Thursday, February 7, 2008

Green Lantern #133 - 135: North Pole death trap!

Superheroes just aren't superheroes unless they're regularly subjected to death traps orchestrated by very creative villains -- villains who also seem to have a strange affinity for giving the heroes at least a sporting chance at surviving the experience. Batman has perhaps suffered the most from this phenomenon over the years, but he always manages to escape his predicaments via his wits and skills. Superman, of course, can usually get out of just about anything -- at least once that good ol' death trap standby, kryptonite, has been removed from his presence.

Then there's Green Lantern. The standard Green Lantern death trap usually involves stealing his power ring and leaving him stranded in a deadly predicament. This particular scenario has been used so many times, with every main Green Lantern character, that it's become almost cliche. However, there is ONE GL death trap, elegant in its simplicity, that stands out from the others.

Green Lantern issues #133 through #135 (1980) cover a storyline involving Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) versus Doctor Polaris. (Doctor Polaris is kinda like DC's version of the more well-known Marvel character, Magneto, but Doctor Polaris predates Magneto by about a year.) The story itself is pretty standard fare about a villain trying to take over the world, and the only thing standing between him and success is the hero. But the real highlight of the story, which occurs in issue #134, is the death trap.

About halfway through the story, Doctor Polaris succeeds in kidnapping Green Lantern. Of course, Doctor Polaris then steals Hal's ring and leaves him stranded in a death trap -- a very SIMPLE yet nasty trap. The death trap of choice in this case is nothing less than the magnetic North Pole.

Doctor Polaris leaves Hal trapped in one of his devices and flies off, saying that there IS shelter within 100 miles of Hal's location, but good luck finding it before Hal freezes to death. Hal eventually succeeds in escaping from Polaris' device, but he knows his chances of surviving this experience are not good:

Well, of course Hal isn't going to give up. He's too stubborn, for one thing. He's also very, VERY hacked off:

Hal vows he's going to survive, one way or another, and he goes trudging off. The events that follow reflect a remarkable sense of stubbornness, willpower, and bravery bordering on sheer stupidity.

Walking through a snowy wasteland is rather tedious, though, and leaves Hal with a lot of time to do some serious thinking.

... ironic because Hal has battled dangers all over the universe, yet right now it looks like he might lose his life on Earth, all alone and without any superpowers.

Eventually, Hal makes his way to a floating ice floe, by which time he's positively starving. He dismisses a craving for Burger King and unravels some thread from one of his sleeves, to use as a fishing line. When he succeeds in pulling up a fish, he's rather disconcerted by the way it seems to be looking at him.

"For heaven's sake, Charlie, don't stare at me that way," Hal says to the fish. "Honestly, I don't find you appetizing in the least ... But seeing as you're the only game in town ..."

Reluctantly, Hal eats the fish. While he's sitting on the ice floe, contemplating what to do next, a polar bear suddenly emerges from the water in front of him. The bear seems to think Hal is some sort of weird-looking seal, and it immediately attacks.

"As if I didn't have enough trouble!" Hal yells. He tries to dodge away from the bear, but ends up getting the back of his uniform shredded by the bear's claws. Then Hal gets mad and decides to fight back.

No way I could have expected to be in a fight for this berg against an angry bear ... he thinks. But--

(Seriously -- A polar bear would be nothing to Superman, and Batman undoubtedly keeps a plan in his head to get himself out of situations like this. But here, without his power ring, Hal is just a regular guy -- and he's fighting a polar bear bare-handed. Sure, it may be a very stupid thing to do, but it's also an incredibly BRAVE thing to do!)

Hal succeeds in knocking the polar bear back into the water, but he falls with it. As the bear swims away, Hal struggles to pull himself out of the frigid water: Didn't realize how COLD it really was -- My FACE is starting to freeze solid!

Frozen "half to death," Hal manages to pull himself out of the water. And ...

Soon, Hal can't stand at all, and he's reduced to crawling through the snow. To his surprise, though, he spots a cave.


Hal tries to occupy himself with thinking about Carol Ferris, and he soon passes out in the cave. Several hours later ...

Note: In older comics, the only part of Hal's uniform that was generated by his ring was his mask -- and his mask tended to vanish when his ring lost its charge. In modern comics, though, when Hal's ring loses its charge, his entire uniform disappears.

Well, I don't need a mask out here, Hal reasons. Keeping my identity a secret from seals is absurd! Hmmmm ... I'm not complaining, mind you -- but I should have FROZEN to death by now ...

That howling and moaning Hal hears is NOT the wind. Nope, it turns out to be from:

... so naturally I stumble across another refuge from "Animal Kingdom"!

The wolf appears to be starving and, like the polar bear, it immediately attacks Hal. Once again, Hal chooses to fight rather than flee, but the wolf throws itself at him and succeeds in knocking BOTH of them over a cliff. Hal tries to twist around so he can use the wolf's body to cushion his fall, but he ends up bearing at least half of the brunt of the fall. Both Hal and the wolf get banged up and bruised on the way down the cliff, and both land hard at the bottom of a chasm. The wolf appears to be dead, with Hal lying unconscious across its body.

Hal eventually regains consciousness, but when he does, everything around him is pitch dark. It's not night time, though. It turns out that Hal is blind.

"Blind!" he yells. "Sweet heavens, I'm snowblind!" He then bursts out laughing: "Incredible! I'm blind! I didn't have a chance for survival before, but now -- If I didn't know better, I'd say Doctor Polaris was out there swathing my wounds with salt!"

Note: For those who don't know, snowblindness is a rather nasty and painful condition that comes about when unprotected eyes are subjected to the ultraviolet rays of bright sunlight that's reflected off of snow. In severe cases, the condition is permanent. It's a nasty, nasty thing to endure.

Nasty or not, the snowblindness doesn't stop Hal. He can feel the rays of the sun, so he makes sure the sun stays to his back while he continues walking. As he's walking along, he gets downright philosophical. "The measure of a man is one who can accept all his weaknesses ..." he says to himself, "... and make them his strengths!"

Determined though he may be, Hal's bod can only take so much punishment, and once again his legs give out on him. He falls, but as he's laying in the snow, he's shocked to smell something familiar.

"Am I dreaming?" he asks aloud. "HAM?!? I smell HAM cooking! I-I don't know how, but I've found shelter ...!"

Sure enough, Hal ends up stumbling into a cabin, where he succeeds in startling the hell out of a National Geographic survey team:

"... I was in the neighborhood ... and I was wondering ... if you'd mind if I ... dropped innnnnn ..." Hal passes out and falls to the cabin floor -- and National Geographic employees scramble to help him. That is one VERY lucky superhero!

Long story short: Hal recovers from his ordeal (though he remains half snowblind for about two more issues), and he manages to get to California in time to get help from his old pal, Tom Kalmaku, and stop Doctor Polaris. The North Pole incident is commented on several times in following issues, and even Tom Kalmaku is amazed that Hal survived being stranded at the North Pole.

It probably shouldn't be a surprise that, by the time of Green Lantern #26 (1992), Hal has reduced the entire memory of the incident to a pickup line:

*Sigh.*

2 comments:

SallyP said...

Now THAT is a heck of a story. I must admit to a certain amount of fondness for Dr. Polaris, a villain yes, but he had SUCH panache! I was quite depressed when they killed him off.

I don't have this, so I guess I'll be hitting the back issues next week. And really, this quote..."stubbornness, willpower and bravery bordering on sheer stupidity" is one of the best descriptions of Hal ever.

I was wondering how they would explain his surviving the inevitable hypothermia, but the suit explained that rather neatly. And he looks very nice in all black. I guess it's a good thing that his suit didn't disappear.

So...how does he get his ring back?

Sea_of_Green said...

Well, the story of exactly how Hal got his ring back is very long an convoluted -- Marv Wolfman's GL stories DID tend to be long and convoluted. There are all sorts of subplots involving problemst that Tom is having, Carol Ferris getting kidnapped, someone trying to blow up Ferris aircraft, blah, blah, blah, blah ... But through it all, Hal finds Doctor Polaris, beats the snot out of him (with some help from Tom and a weird device being developed at Ferris Aircraft), and gets his ring back. Hal being stranded at the North Pole is the part of the story that most GL fans find interesting.