Wednesday, September 30, 2009

How Hal (Green Lantern) Jordan became the Spectre

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the strangest metamorphoses a superhero has ever undergone involves Hal Jordan starting off as Green Lantern, and then becoming the villain Parallax, and then spending time as the Spectre before becoming Green Lantern again.

As the villain Parallax, Hal died saving the earth by reigniting the sun, in the mini-series Final Night (1996). You'd think he would've stayed dead, but as is often the case with deceased comic book characters, DC Comics (and Hal’s fans) wouldn’t leave him be. After his official death, Hal made a few sporadic appearances in various comics, either via flashback or (in the Emerald Knights storyline) via time-travel mishaps.

Then, in 1999, in one of the earliest storylines that writer Geoff Johns produced for DC, the five-issue Day of Judgment comic was released -– a mini series that went a long way toward tying up some then-loose ends in the DC Universe, and toward reminding readers just how dangerous a character like the Spectre, that jolly ol' Spirit of Vengeance, could be. Day of Judgment was a crossover event that involved darned near everyone in the DC Universe at the time. However, for the purposes of this article, we're focusing mainly on the Green Lantern-related details.

Prior to Day of Judgment, Jim Corrigan finally redeems himself after years of serving as the Spectre’s host. His soul is at last allowed to separate from the Spectre and reside in Heaven (see JLA #31). This leaves the Spectre without a human soul to serve as host -– which proves to be a very dangerous position in which to leave the all-powerful, vengeful Spectre.

For his own purposes, the Demon, Etrigan, causes the renegade angel Asmodel to become the Spectre’s host, and to put it bluntly, all hell breaks loose. Demon hordes become unleashed upon the earth, and hell itself literally freezes over. Needless to say, this creates a great deal of trouble for the heroes of earth. Because the magic-based heroes are better able to combat the Spectre and the demons of hell, they band together to form the Sentinels of Magic (sort of a precursor to Shadowpact). One member of the Sentinels of Magic is Alan Scott, the Golden-Age Green Lantern (called Sentinel in this story). He's blaming himself for all the trouble involving the Spectre, and he desperately wants to set things right.

Everyone is eager to help, of course. Well … ALMOST everyone. One of the results of all the chaos is that the sometimes-hero/sometimes-villain Enchantress is released from June Moone. She’s unwillingly drafted onto the side of the good guys, but not before running into Kyle Rayner. She’s VERY confused by this (to her) unknown kid claiming to be Green Lantern. After all, the only Green Lantern she's ever known is Hal Jordan.

Poor Kyle. He never gets any respect.

After initial attempts to stop the Spectre fail, magic and non-magic heroes split into three groups, with the intention of achieving three things:

1. Reigniting the flames of hell.
2. Finding Jim Corrigan’s soul in heaven and have him re-bond with the Spectre.
3. Holding the Spectre and the demons at bay until the first two goals are reached.

Alan Scott, Wonder Woman, Mr. Miracle, Supergirl, Raven (briefly), and the angel Zauriel form the team that travels up to heaven to find Jim Corrigan. After meeting up with some old, deceased friends from the Justice Society, they find Jim (or, rather, he finds them). But when Alan asks Jim to please come back and rebond with the Spectre, Jim’s response is essentially “Uh, uh!”

The angel Michael then suggests that the heroes try purgatory (“The Hall of Those Unjudged”) for finding help in controlling the Spectre. In purgatory, the group encounters the lost souls of several deceased heroes, including Vigilante, Rick Flagg, and Sargon the Sorcerer. When Wonder Woman tells the lost souls their help is needed, the living heroes are all but rushed by the dead:

Then, a familiar figures emerges from the darkness:

It’s Hal! Oh boy, oh boy, Alan thinks this is GREAT …

… but Wonder Woman thinks Alan is NUTS for wanting to bring Hal back with them:

Hal, for his part, is tired of everyone thinking of him as Parallax. He decides to go back to earth in a different form:

After a bit of a scuffle to get out of purgatory (some of the angels in charge don’t want Hal to leave), the heroes make their way back to earth to rejoin those that are fighting the Spectre. Among those heroes is Batman -- who also thinks Alan is NUTS for bringing Hal back.

Batman has good reason for being more than a little ticked off. Parallax or no Parallax, Hal Jordan is still Hal Jordan -- Captain Reckless himself. And, true to form, one of the first things Hal does is try to attack the Spectre all by his lonesome.

Oh, crud. Now Alan feels REALLY bad. And Batman feels absolutely no sympathy for him.

Not to worry, though. Alan’s ol’ pal, Dr. Fate, shows up with a bunch of heroes in tow, and he puts Hal back together again.

After Alan very gently reads Hal the Riot Act, the magical heroes all reband together (including Ragman, in spite of himself …)

(Oh, SHUT UP, Ragman.)

Dr. Occult channels all of the powers of the magical heroes in order to give Hal all the power HE needs to challenge Asmodel’s hold on the Spectre. Hal then uses that power to conjure up the Green Lantern Corps, much to the Spectre’s surprise:

Meanwhile, the heroes who traveled to hell to reignite the flames succeed in doing so. Also, Captain Marvel gets ahold of the Spear of Destiny, and uses it to literally slice open the Spectre.

While all this is going on, Hal is having an argument with the imaginary Kilowog that he’s conjured up (“Save it, Poozer! I got nuttin’ to say.”), and Batman and Alan Scott are still arguing about Hal:

Finally, Hal enters the gap that Captain Marvel has torn in the Spectre’s form:

Inside the Spectre, Hal has fun fighting a nasty ol’ amalgam of Asmodel and the Spectre …

… while, outside the Spectre, the other heroes have fun fighting Superman, who’s been possessed by a demon named Neron:

Don'tcha hate it when that happens?

Superman manages to rid himself of Neron, who then grabs the Spear of Destiny and enters the Spectre. Let the party begin!

Asmodel loses control of the Spectre. The freed Spectre, needless to say, is just a wee bit ticked off. It grabs Hal, Asmodel and Neron and demands to know why it should accept ANY of them as a host.

Asmodel and Neron both boast about power and glory, blah, blah, blah … Hal tries to boast, but just can’t bring himself to do it. Instead, he breaks down sobbing and says he deserves punishment, not power.

“You believe you deserve punishment?” says the Spectre. “THEN FACE YOUR PENANCE!”

Suddenly, Asmodel and Neron are evicted from the Spectre – PTUI!

… and the other heroes are treated to an odd sight indeed.

Once a Green Lantern, always a Green Lantern -- especially where the dress code is concerned.

After Asmodel and Neron are dealt with, Hal takes off to have the Spectre do some mystical repair work, to undo the damage done by the Spectre and the demons.

Almost everyone seems happy with the outcome – except Batman, of course.

After Day of Judgment (and after howls of disbelief by both Green Lantern AND Spectre fans), Hal Jordan goes on his merry way, doing his best to wrestle the Spirit of Vengeance under control and turn it, instead, into a Spirit of Redemption. For a time, he succeeds. He makes notable appearances in Legends of the DC Universe, Flash, JLA, and JSA comics, and in his own Spectre series. Most importantly, he helps bring about the resurrection of Oliver (Green Arrow) Queen in the storyline Quiver. Hal as the Spectre doesn't last long, however. After an incident involving the JSA and the Spirit King, Hal loses control of the Spectre and it reverts back to the Spirit of Vengeance. Soon afterward, Hal is brought back to life as a Green Lantern, sans both Parallax and the Spectre, in the storyline Green Lantern: Rebirth.

As for the Spectre, once it's free of Hal's soul, it's once again without a host and goes on a rampage, the details of which are covered in the storyline Day of Vengeance. Evidently, the heroes of earth didn't learn from the previous time the Spectre didn't have a host.

Day of Judgment, issues 1-5, 1999, written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Matt Smith.

Friday, September 18, 2009

AVAST, ye scurvy dogs! Ready yerselves fer Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Ooooooh, t'morrow 'tis one of me favorite days: Talk Like a Pirate Day! Never heard of it, ye say? Why, 'tis one of the greatest holidays of all time -- here be a link to the official Web site! Way back in 1995, two swabs, John Baur (Ol' Chumbucket) and Mark Summers (Cap'n Slappy), established Talk Like a Pirate Day, to be held every September 19 -- and the holiday gets bigger every year, thanks in part to the enthusiastic support of humorist Dave Barry. 'Tis a wond'rous holiday indeed!

If you REALLY want to learn to talk like a pirate, I recommend studying the 1950 Disney film, Treasure Island, which showcases that patron saint of Talk Like a Pirate Day, actor Robert Newton in the role of Long John Silver!

(Hey, say whatever you want about Walt Disney and his company, but between Treasure Island and Pirates of the Caribbean, NO ONE has EVER done a better job of bringing pirates to the big screen. NO ONE.)

OR, if you'd rather not go through the hassle of tracking down the movie Treasure Island, there's always the online English-to-Pirate translator. Now, THIS is a fun toy. According to the translator, "Superman" in Pirate Speak is actually "Ahoy!erman" -->

Smartlier than a speedin' bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able t' leap tall buildin's in a sin'le bound!

Look! Up in t' sky!
'Tis a bird.
'Tis a plane.
'Tis Ahoy!erman!

Aye, 'tis Ahoy!erman - strange visitor from another planet who came t' Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those o' mortal swabs. Ahoy!erman - who can change t' course o' mighty rivers, bend steel with his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild mannered reporter for a thunderin’ great metropolitan newspaper, fights t' never endin' battle for Truth, Justice and t' American Way!

Now, much as he'd probably like to participate in Talk Like a Pirate Day, Superman these days is just WAY too dignified for that sort of thing. However, he probably at least fantasizes about ordering the Justice League around in Pirate Speak.

Superman aside, there are superheroes who are VERY likely to celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day.

The most likely candidate from the Marvel Comics side is pretty obvious: Kurt Wagner -- NIGHTCRAWLER! I think that pretty much goes without saying.

I'm sure Kurt is thrilled that Marvel is now owned by Disney, that bastion of great pirate entertainment.

From the DC Comics side, there are several likely candidates for celebrating Talk Like a Pirate Day, but my favorite candidate is Kyle Rayner of the Green Lantern Corps. Who else would conjure up pirate ships manned -- er, womaned -- by buxom, scantily-clad babes and order them into battle? "Fire at will, wench!"

Ooooh, yes, Talk Like a Pirate Day is DEFINITELY Kyle's type of holiday.

And you can bet Kyle tries to get some of the other Lanterns to celebrate with him ...

... with varying degrees of success, of course.

Now, that's just plain silly. Hal would NEVER say that.

Maybe Kilowog is a better participant ...?

Okay, maybe not.

How 'bout you, John?

Now THAT's getting into the spirit of things!


Errrr ... I think you're trying a bit too hard there, Arisia.

Things are going downhill fast.

Guy ...?

Okay, never mind.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Good Day Sunshine!

Good morning good morning!

Ah, the Beatles. How I love the Beatles. I want to tell you -- there hasn’t been a day in the life when their music, their very presence, wasn’t lurking somewhere in the background of my subconscious. Blame it on my parents. I was born on New Year’s Eve in 1964, to VERY young parents for whom having then state-of-the-art stereo equipment AND the latest in popular music was an absolute must. There was ALWAYS music playing in the house when I was growing up. ALWAYS. And though my parents’ tastes ran the gamut of 1960s rock and pop (Rolling Stones, The Who, Aretha Franklin, The Beach Boys, Jimi Hendrix, Big Brother & The Holding Company [starring Janis Joplin], etc. -- with a little classical music thrown in here, there and everywhere), the Beatles were always at the forefront. I had the album Revolver memorized by the time I was five years old. The first piece of recorded music I ever, personally owned was an original 45 record of the Beatles song “Let It Be.” It’s still my favorite song of all time.

One of my favorite movies of all time is even Beatles-related. When I was between the ages of three and five years, Dad regularly took me to see movies in the theater, just me and him. From that period are three movies that I have never forgotten and adore unconditionally to this day. One is 2001: A Space Odyssey. Another is Walt Disney’s Fantasia. The third is the Beatles’ animated film, Yellow Submarine. I love Yellow Submarine. Not only is it a visual feast and unique among animated films, it’s also a very clever movie. It accurately depicts a very important, other talent that the Beatles possessed and included in their music -– humor.

What’s made the Beatles so influential? It’s been debated endlessly by many, many people over the last four decades, but I have my own theory. People often forget that though the Beatles were influential, they themselves were influenced – not only by Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, and other early-rock pioneers, but also by just about every other form of music and entertainment available. Listen to the entire Beatles catalog and you’ll hear songs based on almost every genre of the time -- rock, classical, blues, jazz, country-western, Broadway, gospel, soul, folk, children’s songs, “beach” music, British dance hall/vaudeville tunes, you name it. The Beatles embraced every form of music and musical experimentation, resulting in an expansion of popular music sounds and styles that persist to this day. Yet they never took themselves too seriously, which is something few modern musicians and bands can claim. In addition to the music, they also brought a myriad of emotions to their songs. There was a strong sense of irony and humor in their music, but even when the songs were sad and serious, the emotions seemed genuine rather than forced.

To me, the Beatles were the true kings of rock and roll. As much as it shames me to admit this, when Elvis Presley died, I had no idea who he was. I remember thinking my mother should know. I asked her, “Mom, who’s Elvis?” She was horrified. Mom and Dad both wondered where they’d gone wrong. However, when John Lennon was assassinated, I felt despair. I KNEW who the Beatles were. I was a freshman in high school at the time of Lennon’s death. Half of my schoolmates wore black armbands to school that week. There was speculation that Lennon’s death would trigger the “end of an era,” and that the Beatles’ music would fade into obscurity. Obviously, that didn’t happen. The Beatles are now more popular than EVER.

Now the entire Beatles catalog has been digitally remastered for modern sound quality. I haven’t heard any of the remastered albums yet, but you can bet I’ll acquire them just as soon as I am able. Stereo or Mono? Oooooh, decisions, decisions. I already have a pretty good idea of how the stereo versions will sound, though.

Two summers ago, I saw Cirque du Soleil’s show “Love” in Las Vegas -- Cirque’s Beatles show. At the time, the show had only been out a month, but with a little help from my friends, Mr. Sea and I were able to get tickets. I was totally blown away not only by Cirque's astonishing and beautiful tribute to the Beatles, but also by the soundtrack of remixed Beatles recordings. I'd had the songs memorized since childhood, and I was a bit worried about how they would be presented in the Cirque show, but I shouldn't have doubted the mixing talents of Giles and George Martin, or the input and approval from the Beatles and their estates. From the opening a capella version of “Because,” I was transfixed by the music -- familiar but amazingly clear. The vocals and instrumentation were of such high clarity, and some of the reinvented tracks were so gorgeous, I actually had tears of joy in my eyes a couple of times during the performance. My only complaint at the time was that the soundtrack wasn't available for sale after the show!

When the soundtrack finally WAS available, months later, it was as beautiful, sumptuous, and clear as I remembered. No, it doesn't take the place of the Beatles' original recordings -- heavens, no -- but as a nonstop montage of the sheer artistry and talent of the Beatles AND of the Martins, it can't be beat. If the remastered Beatles albums sound anything like “Love,” they will sound wondrous indeed -– like sitting in the actual studio with the Beatles while they were recording.

I still intend to keep my old set of CDs, though, just to remind myself of how the Beatles recordings originally sounded on CD. And my dad still has his old, original Beatles LPs, if I ever want to remind myself of how the Beatles REALLY, originally sounded – still revolutionary for their time, though it’s safe to say that the music itself has transcended that time.

I'll still be listening to this stuff when I'm 64. It’s getting better all the time!

“Can’t Buy Me Love,” from the classic Beatles movie, A Hard Day’s Night (1964):

From The Yellow Submarine (1968): The Beatles and “Jeremy Hillary Boob, Phud (PhD)” searching the Sea of Holes for the entrance to the SEA of GREEN:

Batman addresses the old "Paul is Dead" conspiracy theory in Batman #222 (1970):