December 6, 2023

Gabbing Geek

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Slightly Misplaced Comic Book Characters Case File #427: Guy Gardner

Not all Green Lanterns need to be nice.

OK, hold on.  I get what you’re thinking.  This is for “misplaced” characters, and last week’s Booster Gold entry was pushing it as it is.  Most comics fans know who Booster Gold is, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t know who Guy Gardner is.  He’s, like, probably the third or fourth most recognizable Green Lantern out there.

But like with Booster Gold, I think there’s something to be said about Guy.  His personality has shifted wildly over the years.

Guy first appeared in Green Lantern #59 in March of 1968 from writer John Broome and artist Gil Kane.  That was something of an odd issue as it was sort of what DC used to call an Imaginary Story (which Alan Moore once brilliantly pointed out they all are in “Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow?”).  These were basically a “What If/Elseworlds” sort of issue where creators could explore different ideas.  And what it comes down to was this:  the qualifications to be a Green Lantern are just to be completely fearless and honest, so Hal Jordan couldn’t possibly be the only person who qualified to be a Green Lantern when Abin Sur crash landed on Earth and was dying.  So, what was the deal then?  Simple:  Hal was literally the closest qualified person to Abin Sur when he needed to find a successor, and when Hal asked his ring what would have happened if he hadn’t been present, the ring explained that had Hal been unavailable, it would have been Guy who received the ring.

Also, this was a 60s Silver Age book, so Guy was basically straight-arrow nice guy sort of character like most DC heroes.  Jerk Guy came later.

As it is, Hal went off and befriended Guy, a social worker.  Guy would later learn Hal was the Green Lantern, helping out here and there.  Eventually, writer Steve Englehart and artist Joe Stanton would expand on the idea of the Green Lantern Corps when it looked like back-up Lantern John Stewart would be stepping down.  Instead, they gave Guy a ring and expanded the Corps.  Guy would bond quite a bit with Corps trainer Kilowog, and was still a rather run-of-the-mill hero until he was hit by a bus trying to save one of his students and knocked into a coma.

The Guy that woke up later, that’s the Guy most people probably remember, the one that joined the Justice League International with the bad bowl haircut and a penchant for being a jerk.  That in and of itself is sort of a brilliant idea because there’s nothing in the Green Lantern qualifications that say a Lantern has to be nice or even pleasant.  This was a Guy who got on everybody’s nerves but somehow struck up a romantic relationship with Ice, the nicest member of the League, and was perpetually saddled with the canine alien Lantern G’nort.  Batman once famously knocked him out with one punch, and the hit to the head made Guy super-nice, but that somehow made him even more annoying to the others.  Fortunately, that was temporary.  Eventually, he challenged Hal to a fight, the loser would then quit the Corps, something that brought the entire League out to cheer Hal on (save Ice, but that’s neither here nor there).  Guy lost.  He quit the Corps.  And here’s where his story maybe gets a little interesting.

See, Guy still wanted to be a hero, and he knew how to use a ring.  He would honor his agreement to stay out of the Green Lantern Corps, but there were other rings out there.  That meant a trip to Qward where he managed to get ahold of Sinestro’s Yellow Ring, one of a kind at the time.  This was a ring that was charged by being near Green Lantern rings, something he only gradually figured out, and eventually, Guy took on a new look and a new name, the new look courtesy of returning artist Joe Stanton.

As 90s looks go, that one ain’t bad.

However, Guy did need to evolve as a character, and that came courtesy of writer Beau Smith who took over Guy’s solo book.  By then, Guy had been given a fairly good backstory.  He was the younger of two brothers, and while he adored his big brother Mace, Mace got involved with drugs and eventually became a supervillain.  Guy grew up in Baltimore, adored comic books featuring the Captain America parody character General Glory (Guy’s bowlcut was modeled after Glory’s kid sidekick Ernie), and his father was an abusive alcoholic.  Smith decided that Guy was going to be a dull character if he was just the jerk Green Lantern, so one of the first things he did was have Guy go up against Hal Jordan, now corrupted as Parallax.  Guy went up with a few heroes to investigate what happened on Oa, and his yellow ring kept him in the fight the longest, but even his ring couldn’t stand up to what Hal was dishing out, destroying the Sinestro ring and putting Guy into yet another coma.

Here’s where Smith’s work came in:  he gave Guy superpowers.  His powers would allow him to adapt to any threat and be able to fight back.  Guy, it seems, was descended from the alien Vuldarians, an honorable warrior race of peacekeepers, hence Guy’s new codename of “Warrior”.  Smith would continue to adapt the character to make him less of a jerk and more of a rough-and-tumble blue collar guy, the sort that would open a superhero friendly bar in New York called “Warriors,” and when Ice died, even strike up a relationship with longtime frenemy Fire.

Quite frankly, I rather liked this period.  Guy’s powers were unique, and his new attitude seemed like an evolution from what he was before.  He gained a new enemy that was another Vuldarian experiment, this one with the power to mess with Guy’s mind and body, and was maybe responsible for making Guy so unpleasant by messing with Guy’s personality during one of his comas.  That said, it was far from perfect.  Guy’s solo book had a couple questionable issues, like two extra-sized ones that just seemed like an excuse to make fans pay extra for an issue where it was just as many DC heroes as the artist could draw hanging out in Guy’s bar, once for the grand opening and once for a Christmas party.  Then there was one where the aforementioned body-altering villain turned Guy into a woman and made him put on a fashion show that was not used for any sort of commentary on how Guy or comics in general treated women.  But this wasn’t a bad run.

OK, there was one more problem, and that was Guy’s look when his powers were active.

That tribal tattoo look is just...bad.
That tribal tattoo look is just…bad.

As 90s looks go, that one is terrible.

But then Geoff Johns had to make Hal a good guy and alive again, so that led to Green Lantern Rebirth, a downright awful mini-series that tried to make Hal into DC Jesus.  During that time, Guy’s body suddenly rejected all his Vuldarian genetics and made him just a regular human and a Green Lantern again.  Also, Hal knocked out Batman with one punch, but everything about that scenario was just stupid, so I won’t say more about it.

Actually, from here, Guy would go on to gain the title “Honor Lantern” and be assigned to Oa as one of the main peacekeepers there.  He’d still be a bit rough-and-tumble, but now he tends to get along with most Lanterns, including Hal.  At some point during the New 52, Guy would actually become a Red Lantern, but basically, he’s that Green Lantern who went through a very memorable jerk phase but, unlike some of his Justice League teammates, actually has more or less recovered as a character and isn’t just treated as a joke character or a fool like the others.

So, is Guy misplaced?  Well…probably not, but he’s probably had more personality shifts and code names than Hank Pym, so that may count for something.