Lessons Learned from the Silver Age Green Lantern

Silver Age comics care more about fun than common sense. While storytelling has evolved significantly since the 1960s, the sheer goofiness of classic comics has a certain charm that can’t be replicated. And there is perhaps no character with more potential for goofiness than Hal Jordan, the Silver Age Green Lantern. With a magic ring that can allow him to do anything, he is only limited by his common sense…or lack thereof.

As a kid, I loved Hal Jordan because he had a cool costume. As an adult, I love him because he is such a nimrod. Brave, noble, and dumb as a post, he is perhaps the perfect Silver Age superhero.

Hal Jordan’s Origin Story is an Enduring Classic

Most superheroes have had their origins updated as the years went by. Hal’s has stayed almost the exact same: Green Lantern Abin Sur is dying and sends his ring out to find a man of virtue who is totally without fear. The ring picks test pilot Hal Jordan, and the rest is history.

In every retelling of Hal’s origin story since, this scenario has remained the same, which is a sign that the origin is a very good one right out the gate. Sure, there have been a few addendums, such as Guy Gardner also being found by the ring but Hal being chosen because he was closer to Abin Sur or the makeover that Geoff Johns has given Hal in his pre-ringbearing days. But the details of the origin itself remain almost entirely unchanged. Compare that to the Hulk, whose origin has been altered in such ways as to make the gray Hulk a childlike dullard and to add Skrulls behind the scenes, or Superman, whose origin has been retold constantly with details about whether he was born on Krypton, how much he knew about his home planet, and whether the Kents legally adopted him constantly in flux.

John Broome Knew from the Start that the Green Lantern Oath is Awesome

There are a lot of redundancies in the early comics, mostly because readers weren’t expected to stay on for multiple issues at once. So once an issue, writer John Broome would give readers a reminder of the important parts of the Green Lantern mythos: that he has to recharge the ring every 24 hours, that he can’t affect anything yellow, and that his would-be girlfriend Carol Ferris is his boss. All of these are eye-rollingly obnoxious at times, except for the Green Lantern oath, which is repeated at least once an issue and never gets old.

One story even has a buildup to the oath, with Hall unsuccessfully starting it and then being interrupted before finally getting to recite it at the story’s conclusion. The Green Lantern oath is just badass, no matter what. Broome knew that from the get-go and was wise to put it in every single issue, sometimes multiple times per issue.

Hal Jordan is Endearingly Stupid

There are a lot of heroes who are paragons of responsibility and determination. Hal Jordan is not one of those. It’s actually quite refreshing for the era. Silver Age Superman, for example, was an obnoxious know-it-all who went to extreme lengths to teach “lessons” to puny humans that were really morally horrifying when you think of it. Hal, on the other hand, was what you would expect from a guy who was just given a magical ring that can do anything: he has fun but doesn’t do a lot of thinking about it.

Hal is not a smart man, but he makes up for that in enthusiasm and good intentions. He constantly forgets that his ring can’t affect yellow despite that being his one weakness. He takes orders from a talking lantern without questioning who might be controlling it. The most endearingly buffoonish aspect of Hal, though, is his love life…

Hal Secretly Torpedoes His Own Love Life

I thought that Geoff Johns making Hal something of a womanizer was an invention of the modern era. In reality, Hal was always macking on the ladies. Once he achieves fame as the Green Lantern, he uses his celebrity status to date starlets and hit the town when he’s not fighting crime. At the same time, he pines for one particular woman, Carol Ferris, who he had a good relationship with before she suddenly became an ice queen due to being promoted to Hal’s boss. Naturally, Carol has a crush on Green Lantern, a fact that Hal laments constantly. Originally, he claims that he can’t let Carol know his secret identity because then his enemies would go after her. That’s a lame excuse, because the first time Hal meets Carol as Green Lantern, it’s in a public place and he immediately not only dances with her but also makes out with her in public. If I’m an enemy of the Green Lantern’s and I’m making a list of people who I want to attack to get at him, I think the first person I’d go after is the woman who he is seen in public with multiple times, who runs the airstrip that the Green Lantern is constantly flying around, and who is constantly making out with the hero like they’re high schoolers at a prom.

Later, Hal’s reasoning changes to the fact that he wants to be with Carol but that he wants her to fall in love with him as Hal Jordan, not as Green Lantern. I understand this motivation a bit more, but I also can’t help but feel that maybe Hal would have more luck with this idea if he wasn’t constantly flirting with Carol as the Green Lantern. Oh, and there’s also the fact that Carol was clearly romantically interested in Hal before the Green Lantern showed up. I think Hal just likes the extra drama in his life.

Green Lantern Comics were Progressive…for the Era

Hal Jordan made his first appearance in 1959 with Showcase #22, and the comics didn’t shy away from putting women in positions of authority. Right from the beginning, Carol inherited the business that employed Hal and served as his boss, with her father noting that she is just as capable as any man would be in the position.

Similarly, the comics had some non-white representation that wasn’t a caricature, which was notable when compared to other comics of the era. Hal’s friend and mechanic, Tom Kalmaku, was an Inuit who took all of one issue to figure out Green Lantern’s secret identity. As he aided Hal in his adventures, he proved to be smart, courageous, and capable.

Unfortunately, both pieces of progressive representation come with “but”s. Carol’s role as Hal’s boss was largely used as a way to force some drama into what would otherwise be a straightforward romance. In many ways, she remained pegged in her role as the female romantic interest, albeit with more power in the relationship than most women of the era got. Tom, while not usually treating with overtly racist overtones, was nicknamed “Pieface” after Eskimo pies. What was intended an endearing nickname of the era is downright cringey and disrespectful in retrospect.

So, Green Lantern comics had the hints of progressiveness in them. However, such hints still bring some winces when viewed sixty years later.

Carol Ferris is Attention Starved

After kissing Green Lantern for the first time, Carol gets enraged when the superhero flies off and leaves her in a lurch. As it turns out, Hal saw a missile about to hit a building and had to stop it from hitting its target in the middle of the city. Even when this fact comes to light, Carol is still pissed at Green Lantern because he should have had his eyes closed when he kissed her and thus not noticed the missile.

So to sum up: Carol would have preferred to see a skyscraper blown up, a city left devastated, and hundreds of people killed, because that would have meant that Green Lantern was really into their kiss.

When the Chips are Down, Hal will Create a Giant Green Monster to Destroy Coast City

As Green Lantern, Hal is desperate to avoid marrying Carol. Apparently, just saying, “No” to her is too simple. Instead, he comes up with elaborate ways to avoid the commitment. One comic takes place during Leap Year, when women are expected to propose to men (an old tradition I had personally never heard of). To keep Carol from asking him, Hal uses his ring to create a giant monster he has to fight. Unfortunately, after creating it, Hal gets hit in the head by a model airplane and knocked out. (This begins a long tradition of Hal getting smacked in the head and knocked out by almost every object in existence.)

The monster, rather than disappear, winds up rampaging through Coast City, although more in confusion than malice. It ultimately heads toward an atomic pile, where it could cause a devastating explosion. In the nick of time, Green Lantern shows up to dissolve the creature into goo and save the day. He receives honors from the mayor for this deed, but is at least good enough to mention that he’s going to repair the damage he wound up causing. Our hero, ladies and gentlemen: a guy who is so petrified by the prospect of marriage that he will accidentally destroy a city to keep it from happening.

I should also note that Carol’s immediate reaction to seeing a fifty-foot tall green monster is to ignore it and continue her proposal to Green Lantern. Y’know, because Carol Ferris is starved for attention.

Images: DC Comics


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