Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Green Lantern is lame

Not to brag, but I collected comic books for about 20 years. By that I mean I bought at least 20 comic books a month, and I ended up with around 10,000 or so. I bought just about every kind of book there was, but, being an American child, superheroes were my favorite.

In that time, I bought exactly three "Green Lantern" issues. I don't think I read any of them all the way through.

I bought comics in which Green Lantern appeared, such as Justice League America or Justice League International. But only thrice did I ever buy any "Green Lantern" books -- and one of those was the 200th issue, and that only because I was a collector and bought just about anything that had the word "Anniversary" or "Special Double-Sized Issue!" on it.

The reason for this lack of enthusiasm for GL is simple. GL is lame. He is the lamest comic book superhero ever. He's more lame than Ant-Man,  the guy whose superpower is that he can shrink down to ant-size. He's more lame than Fatman the Human Flying Saucer, the guy whose superpower is that he can turn into a flying saucer. He's more lame than Birdman, the guy who dresses like a bird (not the rapper). He's more lame than any of these characters.

All of those characters at least had charm. GL is utterly charmless.

I should clarify that I am speaking of the Silver Age version of GL. There was an earlier, Golden Age version, and he might be alright, but I don't know and I don't care. The modern GL, who started as test pilot Hal Jordan, and is now the freelance artist (!) Kyle Rayner.

It is Hal Jordan that will be depicted in the upcoming film, the trailer of which is embedded here:

It is Hal Jordan I will be discussing here.

GL's lameness begins with his origin story. Hal Jordan is a test pilot at Ferris Aircraft Company. He is well-known for his lack of fear. So far, pretty cool. But while Hal is in a wingless test pilot trainer, he is abducted by an alien creature named Abin Sur. Mr. Sur is the Green Lantern of sector 2814, which includes, among other planets, earth.

Mr. Sur is dying, and he needs to quickly find a replacement for himself -- someone to take over as the sector 2814 Green Lantern.

The Green Lanterns are a group of intergalactic police appointed by the Orwellian-sounding group called The Guardians, or, later, The Guardians of the Universe. These little blue men from the planet Oa have, for some reason, been appointed or appointed themselves as arbiters of justice throughout the universe. The Green Lantern Corps is their "muscle," enforcing their rules of righteousness. They take creatures from various parts of the universe and have them fight "evil." There are lots of different GLs, made up of different species from different planets.

You can see where this is starting to get lame.

Who the hell are the Guardians? Who appointed them? How do they choose who is "good"? Hell, on the planet earth if you pulled someone from America, someone from China, someone from Egypt, someone from France, someone from Afghanistan, someone from Mexico, and had each of them tell you what was "good," and what was "evil," or what constituted "bravery," you'd get six different answers. (How do the Guardians feel about vegetarianism? Veganism? Free range chicken? "Puppy mills"? Rodeos?)

Now, consider that the GL of sector 2814 isn't just "policing" earth -- he's policing several other planets (I neither know nor care how many). Each of those planets has, presumably, as rich and varied a tapestry of life as our own planet. So how could one human (and why not have a dolphin represent earth? or a cockroach? there are more cockroaches than humans) have the arrogance to patrol them all, and do "right" by each one?

But back to the origin, which is incredibly lame: Mr. Sur is dying because he has crash landed in his spaceship, and is mortally injured. He explains to Mr. Jordan that he has been deemed worthy of taking up the GL mantle, and is given his power ring, and the "green lantern," which is actually a power battery used to recharge the ring every 24 hours. Abin Sur tells Jordan that it is "given only to selected space-patrolmen in the super-galactic system...to be used as a weapon against forces of evil and injustice."

That's a pretty broad statement. But then, Mr. Jordan has been found to have been "born without fear!"

And what does Mr. Jordan, a man "born without fear!," do with this power ring? Well, he uses it to avoid the romantic pursuits of Ms. Carol Ferris, daughter of the owner of Ferris Aviation Company:

Yes, in this story, a man who is supposedly "born without fear!" is so afraid of a beautiful woman's marriage proposal that he creates a giant monster that menaces an entire town, knocking over buildings, just to distract her. Also, there's this:

Hal Jordan uses the power of "space-patrolmen in the super-galactic system" to distribute fliers for his own brother, who is running district freaking attorney for crying out loud. If the political party my own brother is running against isn't evil then I don't know what is! This opens a whole new can of worms, which will be opened in about ten years, as we'll see.

To be fair, GL does use his power ring to help him deflect meteors and to shrink down to microscopic size and rescue people trapped on atoms, but that only brings us back to Mr. Jordan's GL origin. If the power ring can do almost anything, then why was Abin Sur traveling in a space ship? And why did he die when he crashed? Those questions were answered, completely unsatisfactorily, in GL issue number 16. The story makes absolutely no sense, but it turns on the facts that the power ring needs to be recharged every 24 hours, and that the ring is powerless against anything that is yellow.

Yes, there's an impurity in the power battery recharger that makes the wearer of the ring powerless against anything that's yellow. It turns out that Mr. Sur needed to fly a spacecraft because his power ring wasn't fully charged, or something, and that when he went through the radiation bands of earth, he couldn't use his ring because those radiation bands are yellow.

But, why couldn't he just wrap himself up in a green force field after his ship had passed through the radiation bands? Don't know; don't care. This is all lame, by which I mean to say it makes no sense.

Those black and white scans above are taken from Showcase Presents: Green Lantern volume 1, which was published in 2005. It was a mere $9.99, and full of beautiful Gil Kane/Joe Giella artwork, so I bought it. It has taken me almost five years to work my way through it. Reading these boring, nonsensical, contradictory, charmless stories is a real chore. I had roughly the same feeling reading this book as I had reading Billy Budd in high school. It wasn't that long and shouldn't have been so difficult, and yet, the entire time I was reading it, I was wishing to pick up anything else.

Around that same time, I also picked up Green Lantern Green Arrow Volume One, by Dennis O'Neil and  Neal Adams.  This book reprints stories that appeared in Green Lantern/Green Arrow comics from 1970-1971, in which the galactic super policeman was teamed with Green Arrow, who was sort of a cross between Batman and Robin (Hood), who used trick arrows to capture criminals (seriously -- he's a lot less lame than Green Lantern). These are hailed for being among the first "socially conscious" comics, in which GL and GA took on crooked landlords and crooked mine owners.

In other words, what Superman already did when his comics were first published, back in 1938. I have already written about that.

Oh, but these stories were original,  because they talked about race! In one of the most famous scenes in comic book history, a black man lectures GL about his lack of attention to the problems of "black skins":

It's difficult to criticize these comics. Certainly their hearts were in the right place, but this opens up a whole new can of worms, and therefore I'm going to criticize.

First of all, GL, a man who was "born without fear!" cannot bring himself to point out that by, say, deflecting meteor showers and preventing Sinestro from taking over the earth he was doing something for every single human being on the planet, regardless of their race. That's a petty point in the grand scheme of things, but I am making it to show just how pathetic Hal Jordan is.

Second, what is GL supposed to do about the "social injustice" on the planets he patrols? He hasn't done anything about honor killings or female circumcision. He hasn't done anything about people starving in Africa. Or ethnic cleansing. GL's "social consciousness" doesn't extend past America's shores. And on other planets, are there children starving?  Not getting a quality education? Does GL have to get involved in the policy of every country on every planet in his sector (he did once distribute fliers in a local district attorney election, after all)?

Yes, there's a lot that GL could do. So what does he do? Well, in the issue from which the above panels were taken, he takes on a crooked landlord who is threatening to evict people who haven't paid their rent.

That's what GL decides to do for "the black skins." He doesn't attempt to change the institutionalized racism and injustice that contributed to low employment levels and high incarceration rates for black people. He goes after one tenement owner who actually might have been within his legal rights to charge people a fair market value for their apartments (the story is fairly vague on that point).

It's true that the landlord does attempt to kill GL and GA, but they are superheroes who are harassing him. He deserves it, but superheroes with newly-found social awareness should have bigger fish to fry.

In the next issue, things get even worse, as GA and GL head into "the heart of America" to fight a crooked mine owner. They bring along one of the Guardians of the Universe, who have chastised GL for attacking that loathsome landlord in the previous issue. So, to better understand how bad some humans can be, one of the Guardians assumes human form and takes a road trip with GL and GA.

Along the way, GL, who has been suspended, has some of the power of his ring taken away.

Bear in mind that Hal Jordan is the GL for all of "Sector 2814," which includes not only earth but several other planets. So, while this GL is exploring his new social consciousness by meeting Bob Dylan-like folk singers and taking on sexism, there are who knows how many worlds out there being threatened  by mad scientists, bug-eyed monsters, and Sinestro.

What? You other planets can go suck it, because the earth GL wants to sing folk songs around a campfire with some Native Americans.

Again, in all this time, when GL and GA are making all these great claims to social consciousness, real problems are going unaddressed. But that will change with one of the most famous comic book storylines of all time.

Yes, an issue of Green Lantern/Green Arrow will deliver "The Shocking Truth About Drugs," which is "Youth's Greatest Problem"!

And they will do -- absolutely nothing meaningful. There is a great deal of lecturing about "the evils of drugs," which have managed to make an addict of Green Arrow's "ward," who is unfortunately called "Speedy." There is some nonsense about why a "Speedy" might turn to drugs.

And as for "the black skins," well:

What is that black man doing in panel 3? Making a drug deal?

There is some lip service paid to how racism turns an Asian man and a black man to drugs, to dull the pain of their lives. But there's absolutely nothing said about how drug laws disproportionately target people of color, or how they are used as a bludgeon to harass people. There is nothing said about the fact that very often in poor neighborhood there is no other way for people  to make money, other than selling drugs.


The thing is, maybe the "war on drugs" (declared by Richard Nixon in June 1971, just a couple of months before these issues hit the stands [oh and by the way, we still haven't officially declared "war" on Iraq or Afghanistan yet]) is moral and just --

By the standards of the Guardians of the Universe.

This brings us back to the heart of the problem with Green Lantern. Who are the Guardians? Who is the Green Lantern Corps? Who appointed them? How would you like to live on a planet that has been occupied by foreign entities? How would you feel about the members of your own species who willingly joined those occupiers, to help them enforce their ideas of justice and what is "right"?

So what if that person was "born without fear!"? For crying out loud, we're all born without fear. What the hell do babies have to be scared of? It's what happens to you after your birth that makes you who you are. And if you're someone who can't even bring himself to say "no" when a woman asks you to marry her, well,

You are lame.


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Iced Borscht said...

DC was never really able to lure me in, aside from a brief time when I read TEEN TITANS. And even then, my attraction was probably based on the X-Men/Teen Titans crossover issue.

Hell, Frog-Man, son of and heir to the throne of Leapfrog, was a more intriguing hero than Green Lantern.

Ricky Sprague said...

I had to google Frog-Man.

Marv Wolfman went straight over to DC after a long tenure as a writer and editor at Marvel, and The New Teen Titans felt more like a "Marvel" book than a "DC." It was probably DC's best book in the early 80s. But I preferred Batman and the Outsiders. I had eccentric taste.