Some superheroes loan themselves to what I’ll call “armchair hero-ing.” You know the feeling. You sit there and go, “Oh come on, why doesn’t Superman just fly around the world again, rewind time and stop all the crimes before they happen?” You’ll notice no one does this with Batman. No one second guesses Batman.
However, I find myself doing this a lot with Green Lantern. GL is one of my favorite heroes, and the amount of power his ring gives him loans itself to these kind of thoughts. And then I read Green Lantern #2 (part of the New 52 line) and had an epiphany. A really super-powered character is most effective when they’re detached from the situation they’re in.
Let me give some context around this issue to illustrate. The upshot is Hal Jordan (GL) is now under the tutelage of his former enemy, Sinestro. The pair come upon a collapsing bridge, complete with a car about to go over the edge and a hot girl already falling. Hal has an emotional reaction. These people are in trouble and he needs to save them. That’s Hal’s motivation – save the people. Hal jumps into action, flies down, grabs the hot girl and wills a giant magnet into being to pull the car to safety.
Sinestro intervenes then, undoing what Hal’s done. Suddenly, the car and the girl are falling again and Sinestro tells Hal to watch and learn. Sinestro exerts his will and the bridge repairs itself, and the car and the hot girl are teleported back onto the bridge. Injuries, property damage and everything else has been undone. Simultaneously.
So what’s the difference? Simple. Sinestro doesn’t care about the people on the bridge. All he wants to do is restore order to a chaotic situation. There’s no compassion for life in his actions, just cold calculation.
Compare these actions to a fight scene later on in the same issue, where a Yellow Lantern attacks Sinestro. Given Sinestro’s sprezzatura earlier, you think he’ll use his ring to explode the Yellow Lantern’s heart in his chest, or teleport him into the center of the sun, or a million other nasty finishing moves worth of Mortal Kombat. But that doesn’t happen. Why?
Cuz in this scene, Sinestro’s pissed off.
Gone is the cold, calculating tactician. Instead, Sinestro conjures a giant green broadsword and drives it through his enemy’s chest. This fight was personal, and Sinestro handled it in the same way Hal was going to handle the situation on the bridge – emotionally.
I think that’s part of what makes it possible to relate to GL. Without that visceral approach to hero-ing, there’d never be any tension to his stories, no nail-biting moments, nothing. In short, he’d be boring. No one would want to read about a character like that. And while it may make us sit back and say, “well why doesn’t he just…” we love him just the same.