Back Issue Bin Review: Green Lantern v2
|January 29, 2013||Posted by Jess under Back Issue Bin Review, Comics|
Green Lantern v2 is the classic Silver Age Hal Jordan run. After a successful three-issue introduction in Showcase1, Hal was given his own series, which ran from 1960 to 1988, with one four-year hiatus and several official and unofficial renamings. It introduced not just Hal and his supporting cast of Carol Ferris and Tom Kalmaku, but the concept of the Guardians and the Green Lantern Corps, plus fellow Lanterns John Stewart and Guy Gardner, and encompasses the famous Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow run of the early 70s. It’s kind of a big deal.
Let’s get this out the way first: I don’t like Hal Jordan. I think he’s a self-involved jackass. And yes, many of my favorite characters are self-involved jackasses (Booster Gold, Oliver Queen, Guy Gardner), but the difference between them and Hal is that they’re acknowledged to be self-involved jackasses. Hal trips through life taking advantage of vulnerable women (dating teenagers! telling women their boyfriend died and then dating them! having sex with women undergoing mental breakdowns and amnesia! Hal is a prince) and punching basically everyone in the face with little-to-no provocation, and he’s hailed as one of the greatest heroes ever to live. That irks me. I will say that he isn’t really any more of a jerk than any Silver Age hero during the 60s, but he never grew out of it the way, say, Clark Kent did.
Anyway, the series has several distinct eras, so let’s take them in turn:
- Hal starts off as a test pilot for Ferris Aircraft. It’s a very classic Silver Age setup, with a love triangle – Carol loves Green Lantern, but Hal wants to win her as himself, though that doesn’t stop him dating her as Green Lantern – and a youthful sidekick, Tom “Pieface” Kalmaku. There’s a host of silly, one-note villains, and plenty of standard thwarting-of-bank-robbers mixed in with the spacey adventures. Initially, John Broome and Gil Kane respectively penned and drew these issues; Gardner Fox soon joined the team as an alternate writer.
- Around issue #50, Carol abruptly gets engaged to some guy we never even see. Hal, heartbroken(ish), decides to quit his job and wander around California, first as an insurance claims adjuster, then as a toy salesman. Denny O’Neil joins the rotating cast of writers, but otherwise it’s mostly the same as what came before; I point it out just because I thought the put-upon vagabond hero was a surprising touch this early in the game. Normally Silver Age DC heroes are pretty content to run through their formulas indefinitely. Also, Guy Gardner is introduced during this era, and he is my absolute favorite Green Lantern forever and ever, even if he’s just in the one issue here and without much personality.
- Things change in a much more major way with issue #76, when O’Neil and Adams take over and Green Arrow joins the cast. The next fourteen issues, though officially still part of the Green Lantern series, bear the logo “Green Lantern Co-Starring Green Arrow” and feature Hal and Ollie hitting the road, exploring the counterculture, and learning valuable lessons about prejudice, civil disobedience, and rolling around on the ground together. *ahem* It’s the official start of the Green Arrow/Black Canary romance, the introduction of John Stewart, and the source of the famous “Snowbirds Don’t Fly” story, which showed Ollie’s sidekick Roy “Speedy” Harper battling drug addiction – the first time a hero had ever been shown doing so. These issues are clunky and actually rather un-PC by today’s standards, but I just love them to pieces. Adams’ art is stunning, and though O’Neil’s broad political statements are dated, his characterization is unmatched. I actually kind of like Hal here!2 Moreover, the good intentions of the writing shine through, and it’s not like we’ve solved issues of racism and poverty forty years later, right?
- Despite critical acclaim, the new direction wasn’t enough to revive GL’s flagging sales for long, and it was canceled with issue #89. It was revived in 1976, still under the “Green Lantern Co-Starring Green Arrow” banner, with an uncredited Black Canary in most issues too. The social justice angle was gone, replaced with more complicated plots involving aliens and/or conspiracies. John and Guy each reappear briefly, the latter seemingly killed when a power battery blows up in his face. Hal, now working as a truck driver, informs Guy’s psychic gypsy girlfriend3 and basically immediately starts macking on her. Like, making out with her while she weepingly tells him how much he reminds her of Guy. Hal is really a prime example of a human, is my point here. They are on the verge of getting married – like, walking down the aisle – when it’s revealed that Guy is actually trapped in the Phantom Zone. Hal rescues him, but Guy is left in a coma, and Kari leaves Hal (HA HA HA) to care for Guy. These issues were primarily written and drawn, respectively, by Marv Wolfman and Mike Grell, then Wolfman and Joe Staton.
- Ollie and Dinah leave the title with #122, and #123, by Len Wein and Dave Gibbons, brings Hal back to his old stomping grounds: Ferris Aircraft, with Carol and Tom filling out the ranks again. Lots of Ferris drama ensues: Carol hates Hal and is turning into Star Sapphire a lot lately, her father returns and takes the company away from her, there’s a massive government conspiracy to destroy Ferris, everything is gloom and doom and misery. Like, Tom-contemplating-suicide misery. In #182, a much-needed injection of positivity arrives when Hal quits being GL in order to spend more time with Carol, and John takes over on a (supposedly) permanent basis. I hadn’t read much with John before, but he’s an absolute delight here: he’s funny, he’s dedicated, and he’s a welcome contrast to Hal’s nonstop angst. Guy wakes up from his coma with the new, abrasive personality that he’s best known for; Carol is transformed into an extra-evil version of Star Sapphire, seemingly permanently; and the Crisis on Infinite Earths happens, causing the Guardians to withdraw from direct interaction with the Corps.
- While Guy runs off to join my beloved Justice League International, Hal and John settle on Earth with some Crisis-displaced fellow Lanterns as a sort of mini corps: Katma Tui, who eventually marries John, with whom she is the absolute cutest; Arisia Rrab, a plucky teenager with a crush on Hal; cartoon-chipmunk-looking Ch’p; gloomy Salaak; and Socialist heavy Kilowog. Wacky team adventures ensue, notably Arisia accidentally aging herself up to physical adulthood with her ring and Hal figuring, “Hey, good enough,” and totally starting a sexual relationship with her, ugh, Hal, you are gross and John and Katma agree with me. The whole thing ends with the Corps killing Sinestro for his many crimes, triggering a failsafe in the central power battery that destroys, um, everything. Good job, guys? Anyway, save for Hal, John, Guy, and a handful of others, most of the GLs are left without their rings.
- The Silver Age Showcase was a way for DC to test the appeal of a new character before committing to giving them their own series. Wikipedia hilariously lists the “major characters” who were introduced in this way, such as Hal, Barry Allen, and, uh, the Sea Devils. DC is doing something similar now with Showcase by using it to spotlight old DCU characters in their new DCnU incarnations…but they’re kind of random characters who would be unlikely to get their own series anyway (sorry, Looker), so I’m not entirely sure what the point is. A #1 would sell way better than any one-shot these days anyway (unlike in the Silver Age, when a #1 meant that the series hadn’t been tried and tested). ↩
- The only writer who can consistently make me like Hal is Mark Waid, in his Justice League: Year One and The Brave and the Bold. ↩
- Ohhhhh, so offensive. ↩
- Still an in-progress thing, of course. ↩
- All of which are of course good and respectable jobs, but you can’t argue that the former is flashier than the latter, especially for the son of an upper-crusty family. ↩
- I’m aware liberals aren’t a disenfranchised group, as that is literally the opposite of what disenfranchise technically means, but they are the political party more aligned with the interests of disenfranchised groups (though not nearly as much as I’d like them to be). ↩
- Hal’s Emerald Alliance Team, who fought to get Hal reinstated as GL after he went crazy and evil and died. Seriously! There was a whole movement! Lulz forever, guys. Lulz forever. ↩
So yeah, there’s unsurprisingly a lot of history packed into nearly three decades of comics. Some eras were hits, and some were misses: Hal’s classic Silver Age adventures are classics for a reason, the O’Neil/Adams issues are masterpieces of the form, and I truly enjoyed anything featuring John, but by the end of all the GL Corps drama I was pretty drained. A character who is primarily a light-bringer doesn’t strike me as a great vehicle for angst, but I realize I’m overruled by both Geoff Johns and the producers of the Green Lantern movie, so what do I know? It’s particularly unfair because “terrible things happening to Hal” so often = “terrible things happening to Hal’s friends” and/or “Hal’s friends behave in ways other than serving him.”
Speaking of which, I have a theory I’ve been kicking around that Hal’s series – and life in general – is a metaphor for white male anxiety over their gradual loss of “rulers of the world” status.4 When the series starts, Hal’s sitting pretty: flashy, well-paying job as a test pilot, pretty girlfriend, puppyishly devoted sidekick, wealthy and important family – and that’s before he’s chosen over every single person on Earth to receive a ring that can do anything. Almost immediately, though, Carol gets put in charge of Ferris Aircraft – which means she is no longer willing to date what are now her employees. Hal is never, ever pleased for Carol; her promotion is viewed only as an impediment to his love life.
Meanwhile, it’s not until Hal’s life starts going downhill that Tom’s starts going up: he opens up a franchise of filling stations and is happily married with two kids. Hal very weirdly equates this with Coast City electing a black mayor, “which nobody thought would happen!” I’m sorry, Hal, does seeing minorities in positions of financial and political power make you feel threatened? Poor baby. The prestige of Hal’s job steadily declines, from test pilot to insurance claims adjuster to toy salesman to truck driver5 – but the minute he gets his test pilot job back, Tom loses everything and comes back to Ferris as a mechanic. Once Hal loses his job at Ferris again, Tom becomes a wealthy engineer/inventor. And of course Hal is deeply threatened by the presence of John, especially when John becomes the full-time GL. Hal’s indignation is particularly baffling since he a) resigned and b) trained John to be his replacement. He remains threatened by John even when he’s reinstated to the Corps. I don’t know why Hal’s happiness and the happiness of any minority he knows is a zero-sum game, but I have a suspicion.
Hal is similarly threatened by Ollie (liberals!), Guy (the working class!), and Olivia Reynolds (women in the workforce again! also, eventually, lesbians!). I’m not saying that Hal never clashes with straight white upper middle class dudes, but it’s just interesting that whenever anything good happens to anyone in a disenfranchised group, it ruins Hal’s life. Which, I mean, I want good things to happen to disenfranchised people anyway, but now I want it even more.6
Anyway, that’s Hal Jordan: Fifty Years of the Same Damn Haircut. Eventually I’ll reread Green Lantern v3, and then we can talk all about how Parallax was the best thing ever to happen to the man. Sorry, H.E.A.T.7