In 1988, DC decided to change Action Comics, formerly a Superman title, into an anthology. Superman would get a two-page story in each issue, which would also feature five eight-page stories (later lessened to seven pages). With the recent cancellation of Green Lantern Corps, Green Lantern Hal Jordan became exclusive to the new anthology, giving Action Comics Weekly a major DC hero in a regular feature.
Green Lantern’s appearances there are among Action Comics Weekly‘s most fondly-remembered serials. Although each episode simply carried its own title, Green Lantern’s may be broken down into six separate storylines. In addition to these, Green Lantern received two specials tying into these storylines, and two different versions of a crossover ending Action Comics Weekly‘s run as a weekly anthology were produced, both focused on Green Lantern.
The first ran six episodes, written by James Owsley with art by classic Green Lantern artist Gil Kane (with inker Don Simpson on some episodes and with Tod Smith stepping in to illustrate the final chapter). It begins with Hal Jordan and his alien girlfriend Arisia living with former Green Lantern John Stewart and his wife, Katma Tui. In the wake of the final issue of Green Lantern Corps, Jordan is the last Green Lantern, the Corps having been disbanded. As Jordan tangles with Star Sapphire, Katma Tui is murdered. Stewart suspects Star Sapphire, but Hal suspects that the villainess hypnotized Stewart to do the killing, explaining his shock-like state when Hal encountered him, standing over his wife’s body. At an inquiry into Katma Tui’s murder, Hal’s ring comes to Stewart. When he puts it on, he lashes out angrily at Carol Ferris, who’s in the audience and whom Stewart knows to be Star Sapphire, his wife’s apparent killer. She’s said to be dead, although she later revives because of her powers, which aren’t known to the public. Later, Stewart is arrested. Hal, meanwhile, has been left by Star Sapphire in an alien prison, and he sent his ring to Stewart, in hopes he’d be freed. Ominously, it returns to him on its own. He escapes and confronts Star Sapphire, only to find Stewart’s apartment building demolished and people scared of Green Lantern, due to Stewart’s arrest for Carol’s murder. With Star Sapphire gone, Hal has no way to clear his friend, but he also has no possessions, since they were destroyed in Stewart’s apartment. Hal visits Batman, Superman, and Green Arrow, looking for help, but all refuse him. It’s a fascinating story that takes Hal to one of his lowest points, although it’s somewhat awkward in its pacing and conflicting artistic styles.
The next storyline runs eight episodes, written by Peter David (although James Owsley wrote the first chapter) with art by Tod Smith. It’s disappointingly standard fare, however. The story begins with Jordan in crisis, living in a hotel and doubting both his mission as Green Lantern and relationship with Arisia. The events of the last storyline are recounted, and Hal agrees to go on Oprah Winfrey’s TV show in order to help clear the Green Lantern name. But when he does, he’s laughed at when he claims he’s without fear. This serves as the unifying theme of the storyline. Testing himself, Hal confronts a sword-wielding psychopath by discarding his ring. With Arisia, he wonders if he’s normal because of his lack of fear. After a man delivering room service attacks with a knife, it becomes clear that someone is hypnotizing these blade-wielding maniacs — with a ray that strikes Hal Jordan. He goes briefly insane, but his altered mental state shorts out his ring because it operates based on willpower. He defeats the villain behind the mind-control ray. Meanwhile, he ignores Arisia, who takes a job modeling. Hal resolves his questions about his fearlessness with a journey into his ring, which reveals that it made Hal fearless — a significant retcon to the Green Lantern mythos. The story ends with Hal fearfully on a ledge, saving a potential jumper.
The next storyline runs six episodes, written by Peter David with art by Richard Howell (who also co-plotted the stories). It’s probably the lowpoint of Green Lantern’s Action Comics Weekly run. Arisia is already modeling, indicating a break from the past storyline. Hal struggles with his newfound fear, as well as his relationship with Arisia. While Hal confronts super-villains, Arisia quits modeling and decides to move to Chicago, ending her relationship with Hal. On the final page, Hal refuses to stop her from leaving, and their relationship ends — a fairly major event in Green Lantern’s ongoing story.
The John Stewart storyline was resolved in Green Lantern Special #1, by writer James Owsley and penciler Tod Smith. The idea of having Stewart a suspect in Carol Ferris’s death was dropped, with a passing comment about how a body couldn’t be produced. Instead, Stewart is extradited to South Africa, based on an earlier action by Hal Jordan. Jordan visits a devastated Oa and retrieves another ring, which he gives to Stewart. John Stewart proceeds to undermine South Africa’s regime, prompting Superman to talk to Hal. Hal then talks (and fights) with Stewart, who stops his campaign.
At this point, writer James Owsley returned to Green Lantern’s Action Comics Weekly serial, joined by penciler M. D. Bright, who also co-plotted with Owsley. The team would remain for the remainder of Green Lantern’s Action Comics Weekly run, and it would be particularly strong, especially the sequences occurring in outer space.
The team’s first storyline together, running five episodes, would be particularly strong. It begins, dramatically enough, as Hal Jordan rescues a tiny alien ship about to fall into Earth’s sun. From there, believing his ring cuts him off from the reality of risk, he takes off his ring to pilot a plane, which predictably almost crashes. The sequence manages to be entertaining, but it also focuses on Hal Jordan’s risk-taking behavior in a way that had seldom been depicted as clearly. When he goes to charge his ring, however, his power battery explodes in a burst of yellow energy that heads into space. He soon follows it beyond his sector of space, knowing that, with the central power battery on Oa destroyed, his ring might not be able to help him navigate and he could become lost in space. With his ring running out of charge, Hal encounters an alien known as Priest and becomes embroiled in an interstellar war. With his ring not able to navigate, Priest (a former Green Lantern himself) retrains Hal Jordan, and Hal discovers that he doesn’t need the power battery except as a psychological crutch — another major revision to the Green Lantern mythos. Hal forces the two sides of the interstellar war to sign a truce, and he heads back to Earth, feeling reborn. Clearly, this story was intended to begin a major reconfiguration of Green Lantern, and it’s surprisingly successful. In the final panels, however, we see that the two sides of the interstellar war are indeed collaborating: on an “ultimate weapon” to use against Hal Jordan, who forced the two sides together.
The next storyline, running six episodes, begins nearly a week later (this was serialized weekly, after all), as Hal encounters a strange wooden ship near Earth. He realizes the ship is a shrine and feels no sense of threat, so he deposits it in a Californian forest on his way back to Coast City. To carry out the repairs, the alien ship logically copies the local form of life: creating a duplicate of Hal Jordan. When this duplicate goes into a truck stop and sees an action movie, it logically duplicates the behavior depicted, having itself no sense of good and evil. “When in Rome,” the objective narration declares. The duplicate incinerates a patron and then the truck stop, stealing a flatbed of lumber for the ship’s repairs. “The visitor hopes it is not being rude,” the final caption of the first chapter brilliantly tells us. As Hal Jordan returns to the ship, the military super-hero Captain Atom intervenes, blowing the ship up and ruining Hal’s negotiations with the alien. The two heroes clash over how to deal with the alien, whom Hal believes has survived. Captain Atom abandons Hal to deal with a collapsing building, then confronts the alien again. Hal intervenes, and the two heroes fight. Captain Atom wins, despite this being Green Lantern’s story. Captain Atom finds Hal, but leaves him to find his power battery — which he does. Meanwhile, Captain Atom proves incapable of following the wooden ship (now reconstructed for the third time by the relentless alien) into space. He finds Hal Jordan, apologizes, and leaves the ship for Hal to worry about, since outer space is more properly Green Lantern’s milieu. The story may be read as silly because it resolves around the old cliche of conflict between heroes, but it’s really a story about alien life having different values than our own — a type of story more commonly found on The Twilight Zone than in super-hero comics. Because of this, it’s an excellent Green Lantern story, one that recasts the hero as a serious sci-fi character.
This storyline continues into the final one serialized in Action Comics Weekly, which runs only four episodes. Hours after the previous storyline, Hal has almost caught up with the alien ship — which he’s only concerned about because it learned violent ways while on Earth. The ship seems to teleport him, however, to a place with the blue-skinned aliens that he remembers from the interstellar war he stopped. The aliens seem to worship Green Lanterns, and they point him to their master: a bulky, boastful, half-human Green Lantern who calls himself Malvolio of the Green Flame and who’s dressed like the original Green Lantern, Alan Scott. Malvolio soon informs Hal that Hal can never leave the planet. The two fight, and Malvolio literally knocks Hal through the planet. Hal finds a golden space station, which he assumes was made of gold to protect it from Malvolio. But its inhabitants reveal that Malvolio stole his ring from his human father two hundred years before — making him a human Green Lantern who preceded Hal Jordan, another new addition to the Green Lantern mythos. Since leaving Earth, Malvolio has set up a strange sort of cult on the planet, and he’s has been watching Hal Jordan since Jordan’s adventure in the area, in which he stopped that interstellar war. Malvolio explains that his father was an alien Green Lantern who, in the 1600s, reproduced with a human woman. After killing his father, Malvolio was beaten by Priest (also from the interstellar war story), who trapped him in this “zone” of space. Malvolio and Jordan fight, during which Hal’s ring inexplicably explodes. Jordan uses weapons on the golden space station to fashion an arrow, apparently killing Malvolio. His ring gone, Hal takes Malvolio’s ring and heads off into space to track the wooden ship. On the final page, Malvolio recovers: this has all been a ruse to get Hal to take Malvolio’s ring, in preparation for the day when Hal sees Priest, Malvolio’s old enemy, again.
Green Lantern’s Action Comics Weekly stories end there, and a note at the end of the final episode announced a new Green Lantern series in time for his 30th anniversary. But of course, the story told in Action Comics Weekly wasn’t finished. Hal was left still seeking the wooden ship. Malvolio’s revenge plan hadn’t been resolved, and his origins remained unclear — including what connection he had to Alan Scott, whose weakness had been wood, not yellow. Also unresolved was had the threat of the “ultimate weapon” being built by the two sides Hal forced into a truce.
DC offered Green Lantern Special #2, also by Owsley and Bright, to wrap up these storylines. But while a brilliant issue, it only concluded the “ultimate weapon” story. Priest returned, but Malvolio apparently didn’t activate his revenge plan, despite Priest and Jordan being in close proximity. The wooden ship was mentioned but never found.
By the time Green Lantern left Action Comics Weekly, it was already slated to turn back into a monthly Superman title. After six anthology issues without Green Lantern, a full-length crossover between the various featured characters was planned for the final issue. Neil Gaiman wrote a draft, and it was approved. But it relied on Hal Jordan knowing Superman’s identity and being on friendly terms with him, and the Superman titles had recently rethought these matters. The script was scrapped, although Gaiman was paid for it, and Elliot S. Maggin authored a new script, which was produced.
Both revolved around Green Lantern, but Maggin’s script revealed yet another part of the Green Lantern mythos: that Abin Sur’s ring had originally summoned Superman before retrieving Hal Jordan. In the story, Hal was apparently killed and had to overcome his recent troubles in order to choose life. In the meantime, his ring summoned the other stars of Action Comics Weekly as potential successors.
Over a decade later, after Gaiman had become a major star and his seminal series The Sandman had wrapped, DC decided to produce Gaiman’s script. A copy of a copy was finally secured, and the script was executed as written — although now deemed out-of-continuity. It tied loosely into the Malvolio story by revealing a previously unknown power battery on Earth. It also featured Hal Jordan’s apparent death, this time accompanied by Superman’s. Both stories also ended with a movie theater marque being changed with the word “Action” on it and a character offering a metafictional wink at the reader, commenting on how the series was being turned back to Superman.
Nothing makes the two versions conflict, outside of the dual endings and Hal Jordan apparently not knowing Superman’s identity in the Maggin version while knowing it in the Gaiman version. But this is only implied in the Maggin version, and greater continuity gaffs certainly exist within the DC Universe. It may be considered either in-continuity or out-of-continuity as readers wish.