Emerald Archive: Ron Marz answers every question regarding 'Green Lantern'

Fri, December 12th, 2003 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

Ron Marz returns to "Green Lantern" with issue #176.
Depending on who you speak with, writer Ron Marz is one of the most hated "Green Lantern" writers or the one responsible for a creative rejuvenation of the namesake. There are fan groups devoted to "fixing" his "mistakes" and there are those who spend their time extolling the virtues of those same "mistakes." If you're not familiar with the story of Ron Marz's "Green Lantern" tenure, rest assured you'll learn it now, as CBR News has been working with the writer to bring what both parties feel is the definitive answer to all the popular questions and complaints you might have for the "Green Lantern" scribe who returns to the series next year in an anticipated six-issue arc. Before CBR News tackles that subject, Marz felt it was right to start at the beginning. To those who might be new to the whole Marz era, it involved the Silver age Green Lantern, Hal Jordan, and the introduction of the next GL, Kyle Rayner.

"I got a call late on a Friday night offering me the book," says Marz of 1993. "I'd actually been down in New York for the day at the Marvel offices. I came home, my wife and I went out for a quick dinner, and then I guess around 9 o'clock the phone rang and it was Kevin Dooley, offering me the job. Mike Carlin, Archie Goodwin and Denny O'Neil were in the room, as well as Eddie Berganza, who was Kevin's assistant at the time. I believe Paul Levitz might well have been there too.

"Kevin said he wanted me to take over 'GL' because the book needed a fresh direction I was excited, because I'd always thought Hal was a pretty cool character, and I love that costume. And then the other shoe dropped. Kevin explained what was planned, essentially removing Hal from the book and replacing him with a GL that I would make up. Pretty serious stuff. I actually begged off and took about a week before I accepted it. I knew it was a great opportunity, a rare chance to really change the course of a book. But I also knew it would come with an immense amount of baggage. I obviously ended up jumping in with both feet, though.

"The real kicker, and I swear to God this is true, is I was wearing a Hal T-shirt when I got the call. It was one of those pocket T-shirts from the Warner Bros. Stores. I still have it."

If that doesn't make it obvious, Marz has always been- and will always be, he maintains- a fan of Green Lantern. The concept of someone wielding a ring that allows them to do anything they can imagine and demonstrate enough willpower to execute is something he says is utterly enthralling. "Some concepts just strike a note with people," smiles Marz. "'Legion of Super-Heroes' [now known as 'Legion'] is rarely a top seller, but it's got a core of the most loyal fans anywhere. Same with Green Lantern. Even though I went in a different direction for my run on the book, because I thought that's what was necessary, I do think the cosmic aspects of the book hold a great deal of appeal. The myriad of alien species, despite some of them looking a bit silly, was something you couldn't get anywhere else. Now film technology has caught up, but for a lot of years, 'GL' was one of the few places you could get that sort of cosmic adventure. Eddie Berganza once compared the Corps to the Jedi Knights, which is pretty apt."

The "Emerald Twilight" saga remains Marz's most talked about contribution to the "Green Lantern" legacy, with Hal Jordan's descent into madness after losing his home town, but there are some who would believe Marz was really giving the proverbial finger to the Green Lantern mythos, but the writer says- as he's always said- that such statements could not be farther from the truth. "Look, people are going to believe what they want to believe. But if there are actually people out there thinking it was somehow my life's goal to 'destroy' Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern mythos ... please, seek help. I was offered a job. The job had certain parameters. I took the offer and worked within those parameters, and did the best job I could. The truth is, if I hadn't written Emerald Twilight, someone else would have, and the story would have been substantially the same. That's by no means an effort to pass the 'blame.' I did write those stories, and if you don't like them, feel free to blame me because, yes, my name is in the credits box.

"I still think 'ET' was a gutsy move by DC at the time. To effect permanent change upon one of your top characters is brave. I liked Hal as a character. I still do. But he'd been badly handled for a number of years prior to my tenure. I can remember picking up the first few issues of what was then the new GL series, and coming away just not caring because Hal seemed like a wuss wandering the country searching for … whatever. This was a fearless test pilot? So the thinking at the time was that something drastic was needed, something that would attract a lot of attention back to what had become a moribund franchise. That much worked."

It was remarked by some that after the horrific events of September 11th, 2001, that some could better understand Hal's situation after seeing so many people murdered. Regardless of whether that's true or not, Marz says it's something he doesn't want to do because there's a fundamental difference. "Comparing the events in a comic to such an immense real-world tragedy is ridiculous," asserts Marz. "I can't tell you if there was a change in attitude or not, because those two things shouldn't even be mentioned in the same breath."

The inherent love for Hal that was felt by Marz was something he tried to convey in the story, but he faced a big problem- deadlines. "When I agreed to take the book, issues #48, #49 and #50 were all due," he reveals. "The book was late, the planned issues had been pulled, and things had to get moving right now. So I wrote my first three issues at the same time. That's why there were three different artists on them. I remember writing part of issue #48 between sets at a Peter Gabriel concert. I found a quiet place where I could steal a few minutes to write. The deadlines were that tight.

"Green Lantern" #48, the beginning of the end for Hal Jordan as earth's GL.
"I would have loved to write 'ET' over six issues. I think that's about the length that would have been necessary to really make Hal's descent believable and tragic. So what we ended up doing was a bit rushed because of circumstances, and I regret that. But if I'd had six issues, the events would have been generally the same. I just would have had more room for the character stuff. Sometimes you just have to play the cards you're dealt."

Despite Marz's wish to further explore the psyche of Hal Jordan, as he said, many things were set in stone and he did what he could to create the best story, given the requirements. "I had a few pages of notes from editorial, dictating the broad strokes of what needed to happen: Hal goes nuts, wipes out the Corps, kills Sinestro and blows up the Central Battery and the Guardians. The details were up to me. I decided to have Hal kill Kilowog on camera, because I felt we needed to feel the loss of a more known character to make this thing have some weight. I decided that Ganthet would be the one Guardian to survive, since he'd had some previous exposure.

"I've never given much thought to what I would have done differently, because that wasn't a possibility at the time. As I said, though, more pages to tell the story would have been great.

"I had the most freedom to develop the new Green Lantern. DC just let me make up Kyle from scratch. The name, the look, the background, everything. I'm really thankful for as much leash as I had."

Wanting to make sure he did right by Hal Jordan and readers of the series, Marz quickly filled any gaps he had in GL knowledge with information from the best source- the comics themselves. "I wasn't a faithful reader of the series, but I'd read issues here and there. Once I took on the book, I read everything in the current run, and went through as much of the older stuff as I could get my hands on. But I certainly wasn't a continuity hound like Mark Waid or Kurt Busiek, who can tell you everything that happened in every issue ever. I tend to approach this stuff as 'Tell a good story first, then worry about the minutiae.'"

It was soon that Marz discovered how much he really loved the concept of Hal Jordan and that this inspiring creation didn't feel so inspiring to him anymore. "I guess I saw Hal as a classic character who had turned into a dull character that not many readers cared about. Very often it's not the character itself, it's the portrayal. And once readers become bored with a portrayal, it's very hard to get them to come back. 'ET' certainly jump-started interest in GL, so from that viewpoint, it was a success.

"As to whether it was necessary, apparently sales were sliding enough that something drastic was needed. Having read what was originally written and drawn for issues #48-#50, I can say that those issues would not have stoked interest in the series, because those issues were more of the same. That's not a qualitative judgment. I'm just saying that the material wasn't exciting enough to attract new readers."

The material that Marz believed was strong enough came in the form of Kyle Rayner, a hip 20-something who was seemingly randomly picked to wield the greatest weapon in the universe, and who was introduced early in "Emerald Twilight." Soon however, a minority of readers began to say that Kyle was nothing more than a clone of Peter Parker- also known as Spider-Man- and Marz is happy to explain how Kyle was created and why he is not a riff on Peter Parker. "I think there are essentially three archetype characters in comics: Superman, Batman and Spider-man. Superman is the square-jawed hero, using his powers for good; Batman is dark hero, driven by his inner demons; and Spider-man is the everyman. Obviously not every character falls into one of those categories, but a lot of them do. Hal is very much from the Superman school. So for the next generation of GL, I wanted someone different, I wanted an everyman. I wanted somebody like you or me to be given this incredibly power artifact.

"Green Lantern" #49, Hal likes himself some bling!
"So Kyle was definitely inspired by the everyman archetype. I wanted him to feel as real as possible, so there would be that much more contrast between the trials that he faced as a person, and the trials he faced as a hero. I wanted you to care as much about him when he's out of the costume as when he's in it. I picked New York as the setting because readers can identify with it as an actual place, more so than Gotham or Metropolis.

"The Peter-Spidey relationship was initially about a ostracized geek who had this secret other life. Spider-man was something Peter wanted to be. The Kyle-Green Lantern relationship is about a guy whose life is pretty good, but got suddenly complicated once he got the ring. GL was something that was forced upon Kyle, something he's got to live up to.

"I truthfully didn't see much pissing and moaning about Kyle as a 'Peter Parker clone' until I mentioned Spider-Man being an inspiration in an interview. Then they came out of the woodwork on the Internet bitching about it Which is fine. Some people are just happy throwing rocks. Gives them something to do, I guess."

As one would reasonably assume, Marz created Kyle Rayner in the hopes of bringing something unique to the Green Lantern and he feels that the freshness of Kyle Rayner in "Green Lantern #51" continues till today. "I hope he brings a little humanity to it, a sense of what it might be like if you or I were put into these grand-scale situations. To go back to the archetype analogy, I don't think readers generally put themselves in Superman or Batman's place, but they do put themselves in Spider-man's place. I hope they do the same thing with Kyle."

But for some fans, despite any comments by Marz, they felt as though all their favorite Green Lanterns were replaced by Kyle, who was soon declared the "last" Green Lantern. "Well, we referred to him as the one Green Lantern because he was … the ONE Green Lantern. He was literally the only left. DC had even decided to move away from calling Alan Scott "Green Lantern" at that point. Deeming Kyle the only GL wasn't a slap at any of those who had borne the title before, it was just a statement of fact at the time. But a certain segment of the readers insisted on making it into some sort of personal slight against 'their' Green Lanterns.

"In the most practical sense, Kyle was the only GL because if we were going to establish him as a character and hero in his own right, we couldn't have a bunch of other GLs running around muddying the waters and miring the book in continuity. The spotlight needed to be on Kyle. So during my run, Kyle was the only GL, but I eventually brought John Stewart and Alan Scott and Guy Gardner into the book to represent the GL legacy Now John and Alan are both Green Lanterns again. Who knows who else might bear that title down the road?"

Something that Marz never planned for was the return of Hal Jordan and even though the character made a re-appearance in "Emerald Knights," circa "Green Lantern #100," Kyle was to be the one GL even though Marz would have liked for a version of Hal to be around. "I never had plans to bring Hal back, though I had a grand time writing him in his prime in 'Emerald Knights,'" he explains.

"If it had been up to me, I would have kept Hal around as Parallax, because I really liked having a tragic, cosmic-level antagonist in the DCU. There was a great deal of pathos to Hal at that point, which was great fodder for stories. I wasn't crazy about what happened in 'Final Night,' because it felt so deus ex machina, and I was even less fond of making Hal the Spectre. That seemed to me like taking two dormant pieces of the DCU - Hal and the Spectre - and sticking them together in hopes of making a success. Ultimately, it wasn't."

Unfortunately for Marz, despite his best efforts to infuse new energy into "Green Lantern," he found some fans wouldn't let him be- and that included deeming "Green Lantern" too similar to a soap opera, a comment that makes Marz laugh. "Of course it was soap opera! Damn near every super-hero comic on the stands is half action and half soap opera. The soap opera - and by that I mean the character-driven stuff - is what keeps readers coming back. I said I wanted readers to care about Kyle both when he was in costume as well as when he was in jeans and a T-shirt. In order to do that, you need to put your character through grief in his civilian life. Truthfully, comics today have headed in the direction of being more soap opera than action.

"Green Lantern" #50, Hal becomes Parallax.
"We did do some space adventure during my run, but most of the time we were on earth because I wanted to focus on GL as a real person, and it's a bit harder to do that when your setting is an alien planet."

There may have been detractors, but there seemed to Marz to be more that enjoyed the series and he attributes that in part to the creative leeway from DC. "I was generally given a great deal of freedom, especially after the first year or so, once the book had proven itself a success and I had proven I knew what I was doing. There's always a certain degree of editorial requirement, principally taking part in crossovers. I had to come up with stories to tie into 'Final Night' and 'Genesis,' and the one that turned Hal into the Spectre. Was it called 'Judgment Day?' Anyway, to me those issues always interrupt the flow of story, but that's just part of the job.

"The one real pain in the ass was having Donna Troy yanked out of the book because John Byrne wanted her in 'Wonder Woman' and wouldn't share. Our issues were already done, and we had to go back and retrofit Donna's departure into them, so to me it came off as rushed and half-assed. We'd spent a couple of years building the relationship between Donna and Kyle, and I felt it was really unfair to the readers who had invested themselves in it to have it end so abruptly. And, unfortunately, nothing of consequence was ever done with Donna in 'Wonder Woman' anyway.

"The only other thing I can think of is a couple of years into the run, when Hal was still Parallax, I wanted to do a storyline in which he'd created a world that was essentially DC's Silver Age. Hal always wanted to set things right, which would include himself as GL, Barry as the Flash, etc. So he just created it. Eventually, the current DC heroes would have been confronted with the decision of whether to put a stop to what Hal was doing. It would have been a conflict of the current DCU and the Silver Age, a way to contrast the present and the past. You can see that's where we were originally headed at the end of issue #64, but the decision came down that it would have smacked too much of pre-Crisis continuity, so we had to drop it."

If you're not one of those fans who would have liked to see Marz continue on the series and explore all those ideas, then fear not: Marz believes you more than have a right to express your opinion. What he does object to however, is people mailing him death threats or personally insulting his co-workers. "Everybody's entitled to their opinion. You pay your money for the issue, you can say whatever you want. And a lot of the feedback is negative, that's just the nature of the beast. People who are unhappy with the work are generally more moved to comment than people who are happy with it. You have to come to terms with that as a creator. You can't have a thin skin if you're going to put yourself out in front of people, whether you're a writer, an artist, an actor, a musician.

"I don't do this job because I need positive reinforcement from the audience. That's nice, and it's always very flattering when someone tells you they enjoy your work. But if you're going to do this, or engage in any artistic venture, you need to do it for yourself first, not others. I write the stories I write to please myself, to create what I believe is a good story. And then I hope the audience comes along for the ride. But if you approach any creative endeavor the other way around - trying to please the audience first - you just end up prostituting what you do.

"Obviously the Internet has given fan reaction an incredibly broad soapbox. I have to assume the fans enjoy having a community and an instantaneous outlet. It's great to have opinions and convictions. I just wish more people would have the courage of their convictions and use their real names instead of 'Logan182' or whatever. The anonymity of screen names breeds a bravery that I doubt otherwise exists. You shouldn't post anything on a message board, or say anything in a chat room, that you wouldn't say to somebody's face.

"Somebody on a board recently compared me writing Green Lantern again to Osama bin Laden cutting the ribbon at the opening of the new World Trade Center opening. Besides being incredibly offensive to everyone who suffered because of that tragedy, I really doubt anybody would have the guts to say that to my face. Because I guarantee, it would get you smacked in the mouth. There's a problem when opinion crosses the line into personal insults or threats."

In a world of anonymity, Marz knows one thing is for sure- he's never gotten flack from other comic book creators and respects their integrity. "No one's ever said a word to me. Obviously there are some creators who are attached to Hal. We all know who we're talking about. But if you're in this industry as a professional, you know how it works. You know that what happened to Hal was an editorial decision made by DC, not me going off on a wild tangent."

But the multi-faceted writer isn't above admitting his own "failures" and says he does feel he didn't develop Kyle enough in his time on the series. "I truthfully didn't develop Kyle enough during my run. I probably should have gotten him further past 'wide-eyed rookie' than I did. Only a couple years of time passed in the book, but in real time it was seven years. I can understand readers feeling as though they'd had enough of him being a rookie. But sometimes you don't see the forest for the trees.

"Even though Kyle's gone beyond that stage now, I'm still intending to play him as very human. There are still times when his foibles will show themselves, when he'll have feet of clay, when he won't make a mature decision. Just like all the rest of us."

The debut of Kyle Rayner as Green Lantern in issue #51.
If you still think that no one enjoyed Marz's "Green Lantern" because you didn't… then you'd better recheck your facts. "Well, obviously somebody was reading the book. There was a period when GL was outselling all of DC's monthlies in the direct market except 'JLA,' including all the Batman and Superman titles, which seemed like a sign of the apocalypse to me. So I think we did all right. I know I've had a hell of a lot of people come up to me at conventions with a stack of books to sign, telling me they really liked what we did.

"I got an e-mail from a guy who told me that when his father died, he went back and read a number of comics that I'd written, and he found some comfort in being entertained by those stories. You can't ask for much more than that."

Marz also added, "The sales boost obviously came from 'Emerald Twilight,' and the furor generated by Hal's exit and a new GL taking his place. Coming on the heels of the Death of Superman and Knightfall, 'ET' was DC's next big push, and we reaped the benefit of that promotion. Selling those initial issues wasn't the concern. The real job was keeping the readers coming back after 'ET,' and I think we were pretty successful. We got readers interested enough in Kyle that they stuck with the series."

"What we did on GL was controversial, but that doesn't mean it was bad or unsuccessful. Better a passionate reaction than no reaction at all."

That said, the ongoing debate- over ten years later- regarding the decision to replace Hal with Kyle and the question of which character is "better" truly mystifies Marz. "I have to confess that I don't understand the Hal/Kyle debate. I don't see why it has to be an either/or situation for some people. It's like comparing Chinese food to Indian food. Some people like Szechuan Chicken, some people like Tandoori Chicken. There's no right and wrong, it's just personal taste, so leave it at that.

"I especially don't understand why the debate is still raging ten years later, especially when there is no right answer. It's opinion, that's all it will ever be, no matter how threads on message boards debate it. I guess it gives people something to do, but man, there have to be better ways to spend your time."

One of Marz's greatest strengths as a comic book creator has been his ability to retain his optimism and good humor through the trials and tribulations put in front of him. "Yeah, there were some half-assed death threats. The whole thing saddened me more than anything else. It really brought home the fact that there's a segment of the audience who takes this stuff waaaay too seriously. This is supposed to be entertainment, but somehow it takes on an importance that's all out of proportion.

"Cully Hamner, the artist, is a friend. He pointed out that for some fans, comics is a religion. They think about it on a daily basis, go worship at the shrine once a week (new comic day), and otherwise revolve their lives around it. So when you do something like turn Hal into a villain, it's completely upsets their operating system, their 'religious beliefs,' so to speak. It's a pretty startling comparison.

"I don't know why, but comics seems to generate more obsessive behavior than almost any other entertainment medium. I don't think very much of Anne Rice as a writer, so I don't buy her books. I never liked the Grateful Dead's music, so I don't buy their CDs. Nobody pays money to see a movie they know they're not going to like. Those seem to me to be rational reactions. And yet, people will buy comics they don't like just so they can complain about them. It makes no sense."

Even more confusing than the "religion" of comics was the character defamation Marz faced, as he was declared a misogynist and saying he had a "women in the refrigerator" obsession, after having super-villain Major Force kill Kyle's girlfriend Alex in "Green Lantern #154" and stuff her in a fridge. "That's one I still scratch my head over. It's not as if killing a woman and stuffing her in a refrigerator was portrayed as commendable behavior in the issue. The villain did it, the bad guy. It was a heinous act by an amoral character. I wanted something memorable, something to establish Major Force as an utter bastard. Apparently I was successful, because it's still being talked about a decade later.

"I don't understand how people construe a character's behavior as the author's endorsement. I never heard anyone accuse Thomas Harris of being pro-cannibalism because he wrote novels involving Hannibal Lecter. A writer's job is to make up things. To think that I'm somehow in favor of everything I make up is asinine. But, as I said earlier, some people just want to throw rocks, whether there's any basis in truth or not."

Looking back his extensive run on the series, Marz has difficulty picking his favorite issue because he enjoyed working on "Green Lantern" so much. "I don't think I could pick one, though there were certainly some I liked better than others. Issue #97, which Mike McKone drew, worked out well. Issue #100, putting Hal and Kyle together, was fun. Issue #78 was a nice stand-alone story, and I liked the Jade story in issue #109. The Lantern/Silver Surfer crossover was cool, and working with Rick Leonardi, Mike Perkins and Dave Stewart on 'Green Lantern vs. Aliens' was a pleasure. I'm sure I'm leaving out some I should be mentioning."

What if his contribution to "Green Lantern" had been more extensive and over a longer time- what would we have seen from Ron Marz? "Toward the end of my run, I was laying the foundation for Kyle to restart the Corps," reveals the scribe. "I felt like it was time to bring that back, since we'd spent quite a few years establishing Kyle. My intention was for Kyle to be Earth's GL, while John Stewart would be in charge of the Corps. Best laid plans, you know?

"Now that I'm coming back for six issues starting with #176, I'll obviously pick up where Kyle is being left off. My arc is going to be mostly based on Earth, reconnecting Kyle with his supporting cast, the people he left behind when he headed into space. But that process won't be as smooth as Kyle hopes, leading him to question a lot of things, including being Green Lantern. In some ways, Kyle's story will come full circle.

"The first issue of my arc is written, and to tell you the truth, it was like slipping into an old, comfortable sweatshirt. After some initial floundering, I got back into the groove pretty easily. We're tentatively calling the arc 'Homecoming?' with a question mark.

"Most of the story will take place on Earth, rather than in space, and while there will be an appropriate amount of action, and a couple of returning villains, it's a very character-driven arc. Kyle's going to confront why he's Green Lantern, and even if he should be Green Lantern. It's not going to be an overly happy storyline for him. I know how it's going to end, and I'm really anxious to write that scene. More than that, you're just going to have to wait."

To bone up for the new run, he's studied the work of his successors and as the creator of Kyle Rayner, has an interesting perspective on what they've done. "I didn't read the book regularly once I left it, though I've obviously gone back and read everything since. It's interesting to see someone else handle a character I was so close to. There are some choices I wouldn't have made, and some things that worked so well I'm kicking myself for not thinking of them."

In the end, Ron Marz had some straightforward goals for "Green Lantern" and feels he's accomplished them, making his "encore performance" an even more exciting experience. "I just wanted to tell good stories in the framework we were allowed. Some stories worked better than others, but generally I look back quite fondly on the whole thing. I got to stretch myself as a writer. I got the chance to add a chapter to DC history and work with terrific artists like Darryl Banks, Paul Pelletier, Jeff Johnson, Mike McKone and a number of others. All in all, it was a great experience, and I get to go back for one more helping."

 
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