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In a totally random post….I picked up a trade paperback of GREEN LANTERN: Rebirth the other day (written by Geoff Johns with art by the superlative Ethan Van Sciver) and after I’d finished it, I realised that if the sole intention of the book was to re-energise Hal Jordan‘s legend as the #1 Green Lantern of all time then it did its job and then some.
Hal Jordan was ‘my’ Green Lantern (to borrow a Who-ism). Hal is the most identifiable of the Green Lanterns of Sector 2814 (of which there have been a few, but I digress). When you think of DC Comics’ 1970’s heyday, the cast of Superfriends (the animated TV show, not the kids toys) defined all that was great about DC and just how many of their characters have infected popular culture. Yes, Marvel has it’s Hulk, Spider-Man, X-Men, Iron Man (and soon to be Avengers) in the public eye – mostly thanks to its movies – but DC has some of the most iconic figures in the past 70 years: Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Robin. All are still going strong, their paths held true irrespective of how well their box office counterparts fare. There is also 2nd tier of characters (although still well known in some circles, perhaps not known widely by the man in the street) and it is here that Green Lantern sits, amongst Green Arrow, Black Canary, Red Tornado, Hawkman, and Aquaman for example.
There’s something a bit more special in the DC toybox of characters…and I think that it’s more subconscious, as if the DC superheroes are almost part of their own kind of mythology. As a kid growing up, the DC characters were all over the place on TV, cartoons and comics whereas Marvel were pretty much defined by one character – Spider-Man…until the late-1980’s/ early 1990’s. This period was to be Marvel’s most prolific, and it’s most successful. Their characters were more street, more cutting edge, more real for a world where the Berlin Wall had come down and mistrust and violence began to bleed onto our streets. Suddenly, Marvel’s mainstay of characters made more sense in the new world of the 20th Century than DC’s – and despite the heights of Batman and Superman, they were on shaky ground.
They had their core team, but the Justice League of America wasn’t doing the kind of business that the X-titles were doing. So what else could DC do but compete, and then everything that had made DC individual became the very thing that darkened their door. They looked to the competition, they borrowed themes, characters’ motivations, they became influenced by their competitors as opposed to eclipsing them, thereby forever being in their shadow.
Not too long ago, something happened. The hardcore comics community reacted against the Marvel manner. Marvel made better films, DC had better writers, Marvel had better artists, DC had better characters. Maybe the formation of Image Comics in 1991 was the event that was pre-destined, a time when there was no longer just Marvel and DC in the game. It evened out the playing field a bit, enabling both DC and Marvel to take stock and revitalise exactly what it was about their toybox that made them both so popular.
Marvel looked to the future, attempting to relaunch old fan-favourite titles, reinvent popular heroes and concepts, and kickstart brand new heroes who had the potential to be every bit as popular as Spider-Man and the X-Men.
DC too went through changes. Superman turning blue and electric, Batman breaking his spine, Wonder Woman’s role usurped, Superman dying…and then coming back to life….and then there was this little event that did not go unnoticed in 1994, leaving a scar upon the DC Universe to this day…that event, my friends, was called ZERO HOUR.
ZERO HOUR was about the corruption of one hero’s soul as Hal Jordan (then Green Lantern) forsook his role as protector of the Universe and became the villain called Parallax.
That was a sad time. A reflection of the time.
The character who had been with me all of my life, one of my favourite super-heroes, was gone. In his place was a villain who wore his face and form, but not his heart. Hal Jordan was cocky, and fearless and he possessed incredible willpower – the reason why he was the #1 GL – and yet all that he had accomplished in his lifetime was tarnished with one (editorial) act.
Parallax was bad, killed a lot of folk, did some dire stuff. And for a while he was pretty much unstoppable, but even with all his power there was one thing that he did not count on……….no, not Hal Jordan’s incredible humanity, but something even more unexpected…..it was just how much the DC Universe needed a Hal Jordan.
You’ll note that I don’t say it needed a Green Lantern: it didn’t. The Universe had loads of them (up until Parallax, but that’s another tale) operating across the stars. Myriad species of aliens, a singular hero from each star system elevated to greatness by the Guardians of the planet Oa, each one gifted with a magical green ring that was powered by a central battery that soaked up all the willpower in the Universe, allowing its wearer to perform limitless feats. Flying in space unaided, creating giant boxing gloves, translating alien tongues – the ring’s power was limitless. No, what the Universe needed was a Hal Jordan….and the comics buying public had to wait for 10 years before he came back.
And that’s what GREEN LANTERN: Rebirth is all about….one man’s soul’s redemption and return to glory. I urge anyone even remotely interested in the new Ryan Reynolds Green Lantern movie to read it. The trade paperback collect’s the original issues 1-5 with a gallery of used and variant covers. You can pick it up for around £8 here and there, and on e-bay….and as a precursor to the film, it might just whet your appetite.
More interesting than anything is that the interest in Hal Jordan as Green Lantern (as opposed to John Stewart, Guy Gardner or Kyle Rayner) is that he is the archetypal GL, and this rebirth (reboot, call it whatever) happened years before the movie was in production and was not just rushed into continuity to reflect how he might be more commonly portrayed on film (such as what happened to the X-Men books once the ‘look’ of the film was established).
DC Comics no longer needs to compare or compete. In the end, they won. It’s not even down to having respect for the characters…it’s about respect for the fans….(YES, comics fans….we now have a voice!) It’s substance over style, characterization over character, and a dedication to the world’s fans that they were fully aware of the mythology that they were in charge of.
Excelsi- Oh, wait……….that’s the other one.