Thursday, November 07, 2019

Today I Fix: Green Lantern

You can be part of the problem or part of the solution. And I can think of no icon-level character more problematic than Green Lantern Hal Jordan, so with an assist from Absorbacommenter Cobramisfit I set about fixing him.

The essential problems with the (current) Green Lantern mythos are:

  • Green Lantern has become all about the Corps;
  • Therefore it is too space-based and space is hard to identify with;
  • as a result, Green Lantern's terrestrial rogues gallery has atrophied;
  • Hal is not the centerpiece of any sort of dynasty, plus
  • Hal is an idiot.

Green Lantern has become all about the Corps. Would anyone even try to deny this?  There are 3600 (or there used to be) other Green Lanterns, and every writer seems to determine to introduce one ("Who's even WEIRDER than the last one! Space, emmiright?").  And every single one is more interesting than Hal (although he is the prettiest).  Huge effort has been expended by creators over the years trying to make the Corps (and their internal politics) more and more INTERESTING to us (include Geoff Johns' introduction of the Rainbow Corps).  I declare those mostly a failure. The Corps is ... tedious.

In addition, it's a gazillion sentients with the same powers as Our Hero. Sure, there were always a few Super-folk running around the DCU, but never THOUSANDS of them.

Unless you count the Superman Emergency Squad and all the inhabitants of the bottle city of Kandor.
Which we don't.
For some reason.

Sure, many writers have tried individuating the GLs by trying to make the case they all use their powers in different WAYS, blah blah.  Pfft; shovel faster.

Shut up, Hal.
The magic lamp that is the Green Lantern ring has been shown to do any number of ridiculous things (including accidentally turn Poor Tom Kalmaku into a seagull).

"What goes on?" is a much better catchphrase than "jumping fish-hooks', so run with it, Tom.

It makes you wonder why Hal didn't just turn every opponent into a seagull and rename himself "Green Seagullmaker".

Image result for tom kalmaku seagull
Probably because even a seagull is more competent than Hal, so turning opponents into seagulls would -- somehow -- backfire against him
But the fact remains that almost invariably it's just used to make 'green energy constructs'; who cares WHAT those constructs are?

God knows, Hal doesn't care.

Look, stop shoving so many Lanterns down our throats.  It only dilutes the concept and makes it evern harder to view Hal as special (except in the sense that, you know, he takes a short bus to Oa).

GLs are basically like wild west federal marshalls (IN SPAAAAACE!).

Image result for hal jordan as cowboy

I have watched more than my share of old western shows and flicks, and I can't recall any one where the federal marshal has an exciting trip to Washington/Oa to attend a meeting with all the other marshals to discuss how they are going to deal with, um, widespread prairie dogs infestations or the like.  Marshals are one person by themselves dealing with crap on the frontier (as in EARTH). You can acknowledge the Corps with references and an OCCASIONAL sojourn, but focus on Hal doing his ring-thing on Earth.

Yes, on Earth. Stop making the same mistake with Green Lantern that is often made with Aquaman: spending too much time on the part of his job we can't identify with. With Aquaman, that is, of course, Atlantis.  With Green Lantern, it's space.  It's hard enough to get Americans to care about real-life events in real-life countries-that-aren't-the-USA.  Don't make Aquaman and Green Lantern that much less likely to interest readers by focusing on events so far removed from the world at hand.

While on Earth, focus on Hal's Earth-based foes. Hector Hammond, Karshon the Shark, Dr. Polaris, Black Hand, Sonar, the Tattooed Man.  They are pretty formidable and more has been made of stupider villains, for sure.  Re-purpose a few appropriate villains, like, say, Dr. Light, as Lantern rogues and they'll get a new lease on life. 

It's not that hard, people.
Unlike Hal's head.

Heck, Rainbow Raider, who uses COLOR to control EMOTIONS is pretty much made to order for Hal.

Image result for rainbow raider i believe in me
As do we all, Roy.  

Speaking of the 'emotional spectrum', the Corps of Another Color can be used to solve another problem: the lack of a Green Lantern dynasty.  As mentions, as part of the Green Lantern Corps, Hal is just one of many equals.  Use the Spectrum Corps to solve that.  Willpower is in fact what we use to keep our emotions in check and may sure they benefit us rather than hold us back.  Let that be the relationship of the Green Lantern Corps to the other ones. Make a unified Lantern Corps, with the GLs being in charge.

Then replicate that on Earth. Hal is the GL and in charge of a team of Other-Color Lanterns. Let Guy be the Red One, Jessica be the Yellow One, and so on. You can have a bunch of familiar characters as Lanterns, with a natural different spin on their abilities, and have Hal coordinating them as the central figure in a heroic dynasty of Lanterns.

But, you wisely interject, how can you do that when Hal is, well, not the brightest Lantern in the sky? Okay, fine; Hal's an idiot.  The solution for that is pretty simple: let Hal be an idiot.

Or more accurately, dismiss intellectual acuity as some sort of absolute virtue or sine qua non of being a superhero. 

SO many heroes are hypergenius scientists. In their DOWNTIME.  Superman puttering about his Fortress of Solitude inventing robots that -- somehow -- have his powers and are functional AIs that can not only pass the Turing Test but pass it AS SUPERMAN.  Batman inventing, well, anything he needs in his never-ending war against crime.  

Image result for batman batarang x
Even the amazing BATARANG X, painted red for stealth.

Wonder Woman, lest you forget, invented the Purple Healing Ray.  Barry Allen invented the Comic Effing Treadmill.  Aquaman didn't invent Serum X but he did guide the project and at least Arthur went to college, where he got a degree in marine biology.

Image result for AQUAMAN IN COLLEGE
And where he was vice-president of Hillel.

The only thing Hal Jordan ever invented was the boxing glove.

Image result for hal jordan boxing glove
Don't tell him otherwise; it would break his heart.

So, LET Hal Jordan be a, um... 'non-intellectual'. Shouldn't non-intellectuals have a high-level hero to look up to?   Besides, the only kind of intelligence Hal needs is EMOTIONAL intelligence.  He should have a natural understanding of his feelings and the feelings of others, be able to check and channel those.  That should be the quality the Guardians are looking for in Green Lanterns.  Remember that originally in the Silver Age they were looking for people who were fearless.  Such people are often not the brightest.

By the same token, stop trying to shovel the hooey that Hal Jordan is THE GREATEST GREEN LANTERN OF THEM ALL.

Image result for hal jordan stupid
To be fair, he's a pilot, and they are used to be strapped in during flight.

Hal Jordan doesn't need to be the BEST Green Lantern of them all. He's not the best one; he's just the most typical one.

Hal's a military man, picked for a paramilitary space police force.  Hal is solid. Hal is reliable. Hal doesn't overthink things and isn't crippled by doubt and second-guessing. Hal doesn't question orders needlessly, stays focused on his mission to the exclusion of distractions, and has a disregard for his personal well-being when it gets in the way of the mission.  Hal's confidence lets him do things that others couldn't (regardless of whether it is well founded).  And sometimes his out-of-the-box thinking saves the day because he never learned where the box was to begin with.

The point here is not that Hal took ten hours to figure it out.
It's that he WOULD.

These aren't bad qualities; they are good ones.  This kind of fortitude and doggedness are exactly the qualities that more intellectual types often lack and whose absence holds them back.  They are among the qualities that military and police forces rightly prize and we should honor Hal Jordan for having them, rather than focusing on the fact that he could never invent something as amazing as Batarang X.

Image result for hal jordan slipping in a shower
Or safely take a shower.

There's a reason they picked Ryan Reynolds to play him rather than Jake Gyllenhaal.  Does Ryan Reynolds strike you as an intellectual? No. Is he very good at what he does? Yes; and is likable while doing it.  

Do the above and let Hal be Hal... and Green Lantern will be fixed.  


Tom said...

I have to agree! Your comments about space (or Atlantis) being difficult for readers to relate to is so true! Having Hal stories based on Earth with enemies like the Tatooed Man and Dr. Polaris? Yes please! That's what they were like when I was a regular reader of GL! Only realized there were a rainbow of "Lanterns" because of Heroclix!

John C said...

This is a good start, but when I think about Hal, one specific feature that comes to mind is that he's self-consciously not a leader (he's been offered leadership of the Corps a few times and declined) and terrible at following orders. So, maybe it's OK that the most prominent hero of the group isn't the patriarch everybody looks to, just like he doesn't need to be a genius.

And when I think about the Green Lantern stories I think worked particularly well over the years, I almost always come down on the times that the Corps is gone, so...maybe let it go as an institution. The Guardians basically only exist to deliver exposition about how they accidentally created the universe's worst super-villains (Krona, the Anti-Monitor, the Psions, the Manhunters, Sinestro...) or give the writers an excuse to indulge their fantasies of working a desk job with paperwork and conference calls, anyway. Scrap'em.

If I was going to rebuild the Green Lantern franchise from scratch, I would strongly consider using Priest's idea (before he changed his name) that the green (or generally colored) energies are available to tap into with training and use the "Lantern entities" (Parallax, Ion, et al) as "Johnny Appleseeds" hopping from planet to planet training Lanterns doing space opera stuff in backup stories (DC needs to go back to running backup stories), while the Lanterns themselves are mostly planet-bound and scaled back so that their abilities aren't all plot-destroying anti-climaxes. Maybe the energy should enhance the wielders' native abilities/interests, so that they're all distinct instead of everyone having infinite power that only differs superficially. I assume they'd also all need some sort of light/fire ability to warrant the "lantern" name that the franchise has always been terrible at justifying since the Golden Age.

Or maybe that's too different from what people recognize as Green Lanterns. Dunno.

Scipio said...

" or give the writers an excuse to indulge their fantasies of working a desk job with paperwork and conference calls, anyway. "
THAT was funny.

cybrid said...

"Sure, there were always a few Super-folk running around the DCU, but never THOUSANDS of them."

Technically, there kind of are, worldwide. For every government-sponsored "international" super-team we see (for Japan, for Britain, for Israel, and so on), there are bound to be dozens if not hundreds of "non-sponsored" super-heroes in those same nations (with corresponding super-villains), just as, no matter how many government-sponsored super-teams the USA has had, the USA has ALWAYS had dozens if not hundreds more "non-sponsored" super-heroes (although many of them are members of "private citizen" super-teams) with corresponding super-villains.

John C said...

Cybrid, I think the context for "Super-folk" is specifically Superman Family characters, where DC has always weirdly hinted at the possibility of flooding the skies with Phantom Zoners, Argoans, Kandorians, Daxamites, Superman androids, and so forth, making Superman a footnote by making him one of many, but almost never pull the trigger and, when they do, invariably have a reason to shove the genie back in the bottle. The same goes for Atlanteans, Themyscirans, Martians, Thanagarans, and so forth. The hero isn't special in the context of their backstory, but there's a "Chinese wall" of sorts, keeping the hero one of the few representatives of his kind in our view.

By contrast, depending on what stories are in continuity, the average American can probably identify more than a dozen Green Lanterns whose terms overlap or come close together.

Scipio, the desk job fantasy remains one of DC's most mysterious aspects, in my eyes, from the Green Lantern "pull over to take a call from the boss" schtick and asking permission to cross sector boundaries ("silos") to the number of comics where teams (especially of villains, for some reason) sit at conference tables to deliberate strategy. Part of me wants it to be a subversion of tropes to help readers identify with the heroes, like All-American-derived characters (Scribbly/Red Tornado, Wildcat, Flash) being comic book readers, themselves, and National-derived characters being more likely to have a kid sidekick, but it's probably not that...

Anonymous said...

I like much of what you say. As an actual unabashed Hal Jordan fan for 40+ years now, here are my suggestions:

1) Western hero is absolutely right for Hal. But at the same time, while modern earth is familiar to us, it's not a good setting for Westerns. So how about, depict much of 2814 in a Western sort of way: lawless, untamed, in need of a guy who maybe isn't a genius but knows right from wrong and refuses to let innocent people get preyed upon. (And incidentally, wouldn't that make Sinestro the crooked tyrannical sheriff of his town?)

2) The overemphasis on the whole GLC is a problem, as you point out. But if you do want to highlight groups of GLs working together, the proper model for that is "Hill Street Blues" or another cop show with a relatively small number of cops, and not much of the show involves gunplay (or ringplay I guess).

3) Your comments on why Hal is good at what he does are spot-on, and I only wish I'd ever articulated it as well as you have.

4) Also agreed that making Hal the "greatest" GL is nonsense. There is no set of traits that makes one the best in all circumstances. Hal's the guy you want when the power ring's going to run out of charge in 60 seconds and an alien armada just uncloaked; he's the one who'll say "don't worry, I've got this", and then plunge in and somehow save the day. But he's NOT the hero you want when it's time to do your taxes.

5) I'm still not crazy about the other color corps. My take on them should be, yes it IS possible to make a red corps (or whatever), but every time anyone tries, the results are pretty disastrous, so the emergence of the other color corps is more of a periodic oddity, like college kids trying to build a meth lab and then blowing up their house.

6) If we want to make use of Coast City, the let's return to some of the space race spirit in which Hal was created. Coast City ought to be a place where 80% of industry is devoted to taking man to the stars: developing propulsion systems, reverse-engineering alien hardware, that sort of thing. But when you gaze into the void the void gazes back at you: if Coast City is trying to find its way to space, it's going to attract some attention.

Scipio said...

"the desk job fantasy remains one of DC's most mysterious aspects"
Less so if you think of as "police procedural", which most modern creators or more familiar with than westerns, because police procedural have ruled television (rather than westerns) for quite some time now.

Scipio said...

"the context for "Super-folk" is specifically Superman Family characters"
Yes. That is why I capitalized the "S".

Scipio said...

"wouldn't that make Sinestro the crooked tyrannical sheriff of his town"
Sinestro is what you get when you give a power ring to an intellectual.

Scipio said...

"if Coast City is trying to find its way to space, it's going to attract some attention."
Very smart.
One of the most absurd (of the many absurd) parts of the Parallax story was that Hal went round the bend when 'his' city was destroyed. At the point, when was the last time anyone had seen Hal Jordan in Coast City?

cybrid said...

How in the world have you managed to resist reviewing the "Aquaman Goes to College" story (Adventure Comics #120, September 1947) all this time? What could be more conducive to waxing poetic over sweet octopus love than the combination of octopi and 1940s co-eds? Rah-rah-sis-boom-BAM. ;-)


"At the point, when was the last time anyone had seen Hal Jordan in Coast City?"

Well, he lived there for years. It's where he worked at one of the best jobs he ever had (I mean, I'm presuming) He met his long-time love interest, his best friend, the woman he was briefly married to, and so many others there. Plenty of his happiest memories would be associated with it. And, finally, he risked his life for, specifically, Coast City on plenty of occasions. There was bound to be some residual love for the place. I mean, I would think.

Bryan L said...

I generally agree as well. I think the biggest problem in comics today is concept expansion, where the cast, setting, and threats have to get bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and then retcon. It's tiresome and it leads to this inevitable cycle, and frankly alienates readers. It's the biggest, most awesome crisis ever until the next one comes in Fall 2021. So definitely stick to Earth.

Hal should be normal. As you point out, it's probably not a great idea to give "the most powerful weapon in the universe" to somebody that's smart and ambitious, like Sinestro. You need somebody that's not going to get caught up in grandiose ideas. He's got to have personal initiative, but not so much that he goes nuts and takes over the world, like Sinestro. Hal should be Sam Malone, a womanizing average Joe who has a good heart and generally tries to do the right thing.

Color Corps. I like this idea too, but there's not quite enough differentiation between the rings. Rings should have some basic similarities (flight, shielding) but after that, give unique abilities. Green is established as creating constructs. Maybe red rings give strength, yellow rings project fear, blue rings heal, etc. I'd also add something where combining ring powers give additional abilities, to encourage working together or in groups. So yes we could get a team/procedural thing going.

I'd also give all the rings a basic weakness -- you have to focus to make things work. Get distracted, your concentration slips, and your powers fade. You can get surprised or tricked or slip on soap.

The team doesn't need to be completely human, either. I like the idea of different alien species that can rotate into Earth duty. Hal's the leader (think captain of a precinct) but others can come and go. Maybe a core group of humans, but the rest are aliens. Their rings can camouflage them (or we just go with image inducers to dodge the concentration thing) but they are actual aliens with the differences that entails.

But at the end of the day, focus on Earth. Super-cosmic stuff just gets boring.

Redforce said...

Sound conclusions as usual.
It reminds me of how they portrayed Hal in Justice League: Year One. The specific panels that come to mind is where Hal is doubting that the others are confident in his leadership, and Aquaman laughs at him OUT LOUD and basically says 'FLASH is the leader!'.
Characterization is key. That's why just three years of the Justice League cartoon (not even counting the JLU..) made me care more about John Stewart as Green Lantern than decades of comics with Hal Jordan.

Scipio said...

"something where combining ring powers give additional abilities"
Or... Captain Comet? Although I can't think of many circumstances where you would intentionally summon Captain Comet. Seems more like something that would happen through careless use of a Ouija board.

Scipio said...

Yes, the characterization in JL:Year One was VERY solid and drove the plots.
The part where Larry Trainor is an old colleague of Hal's from the USAF and recognizes him from some trite saying Hal was fond of was pitch perfect.

cybrid said...

So, who's talking to Hal about failing him in that first panel? His brain? His conscience? His sense of self-preservation?

Slaughter said...

I like what Anonymous said there. Especially the bit about Coast City. Maybe link Coast City to some sort of launch base in South Cali, South Arizona or even a rented base in Mexico. I like the idea of Coast City reaching out into the cosmos, and then the cosmos reaches back. Maybe revamp Carol Ferris and her father as this sort of Elon Musk-ish aerospace figure making better rockets, better planes, etc.

Hal and his plane testing job can become relevant by having Hal be the guy Ferris Air uses to test all the top-shelf aircraft. Like Scramjets, Pulse Detonation Planes, Rocketplanes, Spaceplanes, maybe even some flying saucers they reverse-engineered from aliens. Carol and her father also know that Hal has gone 1v1 against pretty much every single alien spacecraft in the galaxy, so yeah when it comes to what you need for those planned Spaceplanes able to dog-fight against flying saucers and Dominator frigates in low orbit, Hal is your man.

I agree that the GLC is too prominent as it is. In the Silver Age original comics, there was no GLC as a coherent force, it was pretty much a bunch of dudes in space scattered around. Hal was THE green lantern, it was a name Hal choose for himself. The rings had FTL but it was too slow for Hal to ever meet the Guardians. Later on, when the GLC came around, one lantern meeting another was treated like a crossover event, because lanterns were supposed to stick to their sectors.

I do agree that Green Lanterns are overpowered. Back when, they knew about it, so the Yellow Impurity was a thing. The problem is that now that there is a yellow corp, if the yellow weakness returns, then the GLC would get dusted (it almost got as it was in Sinestro Corps War). Honestly tho, I would bring the Yellow Weakness back, with one caveat: Ion is infecting the Yellow Rings just like Parallax does to the Greens too, so Qwardian Rings and their light are (ironically) the one yellow thing incapable of no-selling Green Lanterns. Everyone else? Break out the yellow paint

Slaughter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sam Rutzick said...

Really, the best solution is . . . replace Hal with Carol. She’s a billionaire CEO who is also a pilot and an alien space queen! For my money, a Star Sapphire book sounds a lot more interesting then a GL one.

Anonymous said...

A further thought, a couple months later. I mentioned that Coast City ought to be a place that is working on getting us into space, and it will attract attention from beyond. Now, let's think about Aquaman for a second: what is his best setting? He works best where the land and the sea meet, right? Similarly, maybe Hal works best at the point where the earth and the wider universe meet.

(Slaughter mentioned updating the Ferrises so that they're Elon Musk types, and I think that's an inspired suggestion. Do that!)

About GL power levels, it's the same issue with Superman, and the same solution: tell more stories that can't be solved simply by creating larger and larger energy boxing gloves.

John C said...

Two random thoughts brought me back to this long after the original post.

First, one of the first things to be jettisoned from modern Green Lantern mythos seems to have been the criteria for being recruited: Fearlessness and honesty. I always thought this was important, because that seems like it represents the real "natural flaw" in the rings. That is, if they're not honest or if they're giving in to fear, the constructs created by the ring are likely to turn against the wielder. In the Post-Crisis Englehart/Staton GLC run, we see a couple of incidents where this bears out, like Arisia's ring artificially aging her, Driq's ring animating his corpse, and Kilowog's ring basically pulling his mind into a fantasy world, mostly because they weren't being honest (with themselves, especially) and/or because they were afraid of their situations.

Second, it never occurred to me, but in the seventy-plus years since Aquaman Goes to College! was published, the octopus hanging up a poster has gone from "hilarious, because fish are dumb" to "hilarious, because an octopus using a hammer to hang a sign is almost plausible."