Or – “Here’s Why I Prefer Some Characters Dead….”

I have a real problem with the fact that comics death is never final.  It’s a problem that I have had to learn to live with, much like my day job requires me to get over my aversion to stupidity, drama and what is almost certainly serious meth addiction…  When a batch of 90’s comics showed up for processing on my desk, I flipped through the pages of this one, and was reminded of one of the few times after 1984 that Hal Jordan was in any way interesting.

GREEN LANTERN #81
Script: Ron Marz
Pencils: Darryl Banks
Inks: Romeo Tanghal
Colors: Pamela Rambo
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Editor: Kevin Dooley
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: $1.75/$3.95 (Current Near-Mint Price: $6.00/$8.00)

Previously on Green Lantern: Hal Jordan was just a jet jockey, working for the man (named Carol), when Abin Sur crashed to Earth.  He was the closest candidate to fit the criteria, and was bequeathed the power ring of the Green Lantern Corps, a moment that changed his life forever.  Hal was a successful hero, and was even called ‘The Greatest Lantern Of Them All’ by some, but he was never really successful as a person.  When the alien creep called Mongul came to Earth and destroyed his entire hometown, Hal snapped and made a grab for power, hoping to save Coast City.  Instead, he was corrupted by the Parallax entity (or something) and became a menace to his friends and family.  When Earth’s sun was extinguished, though, Hal gave up all his power (and also his life) to reignite it, leaving the world as a hero once more.  This is the story of his funeral…

Oddly, the story starts with John Stewart and Donna Troy, best known these days as “the Green Lantern who blows up planets” and “the girl who may or may not have been in the corner of the JLI cover at one point.”  Why are they in this book?  Both of them are (at this juncture) former Darkstars, and they are part of Kyle Rayner’s supporting cast, as mentor and girlfriend, respectively.  All the heroes of the DCU, circa 1996, have come out to honor the latest fallen member of their fraternity, and Kyle has created a HUGE green cathedral in the ruins of Coast City, and as happens at funerals, everyone gathers in small ever-changing groups in an effort to avoid talking about what they’re all gathered for…

I have to say, I LOVE this page.  From Jack “Starman” Knight’s ugly tie, to Nightwing’s parachute pants (In Bludhaven, it’s ALWAYS hammer time) to the awkward “introduce the boyfriend to the old flame” moment, this is how I remember Kyle.  Even his ridiculous Tupperware facemask can’t ruin this page, as original artist Darryl Banks is the only one who ever made this particular Green Lantern costume look anything less than ridiculous.  Guests continue to arrive, including a great many familiar faces…

You might notice that this is before the “Vertigo is a whole different universe!” really took root in DC editorial, and I think it’s a nice touch that some of the old foes showed up.  (I’m sure that’s Sonar in the foreground, and Tattooed Man in the middle, but I can’t tell right offhand who’s in the back from this shot.)  I’m actually joyful to see that the picture of Hal in action in one of the panels is clearly a stat of an old Gil Kane shot, the same one on my old Burger King glass.  Hal’s friends speak, first Superman, then Guy, then John.  Throughout the proceedings, though, Batman stands disdainfully in the rafters, refusing to forgive Hal’s actions, regardless of his heroic end.  And then, Kyle Rayner steps up to the dais, and begins to speak.  “I’m not trying to replace Hal…  I know I never can…”

It’s pretty rare that a comic book artist manages to give us a big sweeping dramatic pan-shot, but Darryl Banks actually pulls it off, as Kyle’s ring-powered cathedral dissolves, and the entire congregation is bathed in morning sunlight, reminding them all that Hal’s sacrifice saved them all from freezing to death in the dark.  It’s a goose-bump-inducing moment, even now, as the heroes stand gathered in the dead, empty crater that was Coast City.  The mid-90’s, for those who remember, was also the era of awful crossover called Zero Hour, wherein Alan Scott and Jay Garrick were seen to give up and walk away from the greatest battle ever and not long after the Justice Society was cancelled for being “too old,” so what comes next is a pleasant surprise as well…

Dear lord, but that Sentinel costume was awful…  It’s just shoulderpads and a pouchy belt away from being everything wrong with superhero suits in the 1990’s.  Even so, it’s nice to see the original Green Lantern paying tribute to his antecedent, and when the Swamp Thing steps forward, even I had to smile.  Many people (and I especially) tend to mock 90’s comics as soulless abominations filled with gritted teeth and cross-hatching and melodrama, leather jackets and tits and claws.  But then the thing that was Alec Holland speaks:  “Where there was desolation…  let there be green.”

And it’s a moment that works for me as well as Silver Age Legion comics, as well as Bronze Age Teen Titans, as well as that time Captain America punched out Mussolini or whatever.  It’s a moment that even tames the scowl of the Dark Knight himself…

What’s most impressive about this comic for me?  The amount of detail work that it has.  Notice Captain Atom saluting in the background?  And how Captain Marvel looks like a confused kid?  The art is that detailed all the way through, and characters like Max Mercury, the time-lost Legion, and others get characteristic moments throughout these pages.  Even with a big shiny foil cover, it’s clear that the creators considered this more than just another arbitrary grab for cash.  The issue ends with a reprint of Green Lantern #1, book-ended with new Gil Kane art, which I believe was one of the last times Gil drew Green Lantern.  There’s even a very touching moment when Black Canary starts speaking, and reminds everyone that she shouldn’t be the one telling the stories she’s about to tell, but that her long-team beau Green Arrow was unavailable for the task.  (Oliver was dead at the time.  On the moon…  with Steve.)  This story is another example of how even unrealistic superheroes can have realistic, relatable, human experiences, and it stands in my mind as one of the strongest reasons why Hal Jordan should have stayed dead.  But so, for that matter, should have Barry Allen, Oliver Queen, Bucky Barnes, Reed Richards, Captain Marvel, Ferro Lad and Spock.  Either way, Green Lantern #81 delivers an impressive punch from a decade that didn’t always follow-through, earning 5 out of 5 stars overall.

Rating: ★★★★★

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day:  Is it just me, or is the same thing that brought Hal Jordan back to prominence (specifically, cribbing Tom Cruise’s character from ‘Top Gun’) is a big part of what doomed his movie outing?

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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14 Comments

  1. Lloyd Hayes
    September 25, 2011 at 9:20 pm — Reply

    I have to agree. This was one of the better comics of the 90’s. (And just to say also I believe in the villain shot shown that this is possibly the weather wizard in his about to be hero costume. I might be mistaken but it looks like him). As much as I liked Barry and Hal, I came to enjoy how Wally and Kyle both lived up to their name. So many comic writers think they have to reinvent the wheel so to speak (No more marriages of Superman, Flash, Spidey, etc) but if they would turn to Barry and Hal’s death issues they would see truly inspired work that is allowed to work within what we know and not stoop to making new stuff up every 5 or 6 years.

  2. TaZ
    September 26, 2011 at 6:33 am — Reply

    Very true. Now we have no idea how the whole Parallax to Hal to dead to Specter (Is he still dead or did the “Eclipso War” never happen…inquiring minds want to know) arc went.

    I’m enjoying some of the “relaunches” but I have to admit that I am beginning to miss the days when the second “generation” of DC heroes were coming into their own and then established themselves as part of the status quo. The deaths of Barry Allen, Oliver Queen and Hal Jordan were examples of true heroism and the sacrifice that is made in any war. It was always a bit special for a Legion story to mention the legacy of Ferro Lad at a time in the “Silver Age” when having a hero “die” was virtually unknown. Now Kyle is off somewhere with the “Rainbow Coalition” and Hal is stuck on Earth doing his best Rodney Dangerfield impersonation.

    • September 26, 2011 at 7:46 am — Reply

      Very true. Now we have no idea how the whole Parallax to Hal to dead to Specter (Is he still dead or did the “Eclipso War” never happen…inquiring minds want to know) arc went.

      Sure, we do. If you liked it, it happened exactly the way you remember it. If you hated it, it didn’t have to happen at all. Maybe it’s just me, but the question of what has already happened is slowly becoming meaningless. I’m sure we’ll get to the point where there’s tons of stories that need fixing (probably sooner, rather than later) but as a Legion fan, I’m slowly coming to terms with the realization that my favorite stories all happened, somewhere, somewhen… Maybe on Earth 53.

      • TaZ
        September 26, 2011 at 11:55 am — Reply

        But there isn’t an Earth….OOOOOHHHHHHHHHH. Got it! :-)

  3. September 26, 2011 at 9:20 am — Reply

    I would disagree strongly with Oliver Queen needing to remain dead, but that’s mostly because I believe his resurrection was handled so well (Quiver remains one of my favorite GA story arcs of all time)

    • September 26, 2011 at 2:07 pm — Reply

      I would disagree strongly with Oliver Queen needing to remain dead, but that’s mostly because I believe his resurrection was handled so well (Quiver remains one of my favorite GA story arcs of all time)

      Ollie’s resurrection is good comics, but it’s still a prime example of how far we have to bend over backwards to undo a “f’r real, this time, guys!” death experience…

  4. Armaan
    September 26, 2011 at 10:36 am — Reply

    Is it just me or does one of those former green lanterns look like Larfleeze’s cousin?
    And yeah. This issue highlights the pain I feel when I think about how much has just been retconned, forgotten, or lamely explained away.

    • September 26, 2011 at 2:06 pm — Reply

      Is it just me or does one of those former green lanterns look like Larfleeze’s cousin?

      I believe that’s Salaak, currently serving (at least last I read) as the GL Corps executive officer…

      • Armaan
        September 26, 2011 at 2:31 pm — Reply

        Damn. That is Salaak.
        And he seems to be the Green Lanterns’ Oracle, as well.
        I’m glad SOMEONE still has that role.

  5. Oldcomicfan
    September 26, 2011 at 10:37 am — Reply

    Boy, are we going to have to disagree on the ratings for this one. This issue is a prime example of the trash that was put out as comics during the 90s. The art was sub-par, the coloring swinging between the cut-out coloring of comics from the 60s and the airbrush effects that were just coming into use at the time, and the story was a “lets just jamb everybody we can into the panels” hash that made no sense. Swamp Thing an articulate hero? Give me a break! Len Wein and Berney Wrightson would be rolling over in their graves if they weren’t, fortunately, still among the living! It seemed, in the 90s, that we were getting a new hero every week – it felt like I had subscribed to the Green Lantern or SuperBoy of the Month Club!
    DC and Marvel should be packaging a score card with each comic, listing how many times each hero in the book has died but not really, lost their powers but not really, turned evil but not really, etc. When they bring back a supposedly dead hero, even for the first time, it cheapens their sacrifice. That’s why I hate the ending of Star Trek Nemesis. It was a great movie, and a fitting end to the Next Generation Franchise, but the ending scene rendered Data’s sacrifice meaningless and ruined the drama of the whole thing. The director should have ended the movie with the memorial scene and let it go at that.

  6. September 27, 2011 at 10:09 am — Reply

    i love how everyone is staring at the green lantern’s butt in that last frame. who did these layouts? (needs to be shot)

  7. Noobian74
    September 29, 2011 at 8:50 am — Reply

    Or – “Here’s Why I Prefer Some Characters Dead….”

    Mr. Peterson, great minds think alike. Kyle Rayner was doing just fine, but the Nostalgia Police felt like they had to bring back Hal Jordan. These are the same people that felt that brought back the savage Hulk, Barry Allen and the Amazing Unmarried Spider-Man. True, two of those characters weren’t dead, but the old image of them was.

    If they HAD to do it, fine, but Hal should’ve been in space with the rest of the Corps, not Kyle. He held in a supernova with his willpower and brought back the Guardians. Can’t Mr. Rayner get some love, people?

  8. darquehex
    July 3, 2012 at 9:06 am — Reply

    Great review. Just found your blog because of your amazing Franklin Richards article.

    Up above, when you mention Alan Scott, shouldn’t it be descendant and not antecedent?

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