If you asked me to choose whether Marvel or DC has more interesting characters, I’d personally have to give the honor to the former, but that isn’t to say, of course, that DC is a washout. Batman (and by extension, the “Bat-Family”) really takes the cake of comics godhood in my mind, but Detective Comics has a damn close second in the Green Lantern.
While I can’t really boast that I’m entirely up on the mythos behind the Green Lantern franchise, having never read very many of the comics (forgiveness please), I do have an itchy Wikipedia finger and a number of talkative GL fans as close friends, so I know the rough story and the concept behind it has intrigued me since I started opening my world to American comics. The idea behind the Green Lantern and the GL Corps at large doesn’t give off such obvious reality-grounded aspects as Batman’s years of training and convenient tools or an obvious sci-fi vision as Superman’s trans-galactic alien origin story, so it’s easy to mistake the superhero for just another nonsensical or inexplicable-magic-based characters that litter DCs universe like so many neglected dog turds. I have always hated heroes who can “just do things” instead of working off of a set method, technology or phenomenon, but the Green Lantern strikes me as interesting because – whether you believe the Oan rings are magic or just an alien technology advanced enough to be mistaken for magic – the Green Lantern isn’t merely some guy who stumbled randomly across a secret power in some freak lab accident; he’s just one part of a huge and organized intergalactic police force. Green Lantern is a title and a position of authority that he shares with 3599 other people in the universe. Despite the uncertain origins of the power he wields, I can’t help but respect the credence lent to an ordered system. Members of the Corps are chosen and drafted for their good qualities and then subject to the jurisdiction of the Oan Guardians and all of that adds up to me being a big new fan of the Green Lantern.
So, of course, I really wanted an animated series to go with my newfound adoration for the Corps. Green Lanterns have appeared pretty much just as guest/second-billing characters in the DC cartoons of the past – with Kyle Rayner (for whom I have inherited an ever-present dislike from the GL fans in my social circle) showing up for a one-shot in Superman The Animated Series, the under-appreciated John Stewart as one of the principal seven in Justice League and Justice League: Unlimited and even having Hal Jordan (The Greatest Lantern) stuck in that The Batman abortion – but never at front and center stage despite all the great stories that can be told with GL as the star. Of course, when I’d heard that a Green Lantern movie was coming out, I got all excited. Not really because of the movie (Ryan Reynolds? Really?) but because I knew the score as far as big budget movies and tie-in cartoons go. A Green Lantern film, no matter how atrocious, would likely be followed by a cartoon hoping to cash in on the train before it wrecks. That’s how Batman did it, that’s how America does it and it’s worked out “pretty well so far”. Even if it were only as well-animated as Superman was, it’d still look pretty great and, with DC’s animation track record batting a thousand since JL/JLU, I figured the art could possibly surpass even my optimistically myopic expectations.
So you can imagine how many fathoms my heart fell when a teaser rolled out for the new Green Lantern The Animated Series and I saw the brilliant emerald logo followed by full CG footage reminiscent of the hated Star Wars: The Clone Wars. I’d gotten my wish, but like the Devil in Bedazzled (the brilliant Peter Cook version or the smokin’ hot Liz Hurley version, take your pick), somebody seems to have intentionally and maliciously kicked it around during delivery. It finally stars Hal Jordan in the lead role, but the character design looks far too blocky (especially in his civvies (which, if what I’ve seen is to be any indication, consists of one gray flight suit; I think this version of Hal only owns two sets of duds) and the action lacks fluidity, as if each character and object moves along an invisible rail rather than according to the laws of physics. The whole thing smacks of animation that’s been dumbed down to save money; I’m not a big fan of CG cartoons, but I’ve seen a handful of them done very well and the new GL series is definitely not one of them. Makes me dread Beware the Batman (which was rather apparently done in the same style by the same crew) even more. To top it off, the Green Lantern’s jurisdiction encompasses Earthly criminals as well as any number of extraterrestrial malcontents; he could have a rogues gallery as wide and diverse as Superman’s, but instead the creators of this series appear to have opted to put the Red Lanterns – a relatively new group of villains in the grand scheme of things – at the forefront as Hal and his comrades’ principal foes. I know the Emotional Spectrum has come into great prominence lately, but I really want to see more out of this franchise than just Lanterns vs Lanterns; there is so much more potential there. Besides, even if we were going to go all flat with it, wouldn’t the Yellow Lanterns of the Sinestro Corps make a more appropriate foe? Or did they just assume “kids won’t get it unless the badguys wear red”? Admittedly, only one episode of footage has aired and the full premiere next Spring may prove itself worthy, but I’ve had my heart broken before so I’m not going to hold my breath.
So it seems I won’t be getting my dream of a great running series starring the Green Lantern. Fortunately, however, GLTAS was preceded by a phenomenal pair of DCU animated films, Green Lantern: First Flight and Green Lantern: Emerald Knights. The former, I was lucky enough to receive for Christmas after months of pining for it and fruitlessly searching for independent uploads of it online (I guess DC’s got a reasonably tight rein on the pirates. I ain’t even mad). I’ve watched it three times in the past twenty-four hours and I love it still.
First Flight is a traditional origin story starring the iconic Hal Jordan, but instead of spending the first act focusing on his life as a pilot, the film goes right into the action, depicting his sudden acquisition of Abin Sur’s ring even before the title with a literally brilliant suit-up sequence that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with scenes from shows like Sailor Moon, Yoroiden Samurai Troopers and Powerpuff Girls Z (no, I’m not being sarcastic; all those series have amazing suit-up sequences). Long story short, Hal is summoned to Oa, where he learns what the ring is, learns what the Corps is but has his worth questioned by several members of both the Corps and the Guardians. Famed GL hero Sinestro takes Hal under his wing, but the rookie soon learns that he not only disagrees with his new mentor’s brutal methods, but also that our old pal Sinestro is plotting something eponymously sinister beneath the surface. Unlike the scrotum-suited, pseudo-wiseass antics of the live-action Green Lantern origin story, First Flight picks the obvious choice of Sinestro as the principal villain and it works out in everyone’s favor. The animation is just fantastic in this movie. I could tell that certain scenes were done with a heaping helping of CG, but unlike the animated series, it looks amazing; the only way I could tell it was CG through the seamless cel-shading was that some of the effects were slightly too fluid. Hal looks great in or out of the suit and each GL’s uniform seems interestingly personalized, not only in shape and function but also in design; always green and black with the emblem, but each one having individual stylistic frills, not to mention slightly beefed up to resemble body armor rather than a spandex onesie. The action sequences are very well-done, with no pulled punches in the way of combat severity, and Sinestro’s cruelty comes through in really compelling ways, such as his interrogation methods including forcing a woman into sensory overload and coldly reconnecting a criminal’s synapses after personally shooting him just to get tales from a dead man. I found myself shouting advice at the screen every time Hal got into a jam, only to have the character proceed exactly as I’d hoped, as if to say “I know what I’m doing, kid” and the final battle is appropriately climactic, involving devastating loss of life, planet billiards and a power battery-infused Hal Jordan looking like an Emerald Super Saiyan. Taa-eeeet! If the animated series could only have been like this, it would definitely have stood shoulder to shoulder with Batman: The Animated Series in my good graces.
Now, I haven’t seen anything of Emerald Knights beyond a couple clips online, but while it doesn’t look quite as interesting as First Flight, it does seem pretty cool. Aside from being comprised of a series of unconnected vignettes from the perspective of multiple Lanterns, the second GL animated movie swaps out Hal Jordan’s voice actor, replacing the pretty great Christopher Meloni for the legendary Nathan Fillion. Certainly, everyone remembers the fan-trailer from a few years back, practically begging for a decent Green Lantern movie with several spliced and altered scenes plucked from Fillon’s projects. It made us hope for the future of the Green Lantern franchise and definitely landed Captain Reynolds the role in Emerald Knights once the producers saw how perfect for Hal he really was.
Additionally, Fillion will be reprising his role as Hal Jordan in the upcoming DCU animated feature Justice League: Doom, pretty much officially inheriting the position as he plays along such longstanding greats as Tim Daly (Superman), Kevin Conroy (Batman), Susan Eisenberg (Wonder Woman), Michael Rosenbaum (The Flash) and Carl Lumbly (Martian Manhunter). John Stewart is my second favorite Green Lantern since JL/U showed just how badass he is, but I can’t help preferring Hal Jordan and hearing him fall into step with the roster of the epic Cartoon Network series makes me quite happy despite the fact that the Justice League’s racial diversity has been effaced.
Justice League: The New Frontieralso does a great job of depicting Hal Jordan, pretty much centering most of the emotional content of the film around the character himself and tying his acquisition of the ring into the great plot at hand. Hopefully the Green Lantern will get more chances to shine on screen in the future, but until then I guess we can all just thank our verdant stars that no one’s trying to make a series about Guy Gardner.