The enduring cosmic legacy that is the Green Lantern.
Credit: Credit: DC Comics
This weekend, millions of movie-goers will be introduced to the Green Lantern for the first time thanks to the eponymous movie, but in comic books, the beloved character has endured for more than 70 years.
Based on the idea that a green ring — accompanied by a lantern — gives its wearer amazing powers, the first Green Lantern appeared in comic books in 1940. Since then, several heroic men have donned the ring in comics, including the film's main character, Hal Jordan, played by Ryan Reynolds.
"Green Lantern [has endured because he] remains one of the most unique superheroes in all of comics," said Marc Guggenheim, who co-wrote the "Green Lantern" film and also creates comics. "It's hard to think of any other superhero, modern or otherwise, who has even some — much less all — of [his] qualities." [Video: Space Odyssey 'Green Lantern' Boasts Fast Action]
So what exactly are those qualities? What makes Green Lantern so unique that Warner Bros. is building a franchise around him? And why has this superhero endured as a fan-favorite character for more than 70 years?
The Anyone Hero
The main thing that sets Green Lantern apart, Guggenheim said, is that "he has powers, but can be anyone — the ring can choose anybody."
"There are very few concepts that allow anyone to be the hero," agreed Ron Marz, a prolific comic writer who's known for his Green Lantern work. "Superman, Batman, Spider-Man — most become heroes through a specific set of circumstances that are unique to them. Only Clark Kent can be Superman, only Bruce Wayne can be Batman, only Peter Parker can be Spider-Man. But anybody can put on the ring and become a Green Lantern."
Keith Giffen, who co-wrote Hal Jordan's origin in the 1989 comic "Emerald Dawn," also helped develop yet another ring-wearing Green Lantern named Guy Gardner in his "Justice League" comic. Giffen said that because a reader can imagine himself or herself wearing a ring, there's a real enticement to the concept.
"That ring is the ultimate wish fulfillment," the writer said. "It's also the ultimate weapon. He's the toughest guy on the block. Who wouldn't want to be that?
"When you think about it, the ring is like Aladdin's lamp, but without the three wish limitation," Giffen added. "The ring has a weakness, of course, but it's like getting the ultimate prize, the ultimate gadget. It's like, 'I can have it? Yea!'"
In fact, Martin Nodell, who created the first Green Lantern in 1940, is believed to have been inspired by the story of Aladdin's lamp. But it was a trainman's green railway lantern that gave the character his name.
Guggenheim said another reason Green Lantern endures is because "his powers are amazing and limitless, but they're grounded in the very earthly traits of willpower and imagination."
The energy-based "constructs" made by the ring are as innovative and unlimited as Green Lantern's own imagination — in fact, one Green Lantern in the comics named Kyle Rayner is a graphic designer and has come up with amazingly creative constructs.
But Green Lantern also has a realistic weakness that readers can understand: Fear.
When Nodell first introduced the concept of Green Lantern, the hero's weakness was the color yellow. "They were always doing stuff like that back then," Giffen said. "But as the character evolved, the color green came to represent willpower, and while willpower is the strength of the ring, it's also the weakness of the ring because you can't get rattled or afraid. Fear affects your willpower, and zap — the ring doesn't work.
"If you lose your willpower, and if you become afraid, then the powers of the ring work against you," Giffen said.
Eventually, comic and TV writer Geoff Johns, who's also co-producer on the "Green Lantern" movie, linked the original Green Lantern's weakness toward yellow and the concept of fear. That's why the movie's villain, Parallax, is yellow and represents fear.
"Geoff really brought that idea of willpower and fear to the forefront of the 'Green Lantern' comic, and that's really a big reason for what makes the whole concept of Green Lantern work," Giffen said.
Giffen said fear and a lack of willpower are things that everyone experiences, making Green Lantern's weakness different from those experienced by other superheroes. "There's a reason Superman has Kryptonite. But it takes that idea of weakness a step further when it's something as understandable and real as just having willpower to overcome obstacles," Giffen said.
Space opera and flexibility
Guggenheim said the Green Lantern concept is unique because it not only shows heroic feats on Earth, but it also takes the ring-wearer into space as part of an intergalactic police force. "He's a superhero, but as a member of the Green Lantern Corps, is part of this huge space opera," the screenwriter said.
"The Green Lantern mythology [is] so rich and vast," co-producer Geoff Johns told Newsarama, a sister site of SPACE.com. "I've always seen it as comic books' 'Star Wars.' No other comic book comes close to capturing the sci-fi epic adventures that the universe of Green Lantern does."
Over the years, the "Green Lantern" comic has introduced hundreds of aliens who also wear rings as part of the Corps, and many of them appear in the film. Officers in the Corps are chosen for their ability to overcome great fear, and because they battle an unlimited number of space-based threats, Green Lantern's stories are usually very innovative and visually exciting.
"When you have a superhero who can literally do anything, that sets them apart from the rest right out of the gate," said Patrick Gleason, a comic artist who helped launch the current "Green Lantern Corps" comic. "Add in thousands of aliens and monsters who can do the same thing and you have yourself a lasting mythology."
Marz said the concept of human Green Lantern serving on both Earth and in space gives the stories a lot of possibilities, which has helped the character endure over time.
"I think there's a great flexibility to the concept," Marz said. "You can do superhero stories, you can do space opera stories, you can do stories on Earth, you can do stories set in completely alien environments. When it's also a very visual concept, which obviously plays well in a comic."
In fact, when Marz was writing "Green Lantern," the comic switched from being a space-based concept to including more Earth-related stories. "[The Corps concept] wasn't working up to expectations sales-wise at the time. Comics in general are like a pendulum —when something's not working, or more to the point, not selling, the pendulum swings in the other direction," Marz said. "So there have been times when Green Lantern has been more superhero and singular, and times when it's been more space opera and Corps-oriented. Again, it's the great flexibility of the concept."
Warner Bros. is hoping that flexibility and the hero's other assets help drive audiences to the movie theaters this weekend — and back for a sequel or two. Guggenheim and his co-writers on the "Green Lantern" film, including TV screenwriter Greg Berlanti and comic/TV scribe Michael Green, have already created movie treatments for future "Green Lantern" sequels.
And in the comics, Green Lantern is one of DC's most popular properties, with three ongoing comics already announced for the publisher's big relaunch in September. And the film's co-producer Johns will continue to help guide the character in comics.
"Geoff's on board with the movie, and he knows the Green Lantern concept inside and out," Giffen said. "So, yeah, Green Lantern has endured for a reason, and if anybody understands that, Geoff does. And that's why it's one of DC's leading properties."