Depending on who you talk to, the "Greendale" project is either Neil Young's Magnum Opus and the most important thing he has done since "Ohio," or it is the self-indulgent sentiments of a once-great man whose creative powers have long since faded. Love it or hate it, it cannot be denied that "Greendale" is unique and an entirely new challenge for Young.
First released in 2003, "Greendale" was conceived as a 10-song rock opera telling the saga of the environmental-awakening of Sun Green and her standing up to the evil corporation "PowerCo" and their Alaskan oil drilling, along with some anti-mass media and general corruption protests thrown in for good measure. The story grew in the telling, which began with a simple acoustic set by Young, enlarging to include his band Crazy Horse and finally to a full-blown stage show complete with props and actors miming out the actions in the background while the band played on. In 2004, Young re-made his story as what he called a feature film, but at 87-minutes and with no dialog it is essentially a series of grainy low-tech music videos.
Wanting to bring his story to an even wider audience, Young brought his ideas to DC Comics and asked if they would be interested in a collaboration. Young worked with writer Joshua Dysart (who was no stranger to working with singers, as he also scripted Avril Lavigne's Make 5 Wishes), and the two put together a new take on the story that had dashes of Dysart, great big helpings of Young, and some twists and turns that readers have come to expect from the DC Vertigo imprint.
The story revolves around Sun Green from the town of Greendale, California. The Green family are sort of the town oddballs, with an out-of-work father who dreams of becoming a fine artist and a musician mother who had a local hit song several years ago. Together they live and work on the Double E ranch, nearby Sun's Grandfather and Cousin Jed, a low-level pot dealer with a penchant for firearms.
When sun turns 18 Sun begins to have strange dreams of a green woman who tells Sun to "Be the Rain," and some of the secrets of the Green family women begin to come to light as Sun searches for answers. Women born into the Green family have a tendency to wander off into the woods and never return, and Sun begins to fear for her safety and sanity. Into this town come two strangers, the boy Earth Brown who is instantly attracted to Sun Green, and the Devil himself, in the form of a red-eyed cowboy who has come to do battle with the newly-awakened Sun.
The main departure from Young's original opera is the introduction of supernatural elements into the story of Sun Green, who was previously just the voice of youth activism but is now the inheritor of a lineage of Earth mothers who can tap into a sort of elemental strength. The Green woman, is apparently the actual Green Woman, she of the foliage face seen in Neo-paganism. The timelines of Young's story are re-arranged as well, with Sun's climbing of the Golden Eagle being the climax of the story rather than the middle-point, and taking place after meeting Earth Brown and not before.
Considering its odd history, "Greendale" actually turns out to be a decent comic, but not an exceptional one. Joshua Dysart does his best wringing a narrative out of Young's music, going so far as to include the song lyrics as character's dialog from time to time. The introduction of Neo-paganism and supernatural elements works well, and definitely gives the story more of a "Vertigo feel" rather than simply being a political harangue of corporate America. Cliff Chiang (Doctor 13) does a stand-out job on the artwork, and the always wonderful Dave Stewart (Hellboy) adds the color that a project called "Greendale" needs. Chiang went out of his way to preserve Young's character designs, although he ditched Sun's camouflage skirt and mid-rift exposing top for something more practical.
I think my biggest problem with "Greendale" is that it just feels really dated, using imagery and politics more reflective of the late 1990s than 2010. Comics has already been through the Neo-paganism thing, back when the film The Craft made a brief witchcraft boom, and gave birth to series like Garth Ennis' Goddess and Chris Bachalo's The Witching Hour. And while Young has a lot of feelings and emotions backing up his music, that same intensity just doesn't translate here, and two many of the characters fall flat, being mere plot-devices rather than living characters with depth and story.
Ultimately, I think "Greendale" is going to appeal to those people who are already fans of either the genre or Neil Young. If your politics lean to the left, and you aren't opposed to dancing around a Maypole or reciting the Wiccan Rede, then you might enjoy this as a story that confirms to your beliefs. Alternately, if you already own the "Greenwood" CD and are familiar with the story and concepts, I think Dysart and Chiang did a fantastic job transposing the work and it stands as a nice supplement to Young's rock opera.
However, if you are just a curious comics fan than "Greendale" is likely to disappoint. There is just not enough story here, and too many of the political statements come off as trite and undeveloped.