Comics Ate My Brain

August 18, 2004

Filed under: green lantern — Tom Bondurant @ 4:49 pm
One comment to my previous GL post rightly pointed out that Hal murdered several Green Lanterns and all but one of the Guardians, so why don’t they just clap him in irons whenever he’s rejuvenated? (They could say, “well, we’re back from the dead too, so let’s call it even,” but that wouldn’t exactly be a fair trade because Kyle brought them back. Still, Kyle only brought them back as toddlers, and apparently changed the gender of some, so I don’t know how happy they’d be with him either.) At Wizard World Chicago, the point was made that “Batman’s almost the villain” of Rebirth. That suggests to me that Batman doesn’t trust Hal anymore either.

Anyway, I should have addressed that in the earlier post and didn’t, so shame on me. My blind spot probably comes from two sources. First, I thought “Emerald Twilight” could be justified by the destruction of Coast City and Hal’s past rebellions against the Guardians, but that doesn’t mean I thought it was in character for him. “ET” was such a jarring event that I have since chalked it up to temporary insanity. Second, “ET” was an abrupt editorial decision on DC’s part, so in a sense Hal also gets the “Nuremberg defense” of just “following orders” from Kevin Dooley and Ron Marz. Still, I don’t like being less than complete.

And all I meant by Hal-Spectre “working smoothly” was that it wasn’t creating any major disruptions. Hal was running around stirring up trouble as Parallax, but as the Spectre he was in the background, available for deus ex machina work as needed. A lot of fans didn’t like Hal as the Spectre. I thought the Spectre series was enjoyable enough, but I didn’t want that to be Hal’s final resting place (so to speak). Nevertheless, the status quo had adapted to include Hal-Spectre such that some kind of disruption — as shown in “Redemption Lost” — was necessary to shake it up and require the kind of fix that Rebirth apparently will bring. Sorry for being unclear, and thanks for helping keep me honest.

The Obligatory Green Lantern Essay

Filed under: green lantern — Tom Bondurant @ 12:49 am
Hal Jordan’s coming back and everybody’s got an opinion. Here’s mine.

While I try to be optimistic, there are still a lot of potential pitfalls. Chief among them is the justification for Hal becoming Green Lantern again. In 1994’s “Emerald Twilight,” Hal went insane and destroyed the Green Lantern Corps. In 1996, Hal sacrificed his life to reignite the Sun. In 1999, the still-dead Hal became the ghostly host of the omnipotent Spectre. For the most part, Hal’s short-lived Spectre comic gave him closure over his misdeeds in life. Thus, Geoff Johns’ recent “Redemption Lost” storyline in JSA upset Hal’s Spectral equilibrium, and apparently will lead into Johns’ Green Lantern Rebirth miniseries. In other words, although fans might not have liked the Hal-Spectre, it was working smoothly, and a Rebirth solution first needed a “Redemption Lost” problem.

Second, but no less important, will be Hal’s post-Spectre character. As Green Lantern, Hal’s main source of drama came from the tension between his life on Earth and his duties in space. Now that his ties to Earth have been severed (due mostly to his being dead for the past several years), he’s presumably free to devote all his time to the Green Lantern Corps.

But how will he feel about being a lackey to three dozen omniscient, omnipotent immortals, after having been the Redemptive Force of God Almighty? In life, he second-guessed the Guardians. He then learned not to second-guess the Lord. Still, working for the Divine Presence might cause Hal to question any lesser bosses.

Hal will also have to deal with colleagues who are now more experienced. These include his successor, Kyle Rayner, who once bore sole responsibility for restoring the Green Lantern Corps; and his former deputy John Stewart, who is the Justice League’s resident Lantern. Given Geoff Johns’ nostalgic tendencies, Guy Gardner may also rejoin the Corps. All three have changed and grown since Hal’s breakdown and death. Hal should be humbled after Rebirth, and with the others being more on his level, he certainly won’t automatically be in charge.

Rebirth would make a big splash regardless of who wrote it. Since the writer is Geoff Johns, there is a danger that only someone with a good command of DC history (if not specific GL history) could fully enjoy Rebirth. As writer of JSA and Teen Titans, Johns has become a specialist at weaving new stories out of DC’s complex and sometimes contradictory history. In this respect he’s not much different from writers like Kurt Busiek, or even ‘80s GL writer Steve Englehart. (Englehart famously studied practically the entire run of Green Lantern in order to justify a particular multiple-personality storyline involving Hal’s girlfriend Carol Ferris.) This can sometimes mean that characters are exposition generators, and their dramatic roles in the story suffer accordingly. As far as I know, Johns hasn’t tried a revitalization on this scale before; and so he must ensure that Rebirth doesn’t feel like the reintroductions of Raven, Hawkman, or Doctor Fate.

For me the best thing about Hal’s return is the contemporaneous re-establishment of the Green Lantern Corps. In Hal’s heyday, readers saw many of the thousands of Green Lanterns patrolling the universe. Never mind John and Guy — the Corps had birds, fish, insects, crystalline creatures, clouds, androids, cannibals, you name it. If you got tired of Hal, wait a month or so and you could see a cartoon-type squirrel dispensing emerald justice. To me all the different Lanterns helped keep the concept fresh. Still, when the word came down that Kyle was going to be the only Green Lantern left, that was it for the rest of the ring-bearers.

Having Kyle as the only Green Lantern meant that he was saddled with a particularly heavy bit of baggage. For the first few years of Kyle’s existence, his adventures drove home the notion that he was The Last One. The fact that Hal hung around, in one form or another, didn’t help either. Kyle then decided to restore the Corps, which so far has turned out about like my decision to renovate my office — a lot of planning, some false starts, and mostly a mess. For years a feeling of uneasy anticipation hung over both Kyle and Hal, with fans waiting for both to find some kind of groove, Corps or not.

While John’s position in the League seems fairly secure (at least as long as he’s on TV), his character has suffered because of it. John was originally conceived as a socially aware architect, both more intellectual and more radical than Hal. When Hal quit the Corps in 1984, John took his place, and was Earth’s only Green Lantern for over a year (until Hal came back). Even when several Lanterns were stationed on Earth, John stood out among them. He eventually got his own book, which lasted some 16 issues. It was launched amid much fanfare and canceled as part of “Emerald Twilight’s” radical changes. John disappeared for a few years, resurfacing as a supporting character to Kyle. Still, when he got a power ring again, he quickly moved over to the Justice League, where there has been little room for characterization. I can’t say it enough – the Green Lantern concept fosters diversity in characters and storytelling possibilities, and it is shortsighted to focus on any one Lantern to the exclusion of the others. Geoff Johns should make time for Kyle, John, Guy, and other Green Lanterns, if for no other reason than to highlight facets of Hal’s character.

Ultimately, I think about Hal Jordan’s return in much the same terms as Michael Jordan’s. The first time, Jordan only spent about one and a half seasons out of the NBA, so he came back to a league which was much the same as when he left. He also returned to Chicago, where he was surrounded by an improved supporting cast. Chicago lost in the playoffs that year, but won the next three NBA titles. Jordan’s second comeback, with the Washington Wizards, was much less successful, both because he was older and because the Wizards weren’t nearly as good as Jordan’s Bulls teams. There will always be a special aura around Michael Jordan, but his experience with the Wizards shows that the circumstances have to be right for even the best players to succeed.

DC can’t just plop Hal Jordan into a rejuvenated Green Lantern Corps and expect to tell meaningful stories. The circumstances have to be right. The responsibility for those circumstances now rests largely with Geoff Johns.

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