I like a lot of things about the Silver Age Green Lantern setup. I like the diversity it encourages, and the loose framework it provides for straightforward, sci-fi-flavored superheroics. I also like thinking about its more troubling aspects, and now I get to share those thoughts with you….
The Green Lantern Corps is often called an intergalactic police force, and while that’s not a bad comparison, it doesn’t entirely capture the organization’s character. First of all, a police force exists to enforce the will of a government — but the Guardians of the Universe don’t really act as a government, at least not to our way of thinking. Following the banishment of their colleague Krona for conducting forbidden experiments, the Guardians appointed themselves arbiters of a universal moral code. Krona had been one of them, so cleaning up his mess was their responsibility. Beyond that, though, the Guardians don’t stand in any kind of social-contract relationship to the rest of the universe, instead apparently considering themselves above the comparatively more petty concerns of a particular planet, race, or individual. They are big-picture thinkers who expect to be obeyed, and they have meted out justice as they saw appropriate.
It almost goes without saying that the Guardians expect loyalty from the Green Lanterns, collectively and individually. The Guardians’ first set of agents, the android Manhunters, rebelled en masse, so in a clever bit of psychology, the Guardians turned to beings who would serve them out of free will and a sense of duty. This worked out spectacularly well for the Guardians, who apparently have only had a handful of Lanterns defy them. A Lantern might feel a responsibility to its home planet, but by and large, it has a greater duty to the Guardians and the Corps.
At least, that’s the theory. Denny O’Neil and his successors got a lot of dramatic mileage out of Hal Jordan’s rebellions and the Guardians’ reactions thereto. Hal quit for eighteen months in 1984-85, and in 1994 went on a murderous rampage that destroyed the Corps. His rebellions were rooted in local concerns, starting with a newfound sense of social responsibility. Later, a desire to protect what amounted to a surrogate family at Ferris Aircraft resulted first in his exile from Earth for a year, and then the aforementioned quitting. Finally, Hal’s frustration over Coast City’s destruction fueled the murderous rage. Clearly, that was Hal’s ultimate act of rebellion, and one would expect the plot to have played itself out after that.
Furthermore, the events that turned Hal into Parallax and then into the Spectre — including his death in 1996 — pretty much severed his ties to Coast City, Ferris Aircraft, his onetime lover Carol Ferris, and Earth in general. When Hal was revived as Green Lantern in 2005, he had the opportunity to build a new life from scratch, without the old attachments distracting him from a new GL career.
Instead, Hal has apparently chosen a new set of attachments, most significantly re-enlisting in the Air Force. In effect, he has traded a test-pilot job at Ferris for full-time military service. Moreover, his commanding officer knows he’s Green Lantern. This has conflict of interest written all over it, especially since Carol Ferris couldn’t have asked Green Lantern to undertake missions for the United States government. Hal doesn’t wear the ring when he’s flying jets, though, which seems like a decent way to separate the two jobs except for a couple of things: if something happens to him without the ring, it can’t get him out of a jam, and what if the Guardians come calling? By splitting his time between the Air Force and the Green Lantern Corps, Hal has, at least in the Guardians’ eyes, divided his loyalties, and I’d imagine they consider that unacceptable.
Hal has gone even further, though, by rejoining the Justice League. Back in the day, Hal probably considered that ancillary to his Green Lantern responsibilities, since the League could cover much of the same territory. When the two sets of obligations came into conflict, the Corps prevailed, as in Justice League of America #140, when Hal submitted to Manhunter custody after allegedly destroying a planet.
Hal may be taking a similar approach today. As shown in 52 and current issues of Green Lantern, he’s getting involved more deeply in global politics. So far we’ve seen him in opposition to the agents of Kahndaq (Black Adam), China (the Great Ten), and Chechen and Russian forces (the latter including the Rocket Red Brigade). The latest issue of Green Lantern brings in the Global Guardians and the rest of the Justice League, each of whom potentially represents more governmental interests — including (perhaps behind the scenes) Checkmate, the United Nations agency responsible for policing superhumans on the international level.
All of this makes for some intriguing jurisdictional tangles, which Hal can try either to untangle or transcend. Hal does seem to view himself as an agent of a “higher power,” concerned more with the global big picture, which sounds like a carryover from his Spectre days and would be a natural progression into some kind of “senior Green Lantern” mindset. If his Air Force gig is, even in part, a way to keep tabs on that big picture, it’s a clever way to exploit an old attachment. It’s also reckless and potentially counterproductive, but therein lies the dramatic tension. I’m not confident that Geoff Johns is moving Hal closer to thinking like a Guardian, but if he is, it only makes sense.
Because really, the fact of the matter is that neither Hal Jordan nor any Green Lantern needs a day job. A power ring is basically a deus ex machina with few limitations, and can probably prepare food, provide shelter, and otherwise address the basic necessities of life without too much trouble. The ideal Green Lantern might well be someone who could drop out of everyday society and devote him/her/itself to full-time sector patrol — someone, perhaps, like Dr. Soranik Natu, who just gave the big green-plasma middle finger to her home planet in the latest issue of Green Lantern Corps. In that respect, Guy Gardner (with his midlife-crisis dream job of owning a sports bar) is closer to that ideal than Hal probably ever will be, because Hal’s psychological issues will keep drawing him back to Earth and forming attachments that feed his emotional needs.
I’m hoping that Geoff Johns will play with this tension between Hal falling back into the same old emotional patterns, and making new ones based on his Spectre experiences and his nascent big-picture perspective. If Johns is just going for cheap manipulation, that would be a shame.