Retconvention: GLs Through the Years
Of all the "big gun" DC heroes, Green Lantern (or rather, "The Green Lanterns") occupies a unique place in the DC Universe. At a time when it seems like just about every other DC hero (from #1 hero Superman to #200 hero Ragman) has been totally reinvented in the last ten years, the men who go by the name Green Lantern have had surprisingly little changed about them since the 1940's, when Alan Ladd (nee Wellington) Scott first took his oath. However, 50-some years (and no less than four re-launches) is a lot of time for little changes to start piling up, and when they do, the history of the Green Lanterns begins to look a little confusing.
Hal Jordan: From Showcase to Green Lantern to Green Lantern/Green Arrow to Green Lantern Corps to Action Comics Weekly and Back to Green Lantern
Though he was the second comic book character with the name Green Lantern, Hal Jordan's origin is the main factor that has thrown so many other GLs' origins out of whack. Most avid comic readers know GL 2's (who first appeared in 1959's Showcase #22 )original origin by heart- a test pilot in an experimental flight simulator is yanked from his workplace to an American mountain range, where he meets a dying alien named Abin Sur. Abin is a Green Lantern, and his last dying act is to find a man who is "totally honest and completely without fear." Hal, of course, is Abin's man, and so Abin leaves Hal a magic ring that can do anything you will it to; the battery it takes its energy from; and a costume, which Hal puts on shortly after Abin dies (about three panels into the strip, if memory serves.) The origin fails to answer two questions, though- why does a Green Lantern need a spaceship, and if Hal is totally honest, why does he lie to Carol Ferris constantly about his secret identity?
It was nine years before Hal's origin got "tweaked," but when it was, the change was a big one. In Green Lantern (second series) #59 (March, 1968), Hal learned that he was one of two people that Abin Sur had found without fear and without guile. The other was a gym teacher named Guy Gardner, whom Hal met well into his career as a superhero. Why was Hal chosen? He was closer, of course.
This expansion of the character's background didn't upset the cart terribly- in fact, it made the reader aware of the fact that Hal wasn't necessarily going to stick around forever. But writers weren't content to leave 'the two choices" rule intact. Shortly after his own series was canceled and Green Lantern was relegated to an 8-page spot in the short-lived anthology Action Comics Weekly, it was revealed that Hal and Guy were chosen out of a group of nearly ten men- including John Stewart (who had by that point entered the series as Hal's backup/then replacement/then teammate), Dick Grayson (better known as Nightwing), Boston Brand (a.k.a. Deadman), and Superman himself. (Action Comics Weekly #642, 1988) Again, this didn't disturb Hal's origin too much, though it's interesting to note that, in the revised version, Hal wasn't chosen because he was closer, but rather because Superman liked him! "I interviewed this guy Jordan. Hal Jordan. Talk about heroes in waiting. Test pilot open honest. REALLY honest. The straightest arrow I ever met. Abin Sur! You want to meet this Hal Jordan person!" (It was never explained how Clark Kent could tell all this about Hal from one interview )
As is often the case with retcons, though, the problem doesn't lie in the retcon, but in the fact that it's been completely ignored since then.
Another interesting retcon added by Action Comics Weekly was in the story that appeared in issues #607-614, written by James Owsley (now known as Christopher Priest- even DC staffers undergo continuity changes, apparently.) In the story, Hal Jordan goes on Oprah Winfrey's show to fix his tarnished image (I'm not making this up) While there, he's laughed off the stage for declaring that he was chosen for being "totally without fear." After realizing that the audience has a point, he asks his ring to explain why he, of all people, should not fear anything.
What Hal learns is frightening- it seems that Abin Sur, who was scared of dying himself, asked his ring to find a "man who is totally without fear!" (Action Comics Weekly #614, p. 2). The ring couldn't find anyone who met that criterion, of course, but it found Hal and Guy, two men who were almost without fear. And then, selecting Hal, it "rearranged [his] psychic profile to eliminate all fear," in effect lobotomizing him. Hal immediately orders the ring to make him the way he was, and, sure enough, a near fall from a ledge convinces him that he can, indeed, fear things. Of course, this leaves another question: why would a test pilot be afraid of heights?
Yet again, that potentially interesting development has since been ignored, especially in Emerald Dawn and its sequel, Emerald Dawn II, two mini-series designed to 'redefine" Hal that have caused more inconsistencies and odd coincidences than there ever were before.
Oddly enough, it was a later series that added even more questions about Hal's mental health. In Green Lantern (series 3) #39, Hal decides that most of his self-doubt (i.e., interesting traits) has been caused by being blasted by a mind-force called "The Ergono." (GL (first series) #75). "A few days later I had that confrontation in Star City with Green Arrow .it shook me to the core of my being .Dear lord, were all those years of confusion caused by that one blast of Ergono?" (Green Lantern (third series) #39, p. 9). No one seems to care, since Hal went nuts a few issues later and destroyed the GLC.
Emerald Dawn introduced the notion of a Hal Jordan who was far from "the straightest arrow [Superman] ever met". The young Hal Jordan is plagued with self-doubt, and a drunk driver, to boot. He gets recruited by Abin Sur, and instead of being "without fear" claims to be "scared out of his wits". (Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn #1, p.17). No lobotomy is mentioned. Nor, for that matter, are all of Hal's "competitors" acknowledged.
Shortly thereafter, GL meets up with a yellow-armored baddie named "Legion", who is, in fact Abin Sur's killer. Again, no one bothers to explain what a Green Lantern would need with a spaceship (an inconsistency that has been consistently overlooked since Hal's initial appearance.) Within days, Hal is called before the Guardians, the masters of the Green Lantern Corps.
Of course, this invalidates much of the first year's worth of Hal Jordan stories. In the original conception, Hal didn't even know there were other Green Lanterns until he had been playing super-hero for months. According to Emerald Dawn, though, that was not the case. Instead of Hal being a self-reliant, American-bred super-hero, he was trained by the GLC on Oa.
Which, unfortunately, invalidates even more stories later on in the run. When Green Lantern (series two) became Green Lantern Corps in the late-1980's, the character of Kilowog, a big, hulking alien bruiser, was introduced. Whether Kilowog ever really was a legitimate GL was in doubt for several issues, and this controversy became an interesting subplot for a fairly mediocre comic. Well, according to Emerald Dawn, there could hardly have been much doubt that Kilowog earned his ring. Why? Because he trained Hal Jordan! Again, no attempt to rectify this inconsistency has been made.
The revamping of Hal's origin didn't stop with Emerald Dawn. Emerald Dawn II takes us into the bowels of the Coast City prison system, where Hal is serving time for his drunk driving arrest. In Emerald Dawn II we see Hal Jordan being trained by his eventual arch-nemesis Sinestro (which violates the original "first meeting" between Hal and Sinestro in the second Green Lantern series) More importantly, we see Hal and Guy Gardner, "together again for the first time." Which leads us to the next subject of this month's' Retconvention: Guy Gardner.
Guy Gardner: Rebel With a Ring
Guy Gardner was, as mentioned before, introduced in Green Lantern (second series) #59. A Baltimore gym teacher, Guy had been passed over for the ring because he was "too far away", but Hal sought him out and befriended him. When an opportunity arose several years later to give Guy his own ring, Hal did, with dire results. Guy, while charging his ring at Hal's battery, got caught in an explosion that hurled him into another dimension. From there, he saw his girlfriend and Hal Jordan (who believed Guy dead) locked in a passionate embrace. He was eventually rescued, but suffered from severe brain damage. Of course, Guy was given the chance to be GL again (brain-damage or not), during the Crisis on Infinite Earths (The Guardians apparently reasoning "what harm could a psychopath with unlimited power be?). He remained a GL until a couple of years ago, when well, that's for another Retconvention to deal with.
Anyway, Emerald Dawn II changed much of that. Guy Gardner was not, it seems, just a gym teacher whom Hal befriended. Guy had started out as a prison caseworker- Hal Jordan's caseworker, to be exact. Of course, prison caseworker to gym teacher is a natural progression, right? Yeah, right.
Another major coincidence was added in Guy's own series, in which we learn that, in college, his football teammate was none other than John Henry Irons- Steel. (Small world, eh?)
Guardians, Rings, and the Green Lantern Corps
Of course, it probably is to be expected that GL's would have so many identity crises. After all, their masters were, up until recently, the Guardians of the Galaxy, omniscient and near-omnipotent Blue munchkins with big heads, lots of energy, and several contradictions.
The Guardians were, apparently "very much an afterthought" in the story of Hal Jordan. (Green Lantern, third series, #19). They did not appear until GL had been spun off into his own comic book, months after his debut. Originally, very little was revealed about the Guardians, other than the fact that they were highly evolved, were the source of the GL batteries' power, and had founded the Corps. By 1985's Crisis On Infinite Earths, we learned considerably more. The Guardians, it seems, were immortals from the planet Maltus who migrated to Oa after one of their own, Krona, unwittingly unleashed 'vast and unstoppable evils" (Who's Who in the DC Universe, Guardians entry) and created a parallel, anti-matter universe (Crisis on Infinite Earths #7). From there, they became dedicated to controlling that evil, by first creating the robot Manhunters, and then abandoning the Manhunters for the Green Lantern Corps, who got their power from batteries charged from a central battery on Oa, which was itself charged by the Guardians. Though the Guardians themselves had no inherent weaknesses, the only way they could "trap" it in a battery was by providing the central battery with "a necessary impurity" that made the green power vulnerable to the color yellow. In fact, the impurity is "ironically the very factor which gives the [metal of the battery] its miraculous powers- and its ability to interact with consciousness and willpower." (Green Lantern Corps Quarterly #2, p. 36).
Or not. The reason for the ring's aversion to yellow has been changed several times over the years. In Green Lantern (second series) #19, it was revealed that the "yellow impurity" was a fiction- and could be removed by the Guardians at any cost. This change has been maintained up through Kyle Rayner's tenure as Green Lantern- his ring has no weakness against yellow. But, if the yellow impurity was a fiction, why did the original Green Lantern Corps have to disband in 1988? In the last issue of Green Lantern Corps (formerly Green Lantern, second series), Hal Jordan must enter the central battery on Oa to defeat the spirit of Sinestro. Unfortunately, the only way he can defeat Sinestro is by eradicating the yellow impurity itself, which robbed every Green Lantern aside from Hal and Guy of their rings. If there was no yellow impurity, what happened? No one seems to care.
Further contradictions in the nature of ring-power pop up with alarming frequency. Though the GL ring originally was told to "protect its user from death", that rule comes and goes at will. After all, it didn't stop the second Green Lantern Corps from dying when Hal went after them, nor did it stop Abin Sur from losing his life 40 years ago. This defensive ability, by the way, came from a small "backup charge" in the ring. Where is that charge now?
Finally, the Guardians themselves are more a mystery than ever. The 1992 graphic novel Ganthet's Tale revealed that Krona's error was not releasing evil into the universe, but rather causing the universe to be "born old", by linking the beginning of the universe with the entropy at the end of the Universe. Of course, Krona was more than just a background player. He had become a GL villain during the 80's, and much of the Crisis was based around his story. If Krona didn't do what he was said to have done, where did the infinite Earths come from? Where did the Crisis come from? Everything in today's DC Universe has some connection to the Crisis of 1985 so, you see where there might be a continuity issue with Ganthet's Tale.
The Guardians by the way, have turned out to be something less than "immortal." They're all dead, now, but one other continuity question remains to be answered. In 1988, the Guardians abandoned this "plane of existence" to make whoopee with their soulmates, the Zamaron's, and raise children. The Guardians came back (and got killed for their troubles). The (pregnant) Zamarons didn't. Where are the Zamarons? And more importantly, where are the children of the Zamarons? (And what will they do when they come back home to see that home is nothing but an asteroid field now?)
G'nort: Barking Up the Wrong Tree?
Though he hasn't been heard from in some time, the doggy-Green Lantern G'nort was once rather popular. Nowadays it might not seem relevant, but where G'nort came from still leaves major questions.
G'nort was introduced in Justice League #10, a Millennium crossover. The guardians had left the GLC on their own and had abandoned the universe, except for two: The "Old Timer", who remained to tend to the battery on Oa, and Herupa Hando Hu, who, along with Nadira, his Zamaron bride, remained to create "New Guardians" on Earth. During the resultant trouble Earth had with the Manhunters, G'nort teamed up with the JL in space. Hal Jordan explained how someone so inept could be a GL. It seems nepotism happens all over the universe, because his Uncle G'newman G'noggs, a famous GL, had convinced the Guardians to give him a space sector to defend. This space sector had nothing but amoebas and Manhunters.
But, those silly writers at DC decided to throw another monkey-wrench into continuity. According to Gerard Jones, G'nort was actually recruited by imposter Guardians, the Pagliachi, who had set up G'nort's uncle, too. He was a fake! But, if this was so, why did Hal Jordan believe G'newman was so great? And why didn't the Guardians (who had not yet left when G'nort got his ring) do something about their pretenders?
Alan Scott- (Star)heart of Gold
Finally, we end with the beginning. Judging from Alan Scott, Earth's first Green Lantern, it can be said that Green Lanterns don't get old- they just get dimmer. After all, Alan has been active since 1941 and has the body of a thirty-year-old man.
As was typical of the earlier heroes, Alan's origin was creative, but left a lot of questions unanswered. From the beginning, it was explained that Alan derived his great power from a lantern that had been carved from a meteor years before. The green meteor hit the earth, and the "Green Flame of Life" within it announced (to a Chinese sorcerer) that it would flame three times- once for death, once for life, and once for power. "Death came soon enough. The Sorcerer made a lamp of the molten metal, and was killed by frightened neighbors. They, in turn, were killed by the lamp." (Green Lantern, third series, #19.) Later, the lamp brought "life" to a psychotic by curing him of his illness. Alan Scott was luckiest of all, though- he ended up with "power", and a ring (made from the lamp) that could do anything he willed it to, with one limitation. GL could not affect wood with the ring's power.
Of course, in 1941, no one felt it was necessary to explain where the meteor came from (or why it spoke Chinese and English.) That explanation didn't come until after the introduction of the second Green Lantern in 1959, and the explanation has caused even more confusion among readers and DC authors alike.
When dealing with Alan Scott, it is important to keep in mind that Alan and the rest of the Golden Age heroes were originally from another Earth- Earth 2, to be exact. It was perfectly acceptable, therefore, that Alan's ring was magic and vulnerable to wood, rather than scientific and vulnerable to yellow, as the Earth-1 GLC's rings were. Shortly before the Crisis (after the Golden Agers had been successfully reintroduced to a new audience), DC writers thought it might be a good idea to tie Alan in with the Guardians and the GLC anyway. So, in a nifty move, it was declared that the meteorite that gave Alan his powers was actually a fragment of the "Starheart". The Starheart, it seems, was created by the Guardians, who decided that there was too much magic in their universe and wanted to get rid of it. They channeled that energy into the Starheart, which they then hid in a star. The Starheart, however, had a better idea (it had gained sapience by this time), and sent a portion of itself into the Earth-2 universe, where it became a meteorite and well, you know the rest.
Of course, the Crisis came along and got rid of the concept of Earth 1 and 2, but the Starheart idea still made sense. Instead, though, the Starheart had fragmented itself because "it knew that it would eventually be released, for good or ill", so it broke off a piece of itself in preparation. (Green Lantern Corps Quarterly #7) This explanation works. It works so well, in fact, that it's led to Alan Scott's latest rejuvenation at the hands of a newly malevolent Starheart, and, in a recent Green lantern/Sentinel mini-series, provided a new explanation for the powers of Jade and Obsidian, Alan's kids.
Just one problem: The Starheart was written out of continuity seven years ago! In Green Lantern (third series) #19, Alan Scott's battery explains to Hal, Guy, and John Stewart that it is, in reality, a former Green Lantern. Apparently, a Green Lantern, Yalan Gur, became the favorite of the Guardians, and, after nearly being killed by a yellow beast, was granted the privilege of being the one Green lantern without a vulnerability to yellow. Of course, absolute power corrupted absolutely in this case, and Yalan became dictator over the Chinese Empire of his day. The Guardians notice this, so, to teach him a lesson, they gave his ring a new vulnerability- wood. The Chinese peasants whom Yalan had enslaved attack Yalan with stick and farm implements, and nearly kill him. Yalan flies away in a rage, but what goes up must come down. Yalan burns on reentry, and his power battery absorbs Yalan's life-force. The battery melts, becoming a meteor, and the cycle (three flames, Chinese sorcerer, yadda-yadda-yadda) begins. So, why are we dealing with the Starheart again? Damned if I know.
As you can see, the Green Lanterns have their own share of continuity problems and dead-ends. Now that Were coming upon the 40th anniversary of Hal Jordan, and nearly sixty years of Green Lantern in general, we can only hope that DC will finally set the records straight.
If they need help, I'm available.
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