By the green beam of my ring . . . I see that you are honest! And the battery has already selected you as one born without fear!
Those would be decent qualities for anyone, but Hal Jordan started out as a pretty remarkable guy, even before he put that emerald bauble on his finger. From his first, fateful appearance in Showcase # 22 (Sep.-Oct., 1959) to his own title as the Green Lantern, we learn that Hal Jordan was the kind of fellow admired, in those long-ago days before males started getting their sensitivity cards stamped, as a man's man.
He was forthright and two-fisted. In "Riddle of the Frozen Ghost Town", from Green Lantern # 2 (Sep.-Oct., 1960), he waylays two muscle-bound thugs roughing up his friend and mechanic, Pieface. He takes on a trio of murderous scuba divers in "The Elixir of Invulnerability", G.L. # 38 (Jul., 1965) and barehandedly puts away three armed attackers in "The Jailing of Hal Jordan", G.L. # 46 (Jul., 1966).
He was good looking. Reputedly, artist Gil Kane based Jordan's features on actor Paul Newman (though I don't see it, myself). You can't do any handsomer than that.
But the topper was that Hal was a test pilot. Throughout the 1950's and early '60's, the U.S. Air Force was the darling of America's military services. The jet-propelled aircraft of the U.S.A.F., capable of reaching around the world and even extending into space, represented an exciting and modern future to those of us here on the ground, and the steady-nerved men who flew them were considered a cut above ordinary mortals.
Hal Jordan had taken the most dangerous of aviation jobs. First, as a combat flier during the Korean War, as noted in "Green Lantern's Explosive Weekend", G.L. # 36 (Apr., 1965). Then, as a test pilot, pushing experimental airships to the limits of their design capabilities. That calls for more than just aviation skill; it also takes engineering smarts and an iron-solid backbone. Hal had all three in enough quantities to win the Aerospace Man of the Year award in "Wizard of the Light-Wave Weapons", from G.L. # 33 (Dec., 1964).
On those credentials alone, Jordan would have made a pretty solid headliner for a DC comic published in that mid-1950's interregnum between the Golden and Silver Ages of super-heroes. Hal Jordan, Jet Ace would have been a natural, slotted among Mr. District Attorney and Congo Bill and Big Town on the spinner racks. And why not? If someone needed evidence of an air hero's popularity, you only had to point to "Steve Canyon", the comic strip featuring Milt Caniff's flying adventurer, which was easy enough, since Canyon was appearing in some six hundred newspapers.
Instead, Hal Jordan got to be a super-hero, but he was written as such a strong character on his own that he turned one of the genre's conventions on its ear. The customary alter-ego trope insists that the super-hero, in his civilian identity, display a less forceful personality, behave differently enough from his costumed self that nobody will suspect the two as being one and the same. Superman's pose as the mild-mannered Clark Kent was the prototype. Bruce Wayne was a wealthy idler. The easy-going Barry Allen was constantly late.
But none of that song and dance for Hal Jordan. He was a man of action, whether in his Green Lantern duds or out.
And let's not forget---he was dating the boss. Well, technically, the boss' daughter. But when the head of the Ferris Aircraft Company, Carl Ferris, and his wife departed on a two-year round-the-world cruise, in the second Green Lantern story from Showcase # 22, he left his daughter, Carol, in charge. As professional as she was lovely, the lady executive was determined to be all business, but despite herself, she softened around Hal Jordan and practically melted whenever Green Lantern showed up.
Carol insisted that she was in love with Green Lantern, but there was reason to suspect that it was more of a case that she was enraptured by his glamour as a masked hero. She essentially admits as much to Iris West in "Parasite Planet Peril", from G.L. # 20 (Apr., 1963), when she says that Green Lantern is so dashing that it sends shivers down her spine. (And she can't understand why Iris doesn't feel the same way about the Flash, preferring, instead, the pleasant-but-dull Barry Allen.) Yet, despite setting her cap for the Emerald Crusader, Carol spent more time in the company of Hal Jordan, on dates or attending social gatherings, and she didn't seem too unhappy about it.
That put Jordan a leg up on Clark Kent and his pursuit of Lois Lane; Hal actually had a decent shot at beating out his super-hero identity for the girl's hand.
War veteran, test pilot, handsome, rugged, and the steady swain of a wealthy heiress---I tell you, the man just oozed testosterone.
But then came the Marvel problem.
If you're a long-time reader of my Deck Log, or you were a comics fan at the time, then you know what I'm talking about. But for those of you who came in late, here's the short form: For over twenty years, DC---known as National Periodical Publications, then---had dominated the comics industry. It had out-sold, or out-sued, all contenders. The few rivals still standing---ACG, Charlton, Gold Key, Dell, Harvey, and Archie, among them---survived on the crumbs, mostly by focusing on other genres, such as cartoons or licenced characters. Thus, the folks at DC had grown complacent, content to just keep doing what they were doing and watching the profits roll in.
When the success of the revamped Flash introduced the Silver Age of super-heroes, another also-ran, Marvel Comics, followed suit, shifting from monster comics to super-doers. It was a raw effort, but its editor, Stan Lee, made up for his comics' shortcomings by the sheer enthusiasm of his writing. By 1963 or so, Marvel Comics was gaining traction.
The fat, dumb, and happy execs at DC ignored Marvel, figuring it would wither away, just like all their other competitors. That would come back to bite them in the place where they made contact with their plush swivel chairs. By 1966, Marvel Comics had improved in quality and improved in sales, to the point where it was now taking a big chunk out of DC's profit margin.
The reaction in the DC offices was just what you might envision: "We must do something about this immediately! Immediately! Immediately! Harrumph! Harrumph! Harrumph!"
The thing was, they didn't know what to do. What Marvel Comics was doing right seemed pretty obvious then, as well as now. But the management at DC couldn't wrap its arms around it. Roughening up the art (on the belief that Marvel employed poor artists) didn't improve sales. The writers' attempts to imitate Stan Lee's jocular style came out as campy and insincere. Marvel Comics had corner boxes for instant cover recognition, so DC plastered the top border of their magazine covers with "go-go checks", which became a source of universal derision.
Editor Julius Schwartz was able to put his finger on one of the things that made Marvel stories so popular: emotional conflict. Marvel heroes weren't just Hairbreadth Harrys; they brought other feelings to the fore, such as frustration and insecurity. Their dealings with the other characters in their supporting casts weren't always on the best of terms. Schwartz figured he could bring this soap-opera-type stuff to Green Lantern.
And he did it by turning he-man Hal Jordan into a wienie.
"The Spectacular Robberies of TV's Master Villain", from G.L. # 49 (Dec., 1966), pits the Green Lantern against an actor who plays a costumed criminal on a popular television show and has become a real-life super-villain, thanks to the unwitting help of an alien with amazing mental powers. It's a pretty good tale, providing excitement and mystery, with the mechanics of producing a television series as a backdrop. Nobody remembers it for that, though.
It was the sub-plot that got the G.L. fans' attention. After returning from a lengthy space mission, Green Lantern learns of his good buddy Barry Allen's marriage to Iris West. This inspires him to make a bold move. He's tired of playing she-loves-me-she-loves-me-not with Carol Ferris. As Hal Jordan, he drives to the Ferris mansion, intending to propose to her. But when he gets there, his pretty boss-lady preëmpts him.
While Jordan was away protecting space sector 2814, Carol met Jason Belmore, a fellow in her own social circle (i.e., rich), and after a whirlwind courtship, he asked her to marry him---and she accepted. Hal responds in a true manly fashion; he wishes the lucky couple the best of happiness, then leaves without a wimper.
The classic man's man would've headed to his favourite watering hole, knocked back a couple of stiff ones, and started riffling through his little black book. Within minutes after leaving Carol, Hal has to go into action as Green Lantern, but it doesn't take long to find out that he wasn't going to put Carol behind him with a couple of bourbon-and-sodas. The first chance he gets, he visits his buddy Pieface and goes all Hamlet.
Boo hoo hoo, I couldn't be with her because I was out saving galaxies as Green Lantern, he whines. It's not fair! Oh, woe is me!
G.L. puts his hanky down long enough to capture the Dazzler, who's both a crook and plays one on TV. Then he returns to drop a bombshell on Pie: he's bailing out of Coast City and his job at Ferris Aircraft. Too many bitter memories.
He retrieves his power battery from his hangar dressing room and flies off for parts unknown.
Julie Schwartz was on the right track when he decided that adding emotional conflict to his stories would raise the level of interest in them, particularly from older readers. Having Carol Ferris become betrothed to another man was a perfectly logical development. With Green Lantern's life so busy, fighting super-villains and handling other-world assignments from the Guardians, it took both the Emerald Crusader and Hal Jordan out of her life for long stretches. Eventually, Carol would get tired of waiting around, waiting for G.L. or Hal to show some commitment to her. She would move on to other men.
There's not a thing wrong with that plotline. The problem came when John Broome's script had Green Lantern bugging out on Coast City. Even emotional conflict has to make sense and be consistent with how the characters in play have already been depicted.
From the beginning, Hal Jordan had been presented as a man with determination and a strong sense of duty. Forget about his responsibilities as Green Lantern; he had an obligation to Ferris Aircraft. The company relied upon his expertise, and replacing a test pilot isn't like hiring a new clerk at Wal-Mart. Skilled, experienced test pilots are a sparse commodity and losing Jordan would cost Ferris Aircraft thousands of dollars in set-backs while it sought a replacement. In the meantime, the remaining pilots, like Eddie Harman, would be forced to work extra hours taking over Hal's flights.
No, the alpha-male Hal Jordan would have stayed at his job in Coast City, no matter how much losing Carol hurt. Running out is the act of---a wienie.
The next issue sees Hal in Idaho, where he's found work piloting a plane ferrying tourists to the Lakeview Lodge. In "The Quest of the Wicked Queen of Hearts", the fast-moving flier has already gotten cozy with Joan Colby, the attractive daughter of the hostel's owner. Maybe, he thinks, she's the one that can help him get over Carol Ferris.
It's fortunate that Jordan is on hand when two German crooks arrive at the lodge, following the trail of a valuable painting they had stolen from a Paris museum during World War II and then turned over to an American confederate. When the foreigners locate the painting and take it from the Colbys at gunpoint, it's the Green Lantern who tracks them down. After a knock-down, drag-out fracas in the snow-capped mountains (see sidebar), G.L. captures the Germans and recovers the artwork.
However, when he returns to Skyview Lodge as Hal Jordan and relates the adventure, he's crestfallen to discover that Joan has a grade-A crush on Green Lantern. Obviously, Joan isn't worth fighting for---because Hal decides to leave Skyview Lodge behind.
Mind you, once again, he's leaving his employer in the lurch; it can't be easy to find someone to fly the air service. Moreover, Hal knows that the elderly Mr. Colby is ill and won't be able to run the lodge for a while. Nevertheless, Jordan sneaks away at daybreak. This time, running out is not just the act of a wienie, but of a jerk.
Jordan doesn't wander very far this time. In "Captive of the Evil Eye", from G.L. # 53 (Jun., 1967), he's in Washington state, where he's been hired as a claims adjustor for the Evergreen Insurance Company. He will hold this position for some time. The cases assigned to him by his boss, Mr. Lawford, always wind up involving Green Lantern one way or another. But, as the assigned investigator, Hal Jordan has a greater part in things. In fact, in the next issue's "Menace in the Iron Lung", Our Hero carries most of the action as his civilian self. For a while, Hal stops moaning and groaning about losing Carol and there's a hope that the he-man Jordan is returning.
There's a comic-strip precedent for this too, of sorts, in Roy Crane's "Buz Sawyer". After V-J Day, Crane's narrative has newly discharged Naval aviator Sawyer take on the job of troubleshooter for the Frontier Oil Company. This leads to a decade's-worth of dangerous adventures.
But, despite the promising set-up, insurance adjustor Hal's cases never seemed as entertaining as troubleshooter Buz's. The new format for G.L. fell kind of flat. The problem could have been that, while Buz had Rosco Sweeney, Christy Jameson, and crotchety old Mr. Wright to play off of, Jordan, in his new situation, didn't really have a supporting cast. A regular group of characters gives the hero dimension, keeps him from appearing to operate in a vacuum.
Oh, there was Mr. Lawford, but his only function was to start the story with "Hal, I need you to go to (wherever) and investigate a claim," and to end it with "Good job, Hal!". That part could have been handled by putting memos on Hal's desk.
Writer Gardner Fox tried to fill that vacuum a bit by introducing Eve Doremus and her younger brother, Buddy, when Jordan saves them from a menacing bear in "Peril of the Powerless Green Lantern", G.L. # 58 (Jan., 1968). Eve is pretty and vivacious and---wouldn't you know?---her white-haired, moustachioed father is a wealthy owner of a corporation. But it's not exactly like the Carol Ferris arrangement; there's that kid brother I mentioned---and, oh yeah, Eve has red hair.
Hal's new lady friend languishes for the next three issues, then reappears in # 62, # 64-5, and # 68. They're shown to be in a tight romantic relationship, so secure that, though Eve encounters Green Lantern several times, even taking an active rôle in one of his cases, Jordan doesn't get the heebie-jeebies that she's going to throw him over for his emerald alter ego. It sure looks like Hal is wearing his big-boy pants, again.
Then comes issue # 69 (Jun., 1969).
"If Earth Fails the Test---It Means War" has Green Lantern encountering a group of college-aged youths who have just robbed an Evergreen City bank using devices of incredibly advanced technology. He attempts to prevent their escape, but is fended off by the band's leader, a striking blonde named Kyra. Defiantly, she uses another amazing gadget to deflect his power beam. G.L. outmanœuvres her and manages to net three of the youngsters. However, Kyra and the others vanish before his eyes.
Overriding even the bizarre mystery before him is the strange feeling left in the Emerald Gladiator by Kyra. He's repelled by the girl's hard-nosed attitude, but at the same time, strangely attracted to her. Thoughts of Eve Doremus never cross his mind.
Before he can investigate the fantastic case further, Green Lantern gets a call from Carol Ferris. She's in Evergreen City and wants to see him. G.L. can't agree fast enough.
Once again, it's "Eve---who?"
When they meet, Carol tells the Lantern that she's getting married in the morning. What she doesn't say is that she's come all the way to Evergreen City because she's still in love with him and hopes that he will finally profess his love for her.
Actually, he wants to do just that, but he's still peeved that Carol didn't love him as Hal Jordan. Best wishes to you both, he tells her, instead.
Then, it's back to business. After a couple more encounters with the strangely alluring Kyra and her group, the Power-Ringed Paladin learns that they are student revolutionaries from the planet Hegor. The tradition-bound ruling class of Hegor has stunted their society's development. Kyra and her cohorts wish to overthrow the establishment in order to breathe new life, inject new attitudes, into the Hegorians. The students had been secretly using the Earth as a training ground, committing crimes and learning how to evade the police, to develop skills to use against the rulers' forces.
Green Lantern learns all this when he follows Kyra to Hegor. He also believes that he's fallen in love in love with her. The fact that he has been in a hot-and-heavy relationship with Eve Doremus doesn't deter him. Neither does seeing Kyra's true appearance.
What does deter him is when Kyra says, "I'd like to introduce you to Tarkro! We are being married on the morrow!" Best wishes to you both, he tells them.
And the wienie-Hal returns. In the face of his latest heartbreak, he's too depressed to deal with the disasters and tragedies that come with the insurance business. He decides to quit his job as a claims adjustor and leave Evergreen City.
No doubt, sometime afterward, Mr. Ferris and Mr. Colby and Mr. Lawford got together and formed the "Rat-Bastard Jordan" Club.
By now, it was obvious to Green Lantern fans that the title was running on fumes. Neither Julie Schwartz, nor any of his writers, seemed to have any enthusiasm for the series. The return of classic G.L. artist Gil Kane was the one bright spot, but it didn't help much.
The readers had to be underwhelmed when they turned to page twelve of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Earth", from G.L. # 70 (Jul., 1969), and found out that Hal Jordan's new job was a salesman for the Merlin Toy Company. Really, a toy salesman? It was like the producers of a Green Lantern television show had fired Robert Culp as the lead and replaced him with Larry Blyden. Practically all of the manliness had been bled out of Hal Jordan at this point.
The next five issues didn't do much with the new format. Hal's sales job was barely mentioned. One of the few times it was, we saw Jordan getting stung by a rival from a competing company, saleslady Olivia Reynolds, when she brazenly used her sex appeal to win a toy account in her first appearance, "The City That Died", G.L. # 71 (Sep., 1969). I suspect the intention was to make Olivia a "frenemy". Hal is reunited with her during his guest appearance in The Flash # 191 (Sep., 1969), and the encounter is much less confrontational.
Olivia was the only recurring character to come out of this period. Hal had no boss, no girl friend, no rich company-owner. And Miss Reynolds would make only one more appearance, in issue # 75 (Mar., 1970), spending the most of the tale comatose in a hospital bed.
And that conveniently brings us to the one issue of Green Lantern that everybody knows---the groundbreaking # 76 (Apr., 1970), which turned the focus of the magazine away from evil scientists and alien invasions. The Emerald Crusader and his new co-star, the Green Arrow, would tackle social ills, such as racial injustice and corrupt government and corporate greed. Unfortunately, Denny O'Neil's writing didn't do Green Lantern any favours.
G.L. was presented as the staunch organisation man, as a counterpoint to Green Arrow's liberal humanism. In theory, the stories would present opportunities to illustrate the virtues and the shortcomings of both men's perspectives. But in practice, Green Lantern was simply a strawman, stood up so that his conservatism could be knocked down by G.A.'s fiery moralising.
It begins with the first four pages, when the Green Gladiator stops an illegal assault, and Green Arrow calls him out for it, justifying the attack because of the victim's unsavory character. The bowman's tirade about greedy rich men squeezing out the impoverished, yet staying within the law leads to the famous what-have-you-done-for-the-black-skins? scene.
And it continues from there. In the subsequent issues, Green Lantern is shown repeatedly how his belief in authority and the law is misplaced. Even his manhood is questioned.
The G.L. stories since issue # 49 had turned Hal Jordan into a wienie, but they hadn't tinkered with the Emerald Crusader much. For the most part, when acting as Green Lantern, Jordan was still bold and forceful. But Mr. O'Neil's scripts took even that away from him. Now, G.L. finds himself doubting his rôle as a super-hero, to the point where he can't get his act together.
In issue # 77 (Jun., 1970), his power ring begins to conk out in mid-use. Not even the all-knowing Guardians of the Universe can determine the reason. By the end of the adventure, we learn that the problem isn't the equipment; it's the operator.
"Seems I'm pretty confused these days . . . about what I should do," realises G.L., "and the ring takes total concentration!"
And with that, the wienie-isation of Hal Jordan was complete.
In Teacher's Pet (Paramount, 1958), Clark Gable, an actor known for being a man's man both on the screen and off, plays Jim Gannon, the city editor of a leading metropolitan newspaper. Gannon's risen to his position the hard way, a high-school drop-out who started as a copy boy and climbed the ladder. He believes that experience is the best way to learn the newspaper business. The plot puts him into conflict with Erica Stone (Doris Day), who teaches journalism at a local college. Education is the key to good reporting, she insists, because newspapers should do more than report the facts; they should inform the public of the social and political factors that led to the events.
Despite himself, Gannon observes evidence that Miss Stone's viewpoint is correct, and he develops a crisis of self-doubt.
He confides to a mutual acquaintance, "You don't know what it's like to live one way all your life, confident that you're right, then suddenly find out that you're all wrong . . . Now I question everything I do."
Ultimately, though, Gannon regains his confidence when he realises that Erica's idealistic perception of reporting fails to take into account the practical requirements of publishing a newspaper, and he educates Erica on the brutal business side of journalism---"We stay alive by advertising, and we battle each other to get it." The film ends with Jim Gannon a stronger man than before.
Too bad they didn't make that movie about Hal Jordan.
Believe it or not, I never followed the Silver Age adventures of Green Lantern too closely. Oh I read whatever reprints I could get like in the Flash 100 Pagers and those two DC Specials but I never got the Archive editions like I did for the Flash, Atom, Aquaman and the others. Now I got the most recent paperbacks.
I did read about Hal leaving Coast City after Carol tells him about her upcoming marriage. That one I can understand. Hal was thinking like a grown-up and got burned for it. He was ready to do the "right thing" and stop all the games between he and Carol. Then his world shattered. Of course, he was angry. Angry at Carol. Angry at the Guardians. Angry at himself. He needed a change, he wanted a change and felt that he deserved a change. So he saw the main reason for his problems as working, seeing and being in the general vicinity of Carol Ferris and her company and took himself out of the equation. Carol didn't want him. Fine, he's gone. End of this chapter. Start of the next one.
Hal's mistake was that he now wanted to end every problem just as quickly. Bump in the road? Leave. Inconvenience? Leave. Tiniest doubt? Leave.
Relevance smacked Green Lantern hard in the gut because it had to smack someone. Green Arrow was just as much a staunch conservative as Hal was. Even worse, because he was a rich guy without Hal's thrill-seeking. Ollie got "reborn" quick and painless, offscreen. Hal was made to suffer throughout his "rebirth" and it didn't make him a stronger character like Green Arrow. It just crippled him with self-doubt, self-incrimination and self-loathing.
Oh, good timing! I just started reading Green Lantern from the beginning with the intention of reading at least through issue #106. This may take me a while, but I will keep this discussion in mind when I get further in.
Am I dreaming ... ? I could swear I've seen this column before, years ago ...
In any case, I've seen only a few of the early John Broome / Gil Kane Green Lantern stories. I have, after the fact, read the Denny O'Neil / Neal Adams stories. I ddn't read the title in earnest until it came back after a hiatus with MIke Grell as the artist, continuing the numbering and the Green Lantern/Green Arrow partnership.
Acclaimed as the O'Neil/Adams stories were, they are pretty skewed, with Green Arrow as a limousine liberal and Green Lantern as rather thickheaded conservative. One thing that struck me: In every one of those tales, Hal Jordan was on the losing -- and thus, "wrong" -- end of the argument.
A possible correction, Commander. I have always read that Kane based Hal Jordan on actor Robert Taylor not Paul Newman. Compare Hal with photos of Taylor and I think you will see that Kane nailed it.
I was never a fan of Hal Jordan when I was a kid. I'd been introduced to Alan Scott previously, and when I read Hal's stories--both old and new--my feeling was always "they replaced Alan Scott with HIM? This was the best yhey could do?" I have to say, re-reading those stories as an adult didn't improve things. I think some of the reasons why were:
* He seemed to be boring and have little personality. I know the Commander was impressed by his initial characterization, but for me there was just something lacking.
* His uniform was too uniform. I know that many love ghd classic Silver Age GL look, but I just thought if was dull and ugly(of course I loved Alan Scott's costume, do no accounting for taste, right?). The green, white and black combination didntywork well with me, and I think part of that was making it more of a uniform than a costume.
* His supporting cast was...well, let's just say it wasn't great. Carol was okay but not really awesome, Thom Kalmaku was just there to give Hal someone to talk to, most of his villains were boring, one-note and lackluster. There just wasn't much to work with.
* I'm not sure why the magic ring works for me with Scott and not Jordan, but that's just how I feel. It's a super power that I think needs to be used carefully by writers and artists. Giving Alan weakness based on wood made a certain amount of sense; wood is a natural substance that's easy to understand. Yellow, even if it was reasonably well explained many years later, was just not a good weakness. It not a thing, it's not a substance, it's an adjective, a property, a descriptor. As a weakness it's weak.
Still not seeing it, but what do I know? I still think John Agar would've made a good Will Magnus.
I see it.
Am I dreaming ... ? I could swear I've seen this column before, years ago ...
No, CK, not dreaming; just not realising how good your memory is.
About eight years ago, on a thread here, I made a lengthy post about the wienie-ising of Hal Jordan. A long post, but much shorter than this article. I simply took the idea and fleshed it out for this entry.
doc photo said:
It could be you're not seeing it because the photograph you posted is of actor Robert Taylor, whom, reputedly, Gil Kane used as his model for Ray (the Atom) Palmer. I posted the similarity in a post I made six years ago, discussing that point. Here's the art:
Kane, supposedly, modeled Hal Jordan after actor Paul Newman, pictured below at a year before the Silver-Age Green Lantern débuted:
I still don't see it.
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