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!
If you don’t know that oath, then what are you doing reading DC comics?
Well, all the same, whether you don’t know and wanna learn more, or you DO know and just wanna read redundant info you already know, go ahead and read this article!
Buckle up, folks. It’s time for justice. SPACE justice.
Role Call, Poozers
So let’s get the introductions out of the way. Green Lantern is a DC superhero. There’s actually a Golden Age version and a more modern version, but both share the same key traits: An ordinary person with tremendous willpower and courage, using a GREEN ring to do anything they can think of, which has to be recharged by a lantern. Where Superman wows us with strength, Batman with skills, and the Flash with speed, Green Lantern wows us with his weapon and what it can do.
So WHO is Green Lantern? Well, we’ve got some key figures:
- Alan Scott is the original Green Lantern and a war hero from the Golden Age, but his powers come from a different source.
- Then there are our main characters, the Earth lanterns: Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner, John Stewart, Kyle Rayner.
Hal Jordan is a hotshot fighter pilot who found the current Green Lantern, who chose him as his successor.
Guy Gardner is his hotheaded partner/replacement/backup, and John Stewart is the REPLACEMENT of the replacement, an angry young man forced to mature quickly by various trials.
And when the Green Lanterns were nearly rendered extinct, Kyle Rayner was the last person chosen to be Green Lantern, an artist and a dreamer. They got better, though.
- The Green Lantern Corps: Think the Jedi Order or the Knights of the Round Table as a police force, the Corps is the organisation of ALL THE GREEN LANTERNS of the galaxy. The Corps is a key defining trait of the modern Green Lantern mythos and full of supporting characters for the Earth Lanterns.
- The Guardians: Blue-skinned dwarfs of cosmic power who are as ancient as the universe. They started the whole thing because they wanted to create an orderly, just universe. The main problem is that the majority of them have chosen to be super logical while sacrificing their emotions, which never goes well in a universe that is inherently illogical.
- Sinestro: Formerly the greatest Green Lantern. Now their greatest foe. He took order to the EXTREME…by FORCING it on his sector of space as a dictator. And naturally, this happened because the Guardians are terrible at following up on their employees and only focused on the bottom line. If the Green Lanterns have an archenemy, it’s him.
- Then there’s the remainder of the Corps, a galaxy’s worth of partners who are just as determined and skilled as the Earth Lanterns. The two most prominent members: Kilowog, the gruff and tough but bighearted drill sergeant who puts new recruits through the training montage from hell, and Salaak, the by-the-book and highly intelligent senior Lantern whose role is basically to be the guy most like the Guardians: Well-meaning, focused, and smart, but narrow-minded and easily blindsided. To be fair, though, even Salaak has more emotion and camaraderie than the Guardians, and often plays the role of the commissioner who bends the rules.
One Power Ring To Rule Them All
And of course, you can’t discuss the Green Lanterns without talking about the power rings, their weapons and the main iconic selling point of their entire franchise. So what ARE power rings?
Power rings are the weapons of the Green Lanterns, forged at their HQ planet of Oa. The rings are highly complex and, much like Thor’s hammer, are built to SEEK OUT beings who are worthy. In this case, beings who “are able to overcome great fear.”
Power rings are able to do just about anything the Lantern’s mind can think of, only limited by three things: Their willpower, their stamina, and how much energy their rings have. They are rightly considered one of the most powerful weapons in the cosmos.
The ‘conventional’ and ‘obvious’ powers are very direct: Force fields, flight, laser beams, and most distinctly, making GIANT, GREEN versions of everyday objects, like a GIANT BOXING GLOVE, or GIANT BASEBALL BAT, or GIANT CHAINSAW, which were a huge part of their visual appeal in making fights looks interesting.
However, there are also more benevolent and creative options, like a GIANT SPONGE to catch falling citizens, or a GIANT SPRING or GIANT RACE TRACK to intercept things. Seems mundane…until you realise you can make a safety net the size of a continent, or swing a condensed mace of light with enough force to cause an earthquake if you’re motivated enough. And of course, the fact that just putting on a ring AUTOMATICALLY gives you force fields, flight, and laser beams (if you pass the security test) already makes the bearer a one-being army.
Then there are the other ‘utility’ powers which are well known. The rings can also translate anything (necessary when you have members from thousands of sectors, each of which hosts hundreds if not thousands of languages), can conceal themselves and their power lantern in a pocket dimension, and do a bunch of other things related to ACTUAL police work, like receiving transmissions, analysing crime scenes or scanning for energy signatures and tracks.
That’s not all, though. Power rings are limited by willpower, imagination, and knowledge. They can do almost anything you can think for it to do…so what if you know how the brain works, and you use it to shut off synapses? Or you know physics, so you open wormholes or set up stasis fields? Heck, even an overglorified fighter pilot could flawlessly teleport someone from over the phone to his current position.
Green Like Kryptonite
So with a weapon that can do almost anything you can think for it, what ARE its limits?
Firstly, there are the commonly known weak points: It doesn’t work on everything. The original couldn’t work on wood, while the Green Lantern Corps infamously had a weakness to anything coloured YELLOW. Basically, their green constructs are destroyed by yellow things, and have no effect against an opponent wearing yellow. Similarly, someone in a yellow battle suit could strangle them to death. The yellow weakness, I should note, has since been ‘technically’ solved: It’s still there if a Green Lantern lacks the will and courage, but not if they are AWARE of their fears and overcome them.
Secondly, there are the limits of the ring itself in two main forms: there’s the energy levels of the ring, and until recently, the fact that it was non-lethal. The energy level is a persistent device to signal the start of the adventure and place limits on the hero, usually by running low at the worst time and give them a challenge. Meanwhile, the non-lethal part was what let them stay benevolent in the Silver Age until they were drawn into a huge war.
Of course, there ARE various different takes on a Green Lantern’s weaknesses. And much like figuring out “How would you kill a Jedi” or “How would you stop Superman”, fighting Green Lanterns became something of a puzzle for writers to solve.
This included things like they’re helpless against an attack they don’t see coming, or to having their willpower shaken to the point that they DOUBT they can win. Or that in order to create a construct, it takes both ring energy AND their own mental strength, which means the bigger the construct and longer they have to think about it, the more tired they get.
And of course, the whole notion of an attack OVERCOMING their own powers. Like having your barrier shattered by Superman because he was just stronger, or you underestimated him and made a barrier against a weaker attack, or because there’s a limit to how hard you can make your shields, or because each punch makes you have to THINK the barrier into place to keep it from breaking, like hitting your brain with a bomb.
And then there’s the definition of its limits, which has been a little vague and hard to pin down. Obviously ‘doing anything you can think of’ can essentially be a ‘reality rewriting’ switch, even with limits like non-lethal rules. But the MAIN question that determines whether a Green Lantern is unstoppable or just another hero with a gimmick is this:
Do they just need to BELIEVE in what they are doing? Like the earliest games of roleplaying some of us played, where we just said “I do this”?
Or must they KNOW what they are doing? Like in the LATER roleplaying games we had where we had to make rolls based on our skills and knowledge?
Basically, it’s the difference between just saying “I teleport my friend across the country” and then it happens easily the way you want it, or saying “I teleport my friend by locking his molecules, brainwaves, and personality into my ring and then transferring the data from his coordinates to mine”?
If it’s the former, then it’s MUCH easier for a Green Lantern to be overpowered. If it’s the latter, that means that Green Lanterns must WORK for their knowledge of how their powers work. So if they wanted to deflect a punch from Darkseid, it’s either “I just block him, what’s the big deal?” or “Darkseid can hit with the equivalent force of a battleship’s main cannon, so I must use a planetary-grade shield with an upper strength of-” Sometimes, BOTH versions exist and depend on the Lantern’s personality; methodical, careful John Stewart would think about every detail of his constructs, while brash and overconfident Guy Gardner would just think it and believe as hard as possible that it’ll work.
All these, of course, are the weaknesses of the POWER RING and its instruction manual.
The simplest weakness you could give a Green Lantern was this: Take away their ring, and then they’re just ordinary members of their species. Braver, more talented, more upright members with skills and stronger will, but ordinary otherwise.
Roles And Regulations
So that’s who Green Lantern is, and the basics of the power ring. So how are these used in comics? There are a few different ways.
Green Lantern represents the cosmic, spacefaring, science fiction, galactic side of the comic universe. Although any comicverse is accustomed to aliens, has established (and often hostile) races, and has various characters get their powers from aliens, Green Lantern is one of the BIG NAMES that also represents this side of the universe.
And because a Green Lantern is often the most courageous of his or her kind, they also often represent a character with a STRONG WILL. This can seem redundant next to DC golden boys like Superman and Batman, or even next to ANY hero who is full of backstory and trials. It can even be diluted with how each Lantern is different. But if Superman is the Nice Guy, Batman is the Genius Nobody Actually Likes, and Flash is the Everyday Guy, then Green Lantern is the equivalent of the Ace, the Captain of the Sports Team. Though whether that means the all-American, wholesome leader type of Ace or the super-arrogant, full-of-himself Jockbro is another matter.
He also represents the law-enforcement perspective. Unlike crazed vigilantes, illegal immigrants, or guys doused with unstable chemicals, a Green Lantern is an OFFICIAL position recognised by several planetary authorities. Granted, the hotshot Earth Lanterns seldom show up as the ‘by the book’ cops. However, they DO represent the idea of “Yes, we’re on your team, but we’re also part of a BIGGER team”. And even maverick Hal Jordan was used as the CONSERVATIVE half of his buddy-cop series with Green Arrow, given that he IS an intergalactic cop AND a member of the military. The most rebellious member of both, but still a member, unlike his bleeding heart commie buddy. And of course, the fact that you can say “We are a part of something bigger” trumps the lone wolves hunted by their own governments or even the fancy superhero clubs they put together. Instead of being a room full off unique individuals, it’s an entire ORGANISATION of highly trained ones.
And most interestingly to me: Green Lantern simultaneously represents the character who is “one of the most powerful” as well as “a mere mortal”. This is because of a simple dynamic: They can DO anything, but they don’t KNOW everything. So while most of the Green Lanterns in the Justice League are heavy hitters with big personalities (barring Kyle, the everyman, who even then is a big gun), they ALSO represent the strengths and frailties of mortals. One moment they are the most vulnerable members of the League without their rings, the next it turns out that they have a BUNCH of strengths which explained WHY they were chosen for the rings.
To illustrate this dichotomy, I’d compare it to Storm of the X-Men, the African lady who can control the weather (and an example of diversity done RIGHT: Just pick a race and gender, do a bit of contextual writing based on that, and then focus on making them a good character for PLOT reasons, not racial ones).
See, when you first look at the X-Men in Storm’s time, you might think “Big Metal Man is the strongest, he can fight the Hulk!” or “EEEEEYEEEEE BEEEEEAAAAAMS hit hardest!” or “tiny, hairy, angry Canadian is fiercest fighter with claws that cut anything!” Storm, by comparison, does weather, which we take for granted, thinking it’s just “Oh, some wind, some clouds, some rain, a lightning bolt at most.”
Then you realise LIGHTNING HITS REALLY HARD. And she can make those winds and rains FREEZING or FLOODING. And that it’s easy to laugh off the weather until TOO MUCH OF IT IS COMING AT YOU.
Then you realise JUST HOW MUCH ENERGY AND SCIENCE IT TAKES TO JUST CHANGE WEATHER AND CREATE NATURAL DISASTERS.
Then you realise SHE CAN DO IT ANYWHERE WITH AN ATMOSPHERE. Heck, she can even do it INDOORS. And she can do it ON A WIDE SCALE THAT COULD COVER ENTIRE COUNTRIES.
Then you realise SHE CAN DO THAT AT WILL, ANYTIME SHE WANTS, and SHE WAS BORN WITH THIS POWER SO IT’S HARDER TO TAKE AWAY.
Sounds amazing, right? But THEN you also realise: Wait a minute. She’s still just an ordinary lady physically. She could wreathe herself in electricity, or a typhoon, or a torrent, sure. But those things are OUTSIDE of her; if it’s just you and her, if you get past her powers and her training…she’s just as vulnerable and easy to wound as any of us.
In other words, she’s a glass cannon mage, the Squishy. And WAAAAAAY easier to kill than Wolverine, who heals from anything, or Colossus, who just takes the hit without trouble.
And Green Lantern works in the same way. Like a D&D Wizard, he is potentially the MOST POWERFUL, the guy who can do A WHOLE BUNCH OF THINGS. A Wizard can remove any threat, solve any problem, and cover themselves in magic to be virtually untouchable. BUT the moment the magic goes away, they’re squishier and easier to kill than someone made for fighting.
And that goes to show the different ways you can assemble a team, as no member has to fit an obvious one-type-only niche like Superman being the strongest or Batman being the smart guy with no powers.
Just like the Flash, Green Lantern’s role is a combination that doesn’t fit into any one category or stereotype. The former is an everyman with a power that seems mundane but is actually really powerful, while the latter is both the most powerful AND the most vulnerable at the same time.
What Is Steel Compared To The Hand That Wields It?
Of course, there IS one other way Green Lantern is used that I’ll close with: as INDIVIDUALS.
Despite being part of an organisation, despite representing the wider cosmos, one of the most enduring parts of the title has always been the INDIVIDUALS, and how different they are from one another.
And not just how different Hal Jordan is from his fellow colleagues, whether it’s the big tough drill sergeant or the by-the-book steward. It’s even brought up with how different EACH EARTH LANTERN is from EACH OTHER.
Because even if their powers are the same, even if their affiliations and villains and allies are the same, the fact remains: There are FOUR VERY DIFFERENT humans holding the mantle. From the square-jawed Hal, to his steady right-hand man John, to the abrasive, hotheaded Guy, to the idealistic rookie Kyle.
And their relationships with each other, with their own enemies and allies, with the Green Lantern Corps itself, has always been a defining part of their mythos. Because the only thing that equals the idea of Green Lantern being a CORPS…is the idea of the Green LanternS as characters with identities. As much as we instantly know “There’s a whole army of them”, we can also instantly tell Hal Jordan from Kilowog and Salaak.
Which just goes to show you: Even the largest, most uniform setting is defined by its characters. And even the most powerful, omnipotent weapon can be written in an interesting way.
It’s all about how you fill in the details, whether it’s in limits or character traits.