Green Lantern's magic ring runs on willpower, so Hal Jordan needs an iron will to wear it. But the real test of his will is what happens when he loses the ring and has to rely on himself.
My absolute favorite badass-Hal-Jordan story is in Green Lantern #133-135, when the schizophrenic supervillain Dr. Polaris steals Hal's ring and his lantern and strands him at the North Pole. Does Hal give up? What do you think?
Ancient comic spoilers ahead...
This storyline is by Marv Wolfman, with art by Joe Staton — who was still doing somewhat realistic art at this point. And honestly, if you love stories where heroes get tested... and tested... and then tested a bunch more, then "Mind Over Magnetism" is your kind of story. It's up there with the Judge Dredd storyline where he has to crawl on his hands and knees through the Cursed Earth. Or the second half of Doctor Who, "Caves of Androzani."
So Dr. Polaris, the master of magnetism, lures Hal Jordan to the Arctic and then drains all the power from his ring. He steals Hal's ring as well as his battery, and leaves Hal shackled to an evil power-draining bench. And even if Hal escapes from Dr. Polaris' "power absorber," he's still stuck in the middle of the Arctic with no ring and no superpowers. It's 100 miles to the nearest human habitation, a National Geographic waystation.
And while Hal is stuck in the Arctic, Dr. Polaris is using Hal's ring, plus his magnetic powers, to enslave everyone back in America.
Hal finally escapes from Dr. Polaris' evil bench, which is hovering in the middle of the tundra, and has the following internal monologue:
There! Thank the Guardians! Free at last! Sure, I'm free... but free to do what? My Power Ring's been stolen... And I'm trapped here in the middle of this Arctic nightmare, without a snowball's chance of making it to that waystation! So why don't I give in? Cash in my chips and say the BLAZES with it all!
I must be three kinds of fool to think I can survive in this frozen waste — especially without food or water, or even a direction to walk in. Well, no one ever said I was bright. Besides, walking will keep my mind off the fact that I'm slowly FREEZING TO DEATH!
Blast Polaris! I thought the evil side of his person had been excised the last time we fought! I didn't suspect his bringing me here to the North Pole was a trap!
And then Hal goes into an extended flashback about how Polaris stole his ring. And then, now that he's summed up the incredible odds against him, he gathers his resolve and says "I'm gonna survive, Polaris. And no matter what's thrown against me — GREEN LANTERN IS GONNA WIN!"
You have to kind of hear these lines being read in a Shatner-esque staccato voice. Or maybe Brian Blessed.
By the very next page, Hal Jordan has already started to grow a beard. And he's wandering the ice floes, pondering the irony of the fact that he's faced down cosmic-level threats and saved the universe, but now he's going to die, powerless, out in the middle of nowhere. Not only is he freezing, he's also starving. And there's no Burger King out here in the middle of the Arctic. So Hal unravels a bit of his uniform and makes a "bit of fishing string" out of it, and catches a fish! He apologizes to his new fishy friend for the fact that he needs to take its life in order to survive.
And then... a polar bear attacks!
"Great Guardians!" Hal exclaims. "As if I didn't have enough trouble!"
The next page, in which Hal fights a polar bear, only to get knocked over — then gets up and knocks the bear into the freezing water, has to be read in its entirety:
Hal's face starts freezing! And he feels himself going numb in the water. But he somehow drags himself out and keeps going. The narration is total awesomeness:
Call it an indomitable will that refuses to quit... or even an insatiable thirst for vengeance, but even with the odds piled against him... even half frozen to death... with arms too stiff to move... and with a body bone-whipped by the numbing wind... Green Lantern incredibly, bravely, steadfastly, staggers on... And he continues onward, even when his feet can no longer carry him...
And just when Hal thinks he's going to die, he finds a cave where he can shelter from the wind and get his strength back.
Meanwhile, Dr. Polaris kidnaps Carol, Hal's on-again, off-again love interest!
Hal wakes up in his cave, and even though he wants to rest, he knows he must keep moving. His mask has disappeared, because it's created by his ring, and all ring-created artifacts disappear after 24 hours. "Well," Hal thinks, "I don't need a mask out here. Keeping my identity a secret from the seals is absurd!" And Hal also realizes that the reason he hasn't frozen to death yet is because his Green Lantern suit was created by the Guardians for spaceflight. (Lucky for Hal that this was before the writers decided that the suit, too, was created by Hal's ring — or he'd be naked in the Arctic.)
Just when Hal starts to think he can make it — he hears a terrible howling. He thinks it's the "crying wind," until he realizes that it's actually "the howling of something alive — and very very deadly!" It's a wolf! A hungry wolf who wants to "turn Hal Jordan into steak tar-tar!"
Hal's all set to fight a wolf — but then he and the wolf fall off a cliff together! Hal just barely manages to cushion his fall using the wolf's body. But he's knocked out and has a dream about Carol.
When Hal wakes up... he's snowblind!
He can't even see where he's going! If Hal was lost before, he's like a hundred times more lost now. He hears the mocking laughter of Dr. Polaris on the wind, and he knows that his chances for survival have just dropped from zero to some incredibly high negative number.
And it's at this point that Hal has a flashback to when he was chosen as a Green Lantern. He remembers his fateful meeting with Abin Sur, who told him that he was worthy of the ring because he was "born without fear." And he remembers the Guardians telling him the same thing, and declaring him worthy to be a Green Lantern. "You will do us honor!" the Guardians say in Hal's memory.
Born without fear... worthy of being a Green Lantern... easy to say when I have all the power of the universe — right at my proverbial fingertip! Nothing stopped me then, and nothing... Not elements, not hunger, thirst or even this blasted blindness will stop me now! YOU HEAR ME POLARIS? I WON'T BE STOPPED!!
The measure of a man isn't taken when he's at his strongest. It's got to be when he's all but down! And when he refuses to stay down! Even when his body can no longer move... Even when all hope has seemingly fled. The measure of a man is one who can accept all his weaknesses... and make them his strengths!
And then Hal falls flat on his face in the snow, finally unable to move any further. His legs are useless. His arms are rigid. He's about to suffocate on snow. And then... "Am I dreaming? Ham!?! I smell ham cooking!"
I think we all smell ham, Hal.
Hal staggers into the National Geographic station, and manages to get off one last witticism: "Hope you don't mind if I... drop in!" before collapsing on the floor.
Hal finally makes it back to America, where he tries to enlist the aid of his friend Thomas "Pieface" Kalmaku, who's mired in self-pity after losing his job and letting down the whole Kalmaku family. Hal is like "STFU, I'm still half-blind and everything is f—ed up, I don't need the help of a quitter":
So of course Tom signs on to help Hal get his ring back, stop Dr. Polaris, and save Carol, in the next issue. Unfortunately, Dr. Polaris has figured out a way to use Green Lantern's ring to enslave people's wills, and he's using their inborn magnetism to supercharge his powers. And he's going to tap into the basic magnetic force of the universe, possibly destroying all creation. So Hal comes up with a couple of desperate schemes to get his ring back, both of which fail.
Finally, just as Dr. Polaris is on the verge of achieving ultimate power, Hal tries one last ditch effort, extending his will power further than he's ever extended it before....
...and it works! "Suddenly, I no longer feel naked!" Hal says.
And then Hal outsmarts Polaris and puts a stop to his plans of universal domination (or destruction).
So is this storyline cheesy? Sure, in the same way Shatner is cheesy. And so many other things we love. But this story has more "fuck yeah" moments than a hundred other comics put together. It's a landmark in the history of "all seems lost" moments and "hero triumphs against all odds" stories. And it's got a polar bear.
And now you know why Hal Jordan is the greatest.