Thursday, July 11, 2013

Character Assassination: Abin Sur

Well, since I've been talking about Green Lanterns so much recently, let's keep doing it! For those not in the know: Green Lantern Corps. Universal law-enforcement. Over 7200 members divided among 3600 space sectors.  Those who are deemed worthy to serve among their ranks live only for the Corps. And some die for the Corps. And some die just to introduce someone else’s story. Like this guy!

Real Name: Abin Sur
Alias: "That alien guy who gave Hal Jordan the Green Lantern Ring"
The Buildup
Yeah, there wasn’t really much build up behind the scenes or on the page in the beginning, seeing as how Abin Sur was simply created in order to die so Hal Jordan could inherit his ring. He was basically the comic book equivalent of that old guy in the first Zelda game.

Better than the Magic Armor from Twilight Princess. Then again, it would pretty much have to be.
The first thing you see him doing in the issue is crash his ship. In the years after his introduction, however, writers like Alan Moore and Geoff Johns have added some much needed backstory to Abin Sur. This served to flesh out his character, as well as to answer the biggest plot hole with the death of Abin Sur: If the ring lets you fly through space, then why was he using a spaceship? No one really thought about it when they wrote the original story, I guess. Crashing ships was just what aliens did back then. Roswell incidents were standard operating procedure.

The original explanation was that Abin Sur found a planet filled with beings called the “Larifars” that, to cut short the technobabble, devoured creativity. Seriously. This was their thing that they did. God, I love the Silver Age. Abin Sur put them all in a bubble to stop them, but one managed to escape. It fled to Abin Sur’s homeworld and activated their equivalent of the Yellowstone Supervolcano, which Abin Sur stopped, but forgot to charge his ring and ended up possessed. Like you do.

It forced him to go and free the rest of the aliens, but Abin Sur tricked it into thinking that the ring was low on power. So, the Larifar forced him to use a ship to travel through space, and Abin managed to sneak in his lantern. They flew through a green radiation belt, and Abin used this opportunity to charge his ring without the Larifar noticing. Once he powered up, he battled the alien and imprisoned it with the rest of them. Unfortunately, his ship wandered into Earth’s radiation belt, and his ring was now useless. Because, you know, radiation. 60’s. Go see my first episode of Character Study, I explain science there. Anyway, he lost control of the ship and crashed.  

After DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths rewrote history, Alan Moore, the Lord of all Facial Hair, came up with a new story, with less bubble blowing, but twice as much foreboding. Abin Sur once visited a prison planet called Ysmault, and met with an imprisoned demon-alien known as Qull of the Five Inversions.
Ew?  Yes, I'll go with "ew."
This demon prophesied that Abin Sur would die when his power ring ran out of energy at a critical moment. Abin Sur understandably freaked the frak out, and began to use a spaceship for interplanetary travel because he stopped trusting his ring. (I sense impending irony....) A decade later, he was fleeing a hive-mind creature known as Legion, and his spaceship entered some yellow radiation around Earth that left his ring useless. He realized that if he had relied on his ring alone, he probably would have noticed and avoided the radiation in the first place. Darn self-fulfilling prophesies, you don’t know that you’re in one until it’s too late! He crashed his ship and yadda yadda yadda.
Later writer Geoff Johns then modified this origin a bit. He removed Legion because no one remembers him, he removed the radiation because radiation isn’t the go-to sci-fi phlebotinum it used to be, but he kept the prophecy because prophecies are cool. Instead of fighting Legion, Abin Sur was transporting this big, red guy called Atrocitus back to Ysmault. Atrocitus broke free, the ship… you know the rest. This worked to tie in Abin Sur to Atrocitus as well as his upcoming crossover:  a little thing called Blackest Night.

 He crashes his ship on Earth, and instructs his ring to find a worthy successor. The ring summons Hal Jordan, a test pilot, and he becomes the new Green Lantern of Space Sector 2814.
…Moving on.  

That's it, really.
The Impact and Afterm...
Wait, go back. If Abin Sur’s ring had enough power in it to translate his speech and summon Hal Jordan, then why did it apparently not have enough power to save him? Why didn’t Abin Sur eject? Alright, they later changed the events so that its Atrocitus that mortally wounds him, not the crash, and in the movie Hal Jordan finds him on his own. I guess it’s not really an issue anymore. Thanks, retcons!

The Impact and Aftermath
Well, Hal Jordan became the Green Lantern. But besides that, Abin Sur is an interesting example of comic book death. Some characters who are mostly defined by their death can be used in spinoffs without dying. Like Gwen Stacy. Spider-Man 3: didn’t die. Spectacular Spider-Man: didn’t die. But then there are characters who have to die, because that’s their thing they do, it’s what they’re remembered for, because that’s a part of another character’s origin. Like Uncle Ben. If Uncle Ben doesn’t die, there can’t be a Spider-Man. If Abin Sur doesn’t die, there can’t be a Hal Jordan. Some characters who die can be retconned into never actually dying, like Barry Allen or Bucky Barnes. Yes, you can make the argument that it takes away all the point and emotional impact of their death, but that’s not the point here. The point is you can still fit it into the narrative. Abin Sur must always die because it’s his death that makes his ring leave him. Those are the rules. Abin Sur must always die. Even if he does nothing else to impact the narrative, he has to die.

Sure, if you wanted to make a really kid-friendly adaptation, you could say he didn’t die, but was critically injured or in a coma, so his ring had to find a replacement. I’m not saying that’s a good idea, but it could technically still be done within the boundaries of the origin. But you would still be missing a huge part of the impact of his death besides passing on the ring. His death is such an influence on Hal Jordan. Hal wanted to prove himself as a Lantern because all the other Lanterns were comparing him to his predecessor, their friend. His very presence screamed, “Hey, your buddy died!” Their friend and confidant is dead and gone forever. And all that’s left is this… doofus who reminds them of that fact just by being there, walking around wearing their dead friend’s jewelery. It makes for a very compelling, human story, if I may use that word to describe aliens. Yeah, not even Superfriends changed the death of Abin Sur.

Even Abin Sur himself can’t believe his replacement. Abin Sur’s last words are, “a human, never thought I’d live to see the day…” And you did, Abin. Just barely. Kinda. I guess it technically counts.

Final Thoughts
I did some research. I believe I’m the first person on the internet to ever say “Thanks, Retcons.”  Probably for good reason. See you next time!

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