subject: Green Lantern
overview: I've been obsessed with Green Lantern for decades. I've mentioned before that this obsession began when I realized he featured my favorite color as his entire modus operandi. And the funny thing is, Green Lantern isn't even any one character. There are hundreds of distinct Green Lanterns.
The first was introduced in the Golden Age era. His name was Alan Scott and he really has nothing to do with the rest of the Green Lantern saga. Plenty of writers have twisted themselves into knots trying to explain how he is, but he really isn't. The most flippant thing you can say about him is that his weakness was wood. The more traditional Green Lanterns used to have a weakness to the color yellow. The Big Bang Theory joke was that you could take out both versions with a Number 2 pencil. Rim shot!
The Silver Age and still best-known version is Hal Jordan. He was a test pilot who happened to be closest to the crash site of Abin Sur, the dying Green Lantern of Sector 2814 (there are 3600 in all). The Green Lantern Corps was the creation of the Guardians of the Universe, wise little blue people who have been alive for countless millennia. Its members are essentially space cops. The term "Green Lantern" technically refers to the power battery that charges the ring Green Lanterns use to draw on their willpower to effect superpowers, whatever their imagination can provide them. The power ring has been described as the most powerful weapon in the universe.
I say Hal got the ring because he was the closest to Abin Sur since there were several other available candidates, those who have the ability to overcome great fear. The first was Guy Gardner, who later became famous for his brash personality. The other was John Stewart, who is by far the most sober of any of the existing human Green Lanterns. Both got the chance to sling the ring after Hal decided he didn't like the constraints imposed by the Guardians on his activities. Hal is a free spirit. It's funny, because he's got Air Force experience, and so he definitely knows from discipline, but even as a test pilot he tended to buck tradition, which is probably why he and perennial love interest Carol Ferris are one of the few romantic couples in comic books to have never settled down.
Guy is an even bigger maverick than Hal. That's why John had a shot. Of course, every time Hal walks away from his responsibilities as Green Lantern, he ends up coming back, because above all else he also has a strong sense of duty. The biggest challenge he ever faced in this ongoing struggle, as later explained by Geoff Johns in Green Lantern: Rebirth, was when he lost his hometown of Coast City to alien conqueror Mongul, events that took place during Superman's return from the dead. Hal lost it, as chronicled in "Emerald Twilight" and Zero Hour, obliterating the Corps and the Guardians and becoming the all-powerful Parallax in the process. Except unbeknownst to Hal and everyone else, Parallax wasn't just an identity he assumed, but the personification of fear.
Another wrinkle in this puzzle is Sinestro, once the self-proclaimed Greatest Green Lantern of Them All. He was so self-assured that he shaped his entire home planet of Korugar in his image, imposing a tyrannical order so that nothing ever went wrong according to his very strict standards. When the Guardians found out, they expelled him from the Corps. In retaliation, he had a yellow ring of fear forged, which functioned in much the same way as a Green Lantern's, but he became the very image of the mustache-twirling villain, and Hal's natural rival. When Hal got better (after redemptive arcs in The Final Night and Day of Judgment), it was Sinestro who took the vanguard of fear in gusto, until a series of crises helped him see things more soberly and gave him his own shot at redemption.
Half of what I love so much about Green Lantern is that it's the least static superhero franchise imaginable. No matter how little things seem to change, they always are. The characters are always shifting in their perspectives, growing.
John Stewart, for example, lost his faith in himself when he inadvertently allowed an entire planet to be destroyed on his watch during Cosmic Odyssey. During the renaissance periods that followed, he was a prime candidate for great character exploration. In Green Lantern: Mosaic, he was a better Hal than Hal, questioning all the typical Guardian logic. When Kyle Rayner accepted responsibility as apparently the last of the Green Lanterns, John was one of his greatest mentors (Alan Scott, ironically, was another). John has been a stalwart member again under the revived Corps, even though his demons frequently try to make him stumble. He's the Green Lantern fans of the animated Justice League knew. He's a far more acceptable alternative than Guy.
Guy was the Green Lantern taken out with a single punch by Batman. He was the one oblivious enough to temporarily use Sinestro's yellow ring for himself. He's had questionable fashion sense. But he did open a bar named Warriors, and that was pretty cool.
When Geoff Johns began writing Green Lantern tales in 2004, I was skeptical. I had been a big fan of the Kyle Rayner era. All these humans Green Lanterns stick around because fans grow attached to them. No other sector has more than one representative as a rule. Now Earth even has Simon Baz, the first post-9/11 addition to the fold, and it shows. Anyone can be a Green Lantern, provided they fit the code.
Green Arrow, Oliver Queen, couldn't be one, though. Hal and Ollie went on a famous road trip exploring the American social landscape. Ollie is a hopeless liberal. Hal is a hopeless conservative. The only thing they share is the word "green" in their superhero names. Ollie shoots arrows at people. Hal prefers a giant boxing glove. I just thought you should know about that part of the legacy. The famed odd couple archetype.
Johns has created an entire expanded landscape. Carol Ferris had long pulled double duties as Star Sapphire. Johns expanded that into the love corps. Sinestro already represented the fear corps. Johns created the greed corps (hilariously personified by Larfleeze), the redemptive corps (the Indigo Tribe), the compassion corps (the Blue Lanterns embodied by Saint Walker), the dead corps (the Black Lanterns, glorified zombies led by Black Hand), the rage corps (the Red Lanterns), and one corps to rule them all (the White Lantern). Some people would call that silly. But if you start questioning comic book logic, there's really no convenient place to stop.
The mythology has always fascinated me. Green Lantern exists in the DC landscape. Remember earlier when I mentioned the Silver Age? This was an era where superheroes came back into fashion after falling out of favor following WWII. The Golden Age Flash was replaced by the Silver Age Flash just like the Green Lanterns shuffle. Except these Flashes famously met. It was the start of DC's whole concept of the multiverse, parallel realities with different versions of the same basic concepts. It was revealed that the mad guardian Krona was responsible for this when he attempted to observe the moment of the Big Bang. This is DC's version of Pandora's Box.
That's how I'll end the overview.
Showcase #22 (1959) The debut of Hal Jordan and all of modern Green Lantern lore.
Green Lantern #76 (1970) The start of the Green Lantern/Green Arrow "Hard Traveling Heroes" arc.
Justice League #5 (1987) The "one punch" issue featuring Guy Gardner and Batman.
Cosmic Odyssey (1988) Event that saw John Stewart lose a planet.
Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn (1989-1990) An updated version of Hal's formative development.
Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn II (1991) An updated version of Sinestro's formative development.
"Emerald Twilight" (1994) The arc that saw Hal Jordan temporarily end the entire Green Lantern legacy and transform into Parallax, followed an issue later by the debut of Kyle Rayner, who subsequently became known as the torchbearer.
Zero Hour (1994) The event that saw Hal's ambitions as Parallax nearly play out. It's Green Arrow who puts an end to the scheme with an arrow to the chest.
The Final Night (1996) Event that saw Hal Jordan reclaim his heroic identity long enough to sacrifice himself in order to save Earth.
Day of Judgment (1999) Event that saw Hal Jordan temporarily become the new host for the Spectre, the Spirit of Vengeance.
Green Lantern #154 (2001) Kyle Rayner's friend Terry becomes the victim of a hate crime, one of the first notable instances where homosexuality is addressed directly in comics.
Green Lantern: Rebirth (2004-2005) Hal Jordan returns, the whole Parallax thing is explained, and widespread appreciation of the franchise begins.
Green Lantern (2011) The movie that proved the limits of that widespread appreciation. Naturally I loved it.
Green Lantern #0 (2012) First appearance of Simon Baz.