When Heroes Fall: Hal Jordan

I have a confession to make. I love a hero’s fall from grace story. The one where the hero may never recover. Books as After the Cape, Irredeemable, and Ultimate Doomsday  all explore the fallen hero. These stories are the most human,  showing a hero is fallible and suffers like anyone else. Their fall is tragic since they are the best in their respective worlds, making it more meaningful and shocking, for most are human in the end.

Hal Jordan was the greatest Green Lantern.  He received a power ring from the Guardians of the Universe. Fueled by willpower, the ring makes anything possible. His duty was to protect his sector of space and be an extension of the Guardians’ will.

Hal’s hometown of Coast City was destroyed while he was off planet. Seven million people died. Blaming himself, Hal attempted to use the limitless power of his ring to bring them back. The Guardians stopped him and tried to take his power. Hal was misguided, but the Guardians could not understand his grief, causing him to snap. One of the Guardians would later comment, ‘Our greatest champion, yet we did not stand by him in his need. Our unwavering adherence to our edicts prevented the slightest compassion.’

Emerald Twilight chronicles Hal’s journey through space to reach the home world of the Guardians, Oa. Once at Oa, he absorbed the power belonging to all Green Lanterns. Thousands of Green Lanterns suffocated in space as a result. Hal became Parallax and had god like powers.

All heroes fear failing to save the most. They will do anything to correct past mistakes. Every act performed by Parallax was to revive Coast City. He was willing to sacrifice his remaining family and friends to bring back those he failed to save. Parallax was stopped in Zero Hour when his best friend, Oliver Queen, shot him in the chest. Readers who have witnessed friends falling apart and hurting others can understand Oliver’s struggle and decision.

Hal’s fall was not absolute, making it more tragic. He committed atrocities but was always trying to be a hero.

“I only wanted to fix things and look what happened. It’s not supposed to be like this. What happened to Coast City, all those people. I should have stopped it. I should have saved them. I’m a hero, that’s what I’m supposed to do. So I tried to change everything – Coast City, the Corps, everything. Put it back. Put it right. Unless I can do that, I can’t be a hero. I’ll be. . . I’ll be one of the bad guys.”

In Final Night he ultimately gave his life to save billions. But this was not Hal Jordan’s end. His soul bonded to the Spectre, the Spirit of Vengeance. To atone for his sins he would host another being with god like powers. By seeking vengeance for the dead, he would work towards redemption.

Until it was retconned.

Green Lantern sales dropped after Hal Jordan snapped. Green Lantern: Rebirth is the first and best Green Lantern story I have read. If Hal Jordan was coming back as a Green Lantern this is how it had to happen. Parallax became a fear parasite that latched itself onto Hal’s soul, influencing his actions. His sudden changes had motivation and showed how some characters were able to forgive him. A deeper mythology was built that still effects Green Lantern stories.

After reading preceding stories, I felt cheated by the retcon. It undercut all Hal’s efforts for redemption by sacrificing his life and becoming the Spectre. His very human struggle with denial, bargaining and madness was blamed on a separate entity, making it less human and relatable. Numerous characters still blamed Hal for Parallax but eventually forgave him. One of the greatest tales of a heroes fall from grace was retconned away.


2 thoughts on “When Heroes Fall: Hal Jordan

  1. I love the retcon. I’m not for or against it; I just see another artifact of interactivity. I love that it is such a contentious issue. Who is in control? Is it author, audience, or next author? Answer, none of the above.

    Retcon does have a definition and an entry on Wikipedia, albeit with a rich debate page behind it. The first time I heard the term, I fell into their rabbit hole thread until I landed on the best quote a Wikipedia editor ever wrote: “This entire page should be deleted.”

    “Don’t mess with my narrative,” says not just the comic book reader. Yet would we still be reading any book over a hundred years old without cultural WD40s like assimilation, translation, and retconning?

    I like your point though. Too often retconning is used to soften the blow of writing that was originally raw and real. Aging authors even do it to their own work. In the script lecture, I mention Denny Martin Flinn, who wrote a great book on feature screenwriting. He put it another way. No audience or focus group likes the end of Romeo and Juliet, but that doesn’t mean they want someone to change it.

    I like this piece Jane, but it really gets going towards the end when you come to this larger conclusion: “…I felt cheated by the retcon. It undercut all Hal’s efforts for redemption by sacrificing his life and becoming the Spectre.”

    This is an engaging thesis, and the Green Lantern is just one example. I wanted others. I felt the same way reading your midterm article on superhero paranoia, another good thesis that could go wider. I could think of other superheroes we suddenly trust less, like the X-men, and not just in comic books, but in movies too. When did we first stop trusting superheroes? With more research you could trace the change against the culture.

    The goal of the Wikipedia assignment is to encourage more and wider research in your writing. Your Wikipedia assignment was fine, mimicking the articles for many other comic titles. (Congratulations on finding a new page to complete.) However, Wikipedia’s model articles, for example https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aquaman_%28TV_pilot%29, bring together 40, 50, even 100+ references.

    Now that you are producing interesting posts regularly, think about expanding them beyond your frame of reference. Once you have an interesting thesis, research it, interview for it, and challenge it with an audience. You can’t gather multiple sources into original research on Wikipedia, but you should for your own posts and work.

    Additional and different sources make your writing stronger and more stimulating to a wider group. Now that you have the focus of comics, you can apply it to anything. Retconning was never just about comics.

    Continued good work Jane.


    1. I will always be torn on the retcon, probably why I write about it. I have seen it across all media, but stands out the most when I binge television shows or comics. Sometimes they are needed and done well. I just finished reading “Superman: Birthright” by Mark Waid, which is a well written retcon. It updates Superman for the modern age and makes him relatable.

      I understand wanting more examples, but I fear my articles growing out of control with too many examples. This piece I viewed more as a series of articles on heroes fall from grace. Hal Jordan’s happened to be retconned, but others I mentioned such as “Irredeemable” (also by Mark Waid) and “Under the Cape” were not. I initally wanted to incorporate more examples for the midterm, and was rereading Marvel’s “Civil War” and the superhero registration act. Instead, I went with the examples from the animated series, to include another medium.


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