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.