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.
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?
About Matthew Peterson
Were pop culture a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Matthew still 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.