Discovering Green Lantern

greenlanternWhile I enjoy superhero comics – sometimes against my better judgement – I don’t love all the characters unreservedly. Try as I might, I don’t find Superman that engaging except in a few classic stories. I love the mythos and greatly relish the Christopher Nolan-produced film currently in development, but unlike Batman, I can’t get into Superman comics consistently. Then there are the characters I haven’t even tried reading yet, and Green Lantern was one of these. An interstellar cop with a ring powered by will, he was historically more of a B-lister with a cult following than an iconic player. But in the last few years, Green Lantern has enjoyed a rare transformation into an A-lister of the superhero world, to the point where Warner Bros. saw his potential and put a major film in development. It will be released next year, whereas only a few years ago the character was so inconsequential to them that they were going to use him as a comedy vehicle for Jack Black.

In 2004, DC sought to reinvigorate the stagnating Green Lantern title by returning the most popular incarnation of the character, Hal Jordan, to the mantle. This would be no mean feat, as Jordan had been disgraced ten years earlier, turning into a psychopath after the destruction of his home town. Along the way, he virtually eradicated the Green Lantern Corps and the ancient Guardians who formed it, so a great deal of the mythology was wiped off the slate. Writer Geoff Johns saw in that discarded material the means for the character to gain greater prominence in the DC universe. He has called Green Lantern the greatest mythology in comics, but it was hard to see why for much of the 90s.

With the miniseries Rebirth, Johns had the unenviable task of returning Jordan to the role, redeeming him, re-establishing the Corps, bringing back a classic villain named Sinestro (I know…), and laying enough groundwork for many years of stories within this new status quo, all without overloading the narrative. Jordan was technically dead too, but was the latest host for the Spectre, a spirit of vengeance. Somehow Johns had to turn this scattered character into a Green Lantern again.

Remarkably, these elements coalesce marvellously into an exhilarating story that effectively makes Johns’ case for why this mythology is special. To prepare, I read some of the 90s material concerning Jordan’s fall and his replacement by young artist Kyle Rayner, but Rebirth was my first foray into the current storyline. It’s a terrific yarn with beautiful art by Ethan Van Sciver that somehow juggles a ton of plot points while still remaining smooth and coherent. I believe it would hook anyone with an inclination towards superhero material. The redemption of Jordan is particularly clever as Johns doesn’t retcon past stories, merely unearthing hidden aspects to them.

From there, Johns launched a new ongoing title and contributed to a separate Green Lantern Corps book too. The main series focused on Jordan and his dealings on Earth and elsewhere, while Corps took the rich Green Lantern mythology and explored it in more depth. It’s easy to bemoan spin-offs, but Green Lantern warrants one. One of the crucial distinctions between this mythology and those of other superheroes is that Jordan is not unique, but rather one of many similarly skilled Lanterns, meaning the title refers as much to the hero’s world as the hero himself.

Most impressive and exciting to me though is that Johns has been telling a five-year storyline since Rebirth, building gradually to a major event called Blackest Night, which concluded earlier this year. Between the two books, the Green Lantern world has become so detailed as to be a universe in itself, not merely one corner of the DC universe. This is partly because Johns has a fundamental question about this universe that I’m shocked no-one has answered before: if the Lanterns’ rings are green and controlled by willpower, couldn’t there be other Corps with other coloured rings controlled by other emotions and aspects of thought? He has combined this gradually unfolding answer with a prophecy Alan Moore wrote into a classic Green Lantern short story in the 1980s regarding the end of the Corps and then the universe, incorporating portents from the prophecy into the ongoing storylines. Blackest Night was such a huge story that it became the DC event of the year, which Green Lantern has never really inspired before. Johns has performed a rare act of creative restoration of a superhero by discovering untouched facets that were there all along.

I’ve yet to read the Blackest Night books, but I can’t wait. I’m excited about Green Lantern even while I’ve grown jaded with other superhero comics. But it’s not just the comics that inspire excitement – this is also a world that will look incredible at the movies. Seeing Lanterns flying through space and battling with thought-powered constructs will be exhilarating. Ryan Reynolds is playing Hal Jordan, which is good casting if not ideal (that honour would go to Jon Hamm, who would make a great Superman too). Johns is consulting on the film and Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) is directing. There are indications that the film is throwing in everything and the kitchen sink though, which may be problematic depending on how prominent each element is. The first footage will be seen at Comicon later this month, and I expect it will bring the house down.

So if you’ve heard about Green Lantern and are wondering what the fuss is about, the good news is that the story over the last few years is fairly linear. Just start with Rebirth and work your way up to Blackest Night – IGN have a reading order here. Johns and his collaborators have crafted a dazzling escapist epic, and if you don’t like superheroes, this doesn’t feel like the usual men-in-tights business. Instead, it’s wonderfully entertaining heroic SF. Enjoy.

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