Sun Green was seemingly born into a life of destiny. The Green family—for whom her native town of Greendale, California, is named—has a history of odd behavior, particularly when it comes to its women. The Green women are vexing, to say the least—they often have strange powers over nature and certainly over men—and they have an odd habit of disappearing, never to be heard from again.
Sun Green happens to be born at a time that will put her, when she reaches adulthood, at the center of both political and environmental concerns, placing her on a date with destiny. Sun and her twin sister, Luna, are born in 1985, but Luna doesn’t make it. Sun thrives, however, growing strong and confident, with uncanny abilities (like being able to climb just about anything, charming the animals on her parents’ farm, communing with nature in unexplained ways). When she reaches 18, in 2003, she’s a strong young woman trying to balance life in this small rural town with a desire to explore—and change—the world.
Greendale is based on a concept album by Neil Young, which was in turn converted to both an opera and a film (directed by Young himself). In this adaptation, writer Joshua Dysart (author of the excellent Unknown Soldier) and artist Cliff Chiang (Human Target) take the story and give it life in comics form. Dysart and Chiang do a wonderful job of bringing Sun’s entire extended family to life, a notable accomplishment considering how many of them there are: In addition to Sun’s parents, there is Sun’s grandfather, suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease; his second wife; Sun’s cousin; Sun’s great-grandmother; Sun’s grand-uncle; as well as those aforementioned Green women who have disappeared through the years. Keeping track of all of those family members would normally be a quite difficult task, but Dysart and Chiang achieve a comfort level in their storytelling that makes it easy to follow along. It’s as though you’re sitting on your grandmother’s sun porch, drinking iced tea, listening to an amazing story being told, and because it’s so well done, you have no trouble keeping up.
No foreknowledge of Young’s album or any of its previous incarnations is required here. As you might expect, the story quickly veers into political territory—it’s 2003, and America is about to embark on a war in Iraq; meanwhile, California is suffering from a manufactured energy crisis and cries for drilling for oil in Alaska are getting louder. Sun is caught up in these politics with the vigor of youth and the courage of her convictions. When a band of hippy college students rolls through town (in a Volkswagen van, of course, and spouting lines like, “This is how change comes, you know? Injustice feeds the furnace ‘til the train starts to roll, dig?”), Sun can’t resist. She falls for one of them, and he falls for her even harder—men are powerless to resist her charms, after all.
And that’s when everything begins to unravel. A stranger comes to town, one apparently only Sun can see (he looks like the real-life Young, but he’s definitely a lot less friendly). The stranger causes a great deal of trouble for Sun and her family, and Sun is then forced to confront not only the stranger but herself, as she attempts to learn just who and what she is and what she can do.
Greendale is remarkably compelling and timely. Chiang’s art is as much a standout as the story. He expertly manages to make the different characters come alive, and his beautiful renditions of both rural California and the exquisite nature surrounding it are vibrant and wonderful.
Reviewed by John Hogan on July 10, 2012
Neil Young's Greendale