peace. However, he takes a “by all means necessary” approach. This is a great example of the infamous saying, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
He is a man of vision, and he is respected for it, but then things start to unravel. He loses his best friend (Abin Sur); he loses his precious wife and daughter. He therefore only has his title left and his legacy. This is what leads him to such totalitarian madness. He becomes a dictator in order to save his world. He does this while creating a new bond with the new and idealistic Green Lantern, Hal Jordan. Sinestro ultimately reaches out to Hal, which is difficult for him to do, and this leads to Sinestro’s fall from grace. Hal does not side with his mentor but instead betrays him by outing Sinestro’s totalitarian regime in Korugar. Sinestro is therefore stripped of his lantern ring, and he is excommunicated from the Corps, he is banished, and therefore, he loses everything.
This is some powerful, Shakespearean stuff. However, Sinestro is not the kind of man to stay down. This is what leads me to the second reason as to why Sinestro is so captivating and one of my favorite villains, he fully embraces his newfound title as “ the bad guy” and allows his hatred to consume him. He is banished to the anti-matter universe. And you would think that’s the end of him, but no. Sinestro is not a man to be trifled with. He will play the long game to ultimately get the last laugh. He succumbs to revenge, which is a very human emotion. To him, it is all personal, and he unleashes hell. Passively, he unleashes Parallax upon Jordan, which sets off the events of Emerald Twilight (1994) that led to the corruption of Hal and the destruction of the Green Lantern Corps. Sinestro then actively created his own Fear Lanterns and went to actual galactic war with earth and the remaining Green Lanterns.
The Sinestro Corps War (2008) was such an explosive event in where Sinestro systematically almost destroyed those who slighted him all those years before. Sinestro would always remember, and he would never forgive. He almost beat Hal and the Guardians; he almost won. And honestly, on some level, the reader may have wanted to see it. After all, the Guardians of OA were self-righteous pricks. There was blood in the water, and the antagonistic feud between Hal and Sinestro could not possibly get any more raw.
But then apocalyptic events started occurring, the light spectrum was getting new ring slingers, and so the relationship between Sinestro and Jordan would only grew more and more complex. Sinestro fights alongside Jordan against Red Lanterns on Ysmault, he manages to harness the power of the Life entity within the White Lantern during The Blackest Night (2009); and he harnesses Parallax’s power fully to help destroy Volthoom, the First Lantern. And all of this occurs before DC’s current rebirth event. This is all pretty impressive.
Sinestro is the villain that can be seen as a cruel and twisted character (especially in the way he killed so many lanterns during the Sinestro Corps War and enslaved his entire world for peaceful order). After all, he is the quintessential 1984 Big Brother Totalitarian dictator described by George Orwell, but he has a face, a deeper drive, and a deep conviction. He is so cool with his alien demeanor; he can act like such a queen when talking to Hal. (Those are some of my favorite exchanges throughout the DC continuity). What makes Sinestro such a beautiful super villain, but more importantly, a character, is his rich motivations. An individual who loses everything, but keeps trying to get it back from malevolent, outside forces (the Guardians of Oa) and his once so called brothers in arms (the Green Lantern Corps). He might do perceptually evil things; but he never truly gives up on the ideal of the corps: to serve and protect, which is beautifully illustrated in War of The Green Lanterns, where he comes full circle and protects Hal against the crazed Krona.
What truly breaks my heart in Sinestro’s characterization though isn’t his loss of compassion or empathy; it is the evolution of his relationship with Hal Jordan. Once a mentor, then a friend, then a mortal enemy, Jordan is a huge motivator for Sinestro because as much as he does loathe this particular Green Lantern, he will always consider him a brother. They get into so many spats, so many bare-knuckle brawls. One minute they are trying to kill each other; the next they are working together. And that gets me every time. Two friends on opposing sides forever entwined in a dance of death. At the end of the conflict with the First Lantern, Sinestro says it all, “That’s the tragedy of all this Jordan. Hal. We’ll always be friends”.
Geoff Johns does such a good job in that panel. It breaks my heart every time. And that is why I appreciate everything Geoff Johns has done for the DC Universe, especially the Green Lantern story for the past many years. He is a creative mind who creates stories through character growth; and never has it shone as brightly than in the tales of Hal Jordan and Thaal Sinestro.
Sinestro is an amazingly complex super villain, and he is a pretty vindictive and ruthless character; however, that sense of order in a world that keeps trying to introduce chaos that he has is understandable. Sinestro is just trying to make sense of the world. And he will take it by force to save it as he sees fit. And honestly, that is pretty cool.