Gritty Realism and Gimmicks Change the Medium
The Seventh in a Series Examining Green Lantern History
Green Lanterns’ Light
The mid-eighties would find Green Lantern once again on the decline in popularity. The experimentation with making John Stewart the feature character wasn’t giving DC the sales they’d hoped and with DC’s plan to shed the multiverse in Crisis on Infinite Earths came the idea to turn the Green Lantern series into a team book. Guy Gardner found himself revived from his coma but with brain damage which transformed him from a cookie-cutter character to one who would do and say whatever he wanted.
This fit well with the changing attitudes that were starting to sweep across the comics medium with the rise in popularity of anti-hero characters who shoot first and don’t bother asking questions later. The main Green Lantern title turned into Green Lantern Corps with the departure of the Guardians and the Zamorans from our universe. The book under Steve Englehart began to examine human culture and the very topical subject of U.S. – Soviet relations as characters like Kilowog and Salakk tried to adapt to life on Earth. Englehart created a bit of controversy by having Arisia’s puppy love for Hal Jordan literally transform her into a more mature-looking version of herself, a writing decision that left many wondering if Hal was a pedophile. Englehart tried to diffuse the outcry, explaining that Arisia was much older than her physical presence implied and her desire to be Hal’s romantic interest led to her ring changing her appearance to fit the Earth standard. Many fans didn’t buy the explanation and the whole incident is still cited today.
The period would also spawn a number of elements that shaped the Green Lantern mythology. In Green Lantern #188 British writer Alan Moore would introduce readers to the largest member of the Corps, Mogo, and then later in Tales of the Green Lantern Corps Annual #2 he would pen a tale called Tygers. While the story was long forgotten, years later writer Geoff Johns would use the prophecy of the Blackest Night as inspiration for what many have called one of the greatest Green Lantern sagas of all time.
Guy Gardner’s abrasive personality would lead to him becoming a break-out star in Justice League International while John Stewart and Hal Jordan continued to share the main Green Lantern title. The success of Crisis on Infinite Earths was so great that DC began looking for another event that they’d hoped would yield similar results, but unfortunately, the Green Lantern themed Millennium event failed to live up to expectations.
The Road Back
As the 1990s approached the huge success of series like Watchmen and Batman: The Dark Knight led publishers to believe that readers were more interested in grim and gritty realism than the inspirational heroes that were representative of the DC Universe. The main Green Lantern series found itself canceled so that the characters could help support a weekly Action Comics. There the cast of Earth-bound lanterns continued until the series ended, but not before Katma Tui, now John Stewart’s wife, found herself a victim of the times and killed at the hands of Star Sapphire.
To try to make their characters more in tune with what the publisher thought readers wanted, limited series like Emerald Dawn and Cosmic Odyssey would seek to try to add more flaws to Hal Jordan and John Stewart. Jordan would have a DWI offense added to the formula for the revamp of his classic origin tale. Stewart would find himself a victim of his own arrogance, a man whose actions led to the destruction of the planet Xanshi and left him with an emotional scar that would define his character well into the future.
With the success of Emerald Dawn and the Action Comics Weekly experiment over, Green Lantern would relaunch for a third volume under the guidance of writer Gerard Jones. Starring a Hal Jordan who sported grey temples and a renewed purpose, the new series performed well and the success of the new series gave Jones the opportunity to spin off a John Stewart solo series, Mosaic. Guy Gardner too benefited from the surge in popularity and was awarded his own solo series and a Green Lantern Corps Quarterly would provide an outlet for characters like G’Nort and Alan Scott while also introducing new characters like Boodikka, Jack T. Chance, and Laira.
DC Comics saw that the sensationalism of killing the Jason Todd version of Robin resulted in huge headlines, and huge sales. The public began buying comics in large numbers as a reaction to the high prices paid for old comics with the notion that the next big event would be a book someday capable of putting your child through college. This led to all the publishers looking for ways to capitalize on the publicity that stunts and gimmicks could generate and the resulting sales spike. Superman, having suffered from being out of fashion for some time, found himself at the center of a media firestorm when DC Comics chose to kill the first superhero. Saturday Night Live would play off of Superman’s death with a skit based on the Man of Steel’s funeral, complete with Tim Meadows as John Stewart.
The success of the death and resuscitation of Superman led to the breaking of Batman’s back in 1993. With two of DC’s top characters having gone through such drastic events it was only a matter of time before their attention would turn elsewhere. Despite the expansion of the Green Lantern franchise, the bump in popularity was short-lived and behind the scenes tensions between Gerard Jones and new editor Kevin Dooley would have an impact on the quality of the stories seeing print which greatly affected sales.
With DC looking to get some more mileage out of putting their characters through the wringer and the company wanting a change that would draw attention Gerard Jones was tasked with crafting a story that would have the same impact for Green Lantern‘s approaching fiftieth issue. Jones wrote scripts for a story that would revolve around a Green Lantern civil war in which Hal Jordan would get a revelation that would shake him to his foundation. Despite his internal crisis, Hal would resolve the war but ultimately walk away from the mantle to go off on his own and pave the way for a new lead character.
With the tensions between Dooley and Jones at an all-time high, the editor rejected the script even though the first two parts had already been solicited, deeming that it wasn’t extreme enough. Jones quit so that DC wouldn’t fire him and at the eleventh hour Dooley called in editors Mike Carlin, Paul Levitz, Denny O’Neill, and Archie Goodwin for an emergency session to come up with a new plot. Ron Marz, an emerging talent who’d tackled some of the scripts for Green Lantern Corps Quarterly, was hired to write the script.
The resulting three-part story, Emerald Twilight, would turn Hal Jordan into a crazed villain who went power crazy in the aftermath of the destruction of Coast City by Mongul. Hal’s reputation would be fodder for the creation of a new Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner, who would become popular in his own right. But the manner in which Hal Jordan was moved off stage would cause a stir among both fans and comics pros alike and, in the dawn of the Internet, would lead to fan infighting still talked about to this day.
Creators from Mark Waid to John Broome decried Emerald Twilight with Waid infamously refusing to even discuss the topic when asked. New fans were drawn to Kyle Rayner’s new adventures but old fans didn’t find the change a positive one, especially when the damage to the entire mythology was considered. After eighteen issues the Mosaic series would be canceled and John Stewart would eventually become part of the Darkstars before being sidelined by the loss of the use of his legs. Guy Gardner’s series would continue but his power ring was gone and readers were asked to accept the notion that Guy had alien DNA in his system which gave him shapeshifting powers, leading to his new identity as Warrior. Arisia, one of the last surviving members of the Corps, would perish on the pages of Gardner’s series.
Debates raged out of control on message boards as new and old fans clashed, often with debates that escalated out of control until moderators stepped in. Rumors that the creators received death threats persist to this day however there has never been proof they ever existed and many called Kevin Dooley’s desire to gain sympathy as motivation for fabricating the rumors. Dooley himself would engage with fans and his inability to tactfully deal with longtime readers and their indignation over the loss of the rich history behind the Green Lantern concept, and the trashing of its most iconic representation, led to many tense encounters.
With the Internet allowing fans to communicate with each other in ways that never happened before a group was formed calling itself H.E.A.T. which would present the unified stance that DC Comics should restore Hal Jordan’s honor and the Green Lantern mythology to co-exist with the newly created Kyle Rayner character. The group would go so far as to purchase an ad in Wizard magazine, an action that would garner ridicule from many but made DC Comics realize that the issue wasn’t going away anytime soon.
Kyle’s initial appearance would also spark another controversy when Ron Marz would write out Rayner’s love interest Alex DeWitt by having her killed and her body stuffed into a refrigerator. The incident would spark debate among fans about actions in comics that devalued female characters. Future comics writer Gail Simone would coin the term “Women in Refrigerators” as the title of her website which would question and challenge the treatment of women in comics.
As DC tried to cement the changes they made into existence they published Zero Hour: Crisis in Time which would serve to try to clean up their comics continuity while vilifying the Hal Jordan character as one of the event’s main antagonists and making it more difficult for anyone to view the character as the hero he once was. The Internet and convention clamor continued and DC realized that the character needed a more dignified send-off. The character’s psychopathic nature was downplayed and Jordan become a more sympathetic character in the vein of Marvel’s Magneto before ultimately sacrificing himself to save the Earth from the Sun-Eater during 1996’s Final Night event.
Hal Jordan would get a funeral in Green Lantern #81 and Kyle Rayner would go on to become a major player in the DC universe as the star of his own series and as a regular in the Justice League. His everyman appeal and desire to live up to and honor the responsibilities he was presented with made Kyle a relatable character for new readers and the series sold well. With a new generation of fans, the future for Green Lantern looked as bright as ever, but many fans and comics creators still felt that too much had been sacrificed so the debate continued to rage on.
As the nineties came to a close Green Lantern would feature in a failed attempt at a Justice League television series inspired by comic ladden Keith Giffen / J.M. DeMatteis run. Actor Matt Settle would portray Guy Gardner, although the character acted and looked more like Kyle Rayner. While the pilot starred David Ogden Stiers and Miguel Ferrer the costumes, effects, plot, and acting doomed the show from ever making it to the airwaves. Writer Mark Waid would go so far as to say the pilot was “80 minutes of my life I’ll never get back”.
With the approach of a new millennium, it appeared that Green Lantern was caught between its past and present. What no one knew is that a rebirth was coming that would honor what came before and pave the way for the future. Green Lantern, its mythology, and its fans would persevere and the Brightest Day was about to dawn.