Newsarama interviewed Ron Marz and Darryl Banks, reflecting on their assignment to write and draw Green Lantern back in 1994, and they still don’t seem to have any regrets about where they sent Hal Jordan, after all the misuse the Silver Age GL first went through after 1988. It begins with:
It’s been 26 years since Kyle Rayner donned the Green Lantern mantle for the first time, and for thousands of fans he remains their Green Lantern.
If that’s meant to imply they still see nothing wrong with the ill-treatment of Hal, they really are blowing it. If it hadn’t been for the horrific way they sent Hal to the grave, partly engineered by the grain-of-salt writer Dan Jurgens during the Zero Hour crossover, even I could probably have accepted Kyle ascension to wearing the power ring more easily. But while I realize fictional characters can’t be blamed here, I cannot consider Kyle “my” GL, because of the monumentally embarrassing ill will the whole direction was built on, and not even for the sake of character focus. It was all just about “shakeups”.
And it did nothing to mend the damage done to Hal ever since Action Comics Weekly #601, which saw Katma Tui slaughtered at the hands of Carol Ferris, still under the Star Sapphire influence, a move that achieved nothing but cheap sensationalism, and the angry response of many GL fans. As I’d noted before, I still find it stunning in hindsight that Gil Kane, a talented artist in his time, would actually agree to illustrate the beginnings to such a filthy story that wasn’t even very consistent with past developments, and served by extension to destroy all the development that had been achieved with John Stewart as a character.
What’s really regrettable besides what happened Katma and John is the ill treatment of Carol, because here, the door had been left open for bringing her back to her ordinary self and freeing her from the Sapphire influence, and what do they do? They made it worse. Even for John, recalling what Cosmic Odyssey led to, with John leading to the annihilation of a space colony. Some of this may have been forgotten after the ACW run ended, but it still left a terrible stain that still hasn’t been repaired properly. Now, here’s a little more from the article:
Kyle’s rookie year as DC’s emerald guardian was helmed by writer Ron Marz, then a new face at DC, and artists with the likes of Darryl Banks, Derec Donovan nee Aucoin, Jamal Igle, and legendary inker Romeo Tanghal. For the first twelves issues of Kyle stepping into Hal Jordan’s boots, he went through an incredible trial by fire with the infamous murder of his girlfriend Alex DeWitt, almost being killed himself by Mongul, as well as taking on his power-obsessed predecessor.
“Incredible”? Oh, do tell us about it. It’s almost uproarious how some people would vehemently insist on damning a fictional character like Hal as lacking personality, yet they saw nothing wrong with Kyle suffering the same alleged issue. Assuming, of course, that they actually did bother to read the Kyle material, and judging from where the sales receipts were down to by the turn of the century, not many actually did. I do remember, however, coming across one guy on the web in its early days stating that, after just 2-3 years, he had to reevaluate the book, because it didn’t offer any of the elements Hal supposedly lacked. And that pretty much told all we need to know, that it was all an unfunny joke and a con job.
Now, here’s some of the interview itself:
Newsarama: Ron, Darryl, before we get into your work on Green Lantern, let’s talk about what led up to do it.
Ron, you had been at Marvel on Thor, Silver Surfer, and What If…? Darryl, you had been more on the independent scene with Innovation Comics but eventually landed at DC with Legion of Super Heroes. When did you come together for the first time to talk about Green Lantern and “Emerald Twilight”?
Ron Marz: You know, I honestly don’t remember the first time we talked. I do know we had to hit the ground running.
Darryl was already slated to take over the art duties on Green Lantern, even before I was offered the book.
Darryl Banks: I was already on the project with another writer then the editors decided to go in a different direction.
Marz: The previous writer had a different storyline in mind for issues #48 through #50, and Darryl actually drew some pages from that issue script.
Banks: I had drawn about five pages or so of the initial project when the changes began.
Marz: I think I have copies of them somewhere.
But ultimately DC editorial decided that story was not what they wanted, and offered me the title.
I assume Darryl and I started talking when he started drawing issue #50. Switching storylines meant that the schedule was behind enough that other artists had to be brought in to draw #48 and #49. That’s why each issue of “Emerald Twilight” has a different artist.
That previous writer they speak of is none other than the disgraced Gerard Jones, who was the true culprit responsible for some of the faults inexplicably attributed to fictional character Hal, and what happened after Jones left the series? A fictional character gets punished instead of the writer, who continued to work in comicdom for several more years, and even translated manga like Dragon Ball up until the mid-2000s. It’s not hard to guess though, that after Jones was arrested for storing child porn on computer equipment at his house at least 3 years ago, Marz and Banks are embarrassed to mention him, because what Jones did clearly puts a cloud over their own work too.
After all, they were picking up from where Jones left off, with the wipeout of Coast City during the Death & Return of Superman still canon at the time. Yet they’re not embarrassed about the whole notion of resorting to shock tactics like the fridge scene with Alex deWitt? How strange. They sure weren’t hitting the ground running that way. Oh, and look what Marz brings up next besides what happened to Hal’s hometown (not to mention a few characters who first appeared in 1984, and showed up again just so they could follow the township to the afterlife, seeing as they may never have been mentioned again):
Nrama: But the story you ended up telling was story of this fallen hero. Coast City is destroyed, and that sort of broke Hal Jordan as we see in #50 when the Guardians finally confront him about his crimes.
You’re taking over the story from the previous writer, and coming onto a new book and you know that Hal is about to take the ultimate heel turn, he even kills Killowog. Do you remember any editorial notes or did you just let loose and see what you could get away with?
Marz: DC faxed me about a page-and-a-half of notes, just a broad outline of what the three issues were supposed to be. All the details were left to me to fill in.
Killing Kilowog was all me.
I felt like if Hal was going to destroy the Corps, it needed to be personal, we needed to see a known character meet his fate on camera. There’s no sense in doing that kind of storyline if it doesn’t hurt.
Banks: It’s funny you said “heel turn” because Hal did use a few pro wrestling moves in issue #50!
How about that. Marz doesn’t have any regrets over his ill-treatment of Kilowog, the big guy alien with head features reminiscent of a hippopotamus introduced in 1986. It reminds me though, that, after the end of the 80s, his being a scientist who came up with contraptions with which to say, do physical/medical analysis, seemed to be forgotten, and he certainly wasn’t handled well as a character by Jones later on, any more than Hal was.
I find it shameful how the interviewer won’t ask any challenging questions aboutwhether it truly had to be done in the first place, and whether they really wanted any segment of the audience to be alienated by their antics. After all, that’s how superhero comics have been brought down so badly. To make matters worse, the interviewer alludes to those scenes with wrestling techniques in a positive sense:
Nrama: My man, we remember that vividly.
Kyle Rayner is sort of one of the ultimate Gen X heroes. He’s at the right place, right time, no real ambitions and Ganthet shows up and literally says “you will have to do.”
What was the collaboration on the creation of Kyle like? Did you know what you wanted out of the character right off the bat or did you discover things as you went along with the series?
Marz: The last line of the outline that DC gave me was, essentially, “…and a new Green Lantern is created.” That was the only direction I was given.
I asked if the new GL could be a woman, and DC said they wanted to keep a male lead.
I asked if the new GL could be an alien, and the answer was he needed to be human.
Other than that, there was no direction.
So we just made up Kyle from the ground floor. I never made a secret that he was very much based on the Everyman archetype that Spider-Man typifies.
I wanted just a regular guy, rather than someone who was already a hero, like Hal, who was a test pilot. If we were going to go in a different direction, let’s really go in a different direction. Let’s have somebody who has to learn to be a hero. Irish ancestry because that interested me. I picked his first name because of Kyle Reese in The Terminator. I picked Rayner off a list of Irish last names, just because it sounded good with “Kyle.” Black hair because Hal had brown hair, and Alan had blond hair. And an artist because Green Lantern is in a lot of ways a special effects book. We wanted someone who was going to make cool stuff with the ring.
Banks: Ron had a great grasp of who Kyle should be from the beginning. I remember that it took a while to come up with a last name for him.
Yeah, some grasp alright! So much he didn’t really give him much of a personality, any more than Hal supposedly lacked. As a result, it’s hard to believe Kyle was really based on the Peter Parker template. In fact, it’s hard to believe today’s takes on Spidey are based on the same, seeing how Joe Quesada destroyed the Spider-marriage in 2007. Say, and if Kyle was an artist, why should he be considered a “regular guy” any more than Hal? That too sounds an awful lot like the same pseudo-logic that destroyed Hal as a character all those years ago. Being a pilot alone doesn’t make you an instant hero. Let’s also consider Guy Gardner and John Stewart weren’t pilots either when they made their debuts (the former was a school teacher/sports instructor and the latter an architect), and they could just as easily fit that category.
Nrama: Let’s talk about Kyle’s design. Obviously this was around the time that a lot of legacy characters were emerging. You had Fate’s replacement, Azreal-asBatman, Wally had become the Flash not too long ago, Connor would soon replace Oliver, and Superman had his own sort of situation with the “Reign of the Supermen.” So visually you wanted something different. Kyle being an illustrator and designer, what did you want for his costume? How many concepts did y’all go through?
Marz: The visuals were obviously all Darryl. I remember he did a number of costume designs, and we talked about different aspects of those designs with the editor, Kevin Dooley. Maybe five or six different designs? We ended up taking different pieces from different designs, and Darryl pulled them all together into a cohesive design.
Banks: Yeah, the idea was to be different but not unrecognizable. The rejected designs looked so 1990’s it hurt!
The final costume was a combination of elements from other submitted designs. Mask from here, boots and gauntlets from there.
The logo was last. Had to fight for that one. Initially, DC wanted to keep the classic symbol but I felt Kyle needed his own symbol. He didn’t say the Green Lantern oath while recharging his Power Ring. The symbol is split in order to imply “in Brightest Day, in Blackest Night.”
Kyle may not have been unrecognizable as a GL, but as far as different goes, his costume design sure wasn’t very impressive with that crab-mask. Interesting Banks admits the design was cobbled together from other proposals, because that’s basically what it amounted to, right down to the way Kyle’s costume featured more black than green, or more black in the middle and green on the sidelines. But the mask…did they really think nobody would notice how laughable that was? I can see why, after nearly 8 years, Kyle started wearing a simpler mask.
Nrama: Okay so let’s talk about that first issue with Kyle taking up the Green Lantern mantle. He gets beaten up by some jabroni – working in that wrestling terminology, Darryl – named Ohm but then flashes back to Kyle and Alex discussing his new situation. This was revolutionary at the time as they were this…quasi-couple but didn’t hide anything from each other.
What made you want Kyle to be upfront about this with Alex instead of hiding it?
Marz: Well, Alex was always designed to be the smarter, more responsible one. Kyle didn’t know what the hell to do, he needed Alex to tell him, because he was obviously way out of his depth.
So Kyle was out of his depth…but Guy and John weren’t? Because they did gain an understanding of how to use their power rings, and while not without shortcomings, both ultimately mastered the requirements to really work things out, even if they did need some coaching, as John got from Katma. Until ACW’s Green Lantern entry ruined everything for her and John, of course, followed by Cosmic Odyssey.
And while making the girlfriend intelligent is a great idea, it doesn’t mean the male hero should be characterized as a milquetoast type. Since they bring that up, here’s where they get around to all that stuff involving the notorious fridge scene:
Nrama: Now now, Darryl…
Before we get to Major Force, let’s talk more about Alex DeWitt. Reading the fan mail in these issues was interesting because there was a letter talking about how that person could see that Alex and Kyle could be the next power couple and you were like, well…no. So talk to us about Alex’s creation and when you knew what was going to happen.
Marz: Readers were supposed to like Alex more than they liked Kyle initially. She was the responsible one, the smart one. He probably wouldn’t have survived his first few encounters as Green Lantern without her. I also knew, from the moment she was created, that she was going to pay the ultimate price because Kyle had been thrust into this new role.
I know the comparison is always to Gwen Stacy, but the inspiration was really Uncle Ben. It’s the “great responsibility” moment. In a lot of ways, Alex was a better choice to be Green Lantern than Kyle. I wanted the readers to fall in love with Alex. We built her character carefully enough so that her death would come as a shock to the audience.
Banks: Ron can definitely speak to that but I was surprised at how the fans really became attached to Alex.
If any “fans” stopped reading because they threw Alex under the bus after just 6 issues or so, would they be surprised? The comparison to Ben Parker is just so wobbly, because he was a father-figure, while Alex deWitt was a romantic partner. Here’s more on the whole atrocity:
Nrama: Now we’re going to get to some of darker areas of Kyle’s first year as Green Lantern and it’s sort of something that is still a major talking point with Alex’s murder. So you both knew she was going to die right off the bat essentially. How do you feel about her death now, the cliche of ‘Women in Refrigerators,’ and is it any different from how you thought of it back then?
Marz: Right, I knew that Kyle’s irresponsibility with the ring was going to get Alex killed. We wanted her death to be a gut punch for the audience, something unexpected and memorable. And I guess in that respect we succeeded. Certainly, in retrospect the larger context is much more apparent. As I said, people see it as a Gwen Stacy moment, but at the time, I’m not sure I’d even read that Spider-Man issue.
For me, it was Kyle’s Uncle Ben moment, where his cavalier attitude and inexperience meant someone close to him paid the price. Then, it was a story I was writing. I was not thinking about the larger context, both in comics and other media. Now, or course, it’s impossible to think of it without the larger context. Which I think is a good thing.
Banks: For a character without a long history I’m still surprised that people are shocked by Alex’s death to this day. Alex may have surpassed Uncle Ben Parker in fan reaction.
Actually, that may not be the issue.
What is the issue is why the girlfriends to follow had to be established superheroines like Donna Troy and Jade? And then, there’s that little matter involving a guy named Hal Jordan, lest we forget. Regardless of whether it made sense to kill off Alex or not, does it excuse the nasty steps taken with Hal? Of course not. No more than if Spider-Man had ostensibly good writing coming after One More Day. Yet some people only voice serious objections when Spidey’s victimized by editorial mandates, not Green Lantern. And if memory serves, Kyle was busy dealing with an earthquake or a crime in progress when Major Force burst into Alex’s home and strangled her to death.
So it wasn’t the refridgerator scene per se that offended anybody, but rather, that she’d have to die by such a grossly rendered tactic, and it’s not like Kyle actually ignored a burglar who ran past him like Peter Parker did in 1962, after which, realizing what his mistake led to when uncle Ben was shot dead, he became a more dedicated crimefighter. That’s why some of their statements don’t make much sense, and the way they sought attention through controversy was not a good thing. It’s how much the wider press is willing to cover stuff from a merit-based vision that is. And some news sources are so corrupted today, they won’t.
Nrama: What do you think of the term “fridging”?
Banks: That term wouldn’t exist except for a botched attempt at censoring the scene. If the panel was left the way I originally drew it (clearly showing Alex intact) fans may have just moved on.
Marz: Valid. If a story I wrote turned out to be the tinder point for people to discuss the larger issues, the larger trope, that’s good. Certainly I don’t mean to say that it was my intention to provoke a discussion. I’m just a dumb ass making up stories and looking to provoke an emotional reaction in the audience. But It’s valid criticism, and something we needed to talk about, and be aware of.
Reminds me of J. Michael Straczynski, who used similar defenses when he came up with that forced and contrived Sins Past storyline in Spider-Man. At least Marz admits criticism is valid…or does he?
Since this whole business involving the refridgerator comes up, it does remind of something that took place in Jones’ run on the book before the above writer and artist came along, which I’d thought of adding to the previous post I’d written where I did some research on as much of the disturbing elements turning up in Jones’ resume, but forgot to use, though the post was so long, and with pictures added tends to slow down writing to some extent, so that’s why it’d be best to avoid putting too much strain on the previous post and add it here instead, in a little interlude from the main topic at hand. But first, there’s one more thing I want to post from the 1990-93 material, from the 2nd issue, involving Guy Gardner:
In this story, intersecting with that where Hal is taking a cross-country trip in the first 3 issues, Guy visits a porn shop in New York City. And how fascinating Guy should be depicted taking a fancy to porn, when later on, he’s depicted objecting to prostitution. As I’d said in the previous post, this does suggest quite a hypocritical stance on Jones’ part.
And it’s not the only thing I found wrong with this issue. The story also featured the inexplicable return of a minor villain from the 2nd volume, the Tattooed Man, who was now suddenly working in a tattoo art parlor in the Big Apple. The return appearance was contrived and forced, because in the prior volume, at the time Marv Wolfman was writing around 1981, Abel Tarrant was shot dead by an assassin working for Goldface, who targeted the crooked naval sailor for ripping him off of some valuables. And what made this contrived reappearance so ludicrous is that, in the 2nd volume, Tarrant robbed a bank and murdered a security guard, yet when he resurfaced in the 3rd GL volume, where he showed up just so Guy could clash with him for the sake of it, Hal made no attempt to arrest the criminal and throw him at the mercy of the California authorities for his violent crime, which was curiously ignored.
And Tarrant is offered a job by some dockmen Hal had briefly been working for in that same issue (who didn’t want to continue employing him because he was a superhero, suggesting Jones was employing a superhero-scapegoating tactic). Some readers must’ve noticed this absurdity too, which could explain why, a year or so later, Jones came up with a half-hearted attempt to explain in-story why Tarrant could’ve survived, that he supposedly concocted an energy construct or something. But it doesn’t explain how Hal’s ring failed to figure out if that was the case, nor why he made no attempt to haul Tarrant before the police for his violent crime. It’s one of at least a few examples from both this volume and Action Comics Weekly’s GL feature that are inconsistent with past developments. Now, here’s that panel I wanted to mainly focus on, from the second annual of the 3rd GL volume, connected as it was to the Bloodlines crossover from 1993, one of the most notorious of its kind in mainstream superhero fare:
Carol Ferris, who’d been freed of the Star Sapphire gem’s effects the previous year, visits a friend to discuss her feelings for Hal Jordan, and one of the rejects from the Aliens movies with Sigourney Weaver invades the household and murders Carol’s friend via dismemberment. Of all the physically violent moments that could take place in Gerard Jones’ scriptwriting portfolio, this was easily the most graphic among them. And maybe that could explain why, even if Alex’s fridge scene a year later didn’t involve her being eviscerated, people still took offense. There’s certainly something strange about a scene like the above passing muster with the now defunct Comics Code reviewers, yet the fridge scene requires scaling back. I figure Bloodlines must’ve been so controversial, DC decided they’d have to avoid stuff like that for a time afterwards, though some of it made a comeback under Geoff Johns and/or Dan DiDio in the early 2000s, and let’s not forget how the latter saw to it that the seriousness of topics like sexual violence were belittled. Say, notice how the alien addresses Carol as “sexy”? It’s not like the word “sexy” never existed in mainstream comics in past decades, but still, is this another clue to Jones’ twisted mindset? If anything, it seems awfully forced here, about what you could expect from somebody as loathsome as Jones turned out to be. Suffice it to say there’s another scene involving an alien disguised as a woman having sex with a man whom it murders in the issue, which was one of the most repellent entries in the 1993 crossover. If Marz and Banks had no idea why their scene could’ve been censored, the Bloodlines crossover might explain it.
And with that noted, let’s turn back to the Marz/Banks interview:
Nrama: So after Alex, Kyle is still trying to find his place in the pantheon and then Parallax comes around. What do you remember about the creation of Parallax, and setting up Kyle against him?
Marz: Darryl was the one who came up with the name Parallax, and it’s perfect. Hal’s view of everything has changed, because of his perspective. For me, Hal was never a villain, he was at worst an antagonist, or an anti-hero. I wanted the audience to feel like, “Well, maybe he has a point here…”
To me, the best villains are the heroes of their own stories. That’s why I generally was more attracted to Marvel villains than DC villains. The old rule of thumb was that Marvel villains wanted to rule to the world, DC villains wanted to rob banks.
I saw Hal as Parallax very much in the Magneto mold. He was convinced in the righteousness of his cause, and he was willing to do what was necessary to achieve his goals. He was very much a sympathetic character to me. All powerful, but broken.
Banks: Parallax wasn’t the villain he was perceived to be. Hal Jordan was pushed past his limit. Furious, yes. Evil, no. There was still a nobility about the purpose and one of the reasons I designed him with knight-like armor.
Maybe “Parallax” wasn’t a villain, but it’s still no justification for slaughtering the GL Corps. In fact, it’s not justified if Magneto committed murders either. So what’s the point? It goes without saying Marz’s view of Marvel villains as opposed to DC villains is hilariously shallow, because even the MCU has villains who were obsessed with bank robberies, and Spider-Man’s rogues gallery had plenty like that (in the late 60s, the Vulture wanted to perform air piracy by terrorizing the crew of a helicopter into giving him a case filled with valuables). Maybe the biggest elephant in the room Marz ignored is that some of the villains in both universes could use the money and jewelry they stole to finance scientific operations on the black market for more elaborate schemes. He’s also oblivious to DC villains like Sinestro and Darkseid, the latter who was an alien despot ruling the planet Apokalips. Not exactly mere bank robbers are they, eh?
Nrama: After Parallax, you have Zero Hour which was a big DC event. How would you both describe Kyle’s rookie year as Green Lantern?
Banks: There were a lot of gimmicks in the 1990’s where comics were concerned. While change was in the air we still never thought of Kyle in throw away terms. Ron and I thought about what would make Kyle fresh and unique in order to breathe new life to the franchise.
Marz: I honestly didn’t know for quite a while that Hal was the big villain of Zero Hour. Like, well into Zero Hour being worked on. I was in the DC offices and it was mentioned casually, like I already knew. And I said, “Wait, wait, wait, what are you talking about?”
And that’s when we realized my editor thought he’d told me about Parallax in Zero Hour, but never did. It was not a huge issue, I got up to speed and and we figured out what Green Lantern #0 needed to be.
They sure did alright. The way these clowns take these assignments virtually unquestioned is aggravating. Not the least being Dan Jurgens, who’d been one of the writers during Superman’s Death & Return, and was involved in the Zero Hour crossover too. Jurgens may have talent as an artist, but as a writer, his efforts have been very hit-or-miss, and if he’s a right-winger, he sure doesn’t speak for me.
I think one of the most irritating things about the whole Emerald Twilight debacle is that it took away attention from what should’ve been the real issue – that Gerard Jones’ writing on the book simply wasn’t very good. And why does a fictional character have to suffer for the mistakes made by the writer? One answer would have to be nepotism, plain and simple, another would be the failure of any pretentious audience members to distinguish properly between fiction and reality. And if Dooley and company were counting on the notion virtually every audience member was too stupid to make distinctions, that was another terrible mistake.
Say, and how do Marz and Banks feel about working with Eddie Berganza, who was co-editor on GL at the time, and later turned out to be a bad lot himself? No questions brought up about that either, predictably. But all the terrible mistakes that went into launching the 3rd GL volume, starting with Jones hired as the main writer, are exactly why today, I consider much of volume 3 toxic. If we were were to bring up what parts would be best avoided, I’d say readers looking for older material from past superhero comics should avoid the first 18 issues of it, for instance, and IMO, Jones destroyed Guy Gardner as a character. I’d also advise the audience to avoid the annuals, particularly the 1st and aforementioned 2nd, and much of the 1994-2004 material as well. It’s just not worth it. Interestingly enough, there’s 2 or 3 stories from the 1990-93 era where I get the idea they may not have been written by Jones, if only because they don’t seem written in his style and aren’t as stilted. Those include the 19th issue, the crossover with the Flash titled Gorilla Warfare in #30-31, and even the issues where the Predator showed up (#41-42, where a guy who may be a letterer named Steve Mattson gets some special credit), along with a special guest appearance by Deathstroke.
I know there’s at least 2 GL stories from those times starring Hal that Jones didn’t write (Ganthet’s Tale and a short-story from the mid-90s Showcase), and if this previous news about the possibility he didn’t actually translate Dragon Ball himself says anything, maybe it’s possible not all the stories he gets credit for in US comicdom proper were actually written by him. In which case, Jones should be all means be stripped of all false credits down to the last one, and the real scribes be given credit instead. That would make everything only so much easier.
For now, I want to make clear again, that, as somebody who has much appreciation for the GL material dating up to 1988, it’s a terrible shame such a fine sci-fi title had to suffer only so many awful mistakes, and be brought down by a torrent of political correctness that till this day hasn’t been mended properly, and that goes double for the continued misuse of Katma Tui. Hal Jordan by contrast may have been resurrected, yet the damage he suffered still remains in some ways, and from what I can tell, they have no intention of jettisoning it. And all these pretentious writers show no regrets for their part in the denigrations.
Originally published here.