The Shelf Is Half Full

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Archive for the category “Justice League”

Superhero Spotlight – Green Lantern (Hal Jordan)

As the 1950’s drew to a close and the genre of superhero comics was about to enter it’s most successful period since the Golden Age, DC Comics was having to expand their roster of superhero characters. While Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman and even Aquaman had managed to maintain a level of popularity, most other heroes failed to capture the imagination of post World War II readers. America was more enamored with real heroes than fantastic superheroes, and genres like westerns, war comics and teenage humor comics had taken over as the most popular genres. But after finding success with retooling one Golden Age hero (The Flash) by giving him a new identity and a more modern costume, DC decided to try their luck again with another hero: Green Lantern.

Hal Jordan

Showcase #22

The original Green Lantern was a railroad engineer named Alan Scott who discovered a magical green lantern and ring that gave him the power to fly, walk through walls, fire energy beams and a wide variety of other powers. This mystical take was not going to capture the imagination of an America about to enter the “Space Age”, where science fiction reigned supreme, so the idea of the power ring charged by a lantern was heavily retooled for a new story. And in October of 1959, Showcase #22 introduced comic book readers to the new Green Lantern; a test pilot named Hal Jordan.

In this new take on the Green Lantern idea, the ring and lantern are inherited by Hal when an alien named Abin Sur crash lands on Earth. Dying, he sends the ring out in search of a replacement Green Lantern, and Hal is chosen for his ability to overcome fear. The ring allows him to create hard light constructs; basically he can make anything he imagines as long as he has sufficient willpower and charge in his ring, which gets its power from the energy in the lantern (also called a power battery). It also enlisted Hal into an intergalactic peacekeeping force known as the Green Lantern Corps. Controlled by wise blue elfs called the Guardians of Oa, the Corps had a wide variety of members all around the universe, with Hal Jordan becoming the Green Lantern of Space Sector #2814.

GL Corps

From Justice League Founder to Super Villain

As one of the premier heroes of the time, Hal Jordan was one of the seven founders of The Justice League, alongside Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, and Barry Allen. In addition to his solo stories, Hal was also known for his close friendship with Barry Allen and perhaps most famously for his confrontational partnership with Green Arrow. The creative team of Dennis O’Neal and Neal Adams famously put the two together as a way to talk about relevant social issues, including racism, corporate corruption and teenage drug addiction. Due to the nature of the Green Lantern Corps, the books also introduced readers to other, “reserve” GL’s from Earth: Jon Stewart and Guy Gardner.

DC Comics continued to struggle with their sales in the early 1990’s, and made some controversial, headline grabbing story choices to catch the public’s eye. Superman was famously killed by Doomsday, Batman had his back broken by Bane, and Green Lantern was similarly shaken up. Hal Jordan was perhaps the biggest victim of this period in comics; rather than give him a heroic death or retire him gracefully, DC had Hal’s hometown of Coast City destroyed in a battle between Superman and Mongul. Hal was driven mad by his lack of ability to save everyone and went on a rampage killing all the Green Lanterns in the universe, leaving only his replacement, Kyle Raynor.

And suddenly I just realized where George Lucas got the plot for his Star Wars prequels from…

Rebirth

Rebirth and the Geoff Johns Era

Hal’s rampage eventually made him a supervillain named Parallax, and he was eventually killed off and then sort of revived as the host for the Spectre, DC’s interpretation of a punishing angel of God. Thankfully, Hal Jordan was destined for more than being remembered as a popular character of a bygone era. Hotshot DC writer Geoff Johns was a dedicated fan of the character and had several fresh ideas for the Green Lantern Mythology, and in 2005 DC editors gave him the go ahead to bring Hal Jordan back from the dead. The Green Lantern: Rebirth mini-series was a godsend to fans of the character; instead of being a simple reboot that ignored years of history, Johns tied up the stories that had been done with Hal to that point, spotlighted Jon Stewart and Guy Gardner while keeping Kyle Raynor around, and even managed to address some of the odd plot holes along the way.

Most notably, he explained the Lantern’s ridiculous weakness to the color yellow as being an impurity in the rings’ power source, the power battery on Oa, homeworld of the Green Lantern Corps. This impurity was the result of the Guardians trapping the fear entity known as Parallax in the power battery, who took over Hal Jordan in Hal’s bid for power. This introduction of other colors tied to emotions paved the way for new stories with the Green Lanterns, building a rich mythology that elevated Green Lantern to be one of DC’s most popular and critically acclaimed series of all time. Not bad for a character that arguably should have died for good in the 1990’s.

Green Lantern

The Jerk With a Heart of Gold

DC Comics is known for characters that are more archetypal than Marvel’s, more mythic figures that embody an ideal than a fully fleshed out characters. And while I would argue that is a bit of an unfair statement, I will grant that there is some validity to that; Superman and Batman tend to feel a bit flat compared to say, Spider-Man and Wolverine. However, I feel that of all of DC’s big names, Hal Jordan is the one that feels most human. Hal is brash and opinionated and often reckless; he challenges the authority of the Guardians of Oa and the Justice League, but also takes his duty as an intergalactic cop seriously. He’s a jerk and a screw-up, but ultimately he is a hero and that’s hard to dislike.

I think most readers can find a lot to like about Hal Jordan; things never seem to go quite right for him, and he often seems in over his head. He makes mistakes and falls on his butt quite a few times, but he never gives up. After all, Hal’s defining trait is the ability to overcome fear. I strongly encourage comic book fans to give Green Lantern a shot; he’s one of the most interesting, likable and well-developed characters in comic books.

Superhero Spotlight – The Flash (Barry Allen)

The idea of an ultra-fast superhero named “The Flash” was first introduced to comic book readers in 1940 in Flash Comics #1, created by Gardner Fox and Harry Lampert. Jay Garrick inhaled “hard water vapors” to get his powers and began fighting crime as one of many popular superheroes of the era. After World War II the superhero genre took a sharp decline in popularity and Garrick’s last adventures in a starring role came in 1951. But the idea of The Flash was too good not to run with. In 1956 DC Comics created a second character with the powers and the name, but with a brand new costume, secret identity and backstory that would transform The Flash into one of DC’s most popular and enduring characters.

Barry Allen (The Flash)

Showcase

The Comic Book Origin

Barry Allen was a forensic scientist whose life to a dramatic change when he was struck by lightning and doused in the chemicals in his lab. Surviving the accident that should have killed him, Barry soon learns that he has been gifted with super speed, becoming the Fastest Man Alive. Using his powers, he defends his hometown of Central City as their resident costumed hero, fighting everyone from petty criminals like The Rogues to Gorilla Grodd, a hyper-intelligent gorilla with psychic powers. Barry also had many adventures through time and dimensions, using his powers and a device called the Cosmic Treadmill to travel backwards and forward in time. And of course, The Flash would also be a founding and iconic member of the Justice League.

Flash’s personal life was different from many superheroes of the time. He was one of the first heroes who didn’t keep his life hidden from his parents and the first to tell his love interest Iris West of his identity. While this occasionally lead to tragedy when Barry’s most vindictive enemies decided to harm him emotionally (usually Professor Zoom, the Reverse Flash), Barry and Iris were mostly a happy couple. They married and Iris would even bear his children. Sadly, Barry would not live to see them, as he nobly sacrificed himself to defeat the Anti-Monitor in the climactic chapter of Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Infantino

The Real Life Origin

Barry Allen was created by writer Robert Kanigher and artist Carmine Infantino (pictured above), two of DC’s most imaginative creators of the era. Carmine’s dynamic art brought the Flash to life, truly showcasing the movement that the character was supposed to have, while Kanigher very nearly created the Silver Age of Comics by making Barry’s stories so heavily based in science fiction and helping define a new generation of superheroes. Barry Allen debuted in Showcase #4 in October of 1956 and was a staple of DC’s line-up for three decades before he was essentially killed off in George Perez and Marv Wolfman’s game-changing Crisis On Infinite Earths story.

The keyword, of course, is essentially. While Barry was absent from comics, The Flash legacy continued as Barry’s nephew and teenage sidekick Wally West took up Barry’s mantle, becoming the definitive Flash for a new generation of comic book readers. However, after twenty three years writers Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns decided to bring Barry Allen back to DC Comics. Using a loophole that Wolfman intentionally put into Barry’s “death”, they had him escape the void he had driven the Anti-Monitor into; Barry soon became the company’s premiere Flash once again.

Flash

Always Moving Forward

Barry Allen ended up playing a central role in another event that redefined DC’s universe. In a story called The Flashpoint Paradox, Barry went back in time to prevent his mother from being killed. Writer Geoff Johns had created this extra level of tragedy in order to further flesh out Barry’s personality, since he came from a time where characterization wasn’t as important to DC comics as the plot. This story gave Johns a chance to define Barry as somebody who is always moving forward, showing that we can’t spend our lives regretting what we couldn’t change, but we have to keep looking to the future and how we can affect it.

Given that he was written out of comics for thirty years, it’s odd to think that Barry Allen is now more popular than ever. His relaunched series was consistently one of the best comics for the first two years of DC’s The New 52 relaunch, with stunning art and excellent storytelling that introduced Barry to a new generation of comic book fans. And even non-comic readers are familiar with Barry Allen again thanks to a positively received television adaptation that spun out of the already successful Arrow TV show.

CW

Why Barry Allen Is My Flash

Wally West was The Flash when I was growing up, but he was never a character I particularly gravitated to. The Wally I knew was from the television show Justice League and was always making jokes and was rarely ever serious. He was a valuable part of the team, but not a character I enjoyed on his own. When I read comics with Wally as Kid Flash, I grew to dislike him even more, as he was always complaining about being a super hero and even when he took Barry’s mantle he just seemed to whine about not living up to Barry’s legacy. So I didn’t have a high opinion of The Flash when I really got into comics with DC’s relaunch in 2011.

Barry Allen pretty much changed all of that. I enjoyed that he was a scientist, someone who used his brain to solve problems and not just his powers. I liked how shy and awkward he was around everybody and came to realize that he was just a genuinely nice guy. I can’t picture Barry ever being a jerk to anyone, and that is always endearing. Over time I came to realize that he was the DC character I related to most. Superman and Wonder Woman inspired me, Green Lantern and Batman captured my imagination, but I genuinely felt an emotional connection to Barry as if he were me when I read him. Flash has gone from being a character I didn’t care about to one of my favorites.

Supervillain Spotlight – Darkseid

Jack Kirby is probably the most influential and legendary comic book artist of all time. Most famous for his collaborations with Stan Lee, Kirby created the character designs for most of Marvel’s greatest superheroes and their villains. But he has also given some significant gifts to the DC Universe as well, and none are greater than today’s spotlighted villain…

Darkseid

Darkseid

Darkseid is the tyrannical ruler of the planet Apokolips, one of the famed “New Gods” of the DC Universe. He stands in direct opposition to Highfather and his paradise planet of New Genesis. He is one of the most powerful beings in the DC Universe, possessing near invulnerability and immortality as well godlike power to bend reality to his will. The most iconic power is his Omega Beams, which usually release from his eyes and can destroy all but the most powerful of beings. He seeks to bend the whole universe to his will, hoping to destroy all free will through the Anti-Life Equation. This has put him in direct opposition with the Justice League and other heroes, who have been lucky to stop him.

Despite his destructive goals, Darkseid has an uneasy truce with Highfather and New Genesis which ended their stalemate of a war. This truce is maintained because of an exchange of Highfather and Darkseid’s sons. Darkseid’s second son Orion is raised by Highfather and becomes a hero, one of Darkseid’s greatest enemies. The son he got in exchange doesn’t serve him any better; Scott Free refuses to give into Darkseid’s brainwashing and becomes the master of escape known as Mr. Miracle.

Kirby

The Real Life Origin

Jack Kirby based Darkseid’s personality, ideals and even some of his fashion on Adolf Hitler. He is a heartless, fully evil monster who believes that his worldview is the only valid one; he seeks to destroy all opposition and to control the minds and will of his subjects. While his world of Apokolips is completely ordered, it is a nightmarish dystopia. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the Fuhrer was the inspiration for Jack Kirby’s greatest antagonist; Kirby was Jewish and helped to create Captain America as a way to raise awareness of the atrocities the Nazis were committing in Europe. When you are creating pure evil, it is best to use pure evil for inspiration.

Darkseid was created for Kirby’s “New Gods” comics, originally a universe separate from the DC Universe called “Fourthworld”. However, he debuted in, of all things, in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #133 and once Kirby finished with DC his ideas were integrated into the DC Universe at large. While this was probably not Kirby’s intention, I do feel that it was for the best overall. His world was too good not to be used, and Darkseid proved to be the ultimate villain that DC needed. He’s a force powerful and evil enough that even Superman feels vulnerable when facing him, and that shouldn’t be put on a shelf and forgotten about.

Uxas

The Most Copied Villain

And if there is any character that can be defined by the phrase “often imitated, but never duplicated”, it is Darkseid. If you’ve been to any Marvel movies lately, you may have heard of this guy called Thanos, Marvel’s ultimate big bad. Probably the biggest Darkseid knockoff ever, but I’m not saying that to knock Marvel; Darkseid is a good idea and it makes sense to have their own version. The X-Men villain Apocalypse is also heavily inspired by Darkseid, possessing a similar appearance and even more similar goals. Were it not for the fact that Apocalypse has vastly different powers and has been defeated far more easily, it would be difficult to tell the difference. And even DC hasn’t been afraid to rip off Darkseid; Mongul is pretty much a carbon copy, though much less powerful.

Despite the imitations, there is only genuine article. Thanos is a great character in his own right and certainly a more complex one; he feels the weight of his actions and has shown to regret them at times. Darkseid would never regret anything. I appreciate that kind of pure evil in the same way I appreciate the pure goodness of Superman; Darkseid stands for something and there is an epic, mythic quality to the character. Apocalypse is a great X-Men villain, but he doesn’t have the scope of Darkseid’s goals. Apocalypse wants to rule Earth and could do it, but Darkseid wants to control the whole universe and bend it to his rule.

Jim Lee

Why Do I Like Darkseid?

Darkseid is, in concept, my favorite villain in all of comic books. He is the quintessentially supervillain. He’s not complex, he isn’t sympathetic. He is pure evil and possesses near infinite power, making him the ultimate threat. Darkseid isn’t a character that should be used often; his stories should be epic and no defeat should come easy. And DC seems to realize that. While is as iconic as any of their villains, DC has never leaned on him as a crutch; when he shows up, it’s a big deal. That is why I love Darkseid; when he’s around, I know I am going to get a superhero story that I am going to love reading.

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