Wednesday, June 1, 2011

In Defense of Hal Jordan

The character of Hal Jordan has been coming under fire for quite a while now.  (For those uninitiated in the vagaries of the DC Comics universe, Hal Jordan is to Green Lantern what Bruce Wayne is to Batman or Clark Kent is to Superman -- the secret identity.)  A while back, DC decided to reboot its second tier heroes -- Green Lantern, the Flash, etc. -- into new secret identities in the hopes of making the characters more relevant to a new generation of readers.  They did so by killing off the old heroes and having new ones pick up the mantle, or, in Hal's case, having him go insane after his home town was destroyed by an alien despot.  Hal went insane, killed off the other Green Lanterns, and became the villain Parallax.  It caused quite a hue and cry at the time, being among the first times a dyed-in-the-wool hero became a killer and a villain.  Ultimately, DC "rewarded" readers' who kept their faith in the character by having Hal come to his senses and save the Earth by reigniting the sun.  This cost him his life, but he became the Spectre, a dead soul bonded to God's Spirit of Vengeance, in hopes of rebooting that character as well.  It was a complicated mess that wasn't straightened out until writer Geoff Johns came up with the idea that Parallax is actually the living embodiment of Fear.  The Guardians of the Universe had imprisoned Parallax in their giant power battery, and it broke out through possessing Hal Jordan.  Hal was off the hook for murder, and free to become Green Lantern once again.  

I can completely understand Hal's lack of appeal to newer readers, if not some of the hostility and "get-over-it" attitude.  Many newer readers grew up with either John Stewart, the black ex-marine architect as GL, or with Kyle Rayner, the hapless artist who happened to meet the Last Guardian in an alley and was given the last GL ring.  But...

Remember that I am an older guy. Growing up in the late 1950's/early 1960's, my heroes were test pilots like Chuck Yeager, and later, the early Mercury astronauts. That's the environment Hal Jordan appeared into. All of us wanted to be pilots and astronauts, and space was magical. Hal wasn't boring; he was fearless and stoic. I guess that's what stuck with me. The appeal of the chartacter was in the fact that he was The Right Guy to become Green Lantern. He didn't have to be an orphaned billionaire or an alien or bitten by a radioactive ferret; he just had to be worthy. Anybody could be chosen...if they were worthy. As a kid, you could actually imagine yourself being Green Lantern.

By the late 1960's, Hal was already irrelevant as social issues were becoming more and more prominent in the public consciousness. Fearless and stoic became boring, and DC was clueless, taking Hal out of the test pilot profession and making him a traveling toy salesman and an insurance agent. Even writer Denny O'Neil's attempt at social relevance, as revered as those issues are today, didn't sell comics then.  O'Neil tried to tackle issues like drug abuse and racial inequality in issues so controversial that in one case the Comics Code Authority refused to sanction the issue, and DC, to their credit, went ahead and published anyway.  But sales were still very, very slow compared to DC's top-tier titles like "Superman."

So the character of Green Lantern limped into the 1980's and DC decided to reboot its second-tier characters into a "next generation of heroes."

All of which was fine. But the way they did it, for me, went beyond "good people sometimes making mistakes." Hal as previously written simply never would have cracked like that. 

It was a mistake. 

Yes, it made for some great stories, including "Emerald Twilight," but at its core the decision to turn Hal into a villain and a murderer was fatally flawed, as a story, because it was so completely and improbably out of character. Even a recent issue touched on it, with one of the Guardians kvetching about "Hal Jordan's instability." 

Hal is not unstable. Sorry. I don't buy it. I never have. 

It would be like Batman deciding to pick up a gun and going on a killing spree, or Superman letting Lois fall to her death from the roof of the Daily Planet building. Yes, those would both make great stories, but in my heart of hearts I just wouldn't believe it of those characters.  And neither, I think, would anybody else.  Green Lantern would no more "snap" than Batman would.  All the Red Kryptonite in the universe would not top Supes from saving Lois.  And no amount of tragedy would cause Hal Jordan to kill the rest of the Green Lantern Corps.

As always, this is JUST MY OPINION.  I'm not trying to convert anybody here.  Fans of John Stewart and Kyle Rayner will remain fans no matter what I say, and they should -- those are great characters and they make great Green Lanterns.  I just think Hal unnecessarily takes a beating in fandom, and I wanted to put my two cents into the mix.

No comments:

Post a Comment