A layman’s guide to one of this summer’s most eagerly awaited comics blockbusters.
Already one of the most-hyped films of the summer thanks to weeks of relentless marketing, Green Lantern arrives in theatres with a legion of expectations dogging its trail. The subject of intense scrutiny since the earliest days of its preproduction – and extensive reworkings by Warner Bros during and even after its post-production process – the film has seemed to get better with each new marketing cycle, shifting from the dopey adventure of its earliest previews to a gritty, suspenseful space opera in the tradition of, obviously, Star Wars or Star Trek.
Which suggests that director Martin Campbell and the film’s producers are changing horses in midstream a bit, tweaking the final cut to move it closer to audience tastes: initial response to those earlier previews was lukewarm at best. The film is significant – important, even – for several reasons, especially to publisher DC Comics. A success at the box office will mean the company can build franchises from its second-tier characters (everyone besides Batman and Superman); it’ll also provide another tentpole for the Justice League film that Warner Bros keeps saying it wants to make.
As with Marvel’s currently shownig Thor, the biggest issue facing Green Lantern’s success is his relative obscurity among non-comics (and cartoon) fans; everyone knows Superman and Batman and their origins and histories; fewer know GL’s basics, despite a giant surge in popularity since a 2004 restart of the comics franchise. That surge by and large has made this film possible: similar efforts such an adaptation of DC’s The Flash (ironically a project once connected with star Ryan Reynolds) have languished in development for years.
The following represents some of the more interesting and/or important parts of the Green Lantern mythos, gathered from its seventy-one years of history. All our opinions are just that. For our part, we’re keeping an open mind about the movie – to be honest, we’re keeping it wedged open with a couple of steel bars, using only our willpower.
Hal Jordan wasn’t the first Green Lantern to star in comics. Though the film centers on test pilot Hal Jordan and his trial by fire into the galaxy-spanning Green Lantern Corps, the first character to bear the GL name was a little more shadowy and gothic. When railroad engineer Alan Scott discovered a piece of the mystical Starheart in the wreckage of a derailed train, he used its otherworldly power to fight crime. Eventually, he joined the Justice Society, comics’ first super hero team.
Scott debuted in All-American Comics in 1940, and remains one of the most popular “Golden Age” characters. He still appears every month in the Justice Society’s comic book alongside other enduring “mystery men,” and has two children who are also heroes.
Hal Jordan, Space Age Alpha Dog. Costumed super heroes experienced a steep drop in popularity after World War II, but rebounded in the late 1950s following the all-but total reinventions of several properties; in most cases the name and powers were similar in this “Silver Age” but everything else became different.
Following a successful revamp of The Flash, in which science and technology were emphasized over mystery and suspense, in 1959 creators John Broome and Gil Kane envisioned Green Lantern as a space cop whose Space Sector 2814 “beat” was Earth and its neighboring solar systems.
Jordan’s daily life was ripped from the headlines: as a brash test-pilot for Ferris Aircraft, he was meant to evoke the then-white hot glamour of Chuck Yeager and the Mercury Seven astronauts. Typical of the Silver Age “less is more” visual aesthetic, his comparatively streamlined costume is supposed to represent aerodynamics and speed. Finally, recurrent love interest Carol Ferris was also his boss, anticipating the gender struggles of the coming two decades.
Co-creator Kane is a comics titan. It’s hard to overstate Kane’s importance and stature when discussing comics art. Pioneering realism and artistic grace at a time when the medium was visually still relatively simplistic and utilitarian, his dynamic, movement-centered illustrations played an influence on every artist to come after him.
Later in his career Kane helped lay the groundwork for the the modern graphic novel with his 1971 fantasy epic Blackmark. In the 80s he gave comics a bit of culture by illustrating an adaptation of Richad Wagner’s epic Ring of the Nibelung operatic cycle.
Hal Jordan isn’t always Green Lantern, and vice versa. Comics audiences’ tastes change every few years but often violently revert back, and from time to time Jordan has found himself supplanted by other heroes the book’s editors perceive as more in keeping with shifting trends. Within the larger narrative, these ersatz Lanterns are commonly explained as alternates or replacements while he’s unable to serve the Corps.
Additional Earth-based GL’s include the headstrong, overbearing Guy Gardner (since promoted to the Corps’ version of a SWAT team); architect and former Marine Corps sniper John Stewart; and Los Angeles graphics artist Kyle Rayner. In fact a bitter debate raged for years among Rayner and Jordan fans until DC comics restored Jordan to his initial status as the company’s preeminent Green Lantern.
The Green Lantern Corps is an army of strange aliens and beautiful freaks. GLC creators have traditionally taken advantage of comics’ broader storytelling capacities to include GL’s who aren’t remotely human. Some of the Corps’ stranger members include Rot Lop Fan, a being of pure sound, the sentient plant-man Medphyll, and living diamond Chaselon.
Jordan’s “neighbor” GL’s include fan-favorite “fish-parrots” Tomar-Re and his successor Tomar-Tu of the planet Xudar, whose Sector 2813 included Superman’s world of Krypton; and Arisia Rrab of 2815, a battle-hardened GL who resembles a teenager girl despite having already lived more than two hundred years.
This movie is not Jordan’s debut in other media. A cameo in Justice League Unlimited, two direct-to-DVD animated features and a handful of appearances on the 1980s-era Super Friends cartoon notwithstanding, Jordan’s other screen appearance remains less than auspicious. Actor Howard Murphy donned a whiter shade of green to appear as the Emerald Gladiator in 1979′s Legends of the Superheroes, a pair of NBC specials structured along the formats of traditional variety shows and celebrity roasts.
The shows’ cringe-inducing scripts, as well as production values that might politely be termed modest, kept them out of circulation for years. Nevertheless a DVD collection has recently become available.
Different corps use different colors to harness an “emotional spectrum” of power. Perhaps the biggest recent addition to the larger GL mythos involves the introduction of six additional corps, some of whom are friendly and some others decidedly hostile to the Green Lantern Corps’ mission.
The GLC uses the “emotion” of willpower to fuel their rings’ energy constructs. Their adversaries include the Sinestro Corps, which harnesses the yellow energy of fear (yellow is the one color the lanterns’ rings are ineffectual against) and the Red Lantern Corps that uses rage. More benevolent groups include the Blue Lantern Corps of hope and the Indigo Tribe of compassion.
Here’s the latest trailer, in which Tomar-Re (Geoffrey Rush) relates the history of the Corps:
Green Lantern opens nationwide June 17.
- Michael Kabel