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Ghost of the Past, Part 1

How a Silver Age hero got a second chance to shine

By Arnold T. Blumberg     July 20, 2002


Hal Jordan learns the true meaning of Christmas in SPECTRE #12.
© 2001 DC Comics
In comics, no one stays dead forever...except maybe Gwen Stacy, but since I've nattered on about her for a month or so now, we'll let that lie. No, in general, even when you see the body, that guy is coming back one day no matter what. And even when a great hero faces a tragic end, you know it's only a matter of time before they turn up, fresh and ready to combat the forces of evil once more. After all, Superman fought his way back from the abyss, didn't he?

Ah, but then I hear all of you crying out: "What about the Barry Allen Flash? Didn't he croak in the CRISIS with no sign of a resurrection?" All too true, and that event above all proved that DC was perhaps the only superhero universe that could flirt with such tradition-shattering storytelling and live to tell about it. If Barry could be lost, what hope do any of the DC heroes have? Could we not lose another to the icy grip of Death? Indeed we could, but no one imagined it would happen in quite the way it did when Hal Jordan, the beloved Silver Age Green Lantern, transformed into the malevolent entity known as Parallax and then died in one last stand. This simply could not be true!

Bill Sienkiewicz's cover for GREEN LANTERN: LEGACY - THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF HAL JORDAN

But it was. For some unfathomable reason perhaps best left to the mists of time, it was thought that it might be neat to take one of the premier icons of the DC Silver Age superhero universe and twist him into a dark, vengeful villain who wished to rule the entire universe and impose his own brand of order on chaos. And it was Hal Jordan, perhaps the noblest and most clean-cut hero of them all, who was pegged for the Parallax gig. While he did get a last moment of minor redemption, he was ultimately doomed to an ignominious death. The Barry Allen Flash sacrificed his life for the good of an entire universe and did so with a pure heart. Hal Jordan wasn't able to boast of quite the same fate when he left this world, but he was feted as a hero nevertheless when the other DC heroes convened for his memorial.

There was subsequently an outcry the likes of which had rarely been heard in the halls of comicdom, and it emanated not only from disgruntled fans old and new, but from industry professionals who had also grown up with and greatly respected Hal Jordan as a character and a hero. But DC held fast to the decision, having committed to it thus far - the death of Green Lantern, as deplorable as it was to so many dedicated fans, was not to be reversed.

GREEN LANTERN archives

Well...maybe not reversed, but DC wisely realized that perhaps they might reconsider writing off ol' Hal Jordan entirely. Too many people loved him, and he was too much an intrinsic part of the DC superhero power structure. True, there was another Green Lantern flitting about these days, but the Hal fans were legion (no, that's another title entirely) and they demanded his return by hook or by crook (no, that's an old British cult TV series). Could the company that so definitively rubbed out one of their stars find a way to bring him back into the fold? It's comics, of course they could! But how to do this without violating the inviolable and rescinding his death sentence after the fact?

And then, as we shall soon learn in the next part of this multi-part look at the rehabilitation of a hero-turned-villain, DC came up with just the right method to resurrect Hal Jordan...sort of. Deciding not to simply trash the death story with some cliched comic book deus ex machina - perhaps realizing that such a move would trivialize the initial demise and annoy fans who would then see the death as a mere marketing move (Superman fans, are you reading this?) - DC had to bring Hal back while still keeping him very much dead to the world. But wasn't there a somewhat heroic, mysterious character in the DC pantheon who also operated as a ghost, exacting vengeance on those who deserved it and even occasionally teaming up with other heroes much as Hal had done? And wasn't this fellow also prone to wearing green and white?

The Hal Jordan Green Lantern returns to see SKYROCKET off into the stratosphere.

That was it then - Hal Jordan would indeed return, and the green mantle he now wore was not a union suit from the Green Lantern Corps, but instead the hooded cloak of the Spirit of Wrath, otherwise known as the Spectre! It wouldn't be that easy, of course. In fact, for writer J.M. DeMatteis, finding a way to reconcile his own love of the Silver Age Green Lantern and his relative unfamiliarity with the Spectre - whose chief contribution to the DC universe stretched back to the hazy days of the Golden Age - would be quite a challenge. After all, the Spectre was always a fringe sort of character while Hal had been one of DC's biggest "names." How to combine the two? And what happens when a new comic book series debuts with a hybrid character drawing on not one but two distinct segments of fandom? Can Spectre fans and Hal Jordan fans learn to get along? And can DeMatteis give them what they want?

Next time, we'll talk to DeMatteis about the hazards of hybridizing a hero.

To BE CONTINUED

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