Check out the introduction for background on this series of posts!
The first stop on my journey to finding a new favorite superhero is to revisit the hero that had been my favorite for so long, Green Lantern. As mentioned in the introduction, I will be judging these heroes based on particular criteria, following a brief introduction to the character. Without further ado…
Who is Green Lantern?
Green Lantern, more than any other superhero,refers more to a position rather than a particular person. Having said that, the person most closely identified with the position is Hal Jordan, current Green Lantern of Earth (and has been, more or less, for 50 years). The Green Lantern Corps have been protecting the universe for untold millennia from threats both cosmic and mundane. The rings that they wear are able to harness and project the power of will, limited only by the will and imagination of the bearer. To this end, the rings themselves choose bearers based on their ability to overcome fear. Recently, the Green Lantern mythos has expanded to include “lanterns” from other colors (or emotions, if you will) such as blue for hope, yellow for fear, orange for greed, indigo for empathy, red for rage, and violet for love. They are organized and deputized by beings called the Guardians of the Universe, small blue humanoids that have seemed more bent on order than justice since their first appearances. Now, onto the criteria for judging:
Is this character heroic? Yes! The Green Lanterns are more or less defined by their heroism. Their ability to overcome fear and act purely based on will, while often times misled, is nearly always for the good of others. While justice continues to be in the eye of the beholder as far as whether or not they do a great job of making the universe a better place, no one can doubt the sincerity or the concrete actions that the Lanterns take in the line of service to their worlds. (1 point)
Does this character represent the “powers” or fight against them? Tough call. The problem here is that the Green Lantern corps, specifically their masters the Guardians of the Universe, represent the ultimate “authority” in the universe. They come as close to a “universal” government or force as comic book worlds get. By extension, the Green Lanterns are often seen as tools of this order by the very worlds they are trying to help. That being said however, one of the reasons I have liked Green Lantern in the past, is specifically because Hal Jordan of Earth (along with the other Earth Green Lanterns: John, Guy, and Kyle) often subvert the Guardian’s authority and fight against what they see as unjust uses of power. In the past, it has been these very Earth-born Lanterns that have humanized the corps and sought more creative and indeed less violent solutions to problems.Unfortunately, the Guardians have been overthrown, the creativity has been replaced with blunt force, and there no longer seems to be a subversive voice.* (A case could be made that Kyle Rainer, former Green Lantern and current White Lantern is that voice, but he is no longer a Green Lantern, and is still so new in his position that it remains to be seen how long he remains in it). (0.5 points)
Does this character kill? Unfortunately, the Lanterns DO kill. This has been a very recent phenomenon, actually. In the last few years, a long standing prohibition, built into the rings themselves, prevented the Lanterns from killing. In the face of an overwhelming evil, the use of deadly force was enabled. Of course, the threat was dealt with, but the “no killing” rule was never reinstated. Also, it is very seldom that the Lanterns seek to humanize their enemies. When they do, it is almost always the leader lanterns of other Corps, such as Sinestro, Atrocitus, and Larfleeze. This is problematic for me, however, since it implies that the leaders of the groups who commit atrocities are not held accountable, but given passes while their foot soldiers are killed with impunity. This is one of the things that turns me off most about the current status quo of Green Lantern. (0 points)
Does this character have a spirituality? Well, this is difficult to say. For one thing, Hal Jordan has had contact with God, served as a literal spirit for the Almighty, has battled spiritual forces across the universe, knows all about creation and the light that battled the darkness, knows about afterlife, has been to heave, hell, and purgatory, and yet… is pretty much severely handicapped by his facade of hedonism. the great irony of Hal’s life is that he is afraid of loss, and so he never gets close to anyone. He is a serial womanizer, has no spirituality that even remotely comes across in the comics, and routinely ridicules “hope” as a worthless emotion. As a corps, the Green Lanterns come off as a “science over and against faith” sort of operation, with a few members being religions, but not often. Hal may or may not be religious, but it is never talked about, despite the experiences mentioned above. Likewise, Hal almost never does any introspection, which is the hallmark of any spiritual journey. (0 points)
Does this character have an interesting (and sustainable) story to inhabit? Without a doubt, yes. This is why, even if Green Lantern is no longer by go-to superhero, I will still read the Green Lantern books. The story is great! The world and mythos that have been built around this character are staggeringly broad and multifaceted. From the Corps itself and its tremendous and illustrious history to the brand new corps and their nearly infinite stories that have yet to be told, the characters and villains of the Green Lantern will be interesting and sustainable as long as any writer worth her salt wants to write them. (1 point)
Does this character have a supporting cast that isn’t just around to make them look good? This one is iffy. There are quite a few non-Hal lanterns that have been around long enough to get their own stories. The obvious examples are Guy, John, Kyle, Kilowog, Tomar-Re, Arisia, Salaak, Ch’P', and quite a few more notables. Also, Hal’s love interest Carol Ferris, is one of the more fleshed out and active romantic interests that exist in comics (topped only perhaps by Lois Lane or Steve Trevor). However, she rarely shines in this book, and often falls into the classic damsel in distress. However, more recently, this is changing, as she has permanently become a (violet) lantern herself. That is where the good stops, though. There have been far too many unnamed lanterns that have been killed for no real purpose other than to prove how bad-ass the villain is. Literally, I can think of at least three times in the last decade that nearly every member of the corps was killed, and the result was a few weeks or months downtime before the corps was up and running like normal again. This trope is really bothersome as the loss of life is never really counted and never truly mourned, except to move a story forward. The frequency is desensitizing to readers and really precludes investment in the premise itself. (0.5 points)
Does this character have a T-shirt I can buy in size XL? Yes. Lots. (1 bonus point)
Does this character represent, in broad terms, an outlook on life that I can support? No. Unfortunately not. In broad terms, yes, I can get behind good guy tries to save the world from bad things. Too often, however, this means, “throw more power at them until they go down.” And too often, power translates into killing people. Sympathy is given to all the wrong people, and blunt force as a first option from people who are known for their unlimited resources of will and creativity is beyond frustrating. (0 Points)
Are this characters powers (or lack thereof) interesting? Yes! The ability to use light to overcome fear with willpower? That is a great power, and one full of potential, as the light itself is stated to be part of the original light of creation. (1 point)
Verdict: 4 out of 8 points
Tune in next time for a discussion of Captain America….