The holidays must have been a lonely time for most Silver-Age super-heroes. The adult ones, anyway. For few of them had family to be with. Still-living parents were almost never in evidence. There’s a literary reason for that, of course. The presence of parents means the hero has someone he has to answer to, in a visceral sense, if not in actuality.
Brothers and sisters are inconvenient, too. Siblings are always in each others’ business, and it’s tough enough for the writer to figure out how to keep his hero’s identity secret from nosey girlfriends and pesky reporters. Consequently, most super-heroes of the Silver Age defied the percentages by being only-children. For example, let’s look at the membership of the Justice League of America.
I looked it up. (The U.S. Census Bureau has statistics on everything.) During the mid-twentieth century, the proportion of American families with only one child was roughly ten-to-twelve per cent. By the end of the Silver Age, there were ten active members of the JLA, but they did not conform to the one-in-ten model for only-children. In fact, they inverted it. Nearly all of the JLAers fit the model of only-children. Five did so in fact. As for the ones that did not: sure, Aquaman had a half-brother, Orm. Yes, J’onn J’onzz had a kid brother named T’omm. And while not siblings, Superman and his cousin, Supergirl, were closer than most brothers and sisters.
But in spirit, none of the relationships listed above were what one would call a normal family association. Orm was a super-villain, the Ocean Master. J’onn and T’omm J’onzz lived on separate planets. And Superman was unaware of his cousin’s existence for the first fifteen years of her life. And in any event, the heroes in the Justice League, in their individual series, were never shown enjoying the comfort and support of family.
With one exception.
Unlike his fellow members, Hal (Green Lantern) Jordan boasted a wealth of family and interacted with them often throughout the Silver Age. Once a year, readers were invited to a Jordan family get-together, and while the dictates of a super-hero magazine required Green Lantern to make an appearance in these tales, they were actually glimpses into the lives of the rest of Hal’s family. The spotlight tended to fall on the Jordans as a group.
The adventures of the Jordan family usually centered on the three Jordan brothers. Hal was the middle brother. His older brother, Jack, was a lawyer and would become the district attorney of the county in which Coast City was situated. Hal’s younger brother, Jim, was the most footloose of the three, but would emerge to be more prominent than Hal or Jack in the stories.
We are introduced to the Brothers Jordan in “Green Lantern’s Brother Act”, from Green Lantern # 9 (Nov.-Dec., 1961), and it is here that the relationships between them are established. Interestingly, despite the fact that Hal is both a test pilot and secretly a member of an interplanetary police force, both positions of heavy responsibility, it is Jack Jordan who is the unofficial “leader” of the brothers. Both Hal and Jim look up to their serious-minded and decisive older brother. This was insightful on the part of John Broome, who wrote all of the Jordan family tales. A lesser scripter might have had the super-hero, Hal, be the driving force in his family. But Broome understood family dynamics; it is natural for the oldest son to be the most mature and the “second-in-command” after the parents, and Broome adhered to this usual arrangement.
Jim Jordan, the youngest, was depicted as impetuous and a bit rootless. Being a Jordan, he wasn’t a wastrel or irresponsible; he simply was taking a little longer than his brothers in settling down to life. This, too, is a common trait seen in the youngest of family siblings. Jim would be the Jordan brother to show the most personal development over the course of the stories, and he would “catch up” to the more grounded Jack and Hal.
“Green Lantern’s Brother Act” tells the story of Jack Jordan’s election as district attorney. Right off the bat, in panel one, we learn that the Jordan family is socially prominent, and the brothers in particular. Newspaper headlines proclaim: “Once Again the Three Jordan Brothers Come Together to Help Elect Brother Jack to Office!” and “Opponent Claims Foul, Says He is Up Against a Trio of Jordans---Not One!”
Jack clearly is taking charge of his campaign, with his brothers willingly helping at his direction. Jack’s courage is also established, as his opponent, the current D.A., is part of the mob-controlled machine that runs politics in that country. There have been some unpleasant rumblings directed Jack’s way, but he refuses to back down or lower his profile. When the polls indicate that Jack will win on election day, a couple of mob button men take him for a ride. The eldest Jordan brother stands up to the hoods and manages to stay alive until the Green Lantern arrives (Hal, having accidentally learnt of Jack’s kidnapping and tracked him down) to settle affairs.
Jack is swept into office by a reform movement, and his position as the county district attorney will be a springboard for future Jordan brother stories.
As for youngest brother Jim Jordan, the biggest headache of his life kicks off in the same tale.
Super-heroes have long been plagued by nettlesome girl reporters. Lois Lane gave Superman endless headaches. Vicki Vale was the bee in Batman’s bat-cowl. The Flash married one, for crying out loud! And Green Lantern was no exception. Sue Williams, reporter for Behind the Scenes magazine, felt she had the story of her career when she spotted a photograph of the three Jordan brothers on the cover of one of the daily newspapers.
“I said,” she tells her editor, “that if I ever saw a picture of Green Lantern in his civilian identity, I’d recognize him! Well, I’m convinced now I know who he is---because I’ve got the picture right in front of me!”
Boy, had comics fans heard this refrain before! Until now, Green Lantern had avoided the cliché of being constantly pestered by someone who suspected his identity. So, for a kid reading this back in 1961, he probably groaned a little and guessed what was coming.
Leave it to John Broome not to lead the readers down the time-worn path. Sure, Sue Williams was as sure as sure could be that she had deduced the identity of the Green Lantern. The only thing was she had him figured to be---Jim Jordan!
Sue certainly followed the same reasoning as Lois and Vicki. Green Lantern couldn’t have been Jack or Hal Jordan; their personalities were much too bold and manly. No, Green Lantern would take pains to appear unaccomplished and uninspiring in his civilian identity, like Jim. And the glasses Jim wears would be perfect for masking his features.
Sue put it all together, all right. Unfortunately, she added two and two, and got five! Not that her belief that brother Jim was the Emerald Crusader would make things easy for Hal.
Sue invites Jim to her high-rise apartment on the pretext of interviewing him about his brother Jack’s campaign. Sue asks some probing questions, but all Jim wants to talk about is Jack and Hal. Frustrated, Sue pulls a stunt right out the secret-identity-busting playbook. (In fact, her thought balloon states that very thing: “I have an idea swiped from Lois Lane’s routine with Superman!”)
She leads Jim out to the terrace and, pretending to stumble, hurls herself off it. Fortunately for the impulsive newshen, Green Lantern, who has been out delivering “Vote for Jack Jordan” literature via power ring, happens to return just at this moment and prevents her from going splat. Sue, naturally, assumes it was Jim who used his power ring to save her, and she confronts him with the charge. Jim denies it, truthfully, but the more he does, the guiltier he seems.
At the end of the tale, after the business with Jack and the mobsters is dealt with, Sue is on hand to congratulate Green Lantern with a kiss on the cheek. But it’s another identity-exposing stunt---her lips coated with indelible lipstick. As chance would have it though, later, while Jim is shaving, he cuts himself in exactly the same spot on his face where Sue kissed GL. So when Sue visits Jim later and spies the bandage, she is convinced that Jim is the Green Lantern.
This sets up a sub-plot which runs through the remaining Jordan family stories. Either by chance or through Sue’s machinations, Jim is put in the position of having to go into action as the Emerald Gladiator. This almost always involves some danger to Jim, and Hal is forced to spend every family get-together going into action as G.L. to save his younger brother’s hide. However, the circumstances usually result in Sue being even more certain that the youngest Jordan brother is the man behind the mask.
Now, to someone like you or me, Sue Williams would be a major-league pest, and one would think that Jim wished he really were Green Lantern just long enough to power-ring her to the misty borderland between worlds. But, instead, actual sparks begin to fly between the youngest Jordan brother and the lady reporter. By the time we see them again, in “My Brother, Green Lantern”, from G.L. # 14 (Jul., 1962), she is his girl friend.
We also learn that all three Jordan brothers belong to the same fraternity and, for an upcoming reunion, will wear their fraternity rings. Hal misplaces his school ring so he wills his power ring to adopt its appearance. In a mix-up, Hal’s and Jim’s rings get switched.
Hi-jinx ensue when a snooping Sue finds a 1904 green lantern among the youngest Jordan brother’s collexion of vintage sports-car memorabilia, and she believes it to be Green Lantern’s power battery. She confronts Jim with this, and rather than fight her, Jim plays along and “recharges” what he believes to be his fraternity ring. As part of the gag, he wills himself to fly, and since he is actually wearing the power ring, he does---straight up to the ceiling, where he knocks himself cold!
There is a bit of business involving crooks who steal the antique lantern and kidnap Jim, and Hal, as G.L., comes to the rescue, while performing some chicanery to get his power ring back. Of course, Sue witnesses none of this.
“Dual Masquerade of the Jordan Brothers”, from G.L. # 22 (Jul., 1963), introduces the patriarch of the Jordan clan: Judge Jeremiah Jordan, uncle to the three Jordan boys. (Curiously, no Silver-Age G.L. story ever made mention of the Jordan brothers’ parents.) The family gathers together at Judge Jordan’s home to celebrate his seventieth birthday. In the bit of whimsy, the old fellow has insisted on making it a masquerade party.
Complicating matters is the fact that criminal Red Peters has escaped prison. Peters was captured by Green Lantern, prosecuted by Jack Jordan, and sentenced by Judge Jeremiah Jordan. Now that he’s on the loose, he intends to seek revenge at the party. Sue informs Jim of Peters’ escape and expects him to go into action as G.L., if necessary. Instead, Jim gets the idea of wearing a Green Lantern costume, hoping the presence of a “super-hero” will scare Peters off.
When Hal is introduced to “Green Lantern”, he catches on to his brother’s scheme. And when one of the partiers asks “the Emerald Crusader” to perform a parlour trick with his power ring, Hal secretly makes it happen, in order to preserve his brother’s imposture. This, of course, is further “proof” to Sue that her boyfriend is the real deal.
Later in the evening, Jim spots Red Peters skulking outside the house. Proving he has the same lack of fear as his brothers, he attempts to capture him on his own. Instead, the two men knock each other out. At the same time, another Red Peters appears at the festivities.
Making a cautionary patrol of the grounds as Green Lantern, Hal discovers the unconscious men. The lifting of a mask reveals that the “villain” is simply a party guest dressed as Peters. G. L. realises that the other Peters is the genuine article and stops the criminal before he can take vengeance on Jeremiah and Jack Jordan. To Sue, though, it is Jim who is the hero, and when they are alone, she rewards him with a kiss, leaving the youngest Jordan brother scratching his head over what happened.
The next Jordan family story, “Pay Up---or Blow Up”, from G.L. # 31 (Sep., 1964), marks a significant event---the wedding of Jim Jordan and Sue Williams! But when Hal arrives in town for the occasion, he finds a grim situation: the city is being held hostage. The electricity for the city is provided by a nuclear power plant, and a renegade scientist, Gantner, threatens to release a lethal dose of radiation from the plant, unless he is paid one million dollars.
There is an excellent scene here in which the three Jordan brothers confer over the situation, to discuss strategy. Again, Jack Jordan is regarded by Hal and Jim as the “senior partner”, and Jack decides to arrange with the police to set a trap for Gantner when he shows at the drop-off point to collect the ransom. Jack takes his brothers into confidence and reveals the details of the ransom delivery. Hal secretly provides back-up as Green Lantern; however, despite the super-hero’s presence, Gantner outwits the authorities and makes off with the million.
In the meantime, Sue drives Jim to the general location of the drop-off point and insists that her fiancé go into action as Green Lantern to save the city. Knowing by now that it’s pointless to argue, Jim goes off in search of Gantner’s hide-out and finds it. Confronting the scientist, Jim acts bravely, but quickly finds himself on the losing end. Luckily, G.L. has located Gantner, as well. Acting secretly, he enables his brother to capture the villain. All is well in time for James Jordan and Susan Williams to exchange “I do’s”.
“Pay Up---or Die” underscores a turning point in the personal development of the youngest Jordan brother. No longer is he the happy-go-lucky floater. Over the course of the Jordan family series, Jim has matured and acquired a sense of duty. Marrying Sue was the final evidence of his newfound attitude. The story didn’t come out and say as much, but it is a reasonable extrapolation that, despite her wrong-headedness, Sue’s constant pushing of Jim to act as a hero caused him to become more responsible.
The maturing of Jim Jordan continues in G.L. # 44 (Apr., 1966), with “Saga of the Millionaire Schemer”. Jim has taken a position as a public relations agent, and his first client is another uncle, Titus Thomas Jordan, the wealthiest of the Jordan clan. A millionaire many times over, Titus Jordan is regarded publicly as an ogre, due to his hair-trigger bursts of anger. “Terrible Temper” Jordan, the newspapers call him. Uncle Titus hires Jim to change his public image.
The sub-plot is the usual Sue-believes-Jim-is-Green-Lantern doings, but with a twist. Sue has persuaded Uncle Titus of the same thing. Titus, who believes that Jim has no business concealing such a thing from his own family, secretly calls in Jack and Hal to take part in a plot to prove Jim is G.L. As Hal thinks, Titus Jordan has “set himself with an impossible task,” and both he and Jack try to bow out, only to be met with the famous Titus Jordan rage. The older brothers give in, and as the details of Titus’ scheme play out, the maturation of Jim’s personality becomes evident.
While still exasperated over Sue’s insistence that he is the Power-Ringed Paladin, Jim has learned to take it in stride, and he is sharp enough to figure out the snare his family has laid out for him. And when a phoney menace develops into a real one, Jim conducts himself admirably. Afterwards, when circumstances yet again conspire to make Jim seem to be Green Lantern, he’s resigned to it.
Most tellingly, in a private moment, Jim corners his Uncle Titus and hands the old man a good tongue-lashing over the immaturity of his temperamental outbursts. The only one who can rehabilitate Titus Jordan’s public image, Jim insists, is Titus himself. Instead of firing him, Titus expresses his appreciation to Jim for having the courage to set him straight, something that not even Jack or Hal had the guts to do. Jim Jordan is no longer the “kid” brother.
While amusing at first, the sitcom-like misunderstanding of Sue-thinks-Jim-is-G.L. was beginning to wear thin. It was the only trait that defined her character. Consequently, Sue came off as unlikeable. Somewhat delusional, too, in the same way that a conspiracy theorist believes everything is part of the Evil Plot. When newspapers report Green Lantern catching crooks during Jim and Sue’s two-week honeymoon, she insists that it was only Jim cleverly concealing his identity by using his power ring to create an image of the Emerald Gladiator back in Coast City.
The poor guy was lucky that she didn’t pull out a gun and shoot him to “prove” his power ring would protect him from mortal harm.
Nevertheless, John Broome kept going down that route. In “Two Green Lanterns in the Family”, from G.L. # 53 (Jun., 1967), Jim stumbles across a robbery while out for the evening with Sue. Visiting brother Hal intervenes as Green Lantern, once again “proving” to Sue that Jim is G.L. Oh, hum. The only notable aspect to this story is the fact that Jim and Sue now have a newborn son, Howard.
“This is the Way the World Ends,” from G.L. # 63 (Sep., 1968) isn’t a Jordan family story; it’s a standard G.L. adventure, written by Denny O’Neil. Jim and Sue appear on page two, as Hal arrives to join in the celebration of Howard’s first birthday. Even for four panels, Sue can’t let go of the idea that Jim is Green Lantern.
Since it was cover-dated September, 1969, “’Hip’ Jordan Makes the Scene”, from G.L. # 71, isn’t a Silver-Age story by my benchmark. But since it was the last story in the sub-series of Jordan family tales, it’s appropriate to include it. Remember my description of “Two Green Lanterns in the Family” two paragraphs above? Just cut and paste it here.
Broome attempted to spice this one up by introducing Douglas “Hip” Jordan. Hip is the black sheep of the family, showing up at the annual Jordan family reunion, held at Uncle Titus’ mansion, in order to lift a few valuables. For once, Sue Jordan’s instincts are on the beam, and she insists Jim take action. She even makes him put on the G.L. costume left over from the masquerade party back in issue # 22. (How the costume got from Jeremiah Jordan’s home to Uncle Titus’ mansion is left unexplained---it didn’t really matter, anyway; at this point, readers had stopped paying attention to whatever excuse was thrown up to put Jim in a G.L. costume.)
Jim Jordan’s efforts to stop Hip put the super-hero pretender afoul of the Black Scooter gang, a group of hooligans that Hip has been trying to join, and Hal has to show up as the real Emerald Crusader to put everything aright. (Although, frankly, any gang calling itself “the Black Scooters” wouldn’t inspire much of a threat; even Jim should’ve been able to handle those bozos.)
Moreover, G.L. comes across as something of a jerk, when he promises Jim that he will appear at the Jordan reunion so Sue can see that he and her husband are two different people; and then keeps it by showing up as Hal Jordan.
It was a disappointing coda to the Jordan family series of stories. Jack and Titus Jordan passed through the events as little more than background, never really having anything to do with the plot. As it was, Hal barely interacted with Jim. There was no sense of the brotherhood that the Jordan boys had exhibited in the earlier stories.
It was that feeling of family that made Green Lantern distinctive among his fellow Silver-Age heroes. The idea that he had roots and grew up in a family made it easier to identify with Hal Jordan, especially if you were a kid with brothers and sisters at home. You knew your place in the pecking order, and could spot yourself in either the oldest son, Jack; the middle son, Hal; or the youngest son, Jim. That was something you could relate to.
In fact, as an oldest brother myself, it was easy for me to imagine Jack Jordan's reaction on the day when Hal finally confided his secret identity to him . . . .
This did indeed give Hal's adventures a different touch from the rest of the Silver Age crew, even though they only appeared occasionally. Good point about Jack. I didn't mind Sue simply because she only showed up every so often. Had she been a regular ...
While Gerard Jones and Geoff Johns made the death of Hal's father a big turning point, I don't believe anyone's paid any attention to Mom.