Although February 2014 was dubbed “Green Lantern Day” (because, by the American calendar, the date read as “2814”, the sector of space assigned to Earth in DC Comics), the significance of this date has passed as the years have changed. Instead, I’m choosing to celebrate the debut of perhaps the most popular iteration of the character, Hal Jordan, who first appeared in October of 1959.
Story Title: “Emerald Twilight, Part One: The Past”
Published: January 1994
Story Title: “Emerald Twilight, Part Two: The Present”
Published: February 1994
Story Title: “Emerald Twilight, Part Three: The Future”
Published: March 1994
The character of Green Lantern, in the form of Alan Scott, first appeared in All-American Publications’ (a precursor of DC Comics) All-American Comics #16 in July 1940. In 1959, DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz enlisted writer John Broome and artist Gil Kane to reinvent the character as Hal Jordan and, in the process, created countless other Green Lanterns through the establishment of an intergalactic police force. Although Jordan became one of DC Comics’ most prominent superheroes, the company decided to make some major changes to the character in the mid-nineties, a period of time often referred to as the “Dark Age” of comics that saw stories such as “The Death of Superman” (Jurgens, et al, 1992 to 1993) make headline news and Bruce Wayne/Batman left crippled at the hands of a superhuman foe. Although Batman later recovered and Clark Kent/Superman soon returned to life, Hal Jordan’s home town of Coast City was destroyed during the Man of Steel’s resurrection, leaving Hal devastated and driving him to near madness in his attempt to rebuild his home. The story’s primary purpose was to depict Hal’s downfall into a maniacal, reality-destroying villain known as Parallax and to introduce a new, young, sexy Green Lantern (my favourite of the Emerald Warriors, Kyle Rayner). Eventually, of course, DC backpedalled on this decision and went out of their way to redeem the “greatest Green Lantern” but, for a while there, things were definitely exciting and different in DC Comics as they introduced new legacy characters and fundamentally altered their predecessors in startling ways.
“Emerald Twilight” begins pretty much immediately after the conclusion of the “Return of Superman” story arc (Stern, et al, 1993) with an injured and emotionally shattered Hal Jordan kneeling amidst the still-smouldering crater that is all that remains of his hometown, Coast City. Burdened by his grief at arriving too late to stop Mongul and Hank Henshaw/Cyborg-Superman from obliterating the city, Hal uses the vast powers of his power ring to heal his broken arm and conjure a construct of his father, Martin, for a bit of a heart-to-heart. Primarily, Hal wants to address his resentment towards his late father for favouring his older, more successful brothers and never telling Hal that he was proud of him and all he had accomplished. However, as Martin is simply a manifestation of Hal’s memories of him, and his guilt and unresolved issues, Martin simply tells Hall that he just never measured up to his brothers, guilt-trips him for not being there for Coast City, and then forces Hal to relive the traumatic experience of watching him die in a plane crash. A construct of Hal’s mother, Jessica, then arrives to comfort her son, pointing out Martin’s many faults as a husband and a father and encouraging Hal to hold on to the happier memories and move on from the pain and loss. Despite her encouragement, however, Hal isn’t satisfied with just having memories; they’re not enough to quell his guilt or his anger or his pain and, in his vehement refusal to let go of his anguish, he focuses his willpower in a wholly selfish way.
Hal uses his willpower to create a living, breathing, emerald-hued recreation of Coast City, including all of its buildings and inhabitants. The temptation to right those wrongs, to “be a God”, is overwhelming and even brings back a manifestation of his first love, Jennifer. Reminiscing about the past and what could have been between them, Hal laments how he screwed up his relationship with Jennifer even after she helped him through the trauma of his father’s death. Jennifer, however, assures Hal that she was happy after him, settled in Coast City, and that the end came quickly for her and the others; she also says that “nobody blames [Hal]” and that they’re just happy that he’s keeping their memories alive. Jennifer walks Hal to his childhood home, where he again meets the “ghost” of his father; Martin echoes Jennifer’s sentiments, stating that every appreciates that he’s “restored” Coast City, but falters when he is about to finally say the words Hal is longing to hear (that he’s proud of him) and promptly vanishes, along with the entire Coast City illusion, when Hal’s ring exhausts its charge. Hal’s anger and bitterness at being denied his desire, and the limits of his power ring, are soon interrupted when one of the Guardians of the Universe manifests before him. The Guardian reprimands Hal for using his power ring for personal gain and violating the rules and regulations of the Green Lantern Corps, and demands that he return to Oa for disciplinary action. Hal, however, lashes out in anger absorbs the residual energy from the Guardian’s projection to give himself a charge and, blasts off to Oa to confront his masters, appearing as little more than a green shooting star to lovers Kyle Rayner and Alex DeWitt. Overcome by his grief, and incensed at the losses and injustice he feels, Hal blasts his way through space and is met by opposition from his fellow Corpsmen, Ke’Haan of Varva and Laira of Jayd, two Lanterns who, while experienced, are no match for Hal’s experience and newfound rage.
Furious at being used as a puppet by the Guardians for so long, Hal incapacitates the two and steals their power rings, leaving them for dead in the void of space and adding more power to his arsenal. While the Guardians of the Universe are concerned at Hal’s trail of destruction, they have faith that the entirety of their Corps, and their near-limitless power, will be enough to stop him; after all, he’s just one rogue Lantern, right? Well Tomar Tu learns the hard way that Hal is not so easily subdued; although he tries to shackle Hal using a parasite not unlike the Black Mercy creature, Hal’s willpower is so strong, and his rage so out of control, that he easily overpowers his former comrade and friend. Jack T. Chance meets a similar end as, while he is far more willing to fight dirty, his inexperience leaves him adrift in space like so many other Corpsmen. Hal is even forced to battle Boodikka, a warrior female he personally recruited into the Corps, but the loyalty of his brothers and sisters now sickens Hal and he’s so obsessed with making them pay for their hubris that he slices Boodikka’s hand off to claim her ring as his own. One by one, both on-panel and off, Hal bests the Guardian’s Lanterns and, with each victory, he becomes increasingly brutal. Upon reaching Oa, Hal is met by the Corps drill instructor, the surly Kilowog, easily the proudest and most loyal member of the Green Lantern Corps. However, while he lasts longer than any of the other Green Lanterns, Kilowog also falls before Hal’s newfound might and rage.
Even the stoic Guardians, so self-righteous in their power and position, begin to fear Hal’s crusade and, in their desperation, turn to Ganthet’s final solution to Hal’s rampage: releasing the renegade Green Lantern, Thaal Sinestro, from his captivity within the Central Power Battery. And so it is that Hal is pitted against his former mentor, the very man who he stood up to when Sinestro perverted the power and privilege of the power ring for his own ends. The irony is not lost on Sinestro, who finds himself as the last hope of his former masters, beings he has almost as much reason to despise as Hal, and delights in Hal’s torment. Sinestro manages to goad Hal into relinquishing all of his stolen power rings and battling him on equal ground, something Hal is only too happy to agree to just so that Sinestro has no doubt that he was finally, truly, bested by his superior. Eager to have his revenge against Hal for having him imprisoned, Sinestro presses his attack but Hal matches him blow for blow, theorising that the Guardians must have lost their minds to turn to someone as vindictive as Sinestro and seeing his rival’s return as the final proof of the Guardians’ hypocrisy and fallibility. Sinestro taunts Hal by telling him that, years ago, the Guardians asked him, their greatest warrior, to mould Hal into his image but, despite being flattered by their trust, he never thought that Hal would be able to live up to those expectations. When they come to a penultimate clash, Sinestro is almost admiring of Hal’s newfound bloodlust, but maintains that the difference between the two has always been that Hal is unwilling to kill, whereas Sinestro is only held back from killing by the promise of his freedom to subdue Hal non-lethally.
Ultimately, their battle descends into a wild brawl; as the Guardians impassively watch on, Hal mercilessly beats Sinestro to a pulp. Hal claims victory, having finally bested his long-time rival with his bare hands, but Sinestro continues to taunt him, claiming that he has lost himself in his brutality. Hal’s response? To break Sinestro’s neck, finally killing him and crossing that forbidden line. His attempt to absorb the full power of the Central Power Battery is interrupted by Kilowog, who makes one last desperate plea for Hal to stop before he strips all of the Corpsmen of their powers and leaves them in mortal danger, but Hal simply cannot look past his grief, his pain, and his lust to obtain the power to correct those mistakes. In an instant, he reduces Kilowog to a charred skeleton, tearfully discards his power ring, and has one last heated confrontation with the Guardians before entering the Central Power Battery. As he absorbs the Central Power Battery into himself, the Guardians channel all of their remaining powers into one last power ring; Hal emerges, forever changed, crushing his power ring and fleeing to the stars to begin enacting his grand plan for the universe, and only Ganthet is left alive. He teleports to Earth and stumbles upon struggling artist Kyle Rayner, seemingly at random, and bequeaths him the last power ring, birthing an all-new Green Lantern, the last in the entire universe, in the process.
It’s definitely not recommended to go into “Emerald Twilight” without at least some understanding of Hal Jordan, or having read some of the “Return of Superman” arc, but it’s not absolutely necessary. The text boxes and dialogue help to bring you up to speed with how Hal got his power ring, his reputation, and how Coast City was destroyed, but it definitely adds even more emotional weight to the story if it’s not your first exposure to the character. Compared to “The Death of Superman” and “Knightfall” (Dixon, et al, 1993 to 1994), it’s also a much shorter and far more condensed story. Hal literally ploughs through seemingly the entire Green Lantern Corps (or most of them) off-panel or in a few panels in the middle chapter of the story, and much of Hal’s downfall is set up subtly in previous issues and stories rather than being this big, headline event. That’s not to say that “Emerald Twilight” didn’t shake things up, though, but it definitely acts as more of an epilogue to “The Return of Superman” rather than an event of equal proportions. I fully believe that, if this story was done today, it would probably be a six to twelve-issue miniseries that also included Hal fighting his Justice League teammates as well.
The more intimate nature of the story actually helps it to stand out in some ways, though. The focus here is on Hal’s grief and despair; he’s a man who has literally lost everything, his hometown and all his loved ones, and has been driven right to the edge and it all happened seemingly on a whim. There was no way he could have known what Mongul and Cyborg-Superman were planning, and he was in no position to stop them, so all he’s left with his survivor’s guilt coupled with his unresolved issues with his father. This is beautifully realised in Hal’s desperate attempts to hear his father say he’s proud of him, but being denied even that simple luxury because of his grief screwing with his constructs and the limitations of his power ring. Martin’s appearance here works doubly as a representation of Hal’s own insecurities; he can’t say he’s proud of Hal because Hal knows he would never say that, and even the small comforts brought by his mother and former lover offer Hal no peace or solace. The closest he comes to being happy is when he recreates Coast City; even though it’s clearly an illusion, a facsimile created by his ring, he’d much rather live in that fantasy world than have to endure with the painful and brutal reality that he’s lost everything.
Consequently, it’s entirely understandable that he lashes out at the Guardians when they come along to reprimand him. After giving his body and soul to the ideals of the Green Lantern Corps, he is denied having what he truly desires, and his grief turns to rage; this anger is directed purely at the hypocritical and self-righteous Guardians but also extends to the ideals Hal once embodied, meaning he has to fight off his own kind in order to confront his masters. Believed to be the greatest Green Lantern ever, Hal’s indomitable willpower is only augmented by his rage; this, coupled with his experience and the added power of more and more stolen power rings, make him a dangerous and formidable foe who threatens the lives of even the near-God-like Guardians. At first, Hal has no desire to fight his fellow Lanterns; he constantly rants about the Guardians’ manipulative and deceitful ways and tries to convince the others to side with him, but they’re as blinded by their loyalties as he is by his anguish and the result is a lot of Green Lanterns being left beaten, helpless, or maimed simply to fuel Hal’s newfound crusade. This culminates in easily the best part of the comic, beyond Hal’s descent into gibbering madness, the long-awaited final battle between Hal Jordan and Sinestro. This brutal fight is a fantastically realised clash that is just dripping with irony and fate. When he was just an upstart rookie, Hal saw that Sinestro was abusing his power and opposed him, forever tarnishing the reputation of the once-mightiest Green Lantern and, for years, the two were cast as moral and ethical opposites. Sinestro hungered for power and longed to rule through force and fear, and was more than willing to kill or maim those who opposed him, whereas Hal was the very embodiment of the righteous justice and heroism of the Green Lantern Corps. Now, the tables have turned; Hal is the rogue, power-mad Green Lantern and Sinestro is the last line of defence, and I find that so much more interesting than just watching Superman being beaten to death by a mindless monster. Even better is that Sinestro still underestimates Hal; he is arrogant in his belief that, despite Hal’s recent brush with darkness, he is still the same good-natured and moral individual deep down and therefore doesn’t have it within him to kill, and this proves to be Sinestro’s downfall.
Hal’s crossing of that line and descent into a tragic villain was so unexpected at the time. The state of DC Comics was radically upended in the early-to-mid-nineties and Hal’s transformation into the reality-warping Parallax soon became a big part of that as he sought to rewrite time itself in a desperate attempt to set right all the tragedies and mishaps that had befallen himself and his friends. Parallax was quite the intriguing villain in that he fully believed what he was doing was right, and for the greater good, and couldn’t understand why his friends kept opposing him as he had no wish to harm them. This also spelt the end for the Green Lantern Corps as we knew them…for a time. Kyle Rayner became the sole Green Lantern for a while, and was afforded slightly different abilities (he didn’t need to charge his ring and had no weakness to yellow) as well as a cool new costume, which really helped breath new life into the character and comic. DC never quite let Hal go, though, and soon enough they started to undo pretty much everything that had happened here: many of Hal’s victims were shown to have survived or were resurrected, Sinestro was revealed to have been a construct all along, and Hal both sacrificed himself to save the world and became the Spectre before being reborn, alongside the entire Green Lantern Corps, with all of his actions and time as Parallax revealed to have been due to the manipulations of a malevolent space bug. Yet, at the time, this was the status quo: The Green Lantern Corps were dead, Hal was a crazed lunatic, and we had a fun new Green Lantern, and it all kicked off here. It’s maybe not as long or as in-depth as other Dark Age tales from this time, but “Emerald Twilight” is still a significant chapter in the character’s life and well worth checking out if you fancy seeing a hero take a dramatic and tragic turn to the dark side.
Are you a fan of “Emerald Twilight”? If you read the story when it first published, what did you think to the dramatic change in Hal’s status quo and were you happy about it? Do you think that the story should have been expanded into a few more issues or did you prefer the more concise format? What did you think to Hal’s turn to the dark side? Do you think it was justified, and were you disappointed at how easily he dispatched the other Green Lanterns? What did you think to Hal’s turn as Parallax and were you a fan of Kyle Rayner? Did you enjoy the Dark Age of comics or were you happy to see the status quo restored? Which Green Lantern character, villain, or story is your favourite and why? How are you celebrating this pseudo-Green Lantern day today? Whatever you think about “Emerald Twilight”, and Green Lantern in general, sign up to leave your thoughts below or drop a comment on my social media.