Green Lantern ( Hal Jordan )

an incomplete history and personal perspective

Green Lantern was a comic book character revived by DC Comics in 1958. The original version had been Alan Scott, whose magical Power Ring enabled him to fly, pass through walls, and perform various other feats. Scott's comic book was canceled around 1950 when super-heroes suffered a big drop in popularity.

Hal Jordan was an entirely new conception of the character. While his equipment looked and behaved much like that of his predecessor, now the concept had a far larger scope, based in a science unimaginably advanced. Its inspiration was drawn from super-science epics such as E.E. "Doc" Smith's Lensmen series. As Green Lantern, Hal's basic tool was the power ring, a device whose capabilities are both easy to explain and hard to comprehend and effectively exploit. The ring contained a green energy which was obviously one of the fundamental forces of the universe. It was capable of doing literally anything within the limits of the user's imagination and will power. Hal's most frequent trick was creating solid green objects...huge green hands, walls, shields, creatures, and many others. But this was only the beginning of the ring's capabilities. Hal also used it to fly, to translate languages, probe minds, pass through solid objects, become invisible, restructure living beings, and for many other effects. In fact there was no inherent limit to what the ring could do, other than that it was ineffective against anything colored yellow. This was in keeping with DC's habit at the time of inflicting its most powerful heroes with some arbitrary weakness to keep them from being too all-powerful. In this case it simply presented Hal with an opportunity to be ingenious by discovering indirect methods of overcoming yellow threats.

These rings and the lantern-like batteries that charged them were given to Hal and selected others by the Guardians of the Universe, an ancient race of immortals. These short blue humanoids had taken up the task of preserving order in the universe as atonement for a misdeed by Krona, a member of their race who had attempted to see back through time to the beginning of the universe. This forbidden act led to evil being unleashed into a universe which had previously been innocent of it.

After long experimentation the Guardians equipped and loosely oversaw the Green Lantern Corps, 3600 diverse beings from throughout the universe.  Each was granted a battery and a ring. Thinly scattered among uncounted trillions of stars, each was assigned a sector of space which was vaster than anyone can comprehend.

Hal Jordan was a civilian test pilot unwittingly brought into this great organization when Abin Sur, the Green Lantern of Earth's space sector, was mortally injured near Earth. As his dying act, Abin Sur passed on his responsibility by commanding his ring to seek an Earthman meeting the criteria of the GLC: honesty and an innate fearlessness. As a test pilot, Hal exemplified these qualities. His character was illustrated by his first words to this dying alien: "How can I help?" He was depicted as a cool, confident, decisive man, uncomplicated by today's standards. His only weakness was fecklessness when dealing with Carol Ferris, his boss (several times removed) and love interest. Aside from that, Hal was a precursor of the test pilots and astronauts described in Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff. In fact, he was created at the same time the Mercury astronauts were being selected.

Hal did not immediately understand the scope of his new mission. The Guardians kept themselves hidden as they evaluated him, aside from transmitting anonymous instructions for dealing with various off-planet threats. While Hal took his new duties seriously, he also kept his job as a test pilot.

As the years went on, the Green Lantern comic showed occasional flashes of something like its real potential. Hal met the Guardians and some of his fellow Lanterns. His adventures alternated between earthbound conflicts with crooks and costumed villains and tales which sent him out to patrol the limits of his sector and beyond. Although he had a prominent place in earth's community of super-heroes, he also had a larger role, a larger responsibility, as a member of the Green Lantern Corps.

Sometime around 1966 Hal's life was shaken up when Carol Ferris announced she was marrying another man. Hal's response was, in my opinion, the first of many mistakes in his characterization, mistakes which ultimately compounded to degrade and destroy the character. He quit his job and went off to wander around the country, sulking and holding such unlikely jobs as insurance adjuster and toy salesman

I suspect this was a response to Marvel Comics, which was overtaking DC in popularity with its unhappy, angst-ridden "realistic" characters. Hal may have been one of DC's first attempts to imitate this trend. If so, he was a strange choice since Hal's very status as a Green Lantern was dependent on his will power, honesty, and courage. It's hard to think of Hal's peers, pilots like Chuck Yeager or Neil Armstrong, chucking their careers to become toy salesmen because they'd been jilted.

As Green Lantern's sales waned, DC tried a desperate experiment, teaming him up with the newly-socially-conscious Green Arrow. This led to one of the most famous and most ludicrous scenes in comics: Green Lantern being chided by an urban black man for doing nothing to help blacks in America. So what exactly should this space patrolman, with responsibility for hundreds or thousands of worlds, have done for blacks? Built community centers? Arrested drug pushers? Lobbied for the repeal of repressive laws? I guess that black guy, and writer Denny O'Neil, didn't think Hal was helping blacks when he saved the world, or the universe.

But for some reason Hal was cowed by this logic, resuming his wanderings with Green Arrow as partner and gadfly. These stories were dramatic and certainly well-drawn (by the great Neal Adams), but they led to a dilution of Hal's character and convictions. This was also the first instance where the Guardians were shown not as wise overseers with a larger vision of reality but as petty upholders of local laws, chastising Hal for attacking a slumlord. For billions of years the Guardians had combatted the evil which their own race had released into the universe. But Denny O'Neil would not admit that these ancient beings might be wise and just... certainly not as wise as an American 60s liberal. Instead they were authoritarians prone to arbitrary decisions, just as the Green Lanterns themselves were "cops" or even "crypto-fascists", a 20th Century political label with no meaning in the larger universe. I can't believe that the Guardians would even know the precise property laws of one corner of one planet, let alone be so anal about seeing them enforced. Their concern was to fight evil and preserve life, not uphold laws designed to maintain and protect the wealth of the powerful. Famous as these stories were, to me they were a step in the long decline of a once-great character and mythos.

The experiment was a sales failure. Green Lantern was canceled for several years. Hal was relegated to back-up feature status in The Flash. There he commenced another unlikely career, this time as a truck driver. It always struck me as absurd that a Green Lantern would waste his time guiding truckloads of fruit or toilet paper from one city to another. It was practically a dereliction of duty. Hal was always concerned about whether he had a job, as if being a Green Lantern wasn't job enough for anyone!

The book was restarted after a few years, at first as a watered-down Green Lantern-Green Arrow, but soon under the Green Lantern name alone, still at first written by O'Neil. Hal began a long, complex series of ups and downs, his fortunes varying with the competence of the artists and especially the writers. This period included Hal being exiled to space for a year as penance for neglecting his duties to other worlds (he deserved it). Upsides included the Green Lantern Corps mini-series, which introduced a number of new characters and was generally an impressive depiction of Hal and the GLC as a whole. The new characters included the appealing Arisia of Graxos, a teenage female Lantern who had a crush on Hal. A series of Green Lantern Corps back-up features illustrated some of the depth and diversity of the Corps.

Eventually one of Hal's spats with the Guardians, who were increasingly being shown as prone to capricious decisions, led to Hal's resignation from the Corps. He was replaced by John Stewart, one of Hal's alternates. Hal pursued a number of bizarre soap opera situations with Carol Ferris and his other friends while Stewart did his best to live up to the standards of the Corps.

Hal eventually returned to duty as a result of a universal crisis. During this event the Guardians decided to withdraw from the universe in order to mate with their female counterparts and reproduce, leaving the GLC to operate on its own. The system of assigning Lanterns to specific sectors of space was abandoned. Soon after that the Earth became host to six other Green Lanterns (including Arisia) who congregated there because their sectors had been destroyed or for personal reasons. This Green Lantern Corps era, written by Steve Englehart, included many good stories, but the idea of seven Green Lanterns (or eight, including semi-renegade Guy Gardner) on one planet was overkill to say the least. They would have rendered redundant all the other heroes on Earth and for many light-years in all directions. One mistake made during this period was having Arisia age herself with her ring so she could have an affair with Hal. Although physically aged she was still a girl in her young teens, making Hal "guilty" of ephebophilia. In any case, this romance eventually sputtered out, leaving Arisia pointlessly changed and marooned on Earth where she was later killed off by uncaring writers.

This series inexplicably came to an end when the Corps executed the notorious renegade Sinestro. For a series of poorly contrived reasons this destroyed the Central Power Battery on the Guardian's planet of Oa and also most of the rings, except for those on the hands of Earthmen Jordan and Gardner (and possibly the one on the paw of a sentient rodent named Ch'p). After billions of years of stability the GLC was no more. One would think that since the GLC had supposedly been holding evil at bay for all this time its loss would have quite an effect. But none was apparent.

After that, fans of Green Lantern were afflicted by one of the most noxious, odious periods the character ever endured. Hal became a feature in a weekly anthology comic where his character and origin were systematically degraded, distorted, and trashed. Some examples of the idiocy perpetrated in this series:

This execrable period of sheer storytelling ineptitude came to a merciful end with the failure of the anthology format. The Green Lantern comic was again revived. The new writer, Gerard Jones, made a valiant effort to reconstruct the shattered mythos of the GLC and the besmirched character of the star, Hal. The Guardians returned, directing Hal and a few others to rebuild the Corps. These stories were hopeful and successful for some time, though compromised by a pair of "Emerald Dawn" mini-series which redefined Hal's origin, making Hal's early test pilot persona into as much of a screw-up as he ever was later in his career, a drunk driver of all things. It seems to me that many contemporary comic book writers are not comfortable with heroes of real integrity, heroes who are better and stronger than, say, themselves. This would become even clearer in later years, but for now writers were content to dilute the character of a man who must, by the very nature of the process that selected him, be among the very finest men on his planet.

This new series eventually ran out of steam. Hal was increasingly portrayed as stiffly self-righteous and brittle. The last notable thing DC did with Hal and his small new Corps was to establish a "Triad" division of responsibilities between them and two inconsequential short-lived johnny-come-lately space patrol organizations. Like the GLC itself these others have since been destroyed or forgotten.

Hal's eventual degradation and destruction was a side-effect of DC's stunt of killing and reviving Superman. Superman's enemy Mongul destroyed Coast City, Hal's old home town, while Hal was away wasting time with the pointless Triad storyline. No established characters were killed, including any of Hal's friends or family. Still, when Hal returned he was understandably vengeful. He defeated Mongul but declined to kill him. After this he was notably grim yet still functioning normally. However, the editor of Green Lantern considered it necessary to revive interest in the title by replacing Hal in so final a manner that he could not possibly return. To this end was cobbled up a three-part story called "Emerald Twilight" in which Hal decides to resurrect or somehow reconstruct Coast City, apparently extending to reviving the dead, though by what means is never made clear. I'm not convinced that even a power ring could snatch the souls of the dead from heaven. As a start, Hal creates a green simulacrum of the city and indulges in some navel-gazing encounters with old friends and relatives including a first love never before mentioned. When his ring runs out of power at a critical moment he is upbraided for irresponsibility by a projected image of a Guardian.

At this point Hal snaps and becomes a leering, psychotic killer. He somehow drains energy from the Guardian image and proceeds to Oa determined to take the power he needs to resurrect the city by whatever means. On the way he meets and smashes his fellow Lanterns, leaving many of them maimed and as good as dead. On Oa he kills fellow GL Killowog, a revived Sinestro, and somehow all the Guardians save one. He then merges with the Central Power Battery. His stay inside it includes time for fashion design, for he emerges with a grandiose new costume and a silly new name, Parallax. Now holding all the power of the Guardians, he launches a scheme to recreate the entire universe to his liking, a plan which is eventually thwarted by the other costumed heroes of Earth (with no notable assistance from the rest of the cosmos).

Hal Jordan recently made a cross-dimensional journey to appear on the Charlie Rose show on PBS. Hal, looking fit and totally in control of himself at 44, assured Charlie that there are infinite universes, and that in most of those in which he exists he continues to do his job with steadfast loyalty. He added, "Toy salesman? Oprah? Affair with Arisia? Murderer? The Spectre? The comic book writers in this universe are pretty imaginative. Not always in a good way though.

"I speak my oath every day, and I mean every word of it."

Ganthet, the last Guardian, makes a new power ring, goes to Earth, and literally hands it to the first person he sees, a young guy called Kyle Rayner. Rayner winds up being the only Green Lantern in the universe.

"Parallax" struts his way through a few "cosmic" plot lines. Eventually he dies saving the sun from an entity called the Sun-Eater.

Remarkably, Hal Jordan has proven to be a character who just won't die, despite all efforts to sweep him under the rug. Or rather, he's a character who will and has died, but still won't stay away. For a few years he was assigned the mantle of the Spectre, another venerable DC character, a spirit who acts as the Wrath of God. In this capacity Hal tried to "live" down the sins he committed while under the control of bad writers and editors. He even reached out from beyond the grave to help Tom "Pieface" Kalmaku restore the planet Oa and perhaps someday the Corps itself. This took place in an emotional if somewhat incoherent graphic novel called Legacy: the Last Will and Testament of Hal Jordan.

Kyle Rayner was apparently intended to appeal to what DC considered its typical reader of the 90s. He was originally shallow, fickle, vain, not very bright, and self-centered. I didn't like him, identify with him, care about him, or find him interesting or amusing. Although he's supposed to be an artist, I've never known an artist as vapid as this guy was.

Therefore, during that period I no longer read or collected the Green Lantern comic despite nearly 30 years of loyalty, even through some pretty putrid eras in the book's history. It was love of the character and the concept that kept me in there, both of which had been gutted.

The DC Universe was without the Green Lantern Corps which had been its chief defender for billions of years. Instead of being a member of an ancient, galaxy-spanning organization of heroes, yet at the same time the solitary defender of a vast sector of space, Kyle was merely one of a huge crowd of costumed heroes who throng the Earth.

In my opinion, many who have worked on the title have had an inadequate understanding of the concept or its potential. The editor responsible for the debacle has said that in his view, Green Lantern is about what someone can accomplish with imagination, and no more. Ironically, under his tenure Green Lantern was stripped of most of its imagination. Imagination involves more than ornate ring creations, which were Kyle's forte. There's also the imaginative concept of the Corps, and the unlimited universe which was its domain. Kyle's stories were simple-minded super hero fare, nothing I'd hold up as an example of imagination.

Much more was lost than gained. Yet, there were signs of hope. Aside from the restoration of Oa, Kyle Rayner was allowed to mature into a more solid character. He took his role more seriously, and lost the hideous mask and costume that used to disfigure him. He gradually became a more responsible, substantial character and a worthwhile bearer of the green light. Hal himself was constantly peering over everyone's shoulder from the world beyond. He even brought his old pal Green Arrow back from the dead.

Hal also appeared in Green Lantern form in many special projects, where he was usually portrayed with respect and understanding by some very capable writers. Good examples include the two Nail series by Alan Davis and Mark Farmer, JLA: Liberty and Justice by Paul Dini and Alex Ross,  and DC: the New Frontier by Darwin Cooke. Clearly DC realized that Hal remained a popular character, even though few people wanted to see him robed as the Spectre.

In 2004, after something like a decade of Hal's Spectral exile, DC decided to reincarnate him. Green Lantern: Rebirth explained away as well as possible the whole "Emerald Twilight/ Parallax" mess, returning Hal to the green and black uniform, cleansed and renewed, with the best parts of his character restored, whether they had been seen or merely implied before. The writer, Geoff Johns, has shown a true understanding of Hal's nature and qualities. The Corps and the Guardians have been reestablished in their own series. I trust Johns will avoid the trap of overusing both to the point where members of the Corps are tripping over each other and the Guardians are constantly meddling and micromanaging. My advice to Geoff Johns is to remember that the universe is a very, very, big place where even thousands of Green Lanterns can easily get lost. Also, I would ask him to remember that humans are not necessarily the strongest or wisest creatures in existence, even in juvenile heroic fiction.

After the excitement of Rebirth, the new ongoing GL series has evolved into one of DC's most popular series. While I'm enjoying this characterization of Hal, it does seem to me that Johns has been too quick to sweep away all remnants of Hal's last troubled decade. Hal has been dead. He has been in close communion with a divine spirit of retribution, and apparently with God himself. He has seen more deeply into human nature than almost anyone. It seems to me that this insight ought to affect the way he relates to people, and even the way he deals with his enemies. I'd like to see him more as a "Green Lantern of redemption" than of ass-kicking, a true source of light to the world.

Oh, and Johns has earned my gratitude by returning Arisia to life. He even managed to clear Hal of any taint of ephebophilia by a clever subterfuge. He claims that the year of planet Graxos is much longer than that of Earth, so that although Arisia is only 13 in her terms, by ours she's actually hundreds of years old. Cute, but unfortunately, in the original comics she was depicted as being clearly adolescent, not gaining a psuedo-adult stature until she used her ring to grant herself one. Oh well, I'll gladly settle for this to get her back in some form.

Thanks to the efforts of Geoff Johns, this is clearly high point for Hal and the Green Lantern concept in general in terms of popularity and overall quality. Green Lantern is now one of the main tentpoles of the DC universe these days, and it's hard to argue with that kind of success. It has brought changes of emphasis which I don't particularly like. In particular, I don't like the whole "space cop" thing very much, with its heavy use of American police jargon such as numeric crime codes, local precinct houses, and Internal Affairs divisions. This is part of my distaste for the overuse of the Green Lanterns in large groups. I prefer to think of the GLs as Knights Errant in their own sectors, almost always capable of dealing with the threats they face on their own, rarely meeting their fellows, rarely visiting Oa (which shouldn't contain anything as mundane as cafeterias or bars, and shouldn't be full of Lanterns milling around), rarely interacting with the Guardians, and almost never operating as an army. Keeping the GLs more solitary makes the occasional appearance of other GLs seem much more dramatic and important, and also adds greatly to the mystique of the Guardians. When the GLs habitually handle things in large groups it diminishes the apparent power and authority of each one and turns too many of them into cannon fodder. Every Green Lantern is supposed to be a major power in his own right. When one-shotted en masse by mobs of their enemies, it reduces their stature.

I'd like to see Johns tackle one unexplored aspect of Hal's personality. Why did Hal accept the ring in the first place? He was a test pilot, a notoriously conceited, competitive breed, self-absorbed and eager for personal glory. If Hal had harbored some burning desire to seek justice and do good, it seems to me he would have become a cop or a combat flyer or an FBI agent or a US Marshall. I've never seen Hal give any real thought to why he joined the Corps. I hope it wasn't just because it looked like such a blast.

The next big deal for Green Lantern should be the movie. Yes, an actual theatrical movie is in production, and it features Hal. That's pretty good for a character who spent about ten years dead. One of the most critical factors in the success of such a movie is the casting of Hal. That role has gone to Ryan Reynolds. He looks good for the part, closely resembling the original Gil Kane depiction of Hal. Whether he's able to play the part with the needed steely resolve remains to be seen. Hal Jordan is not a smartmouth or a big quipster. I haven't seen any of Reynold's previous film work, but in his interviews he comes across as a bit of a lightweight, with a high, thin voice and mannerisms that don't remind me of a tough test pilot. I hope he will surprise me with his depiction.

I've seen some highly credible fan-made GL trailers on YouTube. The makers of the real thing would do well to watch them and learn.

In brightest day, in blackest night

no evil shall escape my sight

let those who worship evil's might

beware my power-Green Lantern's light!

Hal Jordan's sacred oath

Green Lantern movie: a quick review
First let me express my amazement that I lived to see the release of an expensive, fully-realized Green Lantern movie. What's next, the Legion of Super-Heroes?

Next let me say I wish this movie had been a lot better. I haven't said a lot about it mainly because I find it so disheartening to contemplate this wasted opportunity that silence was the least painful option.

If this had been a made-for-TV movie I would have been very impressed with it. A lot of work and care went into it, and much of it is visible on the screen.

The thing that really drags this movie down is the script. It tells more than it shows, and it tries to both show and tell too much for one movie. It crams in elements of 50 years of continuity, and features a main villain who is a poorly thought out amalgam of three or four of the major villains from the comics, thereby neutralizing in one poorly-aimed shot several potential future storylines. The resolution of the story is not clever or creative, and it makes the veteran members of the Corps look like incompetent boobs. The plot wastes too much time with Hal's whining and hand-wringing, when a bit more thought and effort put into defeating this supposedly enormous threat would have been appreciated. Extending Hal's "training" beyond 5 minutes would also have been helpful. Heck, Luke Skywalker spent more time training on Dagobah than that.

I would have been happy if they'd stuck closer to the original comics continuity, in which Hal received the ring from Abin Sur but had no real idea where it came from. He was not trained, and he only gradually learned of the Corps and the Guardians. In other words, his power was a mystery to him, and the gradual unfolding of the truth could have been revealed to him and the audience over the course of the entire movie, or perhaps more than one movie. There would be no cannon fodder Lanterns, and Hal would not be called upon to save the world as his first exploit. He might have received mysterious instructions from the battery to proceed to a world in his sector to deal with some menace there. This approach avoids the whole "shoehorn it all into 90 minutes" syndrome, and also the "new guy shows up the entire vast Corps because, oh joy, he's Human" trap, and perhaps would have left audiences intrigued and wanting to know more.

This movie tries to include just about every supporting character ever, leaving most of them with cameo roles. It completely re-defines jet mechanic Tom Kalmaku as an all-purpose techy guy. Hey, it's okay for him to be a jet mechanic. That's a pretty specialized field, and nothing to be ashamed of.

Ryan Reynolds: well, he did okay, but he is not the Hal Jordan I imagine. Hal Jordan is a steely-eyed missile man, a quietly confident guy who anyone would take seriously, whether he was wearing a power ring or not.  Ryan Reynolds is not really that guy. More Chuck Yeager, less...whoever Reynolds is known for playing, please.

Mark Strong was fine as Sinestro, and Peter Sarsgaard did well as Hector Hammond. Blake Lively's Carol Ferris was not especially memorable.

The score was completey bland and forgettable. Why are so many superhero movies content to trowel on lazy scores which are indistinguishable from one movie to another? Why is there no Green Lantern theme? What happened to iconic themes like the ones from Superman and the Burton Batman films?

With Warner losing millions of dollars on this wan, undercooked  effort, it's doubtful that Green Lantern will get another chance to shine on the screen anytime soon. Sadly, the one studio I'd be confident to make a more thoughtful, heartfelt film...Marvel...might have difficulties obtaining the rights. Maybe Warner will try a remake with Halle Berry in the title role. It worked so well for, never mind.

On a more positive note, the animated DVD Green Lantern: Emerald Knights is one of the best DC animated releases yet, and shows the Corps in its best light. The individual stories are very well done, and they show the Lanterns as they should be shown, as very formidable knights-errant protecting their own sectors, not mobs of cannon fodder getting mowed down to make Hal Jordan look good. The worst part is the climactic battle against Mute Solar Anti-Matter Krona. It shouldn't take a teenage newbie to realize that if Krona is made of anti-matter (and why is he, anyway?) then hitting him with some matter might hurt him. That doesn't make her clever, it makes the other green-clad halfwits standing around into morons. And what about Oa's sun, that Krona was just wallowing around in? Any matter there? Then, when they punch him with Oa, Krona just sort of sticks to it and dissolves, rather than going up in a titanic explosion of mutual annihilation. Really stupid writing there.

Links to other interesting GL sites:

The Unofficial Green Lantern Corps Web Page Encyclopedic source of information on the GLC , its members, and its technology.

Emerald Dawn Comprehensive site offering news of Hal in all his incarnations.

A fan-made trailer cobbled together from bits from other film, plus much original work. Nathan Fillion looks good as Hal.

Another one!

Copyright notice: Green Lantern is a trademark of DC Comics. The particular images which appear on this page are my own creation, and are not available to be used for any other purpose.