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.
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.
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 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.
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.