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Ghost of the Past, Part 2

How a Silver Age hero got a second chance to shine

By Arnold T. Blumberg     July 22, 2002


Before his ascent to the Spectre role, Hal Jordan was a vicious villain known as Parallax. He came down a long way from his GL days.
© DC Comics
Last time, we examined how an irreversible superhero demise like the death of the Silver Age Green Lantern was cleverly subverted by the Powers That Be at DC by merging him with another classic DC hero. A new Spectre was born with the identity of the late Hal Jordan, but now whoever took on the character had quite a challenge ahead: How do you balance the needs of Spectre fans and Hal Jordan fans without annoying either camp? As scribe J.M. DeMatteis tells us, not without some considerable difficulty, and no small amount of fun...

"It was one of those things," says J.M. DeMatteis simply. As the man now guiding the destiny of Hal Jordan - once the Green Lantern and now the 'new' Spectre, he wasn't happy with how Jordan's fate played out before his recent return.

"Like many people out there I wasn't particularly thrilled with what they did to the character," says DeMatteis. "I grew up at a time when the Hal Jordan green lantern was the ultimate - and I say this positively - white-bread hero. He was a really good guy, and as a kid I just totally loved the character. So I went through all that insanity of him suddenly becoming a wacko and a murderer and turning into Parallax. 'What are they doing to this character that has such a warm spot in my heart?'"

Salvation came when DC's Dan Raspler called and offered DeMatteis a can't-refuse kind of deal.

"Dan called and said they'd decided to have Hal come back as the Spectre," says DeMatteis. "My first response was 'What?? That's so weird!' Writing a character who's the Spirit of Wrath does not really appeal to me, a guy that goes around punishing people and telling them they're terrible and turning into a big cheese grater and grating people up. Not my idea of a good time or a good story, certainly not for me. But Dan was talking about Hal coming back not as the Spirit of Wrath but evolving over time into the Spirit of Redemption, and those are the kinds of stories that I love - stories that take someone from the depths and bring them back. Pretty much that's how I view life."

Hal Jordan learns the true meaning of Christmas in SPECTRE #12.

The concept of taking Jordan along the path to redemption inspired DeMatteis to tackle the challenge of blending his old hero with the guise of the Spectre.

"All of a sudden," says DeMatteis, "even though I had all these reservations about what had been done with the character and even having Hal be the Spectre, the combination of my affection for Hal and the idea of bringing him back in a very different way to a place of redemption - having him ultimately be a figure not just redeeming himself but the entire universe - really appealed to me from a writer's point of view. The fan in me was going 'Aw what are they doing?' but the writer in me was very excited at the prospect of working with this character in that way."

One of the things DeMatteis did to bridge the gap between past and present was to thread several familiar threads into the early career of the new Spectre. Old GL fans would find that some things haven't changed all that much, or even if they have, they would spark some nostalgic feelings all the same.

Cover art to SPECTRE #15

"I've played with the parallels between [multiple Spectres and the GL Corps]," says DeMatteis. "But the difference here is that with the Spectre, all of the other Spectres are aspects of his own consciousness, and we just did this 'Spectre in space' storyline where he's encountering all these alien Spectres. We do a little parallel with the GL corps just for sheer nostalgic fun and self-indulgence, but the reality is all these Spectres are just aspects of himself, and then he encounters yet another Spectre and he's a part of that Spectre's consciousness and gets absorbed into that Spectre. Everything is all basically the same guy. He would probably go mad to realize the extent of his power and what he's capable of, and little by little he's beginning to grasp that."

Tapping into that human identity and Jordan's psyche is key in DeMatteis' approach to the character. We wouldn't be able to appreciate the Spectre without it.

"The real balance with the character, and I admit that sometimes it's difficult, is keeping anchored in this guy Hal Jordan on the one hand and this huge cosmic entity called the Spectre that he's become," says DeMatteis. "Because really, the guy is dead! In many religious and metaphysical viewpoints, when you die, you let go of whatever individual identity you had in life. You don't stay Hal Jordan for eternity. You become soul, maybe you reincarnate and become somebody else, so he's both this grander cosmic thing and he's Hal Jordan. But if you lose Hal there's nothing to relate to. If you lose that journey of redemption and what he's going through, there's nothing to relate to. So the real challenge is keeping the balance, expanding the borders of who he is and yet not losing that core of humanity. It is a weird place, and part of me thinks we would have been better off taking Joe Average and turning him into the Spectre instead of Hal Jordan, but it's a little late for that and I'm doing the best I can and having fun."

The Spectre dispenses justice in JSA #19.

DeMatteis will also have fun with an old Green Lantern adversary by the name of Sinestro. If Hal is now a cosmic being, might not his old rival somehow manage to match him in power?

"Sinestro will [evolve] into a new version of Sinestro that will function perhaps in the Spectre's life the way the former Sinestro functioned in GL's life," says DeMatteis. "[Fans will] complain [laughs]. 'It's not the Sinestro that we know!' In the end, what else can you do but tell a good story, that's all you can do."

"Right now I'm just beginning a three-parter which is also a little bit of a bow to the past," adds DeMatteis. "One of the problems with this book is there are people who are reading it because they're into Hal Jordan and they want Green lantern. They don't want the Spectre so nothing really pleases them [laughs], and then there are the Spectre fans that want the supernatural stuff. I'm sure on some level its like 'What's with this Hal Jordan stuff, give us the Spectre!' so there's a real problem there, but then there are people who are pretty open and say this is interesting."

For DeMatteis himself, the really interesting part has been the chance to explore more intimate stories with the new incarnation of Hal Jordan.

"One of the things that frankly I've enjoyed the most recently is just doing one issue stories," says DeMatteis. "We had a run of three or four issues in a row where I just did single issue stories and I rediscovered the joys of that. With the Spectre it's great because you can jump in anywhere. I just finished an issue in which we find out why the Spectre keeps showing up in this guy's life, but the Spectre is a secondary character. You can do a lot of interesting things with him. In a lot of ways it can be an anthology book starring the Spectre."

Next time, DeMatteis discusses the science vs. spirit nature of the Green Lantern and Spectre origins, his artistic collaborators, and even - just maybe - the ultimate destiny of Hal Jordan!

TO BE CONTINUED

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