We all have our essential qualities that drive us forward or trip us up, that make everything in life work or break down, but we don’t notice them because we’re too busy worrying about the price of gas or whether or not someone likes us back. It takes life starting over — something that rarely, if ever, happens — to make us look inside without the usual mundane distractions.

But when you die, return from the afterlife, save the universe a couple times, and finally come back to where you were at the start of it all — that’s a grand opportunity. Only in the funny books!

At the start of Green Lantern: No Fear, Hal Jordan has returned to his former life, but nothing is the same (the details of his previous life chapter aren’t important for the purposes of this story — ain’t that nice? — and there’s a recap at the beginning of the book if you must know). Coast City, his hometown, was destroyed by a super bad guy and is only partway through a troubled, halting reconstruction. His brothers and their families hardly know him. He has to earn his way back to the top of his former career as a test pilot. We’re reading about a rebirth, a starting back from Square One, so we get to see his essentials, and see ourselves in them as well. Of course, since this is a Green Lantern comic book, fear is the biggest player in Hal Jordan’s psyche. Writer Geoff Johns knows that this is, conveniently, the biggest player in our collective real world psyche as well.

 

The Guardians of the Universe — the alien beings who recruit and govern Green Lanterns everywhere (collectively, the Green Lantern Corps) — require only one thing of their officers; that they be fearless. I never really understood why this was — surely heroes can feel fear just like anyone else. But there’s a scene in this comic, towards the end, when Johns succinctly clears that up.

There are a lot of terrifying things Green Lanterns must face in the world. In this book, for instance, there’s an android that has come to Earth to terminate all life (scary!) and later on, an enormous mutated humanoid man-eating shark (SCARY!!!). While he’s fighting this awful creature underwater, the protective cage he created with his power ring starts to dissolve and he understands that it’s because the shark creature has some sort of fear enhancing ability. The power rings of the Green Lantern Corps work because of will power — their energy ebbs and flows along with the ring bearer’s fortitude. So it makes perfect sense that the shark’s manipulation of Jordan’s fear would cause the ring to malfunction — fear is such a powerful, distracting emotion that steadily and quickly erodes self-confidence. Therefore, the Guardians’ requirement that Green Lanterns be fearless is a practical one. If you tend to be overcome by fear (and its attendant self-doubt) you simply won’t be able to operate the ring properly.

There are so many things to be scared of that aren’t as tangible and . . . toothy. And thankfully, we have some great metaphorical superheroes here to shed some light on all of that. In regular life, as with power rings, nothing at all works properly if we succumb to crippling fear.

While fighting the shark, Jordan has to be fearless in order to survive. And he is — without missing a beat after the loss of his cage, Jordan shoves his entire right arm down the shark’s gullet and power blasts him out of the water, all while he is running out of air and ring power. (I, for one, would have just panicked and died.) Back in the civilian life, Jordan still faces challenges, most notably the fact that the man now in a position to promote him is someone he once punched in the jaw. In this case he must be fearless as well. He’ll have to apologize, his friend advises him, and he’ll have to mean it. He’ll have to dig deep, start over, and persevere. In other words, as Jordan muses, “Politics. Grudges. Mistakes. Welcome back to life.”

Life is hard, isn’t it? Of all the many things to fear in the world, confronting the past and working towards that moment of moving on is one of the biggest.

While Jordan is going through these questions and answers he is also working. He has to track this android terminator, after all, and it’s a vicious, deadly thing. The Green Lantern Corps has always functioned as a police force, and Johns has brought the comic back to those roots. Much of the plot reads like a police procedural. He and John Stewart (another Green Lantern of Earth) methodically track these various threats, analyzing forensic evidence, deducing where they might strike next and who might be pulling the strings. They aren’t following any sort of central police authority, however — they are just following the need to get the job done and ice the bad guys.

And this is the answer Johns is striving to show us through Jordan’s rebirth and reconstruction. A strong will isn’t something only a gifted few have at their disposal. It’s simply the part of you that kicks in when you want to get something done. In order to survive, Jordan must blast the shark out of the water. In order to find the killer android, he must track his path of destruction through the country and deactivate it. If he wants his job back, he must apologize. If he wants the rebuilt but empty Coast City to thrive again he must live there and try to convince others to do the same. Goal, solution, goal, solution, endlessly through the days. It’s an essential truth, beautiful, and uplifting; getting the job done cuts through the clouds of doubt and confusion like a precision beam of green light. Will is the opposite of fear.

At the end of that story, after Jordan has blown up the android harmlessly in outer space, he is back at home in his dark, empty, husk of a city, thinking back on what has happened. In its final moments, the android says to him that it has only ever known one directive — to terminate all life. Now that its directive is nullified, it doesn’t know what will happen next. It feels something it can’t explain.

Jordan, however, recognizes that feeling clearly. “That Manhunter’s last words are still stuck in my head,” he thinks. “It ‘lived’ for over three billion years and it never felt a damn shred of emotion. And then — in its last moment of existence — it finally figures one out. I look around today, at the way we live. We’re arming security systems, putting metal detectors in schools and looking over our shoulders on airplanes. The news shouts, ‘Tonight at eleven, find out which major drug company could make you sick.’ Is this the life I’m coming back to? Is this the strongest emotion in the universe? Is fear what controls everyone and everything?”

This is a crucial moment in the story because it’s now, after weeks of pleading with his younger brother to move his family back to Coast City, that he looks out and sees the younger Jordan and family in a packed car, heading to their old homestead in a perhaps futile attempt to make something better. Jim, the younger Jordan, is terrified of everything: of “some other psycho” blowing up Coast City, of his son playing football, of his kids watching violent cartoons. It’s not completely clear what inspires him to listen to Hal and open up the protective cocoon he has created around his family, but it’s most likely his older brother’s inspiring example. Just as the kids in the backseat of the car complain about how dark it is, Jordan suits up and flies by to light their way with his glowing green aura.

Jordan is right, of course — fear does control everyone and everything. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do about it.

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