The knock on superhero comics is often that nothing ever changes. Dead guys don’t stay dead, and in the end the status quo is always restored. Of course, we often don’t like change. It’s scary and we miss the way things used to be. But eventually we learn to accept it.
Except in comics, where sometimes, if you whine enough about it, you’ll get your way.
They did it. They finally did it.
Hal Jordan is Green Lantern. Again.
For those unfamiliar with this strange saga, the Green Lantern titles revolve around the Green Lantern Corps, a kind of interstellar police force. Each member protects his or her own little corner of space and tries to avert any disasters that may threaten, all overseen by a set of immortals called Guardians. The Corps is based (and the Guardians live) on the planet OA, home to the power source for the Green Lanterns’ weapons, Power Rings that channel the wearers’ will into physical form.
The Green Lantern for the area containing Earth was Hal Jordan. A former daredevil fighter pilot, Jordan was widely considered among the greatest Green Lanterns in history. However, in 1994, in the aftermath of Superman’s “death” and subsequent return, Jordan’s home, Coast City, was destroyed. The resulting grief drove Jordan mad, and he set out to become all-powerful, flying to OA, killing the rest of the Green Lanterns (and all but one of the Guardians), and destroying the Central Power Battery. The last remaining Guardian found and gave a ring to artist Kyle Rayner, who became the sole (and last) Green Lantern.
The fans went ape-shit.
No one wanted to accept this turn of events: Jordan gone and a villain, and the rest of the Corps destroyed. Petitions circulated. Angry letters flooded DC Comics. So did story ideas that would undo what was known as the “Emerald Twilight” storyline. It was really Hal Jordan’s evil clone. It was a hallucination. It was an “Imaginary Story,” outside of standard continuity. Anything to salvage the way things used to be.
This continued for years. As late as 2001, I remember the Submissions page on DC’s website stating, “Please do not send us story proposals relating to Hal Jordan and the ‘Emerald Twilight’ story.” Even now there are still a few “Bring back Hal Jordan” petition sites to be found on the web.
In the meantime, Jordan had become Parallax, a nearly omnipotent villain who tried to re-create the universe in the “Zero Hour” cross-over, only to be defeated, and who later redeemed himself, if only partially, by sacrificing himself to re-ignite the sun in the 1996 “Final Night” storyline. From there, he became the new Spectre, the embodiment of God’s Vengeance anchored to a human soul. J.M. DeMatteis wrote the new Spectre series from 1999 to 2002. When the series was cancelled, Jordan returned to the abyss.
Fanboys everywhere rejoyce: your beloved Hal Jordan is Green Lantern again.
This is the result (and sole purpose) of Green Lantern: Rebirth, as Jordan returns to his former post in spectacularly dumb-ass fashion. You see, when Jordan went bad, he was actually being possessed by Parallax, an ancient and immortal spiritual parasite (picture a giant dragonfly), a sort of living embodiment of our collective fears. Parallax is connected to the color yellow (symbolizing Fear) just as the color green (of the Green Lanterns) is associated with Will (the GL rings have traditionally had a weakness for the color yellow). Thus Hal Jordan was not in control of his own body when he killed the entire Corps. The series tells the story of Jordan’s return to Earth and battle with and subsequent defeat of Parallax, aided by Green Lanterns present and past: Kyle Rayner, John Stewart, Guy Gardner, and Kilowog.
This is the kind of story that enraged fans sent in to DC for a decade. The kind an eight-year-old writes, and is later ashamed of (Sample dialogue snippet: “Give up, damn you.” “I don’t know how.”). The monster is vanquished (after a sequence of all the Green Lanterns reciting lines from the Green Lantern oath in sequence, no less) and Jordan once again becomes Earth’s GL.
Which is the point, of course. The only part of this story that matters is the last five pages or so. And you know what? It’s not Geoff Johns’ fault. When DC editorial decided to bring Jordan back, I’m sure they called Johns into their offices and said something like “We’re bringing back Hal Jordan, and we want you to write the story. We’re not really sure how, but he has to be absolved of any wrongdoing. Say he was, I don’t know, possessed by an evil alien or some shit like that. It really doesn’t matter, but it has to be ready for the toy launch in June. The movie’s going to come out in summer ‘06.”
I try to be understanding of the circumstances of writing in a universe like DC or Marvel. If they decide an alien invasion is going to cross over to all titles, then you goddamn better well write an alien invasion into your story. But this is the lowest of the low. Editorial latrine duty. There’s always a tension between individual stories and their relationship to the larger “Universe,” but stories like this are purely a means to an end. A year from now, all that will matter is that Hal Jordan returned as GL.
Do you think anyone really remembers anything from the “Death of Superman” story except for the last panel? The shot of Lois Lane holding Superman’s broken body may be iconic, but the entire story leading up to that was completely worthless.
The other thing that gets me is that I really enjoyed J.M. DeMatteis’ Spectre series. DeMatteis has a flair for the New-Agey end of the supernatural, and his Spectre stories were quite beautiful. So I can’t quite imagine Spectre Hal as saying, “You know, in the past two and a half years I’ve learned that the time for Vengeance is past, and that we need to make this an age of Mercy. I’ve seen that God’s love is everywhere, and that the source and energy of all creation loves us, and there’s never anything we can do to change that. I’ve seen the inside of souls, and learned that even the most evil-appearing person is only afraid, and doing what they feel they need to do, and once you understand that, there’s no more urge for revenge.”
“But to hell with all that. I want to go back to shooting green shit out of my hands.”
For decades, an increasingly large number of talented writers have fought to convince people that comics don’t have to be formulaic retreads of the same stories or written at the level of emotionally stunted 12-year-olds. But it seems that a lot of the fans actually prefer it that way.
And I guess we can’t blame DC for giving the fans what they want.