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Workshop: "Writing Guy Gardner" by Duskdog717

Workshop: "Writing Guy Gardner" by Duskdog717

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He took his girlfriend to a skin flick for a first date. He goosed Mary "Sweet and Innocent" Marvel. He mooned Batman from outer space -- a feat no one else would even contemplate, let alone get away with. He's Guy Gardner, the man that nine out of ten heroes in the DC universe love to hate, and he's a much more complex and interesting character than most people think he is.

Writing Guy Gardner can be amazingly fun because he's so amazingly versatile. On the one hand, he's handy for almost any kind of comedy you can imagine. DC has traditionally used him as a sort of whipping boy for weirdness, and there's a reason for that -- Guy is funny. He does bad things and says bad things that you would never expect a hero to say, so it doesn't seem quite as mean when something bad happens to him in return. If you need someone to say what no one else will say, Guy is your man. If something is complete and utter bullshit, he'll let everybody know. If you need someone to provide a contrast to your straight-laced hero, he's a good man for that, too. He'll prod and provoke, perhaps blindly if you choose to write him during his brain damaged days, or with a purpose if you choose to write him in his modern Green Lantern Corps incarnation, or just for fun at any time. He'll sexually harrass. He'll contemplate what sort of a fart would result from the digesting of a mean sleaze like Mongul.

On the other hand, he's a character with a lot of potential for drama. He's lived a rough life. His daddy beat him. He's spent serious time in the hospital at least four times during his life: when he was beat nearly to death by some other kids when he was sixteen, when he was hit by a bus while trying to save a little girl and took months to recover, when he was in a three-year coma after his first mission as a Green Lantern, and later when he lost an eye and was put into yet another coma after confronting a Parallax-possessed Hal Jordan. Both of the women he's been serious about during his life have died young. He's lost everything and regained it again, only to lose it again and then regain it again. Guy is the man that nobody can keep down no matter what happens to him, and that's what really makes him such a fascinating and inspiring character.

It would be hard to write Guy to his fullest potential without knowing where he's been and what he's been through, because the very crux of his character is his ability to overcome. His father was an abusive alchoholic who strongly favored his other son, Guy's older brother Mace.  After a rocky teenagerhood of delinquency and a rough-but-helpful little push from Mace, though, Guy set about single-handedly turning his own life around. He got some jobs and worked his ass off. He got his high school equivalency. With that equivalency and his football skills, he got himself into the University of Michigan (not easy to do without a real high school diploma, mind you). He worked his ass off some more to pay his way through (scholarships, even if he had one, only pay for so much, after all). He became a football star, at least for one shining moment. And while doing all that, he not only managed to graduate, but graduate with two degrees: in Education and Psychology. Once back home in Baltimore, he became a gym teacher and spent time working with special ed kids.

He was spending time trying to make peace with his dying father when Green Lantern Abin Sur crash-landed on Earth. Abin Sur's ring located two potential Green Lanterns -- on the entire planet, mind you, if not the entire sector -- but because Hal Jordan was the closer of the two and time was of the essence to the dying Lantern, Hal was the one chosen. Get that? It's something to keep in mind at all times when writing Guy because Guy himself is keenly aware of it and it has has a big impact on his character at various times in his life: Hal Jordan became Sector 2814's Green Lantern instead of Guy simply because he had the dumb luck to be closer, not because he was smarter, braver, or more capable. They each have their own strengths and weaknesses, of course, but by the ring's judgment, they were equally suitable for the role.

And the minute that Hal Jordan entered his life was the minute that Guy's hard-won peace and contentment went up in smoke. Hal, curious about his potential back-up once he found out that he existed, went in his civilian identity to check out the competition. They didn't spend a lot of time together, but the meeting obviously left an impression on Guy (and I could point out that there's tons of slashy subtext involved in this first meeting and Guy's reaction to it, but that's a topic for another essay). It left enough of an impression, in fact, that later when Guy was taking some kids on a cross-country field trip (sign me up for that school, please), he was actually looking forward to the chance to look old Hal Jordan up in the phone book and get together with him again.

While on the field trip, an earthquake struck, and the ground opened up in front of the school bus. One lone little girl was too terrified to come away from the ledge she was on, and Guy heroically went out to save her. This was where the patented Guy Gardner bad luck struck again. The cliff collapsed and the bus rolled forward, striking Guy -- how many people can say that they fell off a cliff during an earthquake and got hit by a bus at the same time? Luckily, Hal (as Green Lantern -- remember that Guy didn't yet know that they were one and the same) was there to save him, but Guy was busted up pretty bad, and thus became unable to fulfil his role as back-up Green Lantern when Hal needed him. Enter John Stewart.

The long and painful recovery from this accident was to be only the first of many for Guy. Once Hal finally got around to telling Guy the truth it was only because he needed him to be fill-in GL for a bit while Hal went to Oa to investigate a possible problem with his battery, and Guy's very first outing as a fledgling Green Lantern ended horrifically when Hal's rigged power-battery exploded in his face, seemingly killing him.

As it turned out, though, Guy wasn't dead. He had been transported, badly injured, into the Phantom Zone and was later tortured and used as a pawn by Sinestro. Perhaps worst of all, he could see only bits and pieces of what was happening back on Earth -- like, for instance, Hal's torrid affair with Guy's own fiancee, Kari Limbo. Imagine how this must have looked to Guy. Here was Hal, a man who had introduced himself to Guy under false pretenses, and who left Guy back on Earth with a rigged power battery and absolutely no training for the role he was supposed to fill. And suddenly, literally within days of Guy's supposed death, Hal was shacking up with Guy's lady. Guy's mind was twisted both by physical injuries and psychological ones. It was no wonder that he came to believe that the whole thing was just a set-up by Hal from the very beginning. Hal did eventually save Guy from Sinestro's clutches, but the damage had already been done -- Guy's mind was broken, and he ended up in a coma for the next three years, comic book time.

The Guy Gardner that everyone remembers -- that is, the Guy Gardner of Crisis on Infinite Earths and later Keith Giffen's JLI -- is the Guy who woke up from this coma suffering from serious brain damage. Look up the strange case of Phineas Gage -- the man who had a metal rod blown through his skull but survived with a startling change of personality from mild to wild. There's a certain amount of controversy surrounding the traditional story now, but it should still give you a pretty good idea of what happened to Guy. Before Hal's power battery blew up in his face, before he was manipulated and tortured by Sinestro, before he languished in that coma for three years, Guy was a man who had overcome his difficult past and who had struggled and mostly succeeded at containing his own violent impulses. He had dragged himself up out of the Baltimore gutters to go to college and become a teacher, hoping to provide the care and understanding to kids that he himself was denied as a child. He knew that he was capable of violence but made the conscious decision to suppress it, and when we initially meet him he's a rather mild-mannered sort of fellow who later proves to be a bit hesitant as a rookie Green Lantern. So hesitant, in fact, that the Guardians would later decide that he made a better Green Lantern with the brain damage than he would have without! But that damage took away his ability to control his impulses, and he became the brash, loud, and violent Guy that most people remember. What a lot of people don't realize, though, is that he also lost some of his cognitive ability as well, and it's a subtle source of frustration that no doubt affected him greatly yet often goes overlooked.

Think about that for a minute. Imagine being a relatively smart person (it's probably quite easy, isn't it, given that I find the majority of fanfic writers to be quite intelligent!). Imagine going to college, perhaps as the first person in your family to do so. Maybe it isn't easy to make good grades because some of the material is tough, but you study your ass off and you manage it. Imagine passing tests and writing essays and research papers. Imagine graduating with two degrees. No one can ever take all that hard work away from you, right?

Now imagine that someone does take it away, and even though you remember all those things you learned, you can pick up a copy of Highlights and stare and stare at the simple crossword puzzle meant for elementary school kids, and you can't figure it out no matter how hard you try.

Guy Gardner did all that. And when he woke from that coma, he was so damaged that he was no longer able to complete a child's crossword puzzle, let alone write another research paper.

So here's Guy -- a man who remembers being a teacher, loving kids, and almost being at peace with himself after a terribly damaging childhood. A man who remembers being able to read and write and reason at a university level. A man who remembers being in love with Kari Limbo, and being loved by her. And yet everything has changed. For three years, the world has been turning, moving, going on without him. He wakes in a hospital bed alone, remembering how he used to feel and the things he used to be able to do, and yet he's suddenly unable to feel or do those things. He doesn't have the patience for kids anymore. He can't muster any love for Kari anymore (good riddance, though). All his education may as well be for nothing, because he's no longer able to utilize it. He has nothing, and it's not his fault but he's the one suffering, anyway.

It's a fact that was handled fairly well in the pages of Green Lantern vol. 2 (later Green Lantern Corps vol. 1) immediately post-Crisis. Guy was good at heart, perhaps, but dangerously twisted -- a Green Lantern, yes, but not quite welcome by his fellow Corps members. And who could blame them? Guy was annoying, impulsive, violent, stubborn, and mean. He was bitter, but claimed to be glad that he was tougher than he was before. Hal lost patience with him quickly and often, but there was always this sense that Hal blamed himself somewhat, and wanted to see Guy redeemed somehow. Guy's entire history as a character was tied up in this book, and it showed in the writing at the time. The other characters, while occasionally annoyed by and wary of Guy, were all aware that his actions weren't entirely his own fault because his brain was damaged and his personality and cognitive abilities had changed significantly as a result. There was real sympathy for Guy's condition, even if many of the characters were often too angry with him to show it.

In the pages of Justice League, however, where he became a founding member of this version of the group, the fact that Guy's behavior was a result of brain damage was never once acknowledged. It could be argued that Keith Giffen took this deep, serious character and made him into a ridiculous parody in the book... and yet, this slightly sillier characterization of Guy is what has stuck with so many readers (and writers, who often forget Guy's years of character development!) for years, and there's much more depth to Giffen's Guy Gardner than a lot of people give him credit for. This is the Guy who got one-punched by Batman and then spent the entire next issue unconscious on the floor, the Guy who became even further brain damaged as an indirect result of this incident and pranced around in the manner of the stereotypical "flamer" for months, the Guy who had his pants stolen by Booster Gold and Blue Beetle, the Guy who nearly started World War III simply because he couldn't keep his mouth shut and couldn't resist the chance to punch around some communist Russians, the Guy who was swallowed by a dog and got out the -- ahem -- natural way, the Guy who had these and dozens of other strange, madcap adventures.

And yet this is also the Guy who became friends with Kilowog (with whom he had originally had an antagonistic relationship) and, more importantly, the Guy who fell in love with Ice. What seemed like a doomed relationship quickly proved to be a point of real development for Guy, as he struggled with his feelings for her, his denial of them, and the all-around weight of responsibility of being the boyfriend of a sensitive sort of girl. Being nice didn't come naturally to brain damaged Guy, and yet it's almost impossible to be deliberately mean to a woman like Tora. His idea of a good first date was to take her to see a skin flick to "see if she was easy". His idea of a good second date was to take her to a cockfight (that's roosters killing each other, you dirty-minded folks, though I suspect that Guy would also have enjoyed the alternative). He was occasionally thoughtless, often getting so wrapped up in his own affairs that he didn't pay her much attention when she needed him. He was occasionally downright mean, as when he got angry and called her useless over her hesitation to act during a particular fight.

As time wore on, though, he became better at admitting his feelings. He tried very hard to be good for her when she took him on a date to a place he hated, even when Beetle played a particularly cruel prank on him. He started learning to control his temper again. When she was injured, he showed us his passionate caring side. It was character development of a type that he sorely needed after being portrayed so often as a mean-spirited, blustering buffoon in the early issues of the series, and it paved the way for further development in the pages of Green Lantern vol. 3.

It was in the third volume of Green Lantern that Guy's relationship with the other Green Lanterns finally began to start developing again, even as his life began to unravel. His love/hate relationship with Hal played strongly in the early issues, as he simultaneously insulted/annoyed Hal and tried to provoke him back into becoming a GL again because he seemed to feel very strongly that that's where Hal belonged. He seemed boyish and almost puppy-like around Hal at times, and at others he was blatantly antagonistic -- in short, he behaved a lot like a little boy on the playground teasing and pulling the pigtails of a little girl that he won't admit to having a crush on. He showed his newfound sensitive side with G'nort when he sort-of kind-of possibly promised to try to convince the Guardians to make the bumbling canine into a real Green Lantern after G'nort risked his life to save Guy and willingly sacrificed the power of his fake ring just because it was the right thing to do. And yet Guy resented the changes he had undergone, feeling that he was becoming too soft (subtext: becoming too vulnerable), and became increasingly frustrated with himself and his place in the world. Even Kari Limbo, who had ultimately chosen Guy over Hal too little too late but been rejected, no longer had any sympathy for him, and seemed barely able to stand the sight of the man he had become when they interacted for what was one of their last times on-panel together.

Guy's fight with Hal for control of Sector 2814 is one of the saddest but most powerful moments to come from the early-90's era, in my opinion. Guy had been given the job at GL of Earth by the Guardians -- a position which Hal had willingly given up some years before. Hal had instead been assigned to recruit new Lanterns, which he did for a short while before deciding that he wanted the Earth job back. During the fight, both branches of the Justice League (including Guy's own teammates) plus the Green Lantern Corps stood about cheering Hal on while the two men beat the stuffing out of each other. An entire essay could be written on this confrontation alone, so I'll keep it short -- essentially, the end result was that Hal became GL of Earth, and Guy lost his ring. And by losing his ring, he also lost his job, his friends, potentially his home (gotta pay those bills, after all), and nearly every scrap of life that he had built up for himself after waking from that coma.

As I said, though, Guy is all about overcoming. He was at an emotional rock-bottom, with no powers to speak of and blow after blow battering his pride as first his teammates, then his roommate, and finally the criminals he was fighting stopped taking him seriously. Then he remembered that there was another ring out there just waiting to be taken: the yellow ring wielded by Sinestro before his death. The Guy Gardner: Reborn miniseries detailed Guy's amazing mission to become somebody again as he somehow managed, through manipulation and sheer determination, to get himself across the galaxy, then to Qward, then to Oa, in order to steal the ring off the cold dead finger of Sinestro. He fought the ghost of Sinestro in a battle of wills, and ultimately emerged victorious. Guy's ongoing solo series picked up where the mini left off, with Guy wielding the yellow ring as a member of the post-Giffen Justice League America. He was back to being gritty and mean -- arguably a natural response to what he had just been through with Hal -- but determined to make his way as a hero in his own right, out of the shadow of Hal and no longer bound by the whims of the Guardians.

The key to writing post-Crisis era to Emerald Twilight Guy, whether in a silly story (where he's quite a blast to write) or a serious one (more rare in fandom, but all the more welcome because of it), is to remember this: brain damaged Guy is essentially a ten-year-old boy in the body of a grown man. He has all the memories and knowledge and skills of a 30-ish man who has lived a rather exciting life so far, but emotionally, he has regressed to an age when it's natural to be unable to control his emotions quite as well as a grown man would. He's impulsive and temperamental. When he wants to say something, he says it regardless of what anyone might think. When he wants to do something, he does it, even if it might be a bad idea. He's desperate to prove himself, but covers it up with the manly bluster of a super-jock. He's emotionally vulnerable, but vehemently denies that this is so, as if denying it will make people stop hurting him. His pride is easily injured, but he often does and says things that open him up for ridicule. He's stubborn. He could be labelled an egomaniac, though how much of this ego is just a cover for his damaged psyche is debatable.

Something interesting happens with Guy's speech and mannerisms during this era, as well, and it's worth noting. They're more true to his lower-class heritage than that of his pre-Crisis self -- even though he's perfectly capable of using proper English (he made it through college, after all), he falls back into a more childish, or perhaps just more natural for him, pattern of speaking. He drops the final "g" off of -ing verbs. He's more likely to use double-negatives or the ubiquitous "ain't", though it's not something he does consistently (in Guy's case, this makes sense because it can be interpreted as Guy the teacher showing through). They never portrayed it in the comics for obvious reasons, but I think it would be safe to assume that he curses. His body language becomes confident, cocky, and swaggering, at least when he's in public. His face, admittedly an odd one, was used to great effect by artists like Maguire, McKone, and Staton, and it's helpful to imagine one of them drawing Guy's facial expressions as you write him. Use his rubber face all you can! The man is capable of an amazing array of expressions, from the biggest grin to the sleaziest leer to the turning-purple-about-to-blow-his-top face scrunch, and just because there's (usually) no one illustrating your fanfic doesn't mean that you can't still convey a lot of what he's feeling by describing his face with words.

But here's something that's equally interesting: writing modern Guy is not too much different... except that he acts the way he acts now by choice, rather than because his brain is wired wrong, and that makes all the difference in terms of story material.

After Hal took away his yellow ring, Guy immediately set about getting himself some new powers. The backstory behind these powers is a bit silly and bizarre, and has since been stealth-retconned without any real detailed explanation to explain the transformation, so I'll skip the details, but the important thing to note about it is that those powers had the side effect of healing Guy's damaged brain. During the Guy Gardner: Warrior era, we got to see a new side of Guy -- a healthy, mentally stable man for the first time in years, now with years of superheroing experience under his belt. The fact that Hal Jordan, whose shadow he couldn't escape for years, had just fallen about as far from grace as a man can fall probably contributed to Guy's newfound sense of confidence and security, too.

From that point on, with the brain damage healed, Guy was free to grow and mature into the man he should have been all along, and now, after losing his Vuldarian powers and regaining a Green Lantern ring, the real Guy Gardner really shines through. Even the Guardians have finally recognized his potential and given him the status he has coveted for so long -- his position as Lantern Number One of the Green Lantern Honor Guard seems to rank him above everyone in the Corps except for Salaak and perhaps Kilowog. Maybe he won't actually say that it matters, but you know that inside he's endlessly gleeful over the fact that he could pull rank on Hal if he wanted to. It should be noted that he hasn't chosen to do that yet -- he's a bit cocky, maybe, but not spiteful about it.

Guy's relationships with nearly everyone he was on rocky terms with before have mended themselves. He took Arisia in during his time as Warrior, and though they haven't had much chance to interact since her resurrection, they are no doubt friends now. He and Kilowog are still friends and, more importantly, drinking buddies. He helped Kyle out when Kyle first got the ring, and now they're actually partners in the Honor Guard. After Ice died, he and Fire actually dated for a while and seem to be on reasonably amicable terms. It's a tragedy that Ted Kord died without ever really knowing how much Guy admired him -- as teammates they often didn't get along, but Guy reacted emotionally to his death and has since even gone so far as to acknowledge that he believes that Ted was smarter than Batman.

Writing modern Guy is sort of like writing the fun uncle that everyone wishes they had -- it's too bad that many writers of books outside the GL family tend to forget all these years of character development and fall back into the old brain damaged Guy characterization. Oh, he's still a loudmouth and a jerk sometimes, but it's more in moderation and often with a purpose. Remember that Guy has a degree in psychology! Sometimes it's just for fun, but often there's a real sense that, when he's poking at somebody, he knows exactly what he's doing. He'll prod and provoke a person until he gets the reaction he desires. He's the man who coined the term Crybaby Prime -- hey, everyone else was probably thinking it, but Guy is the only one who actually called the little twerp on his childish behavior! Guy has a lot of patience for kids, but none for whiners. After all, if he can overcome everything he's been through, then surely everyone else can, too.

Speaking of kids, Guy's love for them has obviously returned and has opened up a new role for him: that of mentor. When he discovered that the new Blue Beetle was just a kid, he was horrified with himself for nearly beating the kid up -- and then, only a few issues later, set about taking the kid under his wing and showing an interest in him, which Jaime needed badly after feeling abandoned by the heroes after Infinite Crisis. From the looks of it, Jaime's little sister Milagro has found herself a new hero in Guy. And then there are the little throwaway panels that only give us a glimpse: you'll notice that, when the Lanterns were having lunch at Jim Jordan's place after the Sinestro Corps War, Guy was riding little Jane Jordan around the room on his shoulders.

Modern Guy's speech and mannerisms are pretty much the same as those of brain damaged Guy. He chooses to be a casual sort of guy -- the kind of guy you'd invite over to watch the football game, or go out to a bar with, or play XBox with -- and thus doesn't really seem to care about how he talks. If people assume that he's stupid because of it, that's just one more thing that he can surprise them with when he outsmarts them. His intelligence is a wily, practical sort of intelligence, and it could probably be argued that he's the smartest of the Earth GLs after John. He's tricky. Guy has always been confident, but that confidence was never really rock-solid and deep to his core until now, and it shows in the way he carries himself, and in the way he can take jokes about himself and shrug off insults like they're nothing. His emotions are more easily expressed now, and his love for and loyalty to his friends is obvious in the things he does for them. When Kyle was tortured by the Manhunters, Guy went out of his way to cheer him (and John) up by inviting them out to watch the pretty girls go by. He led the group that sought justice for the murdered Ted Kord. He started a fight in defense of Hal when some rookie Lanterns were ragging on him over his acts as Parallax. And he took all the blame for their unapproved mission to Biot to save the Lost Lanterns, even though the consequences for him were fairly harsh.

In fact, when it comes to Hal, it's obvious that Guy forgave him for Parallax before anyone else -- in fact, he forgave him long before they even knew that Parallax was to blame. As far as Guy knew, Hal had really truly gone bad and murdered people of his own free will, and Guy still forgave him -- which is amazing considering their history together. He had a statue of Hal up in a place of honor in Warriors when most other heroes didn't want to even think about Hal anymore, and he allowed Hal to attend Arisia's funeral when anyone else might have barred him entrance. Now they're friends and the mean edge of their rivalry is gone, but it was Guy who did all the changing and letting go required to get their relationship to that point, when it would have just been easier to hold that grudge forever. And that, to me, is just incredible.

No matter what era you choose to write, or what sort of story you decide to go for, that's one of the most important things to remember about Guy: sometimes it's more obvious than other times, and sometimes he'll admit to it and sometimes he won't, but Guy Gardner is a man with a big heart. He's passionate, he's emotional, and he has tremendous capacity to love and to forgive right alongside his equally tremendous capacity to say stupid and hurtful things. Most importantly, he's a character you can do anything to -- hurt him, cripple his body, drag him down to the lowest depths that a character can go to emotionally -- simply because he'll always overcome. He seems completely unable to come out completely on top at anything he does, but that's part of what makes him such a strong, realistic character. A hero who wins without a struggle is barely a hero at all. Knock him down, and he'll drag himself back to his feet while you're standing on his back if he has to. He rarely lands on his feet, but it's always a landing that he can walk away from, even if he has to do it with two broken legs. And he might never win the race, but he always -- always -- finishes.

And that is what makes him a beautiful character to write.

  • *cheers* Fantastic work! Thank you for giving us his history, and explaining just how complex and bighearted Guy is. People love him as the heel, but he's always a hero to me :D

    I do wonder about the choice of hairstyle though. Not that I'm knocking it because didn't he have a boring crew cut-ish style in Warrior?
  • Guy is such an awesome character. He is the best friend anyone could have. He may be a jerk sometimes, but there is never any doubt that he'll have your back when you need it.
  • how many people can say that they fell off a cliff during an earthquake and got hit by a bus at the same time?

    Only in comics. . .

    Anyways, this was a great read :D Guy is such an excellent but tragically under-rated and misunderstood character, I'm hoping this encourages people to rethink their idea of him.
  • Awww... This is such a wonderful look at Guy! :D He really does have so much depth, more than I knew about. And thanks for the explanation about how he got the yellow ring - I'd wondered about that for a long time.

    *applauds* :)
  • (no subject) - nmdrkangl
  • I heard about their being character workshops but I was worried that I wouldn't find a Guy one. (I'm actually surprised that another topic I want to right has been covered.) This helps a lot since I have some rather insistent Guy plot bunnies and I've been unsure of how Modern Guy would react. Especially the part about his prodding to get the desired effect, putting aside grudges for people he truly respects and how he reacts with his friends now. I hate to ask because you covered a lot of details here but are there any further thoughts on how he interacts in a romantic relationship? Does he take charge, let someone else, etc?
  • Resume Writing Service

    (Anonymous)
    You did a really good job of explaining the depth of Guy Gardner.Education and Psychology is interesting to read.




    http://www.resume-service.biz
  • This is stupendous. I want to print this out and wave it at strangers in the street. "See? Guy is the best! DUSKDOG HAS PROVED IT WITH SCIENCE!"
  • This was so perfect. It brought me to tears. Guy is a lovable character. I wish more writers remembered this.<3
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