Comics Ate My Brain

August 18, 2004

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.


  1. “In other words, although fans might not have liked the Hal-Spectre, it was working smoothly”If fans don’t like it, it wasn’t working period.You didn’t address the main problem. Ignoring whether Kyle is a greatest character since Hamlet, or just sux, Hal Jordon has been poisoned. Short of murding children, he commited the worse acts of evil a human can commit. He’s a traitor. A mutineer who murdered his friends and colleagues.How can you rectify this? Beause he moped around as a ghost? I can’t see how on ressurection, he would not be immediately be taken into custody and tried by the Guardians and punished. How can they call themselves just if they don’t?All other details like Kyle, John, Guy and the reformation of the Corps can be dealt with, with a little brain work, but Jordan? I liked him, but he’s a lost cause.

    Comment by Captain Qwert Jr — August 18, 2004 @ 2:29 am

  2. Easy explanation. Mind Control. heh. heh.Very well written synopsis.

    Comment by Shane Bailey — August 18, 2004 @ 12:43 pm

  3. Wow, what a great essay! It’s really all the things that I want to say about Hal, but could never find the words for. I’m eventually going to write my own Hal Jordan essay, but now I know I’ll have a lot to live up to, to match this one.On a related note, I hope you don’t mind, but based on this essay and your Identity Crisis research (and yours posts on TrekBBS), I posted a link to this blog on the new Comics Nexus site ( their forums. You’ve really got some of the most insightful, well researched views on comics. Hopefully it’ll send a few readers your way (I also post a few other places, like Geoff Johns MB, so if you don’t mind, I’ll put your link in a post over there too).I look forward to reading your posts and am usually blown away by the passion you have for your topics, which is clear to readers.

    Comment by Neil — August 18, 2004 @ 6:24 pm

  4. I’ve always thought that “Emerald Twilight” was so horrendously stupid and poorly done that the only retcon it deserved was a two-panel John Byrne drive-by, and then to be never spoken of again.

    Comment by Chris — August 19, 2004 @ 3:53 am

  5. I would have been happy with an issue where Arisia wakes up, finds Hal in the shower, and tells him all about this dream she had where Hal had died…;)

    Comment by Neil — August 19, 2004 @ 2:24 pm

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