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GRU’S CLUES: Why do people like Hal Jordan?

Getting to the bottom of the appeal of the most boring Green Lantern of them all.

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The Beat’s Managing Editor, Joe Grunenwald, is generally inclined to like things, so when he doesn’t it really vexes him. In Gru’s Clues, Joe tries to get to the bottom of something he’s not into and figure out what about that thing does not connect with him. Or maybe he does something entirely different! Who knows? Gru knows?
BATMAN & SUPERMAN: WORLD’S FINEST #4 cover by Dan Mora.

A few weeks ago, DC Comics released a cover image for an upcoming issue of Batman & Superman: World’s Finest. The art by Dan Mora features Superman and Batman in the foreground and Green Lantern Hal Jordan in the background. Mora is a great artist, and I joked with my fellow DC Comics reviewer pals that I was “Mad at Dan Mora for making me think Hal Jordan looks cool.” And truly, we should all be mad about that.

Because Hal Jordan is the worst Green Lantern.

Okay, let me back up, that might not be fair.

Hal Jordan is the worst Green Lantern compared to all the other Green Lanterns.

I know there are a lot of people who really like Hal Jordan. Some of those people even famously banded together to harass DC Comics writers and editors back in the ‘90s. I expect that some of those people might pop up here in the comments to tell me how wrong I am.

Welcome, H.E.A.T.ers! Please explain yourselves to me! Why do you like Hal Jordan so much that you would send someone death threats over how they’re treated in a comic? What about the character is compelling to you?

I am a thirty-nine-year-old man who grew up reading comics in the ‘90s. Maybe I met Hal Jordan when he was on his downswing? Hal with his graying temples and a bunch of more interesting characters around him. Guy Gardner has a personality. John Stewart has a personality. Hal Jordan has never struck me as Mr. Personality. He works for a bunch of little blue guys and they tell him what to do and, for the most part, he does it. It also may not have helped that Hal’s adventures were being written by someone who would turn out to be a literal monster.

You know when Hal Jordan became interesting to me?

From GREEN LANTERN #50, by Darryl Banks & Romeo Tanghal.

Emerald Twilight. When he became Parallax.

For as long as I’ve been reading comics, Hal Jordan has been hailed as ‘the greatest Green Lantern’. He’s the Green Lantern who can do no wrong, to the point that when he does do something wrong it gets retconned away that he was actually possessed by a yellow fear demon. 

The greatest Green Lantern becoming a villain? Completely rewriting the rules of what it means to be a Green Lantern? But still believing in his heart of hearts that he can fix things if he’s just given the chance? That is interesting. That’s a compelling hook for a character.

Hal Jordan was never more interesting to me than when he was either Parallax – a villain who thinks he’s just a misunderstood hero – or The Spectre – a hero trying to atone for the sins of his past.

I don’t really have a favorite Green Lantern, but if I did it would probably be Kyle Rayner, an everyman who came into possession of the most powerful weapon in the universe and made it his own. He’s a character with trackable development over a number of years, both in the pages of his own series by Ron Marz and Darryl Banks and also in writer Grant Morrison’s greatest Green Lantern run, JLA.

Hal Jordan was a test pilot who was gifted a power ring because he was the best. He was already Green Lantern before he ever got the ring. Kyle Rayner had to earn it. He had to overcome his fear and his doubt, and there was a steep learning curve to get there, including a company-wide event that thrust him into a starring role mere months after his introduction.

I should be clear: I want to like Hal Jordan. I read Green Lantern: Rebirth and the first dozen or so issues of the 2005 Green Lantern ongoing series hoping that things might be different. Maybe now that he had more of an interesting past, Geoff Johns (the writer who had made Hal The Spectre in 1999’s Day of Judgment) could do something meaningful with the character. I wanted to read about a hero trying to earn back the trust of everyone around him.

THE SPECTRE (2001) #1 cover art by Ryan Sook

Aside from his interactions with Batman, who famously at the time trusted no one anyway, there was none of that. Hal was back and he was back to being the best, no questions asked. Parallax was just a fluke. His time as The Spectre was ignored. The gray in his temples was even gone, that’s how perfect he was/is.

When’s someone going to do something good with this character? Is the core conceit of the character flawed? Or am I just missing the inherent thing that makes him great?

I implore you, dear reader, please explain it to me.

Or maybe Mark Waid, Dan Mora, Tamra Bonvillain, and Aditya Bidikar will be able to finally show me in that upcoming issue of World’s Finest. That cover almost made me a believer, after all. Still a little salty about that.

How wrong is Joe? Yell at him in the comments!

25 COMMENTS

  1. Aw come on Joe, a person can like Kyle AND Hal. I think of the two I do prefer Kyle, but I was reading about Hal for years before Kyle came along and he wasn’t a perfect, boring hero. You say yourself, you’ve not read any Hal as GL before the Nineties; why not go back and read some Silver Age stuff, see his ingenuity? Or the Bronze Age Marv Wolfman and Len Wein runs, when he was very human? This modern received wisdom that Hal is a bore and always was is kinda lazy.

  2. I always interpreted Hal Jordan as Captain Kirk; a devil-may-care adventurer who always finds a way to win. He’s sure of himself and doesn’t believe in the no-win situation. It makes sense to me since both characters were born out of the 60s American optimism and sci-fi tropes.

    Not to say that is always how he is portrayed. I agree that his appeal was flat in the 80s and early 90s, because no one was sure what to do with him AND there were these other interesting characters around – Guy Gardner and John Stewart (not to mention all the other members of the Corps).

    Perhaps this flatness was a biproduct of his quitting the Corps and being replaced by John. When he rejoined the Corps in the aftermath of Crisis, it was already too late. John, Guy, Kilowog and all the rest had come in and usurped his spot as top dog. Much like Wally succeeded Barry over in the Flash, Hal was being replaced too, he just wasn’t dead yet.

    The reason he became a villain in the 90s is because they needed something interesting to do with him. It wasn’t even the original storyline (It was rewritten even after the solicitations were released). That storyline – where the Corps was realigned and Sinestro was put in charge – was deemed not radical enough in the “big shoulder pads and pockets” world of Cable and Spawn. Hal was too passe.

    Once he was revived by Johns, it was all about the grand spectacle of rebuilding the Lantern franchise (whatever color you may choose). I liked this phase of Hal, but it wasn’t really about Hal. It was about what the next beat was, what the next surprise was, what the next grand introduction was going to be. Not an indictment of the storytelling, just an observation as to what it was.

    Two stories I would recommend with Hal in them that aren’t just him are DC: New Frontier and JLA: Year One.

  3. You don’t read the comics.
    Typical activist.

    First off let me be clear….Kyle Rayner is a great character. In fact he’s the only GOOD Lantern other than Hal. His importance within the mythos may not be as great/the same but he. Is. Still. Important. You can like him AND Hal In fact a lot of FANS do. But let me repeat FANS of the character who aren’t racially motivated.

    Do you know what is the problem with Green Lantern right now? It isn’t Hal. It’s the fact that over the years this character has become a dump for “diversity” and a thin veilled attempt at inclusion. Why do we have so many Earth Lanterns at the expense of the lore? Because giving minorities a ring is easier than making them original characters like Black Lightning or Vixen.

    Now moving into Hal specifically. He’s naturally the heart and soul of the mythos. He is the original just as much as Johnny Blaze is to Ghost Rider. 99.9% of the villains are his except for the few that are Kyle’s. The problem people like YOU have though is that he doesn’t check off a box. He’s just a “generic white dude” as so many of you chuckleheads like to point out. I mean seriously you think John is better? His personality is so bland. Right now he’s trying to Replace Hal as the face of the franchise
    and, guess what, the current run SUCKS.

    Lastly let’s talk about Emerald Twilight. That whole storyline was character assassination and, yes, it gave way to Kyle but it also drastically nuked the character. That’s why we got H.E.A.T. (Something that btw is in the past) . How else do you think pissing off a fandom is gonna go? They could do it to any other popular character and it’d be the same. And eventually sales dropped and they NEEDED Hal to come back and it brought about one of the most successful runs in GL history while fixing the character assassination that was dealt to Hal by, yes, coming up with the very ingenious way to also explain why the hell GL was always weak to the color yellow

    So all in all pick up a comic, stop being a bigot, and either say something good about Hal or just shut up.

  4. And you know what the funny part is? You bitch about Hal being perfect but he isn’t. It’s his struggles he had Before the ring that make him so compelling and makes you want to root for him. Secret Origin does this very well. So it’s opposite. Hal Jordan is NOT perfect. He’s been called a screw up multiple times in fact lol. He actually more of the every man more than Kyle (which isn’t a dig at him btw) but it’s true. So really that line, “He was a Green Lantern before he got the ring” is more misinformation. He had to earn it just like Kyle.

  5. Hal is the most interesting green lantern and the greatest. He has an amazing personality. Idk how people say he’s boring. I genuinely don’t think they’ve read a Hal book if they think that. He’s by far the best green lantern. If you don’t think so you must have not watched green lantern the animated series or read Geoff Johns gl run and blackest night. Most people hate on Hal bec they are envious that he is more popular then their favorite lantern. Hal has made green lantern a house hold name and in 2010 with blackest Night made gl be a top selling book. Hal Jordan is amazing!

  6. Your also saying Sinestro, Atrocitus, Black Hand, Star Sapphire, Hector Hammond, Doctor Polaris, etc. are all boring…
    Just to be clear ‍♂️ Though I’m sure you would be fine with John or even Kyle stealing all of his villains and not just that. The reason they made John a marine was because they wanted to make him more interesting and decided to use Hal as a blue print hence making him militaristic. Also Can’t forget the N52 when Kyle stole his girl…
    I’m not mentioning Guy because really you either hate him or just don’t give a fuck about him unless your trying to downplay Hal and THEN he is brought up as good

  7. Not everyone is drawn to the Marvel style heroes with all the flaws (not that Hal is perfect) and the sharp learning curve. Sometimes you want the best of the best. People like Hal for the same reason kids used to worship astronauts and pilots like Chuck Yeager.

    Hal didn’t become who he is because of his powers. He got his powers because of who he is. Hal Jordan in of himself is an inspirational and heroic figure: a fearless and altruistic test pilot who thrives on pressure rises above any adversity with an indomitable will.

    Asking why people like Hal is like asking why people like Captain Kirk, James Bond, Ethan Hunt, or Indiana Jones. If you can’t appreciate or “relate” to heroes in that mold, that’s on you.

    Hal is better than you. He’s better than me. That’s why the ring chose him and why they shouldn’t be doled out to any old character. That’s part of why we love Hal Jordan.

  8. Personally, I find Hal most interesting when he’s paired with others, like his and Ollie’s “Hard Traveling Heroes” years. Hal is Mr. Law & Order, questioning authority only when something inconveniences or vexes him personally. He’s the safest possible character trope for a superhero, so when you juxtapose him with a leftie hero with no powers, cosmic socialism, or some other narrative that creates conflict, that’s where he becomes interesting. But ultimately, I agree – Hal’s pretty boring.

  9. I’m editing previous comment.

    It’s funny you bitch about Hal being perfect but he isn’t. It’s his struggles he had Before the ring that make him so compelling and makes you want to root for him. Secret Origin does this very well. So it’s opposite. Hal Jordan is NOT perfect. He’s been called a screw up multiple times in fact lol. He actually more of the every man more than Kyle (which isn’t a dig at him btw) but it’s true. Your really no different from any other activist I’ve met and it’s pathetic. You know absolutely nothing about the character but, given you don’t read, it is not a surprise. I just hope you have this same energy for Sinestro or else your victory will be showing:)

  10. Hal is easily the most interesting. He is a bad ass, he is the best. His dynamic with Batman is great. His dynamic with Flash and Green Arrow is great… the better question rather than the Hal-bashing variety are, what in your view makes any of the others more interesting? Let me guess: diversity? That isnt a personality trait. Just a pandering opinion to show how “woke” you are

  11. Hi. Want to know something cool? I’m 19 years old and I grew up with Hal. I wasn’t even alive during H.E.A.T which by the way isn’t even a thing anymore so pleeeeeeaaaaaaasssssseeee go fuck yourself. I’m absolutely tired of all this Hal hate when it’s obviously all just a agenda by dolts such as yourself. Get over the fact that Hal is loved by many because he truly is the best. I mean do you think he would have so many stories if that wasn’t the case? Not to mention the most iconic villain from franchise is his. Please be quiet.

  12. It’s also pretty shitty that your throwing a fit over Hal having one appearance in a book when he’s been largely ignored over the past year because of a racist writer.
    Just leave the fans be. We don’t want your agenda.

  13. Personally, I prefer John Stewart. And so do a whole generation of fans that grew up on the Justice League cartoon.
    I do have an idea to make Hal interesting. But I’ll just sit on it for now in case that deal-with-the-devil comes through and I get to write it for DC.

  14. I never read a lot of Green Lantern in my early comic reading days and somehow came across the Kyle Rayner arc. I liked that guy. I loved the writing and how Kyle struggled to become a real Green Lantern. I was always wondering what people liked about Hal and read Rebirth for a long time, but I never got hooked. Last time I tried to get feelings for Hal was when Morrison wrote the series. Didn’t work again. In my opinion the Green Lantern in that story could have been anybody…
    I still like Kyle and sometimes I wish I could read Ron Marz’ story for the first time again :)

  15. Message to Dave Miller-Lad

    Hal Jordan has been mainstream for fifty years. A lot more people grew up with HIM and that includes the current generation. I’m sure your “idea” is to just make him a villain…again…
    But he’s already interesting.
    The only reason John was picked to be on the cartoons was because of race and, during that time, he just stole all of Hal’s villains and was given a militaristic background because of HIM. It’s obvious what you really prefer.

  16. God there are some ugly comments here.

    I like all the Lanterns because they’re all different, and I love diversity. It’s a great quality to have on a world where everyone isn’t a white man.

    That being said, Hal is my favorite GL because of what some others have said here. He’s the hero from the age when heroes were people you looked up to. Force of will, goodness, fearlessness, loyalty, altruism. So many adjectives that Hal represents. He’s never been perfect, and his inability to hold down regular jobs showed that he has a restlessness, too.

    He has the greatest rogues gallery this side of Flash. His clever way of taking down villains is so apparent in his Silver Age adventures.

    And I’ll second what Gabe says: read New Frontier.

  17. For various reasons, in recent years it’s become popular to reject DC in general in favor of Marvel. The Spidey crowd, in large part, is composed of people who like to think they’re part of the “in” group who deride DC’s past. Of all of the Silver Age DC origins, Hal’s is possibly the best. Denny O’Neil tried to tear him down. But Hal will always be at the heart of DC’s superhero mythology. I’ve always preferred a star-spanning superhero over mundane semi-heroes with everyday problems. Maybe we need to look at the lack of quality writers who just were / are not as good as John Broome, rather than dissing the character.

  18. Guy Gardner is my favorite. Complete jerk, he’s like the Wario of the DC Universe. Hal Jordan wasn’t in Justice League International nor was he in the Animated Series so I don’t have much of an opinion of him other than a few Geoff Johns issues with the Black Hand. Even in those issues I read, Sinestro and Black Hand were significantly more interesting than Hal.

  19. Hal Jordan is the true GL. I know this because I started reading comics in the ’70s.
    After giving them up at the ripe old age of 11, I returned to reading them in ’86 (Watchmen! Dark Knight! Doom Patrol!). I quickly realized most writers weren’t doing anything interesting to me, so I never kept up with continuity at the Big 2.
    My reading experience of Jordan is mainly of his 60s/70s adventures (when he was certainly a vital, developing character). Due to my fandom of both Keith Giffen aand Grant Morrison, I have read a bit of 80s Guy Gardner and 90s Kyle Raynor.
    Being older and cynical, I found nothing inspiring about either character. GG was used by Giffen to mock Tough Guys, and KR just seems like a 90s-fied Peter Parker to me. John Stewart appeared in almost nothing I’ve read. I never watched any of the cartoons either.
    If I had been reading either as a little boy, that character would be The One True GL to me.
    We need and 80 year old to tell us about the One True GL: Alan Scott.

    I take it, Mr. Grunenwald, that you are a 21st Century boy. So you like Art-Bro Lantern and don’t understand Manly-Hero Lantern. Viva diversity.

    To understand why Hal Jordan is loved by old folk, try reading some of the John Broome stories and the O’Neil/Adams G Lantern/G Arrow stuff. If you want to see the cultural bones that Silver Age DC (and Hal Jordan) fits within, read New Frontier.

    An old man has spoken!

  20. You get to appreciate John Stewart once you read Cosmic Odyssey and Mosaic.
    But yes, Hal by John Broome is by far the best GL of all time, even if Guy was somewhat redeemed by Keith Giffen. Hal’s dynamic with Alan Scott after FOTW introduced Earth-2 is characterisation that Geoff Johns would sell both his kidneys to be able to approach.
    And, oh wait, no love for G’nort and Ch’pp ?

  21. If y’all hate the author and this site so much, why are y’all reading the articles and commenting? Some of y’all really need to calm down.

  22. It took, what, three comments before shit got defensively racist? A person can like Stewart for lots of reasons beyond ‘diversity,’ such as his honor, discipline, or intellect, just the same as a person can like Jordan for reasons other than being ‘white action hero,’ such as his valor, daring, and code of ethics. Let’s leave the kneejerk reactions somewhere else for now and consider that people can like or dislike fictional characters for many different reasons. This is comics.

    The fact is, however, that both John and Hal are often written pretty blandly. On paper, reckless-space-test-pilot-with-alien-magic-gun sounds amazing, as does badass-marine-with-ultimate-scifi-weapon. However, both characters are often written as one-note cutouts. Maybe it can be explained away in-story by saying that a weapon energized by willpower demands a strict control of your emotions or whatever, but I’d rather see Hal fucking up due to instinctual gut reactions or John having to confront a world that doesn’t jibe with his strictly logical engineering/architectural/military outlook of rules and regulations than a couple of guys stoically dealing with fantastic threats with little more than grim smiles, flashing lights, and tons of grit.

    It’s lazy writing that turns these characters off for a lot of readers.

    This is why people lean towards Kyle so often. He was given the time, as a character, to fail and to learn. As such, his character possesses greater depth and humility than the others, and it’s inspiring to watch a person prevail despite the odds.

    But seriously, if someone wants to write cocky test pilot Hal or an 80s movie action hero John, I’ll be there.

    And Guy owned a bar, so that’s cool.

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