Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Moments in Green Lantern history: Malvolio

Of all the stories in Green Lantern comics history, few have generated as much speculation and argument as that of Lord Malvolio, a mysterious antagonist encountered by Hal Jordan in an unknown sector of space, in Action Comics Weekly #632-#635 (1988). Malvolio (named after a character in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night who wishes the world was completely sinless and nonfrivolous) traps Hal Jordan in a situation that had Green Lantern readers speculating for years. Some readers are STILL speculating about Malvolio. Malvolio's tale takes place in the equivalent of a one-issue story that’s spread across four issues. Following is coverage of the complete tale.

The story picks up where a battle between Hal and Captain Atom leaves off, with Hal chasing after a wooden space ship (shrine) that’s just left Earth. The alien in the ship has caused all sorts of trouble on Earth, and Hal is following it to make sure it doesn’t create even more problems in his space sector. The ship ducks into a space warp, and Hal follows it -- only to end up seemingly nowhere.

Hal doesn’t see any stars at first, but he flies along until he encounters a lone, unfamiliar solar system with a variety of planets. He heads for one planet that seems similar to Earth, and is relieved to find that it has an advanced civilization. Hal enters a building that resembles an observatory and encounters a large, blue-skinned alien.

“Moons of Antares…! ‘Tis one of the chosen!!” gasps the alien upon seeing Hal. “What is your will, my lord?”

Hal is puzzled by the alien’s reverence, but proceeds to ask for directions to Earth. He doesn’t have a choice, really, because for various reasons his ring can’t tell him the way.

Also, for various reasons, Hal thinks he’s in the home sector of his friend, Priest. More on Priest some other time.

The alien just stares at Hal without responding, so Hal changes tactics and asks for directions to the solar system’s home planet.

“I have no knowledge, my lord,” the alien replies. “All my life have I existed here, on your master’s base planet. Perhaps you should consult your master.”

The alien points in the direction of some hills, and Hal takes off, still very confused by the alien’s behavior. Then he reaches the hills and is a bit shocked by what he sees:

Hal flies into the castle and is greeted by a very large man who bears more than a passing resemblance to Alan Scott, the Golden Age Green Lantern.

The man greets Hal with this speech:

“You arrive as brilliant light, rending darkness’s opaque veil. As a whisper, silence shattering. As an archangel trumpeting the coming of the Lord … Among stars and far flung heavens have cosmic winds aloft borne me as I, answering adventure’s siren call, sought her face in the galaxy’s far corners. Among peoples and cultures infinitely diverse have these well worn heels tread narrow paths leading to warm, righteous hearts. Against evil kingdoms and dread empires a vengeful hand have I raised. Against me could no man stand nor any man deny my will. Through time and seasons and ages undreamed of, my will, my token and troth remain. The vindicator, avenger, defender, law and judge am I. Savior and destroyer. Life and DEATH … I am Lord Malvolio of the Green Flame!"

“Uh … hi,” says Hal. “I’m Hal, the GL of sector 2814. I don’t suppose you know the way to Earth?”

Malvolio scowls at Hal.

“You’re human?” says Hal. “Why has a human being been assigned to this remote sector--?

“Our homeworld lies beyond the inky void,” Malvolio replies. “Beyond darkness’s veil. Beyond PHOBUS.”

“Phobus?” Hal asks. “What's a Phobus?”

“That is for you to discover,” Malvolio says. He then walks away, apparently ignoring Hal. Hal loses patience and flies out of the castle, wondering why he's neither seen nor heard of Malvolio before. He returns to the blue-skinned alien he met earlier.

“Did you see your master?” the alien asks.

“I saw the long-winded JERK who lives in that castle,” says Hal. “He is definitely NOT 'my master.'"

Hal then asks the alien about Phobus. Just as the alien starts to reply--

Hal confronts Malvolio over the alien’s death:

Malvolio is out of control, Hal decides -- so Hal tries to imprison him in a big green bubble. Malvolio breaks out of the bubble with ease and blasts Hal so hard that Hal is forced backward, gouging a trench through the ground along the way.

When the smoke clears, Malvolio is still standing. Not only is he standing …

… he actually punches Hal through the planet.

Impressed with Malvolio’s power in spite of himself, Hal determines several things:

1. Malvolio is crazy.
2. Malvolio is more powerful than Hal.
3. Hal needs to as far away from Malvolio as possible to “sort all this out!”

The scope of Malvolio's power is particularly troublesome to Hal -- Hal can't figure out how a Green Lantern can be that powerful. He decides that either Malvolio has "tremendous will power," or "insanity releases your inhibitions ... strengthens your resolve ... no matter how irrational they may be!"

While flying toward one of the other planets in the solar system, Hal comes across a space station made entirely of gold.

Guessing that the space station is intended to ward off Malvolio, Hal enters it. Inside he sees a giant Green Lantern power battery, which is apparently being worshipped by several aliens. Of course, they spot him.

Suddenly, a very human-looking man emerges from a doorway and grabs Hal’s hand: “Hal Jordan!! … This way quickly!!” Before Hal can finish asking how the man knows his name, he’s pulled into what appears to be a control room. The man's name is Wallace, and he claims to be Malvolio's squire. He gives Hal a little background information on Malvolio (see the issue for complete details), and tells Hal that Malvolio has been observing Hal for a long time.

“Wonderful,” Hal replies. “What does he want?”

“What he’s always wanted,” Wallace replies. “Great sport. Great adventure. The friendship of a kindred spirit.”

“I’m no kin to that psycho,” says Hal. “Building this station out of yellow metals was a stroke of genius. He can’t reach you here. We’re safe.”

(Uh, Hal, YOU got into the station without any trouble, remember? Oh, well ...)

Hal IS mistaken, though. It turns out that the station is NOT intended to be protection against Malvolio. Rather, it’s a shrine in his honor.

“The color of the ore from which the metals were synthesized is incidental …” says Wallace.

“Then,” says Hal, “That means--!”

Malvolio blasts the entire interior of the space station, killing everyone aboard except for Hal.

“Behold the face of fear, Hal Jordan!” Malvolio bellows. “It shall be the very last thing your eyes do rest upon!”

Malvolio then launches into another long-winded speech about how ungrateful Hal is and how he’ll never escape from Malvolio, and how Malvolio hates Hal’s friend Priest and wants to crush him, blah, blah, blah … (again, see the issue for complete details).

Hal’s still alive, all right, but he is injured and exhausted, and blaming himself for the deaths of the space station’s inhabitants (“He killed everyone on board simply because they gave me asylum here?!”)

While Malvolio continues his monologuing, Hal fights to get back on his feet and regain his bearings. Then he makes the mistake of turning his back to Malvolio. Malvolio grabs him by the hair and forces him to turn around.

Hal makes a valiant effort, but Malvolio taunts him, accusing Hal of trying to run away ever since their first encounter. Implying that Hal is a coward has a tendency to make Hal VERY angry.

“You’re crazy,” Hal yells at Malvolio while mercilessly punching him in the face. “Absolutely INSANE. I should feel sorry for you. But -- I just -- DON’T! Nobody has to die. We’re Green Lanterns, Malvolio. We took an OATH. It should mean something to you.”

Malvolio pulls a sort of gun on Hal. Hal fully intends to disarm him and “beat him senseless” with the gun itself. But then--!

Yes, Hal’s ring has just been completely destroyed.

Hal has no choice now. He RUNS.

The chute deposits Hal in a room that appears to be the armory. Hal scouts out the room for the biggest weapon.

Hal straps on the cannon, which has an adjustable body brace: “I’m assuming, then, that this cannon’s got a heck of a kick to it.” Just as Hal fires up the cannon, Malvolio appears.

Sure enough, even with the brace, the cannon proves too powerful for Hal to handle. He accidentally blasts a hole through the space station’s hull, resulting in depressurization. Malvolio uses his ring to plug the hole, and then resumes his pursuit of Hal. Ringless and without any weapons, Hal is forced to improvise--and proves that he actually learned something while hanging around with Green Arrow all those years:

With Malvolio’s ring, Hal eventually does make it home to Earth, still feeling bad about Malvolio’s death. Ah, but is Malvolio REALLY dead?

Malvolio has yet to reappear in the comics. He's been mentioned only once since this story, by Guy Gardner in Green Lantern #25 (1992) -- meaning that at some point Hal must have told Guy and probably also John Stewart about Malvolio. Longtime Green Lantern readers have been speculating about Malvolio ever since, discussing who or what he was and exploring scenarios in which he could reappear. When Hal first became Parallax, Malvolio's possible role was hotly debated. In fact, Malvolio could have easily been used as an "out" for the Hal Jordan-Parallax situation. Obviously, that didn't happen. However, that hasn't completely stopped readers from speculating about other scenarios, such as Malvolio's possible role in the upcoming "Blackest Night." Whether or not Malvolio ever reappears in the comics, though, he remains an intriguing part of Green Lantern history.

A note about Malvolio's power ring: Technically, Hal had the ring all the way up to becoming Parallax. Upon being possessed by Parallax, Hal destroyed the ring on Oa by stepping on it and crushing it. The pieces were gathered up by Ganthet and then reassembled into a ring for Kyle Rayner. (Hal's current ring is actually a copy of his first ring -- he originally made the copy for Oliver Queen [Green Arrow]. Hal traded in his first ring and received a second, different one from the Guardians way back in Green Lantern-Green Arrow #90, 1976.) Kyle's current ring is presumably a new one, also given to him by Ganthet, this time during the Sinestro Corps War. However, upon giving Kyle his new ring, Ganthet DID say, "You kept the green burning when I gave you this ring years ago." So, it's entirely possible that Malvolio's ring is still in play, as Kyle's current ring.

Script: James Owsley; Pencils: M.D. Bright


SallyP said...

Wow! I haven't read this in a loooong while, so it was good to revisit it.

Phobos is a moon of Mars. Since it is in his sector, Hal should really know that. I do believe that it is also Greek for "fear".

Gosh, Hal is dumb sometimes. You'll notice, that Hal doesn't REALLY get mad, until Malvolio grabs him from behind, and thus musses up his hair. Hal will stand for SOME things, but YOU DON'T TOUCH HIS HAIR!!!

Geoff Johns has proved to be quite successful at mining the nuggets left behind by Alan Moore. It would be interesting to see if he picks up on some of these little tidbits as well.

Sea_of_Green said...

Yep, in Greek mythology, Phobos was the god of FEAR. It's where the word "phobia" comes from. Yet one more thing for the Malvolio conspiracists to hit upon, along with all of the nit-picky details about Malvolio's past (about how his mother died in childbirth, and his father had been a Green Lantern who Malvolio murdered for his ring, blah, blah, blah.)

For me, though, the thing that's always stood out about this tale is the utter ruthlessness with which Hal dispatches Malvolio. Hal doesn't even wrestle with the issue of using lethal force here -- cornered, he kills without hesitation. Just imagine Superman or Batman or Green Arrow in this scenario. All three would wrestle with the issue of using lethal force. But not Hal.

Wonder Woman would be proud.

googum said...

Didn't Green Arrow kill a lot of people in the Seattle days? That puts a fair number of the League on the side that would use lethal force: pretty sure Aquaman would, the Atom would, Flash is a definite no. Who else?

What was the deal with Priest? Wasn't Christopher Priest writing GL then, too? I forget.

In other news, hoping to get a DCUC GL figure today...

SallyP said...

You make a good point about Hal's touch of ruthlessness. He doesn't use it very often...he doesn't NEED to use it very often, since he can usually charm his way out of problems, but it's there.

Sea_of_Green said...

Yeah, Ollie did kill a few in his Seattle Days, but originally he REALLY beat himself up if he killed anyone, including by accident. Hal, on the other hand, definitely follows the self-defense argument -- if the other guy fires first, all bets are off. It's different from how Darwyn Cooke depicted him, though.

"James Owsley" is a pen name of Christopher Priest. :-) "Priest" is a character from the stories he wrote -- a sort of GL "guru" who befriended Hal. He was later murdered by the oh-so-insane Old Timer.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comprehensive rundown:-)

I believe I bought a back issue of Action Comics when it was a weekly which had this story, as well as subsequent issues where Hal meets a tall alien named Priest, and even manages to use the green energy without a power ring (an ability quickly dispensed with by the time he returned to earth.)

Christopher Priest published a trilogy of books-
# Green Lantern: Sleepers (Book 1) by Christopher J. Priest and Mike Baron (Mass Market Paperback - April 12, 2005)
# Green Lantern: Sleepers, Volume 2 (Bk. 2) by Christopher J. Priest (Paperback - Oct 25, 2005)
# Green Lantern: Sleepers, Volume 3 by Christopher J. Priest (Hardcover - Sep 25, 2005)
As he explains on his website (http://www.digital-priest.com/start-dpdc.htm) there were some challenges with these books. Among other things, the publisher of iBooks died, one of the authors he collaborated with didn't exactly follow his plot outline, and DC did not reveal their plans for GL: Rebirth to him.

Nonetheless, I seem to recall Lord Malvolio having a major role in Volume 3.

K. Kinnison

P.S. The Legion of Three Worlds miniseries is turning out to be one of the best written and illustrated Green Lantern sagas I've enjoyed, even if it does seemingly take forever for each issue to arrive, Perez & Jones are worth the wait (Issue 3 should hit the stands 02/04/09-see Newsarama.com for a preview of the cover + four pages.)