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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Crossposting from a Livejournal Reply: Faith and Green Lanterns

Over at his livejournal, jarodrussel posted a nice essay on why he thought Barbara Gordon would make a good Green Lantern.

Personally, I disagreed and went into why. Anyway, through replies, I ended up digressing into the nature of faith/belief and Lanterns. My reply was, I shamefully admit, pretty much an essay in and of itself. Since I'm an egotist, and moreover, I like to keep all my essays in one place, I decided to reproduce it here. To see the full discussion and context, please follow the link above.

"I suppose in a sense, limiting was the wrong word. What mathematics and programming language and other things do that makes them ultimately incompatible with the ring is that they quantify. The ring does't allow for that. Engineers and mathematicians and programmers, used to being able to quantify and analyze, would be hindered.

Any other power and they'd be fine. Just in this case, I don't think it would work. People used to that sort of quantifying, would then be trying to use it on their environment. Which means, if nothing else, an element of hesitation. Even for just a split second, the programmer would be thinking "Okay, how can I do this?" while the other Lantern would have it done.

I think the core element needed for the ring to work is blind, irrational faith:

John is a character that's very tied to high ideals from his conception, and he never falters in his belief in them. He became a crusader for social justice because it's what's right. That strong belief is central to what makes him work as a Lantern. Superman might be a good Lantern for the same reason.

Hal is arrogance. He's a man who can't conceive of failure at all. He will never be able to understand that some things are just impossible, that he can't do them. Hal doesn't have contingency plans. He doesn't compensate because his faith in himself is so strong. He can't believe in defeat.

Guy's is emotion. When Guy feels an emotion it's pure. If that makes sense. Logic never enters into the equation. Anger's the obvious example, but Guy also loves very deeply and he has an amazing capacity for forgiveness. For example, in the Christmas issue, a gift from the Spectre allowed for a final meeting and emotional reconciliation with the spirit of his abusive father. Before that, in Underworld Unleashed, Neron's offer to him, his heart's desire, was his father, brother (a villain) and Ice back. The series actually ended with a gesture of forgiveness on his part, allowing Parallax to remain at Arisia's funeral, regardless of everything he did to the universe, the Corps and Guy personally.

People give Kyle a lot of credit for Rebirth, when he brought back Hal on sheer faith. But Guy actually goes one better, because Guy didn't know and wouldn't have believed a folktale about some mind-controlling yellow space bug. As far as he knew, Hal had done all of those things of his own free will and he'd forgiven him anyway. It's a deeper facet of the character that tends to get forgotten beside his general obnoxiousness.

Kyle's source of strength is his cluelessness. He's a character profoundly aware that everyone in the room knows more than he does, that no matter how much he learns, there's so much more out there that he can never and will never understand. It's strange to see this as a asset, because in any other situation, it would make for a very short career.

But what it amounts to is that he's completely without pre-concieved notions, to the point where even his subconscious can get in on the act (which was long considered impossible). It's like a very small child, trying to reach the moon by climbing a tree. And the ring works with that. I bring up the DNA scanner, not because of the coolness of creating one, (I don't doubt Barbara could), but because for a long time it was assumed that a Lantern had to understand the principles behind what he/she created. Kyle doesn't know anything about DNA, sequencing or electronics. Honestly, I'd be surprised if that boy could get his clock to stop flashing 12:00. And yet he creates complex mechanical devices at the drop of a hat. Simply because he had no idea that he's not supposed to be able to.

He started at a time when there was no Corps at all, he was alone. So everything he knows is what he's learned from other people. He's got a very idealized and confused idea of what Lanterns do, of what the Corps is, of what the ring can do. But he has such absolute faith in that idea that it works anyway.

Honestly, the biggest problem I have with a character like Barbara as a Lantern is because she's incapable of blind faith. Barbara, like most very smart people, has very strong convictions. They're supported by facts, evidence, logic and rationality. But it's not the same."


  • At August 09, 2006 4:57 AM, Blogger Brandon Bragg said…

    Good point about Barbara.

    Has it been established that those same qualities are pretty much what made Hal an ideal candidate for hosting the Spectre?

  • At August 09, 2006 4:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Kalinara, this is a wonderful little essay. Kudos!

  • At August 09, 2006 4:48 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    brandon: Aww, thanks!

    Hmm, it hadn't come up. Personally though, I have to admit, I thought the Spectre was an idea that was fun in theory but not so much in execution. (Though I liked the JLA issue that dealt with it, and the few appearances in GL)

    I suppose part of it is that Hal's ego doesn't really work as well playing symbiote with a greater being for me. It's an interesting phase in the character overall, but I'm rather glad it's over.

    tom: Thanks!

  • At August 09, 2006 4:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Okay. For the sake of argument, I'll ignore "JLA: Created Equal" where Barbara DID become a Green Lantern and was pretty darn good at it IIRC.

    That being said, I don't buy for a second the idea that logically minded people cannot use a Green Lantern ring.

    John Stewart would be a good example of this. Convictions aside, John is an architect. And there are lots of references (though I can't quote any off the top of my head except Rebirth) about how the way John creates things is very methodical. Skeletons before muscles before skin before life, in a way.

    And in JLA: Foreign Bodies, Steel was momentarily thrown when he found himself in Kyle Rayner's body and was unable to get the ring to work because he kept thinking about the mechanics of the ring. He finally got it to work, and excelled with it, when Kyle suggested (over Steel's protests that he couldn't envision something in a creative state) that he imagine blueprints.

    Point is, while I see what you are saying, it took John Henry a matter of hours to get the ring to where he could use it and he's as logical a sort as Babs if not worse.

  • At August 09, 2006 5:27 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Steel and Barbara were short term scenarios. I'm not saying that they're incapable of using the ring. Just that they're ill-suited for the role long-term. (And would get their asses kicked against a real Lantern.)

    I'm not saying logical people can't do it. I mean, Kilowog's a geneticist. Soranik's a doctor, they're fine.

    The thing is, I genuinely think the character needs some element of blind faith to use it. Some point in which logic doesn't mesh.

    John's an idealist and an activist. He's seen many cases where humans have been the worst with each other. He still believes in the fundamental goodness of humanity. This idealism will mean that when it comes down to using the ring, he'll be able to put logic aside and just run with it.

    John Henry and Barbara Gordon can use the ring, sure. They've got the strength of will, no question. But they do it for one story each. Why?

    Because their temperaments don't mesh with the ring long term. Using the ring means trusting yourself to a technology humans aren't capable of understanding completely. There's no room for analysis or "How do I do this?" There's no way they can be a match for a character like Hal/John/Guy/Kyle who doesn't stop to think about how.

    I'm not saying they can't learn to be good Lanterns, to put analysis aside and just use the ring. But why would they want to? Their methods work fine for them and logical people won't give up a sure method for something so intrinsically chaotic. Why would they put themselves through the physical effects of using the ring (as seen in Rebirth), the stupid yellow weakness to overcome, and a really flaky AI, when they've got other methods that work fine.

    That's not even getting into the Corps aspect of the ring. Can you really see Steel or Barbara willing to put up with the Guardians or idiotic Corps bureaucracy just to use the ring?

    That's where the blind faith aspect comes in. Even if they can learn to just turn their analysis off and follow instincts/intuitions/emotions with no hesitation, they still need motivation to put up with the rest of the Lantern crap.

    It's like knights or paladins in old stories. They need some sort of pure, unstinting belief that makes the rest of the job worthwhile. I simply can't see Steel or Barbara willing to put up with the rest of that crap.

  • At August 09, 2006 11:41 PM, Blogger Matthew E said…

    It's a very well-put-together argument but I'm not sure I buy it either. You say:

    I genuinely think the character needs some element of blind faith to use it. Some point in which logic doesn't mesh.

    John's an idealist and an activist. He's seen many cases where humans have been the worst with each other. He still believes in the fundamental goodness of humanity. This idealism will mean that when it comes down to using the ring, he'll be able to put logic aside and just run with it.

    I have no opinion on whether I'd theoretically be able to use a Green Lantern ring, but I'm an idealist, of sorts, I guess. I believe in the fundamental goodness of humanity. Yet I have no blind faith of any kind and putting logic aside is not in my playbook. So I don't think this all necessarily follows.

    I recently read that Alan Moore collection with stories about Green Lanterns including a planet, a virus, a being unable to conceive of visual perception, and a mathematical sequence. If they can be Green Lanterns, so can a Vulcan.

    I also thought about it like this. What the ring really needs is for its wielder to have some kind of really full toolbox in his/her mind. Like John with his architecture or Kyle with his art or Steel's blueprints. Anything that gives the wielder some kind of personal model for how to work the thing. If so, whether the person is coming at it from a primarily logical or primarily illogical (or even antilogical) approach is kind of beside the point.

  • At August 09, 2006 11:52 PM, Blogger Ragnell said…

    Guys, you're misreading her. She's not saying that logical people can't use the ring.

    What she's saying is that an imaginative and idealistic person is going to be much better than a logical person. Which is what Kyle proved countless times during Volume 3.

    I mean seriously, everyone describes Kyle as creative and imaginative, but who would ever be able to argue him as logical or intelligent? And they played him up as the best that ever was.

  • At August 10, 2006 12:04 AM, Blogger Matthew E said…

    I can go along with that, but I don't think 'imaginative' and 'logical' are mutually exclusive, that's all.

    If I were to rank the qualities necessary for a good Green Lantern, I'd probably do it like this:

    0. Honest
    0. Fearless
    1. Strong-willed
    2. Imaginative

    (The qualities tied at 0 being the ones the Guardians put in the job ad.)

    'Logical' may not be on that list, but 'illogical' isn't either.

  • At August 10, 2006 12:26 AM, Blogger Ragnell said…

    Matthew -- As imaginative goes, I've yet to see evidence Barbara has the kind that is necessary for Lanterns. Mainly, the ability to let go of your logic and allow your imagination to completely take over. To believe in what you are imagining as though it is concrete in front of you.

    She's too grounded. All Lanterns need to have their heads in the clouds to some degree.

    That is what Sinestro meant when he said Ollie's will was "too cynical"

  • At August 10, 2006 12:37 AM, Blogger kalinara said…


    I'm not saying a character can't be logical. I'm saying that they can't be methodical thinkers in general. There's a difference. John is logical, but he's not terribly methodical/systematic. There's a difference.

    John can turn *off* the methodical processes. His idealism gives him an outlet to suspend his methodology and analysis and just do it.

    The nature of the powers, as portrayed in Green Lantern, and the nature of the Corps doesn't allow for a very methodical thinker to thrive. There is no time to think. There's no time for "how do I?"

    Which is where Steel and Barbara falter. And it doesn't make sense for characters like that to resort to the hassles of a ring and Guardian bureaucracy when their own methods work just as well.

    Just because the Guardians recruit for specific qualities doesn't mean that they're the only traits that impact whether a character suits the job or not.

    Hal Jordan's probably the most organized/methodical thinker the Lanterns have. Hal Jordan. That pilot guy who's kind of dumb and gets hit by ceiling tiles and flies head first into walls or signs. The guy who leaves his ring behind on missions, and doesn't buckle the seatbelt of the batmobile.

    That says something, right there. He's a great Lantern because of his focus, but a great deal of inter-lantern relations is Hal being shocked at what other Lanterns can do. Never the reverse.

    Barbara and Steel are programmers and technicians. They're accustomed to strict physical, scientific rules about what they can do. They're used to bending or breaking those rules to do the impossible. But that's different from what the ring does. Because when it comes down to it, as far as human perception goes, there are no rules at all. There's nothing to work around.

    Characters like Barbara or Steel, accustomed to quantifiers and rules, would try to impose them on the ring. They'll be trying to work around what they've observed that the ring can do. That's the key. They'll be working around while characters like Hal, Kyle, John, Guy, Kilowog, and so on and so forth will just do it.

    Will-Power is the key to being a Lantern. Willpower isn't related to logic, it's about spirit and emotion and defiance. It's about pushing through when your brain knows something isn't possible. To believe in spite of knowledge, not because of it.

    OR...what Ragnell said, because her point is clearer and more succinct.

  • At August 10, 2006 12:50 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Actually as a clearer addendum, it's like this:

    Jarodrussell at his entry mentioned the tendancy for a programmer to daydream in code. But the thing is, if you stop and think about it, there's a key difference between daydreaming a sunset and daydreaming the numbers necessary to reproduce a sunset on a 800x600 monitor in pixels.

    Because with the latter, you're thinking of how. You're thinking of rules and facts and arguments. You're thinking of which pixel should be which color and where it should be centered.

    Which still represents a sunset, yes. Which is good. On a computer, the programmer can make a sunset every bit as beautiful as the real thing.

    But you've got a ring that makes your thoughts real. And you're in battle. Especially against someone like Sinestro or Nero that has a ring just like yours. And while you're thinking of logical arguments, math equations and pixels, they're just thinking "energy ball" and they've got you.

  • At August 10, 2006 8:22 AM, Blogger Matthew E said…

    I still don't agree, but we've all said our say and been heard, so I'm content to leave it at that.

  • At August 10, 2006 11:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Personally i can imagine ms. gordon steel joing the corp, especially if they believed it was nescesarry to save earth, but then a week or two later they get kicked out for breaking their rings when curiosity gets the best of them and they try to reverse engineer it. :)

  • At August 10, 2006 11:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I think that what you are saying,
    is that to be a good Lantern, you need to be a Romantic. And I don't mean that in the modern mushy context, but in the old-fashioned way...a belief in something beyond the mundane. Hal,John, Guy and Kyle are all Romantics to a degree, which certainly ties in with Ragnell's
    comparison of them to Arthurian Knights. Anyway, makes sense to me!

  • At August 10, 2006 11:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    See, I disagree on the one hand, because an essential element of being a programmer or an architect or an engineer is taking things from ideas to reality. The ring just cuts out the middleman.

    But on the other, the whole "they wouldn't put up with this crap to use the ring" thing makes sense.

  • At August 10, 2006 2:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Actually, the REAL criterion for
    becoming a Green Lantern is how
    good your butt looks in spandex.
    I don't know that I've ever seen
    Barbara's lately, but sitting in that chair can't be doing her any good.

  • At August 10, 2006 2:56 PM, Blogger Richard said…

    I wonder if the meaning would be clearer if you had used a phrase like "absence of doubt" instead of "blind faith." The two do not mean the same thing, and what you're describing sounds to me like the former.

    Some personal and subjective definitions here. "Faith" is belief in something without evidence; "blind faith" is belief in something combined with refusal to look at clear evidence that it isn't true. Neither of these terms apply to characters who have used the ring and know empirically that what they do with it does work.

    "Absence of doubt" might be described in character terms as "I accept the evidence of my own eyes that what I do works, and I'm not going to get hung up on figuring out how or why." Whereas the doubter or skeptic would say "Even though I can see this working, logic says it can't, so are my eyes lying to me?"

    I myself am a big doubter of everything and assume anyone can be fooled by seeing things that just aren't so, so I'd make a crummy GL.

  • At August 10, 2006 3:05 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    matthew: fair enough. :-)

    david: that's part of it too. :-) Steel and Barbara are too much about the how. They'd never accept that they just can't comprehend the rings truly. No one can. :-)

    sallyp: Probably. :-) I think in terms of the ecstatic really. Which is why I use faith as my word for it. :-) If that makes sense.

    ununnilium: That's just it though, the rings take out the middleman, but that's what programmers and engineers do. (Architects aren't as much about the how so much as the final image/product, I think.) They take concepts and goals and they translate it into a way that is reproduceable and controllable.

    But with the ring doing that itself, you have what amounts to double feedback. If that makes sense.

    Regardless though, there's still the putting up with it thing. :-)

    sallyp: To be fair, Birds of Prey shows that Barbara does have a nice ass. :-)

    rab: See, for me, I think it's more faith because there's the element of something "greater" for each of them. Something ideal.

    I used the religious ecstatic comparison above, but that's really how I see the Lanterns (especially after Ollie's bit in Rebirth). They put themselves under tremendous physical strain to use the rings sometimes. They're very small cogs in a machine they sincerely believe in but don't understand.

    I'd genuinely say there's an element of the religious in there. JMO, of course.

  • At August 15, 2006 2:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    this may suprise you kal but I agree for a different reason outside the bat clan, and even in she can't blindly trust because like all said bat clan she has been @#$% by the universe.

  • At August 15, 2006 6:49 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Hee, I think GLs get it hard from the universe as well, really, but they react differently. :-) And admittedly it's a different kind of "Universe hates you" than the batclan. :-)

  • At December 07, 2006 2:57 PM, Blogger razorsmile said…

    Ever heard of macros? Pre-designed constructs? Ruthlessly meticulous planning? Oracle is a hacker and before that, a Bat.

    Oracle is a gamechanger, not a gameplayer - and that's why she'd be a great - even unique - Lantern.


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