Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Green Lantern: Courage and Honest

Comic Column:
Courage and Honesty

by Bryan Stroud

"'In God We Trust' doesn’t have to be a slogan on the back of a coin, but can be a motto that shows we will be honest in our dealings with others because we report to a higher authority than just our own needs and desires."

Showcase Comics No. 22, Oct. 1959.  “S.O.S. Green Lantern,”
by John Broome, penciled by Gil Kane and inked by Joe Giella.

“The greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure.”
 Sven Goran Eriksson
My favorite era in comic books, the fabled Silver Age, began in 1956 when it was decided to resurrect the super hero genre after a forced absence of some years. The creative geniuses at DC Comics reintroduced The Flash in the covers of Showcase Comics that year, and soon it became evident that they had a hit on their hands. A few years later, hoping that lightning would strike a second time, they introduced the Green Lantern. The DC Comics geniuses did redesign the Green Lantern’s costume and gave the character a new original story and secret identity. For it’s upcoming 50-year anniversary, let’s take a peek into Showcase #22 from October of 1959. The first story, entitled “S.O.S. Green Lantern,” was written by John Broome, penciled by Gil Kane, and inked by Joe Giella.

Our story begins with a scarlet-skinned alien lying in the wreckage of his spacecraft somewhere in the southwestern United States. Abin Sur is wearing the uniform of the Green Lantern Corps and he is dying. His duty now is to find a worthy successor to replace him and pass on the battery of power. Using his incredible power ring, he sends forth an emerald beam to search this foreign planet for one worthy of such power, and who, “must be without fear!”

The beam swiftly engulfs the planet until it finds ace test pilot Hal Jordan, plying his trade in a flight trainer. His aircraft, now bathed in the greenish light, is quickly transported to Abin Sur’s crash site. 

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
 Winston Churchill quotes
When Hal Jordan enters the wreckage, Abin Sur greets Hal and introduces himself telepathically. The alien then explains why he has summoned the young earth man, pointing to the green power battery, which to Hal Jordan looks a lot like, you guessed it, a green lantern.  Abin Sur explains, “…it is a battery of power…given only to selected space-patrolmen in the super-galactic system…to be used as a weapon against the forces of evil and injustice…” He then uses the ring to bathe Hal in its glow and, to his satisfaction, finds that, “Yes…by the green beam of my ring…I see that you are honest!  And the battery has already selected you as one born without fear! So you pass both tests, Hal Jordan…”

With his dying words, Abin Sur explains how he came to be in this predicament, and how the ring is vulnerable only to those things that are yellow in color, a side-effect of a necessary impurity in the metal of the power battery. As he slips the ring onto Hal Jordan’s finger, Abin Sur also relates how it must be recharged every 24 hours by touching it to the power battery.


“If you wait to do everything until you're sure it's right, you'll probably never do much of anything.”
 - Win Borden

Soon after this bittersweet exchange, Hal Jordan dons the uniform of this new responsibility and begins testing the ring’s power. To Hal’s surprise, the ring seems to “obey” his every mental command, and in direct relation to the force of his will. With these nearly limitless new powers, Hal Jordan vows to honorably discharge his duties in accordance with the counsel given him by Abin Sur. 

The rest, as they say, is comic book history. Today, the Green Lantern is still a huge fan favorite, having enjoyed nearly uninterrupted character development and publication continuity since its inception. Two years ago, the United States Postal Service even included the Green Lantern in their DC Comics postage stamp series. 

One of the particularly interesting facets of this character profile is that Hal Jordan didn’t choose to be a hero. It was he who was chosen. This means, among other things, that he had to have a lot of on-the-job training, so to speak. Suspend your own disbelief for a moment and imagine being given virtually unlimited power with only a couple of caveats: a vulnerability to the color yellow and the need to recharge every 24 hours. Pretty heady stuff. Obviously, there was some excitement for Hal who, as a test pilot, probably longed to travel into space. But I also found it quite intriguing that Hal was required to be utterly fearless. Since his “beat” included a pretty large space quadrant, you can see where fearlessness would come in handy when confronting the unknown while be-bopping around the galaxy. 

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear- not absence of fear.”– Mark Twain
Fearlessness and honesty. These were the fundamental requirements for this assignment. While they are truly heroic attributes, Hal somehow needed to temper them with enough humility to learn how to use his new abilities in a positive and meaningful way. 

I don’t know about you, but I have not been called upon recently to wear any sort of power ring. I have a hard enough time managing power tools. But each of us do have a role to play in defending our portion of the galaxy. Not from alien intruders, but from those forces that work against the heroic virtues of courage and honesty. Abin Sur’s beam only found one man who possessed the virtues necessary to command such power, which was perhaps and indictment against a society that had replaced courage and honesty with conformity and situation ethics. The message here is, at the very least, to remain vigilant and not allow our heroic virtue to be eclipsed by the “easy way” so often promoted by popular culture.

With the proper amount of effort and self-discipline- additional heroic attributes- I’m sure that even I could begin to overcome my fears, which, of course, are the real barriers between who I am today and who I know I must be in the future. Honesty is critical to so many of the things we each would like to accomplish, and is an absolute iron-clad must for successful interpersonal relationships. You and your significant others cannot have rich, meaningful relationships without honesty’s fruit: trust. In your professional relationships, your employer trusts you to perform certain responsibilities and in turn, you trust him or her to hold up their end of the bargain. “In God We Trust” doesn’t have to be a slogan on the back of a coin, but can be a motto that shows we will be honest in our dealings with others because we report to a higher authority than just our own needs and desires.

Courage, honesty, and the self-discipline to learn and continue to grow. These heroic themes are exemplified by many fictional heroes and can be the highway markers that lead us to our best heroic selves in the real world. May we all be as successful at finding our true lives as Hal Jordan was, as we also seek to live as the heroes we wish to be before we are chosen for service.
-Bryan Stroud