As Green Lantern soars into cinemas this weekend many of us will be wondering who the hell he is. Not as well known as other DC comic heroes like Batman or Superman, a Green Lantern film could be seen as a gamble by Warner Brothers. However the character has existed since the 1940s and has a large and devoted fan base within the comic’s community. He is a charter member of the Justice League, a team that consists of the world’s greatest heroes, and at the moment the Green Lantern comics (and its spin offs like Green Lantern Corps) are being met with critical and commercial success. But the question still remains to the uninitiated, who is Green Lantern?
Green Lantern is actually the superhero identity of several characters within DC comics. Each wields a Power Ring and Power Lantern. The Ring is the most powerful weapon in the universe and is fuelled by the user’s willpower. It creates green energy constructs which are only limited to the users imagination (for example they can create goofy giant boxing gloves, medical equipment and even a full scale city) and also it allows the wielder to fly and survive in space, basically anything they can think of. They use the Power Lantern to recharge their rings. The first Lantern (Alan Scott) had a magically powered ring, but the subsequent Lanterns had Rings that where created using advanced technology by the Guardians of the Universe. These little men with big blue heads created the Green Lantern Corp, an intergalactic police force comprising of aliens from throughout the cosmos, who use these Power Rings to help keep peace in the Universe. The rings are issued to candidates who are deemed worthy (in later Lantern continuity they would chose people who can over come great fear).
Created by artist Martin Nodell, with Bill Finger who wrote the comics, the first Green Lantern was Alan Scott. He first appeared in 1940s in All-American Comics and he was originally going to be called Alan Ladd, which was a play on Aladdin who also had a magical lantern, but it was changed before going to print. Alan Scott was a railroad engineer who came into possession of a magic lantern, which gave him incredible powers, he forged his Magic Ring from inside the lantern and it needed charging every so often. He proved popular throughout the Golden Age of Comics (late 1930s to the late 1940s/early 1950s) and got his own title, however after the Second World War superheroes weren’t as popular and DC decided to end Alan Scott’s adventures with the cancellation of Green Lantern in 1949. But Alan Scott would have one more Golden Age appearance in All Star Comics #57 (1951). But he has appeared over the years most notably as a member the Justice Society of America, who are a group of older heroes who teach new heroes how to use their powers.
Throughout the 1950s DC began to successfully revive the superhero genre and this ushered in what is considered the Silver Age of Comics (1956 to 1970). They didn’t reuse old characters but re-imagined them and that was how Hal Jordan was born. Created by John Broome and Gil Kane Hal Jordon was introduced as the new Green Lantern in Showcase #22 (1959) and has gone on to be the most popular Lantern of all time. To most of the comic buying public he is the quintessential Green Lantern and he is the main focus of the new film (with Ryan Reynolds playing him). Jordan’s stories left behind the mysticism and brought in more science fiction elements, which where popular at the time.
Broome and Kane created the concept of the Guardians of the Universe and the Green Lantern Corp with the start of a new Green Lantern title (1960). So instead of just finding his Power Ring and Lantern, Jordan was given it by a dying alien called Abin Sur, who was a member of the Green Lantern Corp. His ring had a weakness due to an imperfection inside the Central Battery (the power source for all the Power Lanterns), which is located on the Guardian’s home world of Oa. This weakness was that the ring couldn’t affect anything that was coloured yellow, stupid perhaps but wonderfully cheesy. Hal also helped found the Justice League of America and in the 70s would star in the critically acclaimed Green Lantern/Green Arrow comic. He continued to be a hero until the early 1990s where he seemingly became insane due to the destruction of his home city. He became know as Parallax and went on to destroy the Corps, the Guardians and the Central Battery. He terrorized the DC heroes for a few years until he eventually comes to his sense in Earth’s darkest hour and sacrificed himself to save everyone.
He would return as The Spectre, DC comics spirit of vengeance, but he wouldn’t come back to life until the 2004 mini-series Green Lantern: Rebirth, written by Geoff Johns. He once again took up the mantel of Green Lantern and has reclaimed his stardom in the pantheon of DC heroes.
Although Alan Scott was the first and Hal Jordan the most popular, there are also three Green Lanterns who have been featured prominently throughout the history of the titles many volumes (not to mention all the aliens who wield Power Rings) and are still main character to this day. First we have Guy Gardner, also created by Broome and Kane, who first appeared in Green Lantern #59 (vol 2 1968). Originally appearing as the second choice to replace Abin Sur, he would later be developed into a parody of the ultra-macho ‘red-blooded American male’ by Keith Giffen and Steve Englehart. Most notably he has been a member of the Justice League International, used a yellow Power Ring and more recently becoming one of the Green Lantern honour guard.
The next Lantern from Earth is John Stewart. An architect and veteran U.S Marine, Denis O’Neil and Neal Adams created Stewart in Green Lantern #87 (Vol 2 1971). He was created to replace Guy Gardner, when he was put in a coma, and he is one of DC comic’s first black costumed superheroes. You could blame DC of jumping on the blacksploitation bandwagon of the early 70s, but Stewart has transcended his origins and become popular in his own right. Starring in the mini-series Green Lantern: Mosaic (1992/93) and also being the main Green Lantern in the early 2000 animated show Justice League and it’s sequel Justice League Unlimited. In fact I’d argue that he may be more well know than Hal Jordan due to his TV appearance. As of 2007 Stewart has enjoyed prominence in the Green Lantern titles.
The final Lantern is the struggling artist Kyle Rayner. Created by Ron Marz and Darryl Banks, Kyle was the main Green Lantern for the 90s and early 2000s. He first appeared in Green Lantern #48 (Vol 3 1994) as part of the ‘Emerald Twilight’ storyline. He replaced Hal Jordan as Green Lantern and was given the last ever Power Ring (due to Jordon destroying the Corps). His Ring did not have the weakness to yellow and at the time he was referred to as ‘The Last Green Lantern’. He became a member of the Justice League in Grant Morrison’s celebrated run of the late 90s and quickly became a fan favourite. He changed his name to Ion for a time when he gained a significant power boost and he is responsible for the resurrection of the Guardians and the Central Power Battery. He is currently referred to as the Torch Bearer and is also a member of the honour guard. Probably one of the most memorable storylines Kyle had was called ‘Hate Crime’ (2001). Written by Judd Winick the story showed Kyle’s friend Terry Berg, who had recently come out as gay, being brutally beaten by some bigots. Kyle sought vengeance upon the attackers and Terry was alright in the end, but the story gained significant media coverage in America and Winick received 2 GLAAD awards for his work on Green Lantern.
So, as you can probably tell Green Lantern has a long (and perhaps convoluted) history, which could make an excellent backdrop for a film. But no matter how the film does the comics don’t look like slowing down and with DC comics impending relaunch in September, it would seem like the perfect time to jump on board.
Handily most of these comics are collected in trade paperbacks.
Green Lantern: Rebirth, The Sinestro Corps War and Blackest Night
Geoff John’s spralling sci-fi trilogy (2004-2010). Rebirth deals with the resurrection of the Hal Jordan and re-introduces Guy Gardner, John Stewart, Kyle Rayner and the rest of the Corps, it is a perfect jumping on point. The Sinestro Corps War pits our heroes against former Green Lantern Sinestro. This critically acclaimed story sees Sinestro create his own Corp devoted to spreading fear throughout the galaxy. Finally in Blackest Night, a company wide crossover, the heroes of the DC universe must face off against the Black Lanterns, who are basically zombies and want to destroy all life. Vile zombie versions of dead heroes, grand action and multi-coloured lanterns round out the finale of the trilogy.
Green Lantern Corps: Recharge
Set just after Rebirth, this mini-series deals with the rebuilding of The Green Lantern Corps. Geoff Johns and Dave Gibbons scripts are marvellous and Patrick Gleason’s art just jumps of the page. A great read and another great introduction to the Green Lantern Mythology.
Green Lantern/Green Arrow
Now collected in graphic novel this landmark series by Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams sees Hal Jordan team up with Oliver Queen, the swashbuckling Green Arrow, as they go on a road trip around America. Yes I mean that in a literal way. Hal played the straight man to Oliver’s wise cracking populist liberal character and together they starred in stories dealing with racism, overpopulation, pollution and drug abuse. The latter was show in a truly unique way as Green Arrows long time sidekick Speedy became addicted to heroin. The issues raised may be a little dated now, but they where socially relevant and a complete oddity at the time.
DC: The New Frontier
Darwyn Cooke’s award winning 2003-2004 masterpiece truly shows off what the medium is capable of. Set During the 50s the comic sees Golden Age Heroes like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman meeting the Silver Age Head on. We are introduced to not only Hal Jordan, but also characters like The Flash, Martian Manhunter, The Suicide Squad and the Challengers of the Unknown. We see Hal go from test pilot to joining the space race in his own unique way, we also get more characterisation in this series for the Martian Manhunter than any of his previous appearences. The artwork is gorgeous capturing the feel of the 50s perfectly and we see all or favourite heroes in their original costumes. It never becomes cheesy in fact it could easily stand along side the likes of The Dark Knight Returns, The Watchmen and Marvels as a defining piece of superhero literature.