Pretty, Fizzy Paradise

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Monday, October 15, 2007

On being the Greatest. (Spoilers for GL 24)

This has a LOT spoilers for GL 24. You are warned.

I've been thinking about the whole idea of the "Greatest Green Lantern Ever". And how often the phrase is used to describe Hal. I know it's a descriptor that's had a lot of folks worried about the outcome of the Kylax storyline, worried that Kyle was going to be torn down in order to re-elevate Hal. Some folks even were insulted on behalf of their own favorite Lantern. After all, when it comes down to it, each Lantern has his or her own strengths and flaws. Each one has moments of heroism and weakness. While a reader's individual preferences will likely determine how he or she ranks the characters, when it comes down to it, most have at least the potential to be equal.

But Hal is unquestionably the "Greatest Green Lantern Ever".

Ultimately, that has nothing to do with ability. Or even strength of will. It has very little to do with how he stacks up to any of the others. As fitting for a group of people whose power is based on will-power, imagination, emotion and faith, it all has to do with perception.

Let's take John Stewart for example.

John is solid, sure and true. He's the foundation of any group he's in. The voice of sanity, stability and common sense. In the case of the JLA, he's a lot more grounded and approachable than any of the Big Three. He's got authority and presence, but without Superman's loftiness, Wonder Woman's unconscious grandeur, or Batman's...bat-ness. When he's with the other Earth Lanterns, he's the architect. The one who thinks and weighs and measures. Even when he's angry, and I tend to think he's probably the Earth Lantern most in tune with his anger, it's focused and directed and channelled. There's a reason why no other Lantern could have fronted a series like Mosaic.

At the same time, John can't be the "Greatest Green Lantern Ever", because of the very nature of his strength. He's the rock. The support. The fist and the wall. But who really notices that sort of thing until it's needed? Who really recognizes the roots of the tree until the gust of wind threatens to blow it away? Who notices the wall of the house until it protects you from unwanted invasions? John's is the kind of strength that's relied upon but ultimately taken for granted. The only way John could really assert himself to the point where he would finally get the recognition that he truly deserves would be to withhold his support, so that his value is finally noticed in his lack, but that wouldn't be true to his character. He's too much of a hero to force that sort of recognition. Which sadly means, he won't get it.

How about Guy Gardner?

I'm not an unbiased person here, since clearly I adore Guy. He's simultaneously obnoxious, annoying and abrasive, as well as the most genuinely compassionate, caring and even nurturing of all the Lanterns. He's the bartender, the mentor, the partner, and sometimes the cattle prod. When Soranik needs that little dose of anger to remind her of her confidence, Guy's ready with an insult to spark it. When Kyle needs cheering up, or a pair of shorts, Guy's ready with the model-watching or ring constructs. When Jaime Reyes needs connection, Guy gives him a book from Ted Kord. When Hal needs forgiveness for Parallax, Guy's already written it off to the point of faux pas. When a new, doomed hero needs someone to notice him for just a moment, Guy'll buy him a drink.

At the same time, Guy can't be the "Greatest Green Lantern Ever" either. For one thing, his strengths aren't those of a traditional hero, people may appreciate characters like Alfred or Ma Kent, but no one will tout them as great heroes. (Though they should. :-)) Moreover, a great deal of Guy's effectiveness comes from the fact that it's deep inside the most obnoxious jerk in the DCU. It doesn't matter how often we see him act with caring or compassion, it's always just the tiniest bit surprising when it happens. And thus it has a lot more of an impact. He has to be seen for his flaws, as that guy who's likeable in spite of himself (or even downright hateful), in order to best appreciate his strength when it emerges.


Oh come on! Kyle's whole schtick is being the newbie, the clueless one, the one who Ganthet was stuck with because he didn't have time to make a real choice. He's the everyman. At the same time, he's the guy who stopped a supernova in a conjured safe, whose subconscious accidently almost destroyed the universe while kicking the simultaneous ass of the entire Justice League, who became a god and then gave it up - but not without fixing his hair first. He reached the Hal inside Parallax and convinced him to give his life for Earth, and he was the one who found the true nature of the beast and dragged Hal back out. And where Hal needed the help of the Spectre, a semi-divine agent of God, to be free, all Kyle needed was a painting and a pep-talk from a friend.

Kyle does impossible things all the time, often because he doesn't know that they are impossible, others because there's literally nothing else he can do. He gets scared, nervous, over-whelmed, confused, and distracted, but at the same time when it counts, he sucks it up and gets the job done. He carried the torch ALONE, and then rebuilt the Corps. And now he's traveling the multiverse with an ex-girlfriend and a possible psychopath. The whole thing though is that Kyle really can't be the "Greatest Green Lantern Ever". Even when he's Ion. Even when he's all-powerful. Because that's not who he is. Even with the power of the gods, he's still a kid with more heart than sense and that's readily apparent to anyone who takes one look at him. He's underestimated and overlooked, ALWAYS to the bad guy's detriment. And that's the way it is.

How about the others though? Alan? He's not a Corpsman, for one, and for the second, as elder-statesman he can never be considered even remotely comparable to the others anyway. Whether you call him the Starheart, Green Lantern, the Sentinel, or the old guy, Alan Scott is Alan Scott. "Greatest Green Lantern" would be a diminishment.

Sodam Yat? He's got the prophecy on his side, but he's not terribly grand for all that. Mogo? Chaplain and planet, he's more of a mentor than a hero, for all his awesomeness. Soranik? She's young, abrasive, awesome and still learning. Kilowog? He's the trainer, and like Mogo and Salakk would be set up as some sort of Other, outside of the normal evaluation of Green Lanterns.

Hal Jordan though? For all his arrogance and egotism, his vanity and his foolhardiness, his recklessness and his blind spots, his dickishness and presumption, Hal is the quintessential Green Lantern. He's handsome and brave, altruistic and noble, reckless and triumphant and always, always confident. And despite all his undeniable faults, that's what everyone sees first. Even when he's hated, he's hated like a legend rather than a man.

For a group that relies so much on will-power and belief, Hal WOULD be considered the greatest. Not because he's got the strongest supply of either, but because of the way he captures the imagination. He's the storybook hero or the prodigal son or the villainous betrayer. He's a living archetype. He IS the "Greatest Green Lantern Ever", because they make him so.

The fact that he's a man, three-dimensional, flawed and imperfect underneath is what makes it interesting. Because the story does show that being "the Greatest Green Lantern Ever" is as much of a burden as an accolade. With all that pressure and expectation, admiration or trepidation or outright hate, is it any wonder that he's closest to the Earth Lanterns? They at least see him for who he is...most of the time.

Besides, remember, Sinestro was the last guy on that pedestal, and Hal himself has already taken the plummet once. It's a damn long way to fall.


  • At October 15, 2007 8:31 AM, Blogger Rich said…

    Nice analysis! And while yeah, Hal may be the greatest GL, he's also one of the dullest lead characters around. Don't get me wrong - I'm loving Johns' take on the book but to be honest I'd rather have a Guy or Kyle solo series.

  • At October 15, 2007 9:43 AM, Blogger Will Staples said…

    Alan Scott is Alan Scott. "Greatest Green Lantern" would be a diminishment.

    You know... that is a damned good point.

    Re: Sodam Yat, I tend to think his capacity as the "ultimate Green Lantern" will be as more of a "champion" than a leader -- more Lancelot than Arthur, if you will.

    As for Kyle, I do recall that Dream of the Endless told him, "You will surpass him," regarding Jordan. I'm starting to wonder if that didn't mean supplanting him as "Greatest Green Lantern," though, but rather in an emotional sense -- like what we just saw with him overcoming Parallax. In fact, I think we may have just seen Dream's prophecy fulfilled.

  • At October 15, 2007 10:51 AM, Anonymous Mark Engblom said…

    "He's simultaneously obnoxious, annoying and abrasive, as well as the most genuinely compassionate, caring and even nurturing of all the Lanterns. "

    "Nurturing"? There are plenty of ways to describe Guy Gardner...but I never thought one of them would be "nurturing".

    "Caring" maybe (in his own way), but "nurturing"?

    Oh, each his (or her) own.

  • At October 15, 2007 11:10 AM, Blogger SallyP said…

    Beautifully reasoned as usual, Kali. I think that you've hit the nail on the head in your analysis for each character. John IS the dependable one, Guy is crazy AND compassionate, and Kyle, bless his pretty little heart is amazing as well.

    "...Kyle does impossible things all the time, often because he doesn't know that they are impossible..." sums up Kyle perfectly.

    And Hal, although I love to tease Hal, is the perfect personification of THE Green Lantern. Whether he wants to be, or not. And having to struggle under the burden of that title, with all of his flaws and tics is what makes Hal interesting to me.

    And Mark? In his own weird way, Guy really does take care of the rest of them.

  • At October 15, 2007 12:03 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Mark: "nurturing" can mean to train and support as well as to see to certain needs. I'd say all of these are things that Guy does fairly well. What the other characters need, he tends to provide...if in his own Gardnerian way (I gave some specific examples in the essay, so I won't rehash them).

    I stick with my word choice. :-)

  • At October 15, 2007 1:22 PM, Blogger JYD said…

    Wow! I like coming here and reading whatever you put up but this post was awesome. I think that most people would recognise these characteristics in the various GLs in some sort of subconscious way but only very few could be incisive enough to pin it down and present it to us so accurately. Which is what you've done here. My hat is off to you.

    It's good to see someone who appreciates all the Lanterns and all their qualities too.

    I've never really "got" the Hal thing myself but I think I can see now not only why people love him so much but why he deserves to be the Greatest Green Lantern. Even though he's certainly not my personal favourite (coming 4th in the list of the Earth Corps Lanterns and 5th if you throw Alan in there too) I can't fault the logic or analysis presented here. This morning, I never would've thought that I'd consider Hal to be the greatest by teatime but there you go.

    It's nice to have your mind changed by a reasoned argument. :)

  • At October 15, 2007 1:36 PM, Anonymous CrimsonThunder said…

    Once again, excellent analysis of the gang in green.

    Aside #1 Really, DC ows you some royalties for getting me to buy comics with Guy Gardner in them after I started reading this blog.

    Aside #2 Since my wife's favorite GL is Kyle, thanx to the input of two women who don't know eachother, I'm spending more on comics each month. There's gotta be a lesson for the industry in there somewhere.

    I think Sinestro was more seen by the Guardians as the best lantern because of their order fixation.

    Hal as the "greatest" I think comes more from the job description. Back in the 1959 when he was created, the GL ring searched for someone "Honest and Fearless". Square jawed, old fashioned hero Hal fit the bill, but so did almost all of the other silver age heroes.

    Over time and character development, Batman's become darker, Superman more "innocent" for lack of a better word. Green Arrow's moved left, HAwkman's moved right, but good ole thick headed Hal still has all his heroic eggs in the "Honest and Fearless" basket.


  • At October 15, 2007 5:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Wow! Very excellent and detailed assessment of the GL's and their individual character strengths and flaws.

    Jeff Wetherington
    The Comic Guide at Athena Guides

  • At October 15, 2007 7:30 PM, Blogger Patrick C said…

    Sodam Yat is still a rookie... give him time.

    I think he's had a pretty good go of it so far.

  • At October 15, 2007 11:55 PM, Blogger Palladin said…

    Just the must awesomest post ever. You nailed it. A very enjoyable look at the Earthmen of the GLC.

  • At October 16, 2007 12:48 AM, Blogger Evan Waters said…

    I think it's painfully obvious that Salaak is the Greatest Green Lantern of All Time.

  • At October 16, 2007 6:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    It's obvious ain't it?

  • At October 17, 2007 1:54 AM, Blogger philippos42 said…

    Bah. Hal's still not Tomar Re. Nor Katma Tui.

    Nor Mogo, who at the least is the most MASSIVE GL. ;p

    Really, though, I think it's bad writing to take a concept like the GLC, which is all about a universe far larger than our Earth, of which our Earth is not the center, & then decide to make the character from Earth (in fact, the most familiar of several characters from Earth) the "Greatest." It's missing the point.

  • At October 17, 2007 1:59 AM, Blogger Ragnell said…

    Uhh... Philippos42, have you ever read Green Lantern?


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