Celebrating Green Lantern: The Animated Series
It’s hard not to think back on the Geoff Johns era of Green Lantern without smiling. It wasn’t just that Johns restored the mythology back to its former glory, it’s largely that he added things to it once “Green Lantern: Rebirth” ended that took the franchise and elevated it to a place it had never been before. The emotional spectrum was a brilliantly logical expansion that breathed new life into characters like Star Sapphire and Black Hand and left many long time fans and creators alike doing face palms at how anyone could not have seen it before. By 2011 the Green Lantern franchise was the gem of DC Comics, and along with that surge in popularity came big media plans, and no plan was bigger than a major motion picture backed up by a Saturday morning cartoon show.
We all know how the Green Lantern movie ended up and there’s a number of reasons why the first major step Warner Brothers took away from Batman and Superman failed to live up to expectations. Nothing deflates a hype engine more than a high profile failure and in this case there was collateral damage created by a failed merchandising campaign which torpedoed Green Lantern: The Animated Series. The show ended after one season, doomed by retailers who showed no interest in a toy line that was needed to help underwrite the costs of a CGI show whose budget carried nearly a $1 million per episode price tag. Despite the good reception the show received simple economics proved a greater nemesis than Atrocitus and the Anti-Monitor combined. Five years later it’s a shame to think about what could have been knowing that producers Jim Krieg and Giancarlo Volpe had planted the seeds for things like the fall of Sinestro and Blackest Night. (Author’s note: you can listen to Podcast of Oa episode 64 and our conversation with the producers about what was in store for fans here) The recent news that Young Justice has been revived for a third season sparks hope that there is perhaps another day ahead for Green Lantern: The Animated Series, but five years on the show deserves a look back at what made it so special in the first place.
While Green Lantern: The Animated Series did so many things right, perhaps the show’s biggest strength was the writing. The scripts for the series were superbly crafted, playing with and embracing the mythology while telling us something about life, the value of friendship, the meaning of love and the incredible strength to be found inside each and every one us no matter what color ring we wear. From a narrative perspective it accomplished so much in so few episodes.
Green Lantern’s popularity was at a peak and it took no small effort to take so many years of continuity and boil them down so that the story telling was rich enough in the lore department for viewers like myself and yet accessible enough for people who had no previous exposure to the mythology. The writers touched on nearly every color in the emotional spectrum despite the fact that they were still being developed on the pages of the monthly comic book series. With so many unknowns about the Indigo Tribe and with the Sinestro Corps being off limits the show managed to touch on a great deal of what Geoff Johns had developed during his run.
The scripts for the show balanced adventure and humor extremely well while maintaining an all ages feel. The characterizations were spot on and as a huge Hal Jordan fan I know I was gratified that the producers of the show hit all the right notes when it came to how they portrayed Earth’s first Green Lantern on the small screen. From Hal to Kilowog, Guy Gardner and Tomar-Re it was really like watching characters that meant so much to me throughout my years coming to life. And of course there were those two original characters who completely stole the show.
Razer and Aya were much needed additions to the Green Lantern universe. With any licensed property there’s only so much you can do with someone else’s intellectual property. But with the broken Red Lantern and the Interceptor’s Artificial Intelligence the series had two characters that the show’s creators could go anywhere with….and they did! The love story of Aya and Razer developed over the first arc of the series and then took center stage for the back half of the show’s only season. From start to finish their journeys were really the central theme of the series, showing viewers what love and sacrifice are really all about while deftly weaving their narrative in with the weekly dose of Green Lantern-y goodness. When the show ended viewers knew that even though the show was over their story was not, leaving us literally full of hope.
The mandate for Green Lantern: The Animated Series was that it was to be the first CGI show for Warner Brother Animation. For veteran producer Bruce Timm this was new territory and making a show that would cost more to produce left he, Giancarlo Volpe and Jim Krieg with some unique challenges. The budgetary considerations meant keeping the cast small and finding ways to re-use digital assets. It forced them to be creative in their storytelling and ultimately it meant that the show had to be well crafted out of necessity.
Things had to take place in space because it allowed for a wide open canvas that was easier to produce, and putting the Green Lanterns on the Interceptor for so much of the first half of the season left them with the ability to build towards the ambitious conclusion in the “Dark Matter” episode. All in all the considerations forced the creators of the series to keep things tightly constructed and anything that had to be created had to have a real purpose out of necessity.
I admittedly wasn’t sure what to think of CGI animation at first but looking back now I don’t think I could have seen it any other way. There are things that were done with camera movement and direction that I don’t think could have been done nearly as effectively with traditional animation as they were executed with CGI and, especially in high definition, the show looks great even today.
From the opening notes the music for Green Lantern: The Animated Series has the exact right feel. The theme tells your ears exactly what you can expect from what you’re about to watch, capturing the sense of adventure of the Green Lantern universe. Composer Frederik Wiedmann received two nominations for the Annie Awards, the animation industry’s version of the Oscars, for his work on the series. The score for this show is an unsung hero with Wiedmann’s music underscoring all the emotional beats of every episode.
No animated production is complete without the actors who provide the voices of the characters and this series was incredibly well acted. Josh Keaton’s performance as Hal Jordan nailed the confident swagger and bravado of our main hero. Kevin Michael Richardson made Kilowog the perfect hardened drill sergeant with a heart of gold. Grey DeLisle and Jason Spisak made the emotional journey of Aya and Razer an absolute delight to witness, pulling on our heartstrings as we watched them evolve as characters over the course of twenty six episode. Along with the talents of so many wonderfully gifted actors the series was truly blessed with so many fantastic performances.
From start to finish Green Lantern: The Animated Series nailed it on every level and I’m grateful to everyone who worked on the show and put so much passion and creative energy into it. They crafted a universe that was everything I could have hoped for and I very much appreciate all the care that was put into bringing these characters to life. As corny as this may sound the highest praise I can give the show is that, even five years later, watching an episode (or two!) is still a part of my Saturday morning routine.
As a final thought I’ll echo something I wrote right before the airing of the final episode that still rings true for me five years after the show first aired, “It’s my greatest hope that some day soon we will be able to re-visit this universe again. I know in my mind and my heart that Hal and the crew of the Interceptor are still out there somewhere – shining their light and illuminating the darkness for all of us.”