SHOWCASE PRESENTS: How Geoff Johns Saved & Ruined Hal Jordan

(Editors Note: All editorials are solely the opinion of the author, and do not necessarily reflect  the views or opinions of DC Comics News or its staff.)

Superheroes have secret identities. That’s really all there is to it. There’s a duality to the myths we make. And, maybe, that’s because of who comic books were really made for. The geeky kid who got knocked around a bit. The kid who got humiliated by his classmates. The kid who looked at the world and saw something wrong. An injustice. But the irony of the story was that, even though he was one of the few people who could see that injustice, he, as a geeky kid, could do nothing to stop it. Nothing to change it.

But someone else could. Someone with the same vision. The same knowledge. With a little more strength. Someone more confident. Someone who didn’t tread lightly in the confines of a broken society. A superhero.

Sometimes, the only thing that gets you through the day is the impossible belief that there is a part of you that could take on the world. And win.

Superman is the light that guides the way. Clark Kent is the mild-mannered reporter. Batman is the nightmare of evil men. Bruce Wayne is a vapid playboy. The Flash moves at the speed of thought. Barry Allen is always late. Green Lantern is a cocky space cop. Hal Jordan is a cocky test pilot. One of these things is not like the others.

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“… as John Stewart saves the day with the power… of SQUARES!”

The Savior

Critics of Geoff Johns… And when I say that, I don’t mean me. Sure, I blame him for a lot of the distressing news coming out of DC these days but, honestly, I mostly just do that for comic effect. There’s a certain humor lost in a statement like “things are terrible” that gets picked up when you say “things are terrible… Geoff… you pompous ass.” Sure, I don’t really enjoy his writing of Batman or Superman, but his Superboy is great and his Booster Gold is impeccable.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, right. Critics of Geoff Johns often accuse him of making Hal Jordan a Mary Sue character. The same complaints are often levied against literally anyone writing Batman or Wolverine. Comic book fans are a fickle bunch.

What no one denies about Geoff Johns is what he brought to the Green Lantern franchise. I chose that word very carefully. Franchise. Because that’s what he made it. And, frankly, that’s a great thing.

Johns made Green Lantern popular again. I’ll be honest, I love Kyle Rayner. The whole idea of “the last Green Lantern” and the guy chosen just being the first guy the last remaining Guardian happened to see… Well, that’s good stuff. Kyle was an artist, more imaginative than any other person who could possibly have gotten the ring. The last Lantern had to be a romantic. He had to see hope where there wasn’t any. And he was afraid. Really and truly. Quite often.

Kyle’s arc was fantastic. But not fantastic enough for me to regularly read his book. Or know what the hell the whole “Ion: the Torchbearer” thing was about. I know now of course. But that’s really because of Geoff.

Bringing Hal back from the dead was a big deal. And the stories that spun out of that… Fantastic. Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern arc spanned the better part of a decade. There was rarely an issue I wasn’t utterly captivated by from start to finish. Each event seemed bigger than the last. Each new character introduced, each new Lantern corps brought into the fold, each old character repurposed, redefined, and reinvigorated proved that Geoff Johns was the man born to write Green Lantern. He made the character so damn popular that we actually got a Green Lantern movie… that we now try desperately to forget.

Geoff Johns saved Green Lantern. No doubt about it. But he also ruined Hal Jordan.

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A poop monster. Defeated by imaginary planes. And the sun… GREEN LANTERN!

The Destroyer

He retconned Parallax.

No doubt he had to in order to bring Hal back in any sort of reasonable way. But I hate that his great storytelling is just a retcon of something infinitely more beautiful and intriguing than a goddamn monster made of scary thoughts. See, when Hal went nuts…that was important. Arguably the most important thing to ever happen to the character. I’ll be the first to admit that his descent into madness should’ve taken more than two pages to establish, but the core story was brilliant.

The thing about Green Lanterns is that they’re people without fear. At least, they’re people without obvious fears. And Hal Jordan…well, he was a guy who flew experimental fighter jets for a living and frequently pulled the most dangerous aerial stunts possible in spite of seeing his own father die as a result of a plane crash.

In other words, Hal Jordan had a death wish. Now, you give someone with a death wish the power to do pretty much anything. Infinite power. And that turns him into a hero. And people love him. Suddenly he’s got shit to live for. And then, one terrible day, all of that gets destroyed. So Hal…. Hal tries to rebuild his shattered world. He tries to put it together again using the power he’s been given. But the guys who gave him the power? They’re not cool with that. So Hal gets mad. Hal realizes there are only two ways out of this: bring everyone back or join them all on the other side.

His warpath through the Corps on the way to Oa? Suicide run. But no one was good enough to beat him. Not the Guardians. Not Sinestro. Not even the Justice League, once he got all the power he thought could help him. Because that power wasn’t good enough. So he had to remake existence. He had to make a universe where everything was okay in the end. But that wasn’t possible. And even if it was possible, even if Hal Jordan could remake the infinite complexities of every star and every world…he knew he wasn’t the right man for the job.

So Hal Jordan committed suicide on the Final Night.

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But not before learning how to use ALL of his fingers in the creepiest way possible.

Geoff took that away. He gave Hal an easy out.

“I was possessed by a yellow bug. Sinestro is also somehow alive.”

“That sounds totally like a real thing, Hal. Please rejoin the Justice League and junk.”

I miss character development. Don’t you?

  • jonquixote

    Hal going crazy wasn’t “character development.” It was editorially-mandated ridiculousness. Johns finding an honorable way to honor those developments but still restore Hal was his greatest accomplishment – he smartly added to the mythos instead of simply tearing it down as was en vogue in the ’90s.

    He later “ruined” GL by making it overstuffed and absurd, but REBIRTH was great.

    • Ash Mahtani

      Hal going nuts may well have been editorially mandated but it still made sense for the character.

      As I pointed out in the article, if you actually look at Hal’s personality and the decisions he’s made, him snapping like he did in Emerald Twilight, while entirely too rushed (seriously, it took him all of 3 panels to go freaking nuclear), actually fits.

      I enjoyed most of what Johns did with the GL franchise (including MAKING it a franchise), but I honestly believe that we were robbed of a great story when Hal’s insanity was passed off as “he was possessed by an evil alien parasite.”

      Identity Crisis gets a lot of well-deserved flack amongst the fandom for using serious things (like rape and lobotomy) for shock value. Well, without the Parallax retcon, we could’ve been treated to a more organic treatment of serious issues within the superhero community (like mental health issues in heroes and the aftermath of an attempted suicide in a world where resurrection is not only possible but likely).

      I would’ve loved to read that story. I’m happy with what we got instead, but I don’t think it was the best way to handle Hal.

  • MyNameIsZ

    Dude, I love your articles. As someone getting into GL it was a treat.

    • Ash Mahtani

      Thanks for the kind words!