Pretty, Fizzy Paradise

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

In Defense of the Space Bug:

While surfing around livejournal commnities, I came across a particular accusation regarding Geoff Johns's Green Lantern that I'd seen before.

The accusation was that through the retcons of Parallax and Arisia, as well as the resurrection of most of the dead Lanterns, Johns was robbing Hal of any sort of flaw or accountability of his actions. Stripping him down into some perfect fanboy-ish ideal.

Which is an accusation that befuddles me, for a number of reasons.

While I understand not liking Hal as a character, nor Johns's writing style (he does often have problems, I think, with pacing and dialogue), the complaint that Johns is removing all of Hal's flaws and mistakes simply doesn't fly with me.

Because Hal Jordan is not a ten year old character. Yes, retconning Parallax into a possession story, Arisia into an adult and restoring many of the lost Lanterns removes many of the character's more unappealing developments, to make the argument that it destroys who the character is completely ignores the fact that this is a character that had been in existance more than thirty years before Emerald Twilight.

And anyone who thinks that Hal was somehow a flawless character before then really needs to whip out Showcase and read again.

Hal Jordan is a character that is arrogant and egotistical. He believes he knows what is best and his confidence unshakable, even in the face of wiser/more knowledgeable people's disapproval. He is controlling with power issues. He is occasionally blind and presumptive, and completely self-centered. And he doesn't tend to learn from his mistakes until they're slapped in his face more than once. He can be really freakin' stupid. Also, karma visits him on his bad behavior by hitting him in the head. A Lot.

Despite a history of questionable judgements, Hal Jordan continues to defy his superiors at any given moment when he believes he knows what is best. He'll lie to co-workers and friends to ensure they come on career-risking missions with him (and it doesn't matter if Guy would have come along anyway and knew Hal was lying. It doesn't change that Hal lied.) He immediately believes that Batman's legitimate misgivings about a mind-controlling entity are expressions of personal dislike. He even presumed to make a "perfect world" hallucination for his that was lacking because he didn't truly understand him. He also lacks the trust enough to get close to any of his military co-workers, instead choosing meaningless empty one night stands in an effort to drown out his problems rather than deal with them. And he ends up banging his head on the Batmobile because he's too damn dumb to strap in (or, for that matter to keep his ring on a military flight.)

I'm not condemning the character, but when I read those examples over, I see Hal Jordan. It's the same man who used his sexual attraction to Carol to try to make her do what he wanted, who played endless games with his identity because it gave him an edge over her. He recruits an acquaintance as a successor/partner, without ever revealing his own identity, insuring that they'd never be on equal footing. It's a man who presumed John Stewart's passionate disagreement was an expression of personal dislike. That Guy Gardner's injury related insanity was the same sort of thing. He's a man who drowned out grief and guilt through marrying another man's fiancee. He's a man who drifted from job to job, girlfriend to girlfriend, directionless, rather than truly face his real problems with the military, with Carol, with anything else.

Even just taking this tiny handful of events, altogether, I'd say that we're looking at the same man here. A flawed, even occasionally dislikeable man who really doesn't learn from his mistakes. But has charm and genuine feeling for the people around him.

His succumbing to Parallax was one event, his dating of Arisia also one event, and I'm not sure how changing those really alters the whole.

Especially when the Parallax retcon does NOT actually absolve Hal Jordan of guilt of anything but the worst atrocities. The idea portrayed in the comic book is that Parallax begin influencing him somewhere around the time he got the grey streaks, but it did not take full control until HAL JORDAN destroyed his Oan battery prison. That means that as much as Parallax might have been a voice whispering in his ear, Hal was still responsible for everything that happened until that point.

Which is enough, honestly. The other Lanterns' suspicion of him is warranted. He's a man that lost control. Hell, the Parallax retcon actually exposes Hal as the weakest of the Lanterns. Parallax was in that prison for millions of years and the only person it could influence enough to actually release him is Hal Jordan. Hal gave in. Hal was the ONLY person to give in, in millions of years. That's what I find fascinating.

If anyone came out of Rebirth or Green Lantern with an elevated, exalted status it's Kyle Rayner and Guy Gardner. Kyle for being the only one to never succumb to the influence of a demon that when freed could possess a Guardian. And Guy for being the one who forgives. In exchange for Hal's obvious lies, he follows the man into the void and after all's done, he covers for Hal and takes punishment in his place.

I think it's pretty obvious who shines as the better man here, and it's not the star of the book.

The resurrection of the Lanterns doesn't actually take any guilt off Hal's head either. Hal believes he killed them, remembers killing some of them. And they seem to remember that as well. And even if you don't look at it that way, he's still not absolved, as these characters' capture and torture by the Manhunters is something that he, at least indirectly, bears some responsibility for.

The thing is though, the two major retcons, Parallax-as-possession and Arisia-as-adult are incredibly necessary if one is to keep Hal Jordan as a hero. Because, Guy and Kyle aside, what he'd done as Parallax was pretty close to unforgivable and it's debatable how functional Hal could be as a hero without the background circumstances changed. The gray-hair signifying growing influence also allows us to smooth away other occasions which took Hal above and beyond his usual flaws into an outright hateable human being.

And as for Arisia. We had a hero dating a hyperaged 13 year old girl. Which is A Problem. No matter how you spin it. This way, it's much cleaner and Hal can get the borderline-pedophile stain off his character.

Hal isn't flawless. The narrative actually calls him on this. Hal's being placed in the underdog position as a consequence of his own actions and it makes for fascinating reading because he's never been in that situation really. Ever.

The past isn't being ignored and Hal isn't being idolized. Kyle's still around, Guy's still around, and solicits promise that John not only will be around but will have a damn good reason for being absent.

It's a good time to be a Lantern fan. :-)

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  • At October 11, 2006 11:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    While I was never totally sold on the Space Bug, I think you're pretty much on the money here. Johns hasn't shied away from Hal's guilt or the fact that a lot of people still think he's a villain.

    I think the crucial thing is: the readers are convinced of Hal's "Innocence". But Hal himself isn't.

    I haven't been that into Johns' GL run, but I have enjoyed this bit of characterization.

    And he brought Arisia back. He didn't have to do that, and I'm not a particular fan of resurrecting characters, but that was nice.

  • At October 11, 2006 11:53 AM, Blogger SallyP said…

    An excellent post, Kalinara, and one that I agree with wholeheartedly. I too, have been seeing a lot of whining on other boards and blogs about Geoff John's "mancrush" on Hal Jordan, and how perfect his is making him, which is utter hogwash.

    Let's face it, Hal is a screwup of monumental proportions. He's vain, selfcentered to an astonishing degree, occasionally smug and frequently self-righteous. He also takes flagrant advantage of Guy, just because he can. I STILL can't get over how poor Guy is the one who gets punished in Green Lantern #13, and Hal KNOWS that Guy is taking the blame, and stands right there and doesn't say a word. ARRRGGHGH!

    On the other hand, Hal is now in a situation that must be strange and unpleasant for him. He's always been the golden boy of the Green Lanterns, and with VERY few exceptions, they can barely stand the sight of him now. That has to be disconcerting for Hal, and it is about time that he understands the consequences of his actions. He's got to stop taking advantage of people...and I hope that Kilowog and Arisia and Guy eventually call him on it.

  • At October 11, 2006 2:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    -pant- finally got to end of post pant-

    Kalinara: I too agree completely. In fact I think of the resurections as story continuation rather then retcon Why? because everything STILL happened. I look at it as if a murder victim had been saved w/ extradonary measures. it mitigates only VERY slightly what was done. It should be noted that Hal is still on the shit list of the corps.:)

    sallyp: read mosaic #9 "mind war". Hal may be a good guy but his ASSHOLE sign is rarely dark.

    Anyway heres me crossing my fingers that John is after his wife's return. I'd put that asa great moment in DC if not comicbook history.

  • At October 11, 2006 5:52 PM, Blogger Centurion said…

    Look, if Batman can accept his mistakes and start from almost scratch with all his sidekicks, I am left with no problems with the retcon of Hal Jordan.

    It's either that, or they could have used Superboy-Prime punching reality again. That only works so often before it becomes a joke, so I rather like that Johns did...

  • At October 11, 2006 7:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I agree with most of what you're saying. In fact, I agree with all of it save one point - Hal subcumming to Parallax wasn't because he was the weakest. It was because Hal was a target.

    Sinestro said, during Rebirth, that after the Guardians imprisoned him inside the power battery, he learned of Parallax and was able to communicate with him. It was Sinestro who suggested that Parallax focus his energy on controlling Hal, IIRC. No doubt Sinestro added his own willpower to that task, as well.

  • At October 11, 2006 8:53 PM, Blogger Zaratustra said…

    What IS the age of consent in other planets anyway? If the Karplusians or whatever evolve to adulthood in 2 years, is it OK to sleep with one? What about the Flumflammers of Pluto who take 200 years to grow their milk teeth? We have to get answers to these questions if we want to conquer space, people.

  • At October 11, 2006 8:55 PM, Blogger Zaratustra said…

    Also: Are they going to make Major Force defeat EVERY female hero in the DC Universe? Maybe in some form of 6-issue limited series? For the love of god.

  • At October 11, 2006 9:47 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    dan: Resurrecting Arisia was nice. :-)

    sally: hee. I'm just waiting for someone in character to call Hal on that. At least the narrative seems to even if the characters don't yet.

    Though oddly, I can't see Guy doing the calling out. He'd complain about a lot of things, but not that...

    green: Katma returning would be awesome

    centurion: Hee.

    matt: I think one doesn't preclude the other necessarily. Because honestly, if he's imprisoned for millions of years, I really doubt he waited until this one guy to try influencing people.

    If I were imprisoned I'd try any way out I could.

    I think Sinestro DID suggest Hal, but he suggested him as someone weak enough (given his darker qualities) to succumb. It still makes Hal the weakest in my perspective but that actually makes Hal more interesting.

    (I've always thought there were interesting parallels between Hal and Sinestro, both being considered the greatest Lanterns during their time, but both inherently flawed enough to be the bane to the Corps...the difference being Sinestro basks in his flaws where Hal is trying to fix/atone for them.)

    zaratustra: Could be like Kes from Voyager, who was only six.

    But yeah. That'd be fun to play with.

    And I'd like to see Arisia rematch against Force and get some of her own back. :-)

  • At October 11, 2006 11:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    You know, I always had a reflexive dislike for Hal, who you've handily described as, yes, a total dick. But I have to admit that you make his dickiness sound sort of perversly entertaining. If the writer is indeed calling the character on his misbehaviour (rather then, say, presenting him as a moral exemplar) then I agree that this would be kinda cool.

  • At October 12, 2006 12:07 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Hal IS a dick. And he really does seem to be called on it, subtly, in stories that subtly underscore other character's virtues as places where Hal falls short.

    Ollie's the one to break through the mind-controlly plants. Batman actually makes the real friendship overtures first. Guy'll bitch but stand by him, cover for him and take his punishment in a heartbeat. It's really interesting.

    What makes it work though is that as much of a dick Hal is, he's also a good guy at heart. He's self-absorbed but he really doesn't want anyone else hurt. He's brave and altruistic. He's the sort of character that probably doesn't realize how out of line he's being, and if/when he does realize it would endeavor to change. Or at least guilt about it for a while. But he is the most fun when the dickish aspects aren't glossed over or ignored. :-)

  • At October 12, 2006 12:57 AM, Blogger Ragnell said…

    I always wonder what books the blog-writers SallyP refers to are reading. I read Showcase and came out with exactly the same response. I found him downright unlikeable during the Jones and Priest eras. My favorite Hal, aside from Johns', is O'Neil's, and that guy was hardly perfect.

    To be honest, the only time Hal has seemed to be a perfect character is when Ron Marz wrote a flashback tale. If anyone had the mancrush on Hal Jordan, it was the guy who wrote Emerald Twilight under editorial direction.

  • At October 12, 2006 12:01 PM, Blogger SallyP said…

    Characters with some human flaws are so much more interesting...which is why I've always found Superman to be likeable, but a bit dull. And Capt. America irritates me intensely. I also wanted to go after General Glory with an eggbeater...whoops, seem to have gotten carried away there for a minute. Anyway, I frequently want to just SLAP Hal, but I still love him.

  • At October 12, 2006 2:57 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    ragnell: heheh

    sallyp: Oh don't get me started on Glory. He was such a *creep*. Hmph!

  • At October 12, 2006 3:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I DESPISE Major Force and would personally like to see every heroine+Guy (because he's been a heroine) & Kyle because he has bagage w/ Force as while as a female aspect( see CoF & ION), get together and issue a major (HEE) beat down on Force. Right after SBP of course.;)

    Also, I belie batman has not and will never fully recovered from his mistakes w/ the previous Robins , but has learned from them.

  • At October 12, 2006 10:29 PM, Blogger Elliot said…

    I love this post. You really capture the flaws of Hal, while at the same time illustrate what makes him an interesting character.

    A Green Lantern is supposed to embody fearlessness and willpower. Even a good person with an overabundance of these qualities will match "Hal Jordan is a character that is arrogant and egotistical. He believes he knows what is best and his confidence unshakable, even in the face of wiser/more knowledgeable people's disapproval."

  • At October 13, 2006 1:35 AM, Blogger notintheface said…

    Any chance we can blame the Space Bug for Iron Man and Reed Richards?
    That could make CIVIL WAR a lot easier to deal with.

  • At October 15, 2006 5:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Great post! You definitely got it right regarding Hal's personality. And I loved your "whip out Showcase" line!

    I not sure if it's required in "blog-etiquette", but I posted a link to your post on my (blog ).

    Just wanted to FYI you, because a) I'm pretty new to blogging and b) I really don't want to piss the great Kalinara off!

    Keep up the great work!

  • At October 16, 2006 12:41 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    green: That would be pretty awesome!

    elliot: Thanks! I do like Hal a lot, even if Guy and Kyle are higher on my list. :-) His flaws are really what makes him work for me.

    Actually, it's the dichotomy with Guy that I find really fascinating. You have one man, with the image of being completely flawed, charmless and undignified: rude, obnoxious, egotistical...but through his actions, betrays himself to be a much better man than the image that even he seems to buy into.

    And you have his reverse. The hero, the charmer, the perfect protagonist, who at his core is self-absorbed, manipulative and power-obsessed. But he's still a good guy, in spite of it. It's just that the flaws that he needs to overcome are far more deep seated, and he has to work more at being a good person in the end.

    If that makes sense. I'm not completely sure as I just woke up. :-)

    notintheface: Right now, I'd accept them getting hit on the head with falling debris and being brain damaged...

    ql: Thanks! And thanks for the link! I have no problem with external links personally. :-)

    Thanks though! I'm pleased to meet you!


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