"Welcome to the Green Lantern at 50 panel, which is really the Hal Jordan at 50 panel," said moderator and former DC Comics editor Robert Greenberger to the veritable corps of fans at last weekend's New York Comic Con.
Echoing the lax promotion that became conspicuous in the wake of "The Sinestro Corps War's" tremendous success, the powers-that-be also failed to anticipate fan interest in the only Green Lantern event of NYCC, and booked the panel in one of the con's smallest meeting rooms. Hundreds of "Green Lantern" readers lined up well in advance of the panel, and NYCC officials scrambled to find other accommodations. With the clock ticking, the decision was made to cram as many attendees into the meeting room as could fit, fire regulations be damned!
Fans finally seated on chairs, carpet and leaning against the walls, panelists Len Wein, Joe Station, Geoff Johns and Marv Wolfman began their discussion of the life and times of Hal Jordan, beginning with when and where they each encountered the character for the first time. "'Showcase' #22, the very first appearance," said Marv Wolfman, who wrote "Green Lantern" in th 1980s. "Hal Jordan was a hero in his own right. He was a pilot, and I'd never seen a character [with powers like his], plus the science fiction aspects of it were in no other comic book at that time. It was just great."
Current GL mastermind Geoff Johns couldn't specifically identify the first Hal Jordan comic book he read, only that it was of the Silver Age variety and it depicted Hal selling power rings on the street. "It wasn't a great idea," said Johns. "But I just liked the character and I liked the aliens. But really I think I liked him from 'Super Friends.' He had a real dark tan. He had a deep voice and he kind of kicked ass."
Artist Joe Staton has an auspicious career with Green Lantern, having drawn "Green Lantern," "Green Lantern Corps," "The New Guardians" and "Guy Gardner." The venerable illustrator told the New York crowd he was a Green Lantern fan before there was a Green Lantern. "I was a really a big Julie Schwartz science fiction comics fan," Staton said, referencing the legendary DC Comics editor who oversaw the creation of Jordan as well as Barry Allen, The Flash. "When Hal Jordan showed up, I bought 'Showcase' off the stands and it was the Julie Schartz science fiction character I had been waiting for."
"There was something about the look of the character, something very sleek and modern and futuristic," said Len Wein, who wrote the "Green Lantern" title in the 1980s. "You didn't get that from many characters. [Co-creator] Gil Kane was one of the major reasons the character succeeded."
Greenberger invited the panelists to opine on the subject of Hal Jordan's enduring popularity, but Staton rightly observed that strictly speaking, Jordan hasn't truly survived the last fifty years. "There were periods where someone felt another character or another point of view might be better serving the character," the artist said.
"I think Hal is the greatest Green Lantern," said Wolfman. "But every generation is owed its own version of the character. And I think there's something about starting where we started with Hal Jordan that will always make him Green Lantern [to us]."
Wolfman continued, "There are two characters in the DC Universe who were born to be heroes: Clark Kent and Hal Jordan. There's just something about who they were, it had nothing to do with super powers. I always said Clark Kent was Superman not because he could bend steel, but because he was raised by the two most decent people on Earth. [Similarly,] Hal is a hero. I think that's one of the great appeals of the character."
"I like him because it's all about overcoming fear," added Johns. "It's something everybody can relate to. It's this guy who's gone through all this stuff and fear doesn't bother him. He knows he can push past it. I think that's something that's very important for all of us today, because fear is all the news pumps out at you; we're always in a constant state of fear. And fear doesn't even exist, you can't measure it, so I love a character who can overcome fear and jump off airplanes and fight Manhunters and stuff like that."
"Absolutely," Wolfman agreed. "There's no difference between Hal Jordan and Green Lantern, as there is with every other superhero who has a secret identity. They always create a persona. Hal is a test pilot who is willing to risk his life. Green Lantern certainly does with what he does. I think the fact that they are one in the same, as opposed to two different characters, makes Hal a stronger character. He's not pretending to be the weak Clark Kent or a playboy or something other than what he actually is."
Greenberger observed that though a righteous hero, Hal Jordan is still famous for questioning authority. "He was the first Green Lantern to challenge the Guardians, all the way back to 'Green Lantern' #40, when he got the secret of Krona revealed, and he's challenged that authority ever since," Greenberger explained. "Does that quality make somebody a Green Lantern?"
Geoff Johns addressed just that in his recent "Secret Origin" arc of "Green Lantern." The writer explained, "Hal argues with the Guardians and they look at each other and say, 'What's he doing? He's talking back?" No one's ever talked back to the Guardians. I just really love that idea. Hal's not stupid about challenging authority, but he knows what he needs to do and wants to do, and he doesn't let anybody get in his way."
With Green Lantern, artist Gil Kane created one of the most visually distinctive superheroes. Staton addressed the late illustrator's contributions to superhero storytelling, identifying specifically what Staton calls the "physicality of flight." "Hal throws himself into the air. He surfs on wind currents. The ring propels him. It's his body in the universe. It's not like magic. His muscles are relating to the air. Gil gave him that physicality from the beginning. I think the nature of Green Lantern's flight has really defined him from those first few issues."
Greenberger asked the panelists to name their favorite supporting players of the Green Lantern mythos. "I always liked Arisia," Wein said. "She's charming and sweet and it was always fun to write a little teenage Green Lantern with a crush on Hal."
Staton agreed. "I always enjoyed Arisia teamed with Kilowog. I love the big lumpy alien guy and the really cute, brave, sweet teenage girl. I really love that juxtaposition. Those two are my favorites."
"I like Sinestro quite a bit," Johns said to a sizeable applause.
"I really love what Alan Moore did with Mogo," added Wolfman. "I think that was one of the wackiest concepts ever and I just love it."
Greenberger then turned the conversation to the lovelife of Hal Jordan, prompting Staton to remark, "I really think somebody should be working on a miniseries, 'The Many Loves of Hal Jordan.' There really have been like five or six love interests for Hal. They all end badly."
Indeed, "Hal was very unlucky at love," Greenberger said. "But he also kept circling back to Carol Ferris. What is it about that relationship that is fun for writers to work with?"
"There's always something about your first love, and you never really get over your first love," Wein explained. "It comes back to us. Who was the first woman that we knew Hal was involved with? Carol has a special place in our hearts. You want it to work. One of my great secrets is that I watch soap operas -"
"It's true, when he was on staff at DC, he had a TV and he watched soap operas," Staton confirmed.
"If the reception was bad, he'd have people act it out for him," Wolfman laughed. "It was really weird!"
"There is that soap opera quality," Wein continued. "You always want [Hal and Carol] to get together. Once they do, it will be terribly boring, but it's the journey that's fascinating; the effort to get to the place."
At the time of his creation, Hal Jordan was unique among the DC superheroes partly because he belonged to the Green Lantern Corps, which also facilitated a cosmic style of storytelling. "He's Earthbound to some degree - you do the human interest stories on Earth," Wolfman explained. "But then I like to mix things up and when you send someone into space, you could stories, at least back then, stories that weren't being done elsewhere.
"He's also part of something bigger. He's not alone. He may be the best of them, but he's part of this huge group and I think there's something really interesting about that that wasn't tapped for many, many years. They touched on it, but that was such an experiment on its own, to have a hero who was part of a group. And the last fifteen years or so, they've really built off of that and made the Guardians and the Corps as vital as Hal himself. It's a great setup and a brilliant construct for a series."
Indeed, the mythology of the Green Lantern Corps itself has been one of the driving forces behind Geoff Johns' success with the "Green Lantern" title, which has seen the introduction of new corps and colors. "That just came simply from trying to figure out 'Rebirth,'" Johns explained. "When I was going to bring Hal Jordan back [from the dead], there were two things I could do. I could have him come back with the guilt of going crazy and killing all these people, or have him come back with something that had pushed him to the edge to do that. I felt that Hal Jordan, just who he is, would never go crazy and act like that. And I also didn't want to write a series about a guy trying to make up for killing a lot of Green Lanterns, it just didn't appeal to me at all.
"So I sat there and thought about what would be Hal Jordan's one weakness, and it was that he let fear take him over. He gave into fear, metaphorically and physically. And then from there I started looking at all the different parts of the Green Lantern mythology; the yellow impurity, which was never really explained. But yellow is the color of fear, it just is. So it started to roll from there. I said. 'Well, yellow is fear and green is willpower, then I started to think about what if I can tap into something bigger. That's when I came up with the whole spectrum."
Robert Greenberger took the occasion of Hal Jordan's fiftieth birthday to call out Len Wein, who in his run set Jordan aside in favor of Green Lantern John Stewart. "I'd written GL before. I always loved writing the character. But when I took over the book, I don't know where I was in my life or whatever, but I discovered as I started writing it that I wasn't enjoying it," Wein explained. "I went to Marv and said. 'I'm having a little trouble writing Hal Jordan. What should I do?' And he said, 'Well, get rid of him!'"
"You're trying to get me in trouble!" Wolfman cried.
"It was your suggestion but my idea," Wein answered. "Using John as GL, I could do things I couldn't really do with Hal. It was just a different arena to play in."
Greenberger then turned the floor over to the many fans in attendance. The first question asked was about the Green Lanterns' all but limitless power. "What do you do to not end a story with putting a giant green band-aid on the problem and going home. How do you keep it interesting with a character so powerful?"
"You have to create problems that are bigger than him," Wein said.
Wolfman added, "He's only a human being, so there are limitations to how fast he can think. There are a lot of ways to do that, but the one thing you don't want to do is just rely on the ring. You want to make Hal or whoever it is be interesting without the ring as well as with the ring. If the ring is solely the band-aid or the deus ex machina at the end of the story, you lose interest right away. You develop your character and you develop problems specifically for them."
Another fan asked about the dark times referenced earlier by Johns, when Jordan, driven to madness by the destruction of his hometown, murdered numerous Green Lanterns, destroyed the Corps and tried to rebuild the universe as he saw fit. In the process, graphic artist Kyle Raynor became the last Green Lantern.
"How did the character's evolution bring us to Hal becoming so unbelievably murderous?" the fan asked. "How did they make the decision to basically do away with this great character?"
"I think we're all treading on thin ice here," Wein said. "Let's say it was stupid, and leave it at that."
Greenberger elaborated. "Editorially, it was decided the book's sales weren't quite what they wanted it to be and they weren't having fun with Hal Jordan. They decided to change what GL was and decided to do it in such a way where he became murderous. But they were a series of editorial decisions that were, in hindsight, clearly not the right ones.
"On the other hand, there are just as many people who love Kyle Raynor that love Hal Jordan. Because it's their generation's Green Lantern."
"That's not to put down Kyle," Wolfman added. "I think what we're talking about is the decision to turn Hal Jordan into a murderer. Kyle's a fun character on his own and they've done some really interesting things with him. In that particular case, I think, the early '90s was a time where everybody was writing these characters as incredibly depressing. They mistook in many ways what Alan Moore and Frank Miller did on 'Watchmen' and 'Dark Knight' -- which seemed very dark of course but really had very positive attitudes toward the characters, but were just done in a different style -- some people took it to be very dark stories about the characters. Hal was 100% out of character and that's why people rebelled. It's not that it was a bad story, but it's completely wrong for that character. For another character, it would have been fine.
"The way Geoff went about fixing it by saying he was possessed [by Parrallax] was a very simplified and great way. He said, 'It's not Hal Jordan. Hal Jordan is not that type of character. That way he didn't have to apologize for the rest of his career. That was somebody else."
Another fan asked about Geoff Johns' Sinestro Corps, and why previous writers hadn't introduced something similar. "Have any of you thought of doing something like that?" was the question.
"No," was Marv Wolfman's answer, which was met with great laughter from his colleagues and fans. "That's why what Geoff is doing is so amazing. As a writer, what your really appreciate is when you read something and you go, 'Damn, why didn't I think of that?' That's what Geoff did. He's doing great stuff with that."
The subject of Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams' hugely acclaimed, socially conscious Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories was broached, and one fan asked whether DC should return to that style of storytelling. "It's a different world," Len Wein said. "Back in the '70s, everyone was protesting, everyone was focused on that. The world is less focused on that today - not that they should be less focused, but they are. I think that if you keep beating the same drum, creatively, you don't get anywhere."
Marv Wolfman felt more strongly. "It became a cause-of-the-month book. You can't keep your ire up that long on a book like that," he said. "Green Lantern's a great science fiction concept and to become a cause-of-the-month book, I think, is wrong. I've always had a problem with that type of thing. I think you can do it sparingly. You have more power if you do one story here and eight months later you do another story. Then, a year-and-a-half later, you do another one. That develops a character, rather than saying, suddenly, 'I'm going to worry about every little thing.'
"This is not a put down of that material whatsoever, but I had a problem when that guy came up to Hal and said to him, 'When are you going to save me?' If I were writing that particular issue, I would have had him say, 'I've saved this planet seventeen thousands times already. I've saved everyone. I wasn't basing it on color, I wasn't basing it on race, I wasn't basing it on gender. I was helping everybody.'"
"What you have to understand, from a historical standpoint, is from 1969-1970, you had a brand new generation of writers taking on the core characters," Greenberger explained. "They were younger and therefore bringing different sensibilities to the storytelling, including their own sense of social unrest that really marked the latter half of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s. And that seeped into the stories. Just as in the 1990s, when we had the grim and gritty stuff, we had the relevance books at DC and at Marvel that tackled the topics of the day because they suddenly could, and they got away with it and they got some headlines and the publishers were encouraging it. But it burned itself out because you can't sustain that on a regular basis."
Wolfman concluded the panel by invoking the memories of pioneering Green Lantern creators who're no longer with us. "Gil Kane was my favorite artist growing up. And two people who we would not be here if wasn't because of are Julie Schwartz and John Broome. Julie wanted to bring back some glitz to the material, and John Broome violated in many ways what was done at DC at the time, writing both 'The Flash' and 'Green Lantern' from the characters' points of view. Those were not plot-driven books, those were character-driven books. That's why I think we like Hal fifty years later. John Broome was my favorite writer growing up, him and Stan Lee, but John Broome's humanity of both Barry Allen and Ha Jordan is what made those two standout from all the other comics that were out at the time. And Julie's adherence to real science fiction principles in 'Green Lantern' is why that character just expanded the imagination so much. No character was like that previously. Those two people were so vital. And Gil's interpretation was just magnificent."
And finally, Wolfman said, "I want to acknowledge Martin Nodell, who came up with the concept of Green Lantern. Martin was inspired by seeing a trainman with a lantern and extrapolated that to Aladdin's lamp and the lantern and its magical properties. He was inspired one way, and Julie was inspired in another way. Martin got this whole thing started, for which we thank him."