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Green Lantern 101: A Beginner’s Guide to The Green Lantern Mythos…

The trailer for Green Lantern arrived yesterday. I’m already excited about the release. However, I acknowledge that Hal Jordan isn’t quite the household name that Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent is. So I put together this collection of frequently asked questions about Green Lantern, which will hopefully give you a bit of an introduction to the character. If this proves popular, I might do the same for Thor or Captain America, the other major comic book releases of next year. Check out the trailer below.


Okay, some of the CGI is a bit ropey, and I could do without the “Hal Jordan is another regular guy” forty-second intro. Still, Reynolds looks like he’s having the time of his life and the aliens look deadly.

Since the movie hasn’t been released yet and I’m mostly avoiding spoilers, I’ll be discussing a bit of the mythos. Being a nerd pays off sometimes.

Q: I’ve seen god knows how many superhero films this year and I’ll see many more next year and the year after. Why should I care about Green Lantern?

A: Well, the talent involved is pretty awesome. Director Martin Campbell has saved the Bond franchise twice with two of the better movies – Casino Royale and GoldenEye. But it’s also starring Ryan Reynolds and Mark Strong and a host of other names.

Q: C’mon… is that all you’ve got?

A: Well, it’s been one of the most consistent comic books on the market for the past ten years. He’s also a beloved cultural icon who has never really had a moment in the sun before. We can’t all be Batman or Spider-Man with their movies and television shows.

More than that though, it’s a somewhat unique comic book, in that it’s as much about space as it is about Earth. Visually, it’s stunning and uses the type of canvas that has yet to be taken to the big screen – there’s going to be breathtaking vistas and strange aliens and amazing special effects.

Plus a very human protagonist. Even if the script misses the essence of the character, Ryan Reynolds is charming enough to cover it.

Q: Go on… give me a quick pitch. “X meets Y” sort of thing.

A: Star Wars meets Iron Man.

Q: That’s kinda cool.

A: I think so.

Q: So, it’s an origin story, right?

A: Yep. Test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is given an alien power ring and becomes a Green Lantern. Meanwhile, scientist Hector Hammond gets up to all sorts of evil activities when an alien space rock causes his head to balloon and grants him some telekinesis.

Hal is practically glowing today...

It’s not exactly going to offer the gritty realism of The Dark Knight, but I’m hoping for some decent sci-fi action. After all, not all movies need to be dark and edgy. This is more in line with Richard Donner’s Superman. Hopefully.

Q: So who is Hal Jordan and why do I care?

A: Hal Jordan is basically an overgrown manchild, before Judd Atapow made the concept cool. Hal joined the military at a young age – alienating his family, as his father died in plane crash when he was a small child.

Much like Tony Stark, but without the billions of dollars, Jordan is quite the adventurer and ladies man. How much of a rebel he is varies from writer to writer. Some portrayed him as truly washed up before he found his calling – one story had him spend a night in a cell for DUI, for example – while others simply suggest he was listless.

Still there’s a wonderful sense of excitement around the character – he isn’t as brooding as Batman, nor as serious as Superman. He loves his gift. In the superb miniseries The New Frontier, a retelling of his origin, his first command to the ring is, “fly.” When it lifts him off the ground so he hovers, he responds, “Cute. I said ‘fly’.” And he soars. This is the kinda guy whose response to a hugely powerful ring which allows him to construct anything he can imagine is an enthusiastic, “I know, right?”

Anyway, the character pretty much suits Ryan Reynolds perfectly. Sharp, witty, maybe a little reckless and immature, but ultimately quite charming.

Q: So, what exactly is a “Green Lantern”? It isn’t particularly descriptive like “Superman” or “Batman” or “the Flash”?

A: Simply put, a Green Lantern is a space cop. There’s roughly one for every sector of space in the good ol’ universe. Although the comics recently increased it to two, Earth has always had an abundance of spare, back-up and honorary Green Lanterns.

In charge of a sector of space, the Green Lantern is pretty much charged with stopping all illicit cosmic activities that might go on there. Of course, this doesn’t stop the character from filling the role of conventional superhero – incarnations of the character have their own Earth-based supervillains and love interests and so on – but it does provide an interesting distinction from most regular superheroes.

There

A Green Lantern carries a ring, which we’ll talk about later, which grants him authority. If that Green Lantern dies or retires, the ring will take it upon itself to find a suitable replacement – usually flying to that person, planting itself on his or her hand and announcing that they’re joined the Green Lantern Corps.

Q: The “Green Lantern Corps”?

A: That’s the organisation. It’s run by a collection of little blue smurf-like entities, who took it upon themselves to name themselves “The Guardians of the Universe”. Yep, they are just a little bit pompous.

Incidentally, the Guardians were originally all male, but recent comics have made it clear that Guardians of both genders exist.

Q: Okay, that’s reasonably clear, but why are they called Green Lanterns? Why not… like “space cops” or something?

A: What? Green Lantern’s a cool name!

No, seriously, the name comes from the little power battery each Green Lantern carries. It charges their ring for 24 hours – it’s a failsafe to keep any power-mad individuals in check (we’ll come to that). It looks like a lantern and it’s green – so Green Lantern seems a logical fit. It helps that the logo looks like the lantern and is also green.

When charging their ring, an individual recites the Oath. That’s the thing you heard Ryan Reynolds start to recite at the end of the trailer. Various authors have different perspectives on the Oath. To some, each Green Lantern has their own oath. To others, every Green Lantern has the same oath:

In brightest day, in blackest night,
No evil shall escape my sight.
Let those who worship evil’s might,
Beware my power: Green Lantern’s light.

Whether it’s kinda badass or a little lame is ultimately up to you.

Q: So there’s more than one Green Lantern, then?

A: Yep. There’s a whole bunch of them. And they are what you might call a “legacy” hero.

Q: Legacy hero?

A: Yep. Some comic book heroes are always going to be the same character. Superman will pretty much always be Clark Kent. Bruce Wayne will pretty much always be Batman. Peter Parker is Spider-Man and so on.

However, not all heroes work like that. Some superhero names carry on from generation to generation. For example, Jay Garrick was the first hero to be called “The Flash” in DC Comics. However, the character was retired in the fifties and a new creation, Barry Allen, took up the mantle. Barry was succeeded by his nephew Wally West in the eighties, and so on.

Q: So… Hal Jordan wasn’t always the guy in the Green Lantern comics?

A: Nope. He was killed off in the nineties during a controversial storyline called Emerald Twilight and replaced by a guy called Kyle Rayner.

Q: So, he’s dead in comic books?

A: Not anymore. He was brought back to life in storyline a few years back and has been the main character in the franchise for the past couple of years. In a similar note, Barry Allen has also recently come back from the dead and become the Flash again.

Yep, death in comics is more a minor inconvenience than “the end”.

Staring at the sun...

Anyway, there’s been a bit of debate about the resurrection of various legacy characters. While it makes sense to consolidate the properties with the movies coming out – anybody picking up a book expects to read about the dude they just saw, not his replacement – there is an argument that it stunts development and evolution, and reinforces comic books as a static medium.

But this probably isn’t the best place to get into this.

Q: Okay… so he’s the one I can read about now. Was he also the first?

A: Interesting question. Yes and no, basically.

Comic book fans such as myself are pretentious. We like to give pompous sounding names to various moments in history. “The Golden Age” of comic books is the first great period in the medium, during the thirties and forties. It was the era that gave us Batman, Superman, Captain American and so on. “The Silver Age” was a revival in the sixties, with a sci-fi tinge – so it gave us creations like The Fantastic Four or the modern conception of the Flash and Green Lantern.

There was a Green Lantern in the Golden Age. His name was Alan Scott. But he had nothing to do with space cops. His Green Lantern was powered by magic. And his weakness was wood.

Yes, wood.

The Green Lantern Corps was created in the Silver Age, when Hal Jordan first appeared – as such, the most enduring image of the Green Lantern can be traced back to Hal. However, there have been various attempts in the past to connect or distance Alan Scott from the cosmic mythos, so it’s really a matter of perspective.

Q: Em… okay. So tell me about the ring itself. It looks like the kinda thing I’d find in my cereal.

A: Yep, and my inner nerd kinda wants a replica.

One ring to rule them all...

The “power ring” is a device that can do anything. It’s like a superpower bonus pack. It can allow you to fly, to communicate and breath in space, translate languages, provide handy exposition, build a snazzy CGI uniform… anything, really.

However, the most interesting feature of the ring is that it can create solid constructs out of light. They’re all green, but it can great any solid object you can imagine. Of course, the beauty of ring depends on the imagination of the writer, but it can be something as generic as a simple green beam or (as seen in the trailer) as overstated as a giant fist.

Q: So it can make anything, pretty much?

A: As long as it’s green and substantial, yes.

Q: Anything?

A: Yes.

Q: That’s a bit lame, isn’t it? I mean, if you can create anything, there’s not a lot of room for drama?

A: That’s a fair point and, to be honest, has been a bit of sticking point for some of the weaker writers on the comic book. The ring can do anything, so it can magic up a solution to just about any problem.

However, this comes with two caveats. The first is that the ring depends on the will power of the user. So it requires absolute control and sheer willpower. Not everyone can handle a power ring. This means that a lot of the best drama on the series works around the characters – find their emotional weaknesses and push it.

The second caveat is that the ring used to be useless against yellow.

Q: … Yellow? Like the colour?

A: Yes. I know it’s lame. Particularly since green is made of yellow.

Q: So, like, it doesn’t work against anything yellow? Could I defeat a Green Lantern by simply putting him in a room painted entirely yellow?

A: It’s been done. By Batman. In Frank Miller’s All-Star Batman & Robin in what was simultaneously an amazing moment and a depressing one.

Never accuse Batman of being yellow...

And the weakness to yellow has kinda gone by the wayside in recent years.

Q: What, is it now weak against neon lemon or something?

(warning: spoilers for the movie may follow; I don’t know (nor want to know) how closely the movie mirrors the comic)

A: Again, like the female guardians, this has been the subject of “retroactive continuity” by the current writer of the comic book. Retroactive continuity, in case you were wondering, is a bit like that bloke at the bar who insists that something was always a particular way, even if it was only changed recently.

So now, a Green Lantern was “never” powerless against yellow – they were only powerless against what the colour represents. I’ll get into this below, but basically each colour corresponds to an emotion or state of mind. Green is willpower. Yellow is fear. Green Lanterns used to be unable to use their rings against yellow, because it represented fear.

Q: “What the colour represents”? Woah…

A: Okay, it actually makes much more sense than it seems. Basically, those little blue guys (the Guardians) decided to harness willpower for their little space cops. While they were tampering with primordial emotional constructs, they found the embodiment of fear – basically an avatar for the concept of terror. It was called Parallax…

Q: … Parallax? Sounds like a brand of laxative.

A: Again, so much better than it sounds. The Guardians trapped this creature (which resembles a giant yellow cockroach) in their central power battery.

The creature was, as you can understand, less than pleased with that. So it began to subtly influence the rings and their wearers. Their rings manifested that influence by being unable to work on the colour yellow.

So, long story short, the creature recently escaped the battery – taking the taint with it. Although new recruits to the Green Lantern Corps may have difficulty with the colour yellow, the vast majority of Green Lanterns don’t have to worry about it anymore.

Q: Okay, sounds kinda trippy.

A: It is. Which is why I love it.

Q: What’s all this “fearless” milarky in the trailer?

A: In the trailer, Hal Jordan remarks that “the one thing a Green Lantern’s supposed to be is fearless”, conceding that he isn’t. However, one of the more interesting takes on this aspect of the mythos, is that this isn’t exactly the case.

Although fear will impede the use of the ring, it has been suggested that Hal Jordan has come to realise that being fearless isn’t the defining trait, as he remarks to his adversary Sinestro at the climax of the superb Sinestro Corps War. By way of context, Sinestro has returned to Coast City, the town all but wiped out when Hal failed a few years earlier, beginning the spiral that led to his death. Sinestro accuses Hal of being afraid. Hal responds with a well-timed punch and the following observation:

You’ve always had it wrong, Sinestro. Even rookies know that a Green Lantern isn’t without fear. A Green Lantern overcomes fear. Every time they face it.

It’s actually a fairly awesome moment, as you realise what makes Jordan such an iconic hero. It isn’t that Jordan doesn’t feel fear – he feels it as keenly as you or I do. He’s not a paradigm of virtue like, say, Superman, nor a badass of inhuman proportions like Batman. He’s just a regular guy who tries his best to handle whatever life throws at him.

Based on the trailer, I suspect that this emotional arc will play in important part in the movie – with Hal learning that he doesn’t need to become fearless, he must just learn to face it. Which, to be honest, gives the whole thing a much more human emotional arc – being afraid is a very human sensation; doing what you need to do anyway is a wonderful moment of personal victory.

Q: So, what are his selection of baddies like? Anything like Batman’s iconic selection of villains?

A: Well, sadly, mostly no. In his early days, the character faced a variety of second-rate Earth-based superthugs including the Shark (super-evolved shark), the Black Hand (like the Riddler but with puns instead of Riddles), Major Disaster (the guy with an earthquake gun), Goldface (a guy made of gold), and so on…

The current writer on the title, Geoff Johns has acknowledged this weakness by pretty much borrowing bad guys from Superman from the character – villains like Mongol or Cyborg Superman or Superman-Prime. You know you’re in trouble when second-tier Superman villains represent a step-up.

Fortunately, in the right hands certain villains in the line-up can be interesting. I do like Johns’ take on Hector Hammond, the dude with the giant-head from the trailer. And his reworking of the Black Hand as a death-fixated psychopath (because if green is willpower and yellow is fear, black is death) is genuinely creepy.

Q: So, who are those guys in the trailer?

The guy with the giant forehead is Hector Hammond. He’s a scientist called in to example some mysterious space rocks (in Secret Origin, the book upon which is based, they come from Abin Sur’s space craft). He’s also a bit of a letch, and lusts after Hal’s girlfriend, Carol Ferris.

Exposed to the rock, Hammond’s head… grows significantly. But it grants him the power of mind control and telekinesis, so that’s something, right?

And the big guy in Hal’s face in the screenshot above is Kilowag, the Green Lantern drill instructor, in charge of whipping the new recruits into shape. The guy with the fin on his head, also above, is Tomar-Re, an old friend of Abin Sur, Hal’s predecessor.

And then there’s Sinestro…

Q: … Sinestro?

A: Yep, the red guy with the big forehead and Peter-Sellers-esque mustache. He was once “the greatest of the Green Lanterns”.

The Guardians gave a Green Lantern ring, the most powerful weapon in the galaxy, to THIS guy? And they let him keep it when they found out his name was Sinestro?

Q: Red guy? Looks like a devil? Named “Sinestro”? With a mustache? And he’s played by Mark Strong, the bad guy from Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood and Kick-Ass? Don’t the Guardians have any vetting procedures to decide who gets a power ring?

A: In fairness, it was created back in the sixties, when he was just another power-mad villain. However, recent authors have tried to add a bit of depth and pathos to the character.

Q: So he’s not like an agent of chaos like the Joker? Or a real-estate con man like Lex Luthor?

A: Nope. The tragedy of Sinestro is that he actually means well. Basically, he was given the power ring and told to whip his system into shape. He did so, turning his homeworld into a paragon of virtue.

However, along the way he began to have some serious doubts about the little blue guys running the show. It’s hinted that he may even have been slowly “infected” by fear and insecurity. The implication is that Parallax, the yellow fear cockroach named above, has been gnawing away at the Green Lanterns for quite a while. Parallax may even have planted the fear in Hal’s predecessor which killed him (more on that below).

Anyway, when Hal Jordan gets the ring – being the first human to join the Green Lantern Corps – Sinestro is sent to train him. Sinestro was friends with Jordan’s predecessor and – although there is some element of conflict between mentor and pupil – Jordan and Sinestro get along, finding they share a rebellious streak.

(possible spoilers for the movie are coming up; and they probably spoil the eventual sequel as well – you have been warned)

So, they become pals. Sinestro finds a kindred spirit in Hal, and so invites him to pop over, like a good neighbour. Hal discovers that Sinestro has enforced order on his sector as something of a fascist dictator. Which is totally not within the terms and conditions of the green power ring.

Hal and his Green Lantern buddies take down Sinestro, who goes rogue. He blames Jordan for his fall from grace and believes that the Green Lantern Corps lacks the willpower bring order to the universe – after all, supercrime isn’t exactly down since Hal arrived on the scene.

So Sinestro forms his own rival organisation which draws power from the colour yellow and seeks to overthrow the Green Lantern Corps. He uses the yellow fear entity we mentioned above – Parallax – to power his Corps.

Q: So does that make him a… Yellow Lantern, then? Like the Yellow Lantern Corps?

A: Um, kinda… Sinestro decides, in all his modesty, to call his little organisation “the Sinestro Corps”.

Anyway, he declares war on the Green Lantern Corps, and thus begins “the War of Light”.

Q: “The War of Light”?

A: Yep. Only in comic books, right?

Q: You’re telling me.

A: Yep. So, back to something we were talking about earlier, the whole colours and emotions thing. One of the more interesting aspects of Geoff Johns’ run on the Green Lantern comic book is that he equated the seven colours to various emotional states:

Red is rage.
Orange is avarice.
Yellow is fear.

Green is willpower.

Blue is hope.
Indigo is compassion.
Violet is love.

A (Tomar-)Re of hope...

What Johns did was to essentially create a new set of opponents for the Green Lantern built around the colour spectrum. So there are now Red Lanterns, Blue Lanterns, Yellow Lanterns and so on.

Q: And the “War of Light” is a conflict between these forces?

A: Yes and no. There are out-and-out conflicts between some (Red and Yellow; Yellow and Green; Red and Blue), but never an all-out war. There’s just a bunch of teething difficulties around the arrival of these new powers on the stage. Some of it’s a cold war, but some of it’s quite heated.

There’s speculation that this – coupled with Sinestro’s downfall – would form a second movie in a proposed Green Lantern trilogy. Of course, that assumes that the first film does well at the box office.

Let

It’s just a very streamlined adventure for the character, and involves some of the better stories. Plus, it also serves as a lead-in to what could make a fantastic third act of the mooted trilogy, Blackest Night.

Q: Blackest Night? Like in the oath up there?

A: Exactly. Writer Alan Moore…

Q: Alan Moore? Why does that name sound familiar?

A: Moore wrote Watchmen, which revolutionised comic books and got a motion picture release last year. He also wrote V for Vendetta and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. All are better than the films.

Moore also wrote The Killing Joke, which heavily influenced Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight. He’s also written some Superman stuff and an amazing run on Swamp Thing. All well worth looking up.

He’s pretty much seen as one of the best writers in the medium, and one of the few why can stretch the boundaries of —

Q: Enough of the pitch already!

A: He’s also a wizard.

Q: Okay. So, you were saying about Moore and this Green Lantern thing…

A: Moore wrote a story about twenty-odd years ago in a Green Lantern annual which featured Hal Jordan’s predecessor, Abin Sur, making a visit to a prison planet shortly before his death.

While there, one of the prisoners foretold a “blackest night” descending upon the universe – a time of great trial for the Green Lantern Corps. It is implied that, like Sinestro, Abin Sur was infected and corrupted by fear. Hence why he was flying through space in a space ship rather than using his ring.

Q: Yeah, I was wondering about that…

A: So Abin Sur begins to doubt his ring and his ability to use it. So he starts flying in a ship. And then he crashes and the ring finds Hal Jordan.

Q: So, Blackest Night…

A: Yep. In a word: zombies. In three words: super-powered space zombies. It was written recently, inspired by Moore’s classic tale, and went down the bomb.

Q: So Moore must have been flattered, right?

A: Um, no. No he wasn’t.

Q: Okay. So I want to read a good Green Lantern story. What do you recommend?

A: DC have a few little bits and pieces coming out for the release of the movie, like The Green Lantern Omnibus which collects the first few dozen issues featuring Hal Jordan. Being honest, having read them, they’re a bit Silver-Age-y for modern audiences, with awkward dialogues, simplistic characters and occasional unfortunate ethnic stereotypes.

There are a few decent stand-alone tales which might be worth a look. If you can find it, Emerald Dawn is a decent origin to the character (featuring the aforementioned DUI), but Secret Origin is reportedly the story being used as the basis for the movie. It’s a good story and perhaps a nice introduction to Geoff Johns’ run.

If you can dig out the collection of Alan Moore’s stories on the title, they come highly recommended. They do provide a nice and broad view of the mythos. On the other hand, if you’re interested in Hal himself, The New Frontier tells the story of Hal’s origin, juxtaposing it against the birth of other superheroes. It’s more of a primer on the DC universe than anything else, but it’s accessible.

Alternatively, Geoff Johns’ run on Green Lantern is a great read. The opening miniseries – Rebirth – involves quite a bit of continuity, but once you get into it, it’s great. Since Johns himself is involved in the movie, it probably makes a great starting point.

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14 Responses

  1. Seriously Darren this is awesome. I’m a Green Lantern acolyte and I was still fascinated by your answers.

    I’m kinda concerned that you are talking to yourself though. You might want to get out a bit more. 😉

    • Thanks man, much appreciated. I tried to keep it loose and casual rather than formal or trying to make myself sound like an expert or something.

  2. Awesome post Darren, especially given the fact that I know nothing about The Green Lantern. The trailer itself is a bit meh, given the poor looking CGI but I assume it will look much better in a few months.

    Tweeted and plugged on reddit!

    • Thanks man, much appreciated. Yep, the CGI is ropey and the opening forty seconds are kinda bland in a “we want to make Iron Man” sort of way, but the rest of the trailer just works for me. It looks fun and light and adventurous and genuinely visually interesting. We haven’t had a blockbuster like that since Star Trek.

  3. WOW, this is such a long post… no doubt it’ll be helpful to people who have no clue about Green Lantern, like me. But like Castor said, the trailer itself isn’t all that impressive… there are soooo many superhero movies out there, this one is hardly on my radar.

    • Yep, I know, I’m kinda worried about it. Still, I’m psyched about this and Thor, just because they seem more in line with offering an evolution of Richard Donner’s Superman rather than emulating Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.

  4. Wow – i know nothing about green lantern – until now.

    And i don’t know what i think, but i think you sound like the expert & should have been given a chance to review the script to make sure it upheld the level of quality you expect from the project.

    • Thanks. I actually think the guy in charge of the script – Geoff Johns is like director of media or such – is the perfect choice for this, because he really gets Hal. He’s good with Superman and the Flash too. I haven’t seen him work with Wonder Woman and I’m skeptical of his Batman, but he is one of the better writers in the comic book medium, but he has extensive film experience too. Green Lantern’s going to be trial-by-fire, but I’ll be there on opening night, embracing my nerdiness.

  5. This page has been really helpful, I’ll be sure to start looking into the series properly before the film comes out.

    It seems really lame, but I remember the oath from Big Bang theory (when Sheldon has the awesome looking power battery replica), and thinking it was actually really cool. Then when I saw the trailer for the film today, it kinda pushed me over the edge and got me researching.

  6. I will refer all my lame non-comic book reading friends to your post so they can know what it means to be a green lantern. You basically helped out all the non-GL fans out there that are trying to learn more about Hal Jordan before the movie’s released. Awesome job, man!

  7. Great info for someone (like me) who has no idea on any part of the story of Green Lantern. I will now be consulting my nearest comic book store!

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