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What is Love? A Quick Dissection of the Relationship of Hal Jordan & Carol Ferris

 

It’s not often Carol Ferris is the star of an issue of Green Lantern. It’s not often that Hal Jordan spends a lot of time with her. These days he’s off being the great hero that he is and she’s…well, she’s whatever the latest writer wants her to be in that moment. Depending on what fan you talk to, that may be for the best or insanely frustrating. I’m pretty firmly on the latter side, however I want to take a look at the relationship between these two characters and put it under a microscope. How does it hold up compared to other hero/civilian relationships in the DCU? I’ll answer this question and some others that help me decipher these two characters, all while getting the opinions of comic creators to see where they land. Join us as I ramble on about your favorite test pilot and his boss.

 

One of the first things on my mind is why do they love each other? I don’t ask that wanting to know the origin of their relationship, but over time how could these two still actively love each other? Follow me, I may start to ramble here. Its the in love part that matters, right? Knowing that Hal really truly loves her and isn’t just resting on previous feelings. I think most would agree that Carol is definitely at that point. She loves Hal. Not just a want but actually loves the guy. Flaws and all. And there are many many flaws. Many. Sure, most Hal fans could easily point to times where he’s said those magical three words to her but can we say that she’s a focal point in his life. He’s a space cop, above all else. She’s a lover, above all else. There’s the inherent difference. If you take Carol Ferris away from Hal Jordan (like we saw in Justin Jordan’s Green Lantern: New Guardians) she’s almost a different character. If you take Carol Ferris away from Hal Jordan, you’ll have the same guy doing the same things. Not to be insulting to the fictional character here, but does Hal treat Carol any better than Eve, Iona Vane, Kari, Olivia, Arisia or even Cowgirl? Granted, the first real story Carol has “on her own”, she ends up in a relationship, that’s probably just an unfortunate turn of events from that run and less of an indictment on the character.

 

Maybe Carol just needs someone new in her life…

Still I ask, why do love each other? Why is Hal special to Carol? Is it the the familiarity? I’d argue its probably just the lack of screen time so she doesn’t develop her own supporting cast enough to be featured alongside other potential love interests. I’m just curious as to how we should view this relationship if these two love birds are never with each other. How realistic (ugh, I can’t believe I used that word in describing the love life of fictional super heroes) is it to believe that an already weird relationship (boss/employee, hero/villain dynamic) wouldn’t be severely strained by the frequent lack of any type of consistency besides…not seeing each other. That’s almost comical to me. The only thing we can count on with Carol and Hal is that they’ll argue about his lack of finances, his lack of time spent on Earth and whatever mischief he happens to get himself into at Ferris Air. None of those sound like a lovely time. Surely there’s something about Hal that just does it for her. Maybe she’s shallow. Maybe she’s insecure and allows herself to be attached to a man who won’t stay still? Maybe she just needs something new. When Justin Jordan put her with Kyle many fans were upset. Others thought it was just weird. I thought it was a great banter meeting good chemistry that turned into a relationship. If Green Lantern fans weren’t so divided about Hal vs Kyle, that relationship wouldn’t have had such resistance. The other problem was that shortly after the relationship began, the series was canceled. If she had been given time to develop with Kyle, maybe we’d be saying she wanted the Anti-Hal. Okay, that sounds a bit cruel to everyone involved.

On the other hand, maybe Carol is Hal’s consistency…

I mentioned the lack of consistency between the two in their relationship. The counter argument would be that she is literally his consistency. He consistently comes back to her. What we see on a monthly (formerly bi-weekly) basis is that Hal Jordan does space cop very well. To us that’s his consistency. To him though, being at home with Carol is his constant. The constant thing that gets him going, that makes him capable to do those amazing things.

Hal & Carol vs Clark & Lois

Does it matter if their relationship is rocky? I mean, Green Arrow and Black Canary have always had a tumultuous relationship and people seem to think they’re good most of the time. How does Carol & Hal compare to Lois Lane and Clark Kent? Or Barry Allen and Iris West-Allen? I think the biggest difference is that Hal’s superhero “job” takes him further away from Carol than the typical hero in the DC Universe. Sure, Superman can have space adventures with the best of them, but it’s not his everyday. Lois can whistle and Superman is likely in the same city. She can turn on the television and watch her man do death defying things for the sake of humanity. That’s not usually the case for Carol Ferris. Hal is a space cop. He’s out there billions of miles away. That’s a lot of parsecs. To me, that’s a huge strain on a relationship.

I asked writer Robert Venditti (Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern CorpsHawkman) about comparing the two couples and this is what he had to say:

“The relationship between Hal Jordan and Carol Ferris is as classic as any of the great comic book relationships, even that of Clark Kent and Lois Lane. But it’s unique in that Hal is an earthbound human who dreams of flight, while Clark is a sky-bound Kryptonian who strives to be on the ground. Clark’s goal brings him closer to Lois, whereas Hal’s goal leads him away from Carol. Even as a Star Sapphire, Carol doesn’t have the same passion for flight that Hal does. This injects inherent conflict into their relationship, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Conflict is the engine of story.”
That seems to be a the crux of it all doesn’t it? He’s gone and that’s just not healthy. I was also able to snag some time from legendary writer Steve Englehart (Green Lantern, Captain America) who wrote both Hal and Carol during his time on Green Lantern. When asked if superheroes could sustain a healthy relationship given their everyday heroics, he told me
“Not if their significant other can’t join in with them…I’m the guy who made her a villain, but I think the original Carol (tough but fair) and Hal (fearless) made a dynamic couple. She just got left behind and ground down over time.”
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That’s where I’m at with it. If Carol is a Star Sapphire then she’s out there doing what he does. It’s not something she inherently loves, but it brings her closer to the person she loves. It’s her version of “making an effort” as opposed to just sitting on the sidelines (and running a major corporation). When does Hal make that effort? It’s easy to say that he loves her. It’s even easier to say such a thing after he saves her life in dramatic fashion. It’s less of a certainty when he’s not mentioning her, thinking of her or making an effort to contact her. How many “I’m sorry I didn’t call” conversations must one lady endure? Another creator I asked about this comparison was Kurt Busiek (Wednesday Comics: Green LanternAstro City), here’s what he had to say:
Clark and Lois are co-workers, and Lois is in a job where she reports on what Clark does as Superman, and she’s got a long history of being fascinated by him as Superman while initially being unimpressed with Clark.
Hal and Carol don’t have the same work relationship — he’s an employee (traditionally, anyway) and she’s the boss, but they strikes sparks in their civilian identities. She’s not as hero-focused as Lois is, and Hal’s not as meek as Clark pretends to be.
She’s got her own aims, her own goals, motivations that have nothing to do with superheroes. When Superman does his thing, that serves what Lois does — it’s news to report on. When Green Lantern does his thing, it makes Hal unavailable to Ferris Aircraft as a test pilot — it’s an impediment to what Carol wants to accomplish professionally. She’s a manager, Lois isn’t. Hal and Carol are in different socio-economic positions, which makes for another contrast, while Clark and Lois have the same job. And Hal’s capable of being kind of a cheerful good old boy jerk, at times; he’s not as serious as either Clark or Superman.
So they’re different people, which makes their relationship play out differently. And that’s why it’s interesting and distinctive.
Fair, but frustrating. A trend I see here in these responses is that these writers are generally really interested in that contrast. That “impediment” makes for good storytelling if you’re a writer. It makes for shit relationships if your Carol Ferris though. I also got some words from fellow fan and member of The Green Lantern Corps Podcast, Eric Cahill on the couple. Here’s what he had to say about them being committed to each other.
The amount of time they’ve spent together as a committed couple is actually pretty minimal. And there’s a good reason for that. Their dynamic is interesting because, judging both their histories as if they all happened and it’s all canon, they’re very alike. They have the same attitudes toward work, they’ve broken under pressure in much the same ways. But part of what they have in common is the comfort in their distance. It’s not just active lives that prevent them from really giving it a go but an acknowledgment of their history that carries more baggage than either can emotionally deal with. 
In an ideal world, they end up together when they’re older. Once they’re both in their sixties. Hal for some reason or another has to give up the ring for good and he becomes a senator. Carol stays in private business and maybe takes a few cabinet positions. Their story is either they never get together again or they retire together. Maybe Carol gets married to someone else but it feels like Carol is it for Hal.
I mentioned earlier that the back and forth between Hal and Carol is somewhat due to her not having her own stories. Carol doesn’t have a supporting cast, a best friend, a rival…These are the typical things we see a character get to help flesh them out. It’s kinda crucial really. If she had some of those things, maybe we’d see her with more potential love interests. If she was an active part in a supporting cast (like a New Guardians situation) then maybe we’d see more potential love interests. Unfortunately, she isn’t that lucky. We’re not that lucky. She’s involved in the current series from Grant Morrison, Liam Sharp and Steve Oliff. She played more a cameo role in Venditti’s Green Lantern and Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps. Even the Geoff Johns years were largely ignoring Carol in favor of introducing more concepts and characters to Hal’s life. Which is fine, because the series is about Green Lanterns. When asked about
describing Hal’s relationships, Busiek told me:
I think Hal’s probably a good friend who’s usually a lot of fun to be around, and a lot of his romantic relationships don’t seem to go much deeper than that, but other bonds he makes — whether it’s the longtime romance with Carol or his friendships with Ollie, Tom and Dinah — take root and become very important to him. He’s a good-time guy who likes to blow off steam, but once a relationship gets strongly rooted, it’s an important part of his life that he’s protective of and shows loyalty to.
I’d argue the loyalty bit maybe, but largely I’d agree with that sentiment. I said earlier that Hal plays savior more than lover with Carol and that tends to be their dynamic when its displayed as good. Busiek seems to agree with that protective nature of Hal’s personality. Its become a crutch or rather a go-to story beat whenever they’re both on the page. He’s either saving her or being berated by her. Again, that’s unfortunate. Good people can still fuck up. Not that I want to put all the blame on Hal, but…yeah, I want to put all the blame on Hal. Is he forever doomed to be single if the job is always taking him away from his lover? Is she a ridiculously selfish person for asking him to stay Earthbound knowing his duties take him elsewhere? Again, good people fuck up. She should be selfish and ask that he stays. That’s what love is asking for. Trust, honor and commitment. Wow, that was super Hallmark-y. I’ll refrain from that kind of talk for now and just finish with this: They are both good people. They both care deeply about each other. I just don’t see a reason for them to be together anymore. I’m reminded of that time Hal comes back to Earth to see Carol in the arms of another man in her home. Hal is devastated but somewhat understanding. Ultimately it turns out to be a non-issue because the guy and Carol weren’t together and she’s still madly in love with Hal. However, let that same situation play out today…if we’re taking all their history in, then I don’t think we’ll get anything but true devastation from that scene. I dare Grant Morrison to tackle that conflict.
How much of a place does love and relationship deserve or need to be in superhero comics? It’d be nice to see it more often and more detailed but that’s not what every fan wants or every character needs. I asked Eric the same question and he responded with:
I think love and romance have an important place in superhero stories, especially modern ones that are outside of the comic book medium like movies and TV. There’s a lot of criticism that it’s overdone nowawadays but it’s not as cut and dry as all that. There are great love stories that have just been sitting on the comics page unrealized for decades. And it’s taken stuff outside of the medium to realize them. Often they’re better versions of these characters and their stories. Like Steve Rogers has had a lot of love in his life but has any had the impact of what we see on screen with Peggy Carter?
The biggest weakness is how these stories treat the women in them, and Carol is a great example of this. Too often since the dawn of these types of stories a female character or love interest is there to fill space, as a plot point or some other kind of object for the hero. Making a woman in love with “our hero” doesn’t replace any agency she has in the story. What’s the point in having Carol have such a cool job and such dope powers if she’s just gonna sit around thinking about or needing to be rescued by Hal all the time?
My goal of writing this wasn’t to fix the relationship, condemn the writers for putting the characters into these positions or come to any sort of conclusion. I just wanted to jot down some thoughts on two characters that seem to deeply care for each other whenever they’re around each other, but only then. As Valentine’s Day draws near, lots of sites will be giving you the Top 5 Cutest Moments of [insert superhero couple here] but I thought it would be better if we actually looked at this relationship and see it for what it truly is. What is it, you ask? Problematic at best.

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