Before You Go: Green Lantern

Welcome back to Before You Go, our recurring segment in which I tell you some of the things you need to know (I usually say “everything” but there are some holes in my knowledge on this topic) before going to Friday’s  nerd movie. This week: Mr. Popper’s Penguins.

But seriously…

First Light

Green Lantern first appeared in All-American Comics in 1940. Created by Martin Nodell and Bill Finger, the first ring-bearer was Alan Scott, a railroad engineer who finds a magic lantern after a train crash. Scott carved a ring out of the lantern and it gave him your standard Green Lantern powers: It could create light constructs of whatever the wearer thought of.

Scott put on a rather ridiculous costume and used the ring to fight crime. The catch was the ring had to be powered up periodically by the lantern and it was powerless against wood. In other words, Green Lantern had immense powers but you could still beat him off with a stick.

Scott was a founding member of the Justice Society of America (the precursor to the better-known Justice League of America) and had a decent run until the Second World War ended and superhero comics fell out of favor. After a decade in comics, Green Lantern’s light faded out.

The One, True Green Lantern

In the late ’50s under the direction of editor Julius Schwartz, DC Comics began reviving and remaking several of its characters, among them Green Lantern. The second Green Lantern was Hal Jordan, a test pilot who one night finds his test plane drawn into the desert by a green light. A dying alien, Abin Sur, gives him a ring and a lantern, then dies.

Sur was a member of the Green Lantern Corps, an intergalactic police force headquartered on the planet Oa that was formed by some short, blue aliens called The Guardians. Each GL was assigned a sector of space to keep in line through use of a ring. These rings operated under the same rules as Alan Scott’s ring, only this time instead of being vulnerable to wood, these rings were vulnerable to the color yellow (still makes more sense than ‘Don Giovanni’).

In other words, the new Green Lantern had immense powers but you could beat him off with a banana. In fact, if you took a stick and painted it yellow, you could take down two Green Lanterns at once. The yellow weakness no longer apply to the ring, or so I’m told.

Jordan was the Green Lantern of Earth for over three decades, helping to found the Justice League of America and being part of the Superfriends. In the ’90s, as part of a “let’s shake everything up” movement that was popular at the time, Hal was turned into a villain and replaced as GL. He was restored to his proper status 10 years later, ’cause what goes around comes around — especially in comics.

Other, Lesser Lanterns

Since the Green Lantern Corps is an intergalactic police force, it is made up of many a strange alien. Among them: Red-skinned Sinestro (If you think that’s more of a villain name than a hero name, you’re getting ahead of the story); chicken-faced Tomar-Re; Arisia, who brought much-needed sex appeal to the group; the living planet Mogo; G’Nort, a comedy-relief dog lantern; and Kilowog, a bulldog-faced bruiser who calls everyone “Poozer.”

You’d think, given the vast size of the universe, that you’d only need one Earthling in the Corps. But you’d be wrong.

The third Green Lantern of Earth was Guy Gardner, selected to be the substitute GL if anything should happen to Jordan. Gardner was largely ignored until the late ’80s when he became the insufferable, arrogant, macho comedy relief character in “Justice League International.”  His moment of glory comes when, after finally getting on Batman’s last nerve, the Bat knocks him out with one punch.

In the early ’70s the Green Lantern title was taken over by Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams, who did a series of stories known as the “relevancy” period. Jordan and new best friend Green Arrow would travel the country and tackle the hot issues of the day. Lantern was the conservative, Arrow was the liberal.

During this period, John Stewart became the fourth Green Lantern of Earth. An architect by trade, Stewart was given a ring to be the substitute for the substitute Green Lantern (Gardner had been injured in a bus accident). Those Guardians were always being prepared.

The theme of the story, as you might guess, was racism and Stewart teaches Jordan a valuable lesson. Stewart’s moment of glory came in 2001 when he was chosen to be the Green Lantern in the “Justice League” cartoon.

Now, you remember how I mentioned that in the ’90s, Hal Jordan went crazy and became a villain? Who replaced him as Green Lantern? Not first substitute Guy Gardner. Not second substitute John Stewart. No, despite having two subs in the roster, when the time came to call one up the Guardians went with young nobody Kyle Rayner. This is because DC management — which runs the Guardians — wanted to replace boring, old Hal Jordan with someone young and hip. Kyle’s reign lasted about a decade and then DC came to its senses and brought back Jordan. Since Hal’s return, Green Lantern has been one of DC’s top sellers, usually beating out such icons as Superman and Wonder Woman.

Hollywood Sees Green

A few years back, Warner Brothers was looking around its DC properties for the Next Big Thing and settled on Green Lantern. The film will tell the story of Green Lantern Hal Jordan, as it should, although this has caused some consternation among Stewart fans who think Green Lantern begins and ends with the Justice League cartoon. It doesn’t.

In recent years DC has overly complicated the Green Lantern mythos by introducing a whole color spectrum of lanterns. I don’t understand it and can’t explain it so if it comes up in the movie, you’re on your own.

Read More About It

While I like Green Lantern, most of my experience with the character comes from Justice League comics, so I can’t really advise you on what’s decent in the character’s 60-some year publication history.

If you want to go to the very beginning, the adventures of Alan Scott are available in The Golden Age Green Lantern Archives. I can’t recommend it, though, because Golden Age comics are a chore to read. Worth it for the historical perspective, I guess.

If you want to start with the Silver Age, the early adventures of Hal Jordan are available in three formats: the large, black-and-white Showcase collections; the pricey, hardcover Archive collection; and the color, softcover Chronicles editions. Once again, I can’t recommend them because Silver Age DC comics are also a chore to get through.

If you’re interested in the award-winning, highly acclaimed O’Neil/Adams run from the 1970s, it is also available in a variety of formats.

I recently read one of these collections in the library and, Lord, this material has not aged well. The art is as sharp as ever but the writing doesn’t hold up. The stories are certainly earnest, but lacking in subtlety.

I wish I could think of a really good Justice League story that was Lantern-centric, but I can’t. We’ll skip over the Rayner era for obvious reasons.

That brings us to modern day Green Lantern. I did buy the first few issues of the most recent relaunch, which are collected in the book at right. The art was good and the story was OK but since I’m not well versed in recent GL history, it could get confusing.

Then they started the whole Color Spectrum of Lanterns business and I got out.

 And that’s all you need to know…           Before You Go.

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