Monday, June 16, 2008

Green Lantern: If the heroes knew then what they know now ...

In current continuity, DC Comics’ primary super-heroes have become quite good at watching out for one another (or just monitoring each other), and lending each other all sorts of personal help and support when needed. This hasn't always been the case. Take, for example, a Green Lantern story that appeared in Action Comics Weekly #606, in 1988.

“The List” is a very short story that presents a remarkable view of a super-hero seeking personal support from his fellow heroes -- a super-hero generally not known for seeking that kind of support. The story seems to have struck a chord with other writers of the time because it earned at least TWO sequels -- one written by Mark Verheiden, and one by Neil Gaiman. More on those later. For now, here’s a rundown of “The List.”

The tale opens with Hal Jordan returning from space. He’s just escaped from a long bout of agonizing torture and imprisonment in another galaxy, courtesy of Star Sapphire. He’s returned to Coast City to find that the apartment he shared with John Stewart has been completely destroyed -- and the rest of the building destroyed with it.

Prior to this, Star Sapphire had murdered John Stewart’s wife, Katma Tui. Sapphire also faked Carol Ferris’s murder at the hands of John Stewart, and then was captured and carried off into space by a strange, lone alien. And that’s the least of Hal’s worries here.

Hal finds out where John is and gives him a phone call:

Hal is completely at a loss: “This is INSANE. Carol is alive, but she was whisked off into space by an alien creature! I have no idea where in all the universe to look for her! There’s no way I can prove John’s innocence! Still, I’ve got to find a way (Note: Hal does find a way, actually -- but that’s another story). Feels like my life’s come completely apart!”

Well, actually, Hal’s life HAS come completely apart. He’s lost his home, lost his job, lost Carol Ferris, lost the Green Lantern Corps (disbanded because the main power battery on Oa has been blown up, and the Guardians have left for another dimension), and lost his ties with the Justice League. Hal wants to help John Stewart -- but before he can help anyone else, he believes he needs to help himself. A wise observation, really.

Hal's current girlfriend is the alien Arisia, who is staying at the old GL Corps of Earth citadel in the California mountains, with Kilowog. However, Hal feels that at this moment he needs a human connection (or at least Earth-centric) to help him get his life re-grounded. He doesn't want money or any sort of material aid -- he just needs a morale boost.

Hal decides to start looking up “old friends” for help, referring to a list of old Justice League contacts. For his first choice, he makes a spectacularly bad decision:

Yes, that’s Alfred Pennyworth. Hal has dropped in on Wayne Manor. Still, Bruce Wayne tells Alfred to admit Hal -- but then gives him a VERY chilly reception.

Hal explains that he’s looking for “an anchor … something to give me a sense of balance” -- and he thinks maybe Bruce can help since they go “way back” via the Justice League.

Bruce stares at Hal for a moment, and then shows him the door.

Next on Hal’s list: He calls Clark Kent. Clark seems concerned about Hal, but it isn’t the kind of concern Hal is expecting.

Clark then ends the call, because he’s swamped and Lois is driving him crazy with even more work. Yep, Superman is great at helping a fellow hero punch out bad guys and monsters, but not so great at helping with more personal issues.

Hal is REALLY starting to feel like he’s running out of friends. Barry Allen is dead, and Hal was never close to anyone else in the Justice League. Except …

Green Arrow! Now, why wasn’t he Hal’s first pick? Well, problem is, at this point Hal and Ollie really haven’t done a good job of keeping in touch with each other. Besides, Hal is kind of hesitant about approaching Ollie because, friends though they were, they did tend to argue a lot. Still ...

Green Arrow is in the process of handling a drug bust, but who should happen to step in…?

Despite Ollie's protests, Hal (with nearly ridiculous ease) helps him wrap up the drug bust. Later, on a rooftop, Hal explains his situation to Ollie.

“So,” says Ollie, “you figured you’d hit me up for a little sympathy? Maybe hang out here in Seattle for good times and male bonding? C’mon, Hal … GET REAL. Your world just came apart, right? Fine. Go forward, not back!”

And besides ...

Ollie then tells Hal to get a life, and leaves him behind on the rooftop.

Hal crumples up his list of names and chucks it from the rooftop.

That’s the end of the tale -- sort of. Given what eventually happens with Hal and Parallax, one has to wonder if any of the heroes ever look back on this incident and think, “If I’d only known then what I know now ...”

As stated previously, this story spawned two sequels, of sorts.

Neil Gaiman’s is “Legend of the Green Flame,” starring Hal and Superman. Originally, it was supposed to appear in Action Comics Weekly #642 (1989). However, for various reasons, it was set aside, and an Elliot S. Maggin story (“Where There is a Will”) was published in its place. DC published Neil Gaiman’s story much later, in the year 2000, in prestige format. More on that story some other time.

Mark Verheiden’s sequel, “The Crash of 88,” was published in Action Comics Weekly #635 (1989). It’s a tale featuring several stars of Action Comics Weekly, including Hal, Superman, Black Canary, and Weng Chan of the Blackhawks (DON’T call him “Chop-Chop”). The story is told by Chan in a sort-of film noir “hardboiled detective” narrative form:

The sky was pitch black and we were bucking a headwind that made Toto’s tornado look like a balmy tropical breeze…”

Chan is president and C.E.O. of Blackhawk Express (which is a real company, by the way -- based in Wisconsin), an international carrier that hires its planes out for private flights and deliveries. The elderly Chan is comfortable but bored with this incarnation of the Blackhawks: “Business isn’t that much different from total war -- except it’s all mental. I mean, you rarely end up in triage with a paper cut.”

Chan and Blackhawk pilot Susan Sullivan are transporting an old friend of Hal Jordan's, Clay Kendall, to "Reyes Bay" in South America. Clay is lugging along a crate that he insists is filled with "parts," but Chan doesn't quite believe him. Still, Chan doesn't mind the fact that the Blackhawk board of directors insisted that he go along on the flight, as part of "the best" of the company.

(NOTE on Clay Kendall: He and his wife, April, were regular back-up characters in Green Lantern stories in the early-to-mid 1980s. They were Ferris Aircraft employees until Clay was crippled and confined to a wheel chair following an attack on the company. Though the attack had nothing to do with him [or with Green Lantern], Hal blamed himself for what happened to Clay.)

Chan, Sullivan, and Kendall are flying over the country "Sumango" in a thunderstorm when anti-aircraft missiles suddenly take out their plane. Lucky for them, their plane doesn't blow up when they crash on the outskirts of a jungle, but now they're stranded in a country run by the infamous Colonel Diaz.

Guerillas on horseback quickly show up, led by Colonel Diaz himself, and they take the plane crew and cargo into custody and haul them away into the jungle.

While Chan is musing that it's "easy to think your problems are the only problems in the world," the scene shifts to one involving Batman and Green Arrow. They are being confronted by a VERY angry Green Lantern.

Don’t worry, kiddies -- it’s only a dream of Hal’s:

Obviously, Hal is nursing a grudge over the way Bruce Wayne and Oliver Queen treated him. (Per another story, he isn’t too happy with Superman, either, but he gets over it -- as will soon become evident here.) Hal has experienced even MORE problems since then, including being dumped by Arisia, getting pummeled by Captain Atom, having a huge fight with John Stewart, and barely surviving a VERY disturbing encounter with the enigmatic Lord Malvolio (a story that's wrapped up in this same issue of Action Comics Weekly). Hal’s lot in life has not improved, and he's really quite miserable.

However, in his initial quest for support from friends, Hal forgot a VERY important friend who is always more than willing to help him -- a person who is usually, also forgotten by editors and writers (except for Brad Meltzer, Judd Winick, and, here, Mark Verheiden). That friend is none other than Black Canary.

(Seriously -- It’s astonishing how many people forget that Hal and Dinah are friends, too. The "Hard-Traveling Heroes" [Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Black Canary] were an actual team for only a short time -- and Black Canary wasn’t even given equal billing with her two male co-stars. However, many of the GL-GA stories throughout the ‘70s had more to do with her than with the boys. Heck, there was even a period when the GL-GA title might as well have been renamed The Black Canary Show. Plus, Hal and Dinah teamed up a couple of times WITHOUT Ollie.)

Lucky for Hal, Dinah shows up, blows off his stubbornness, and drags him out to dinner to lend support and give advice.

While Dinah talks Hal into paying a visit to the home of Clay and April Kendall, the plane crew in Sumango is confined to a prison hut. Soon, Clay is dragged off to help in a "science lab" ...

... and Colonel Diaz drags off Chan to brag about his "cause" and his power.

At the same time, Hal and Dinah arrive at the Kendall household where a distraught April tells them that Clay has disappeared on a Blackhawk flight. Hal vows to help, but as he leaves and changes into his Green Lantern uniform, at first he isn't very good at accepting help himself.

Green Lantern takes off with Black Canary in tow in a ring-generated, airborne chair. Even though Hal initially turned down Dinah's offer to help, his mood has improved tremendously -- perhaps a little too much.

"Hal," Dinah asks him, "don't take this the wrong way, but, what would happen if you, uhh, blacked out or something up here?"

"My ring would automatically protect me--" Hal begins.

"GOOD, that's what I figur--" interrupts Dinah.

"--but YOU'd drop like a stone," Hal finishes, with a big grin on his face.

After checking with Blackhawk Express and the FAA, Hal and Dinah take off for South America, where they discover that Clay's flight never arrived at Reyes Bay. A local guy fills them in on the situation in Sumango: "Rumor has it that Diaz is planning a major offensive against the border countries around Sumango. The natives talk about Diaz's magic, but magic doesn't scare me. The RIVER scares me. Every time it drops, we find bodies -- more victims of Diaz's 'rebellion.'"

Hal and Dinah head for Sumango and quickly find the Blackhawk plane -- and Clay's wheelchair. Suddenly, a giant monster emerges from the trees!

Hal takes off to deal with the monster, which turns out to be made of pure energy. While Hal fights the monster, Dinah tries to keep the villagers on the ground from getting stomped on.

The fight with the monster is NOT going well for Hal.

Before blacking out and falling to the ground, Hal pulls his old trick of ordering his ring to go find help. Then Hal and Dinah are hauled to the prison hut and confined with Clay, Chan, and Sullivan. Chan, in particular, is shocked to see Green Lantern down for the count.

"--which means," says Dinah, "Diaz has his hands on power beyond anything in the region. If we don't stop him, there's going to be a slaughter."

Meanwhile, Hal's ring finds help, and that help turns out to be Superman. Yeah, Hal might be a wee bit peeved at Superman, but there's no one better to help out if there's a monster that needs stompin'. Superman is actually happy to see Hal's ring, because it gives him a reason to not have Clark Kent sit in on a very boring city meeting about zoning regulations. It seems that poor ol' Superman has been a bit bored lately: "Feels GOOD to be in the air again. Never thought I'd get bored with my job -- as Kent OR as Superman."

(Oh, don't worry, Supes -- your boredom is about to end.)

Superman follows Hal's ring to Sumango ...

Superman tries to fight the monster (while the power ring returns to the prison hut), but he really doesn't have any more luck against it than Hal did. In the meantime, the hut prisoners (the ones that aren't unconscious, anyway) have hatched an escape plan:

The guards are quickly subdued. Weng Chan and Black Canary then head out to do some reconnaissance, leaving Sullivan and Clay (and Hal) behind and armed with the guards' guns.

"I know it's against your religion," Chan says to Dinah, "but I'd feel better if you had a gun."

"No way," Dinah replies -- just as she takes out another guard by punching him in the head. "Cramps my style."

"Okay then," says Chan, "how about a tube of Ben-Gay?"

Dinah and Chan then enter Diaz's power chamber:

It turns out Diaz has been manipulating the monster via a type of virtual reality technology. While Black Canary takes out Diaz, Superman is treated to a bit of a show:

Diaz gets VERY MAD and focuses the monster on Black Canary: "I beat Green Lantern and I'm crushing Superman. Do you REALLY think YOU have a chance--?"

Speaking of Green Lantern ... Back at the prison hut, Hal finally wakes up.

"Surrender?" says a very angry Hal, standing up behind them and putting on his ring. "Surrender my--!"

Canary is in the process of being crushed by the energy monster.

Hal shows up to help Superman try to save Dinah, but ...

Meanwhile, on the ground, Weng Chan gets an idea on how to stop Diaz, and even he admits it's a ridiculously easy one:

What happens after this story? Well, the Blackhawks get their own comic book title (again), very briefly. Eventually, Black Canary breaks up with Green Arrow, and the two remain apart for a VERY long time. Superman is killed by Doomsday but is soon brought back to life. Hal becomes a drifter until he's roped into a situation that brings about the return of the Green Lantern Corps. Things actually start looking up for Hal, briefly, until Coast City is destroyed during the events that lead to Superman's resurrection. Taking advantage of Hal's emotional state, the alien parasite Parallax then possesses Hal and turns him into one of the most powerful villains in the universe for a time -- a time during which Batman is the most vocal and unforgiving hero regarding Hal's transformation.

(So, was Batman's behavior due to guilt over his treatment of Hal in "The List"? Was Batman actually punishing himself for failing to step in and possibly help to avert Hal's eventual transformation into Parallax? Or did Batman simply believe that a super-hero as powerful as Hal should be strong enough to not succumb to that type and level of pressure? Personally, I rather like the idea that Bruce never liked or trusted Hal to begin with, and that Hal was rather oblivious to Bruce's attitude -- but that's just me.)

"The List" by James Owsley and Tod Smith. "The Crash of 88" by Mark Verheiden and Eduardo Barreto.


Anonymous said...

And yet, when Oliver is in real trouble over in his own title, guess who basically volunteers to serve as a punching bag for his frustrations?

Hal's a forgiving guy.

SallyP said...

Awwww...poor Hal! I know that he's a self-absorbed idiot sometimes, but he's really having a hard time of it, poor baby. I've also noticed that he doesn't handle rejection very well does he?

I guess I can understand John being bitter. Star Saphhire DID kill his wife, and Hal and Arisia had turned into mooches.

But nah, Batman was always a bit of a jerk.

Sea_of_Green said...

Actually, Hal IS a pretty forgiving guy. It's one of his better character traits. It's the primary reason why he worked so hard at turning the Spectre into a spirit of redemption instead of vengeance. It's also yet another thing that makes him Batman's total opposite. Batman is NOT a forgiving person -- it's a big part of what makes him Batman. Light vs. darkness. Forgiveness vs. vengeance.

SallyP said...

Good point. You get exactly one chance with Batman it seems. He doesn't seem to have much understanding or sympathy for other people's failings either. Hal may be a doofus sometimes, but as much as I can get annoyed at him, he's basically a nice guy. And a lot more forgiving of human frailty.

Anonymous said...

I realize I'm commenting on a post from over eight years ago, but for anyone who's reading this and is interested, there was a third story that followed up on "The List". In Secret Origins 50 (published in 1990), Ollie actually apologizes to Hal for "the things I said to you when you came to Seattle looking for my help... I've never felt in your league, Hal... I guess I didn't want to go back to feeling that way. I guess I was just being a selfish putz. I'm sorry, Hal." Hal, forgiving guy that he is, ends up apologizing to Ollie for ever making him feel out of his depth. I like to think I'd have been as forgiving, but I would at least have gotten out a comment like, "What the hell were you thinking?" or at least "It certainly wasn't your best moment."

The story was written by Alan Brennert. Interesting that so many writers felt the need to to damage control on "The List".