The Inconstant Gardner: Identity formation in ‘Guy Gardner Reborn’

The 1990s, or Extreme Age, in comic book history saw a huge speculator boom as key Silver Age comics started selling for huge amounts in the collector’s market. Suddenly everyone was looking for the next big thing and anything with a huge ‘#1’ on it was expected to increase in value. As such, every second string and minor character was gifted a mini-series or even ongoing as people chased those big returns. Of course, as of thirty years later those huge returns haven’t manifested and are not likely to because that’s not how collecting works but the explosion of new titles did give the reader some amazing stories we wouldn’t have otherwise had. Guy Gardner Reborn is one of those titles.

Published during that glorious summer of 1992, Guy Gardner Reborn was a prestige format three issue mini-series that acted as a lead-in to the new ongoing Guy Gardner series and set up Gardner leaving the Green Lantern Corps and beginning a new life as a solo hero. With a humorous and fast-paced script, dynamic and flowing pencils from Joe Staton, and a guest-starring role for satirical anti-hero Lobo, Guy Gardner Reborn is an under rated series.

Not only us Guy Gardner Reborn colourful, fun, and action packed, it also provides a quite deep and textured examination of the creation of identity and character. The mini-series shows a man who has lost what gave him meaning, he has lost his identity and must now attempt to create a new none.

Guy Gardner is an interesting character though one who has never been depicted in a consistent way. As various writers and editors have brought their own perspectives to the Green Lantern universe, Gardner has been portrayed as having may different identities. He has been a social worker, a police officer, a teacher, a side-kick, a knucklehead jerk, an alien warrior, a Red Lantern, a black ops Green Lantern. In short, the one consistent aspect of Gardner’s presentation is in his never having a fixed identity. This has been frustrating for readers but what if the ongoing identity crisis befalling Gardner isn’t the result of different creators using Gardner for different things, but actually a crucial component of who Gardner is. He is someone who is always searching for an identity.

The work of developmental psychologist James Marcia provides an excellent blue print for examining how the writer of Guy Gardner Reborn shows the character’s struggle with identity creation. Marcia’s theory on identity formation posits that there are four stages which an individual goes through while exploring who they are before committing to an identity based on values and life goals. The four identity statuses are characterised by the differing levels of commitment and exploration inherent to them.

The first of these statuses is identity diffusion. At this point the individual is not actively exploring who they are and they are not especially committed to any form of identity. Following on from this is identity foreclosure in which a person has committed to an identity but has not explored other options available to them. The values associated with this identity have normally been adopted from friends and family. An individual can then undergo an identity moratorium in which they no longer have a committed identity as they begin t explore alternative value sets. After exploring these alternatives, an individual can reach identity achievement in which they now have a solid sense of self. At this point the identity is committed to and exploration drops again allowing for a period of calm.

Let’s now take a dive into the text of Guy Gardner Reborn and explore how Marcia’s statuses are utilised.

Book One begins with Guy Gardner in the middle of a fight with the Black Hand and his henchmen; a fight which Gardner loses explicitly because he no longer has a Green Lantern power ring. Gardner laments the fact that he is no longer a Green Lantern though he still wears the uniform and fights crime, albeit on a much less cosmic scale. The reader is informed in the first half of the issue that Gardner lost his power ring to Hal Jordan and was then subsequently thrown out of the Justice League for having no powers.

Gardner then takes on the status of identity moratorium. The second half of the first issue sees him actively and energetically explore different identities. He tries to form a superhero team, becoming a Professor X or Cable type character. He then arms himself with an arsenal of weapons and adopts the moniker The Gardner, a satire of The Punisher which deserved its own limited series or one shot. Finally, Gardner alights on the idea of stealing Sinestro’s yellow power ring from his corpse on Oa, which leads into the final issues of the series.

The loss of his Green Lantern identity is what has thrown Gardner into his identity crisis. As a Green Lantern, Gardner was in the identity foreclosure stage. He was committed to being a Green Lantern. He certainly saw issues within the Corps and tried to remain an individual within the intergalactic police force, but he was proud to be a Green Lantern and was broadly signed up to all the characteristics associated with wearing the green and black.

The second issue sees Gardner’s continued identity moratorium and his continuing exploration of who he is. Gardner decides to utilise the homicidal Lobo as his means for procuring the yellow ring. Gardner teams up with Lobo and considers adopting Lobo characteristics in his search for identity. To this end, Gardner wears one of Lobo’s old biker jackets, demonstrating the importance of costume to super hero identity.

Gardner and Lobo travel to Qward in search of Sinestro’s yellow ring where they take on the combined might of the Qwardian armies. When Gardner sees firsthand what Lobo’s mindless violence entails, he soon decides that whatever form his new identity will take, ultra-violence will not be a part of it. With this realisation, Gardner shows that deciding what one is not, is just as important as deciding what one is during the moratorium state.

The third issue begins with Guy Gardner, Lobo, and the armies of Qward transported to Oa where the Green Lantern Corps join the battle and become reluctant co-belligerents of Gardner and Lobo. Group identity is explored here with Guy Gardner being shown to be an individual in contrast to the tribes of the Green Lanterns and the Qwardians.

Gardner manages to break away from the melee in search of the yellow ring. It is his internal monologue while he is alone which shows how close to identity achievement Gardner has become. In the previous two issues there were extended sequences where Gardner would analyse his self, wallowing in self doubt and uncertainty. In issues three we see a Guy Gardner who is starting to become aware of what his values are and who he is.

Gardner finally finds the yellow ring on the corpse of Sinestro deep in the Guardians citadel in the crypt which houses the bodies of all those who have ever been Green Lanterns. Gardner engages in a battle of will with the spirit of Sinestro which Gardner wins by knowing who he is and having confidence through his self-assurance. Gardner gains control of the yellow ring and becomes ‘the real Guy Gardner’. He helps the Green Lanterns defeat the Qwardians before travelling back to Earth to start his new adventures as a super hero reborn.

Guy Gardner emerges from Reborn a well rounded, more assured character. He has formed a new identity and has found his place in the DC universe. Ostensibly a happy ending but unfortunately this wasn’t to last. After roughly a year and a half of his new yellow ring powered super identity, Gardner would undergo another character shift and adopt the new codename of Warrior. This new identity also didn’t last for too long and within a few years, the DC editorial board were looking at revamping the character once again. This constant shifting of identity has been one of the great frustrations for fans of Guy Gardner. Guy Gardner has the potential to be great character but this inconsistency in presentation never allows him to breathe with one identity for long enough.

This refining and redefining can be read as an extension of Marcia’s theories. Marcia expanded on his statues and believed that throughout a person’s lifespan, they will undergo the process of moratorium to achievement a number of times. This process comes about as a result of disequilibrium in identity often as a result of a traumatic experience and a process of identity re-construction begins.

Here’s hoping that one day we get the Guy Gardner we deserve. One who knows who he is and where he’s going. Maybe it’s time for Guy Gardner to be reborn one last time.

One thought on “The Inconstant Gardner: Identity formation in ‘Guy Gardner Reborn’

  1. I don’t know much about super-heroes, but I found your exegesis of what is essentially the neo-scripture of the cultural underworld a fascinating read. It’s a tangled undergrowth down there, just below the surface of the cultural norm, and needs a clear sight – I’ll keep watching and best of luck.

    Liked by 1 person

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