By Andrew A. Smith
Scripps Howard News Service
Green Lantern, who gets his first big-budget movie June 17, was my favorite DC Comics superhero as a child. Given the loving care lavished on the character in recent years, he’s my favorite once again.
Hal Jordan was introduced in1959, at the beginning of the space age. He was allegedly based on Chuck Yeager, the legendary test pilot, and everything about him was sleek, cool and hip. He had essentially Aladdin’s lamp on his finger, which could do anything he imagined (except affect things colored yellow) – which was really appealing to youngsters like me, who could imagine quite a lot (especially numerous ways to get around that yellow thing). He was chosen by the Green Lantern Corps for being born without fear, had a really cool job (test pilot) and dated his boss, Carol Ferris.
This guy was just a stud. I may have felt like Peter Parker when I was growing up, but it was Hal Jordan I wanted to grow up to be.
And Green Lantern just got bigger and cooler with every issue. Gradually we learned more about the other alien Green Lanterns, and the little blue immortals in the red dresses who ran the show, the Guardians of Oa. We learned there were 3,600 Green Lanterns in all, each patrolling a wedge-shaped (but potentially infinite) sector of space radiating from Oa, which was in the center of the universe. Two more “back-up” Lanterns from Earth were introduced, one an African-American architect named John Stewart, who was featured in the Justice League cartoon.
Eventually we learned that there had been another Green Lantern back in the 1940s, who bore no relation to the current one except the name. That character was invented in 1940, when creator Martin Nodell was taking a commuter train, and noticed that red lanterns meant “danger” while green lanterns meant “everything’s safe.” Everything’s safe? Bingo! And so a hero was born, who had a green ring that was literally magic. Naturally, Hal Jordan got to team up with his older namesake now and then (who is still around, and still not related to the Green Lantern Corps).
But something happened to the Emerald Warrior. Like in the 1940s, the new guy’s popularity fell off. Maybe he was simply too powerful to plausibly challenge, or there were so many Lanterns he stopped being unique. Maybe his life was too good to be interesting. Maybe that “yellow weakness” was too ridiculous, or aging fans began to realize that being “born without fear” makes you a psychopath, or a short-lived idiot. Regardless, Green Lantern was canceled in 1972, and made fitful restarts over the next few decades. DC tried everything to make the title interesting, like breaking up Hal and Carol (repeatedly). They even turned Jordan into an actual psychopath in 1994, one who murdered a bunch of fellow Lanterns, and replaced him with a young slacker as “the last Green Lantern.”
Fortunately, none of that lasted. A young writer named Geoff Johns – now the Chief Creative Officer at DC – virtually rebuilt the franchise. He managed to explain away that old, stupid yellow weakness and Jordan’s trip on the crazy train by blaming an entity called Parallax, who embodies fear and powers yellow rings. He also invented an entity called Ion who embodies will and powers the green, and then blue, orange, purple, red and violet entities that power five more corps of ring-bearers, all of which together comprise not just the rainbow, but the “emotional spectrum” as well. Johns re-wrote “born without fear” into something more heroic: the “ability to overcome great fear.” He also introduced the creepy idea that rings fly off to find new hosts when their bearer dies – but that also means that it wasn’t the dying Green Lantern of Sector 2814 that chose Hal Jordan: It was the ring itself.
All of this is will be fun to know if you plan to see Green Lantern. The movie’s Big Bad is Parallax, a relatively new creation, along with the huge-headed Hector Hammond, a character from the 1960s (that Johns made nastier). You’ll see a mix of Green Lanterns old and new, from the first one Jordan met, Tomar-Re, to his drill sergeant, Kilowog, to the Green Lantern who went rogue, Sinestro.
And you’ll know that Hal Jordan, played by Ryan Reynolds, deserves his ring – because it will choose him. And after seeing the movie, maybe you’ll want to grow up to be Hal Jordan, too.
1. RYAN REYNOLDS as Green Lantern in Warner Bros. Pictures' action adventure "GREEN LANTERN," a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures. ™ & © DC Comics
2. BLAKE LIVELY as Carol Ferris in Warner Bros. Pictures' action adventure "GREEN LANTERN," a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by François Duhamel. ™ & © DC Comics
3. MARK STRONG as Sinestro in Warner Bros. Pictures' action adventure "GREEN LANTERN," a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures. ™ & © DC Comics
4. (L-r) Kilowog, voiced by MICHAEL CLARKE DUNCAN, and Tomar-Re, voiced by GEOFFREY RUSH, in Warner Bros. Pictures' action adventure "GREEN LANTERN," a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures. ™ & © DC Comics
Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at firstname.lastname@example.org.