The Silver Age taught fans and creators at least one message: “heroes” are more important than the characters who play them. Counting only main continuity appearances, there are at there have been thirteen Thors, six Captains Marvel, maybe three or four Wolverines, and around a solar system’s worth of Spider-People.
The Green Lantern title is a perfect example of this message because Green Lantern isn’t a destiny, it’s a job title. It does away with the “destined” aspect, and goes a long way towards helping character transitions. But it also gives the stories ease and efficiency.
Green Lantern stories are vehicles that bring a new hero into adventure more quickly through smart use of the preexisting, easily comprehensible Lantern Corps. This craftsmanship makes the hero’s origin important, but not so heavy that it’s hard to progress beyond. Additionally, it means their start isn’t really a transformation. The moment the Fantastic Four are hit by cosmic rays, they change fundamentally and forever. Lanterns, on the other hand, feel more like the same people they always were, only with a new job.
“The Origin of the Green Lantern” (All American Comics #16)
Martin Nodell and Bill Finger’s Golden Age Green Lantern was a magic-based hero and a bit of a publication mess. Initially, Scott was a railway worker who found a jade lamp and carved it into a ring. Then, just like that: magic. It was a simpler time.
“S.O.S. Green Lantern” (DC Showcase #22)
John Broome and Gil Kane’s Silver Age redesign of the Green Lantern character is an absolute master class in efficiency and need. It builds on a number of the core Green Lantern elements: wondrous constructs, will/concentration… even Scott’s inability to affect wood became Green ringbearers’ weakness to yellow.
This story is not a rewrite, but an appreciation of Broome and Kane’s work. If anything, Secret Origins adds destiny back into the Green Lantern formula. By this time, it was well deserved.
As is the praise for Geoff Johns. Updating a famous origin story must bring with it a terrible temptation to rewrite the entire thing. The seduction of IP money, and a chance to write something meant only for oneself, leads to the sheer power to mess things up. It’s a testament to Johns’ artistic sincerity on this run that he turned in this issue so respectfully.
“Injustice League” (Justice League #30-50)
Jessica Cruz is among the newest recruits to the Corps, and she comes in with one hell of a backstory. Cruz comes from Earth-3, and her ring once belonged to the being Power Ring (an evil alternate-universe version of Green Lantern). This twist is pushed further, as Cruz grapples with why that ring chose her, the nature of it, and—worst of all—the fears of what it might mean for her, a woman with an anxiety disorder, to join the Lantern Corps with their clear messages about the fear god, Parallax.
Both Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams are masters of their respective crafts. Maybe, for their time, the best. But before the two revitalized Batman, they took on DC’s most down-and-out duo. Given the two heroes’ collective lack of popularity, Editorial either looked the other way or didn’t care entirely as O’Neil and Adams transformed the title into a culturally-aware masterpiece.
It’s a little dated now of course, and not everything has aged well. Plus, Oliver Queen steals the show through much of it. But it remains a wonder that this certain failure became a milestone event for DC.
Green Lantern #188, Tales of the Green Lantern Corps Annual #2 & #3
This brief, bizarre, surprisingly impactful clutch of stories should be read before John’s run and/or alongside Intergalactic Lawman. Moore has a wonderful mind for dreaming up the wild impossibilities that must exist at the edge of space.
His is a great reminder of the spark of futurism in every Green Lantern story. The odd, upbeat hope that comes from sci-fi imaginings. It’s also the reason why this incredibly short run has birthed everything from Geoff Johns’ Magnum Opus to Grant Morisson’s sublime Hal Jordan: Intergalactic Lawman.
After Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Main Power Battery on Oa, the source of all Green Lanterns’ power, is almost completely exhausted, putting the entire universe in peril. Again.
The Guardians, in their infinite wisdom, give what little power they have in reserve to a single Lantern. For some reason, that one Lantern is Guy Gardner. Some of the oldest, supposedly wisest beings in the multiverse not only trust their biggest screw-up with doing something right for a change, they go one further by tasking him with creating an Anti-Monitor kill squad.
Meanwhile, John Stewart has just been standing there, being competent the whole time. Waiting for Gardner to do what he’s famous for, and the chance to chew out the entire populace of OA.
Both of these have solid fanbases, yet it’s still so rare to see these non-main Green Lanterns that this story is a real treat.
John Stewart was a combat Marine, architect, and Green Lantern. This makes Stewart the clear, meticulous member of the Corps. It also can make him one of the most rigid. Both of these can be seen in the way he uses his ring: by making perfectly working replicas of military constructs… almost exclusively.
That firm austerity gets put to the test in Mosaic. The series is named after a patchwork world, sewn together out of bits of other realities by (former) Guardian Appa Ali Apsa. Mosaic is more than a broken reality; it’s a place where all things break. Mosaic broke its creator, turning Apsa from the tiny, blue star of Hard Travelin’ Heroes to a pitiable disaster. And it shatters the Guardians themselves as they order that the chaotic realm not be undone, but instead managed.
Gerard Jones’ tale is a brilliant work. His Stewart is far from unimaginative, as it’s revealed that his ring constructs are designed and engineered to work as intended, his ring wasting no energy on compensating or patching over some haphazard request. And it’s that level of dedication that makes the audience trust that Stewart could do the same for this anarchic world. Unfortunately, Jones’ work is currently out of print, so you’ll have to check back issues to read it.
After The Death of Superman, it’s up to Jordan to take up Kal-El’s mantle of “intergalactic heavy” for the Justice League. But while a Green Lantern’s ring may be the most powerful weapon in the DC Universe, and Hal its most famous wielder, this book is ultimately a tragedy. It took all of Kal-El to be Superman. It’s a job that required, all of his experience, influence, and sheer Kryptonian biology (which even in death must still count for something).
When Mongol and Cyberborg Superman destroy Hal’s home, they do it when he’s away playing Christopher Reeves in space. The villains do it because that’s how they fight Kal-El. Because that’s the rule of the book; Metropolis must be one of the most attacked and saved cities in the DCU all because of their Kryptonian protector. All Coast City had was a human with some jewelry.
When Jordan goes mad, his sense of rage and betrayal becomes almost lavish. Absolute. Jordan (and his fellow Lanterns) have saved all existence any number of times. In trying to be JLA’s cosmic muscle, he’d only saved it more. But no one saved his loved ones. Not Superman, not his fellow Corps members, and certainly not the Guardians.
This is a story about how Hal Jordan tried to act as a god and became one instead.
This spot should really be renamed Geoff Johns’ Magnum Opus. But for the sake of fairness, I’ll just be focusing on Blackest Night. This publisher-wide event comes after Jordan’s Rebirth and after the Sinestro Corps War revealed Lanterns across the visible spectrum.
Comics loves its first appearances, and Blackest Night is literally the opposite of that. So why this story? How can this later tale—this line-wide event that had the courage to ask “what if one more zombie apocalypse?”—be a standout? Simple: because Blackest Night is low set-up, high pay-off.
All of DC’s characters are surrounded by death, from Superman’s lost homeworld to Batman’s parents. But at this moment, I doubt any were as defined by it as Jordan, the onetime demigod, onetime wrath of God. Johns uses the Black Lantern Corps to represent not only Hal’s shame and anguish but the entire universe’s. He also highlights that at its heart, Green Lantern is a deep space adventure book. And that fact might make the character even better than Batman at inspiring horror.
(However, had we talked about single characters from Johns’ run, there is and can only be Larfleeze. That he’s not featured more is my only mark against this book.)
Willworld is a parody of sense. Think of the Alice stories, Gulliver’s Travels, RoboCop. Like those other stories, this graphic novel is hard to do justice. However, the good news is that Willworld is more divisive than all of them.
The book is a giant, seamless hallucination. And after thirty years of emerald fandom, I think this is the first time I’ve felt the total strangeness at the core of this book. The minute-to-minute life of Lantern Corps members must be a literally alien experience.
J.M. DeMatteis’s script plays with the mental side of that, pitting Lewis Carroll’s prolixity against… well, Carroll’s odd philosophizing. However, it’s late artist Seth Fisher who steals the show on this book. Fisher’s style is a mix of Geoff Darrow, Moebius, and Satoshi Kon, and using an artist with that much attention to detail on this script gives the book an overwhelming feeling that its creators have taken their lunacy extremely seriously.
The book is part Heavy Metal magazine, part Futurama. To me, that makes a perfect surprise in the GL line. But your mileage may vary.
World War II reshaped culture across the world, changing the definitions of words like “bravery,” “sacrifice,” and above all, “patriotism.” Characters like Superman and Wonder Woman come out of that time and those ideals. But as WWII ends in their story, it seems America’s Golden Age does as well. McCarthyism is twisting the nation apart, leaving the original Green Lantern, Alan Scott, and his teammates struggling to understand this Pyrrhic victory they’ve fought so hard to earn.
Hal Jordan is the consummate flyboy and intergalactic cop. Paradoxically, these two roles also keep him inextricably tied to Earth. Concepts like Coast City, Abin Sur’s crash landing, even Jordan’s identity as an Earthman within the pan-species Corps to the beat he walks. Somehow, even as his travels and adventures turn Earth into a smaller and paler blue dot, his every action seems absolutely rooted in his rather pragmatic definition of “humanity.”
Which made it a huge deal when Green Lantern: Earth One establishes a Hal Jordan who’s abandoned Earth altogether.
The slight change takes the book from an action title to a deep space horror thrill ride. By turning his back on Earth, Hal loses more than a planet: he loses almost everything. His fighter pilot swagger is gone, and his innate cop authority. And possibly, his very self as well. With them go his conviction and his humanity. To make matters worse, this Jordan finds himself even more outnumbered in an even more hostile universe beautifully captured by Gabriel Hardman’s illustrations, which blend the claustrophobic abattoir of Event Horizon with the heartless abandonment of Alien’s unchecked corporate aggression.