Zamaron — A Green Lantern Femme-Site

{August 31, 2006}   And Then There’s “The Girl”: Further Analysis of Guy Gardner

It seemed appropriate after Soyo’s essay below that I finally get off my ass and type this now.When I was younger, I used to be a big anime fan, and my friends and I would joke how whenever there was a team of four main male characters, they could always be classified thusly: The brooding one. The Playboy. The Kid. The Woman.

It was pretty infailable. No matter the series, it’d work out this way:

The brooding one was always intelligent and serious, the playboy was always charming and a hit with the ladies, but rarely if ever tied down. The kid was the young, cute, inexperienced one of the group. And then there was the character that tended to be kind, emotional, nurturing, forgiving…basically, he was characterized as a woman.

The connection to the Green Lanterns becomes obvious. John, Hal, Kyle…and finally Guy.

Now, on surface glance, Guy Gardner doesn’t fit. He’s rude, crude, obnoxious. He’s mildly lecherous, always angry…

But he’s the one Lantern that showed interest in Jaime Reyes, even though he had to fight a considerable compulsion to violence to do it.

Guy Gardner is the one that forgave Hal for his Zero Hour misdeeds to allow him to stay at Arisia’s funeral long before the concept of Parallax entered the mix.

Guy Gardner is the one who took the most fraternal interest in helping out the newbie Green Lantern when the others were busy either with the Darkstars or being batshit insane.

Guy Gardner is the one who got a random mention in a Justice Society Annual or Secret Files, where a rookie hero forced to fight to the death briefly reflected on the only person who ever looked twice at him, welcoming a “new hero” with an offer of a drink.

The pattern begins to form. Despite the outward masculine trappings, Guy Gardner is still a character that retains a lot of traditionally feminine qualities.

In her essay, A Warped Feminist Statement, Soyo brings up the ways in which Guy, before his accident, embodied certain feminine stereotypes. I won’t rehash them here. Instead, what I’m more focused on is the element of transformation involved from the innocent early Guy to the maniac we all know and love.

The key point to consider is that Guy, before his kidnapping by Sinestro, had been Green Lantern for a day. He was a temp, filling in for Hal as the latter went back to Oa. He blew up a robotic eye, but he really couldn’t be considered a hero yet. He was at best a trainee.

After waking up from the coma, Guy was transformed. While he was at first, almost a villain, he quickly found his place as colleague, rival and annoyance to Hal Jordan. His methods were shaky, but one can’t really doubt that he qualified as an anti-hero at least. He stopped bad guys, saved innocents, joined a team. He even ended up with his own comic.

There are two aspects to this that are relevant to the topic at hand. First is that Guy was never intended to be a hero OR a villain to begin with. He was initially a one-shot “what-if” character, showing what would have happened if Hal didn’t get the ring, it gave Hal a lot of reassurance that there was another potentially able to take his place should the worst happen, but for the next few years it wouldn’t be touched upon again. There was no real intention for Hal to be replaced after all.

Guy would appear again, finally, a few years later, for John Stewart’s debut. Because Guy was Hal’s alternate, he needed to be moved out of the way, and was, via a striking combination of bus and cliff.

John’s adventure, like Guy’s, spotlighted his heroic qualities, but unlike Guy, they existed in the real world. He had actual interaction with Hal, the opportunity to impress him and have an impact on him. Where Guy had been created as a one-shot what-if, John was created to be a long term hero.

When we see Guy again, he’s recovered from his accident only to fall prey to Hal’s exploding battery and then be held and tortured by Sinestro, as a way to torment Hal. After that, we saw Guy only sporadically, as a patient Hal visits guiltily. He wouldn’t have a significant role as himself until he wakes and is recruited during the Crisis on Infinite Earths.

This is where the “coded female” element comes in. The term refers to traditional roles in comic books. The traditional hero of a story is male. He’s strong and stoic, he saves the damsel from the villain, saves the world, gets the girl…the usual trappings. Other characters that tended to be male were mentors and significant allies (think Alfred or Jim Gordon for Batman). Women tended to be supporting characters. Their purpose is to elicit emotional responses from the hero. The hero never fears for his own life, but if his girlfriend/mother/sister is in danger?

The traditional female character is passive, largely, defined by her relationship to the lead. Her fate is determined solely by the possible effects of the story onto the hero. Lois Lane, Carol Ferris, Spiderman’s Aunt May are all examples of this sort of traditional role. A rare reversal would be Steve Trevor to Wonder Woman. Because Steve plays the role a traditional female character would, he’s “Coded Female”. There are those who’d argue that sidekicks in general tend to be “coded female”.

Alexandra DeWitt was murdered and shoved into a Fridge so we could see Kyle cry. Dinah Lance was tortured so we could see Oliver Queen brought to the point of darkness. I’m sure we can all think of similar examples.

In the same vein, Guy served that role with Hal. Need Hal to be worried? Have his successor in a bus accident off a cliff. Need Hal to feel guilty? Blow Guy up with a battery and have Hal get with his fiancee. Need to show how evil Hal’s gotten in Emerald Twilight? Spend an entire issue detailing an incredibly brutal smackdown of Guy up to and including the loss of an eye. Need Hal to suck up his Parallax guilt and team up with his former victims? Turn Guy into a Manhunter.

Even when the man’s the lead of his own comic, he still ends up filling that traditional damsel role with Hal.

The other interesting aspect of the Sinestro-torture has to do with heroic backstory. As I said, Guy before Sinestro wasn’t yet a hero. Guy afterward gradually ended up one. That horrible experience ended up a catalyst for his eventual heroic role.

But that’s where the gender comparison becomes interesting. Thinking back to the backstories of male and female heroes, there are a few trends to notice.

Male heroes tend to become heroes either through opportunity and idealism (Superman, Hal, the Flashes) or personal tragedy (Spiderman, Batman). The loss or vicimization of another person is used as strong motive.

Of female heroes, they are split between those who, like Wonder Woman or Stargirl or Barbara Gordon as Batgirl, became heroes out of opportunity or idealism, and the victims. Characters like Oracle, Starfire, Rogue or countless others who’ve suffered some sort of victimization and end up using it to help fuel their righteousness.

Women who become heroes out of another person’s suffering and men who become heroes out of response to personal victimization are very rare exceptions. Guy Gardner is one such.

After Guy wakes up damaged, he is definitely a lot more hypermasculine in attitude. There’s one thing that might be worth noting however, where the other Lanterns were driven by their wills, Guy was a character driven by anger and passionate emotions. The others, even Kyle, are at heart rational characters, Guy isn’t. Emotion vs. Rationality is a commonly used female/male, yin-yang type of dichotomy.

While he’s now much more traditionally macho, the thematic feminine elements have been re-established over the years. Warrior brought back the nurturing nature, setting him up with the bar, people to take care of and younger heroes to mentor. Green Lantern Corps appears to be continuing that, at least with Soranik. Green Lantern and Rebirth have re-established the forgiveness.

Heck, it probably says something that where all the other Lanterns are gallivanting off on their solo adventures, Guy’s the one nestled into the Corps “family”.

The element of thematic femininity is pretty interesting in general. Guy is particularly fascinating though because he’s a man. He’s not even remotely effeminate or womanly in actuality. He’s never going to be mistaken for a woman. However, at the same time, the traits and narrative structures traditionally associated with feminine portrayals are pretty hard to deny.

The truth is, there’s nothing inherent in any of those qualities that make them feminine. However cliche and laziness often uses these characteristics (or the reverse for men: macho, testosterone-laden) as a substitute for actual characterization. It’s a very limited perspective and characters like Guy prove that it is possible to subvert/develop these ideas in new and different ways.


SallyP says:

Whew! That is a point of view that I had never really considered and
yet…it does make sense doesn’t it? I agree wholeheartedly that Guy
seems to work best in a group. A loner he is not…although I think that
he is frequently lonely. I imagine that he does unconciously cling to the
family structure that the Corps provides, because face it, thanks to Hal,
he lost everthing he had, not just once, but a number of times. And,
despite griping about it to Salaak, I think that he does enjoy his teacher/nurturer role with the nightlights…after all, he was a teacher once. I think that Kilowog has some of the same characteristics in
this respect. No wonder they get along so well together.

Anyway…nice essay.

Loren says:

Wow…I’m going to be looking at Guy Gardner in a whole new light now. I never thought of any of this, but it all makes sense. Great post!

kalinara says:

SallyP: Oh yeah! I’m particularly interested in the change in Kilowog and Guy’s interactions One Year Later as opposed to Recharge. It seems oddly…gentler, more openly brotherly on Kilowog’s part than their previous interactions indicated. This has me intrigued. 🙂

Loren: I’m glad you liked it! 🙂

[…] And Then There’s “The Girl”: Further Analysis of Guy Gardner – The always clever Kalinara provides Zamaron with a unique look at Guy Gardner. I know I’ll never look at Guy the same way again. (from Zamaron – A Green Lantern Femme-Site through […]

SallyP says:

Regarding Guy’s and Kilowog’s recent relationship; if you go back in some
of the early Green lantern issues, it is interesting that of them all,
Kilowog seems to get along with guy the best, even in the Justice League
books. After the rest of the Lanterns took off, and left Kilowog at the
headquarters, Guy was the one writing him letters and visiting, although
Arisia did visit as well. Heck, Guy is the one who convinced him to join
the League. And, in issue 20 of Green Lantern, when Hal is basically
plotting to take Earth back from Guy, Kilowog is the only one who stands
up for him. Anyway, it is an interesting friendship and I’d love to see
what you think of it.

SallyP says:

Ok, here’s a really creepy thought. Remember when Guy was “Gal” in Warrior #42, and was parading around in the French maid’s outfit? If
Hal had been there, poor Guy would have had to beat him off with a stick!
No double entendres intended. Heheheh.

Christian says:

First of all, great post! Yes all these points seem to make sense if you dig a little bit. I think Guy is awesome because, despite the blatant sexist jerk attitude, he is a real team player. The Guardians know and respect that fact, as well as his Corpsemen and women. He is a natural leader when the chips are down, and overall he just RULES!!! I also think he needs more exposure in the DC Comic conmmunity as a whole.

[…] genderfuckery inherent in both characters. Don’t understand what I mean? Read this. Then read this. Get it? Don’t worry if you don’t. You’ll be seeing this […]

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