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Saturday, June 17, 2006

Growing Up Gardner: Analyzing Beau Smith's Warrior.

I love Warrior. I do. Not many people actually understand why. It's crazy, the art is weird, the stories seem to make no sense, it's an insane jumble of testosterone-overloaded action-packed incoherency.

But I really do think there's more to it than that.

I think that Beau Smith's run on Guy Gardner: Warrior is a story about growing up.

Wherein Kalinara Dissects WarriorGuy Gardner is a character of transition and dynamic growth. The Guy Gardner of JLI/GL v3/early GG:W is for all intents and purposes a child. He's got a very simplistic understanding of the world. Abstract concepts are pretty much beyond him. He sees things very immaturely, in black and white. He wants to do what he wants to do without any real awareness of consequences.

He claims to hate Hal, fights him at every opportunity, but as soon as Hal wants out, he's doing his best to provoke and annoy him back into the job. And even the relationship with Ice, his sole means of displaying softer emotions, is really a child's relationship.

He takes her to things he thinks are fun regardless of the inappropriateness, and the real clincher, when he tells Kilowog the usual completely exaggerated stories about his role in the Justice League, he doesn't tell him they're sleeping together or dating, he tells him he's going to marry her. I know many men have ambitions of marriage, but the expression of it in this manner is very much a child's fancy.

If superhero comics are adolescent power fantasies, then the beginning of Guy Gardner: Reborn/Guy Gardner: Warrior is an 8-10 year old's power fantasy. Taking on the universe, breaking the rules, no one telling you what to do, to play as you want... The only time this really changed was in Dixon's flashback arc, but even that really emphasized Guy Gardner's childish mentality. The bowl-cut's origin was revealed as a young boy's attempt at escapist fantasy. Parallels ended up drawn between the Guardians and his father, Hal and his brother, using his childhood relationships to underscore his adult ones.

However, when Beau Smith took over Warrior things started to change. He started it with Emerald Fallout, in which Guy and others go to Oa and end up confronting and being beaten badly by Parallax. It was one hell of a brutal fight and the first real step in moving Guy past the childhood stages. Then the story actually started and it was the story of a boy growing up.

A good portion of the developmental transformation came about presumably due to both the flashbacks in the Dixon story and the reparation of his brain damage in the Smith run, but the mental capacity is only a small part of it. As I mention in my Women of Warrior post, Guy's very much at a loss, uncertain and confused. He's rather shockingly innocent (getting freaked out by Veronna's proposition, not catching his own double entendres...). He's got a better mental capacity, but still lacks the emotional maturity.

(It's an interesting tangential thought that given his 3 years in catatonic state, even healthy, he's probably mentally only a few years older than Kyle.)

It's the series itself that actually moves the character from child to man.

This symbolism is emphasized through the narrative itself, the first story after Emerald Twilight is a pulp adventure story, a bunch of guys trompsing through a jungle looking for treasure. A child's story. But not long after that, things start to change. Guy's stories start getting more adult and closer to home. They're about specific enemies (more about them later), his family and friends...there's still the occasional space adventure, but in general the stories toward the end, whether comedic or dramatic, have more drastic consequences and are much "older" in feel than the earlier one.

One can see the difference in the construction of Guy's supporting cast. Before Smith took over, his biggest supporting cast member was General Glory, who was something of a (slightly twisted) father figure. General Glory's claim to fame was being the hero little Guy looked up to, and thus the single person aside from Ice who had any sort of influence over brain-damaged Guy. He was a glorified babysitter, really. However, Smith's Warrior phased him out pretty quickly, instead introducing Buck Wargo as Guy's older male influence. Buck was a guide and even a mentor figure (in his own weird way), but he was never a babysitter.

Even when Guy was a little saner after the Dixon story, Glory still interacted with him like a child, overpowering and domineering, as on this page from GG 16. (One day I will post my I hate General Glory post) In contrast, Buck would subtly push Guy into taking more adult responsibility, up to and including cheating to win the card game that pushed Guy into owning the bar. (Terms were: You win, I sell it back and keep the money, I win, you keep the bar and run it.) Buck treated Guy like someone of less experience but equal potential and pushed him towards that.

The rest of his supporting cast all play into the burgeoning adolescence theme: Desmond, Joey and Rita as the goofy group of friends to get in trouble with, Arisia as little sister, and Veronna...well, Veronna's a special case.

Warrior is, at its heart, a story about loss of innocence and painful growth. Emerald Fallout begins it all by tearing away the two most obvious elements of Guy's childish nature: the yellow ring and the annoying little brother relationship with Hal.

The yellow ring brings to mind another bit of adolescence symbolism in relation to Guy's powers. A Green (or Yellow) Lantern ring, while based on will-power of course, is really a weapon of creativity and imagination. These are traits that children possess in abundance, naturally. Now in Emerald Fallout, the ring is absorbed back into Parallax, and in a few issues, Guy will have Vuldarian powers. Think about that for a moment. Childish imagination disappears with the onset of scary, initially-uncontrollable and traumatic transformations of the body. One of the most important aspects of the story is Guy learning to control and get used to his new powers. In the last panel of Warrior, we have Guy, in full Warrior form, leaning back in his chair, *finally* comfortable in his own skin.

That doesn't sound like puberty at all, does it? (In an amusing note, during GG:W 24, Ice's mother Olaf comments that his voice changed :-).)

(On another tangent, I've heard rumor that Beau Smith wanted to get rid of the bowl cut because it's a "child's hair cut". Which given the Dixon backstory, is particularly true. Thus there's an odd sort of gravity to the scene when he's in Rita's chair getting it clipped off. :-))

The loss of Hal is a worse blow though. The hardest part of growing up is having to let go and to face loss. Hal's fall from grace completes the set up parallel to Mace, a loss that marked the end of innocence for pre-damaged Guy as well. The loss of Ice, when he wasn't there, demonstrating the hard lesson that sometimes bad things happen to those you care about, even when you're not there. The loss of Hal and Tora, rarely addressed outright, is a very palpable presence throughout the series. Mace's death emphasizes a lesson of futility, that sometimes, no matter how much one tries, there are some things that can't be fixed. And Arisia's was a lesson about the abruptness of violence. There are bad people out there who hurt others, for no good reason. It's a hard lesson for anyone to take.

This helps culminate in the end of the series, at Arisia's funeral. Hal-as-Parallax wants to pay his respects and Guy, against all expectation, allows him to. It's the first step toward true adult forgiveness/acceptance.

Now where the Warrior-as-adolescence comparison really gets interesting is in terms of two of the major villains. Dementor and Martika. Because if you look at them in terms of symbolism, you get the very backbone of adolescent development. You get sex.

Hear me out.

This is Dementor. For most of Smith's run of Warrior, he is the main badguy. In storyline terms, he's the product of the first Vuldarian/Human union, born twisted and vile, fond of messing with his "little brother". He lived for a long time in Guy's head and claims credit for the shifts in Guy's personality to brat and "Miss Manners", he's also the one who turns Guy into a woman and leers about his chest size. More on that in a bit.

The first time I saw Dementor I was taken aback because honestly, and this might just be my gutter mind acting up again, he kind of reminded me of a bizarre collection of sex organs. From the patterning of the heads on his torso, to the tentacles, to that hair. He's frightening. And then, considering what he *says*. This guy's disgusting enough to make Johnny Sorrow seem tasteful. He's pretty damn horrifying...and icky.

But here's where I go a little TMI on you. When I was seven or eight and peeking around places I shouldn't have been, I ended up stumbling across a pornographic magazine. Now I'd actually had the sex talk at this point but I hadn't really understood it. I basically knew just enough to go "Oh, this must be sex." was *scary*. There were all these parts going where they didn't seem like they should fit, their faces looked weird, I thought they must be in pain! It looked horrible and at the same time because I knew I wasn't supposed to be seeing that sort of thing, I felt icky like I needed a bath. It was a very unpleasant feeling.

Seeing this character kind of brought that feeling back. That mix of disgust and horror and...ickiness. And I realized that that's how Dementor's supposed to be. Dementor's a child's fearful, uncomprehending idea of sex.

Guy's in a weird situation because while brain damaged, he still had the body and the sex-drive of an adult, even though he had the personality of a child. He might understand the idea behind sex, even remember having it, but who knows how much he actually comprehends. Dementor is a scary disgusting figure that starts out living in his head...which could very well be a representation of a sex drive in someone not quite mature enough to understand it. He claims to have "created" the brain damaged guy we all know and love...well, children who learn the birds and the bees are indeed taught that mommy and daddy had to have a baby even if the most they understand about it is what goes where.

Dementor is the fright a child has when stumbling into his parents' bedroom when they're "wrestling" and fearing that Daddy's hurting Mommy. Dementor is the ickiness and unease that happens when your body starts doing weird and naughty things and you don't really know why.

Now what makes Martika noticeable is that an issue after she first shows up, Dementor immediately is neutralized as any sort of threat to her and made subordinate. Martika has psychic power over men, which she uses on everyone, but especially Guy as soon as she shows up. She's irresistable with all the men under her spell.

Where Dementor is a child's confused and uncomprehending idea of sex, Martika is a teenager's. She's not alien or monstrous looking because teenagers know full well what sex actually is and what it entails at this point. She's beautiful of course because sex is appealing and fun. But well, to be honest, there's some merit in the saying that teenagers are ruled by their gonads. And in this case, Martika's an extreme example of this. There's no substance, there really isn't even consent, just mindless, out of control lust. She's the idea young people have that their lust and desire is beyond their control, the need to do it and the need to do it now that leads young people to occasionally make very unwise choices. There is no awareness or responsibility or control with the Martika metaphor.

Dementor still exists, but he's shadowy and subordinate. Martika is the primary view of sex, Dementor's instead the scary taboos left.

Which is what makes issue 42 so damn fascinating. Basically, Dementor's done the ultimate taboo, he's turned Guy Gardner into a woman. Now this is a) quite funny, but b) pretty damn interesting symbolism too.

I mean think about your average teenage boy for a second. Think of the institutionalized homophobia in our culture and the way in which anything even remotely seen as effeminate is anathema to teenage boys. But the thing is, deep down, every woman has an animus (male side) and every man has an anima (female side), because really, what we consider gendered traits, lust (male) compassion (female) for example exist in both men and women. It's just conventional assumption that labels them male or female.

Now the important part of growing up is accepting all of who you are. Some people never reach this point. It's particularly hard for men, I think, because there's more leeway for women to express "masculine" traits than there is for men to express "feminine" traits. It's what separates adolescence from adulthood. When Dementor turns Guy into a woman, he's representing the character's own shocking face to face with his anima. Guy as a woman isn't portrayed really as any different than Guy as a man, he doesn't appear any weaker, in fact "she" even says when "she" transforms that "she's" feeling damn powerful. Dementor, as taboo and shame, seeks to humiliate Guy by making obscene comments and making him wear those costumes, essentially parading Guy's own female side in plain sight.

However, then Martika horrified that *her* Guy is now a woman shows up, cows Dementor into submission and forces him to change "her" back. Basically now that he's come face to face with his own "female side", he's beginning to accept it. He's turning back represents the incorporation of that idea into his being. He isn't a woman just because he might have certain "female traits", they're just a part of him. And there's a lasting effect too. When he was a woman, Martika couldn't effect him. When he became a man again, he could tell when she tried to influence him and combat it, with Veronna's help. When he got in touch with his "feminine side", the softer emotions that young teenage guys tend to reject or avoid, Guy's adolescent sex drive loses its power over him.

Veronna is the adult perspective of love. Even if they've never actually had sex. When they meet, she swears herself to him, however he isn't ready to accept her like that. He never really becomes ready but they remain friends, because the love they share goes beyond sex. Veronna had known from early on that Martika was controlling Guy and tried to stop her. She did not interfere when Guy slept with Bea, though she expressed her disapproval. Ultimately his fate is, she keeps reminding him, with her. Basically, as "love", she wars against Martika, against sex for the sake of adolescent lust. His relationship with Bea is that of two friends getting comfort from one another, "love" doesn't interfere because there's a real emotional bond, however, the disapproval is a sign that the emotional bond is not the same as real love.

But by working with her to defeat Martika, he's become an adult in a sexual sense as well.

So basically yeah, Warrior is an allegory for adolescence. Environmental changes, physical puberty (through the powers), mental/emotional development, and sexual maturity are all covered, leaving us with the Guy from Rebirth/Recharge/GL/GLC. The surprisingly perceptive obnoxious jackass with a squishy interior.

I don't know if the allegory's intentional, but I like to think it is. I like seeing characters grow up before my eyes. :-)


  • At June 17, 2006 10:10 AM, Blogger Neil said…

    Wow, I think that sums up the run pretty well. I always miss the subtext of stories, especially in comics, and now it's like when someone points out a building in your home town that you never paid attention to.

    All of a sudden, the building is all you see, and you kick yourself for not having noticed it before.

    Especially because I always compare 80's Guy's maturing into "Beau's Guy" as similar to a kid who went to school with me. In 5th grade he was a total jerk/bully, but by 11th grade he mellowed out and was actually a decent person. To me, that's always how I'll view Guy.

    It also sums up something that's bothered me, but I couldn't put my finger on...the fact that I don't think any writer since Warrior ended has gotten Guy "right."

    Issues like Green Lantern #131 always bothered me (the scene where Kyle and John have a meaningful conversation about what Kyle went through with the Manhunters and with Terry walking into Kyle's apartment after the ceiling was destroyed, while Guy admits to not paying attention because they are at the hub of the foot traffic of 3 different modeling agencies), because it represents Guy slipping back in maturity to the teenage, Martika-style, view of sex.

    During "Final Night," his solution is to drink away his troubles, which, to me, is a very adolescent thing to do (giving up instead of facing the odds). The fact that he can't get drunk doesn't change the fact that Guy during Beau's run wouldn't crawl into a bottle, he'd find something to occupy his time in a meaningful way.

    Then, there's "Rebirth," which I loved immensely, but the scene where Guy rejects his Vuldarian I see it in a different light. It's like his body is rejecting puberty, and it's all topped off with him getting back the ring, even going so far as to kiss it.

    And now he's in an odd spot. He's very sexist to Soranik, constantly objectifying her. He's nowhere near as obnoxious as he was in the 80's and 90's, but he's nowhere near as emotionally mature as he was at the end of Warrior.

    Maybe he's having a mid-life crisis?

    Another interesting aspect to Guy's personality is his relationship with the Justice League (which should really be explored at some point). Especially the fact that except for the post-Zero Hour League (at which point he lashed out at them for not telling him about Ice) and the start of Morrison's League, he's been there every time the League has changed to claim leadership or at least membership (Giffens' first issue, Jurgen's first issue, and JLA: Secret Files and Origins #2). But that's probably for another time.

  • At June 17, 2006 5:10 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    It's funny, but I love each example you've listed, and except for Final Night, they're what lead me to really notice he has matured.

    If you reread 131, Guy claims to not be paying attention, but he reveals something else. He took the kid there to cheer him up. And really, how better to cheer up a mid-twenty-something young man? Take him to look at beautiful women. :-) He's lightening the tension, the flippancy redirecting the tone of the serious conversation toward him.

    And remember what John was doing...scolding Kyle for letting Terry get access to his apartment/risking his secret. Guy's not the sort for that sort of scolding. What's done is done and that's kind of a dumb thing to focus on anyway.

    Anyway when he brings up the models it's in a "Look at them!" way to Kyle. He's not there for his own benefit, it's Kyle's. He wants to give the kid an escape from the traumatic experience for a little while.

    It's really just how Guy deals with that sort of thing. He'll let John do the verbal comforting, but he'll show his concern/care in odd Guy like ways.

    Final Night seemed odd to me, but sometimes even adults have rough points. And this was a trying time. Really though I'll forgive FN a lot for having Guy right after Carol as an inspirational person to Hal. Because that's so...right.

    Rebirth Guy, isn't, as I see it rejecting puberty. He's ultimately reclaiming his creative power with the ring. Where before it was a child's game, now it's like an adult (after all the trauma of puberty) starting to make a career of his imagination...writing or art. The physical powers are just the expression of the *change* of puberty, not necessarily the end result. (Though I do tend to think it's unhealthy to so reject his own heritage...even if it did bring more pain than anything else...I hope someone uses that in a story some day). I didn't like the destruction of the bar, but that's another issue.

    And consider his relationship to Hal in Rebirth/Recharge/GLC. He's got the most *personal* reasons of any of the Earth Lanterns to want to hate Hal (Emerald Fallout was *brutal*) but he's already forgiven him. He annoys/insults him, but that's kind of how he shows affection.

    And I get why the Soranik stuff bothers you, but that's actually when I realized how much Guy *had* grown. Notice where/when he's a sexist jerk.

    When she speaks out rejecting the Guardians in Recharge 1, he's bemused, no sexist comment.

    Later he makes a joke about how hot she is in Recharge 3 to Kyle, but consider the conversation before that. He was asking Kyle if he really wanted to go through with this rule-breaking that could ruin him in the Guardians' regard. Kyle doesn't want to leave one of theirs behind and turns it back on Guy. That's when he pulls out with the joke, relieving the tension and redirecting Kyle's focus on the trip at hand.

    And then look at Soranik herself. They find her, she's just been through a traumatic experience. The ring works on will, and Guy in particular has always been a character that finds strength in anger. So through the mission, he leers at her cleavage and taunts her. But notice, none of his sexist taunts ever reach a certain line. He never propositions her and he never moves beyond leering. He finds her attractive, but that's not the point. The point is to make her angry/annoyed and keep her focused.

    In GLC, when they meet Soranik in the infirmary and she wants to quit, notice there isn't any sexist taunts. Guy admits he knows how she feels, counters her "curse" idea and even suggests she visit Mojo (who seems to have adopted some sort of Corps chaplain sort of role).

    He only starts getting sexist again as they fly to the mission...a mission she's afraid of. And as soon as she snaps at him about it, he switches tactics and gets serious.

    I don't think it's a midlife crisis at's a teaching tactic. Admittedly, one that wouldn't fly on Earth, but it does get results. Guy likes riling people up and we see that even sometimes in Warrior. But if you pay attention, every time he does it, it's to get results and to lighten tension.

    He's deliberately using his own image to get can *tell* he's was a psychology/education student.

    As for the JLA, it *is* an interesting relationship. I was actually really disappointed in OMAC for Guy's attitude toward Diana, when if you read JLI/Warrior, she was actually one of the few he had very little problem getting along with. She's the only leader of the JL that ever seemed to have any knowledge of how to deal with brain damaged Guy, and after, he's always had a lot of open respect for her.

    It'll be interesting to see if the trend of claiming membership continues in the new JLoA. I doubt it though, with the Corps, he's moved on to better things. :-)

  • At June 17, 2006 5:15 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Oh, whoa. Epiphany. That's why those scenes don't bother me.

    Brain-damaged Guy hated to be made fun of/mocked. One of the things that really set him off was humiliation (see the Ted-Guy fight...and one of my many reasons for hating Glory).

    Guy in GL 131, Recharge, and GLC is basically making himself into the joke for other people.

    That's why I read the scenes as signs of maturity! I get it now! :-)

  • At June 17, 2006 6:47 PM, Blogger Neil said…

    And, again, you're making perfect sense. I'll have to re-read those scenes again, this time with a different perspective.

    As someone who is reluctant to give up "childish" things, but is married with three kids, I can relate to Guy trying to reclaim his creativity and childish sense of wonder and imagination.

    I guess it's no different than if you have the type of parents who keep your room the exact way it was when you were growing up. You go back and find a childhood toy and just start playing with it. Doesn't mean you've regressed. And, in a way, sometimes your maturity makes the toy even more fun.

    The thing about the OMAC part and Wonder Woman was even worse if you've read Beau's plans for Warrior. He wanted two things that never came to be: Guy one-punching Batman and Guy and Wonder Woman dating.

    I love the scene in the beginning of "Way of the Warrior" when Guy and Diana head to stop the Tormocks on Earth. Diana mentions that he's changed: "Hmmm. You are different, Guy. This is the first time you and I have been alone in a vehicle and you haven't tried to use the old 'oh, gee, we've run outta gas" routine on me." (and in typical Beau Smith fashion, she's picking up this huge bladed weapon as she's talking to Guy.)

    What makes the OMAC scene even worse is that Guy was in the League with Booster, Beetle, and Fire, when Wonder Woman was the leader (though I never figured out just for how long, since his doppleganger took over for him some time during that run).

    But it is an interesting scene. I think it's another showing of Guy's maturity. He's grown out of the shadow of Hal Jordan and realized that the current League is Kyle and John's, the original League is Hal's, and the JLI era was his. He's no longer pissed they passed him over for membership, he realizes his place was with Booster and Fire. And while Wonder Woman did lead them for a while, it was a different League.

    Sure they had J'onn and Batman for guidance, but neither of them really emerged as "LEADER" the way Superman did after "Breakdowns" and Wonder Woman did after "The Death of Superman." And of course, all four went on to the current League.

    So, while I think Beau's Guy would have said it more tactfully, Guy's really saying "when the chips are down, we stick together." Which, in terms of the larger picture is really saying something. They know they were brought together under a false pretext, but even then, they've got each other's backs, at a time when the current League is at each other's backs (and would shortly be torn apart by the animosity and distrust of the big three).

    Wow, as I'm typing, I'm starting to see a parallel there...three of the JLI League and three of the current League. What's even more interesting is that while the "big three" split up and ultimately take a year off, the "minor three" take center stage (Bea with Checkmate, Booster taking on Brother Eye and center stage in 52, and Guy, of course, as a member of the Corps Honor Guard).

  • At June 17, 2006 7:24 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    I have to admit, I wouldn't have liked seeing Diana and Guy dating. They're a bit on different levels emotionally.

    Though the big bladed weapon was hilarious.

    I actually always thought a Buck-Diana pairing would be pretty damn interesting though. And funny.

    The scene only really bothered me because it was Diana. Clark, Bruce, anyone else, it would have worked. But that one annoyed me just a little. It was in her league that Guy finally felt like part of the team and not just "that jackass".

    Oh well, I'll live. :-P And you're right, the parallel of Guy, Booster, Fire working together despite their animosity, for Ted (when Guy in particular tended to clash with him) does make a poignant contrast to the splitting of the later big-name League.

    And you're rght...that is a fascinating parallel. In a way, they were the three powerhouses of the Giffen JLI weren't they, when they weren't being goofy. (Not counting Batman who wasn't really a part or Martian Manhunter who was oddly ineffectual during this time). And they're certainly among the most visually iconic...

    That's pretty damn cool. :-)

  • At June 19, 2006 12:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This is interesting, this developmental thing, with what you were saying about Arisia showing up in Warrior for a while. Fractal character development.

    And while I can agree with you about how he deals with Soranik, it still bothers me that he call her "Red." She's not a red-head, she's red-skinned. Seems like knowing Katma and being in a Corps with radically different species would have, I don't know, made him more wary about saying something like that. Maybe you can use the same argument - he's trying to rile her up and make her defensive and willing to fight, but it seems off to me. I'm surprised, at least, that Kilowog hasn't called him on it...

  • At June 19, 2006 1:12 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    On one sense, I see what you're saying and why it'd make you uncomfortable. But I don't really see it that way.

    In biology, skin tone's just a trait like hair, genetically determined, independent of other traits, but it's the sociological factors that makes referring to skin tone like hair color taboo.

    It's the history of oppression, domination and subjugation that makes skin tone a very inappropriate avenue for that sort of comment.

    However this isn't the real world and there's no such history (as far as we know at least) between Korugarians and Humans. So it really is in a sense like referring to her hair color.

    Also, considering his best friend is Kilowog, and his co-workers include a planet, at on point a virus, a lizard and a four-armed guy, red skin really doesn't seem like that much of a difference.

    So, while I did have an initial moment of pause, I ultimately decided that it didn't bother me.

  • At June 19, 2006 1:13 PM, Blogger MarkAndrew said…

    Geez. That was awesome.

    Never thought I'd see that kind of analysis related to Guy Gardner. Kind of blew my mind.

  • At June 19, 2006 6:05 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Aww, thanks! Glad you liked it!


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