Despite what the recent movie made it seem, Hal Jordan was not the first Green Lantern of Earth. Before Hal was ever chosen to possess the power ring, a railroad engineer by the name of Alan Scott became the first Lantern. He had fallen from a bridge he was working on, and as he lay there, his lantern began to emit a strange green flame. The flame told him to fashion a ring from the metal of the lantern, and the ring would grant him power. His only weakness was wood.
Alan Scott went on to serve in the Justice Society of America, up until he and a number of other Golden Age characters were retired during the late 1940’s and early 50’s. However, after the success of reviving another classic character, The Flash, it was decided that Green Lantern should get a second chance. This character had a new name, a new look and a new origin. This Lantern received his Ring from an alien, and was part of an intergalactic peace keeping force called The Green Lantern Corps.
Appropriately his approach would reflect the very ideals of the space age, namely having the Right stuff, similar to the Mercury Astronauts. As such the man to become the Green Lantern would appropriately be a hot-shot test pilot by the name of Hal Jordan. Hal would have been right at home in the company of the likes of Chuck Yeager, the man who broke the sound barrier, or Al Shepherd, the first American in space, or John Glenn, the first person to orbit the Earth. He was the kind of guy you’d find on the covers of Time or Newsweek Magazine.
Like Yeager, Shepherd or Glenn, Hal was fearless, one of the key components to an astronaut. He was willing to take any necessary risks and continually “push the envelope”, as test pilots like to say. If there was some barrier, some threshold they told him he couldn’t cross, he would push past it. He was willing to look out for the little guy, sticking up for mechanic Thomas Kalmaku when other pilots were harassing him and treat him with respect and dignity. Hal also had a strong regard for human life, which made him regret killing a man at point blank range in self defense during combat situation, but at the same time made him willing to survive.
He is also in the veins of four classic science fiction characters, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Han Solo from Star Wars and Captain James T. Kirk from Star Trek. He is bold, brash, a little cocky, and a ladies man. He was willing to listen to authority, but only when it seemed necessary. If their orders made no sense, he would tend to make his own rules on the fly. Like them, he is willing to do what he can to turn death into a fighting chance to survive.
These aspects were fleshed out in the mini-series Secret Origin and the No Fear story arc. As a child, all he dreamt about was flying, just like his father who was also an air force pilot. One night his father woke him up and snuck him onto the filed and took him flying. It was the most exciting night of Hal’s life, as he flew so close to the stars that he swore he could touch them. Many times after that night he would go to the airfield to watch his father fly.
Then one day, Hal Jordan’s fun afternoon watching his dad fly was shattered by tragedy. There was a problem on the plane, and Hal was forced to watch as his father died in the plane crash. Loosing his father in that crash had been his worst fear, and once that happened he figured there was nothing to be afraid of.
This caused Hal to become reckless and at times careless. It put him at odds with his family, and the stress drove his mother to illness. One accident even threatened his job. Then one day an alien by the name of Abin Sur crashed to Earth. Abin was a member of the Green Lantern corps, a group of space patrolmen, as Abin was dying he instructed his ring to find a successor. In Showcase #22, the issue of the comic book that introduced Hal Jordan Green Lantern, Abin explains that it is searching for a man who is fearless and honest. Like Luke Skywalker in Star Wars training to become a Jedi, Hal Jordan takes his first step into a larger world.
The Ring has the power to project not only light, but images called constructs . These constructs are only limited by the bearer’s imagination. They can range from a simple beam of light to swords, guns, fists, monsters, and giant mechanical suits. It could even, with a great deal of willpower, project force fields, and even containment fields around something as strong as a nuclear explosion. The suit, in more recent comics, film, and television adaptations is actually created by the ring, and in fact because of the Ring, it means no one else can remove his mask unless he wills it. It can also enable him to fly, pass through walls if need be, and can even project an air pocket around him to allow him to travel through deep space. The ring can also translate any language into the native tongue of the user.
In order to power up the ring, and transform into the Green Lantern, he must point his ring at the Power Battery and recite the oath:
In Brightest Day
In Blackest Night,
No evil shall escape my sight.
Let those who worship evil’s might,
Beware my power…
Green Lantern’s Light!
He journeys to the alien world of Oa, where he is trained as Lantern among countless other alien races from thousands of worlds. This includes a giant pig-like creature named Killowag who serves as a drill sergeant, a squirrel like creature named Ch’p, and even a sentient planet by the name of Mogo. If the guardians send Hal to a world, he must go. If he takes a leave of absence from his duties, they will limit the powers of his ring, and they prefer he not waste his powers on such menial human problems as a greedy landlord evicting all his tenants from an apartment for the sole purpose of making money by leveling the complex to build a parking lot.
As a Lantern he has duties to protect not just Earth, or even all the planets in our solar system, but every world in his “sector” of 2814. A task that he describes as being kind of like one cop per precinct. Eventually they expand it to each lantern working with one other member to help with a sector to make the task easier. For Hal the task went to former Marine turned construction worker, John Stewart, a Lantern who was made famous in the Justice League cartoons from the early 2000s. Initially John was just his back-up, the person chosen to assume his duties should he be killed or incapacitated. However, in the 1980’s Hal resigned form the corps to focus on his personal life, and John assumed his duties.
John’s first assignment pitted him against an aptly named villain named “Major Disaster.”The two battled upon a dam that Major Disaster was trying to destroy. He would have succeeded had John not built a construct of the dam to hold back the waters. Major Disaster was confused as this was not the Green Lantern he knew, namely because of the obvious fact that John is African-American while Hal is Caucasian. Disaster wondered if he is going crazy, and that became something John used to his advantage. He made constructs of Lantern costumes and put them on everybody in the city.
Disaster exclaims as he rants and raves like a crazy person:
“No! I’m not seeing this! This can’t be happening to me! First Hal Jordan is Green Lantern! Then that black guy is Green Lantern. Now everybody is Green Lantern!”
He notices that everybody is running away, except one man who happens to be idly leaning against a lamp post. He runs up to him, expecting help. It turns out it is really John, who quickly knocks him out with a left hook. The criminal is arrested, and everyone saw that John was a worthy successor to Hal.
Hal views him as one of his best friends, but he admits that at first it began with fists flying. Long before the two ever received heir rings they engaged in a bar brawl. When the two were first serving together as Lanterns they didn’t get along too well. That is until Hal saw what a good Lantern John was and that he had a keen mind. He also observed that they both had the same tendency to question authority. Hal surmised that John was a good architect and that meant he was always trying to build a better house, which meant the old one had to be torn down. The Justice League cartoon also established that despite his gruff exterior John does have a soft spot, going so far as to reveal that his favorite movie is Old Yeller.
John was also one of the few African American superheroes for a time, and he was also one of the few to go around with out a mask .He was proud of who he was and where he came from. He was not about to conceal his identity for any reason. He had come from Detroit and ended up soaring in the stars, thereby accomplishing more then any one expected of him.
Time and again both Hal and John prove that they have the right stuff. When their rings are drained of energy, it becomes an opportune time for their natural skills to shine. It is their experience in the military that gives them an edge, and it is their resourcefulness that helps them see how to get through the situation. Much like astronauts they can think on the fly if necessary and work great under pressure. Their rings make them even more extraordinary.
Both men are fearless. Nothing scares them, not snakes, spiders or even the IRS. They aren’t even afraid of Batman. It is something that John Stewart discovers and leads him to the conclusion that Batman doesn’t like or trust the Lanterns because they are men without fear, and Batman operates under the guise of fear. John points out that if they do not fear Batman, then he is reduced to being nothing more then a simple man in a scary costume.
However, the ring has a weakness. It was one that the guardians of Oa put into the Ring. It is the yellow light of fear. Part of it was simply because of the terminology of the day. Back in the 1950’s to be “yellow” was synonymous for being a coward, and no one wanted to be a coward. The comics explore the other reason: the guardians wanted a fail safe incase any one of the Lanterns ever went rouge. They even constructed most of their buildings on their home world of Oa out of yellow materials.
Not that this helped in regards to Hal’s great friend and mentor, Thal Sinestro. An alien from another world, Sinestro was brave, strong, calm and confident. He was respected by his fellow lanterns and regarded by the guardians as the Greatest Green Lantern. However if his name is any indication Sinestro was not to be trusted. A Daffy Duck Cartoon that parodied the Green Lantern mythos pointed out that he kind of looks like the devil. A fitting comparison as just like Lucifer, Sinestro fell due to his extreme pride.
Sinestro believed that the guardians were growing too soft on evil in the world and resented being the equivalent of an intergalactic garbage man. They just took care of minor bad guys but couldn’t do more to actually create order in the universe. He had a yellow ring fashioned as he realized that there was a greater power then that of will. The power of fear, a power that he believed they should use to enslave the universe. He embraced this power, harnessing the Yellow Light.
The guardians did not agree with this philosophy and for that he was expelled, vowing vengeance against the Lanterns. He would not be the first Lantern to fall, nor would he be the last. This yellow impurity as it was called was actually an alien parasite named “Parallax”. This entity as the living embodiment of fear, and deep down despite anything each Lantern had a fear.
For Hal it was the fear of failure. Not only had he watched his father die and been unable to do anything to help him, all his life he had been a screw-up. He let down his family, and when his city needed him the most, he wasn’t there to save them. For John it was the fear that the power Ring would over take him and he would loose his identity. For Kyle Rayner, another one of their successors it was the fear of loosing his sight.
Ultimately, it would fall to Kyle to discover how to conquer this fear. Kyle was a cartoonist by trade. He possessed a much clearer head then any of the other Green Lanterns he was more of a romantic and an idealist. This made him incredibly humbled and honored to receive a Ring, so much so that he was one of the few to speak out in Batman’s defense when contingency plans that Batman developed, to take down the members of the justice League should they go rouge, fell into the wrong hands. During a meeting with the other members of the League, when the matter of whether or not Batman should be expelled was being discussed, Kyle said,
“…While he and I need to have a talk…I say he stays… I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t still furious… for months I’ve been friendly to a guy who’s been looking at me like I was a crash test dummy. But I got this ring through the same dumb luck that could’ve delivered it to some sicko. And the thought of that happening makes me respect why someone would want to figure out its failsafe…”
It was this same clear thinking that led him to discover that by figuring out his fear, naming it, and then facing it head on, he could over come it .It was a secret he would share with the other Lanterns. This, in the end, helped fulfill what was said about each one of them when they were chosen. They had the power to over come great fear. It was demonstrating bravery, honor, and a cool head in the most intense of situations or having “Right Stuff”, which took a bunch of unknown test pilots and transformed them into the astronauts of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo days, and secured their place among the stars and in history books. Appropriately, it was having this same “Right Stuff” that made common humans like Hal Jordan, John Stewart and Kyle Rayner Green Lanterns and secured not only their place in the stars, but among the members of the Justice League and the rich tapestry of comic book superheroes.
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Green Lantern ( Alan Scott) Created by Bill Finger and Martin Nodell
Green Lantern ( Hal Jordan) created by John Broome, Gil Kane and Carmine Infantino
Green Lantern (John Stewart) created by Lein Wein and Dave Gibbons
Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner) created by Ron Marz and Darryl Banks
2010 DC Comics, 2005 DC Comics, 2011 Warner Bros. Studios/DC Entertainment.
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