As the film GREEN LANTERN opens nationwide, a segment of the population, mostly male, is wildly excited because their favorite superhero is finally getting a lavish and respectful big screen treatment. Yes, the reviews have been mixed, but under the watchful eye of Lantern’s flamekeeper Geoff Johns, the whole mythology has been faithfully brought to the screen in expansive CGI splendor.
For the Lantern fans out there—and there are many — this is a treat. But are they really a cult within a cult, as this Onion video suggests?
I admit to being completely unable to answer this question myself; I’m completely immune to the Lantern’s power, and I find this highly puzzling.
Everyone’s life has gaps, memory holes that remain a mystery. In my case, one such example is learning to swim. One moment, I seem to recall, I was learning how to float as a tot. The next I’m a full grown adult standing on the beach and afraid of the water. Something must have happened…but what?
My immunity to Lantern love is a similar story. Let’s be honest here: I never met a gaudy, geeky subject I didn’t like. Star Wars, Star Trek, Xena Warrior Princess, Lost, wrestling, Conan, comic books, Bazooka Joe, Tolkien, Harry Potter…my nerd lore is well rounded and expansive. But even I have a few puzzling gaps in my education.
Always more of a Marvel reader, as a teen I tried to get into DC Comics, but never got far because a) at the time they were pretty damn dull, and b) I didn’t like Power Girl’s giant boobs. (True story.) Still, I understood all the basics: Superman came from a doomed planet; Batman had a traumatized childhood; Wonder Woman came from a race of Amazons to bring protection to Man’s World; The Legion were from the far future; The Flash had a lab accident; The Atom had a lab experiment…and so on. The one character that made no impression on me whatsoever was Green Lantern. This idea persisted even after reading a collection of the Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams GL/GA comics. It was very clear to me that Green Arrow was a wise-cracking hard-ass; Dinah was his sassy girlfriend and….some other guy was also in the book?
I don’t know the source of this lack of comprehension. Maybe because he had a ring and I liked THE LORD OF THE RINGS and there was room for only one ring in my pantheon? I do know that my oblivion to Lantern lore was complete. I knew that Lantern fans argued about people named Hal, Kyle, John, and Guy Gardner, but had no idea what any of it meant.
It’s really only covering the movie’s progress through Hollywood that has given me the opportunity to bone up on Lanterns. Honest, when I saw that dead guy in the Warner Bros., booth at Comic-Con last year, I had no idea who or what it was. Now I know he was called Abin Sur and he gave Hal Jordan his powers! Go me!
While I’m willing to shoulder the blame for shunning Green Lantern over the years, as I’ve been learning and growing, I have noticed a few things about the character that do strike me as flaws, dramatically speaking. It’s often noted that DC’s heroes for the most part lack the melodramatic emotional flair of the Marvel heroes, Batman and Superman being the notable exceptions. Marvel’s heroes are flawed and troubled and their powers echo and magnify those flaws and troubles; DC’s leads, generally speaking, are dudes who get some great idea to shrink or go fast and then proceed to shrink or go fast. Green Lantern is a prime example of this.
An official DC fact page for GL shows what I mean.
BACKGROUND from the comic books:
Hal Jordan always wanted to be a pilot. … One day while watching one of his father’s test flights with her, Hal experienced his greatest fear: the plane malfunctioned exploding and instantly killing his Dad.
More determined than ever to become a pilot and honor his late father, Hal enlisted in the Air Force on the day he turned sixteen. Clearly gifted, Hal excelled at flying but his cocky reckless behavior led to his dishonorable discharge.
Devastated that he failed his Dad, Hal turned to Carl who hired him as a test pilot. … Green Lantern Abin Sur crash-landed on earth and in his final moment sent his ring in search of a replacement. Hal was selected as his successor for his incredible willpower and fearlessness thus making him the first Earthling inducted into the Green Lantern Corps.
So basically, this is the story: a guy is a cocky jerk, and then one day he gets amazing powers and gets to be a space cop.
Or, here’s the Let’s Be Friends Again version.
Let it be noted, this origin story is notably lacking in drama or conflict. And it was only recently that Johns even retconned in the dying dad thing, which is still not a great motivator (I just learned that yesterday!) Not like dying Uncle Ben or Thomas Wayne or Krypton. No Hulking out, no IRon Man with a bad heart ready to blow at any moment. It’s pretty straightforward…probably just too straightforward for my tastes. Over the years, I didn’t get why so many guys identified with Green Lantern, but I think now it is just this simple storyline: cocky guy gets great powers. Who wouldn’t identify with that?
What I’m left with, then after my months of research, is Tomar-Re. I am so thrilled that the guy with the chicken-fish-head is going to be in a major motion picture. Im fact for the last month or so, everywhere I go there’s Ryan Reynolds and the chicken-fish-head man. I’m not sure that average move-goers are all that enticed by a movie poster featuring a guy with a chicken–fish-head, to be honest, but I think it’s a triumph of the nerd factor.
So what have we learned? I’ve learned that GREEN LANTERN is really a SF space opera with lots of aliens, and imaginative CGI and I’m going in with an open mind and willing to be inducted into the corps. For those who need more info, Alasdair Wilkins has a great guide to things Lantern at i09. And for those who don’t get it, Larry Groznic has a thing or two to say in this Onion story from 2002 that has a rather different view of Green Lantern:
So long as you insist on clinging to your, quite frankly, bizarre opinions on the Emerald Knight’s 60-plus-year history, it is not worth my time to engage you in purposeless noisemaking. Rather than become agitated, as I’ve allowed you to make me in the past, I will simply serve notice that I will not entertain any future Green Lantern discussions with you until you have come to a more mature place in your development as a fan. When you are ready to have a serious conversation about Green Lantern, you have my e-mail address.
And so a great gap in my nerd knowledge has now been filled in. Only one remains: Transformers. I’ve got time.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.