Where the ruin of Green Lantern began at the dawn of the 1990s

by Avi Green

June 7, 2021

DC's Green Lantern franchise is something I really do appreciate. Definitely much of the material leading up to mid-1988. And that's why it's a terrible shame such a fine superhero creation was largely destroyed afterwards.

Where did it all begin? In the pages of Action Comics Weekly, when GL, following cancellation of the 2nd volume, became a feature there for about 35 of 42 installments, at which time it was written mainly by Christopher Priest, with some middle material written by Peter David. And Gerard Jones, who of recent was imprisoned for illegally downloading child porn on his computer, continued the harm when he was writing the 3rd volume, beginning with the 2 Emerald Dawn miniseries (as well as a related short story in Secret Origins during 1989, the first time he wrote anything connected with GL), and into the 3rd ongoing volume, which he wrote during 1990-93.

The GL feature in ACW was truly loathsome, what with the way Katma Tui was slaughtered by Carol Ferris, still under the Star Sapphire influence at the time, in a way most repellent, and it didn't even seem like it was in order to give John Stewart “motivation”. Not only that, the whole story looked like it was intended to set up John as the fall guy in a subsequent story where he was accused of stealing a diamond from a south African mine that had actually been stolen by Hal Jordan in a very out-of-character moment, encouraged into it by John himself. Yet John was the scapegoat, for the sake of a very poorly written metaphor for the racist atmosphere in south Africa at the time. The storyline was continued in a GL Corps Special during 1988, where Hal gave John a new ring while he was in a south African police station, practically being tortured over Hal's out-of-character act, and John, getting hold of the ring, demolished the police precinct. He then stayed at the home of some presumed rebels against the apartheid system, little realizing they were actually terrorists, who earlier murdered a white couple and spray-painted graffiti reading as “kill whitey” on the bedroom wall of the victims.

The problem with the above is: wasn't this supposed to be a focus on anti-black racism in south Africa during the time this was published? Yet writer Priest (who at the time was still called James Owsley), went a morally equivalent route, dampening the impact the story could've had it if weren't so contrived and illogical. It practically ignored past history for the sake of its muddle.

Even the middle part of the ACW run written by David was dreadful, given how it was an example of an absurd belief Hal's fearlessness must be explained, in sharp contrast to Daredevil's, where nobody had an issue. And when Priest came back, he wrote up an atrocious story where GL and Captain Atom not only faced off against an alien that had slaughtered people in a roadside diner, they even clashed with each other over how to handle the exceedingly difficult foe, who soon after took off into space again, and the storyline was never finished. I don't doubt this run alone was what killed Action Comics as a weekly format, seeing how it resumed monthly status after 42 installments, and Superman's starring role as a whole. What came later was no better. There was the aforementioned short story by Jones from Secret Origins #36 from January 1989, telling Tom Kalmaku's view of Hal, and what was ludicrous there was how it made Hal look ignorant about racial issues after he said he'd like to nickname Tom “pieface”, which had been what the Eskimo employee of Ferris Aircraft was called at least until the end of the 60s, because it was later considered a racial insult. Even the SO story for Hal from the same issue was tedious, despite relying on the origin as established in 1959, mainly because Hal later betrayed a character who appeared in the story by the end of the 2nd GLC special (and it was also relying on directions established in ACW at the time). In hindsight, what's truly astonishing is that Gil Kane, such a talented artist when he was around, would illustrate the first few parts in ACW, and Denny O'Neil would edit them, though Kane left rather quickly, presumably embarrassed by how the story turned out.

John suffered more abuse soon afterwards as well, in the pages of a 3-part miniseries called Cosmic Odyssey, where he unintentionally led to the deaths of a whole alien community. As though what took place in X-Men's Phoenix Saga wasn't bad enough. This left John traumatized, and it's regrettable that this “development” carried over into the 3rd GL volume, which we'll get to soon enough.

Following this, there came the badly developed Emerald Dawn miniseries at the end of 1989, the first part co-written by Priest with Keith Giffen, and Jones replacing Giffen for the remainder. I thought the way it depicted Hal getting hauled in the test flight module out into the desert clearing where Abin Sur's spacecraft crashed was pretty poor, ditto the way he was seen in the costume but without the mask on making a phone call back to Ferris Aircraft base at a diner where a number of people watched in amusement. This was just the start of a most peculiar flaw that turned up at least a few times in Jones' writings for the franchise: if Hal was supposed to have a secret ID as Green Lantern, he sure wasn't doing a good job at it. The story of Hal having to battle a yellow alien lifeform that came to earth just plain stunk, and was underwhelming. As was the whole premise of Hal getting arrested for drunk driving, which was insanely forced and contrived, all for the sake of giving Hal flaws.

So too in fact was the sequel miniseries from 1991, where Hal was sentenced to a few months in prison for his law violation of DUI, where Sinestro was assigned to train him for the GL Corps job ahead. A most silly element by far was how the bank robbers Hal arrested while sneaking out of a police van taking him to jail (and he acted surprisingly competent for somebody supposed to be a rookie) managed to figure out his secret identity when they spotted him in the prison dining hall after they too were incarcerated there. Sinestro later erased their memories of Hal too. Equally absurd was the naive view Hal took of Sinestro enslaving his fellow Korugarians, one of which happened to be Katma Tui, who was fighting back. On which note, there was a peculiar discrepancy here from the previous miniseries: Katma was seen at the end of the 1st one, part of the GL Corps, but this 2nd one depicted her as a rebel against Sinestro's tyranny prior to her being a Lantern as though nothing had happened! As though the awkward take on secret identities wasn't bad enough.

Now, let's turn to the 3rd ongoing volume for GL, written by Jones, in what has to have been one of the most notorious cases of nepotist employment at the time. If it was supposed to generate new interest in the cast of characters, it got off to a very bad start. Hal Jordan decides to take a trip by foot across the USA, supposedly in a nod to Denny o'Neil's far superior work in the 1970s. But it's only so they can set up what turned out to be a very left-liberal premise for co-existence between various races, as Appa Ali Apsa, the Guardian originally known as the “old-timer” when he first appeared in 1970, suddenly goes insane and hauls only so many whole cities to the planet Oa, in one of the most contrived storylines of all time. Even before that, the first few issues established that Appa murdered a character first seen in Priest's ACW run for GL, and that's another error that truly sunk the book.

Even if that wasn't a fault, there were still plenty more that destroyed the story, such as the lack of any true suspense, yet never did Appa as a villain prove a serious threat to the GL members in the story, and in the end, during the 8th issue, it wasn't even Hal, John or Guy Gardner who defeated Appa, but rather, the returning Guardians who did (for anybody in-the-know about the Zamarons, they curiously went unmentioned in any of the material Jones scripted during 1990-93). More specifically, they killed him. And that just compounded how awful the setup for this volume truly was. It all reeked of an insult to O'Neil's work on the brand, considering Appa had been put on trial in a McCarthy-ish kangaroo court those years before, was close to being executed by the insane intergalactic judge, and now here, they insult that past storyline by turning him into a crazed killer who's put on trial by his fellow Guardian council, and then drained of his life by the same. And neither Hal nor anybody else seems particularly devastated by Appa's fall from grace. The implausible way the Tattooed Man showed up in the 2nd issue, done for the sake of giving Guy somebody to battle, was also galling, because Hal actually let him off the hook, despite a serious crime the villain committed in 1981 (Tattooed Man murdered a bank security guard before being gunned down by one of Goldface's minions).

What followed soon after wasn't much better. There was a pathetic tale where Guy goes on an adventure with G'nort, facing off against the Weaponers of Qward, and if it was supposed to be funny, it fell flat on its face. There was one part of this absurd story that looked like it was lensed through the vision of a drug addict. But the storyline from issues 14-17 titled “Mosaic”, which served as a lead-in for the 1992-93 spinoff starring John, that was truly awful, and made even the most questionable moments in O'Neil's run look pathetically tame by comparison. Here's the problem: despite any suggestions to the contrary, it made the white humans in the tale out to look like the worst: sexist and racist, not to mention most likely to act irrationally in reaction to attacks by aliens from one of the other cityscapes hauled to the planet by the now deceased Appa. When Rose Hardin, the single mom with a son transported to Oa with her community, tries to assure her community that John is trying to help defend them, she says she knows it because she “spent the night with him.” But they take this to mean they think she had sex with him, and condemn her as a whore. I thought this was insulting to the intellect how it relied on the old hysterical white folks stereotype, regardless of what time it reflected and was set in.

And that wasn't the only problem. Even biased allusions to Israel turned up. More specifically, one of the few whites depicted as “sane” was an Arabic man who claimed to be from “Palestine”, the Roman-era name for Israel that was put to use in the mid-20th century by antisemites for delegitimizing Jews' rights to their land of origin, and claiming that there was ever supposedly a “palestinian people” of Arabic/Islamic background. Along with a moment in Jones' 1989-91 El Diablo series, which ran 16 issues, and the 9th issue of Mosaic, this was some of the earliest material I could find drawing from something that's as offensive to the memory of the Jewish founders of comicdom as it is to the populace of Israel itself, including Golda Meir, who refuted the lie Jones built his story upon.

It should be noted that for a group allegedly dedicated to justice in the universe, the Guardians sure acted very bewilderingly out-of-character when they refused to immediately return the human/alien populations to their respective homeworlds, apparently, in the words of John when he confronted them, for the sake of putting them all in a coexistance experiment. But how does that justify keeping them on this new planet against their wills, or at least those who're innocent? Wouldn't the Guardians in some ways be guilty of enabling terrible situations right on the very planet they're headquartered upon, where people end up dead by failure to act properly and enforce laws for safety? And then, there are inevitable questions how their homeworlds like Earth can't possibly be missing them, if only because, despite any suggestions to the contrary, it didn't seem like there was any scandal unfolding on planet Earth where people missed cities and towns like Evergreen and Desolation, which had been snatched by Appa to be placed upon Oa. I like surrealism, but when it's all as contrived and stilted as this, it becomes implausible, mainly because it allegedly serves as a metaphor for “real life” issues. Yet in the end, it all rang phony.

The 18th issue, where Guy met up again with Kari Limbo, the Roma girl he'd once dated when seen in the Bronze Age, and here wound up dumping her, was equally insulting, as the battle here with Goldface was uninspired. The 19th issue was better, one of the few writings Jones ever did that was more tolerable than others, but that's probably because it was connected with an event of the time (Armageddon: Inferno), or because he may not have actually written that issue, or both.

I didn't find the following few issues (20-25) very good either, because, while Carol Ferris was rescued and freed of the Star Sapphire influence here, they still connected it in some way to the ill-advised ACW storyline where Katma was killed. There was even one point where Olivia Reynolds, a girl Hal once knew in 1969 when he was working in toy marketing, turned up, and in that issue, Jones wrote what looked like a mockery of O'Neil's run (an alien asks him why he wasn't helping the “blue skins”), which Jones didn't show any true respect for. The part where he attempted to explain why Tattooed Man showed up again failed to impress either.

Issues 26-28 were somewhat better – and some parts of the latter end of the run were more tolerable than the first 18 issues – though truly, it was only the part where Carol is shown recovering from her bizarre space journey that impressed me. While I get the idea this is another story that might not have been written by Jones per se, the way Goldface just fled from a fight and didn't seem to remember Hal's secret ID, which he'd known about during the early 80s, was dismaying. All just so Goldface could later be defeated by Guy, when his solo spinoff began in late 1992, and it was one of the worst Jones could've written, even if he co-wrote it with Will Jacobs. The subsequent GL storyline “the Third Law”, was a cop-out, as it seemed to be for little more than getting the New Guardians out of the way, shunting them onto Oa just like all the humans and aliens were in the first 8 issues. A total cop-out.

Let me also take a moment to note that the short-lived spinoff series Mosaic, launched as it was as an excuse for Jones to continue what he'd begun so terribly in the flagship series' first 18 issues, and starring John as overseer of the colonies now located on Oa, was quite terrible, saddled with more of his left-liberal propaganda tactics (yes, that includes making nearly all whites look like the only real problem), and there was also a disturbing scene in the 5th issue where it looked like John was sexually harassing Rose. That she later had a brief affair with him is no excuse, and the ending to the series – which saw many of the humans and aliens alike deciding to remain on Oa – was simply laughable.

Now, if you want to know of some more stories from the latter part of the Jones run on the flagship book that were at least a little better, there was the crossover with the Flash, “Gorilla Warfare”, but that's mainly because it looks like another story where Jones may have been credited in name only. The part where Hal and Carol go to visit his family for Christmas was also okay, though I can't help but point out it conflicts with what had been established by the end of the 2nd volume, where Susan Williams-Jordan, Hal's sister-in-law, had long accepted that his brother Jim was not Green Lantern, unlike Hal. And, it's strange, but both Jim and Jack Jordan had children who'd never been established as having before. Certainly not Jim.

There then came a story I really hated, a 2-parter guest starring Adam Strange, because it went by the status quo set up by the loathsome Man of Two Worlds miniseries from 1990, written by Richard Bruning, that saw Alanna Strange put to death. It was apparently written just as another excuse for Jones to rehash the story with Olivia Reynolds from 1969, depicting the lady as possessing a powerful force that the Qward empire sought to exploit. And here, they even abducted Adam's daughter Aleea in some bizarre plot to channel said energy through her. If memory serves, the story contained another allusion to Jones' repulsive mindset, rendering this another story I didn't like at all.

There were 2-3 more parts after this that were tolerable, the semi-crossover with the Flash's Secret of Barry Allen story, and the story where it's established that the Predator from the mid-80s, who'd first been depicted as a supposed product of Carol's imagination combined with energy from the Star Sapphire gem, was really an alien being who possessed Carol. This story was another that didn't look like it was written by loathsome Jones, and if not, that's fortunate.

However, the last few parts were where it once more took a plunge into fiasco. For example, a story where Itty, the alien being whom Hal originally thought was a simple plant-like entity in the mid-70s when he acquired him, returned to Earth seeking help in saving a colony of other such alien hatchlings, and around this time, Hal's power battery was noticeably destroyed by enemy aliens, strongly indicating writer/editors alike had planned to get rid of Hal for the sake of Emerald Twilight in advance. The damage was compounded through the pathetic Trinity crossover of 1993, which seemed written as an excuse to prepare Maltus, the planet where the Guardians originally came from, for writing out of use, and even a pointless subplot where Lobo and an alien woman end up having sex in a trailer while all the fighting is going on...except that whatever battle did was lazy. After the crossover with Superman, which saw Coast City destroyed, another moment proving Emerald Twilight was all more than totally planned, there came the 47th issue and finale to Jones' run, and it was by far the worst of all the cop-outs Jones could've brewed up at the time. It turned out Carol's mother was nuts, and somehow came in possession of firepower that she tried using to scare away Hal, for reasons that were totally absurd. This story also saw a reunion with Green Arrow, all for naught. The cast, including Tom Kalmaku, split up at the end and went separate ways, for whatever reason I haven't a clue. All I know is that this was some of the worst writing ever in recent history, and was regrettably overlooked all these years, because Emerald Twilight took attention away from how bad this was for a run preceding it.

With all this told, that's why I want to make clear what I think should be shunned within this whole run, and what's tolerable enough from an artistic level, for anybody who can separate art from artist on the condition it's readable enough. IMO, if there's anything to avoid like the plague, it's the first 18 issues, which were simply insufferable in all their politics or just plain failed attempts at humor with Guy and G'nort. So too should issues 20-25 be avoided (did I mention that big alien woman named Boodika had a very irritatingly scripted personality? Jones struck again, what a surprise). Issues 29, 32-35, 37-39, and 44-47 should also be avoided, due to their misuse of Olivia Reynolds, the New Guardians, and even decidedly a character or three who'd first appeared in GL during the mid-80s. Oh, lest I forget, the first 2 annuals from around this time should also be shunned, and certainly bore the stench of Jones. The ones I'm willing to say are okay to read – mainly because I assume they weren't written by Jones – include issues 19, 26-28, 30-31, 36, and 40-43 (although again, 43 was where Hal's power battery was destroyed, and that's why it otherwise wound up appalling). There's also several short-stories in the GLC Quarterly's 8 issues from 1992-94 that're either worth reading, or better avoided. The latter most definitely includes those written by Jones, such as a fishy-looking tale about Arisia. Some of the ones credited to different writers are better, and that's why it's a terrible shame they were victims of bad timing. If they can ever be reprinted separately from Jones' work, that'd be a good thing. Oh, lest I forget, all GL stories from ACW should be shunned like poison too, along with 2 GLC specials from 1988-89, and the Mosaic spinoff of the flagship 3rd volume should be avoided entirely, as should the Guy Gardner spinoff.

So in the end, I think it's regrettable such a fine creation as the Green Lantern had to fall victim to abuse in the worst ways possible. Certainly the Ron Marz run was worthless, but anybody dismayed at how that turned out should consider what preceded it as well during the 90s. A real shame.

Copyright 2021 Avi Green. All rights reserved.

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