Declan, one of the characters in A Distinct Society, is an avowed fan of comic books—or graphic novels, as he prefers to call them. His favorite of all is the Green Lantern, a character who has been appearing in DC Comics titles since the 1940s. Although the character’s popularity has fluctuated over its 80+ years of publication history, Green Lantern always finds a way back to life.
The superhero archetype crystallized during the Golden Age of Comic Books, which began with the debut of the character Superman in 1938. Stories of superheroes were incredibly popular while the world was at war and many classic characters debuted during this time—including the Green Lantern. Created by Martin Nodell and Bill Finger in 1940 for DC Comics, the first Green Lantern was Alan Scott who acquired a magic lantern and used it to create a magic ring which endowed him with various powers that he used to fight crime. After first appearing in the ensemble All-American Comics, Green Lantern became its own series later in 1940 and ran for 38 issues. The series was cancelled in 1949 due to the declining popularity of superheroes after the conclusion of World War II.
The Green Lantern was revived in 1959, when superhero comics once again rose in popularity. John Broome and Gil Kane created a new person to wear the ring this time, with a very different backstory that planted the character more in the genre of science fiction. Hal Jordan is a former fighter pilot who is charged by a dying alien to take his ring and his place in the Green Lantern Corps, an interstellar law enforcement agency protecting all sectors of the universe. The Corps was founded by an alien race known as the Guardians of the Universe, who bestow a power ring on someone capable of overcoming great fear and in turn they can channel their will power into the ring in order to fly, craft force fields, and generate constructs out of light (shields, swords, lasers, almost anything). The rings have to be recharged using a Lantern’s personal battery, which is in the shape of an old-time lantern and, naturally, the color green.
The Hal Jordan version of Green Lantern became incredibly popular, paralleling the exploding interest in science fiction stories. The character had its own series from 1960-1972 and also appeared as a founding member of the Justice League along with Superman, Batman, Aquaman, the Flash, the Martian Manhunter and Wonder Woman. Other members of the Green Lantern Corps were introduced, some of whom took the spotlight from Hal Jordan from time to time. These included the hotheaded Guy Gardner and the more stoic John Stewart, who became only the second Black superhero in DC Comics history upon his debut in 1971.
The Green Lantern waned in popularity beginning in the late ‘70s and through the ‘80s, and the series was cancelled, retooled and restarted several times. In an effort to restart the franchise in the ‘90s, Hal Jordan was turned into a supervillain, Parallax, driven mad by grief following the destruction of his hometown. A new character, art student Kyle Rayner, was introduced and became the newest Green Lantern as all the DC Comics superheroes fought together to stop Jordan’s rampage in the 1994 crossover event Zero Hour: Crisis in Time.
Kyle Rayner would serve as the Green Lantern for the next ten years, but as often happens in comics, Hal Jordan would return again. In the 2004 series Green Lantern: Rebirth, it was revealed that Parallax was actually a cosmic entity, the embodiment of fear, and it had possessed Jordan and caused his villainous actions. Several DC comics superheroes united to revive Jordan and restore him to his status as a Green Lantern.
Rebirth writer Geoff Johns continued to expand the Green Lantern mythology in subsequent releases. The Green Lantern Corps was revealed to be only one expression of an “emotional spectrum” of Lanterns, all bearing a color of the visible light spectrum and drawing their power from a different emotion. While Green Lanterns use the emotion of willpower to fuel their rings, Yellow Lanterns are fueled by fear, Red Lanterns by rage, Orange Lanterns by avarice, Blue Lanterns by hope, Indigo Lanterns by compassion, and Violet Lanterns by love. A prophecy is foretold that all these fractious Corps will have to fight together in an upcoming War of Light in order to prevent the Blackest Night.
The Blackest Night crossover event ran from June 2009 to May 2010 and featured characters from all over the DC Comics universe. The supervillain Black Hand is building his own Black Lantern Corps by sending out black power rings that resurrect the dead. Superheroes are forced to fight their deceased family, friends and enemies who now all have a Lantern’s powers. By killing lots of beings around the universe, the Black Lantern Corps succeed at reanimating Nekron, the cosmic embodiment of death, who wishes to return the universe to its natural state of darkness and emptiness. Nekron begins to attack Earth where it is revealed life in the universe began and the cosmic embodiment of life has been hidden. Hal Jordan merges with the earthbound entity to become a White Lantern, redeeming himself from his previous possession by Parallax, and he and the other Lanterns of the emotional spectrum combine their powers to defeat Nekron and the Black Lantern Corps.
Green Lantern remains a popular character in the comic book world, but that popularity hasn’t yet transferred to the big screen. Green Lantern, a 2011 live-action film starring Ryan Reynolds in the lead role, bombed at the box office and further sequels were cancelled. Reynolds even poked fun at the critically maligned film as his wisecracking character in Deadpool, a much more successful film from rival Marvel Studios. Despite initial plans to include the Green Lantern Corps in the DC Extended Universe film Justice League, the plans were later scrapped. Perhaps an upcoming HBO Max live-action television series will revive the character’s fortunes once again, inspiring a new generation of superhero fans to proudly recite the Green Lantern Corps oath:
In brightest day, in blackest night,
No evil shall escape my sight!
Let those who worship evil’s might
Beware my power — Green Lantern’s light!