Sunday, June 23, 2024

Who’s the Best Green Lantern of them All?

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Who is the best Green Lantern? Many would probably say Hal Jordan. He’s certainly been around the longest, and is arguably the most well-known. Others might say Kyle Rayner. He took over as Green Lantern when the rest of the Corps was destroyed. (Temporarily, of course, because comics). Kyle was also the White Lantern, wielder of all colors of the lantern spectrum. Hal even told Kyle he was the best in a recent issue of Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps.

I’m inclined to agree that Kyle is certainly better than Hal. But is he the best?

What makes one Green Lantern better than another? Green Lanterns are chosen for their ability to overcome great fear. Green Lanterns like Hal and Kyle, and even John Stewart and Guy Gardener were chosen for this specific trait. But is that really what we get with them? Hal and Guy particularly, but also John and Kyle in their own way, are fearless to the point of arrogance. Time and time again over the years, Hal Jordan has succeeded not because he was able to overcome great fear. Fear isn’t even in his vocabulary. Hal rushes headlong into danger because he does not fear. Most of the time he comes out on top because of his ignorance. Not knowing or caring if a thing is impossible makes it possible for Hal Jordan.

But what if there was a Green Lantern that actually knows fear? Hal Jordan doesn’t seem to even know what fear is. What would it look like for someone who is afraid to then become a Green Lantern? Someone who has faced fear, looked it in the eye, maybe faltered, and then overcame it certainly possesses the criteria sought after by the Corps.

Well, there already is someone like that, and for my money, she’s the best Green Lantern. I’m speaking, of course, about Jessica Cruz.

Evil Beginnings

Jessica Cruz is a creation of Geoff Johns, the pioneer of a number of memorable events and ongoing series in the DC canon. Johns knows his Green Lantern, having written the Rebirth run that resurrected Hal Jordan, as well as the Blackest Night event series that brought the entire spectrum of lanterns into play in the DC Universe.

During the New 52 run of Justice League, Johns wrote an event called Forever Evil in which the evil version of the Justice League, Earth-3’s Crime Syndicate, came to destroy the Justice League. The Crime Syndicate has their own Green Lantern named Power Ring. He’s a reversal of Hal Jordan in that he’s afraid of everything, and his ring feeds off of his fear, essentially controlling him.

During Forever Evil, the Justice League is forced to rely upon the help of some of their worst enemies to take down the Crime Syndicate. One of these is perennial Green Lantern villain, Sinestro. Sinestro kills the Earth 3 Harold Jordan, leaving Power Ring’s ring to find a new host. As its power controls its wearer through fear, naturally it finds someone who is a slave to her own fears and anxieties. It finds Jessica Cruz.

Darkness to Light

At first, Jessica is, like Earth 3’s Harold Jordan, a slave to the Power Ring. Its drive toward mayhem causes the Justice League to hunt Jessica down to stop the Power Ring from wreaking havoc across the globe. Once in their custody, it is found that the ring has taken root on her hand, and cannot be removed.

The ring found Jessica because she was a shut-in who was ruled by her own fears. Years earlier, Jessica was out on a hunting trip with her friends. They were attacked by bandits and Jessica’s friends were all murdered while she escaped to safety. Traumatized by these events, and plagued with survivor’s guilt, Jessica locked herself away in her apartment where she stockpiled food, water, and weapons. This is the Jessica that was discovered by the Power Ring, a woman completely dominated by her fear and anxiety, completely cut off from the world outside.

Since the ring cannot be removed, Justice League members, particularly Batman and the Flash, help Jessica to overcome her own fears. The ring dominates her through fear, so if she can rise above her own anxiety, she can control the ring rather than it controlling her.

With their help. she does manage to calm her fears enough to control the ring. She becomes a de facto member of the League for a time, training with them, and even going out on missions using the Power Ring as her own under the tutelage of Hal Jordan. During the Darkseid War event, Jessica sacrifices herself to save a fellow Justice League member, and rather than kill Jessica, the entity inside the Power Ring dies. (It turns out that was Volthoom, the First Lantern all along. Comics!) In the aftermath, a new Green Lantern ring appears and selects Jessica to be its new wielder.

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Since DC Comics’ Rebirth initiative (not a reboot) Jessica, along with her partner Simon Baz, has been the official Green Lantern of Earth. They fight alongside the Justice League and generally handle any Earth-centric cosmic threats. They were given this duty by Hal Jordan while the rest of the Green Lantern Corps was lost to the galaxy. (They are back now, it’s a long story, don’t ask).

This was not a voluntary partnership. Jessica and Simon did not get along at all to start with. Hal Jordan (being the big jerk that he is) fused their power batteries together in order to force them to cooperate. They can only recharge their rings together. It is at this point when Sam Humphries takes over writing Green Lanterns, that we really see Jessica (and Simon too) coming into her own as a hero.

Overcoming Great Fear

With each new villain, with each new threat that Simon and Jessica tackle together, they have grown stronger, both as heroes and as individuals. To Simon’s credit, he’s seen his share of growth. He’s gone from being willfully headstrong and impulsive to cover up his own insecurities, to being a caring and supportive partner for Jess, and a better, more confident hero.

The real star of the show here, however, is Jessica. Her growth as a character and as a hero has been enormous. She began the Rebirth series unsure why she was even chosen. Unable to muster the willpower to even make a construct (the central ability of any Green Lantern) and prone to sudden bouts of anxiety, Jessica was seen as a burden by Simon and totally useless by herself.

The thing is though… Jess was MADE for this. Other Green Lanterns are fearless by nature, and that’s well and good for them. Jessica goes toe-to-toe with fear every day. She’s like a kickboxer training with 20lb weights on her ankles and wrists. Sure, she’s weighed down and slow now, but just wait until she takes them off.

Green Lantern by Nature

Jessica began the series more or less scared out of her wits. She wasn’t able to help much at first until the moment she was finally able to create a construct. Even then, it was a constant struggle with self-doubt. The turning point for Jessica came when they fought the Phantom Lantern.

Quick crash course: The Phantom Lantern ring is a ring created by a rogue Guardian to be worn by anyone. Whereas a Green Lantern ring chooses its bearer, the Phantom ring can be used by any schmuck who picks it up. Some schmuck does pick it up and finds to his horror that the ring amplifies whatever emotion is felt by the bearer. Fear, Rage, Avarice, Hope; these are just a few of the different emotions in the spectrum, and the ring takes whatever is the most prominent and runs with it.

Simon and Jessica both feel their shortcomings as Green Lanterns, and both of them fantasize about taking the Phantom ring for themselves to boost their Lanterny powers. The only problem is, they will become a slave to their emotions. Jessica desires to wear the ring but is afraid the yellow power of fear is all she will be able to use.

The big surprise comes when Jessica finally does don the Phantom ring. It briefly cycles through all the colors before landing on, you guessed it, Green. Jess has been a Green Lantern all along, she just didn’t believe in herself. This is the point where Jessica really comes into her own, but it doesn’t mean the fear is gone.

A Day in the Life

Green Lanterns #15. Write that down, and then get on Comixology, or go to your local comic shop and see if they have it in their back issues. This single issue of Green Lanterns is probably the best of the current run, and it is a one-and-done story. Anyone who suffers from anxiety, or knows someone who suffers from anxiety should read this book.

The issue spends a day with Jessica Cruz. It highlights the daily battle she fights with her own anxiety attacks and fear of everyday life. Some days, getting out of bed feels impossible, but she does it anyways. She goes out and fights alongside Superman and Wonder Woman, even impresses them. Yet still, the smallest thing can send her into an anxiety spiral that it’s tough to pull up from.

Living with someone who has anxiety attacks, I can tell you that this is pretty close to true. You never quite know what’s going to do it or when it will hit. Much like Simon, those of us who want to help don’t know how to, or in trying to help can easily make things worse.

Jessica has fought with this and she is winning, but the battle is never over. The war is never truly won. All that matters is that she keeps fighting and keeps winning, whether that means getting out of bed and listening to music or petting the cat, or if it means rescuing the Justice League watchtower from crashing to earth from its orbit.

Jessica Cruz has the power to overcome great fear, arguably even more than Hal Jordan or Guy Gardener.

Also We Just Love Her

Besides being the best Green Lantern, Jessica is a fun and funny character. She’s taught her ring to banter with her, and it calls her “J-Bird”. She’s always ready with a joke (probably a defense mechanism to mask her anxiety, but that doesn’t make her less funny). She’s also genuinely thrilled to be a hero. From the squeeing she does over being in the Batcave for the first time, to her maiden voyage to Mogo and the Green Lantern Corps HQ, we feel her excitement and joy along with her every step of the way.

Much of this has to do with Sam Humphries. His writing leaves room between big superhero threats for more down-to-earth stories. Every so often is a one or two-issue arc that focuses on the people behind the masks. Simon has a family to deal with, and a brother-in-law who resents him for running off to be a hero. Jess has her sister helping to support her, and her struggles with anxiety. 

Additionally, Humphries has a gift for dialogue and inner monologues. Jess’s own running commentary is a highlight of the Green Lanterns title. She is funny and sincere, and most  importantly, she’s vulnerable. As a reader I can really relate to her, and with each new issue, it feels like catching up with a good friend. I feel for her, I root for her. Heck, I’ll say it. I freaking adore her.

Even as they are battling with powerful villains like Atrocitus or Doctor Polaris, we have a great sense of the humanity behind the heroes. They aren’t just pulling fantastic feats of strength, and shooting sarcastic barbs at their foes as they outsmart them for the umpteenth time. They are trying to do what’s right every step of the way. They’ve grown together into great heroes by complimenting each other, and by becoming a team both in and out of the costumes. Jessica genuinely cares for Simon, and he her. We feel for these characters and relate to them, and that is really what makes them great.

Check out our backlog of Green Lanterns reviews HERE.

Images courtesy of DC Comics

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