Celebrating the Unpopular Arts
My hero, the brain-damaged thug: the odyssey of Guy Gardner

My hero, the brain-damaged thug: the odyssey of Guy Gardner

Guy Gardner is another example of how minor characters can become stars. After his debut in Green Lantern #59 he existed for years at the level of trivia-night questions (“Besides John Stewart and Hal Jordan, who was the other Earth Green Lantern?”) before rising to a long and successful career as an A-lister, or at least a B.

(This is, by the way, another repost from my own blog).

In that first story (by John Broome and Gil Kane), Hal Jordan learns from the Guardians that when Abin Sur had his fatal crash, his power ring found two possible successors. Hal was one; gym teacher Guy Gardner was another. Both were honest, both born without fear but as Hal was closer he got the nod.

A Guardian What If device shows Hal that if Abin had picked Guy, things would have unfolded much the same at first. Then Guy took a different route through space than Hal, leading to adventure that kills him, forcing him to pick Hal as his successor. After witnessing this alt.adventure, Hal returns to Earth and engineers an encounter with Guy but without telling him the full story.

Broome enjoyed giving Hal a semi-regular supporting cast — Hal’s brothers showed up every so often — so I imagine he’d have brought Guy back eventually. Broome left DC, however, so Guy’s return fell to Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams in #87. The relationship between him and Hal has changed in between issues. Guy is now Hal’s designated replacement, fully aware of Hal’s identity as Green Lantern. This is really a set up for bringing John Stewart into the Corps: in the opening scenes Guy breaks his leg so GLC protocol requires Hal pick a replacement. The man who fits the bill is, of course, John.

O’Neil and Adams do a good job introducing John. He’s more radical than Hal, who scoffs at John’s suspicions one race-baiting politician is up to no good. Typically such conflicts end with “Well, you were partly right and I was partly right, now we meet in the center, isn’t that great?” Here John’s right across the board and Hal consistently wrong, but without Hal looking like an idiot. I’m guessing O’Neil would have brought John back too had the book lasted, but it didn’t — though John, like Guy, has stuck around.

When we see Guy again it’s in #116. Guy’s leg has healed up so he’s now substitute Green Lantern again. He takes over for Hal briefly, apparently dies, then it turns out he was captured by the Phantom Zone villains. A few issues later the Kryptonians use Guy as a weapon against Hal and Superman; the bad guys lose but Guy ends up in a coma.

The whole sequence has less to do with Guy than pairing up Hal with Guy’s lover, Kari Limbo (a Roma psychic and very badly written character). Hal and Kari are on the brink of marriage when Guy returns, leading to Kari breaking it off with Hal so she can nurse her comatose ex-boyfriend. The pathos! The agony! The horrible writing (sorry, I’m very much not an O’Neil fan).

Guy then vanished until Steve Englehart (as I’ve mentioned before, reviving forgotten characters was a thing with him) brought him back during Crisis on Infinite Earths. In Green Lantern during this period we learn the Guardians have thrown in the towel on beating the Anti-Monitor, choosing instead to wait for the universe to end.

One Guardian disagrees, revives Guy from his coma and sends him out to save the day. The Guardian’s plan is fatally flawed so Hal has to intervene to stop Guy. Regardless, Guy is now back, with his own ring and some serious attitude: he knows it’s pure luck Abin didn’t chose him and he’s determined to prove he’d have been the better man. Plus he’s spent years physically helpless, trapped in his own body and nothing and nobody’s going to confine or restrict him again. I like this interpretation much better than “he’s a jerk because he’s brain-damaged,” though the latter seems to have won out.

There’s always a market for heroes who are gruff and irascible — Wolverine for years, Ben Grimm before Logan came along — and Guy fit it to a T. He became part of Englehart’s Earth-based Green Lantern Corps; when the idiotic decree came down that there should be only one Green Lantern, DC found various ways to keep Guy in action in his own book. At one point he wielded Sinestro’s yellow ring; later it turned out he’s the product of a millennia-old ET program to create a super-warrior (and a knockoff Power Ranger).

Eventually the Corps returned and Guy became a regular GL again, written more as a tough, surly dude than a brute. He’s also been, at least for a while, leader of the Red Lanterns.

I don’t know his current status — I don’t follow current Big Two books much — but the remarkable thing is, he has a status. It’s not what I’d have expected when I read that first issue.

#SFWApro. Covers by Kane, Neal Adams, Alex Sauviuk and Howard Chaykin.



  1. jccalhoun

    I was a big Green Lantern fan as a kid but I think I was more a fan of the aliens. I certainly wasn’t a fan of Guy so I didn’t follow the character when he got his own series. I was amazed, however, when Johns came along with GL:Rebirth and just threw in “Guy’s alien dna has gone dormant” or something with no explanation. I am more amazed that it has never been mentioned again since. It is a dumb power but to just ignore it without bothering to even retcon it or anything just seems weird.

  2. tomfitz1

    Spiffy looking cover there by Howard Chaykin!

    I’ve always thought that Guy Gardner should have been the “Greatest Lantern of them all”, not Hal Jordan (the wuss) or John Stewart, Kyle Rayner, Simon Baz, Jessica Cruz.

  3. Jeff Nettleton

    Not an O’Neil fan in general or specific to Green Lantern? I like the Green Lantern stuff, though I recognize his agenda, in the Adams material; but, enjoyed enough of his time with Grell (mostly for Grell’s art and Green Arrow). I love his Batman and his Question and enjoyed what I have read of the work of one Sergius O”Shaughnessy. That, and his Dominic Fortune stuff, in collaboration with Howard Chaykin, at Marvel.

    I saw the story where Guy turns up and gets zapped by the lantern, but didn’t see him until Crisis and had an “Oh, yeah…that guy!” moment. My comics reading of that period was very sporadic, so no great picture of him, otherwise. Dedicated buying came with income and that was summers in the late 70s and early 80s, then college. I was fine with him as part of the JLI ensemble, but never keen on him as a solo. A little went a long way. There were enough A-holes to deal with in the real world, without paying for the privilege of reading the adventures of one.

    Dude had THE worst barber, though.

  4. Le Messor

    What If stories seem to either end the world or restore the status quo. In-betweens are rare.

    I got real sick real fast of gruff and surly heroes, too. I’ve never liked Guy – but I did think that’s who Ryan Reynolds should’ve played in the movie. He’s a much better match.

    1. Yes, more happy What Ifs would be a good thing. It’s why I enjoyed the what if where Rick becomes the Hulk — Bruce gets a happy ending, Rick-Hulk becomes the hero of the Negative Zone, everything works out.

      1. Darthratzinger

        That´s what makes Starman issue 80 the perfect ending for me. I also like that they left the character alone after Robinson was done with him.

    2. This is a problem I see in some alternate histories too. Philip Roth’s “Plot Against America” has Lindbergh become president and keep us out of the war, but by the 1960s everything is back to “normal” (i.e., our history) in the US.

  5. conrad1970

    The only good thing about Guy Gardner was the ‘One Punch’ something that needs to happen more often in my opinion.
    The character is as irritating as Deadpool and the current Harley Quinn.

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