Today I’d like to talk about one of my favorite comic book characters: Superman!!
Just kidding. Although I’ve got plenty to say about Superman, I’d actually like to talk about Green Lantern. More specifically, I’d like to talk about the Silver Age Green Lantern, Hal Jordan.
Hal was created following the successful rebooting of The Flash in 1956. Instead of focusing on the “magical” aspect of his powers like his predecessor Alan Scott, Hal’s story had a much stronger sci-fi bent. Instead of coming from an ancient, mystical lamp, Jordan was given his powers from a dying alien named Abin Sur. Over time this story developed to the point where Hal Jordan was just one of many thousands of “Green Lanterns” patrolling the stars.
This is one of the more divisive characters in the DC Universe. I’ve heard criticisms of Hal ranging from accusations of him being bland and wooden, to complaints that he hogs the spotlight from more interesting Lanterns, to fans whinging that he’s just not as relatable as his successor, Kyle Rayner.
Before I go any further, let me just say I’m not defending Hal Jordan as a character. I’m not saying these complaints are invalid. I just want to state my own opinion of the character, which I’ve drawn up after years of comic book reading.
I don’t think Hal is a horrible character. In fact, I don’t think he’s a bad character at all, he’s quite good actually. But then again, I don’t think he’s the greatest thing to be invented since sliced bread either. I think he serves his purpose very well, and that’s just great.
But let me explain that in a little more detail.
Hal Jordan is not your typical “neutral everyman,” popularized by Marvel Comics’ Peter Parker. He doesn’t have an average job, because he’s just not an average Joe. In fact, the whole purpose of the character is to show the audience a man who was special enough to be chosen as an intergalactic space ranger. He’s brave, he’s bold — he’s fearless.
He’s also pretty bland. Yep. Those people who accuse Hal of having the personality of a cardboard box? Well, they’re not wrong. He’s a white male with brown hair and brown eyes, good-looking in a rugged movie star kind of way. Out of costume, there is hardly anything defining about his appearance, besides maybe his signature bomber jacket.
But what most naysayers fail to realize is that this, also, is an important part of Hal’s character.
Let me draw up a classic movie example to help me explain this. In Steven Spielberg’s classic adventure film Raiders of the Lost Ark, Harrison Ford was the director’s initial choice for the lead role of Indiana Jones. He wanted someone rugged and virile enough for the character’s swashbuckling style, but more importantly, he felt Ford brought an undercurrent of normal-guy relatable-ness to the character. What was important was that the audience could project themselves onto Indy without much trouble — despite his lightning-quick wits and intrepid curiosity, “He could be anyone with that whip and hat.”
And that’s part of why Hal Jordan works so well. Sure, he’s got a dangerous job as a fighter pilot. It’s not something we can relate to — but damn, wouldn’t it be cool if we could have that job?
By being able to project yourself onto the character, you subconsciously immerse yourself in the story even further. Who says Hal Jordan has to be brimming with psychological pathos like Bruce Wayne? He’s a space ranger, dammit, that’s just not necessary. His adventures are full of action and excitement, not gloomy brooding.
What I really want to say is this: Hal Jordan is the cop, the cowboy, the swashbuckling archetypal action-hero. And that’s all he needs to be, because hey — if you don’t like him, there are dozens of other Green Lanterns to choose from. There’s Kilowog, the bruiser with a heart of gold. There’s Guy Gardner, the jerkass who everyone loves to hate. There’s John Stewart, probably the most cerebral of the Earth Lanterns with his military background and self-destructive anger.
And hey, there’s even Kyle Rayner, the mild-mannered everyman.
These characters all work fine on their own, but in my opinion Hal Jordan is the glue that holds them together.