Superhero Top 10 - Green Lantern

6 Green Lantern

Created by: writer Bill Finger and artist Martin Nodell
Created for: All-American Publications (later DC Comics)
Currently owned by: DC Comics
First appearance: All-American Comics #16 (July 1940)
Real identity: Alan Scott, Hal Jordan, John Stewart, Guy Gardner, Kyle Rayner, Jade

One of the longest-serving, if often peripheral, DC characters, Green Lantern evolved from a 1940s caped crime fighter wielding a magical ring into a post-war cadre of intergalactic policemen, establishing a convoluted continuity while flirting endlessly with cancellation.

Discovering an ancient Chinese lantern carved from a green meteor, engineer Alan Scott fashioned a ring of immense power and fought crime as a magical masked crusader. There is a wonderfully over-the-top flamboyance to creators Finger and Nodell’s colourful and popular Golden Age character – a founder member of the Justice Society of America. His combination of Fu Manchu-style Eastern mysticism and Batman-like detection became a massive hit.

But the post-war slump in superhero sales meant cancellation in 1949 for Scot. A decade later he was resurrected by legendary DC editor Julius Swartz, writer John Broome and artist Gil Kane for Showcase #22 (1959) as a member The Green Lantern Corps, an interstellar police force whose members have their own “patch” of space to protect. The idea owes much to “super-science” epics like E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensmen series but is based on an idea Schwartz and Broome had conceived years prior in Strange Adventures #22 (1952).

Test pilot Hal Jordan became the Lantern of Sector 2814 (which contains Earth) when mortally wounded Corps member Abin Sur sought a successor after crash-landing. Whereas Scott’s ring was magically powered, Jordan’s energy originated from the Central Power Battery built by the Guardians of the Universe on the planet Oa. Now vulnerable only to the colour yellow, Lantern got his own title from 1960 with Broome and Kane’s classic stories switching Jordan between Earth-bound crime fighting and grand extraterrestrial missions; at times silly, at others serious. Unusually, Lantern's stories were not stand-alone tales but often referenced previous adventures, Broome grouping together stories thematically while Kane's dynamic art broke out of the usual six-panel page tradition. With issue #17, Gardner Fox [check who] joined Schwartz, Broome and Kane – a creative team that lasted until 1970.

The first significant break for Lantern saw writer Denny O’Neil embark on a radical shift in direction in #66 (1970). Keen to tackle “real” issues, O’Neil teamed Jordan up with Green Arrow in a series of powerful, socially-conscious, award-winning stories drawn by Neal Adams. The partnership fitted the spirit of the age – Jordan was the self-righteous lawman, Queen the liberal iconoclast – and this was new ground for DC, used to peddling light fantasy it now had a cosmic copper taking on slum pimps while Arrow’s sidekick, Speedy, developed a heroin habit ("My ward is a junkie!" screamed the cover of Green Lantern/Green Arrow #86). Despite fantastic art, the preachy, often ludicrously earnest run was a commercial flop, lasting only 14 issues – Lantern endured another of several cancellations.

The title revived, Jordan resigned from the Corps to be replaced by stand-in John Stewart – the first African-American super-hero of the DC Universe. He supplanted Jordan’s former back-up, the fractious and volatile redhead Guy Gardner, after the latter was left in a coma when his Power Battery exploded. The number of Lanterns increased to the point where the title briefly became The Green Lantern Corps, which came and went and is now a regular title, though Jordan was a regular but fringe feature in the DC universe, a support act in other titles such as Justice League of America but one whose own popularity waxed and waned.

In 1994, with sales flagging again, Jordan’s former home Coast City was obliterated by Mongul and a cyborg Superman. Enraged by the Guardians’ refusal to let him resurrect the seven million inhabitants Jordan apparently went insane, travelled to Oa, drained the Battery, obliterated the Corps and murdered all but one of the Guardians before becoming the powerful Parallax and trying to alter time to his liking. The remaining Guardian, Ganthet, rushed to Earth with the last power ring and bestowed it upon artist Kyle Rayner – although diehard readers hated what they saw as Jordan’s uncharacteristic flip-out.

Created by writer Ron Marz and artist Darryl Banks, Rayner was a flawed hero but re-ignited the Battery – and sales figures – before defeating Parallax. Jordan later redeemed himself by sacrificing his life to reignite the Earth’s Sun only to return from the grave in 1999 as the newest incarnation of the Spectre, though still “infected” by Parallax. Rayner became the powerful being Ion, but was then infected with Parallax by Sinestro. Gardner at one time used Sinestro's own yellow power ring before discovering he was actually an alien, but then he wasn’t. Then there’s Scott’s daughter, Jade, who briefly held the title before dying during the Infinite Crisis storyline.

If this all seems a tad complicated, that’s because it is – whereas other mainstay characters have been consistently refreshed Green Lantern’s interconnected past has remained virtually intact, leading to a bewildering knot of mind-boggling continuity with up to four Earth-based Green Lanterns in circulation, some of them sporting two and even three separate personalities at any given time.

In 2004, writer Geoff Johns and artist Ethan van Sciver arguably thrust Green Lantern truly into the DC A-list for the first time – their Rebirth completely refreshing and rebooting the whole franchise at the same time as Darwyn Cooke’s DC: The New Frontier (2004) was providing probably the best interpretation of Green Lantern’s origins for 40 years. Johns’ massively successful follow-up, the Sinestro Corps War, saw Sinestro amass an army on Qward and wage all-out war on the Corps. Taking inspiration from a 1986 Tales of the Green Lantern Corps story by Alan Moore, it swept away much of the dead wood and has been a huge success.

With filming due to start on the live-action Hollywood adaptation, Green Lantern’s new status as a key DC character should be confirmed in the impending big summer event, Blackest Night – a reference to the words of the Lantern oath and the culmination of a story which has created a full “emotional spectrum” of power rings, including red for rage, violet for love and blue for hope. Refreshed and reinvigorated, all four Green Lanterns now wield their respective rings, finally second fiddle to no-one.

Probably the most powerful weapon in comics, a Green Lantern’s “power ring” is controlled by the wearer’s willpower and is limited only by their (or the scriptwriter’s) imagination – ranging from simple flight to telepathy, creating ‘solid-energy’ objects, time travel and causing suns to go nova. Has to be ‘recharged’ by touching it to a Lantern’s power battery. For a long while (though no longer) Green Lantern was powerless against anything yellow.

In 1966, Jordan underwent a sulk of superhuman proportions when his on-off love interest Carol Ferris jilted him for another man. Jordan quit his job and stomped off to bum around the country in dead-end jobs. Angst suited Marvel’s increasingly popular anti-heroes, but Green Lantern just looked churlish.

Legends Of The Superheroes TV Specials (1979)
Played by:
Howard Murphy
A leading figure in the quite bizarre live-action series of Hanna-Barbera TV specials. The role of Sinestro was played by comedian Charlie Callas.

Justice League Of America (1997)
Played by:
Matthew Settle
An amalgam of the various Green Lanterns made an appearance in the thankfully unsuccessful live-action television series pilot which seemed to be trying to be a comedy, for some unfathomable reason.

Green Lantern (2011)
Martin Campbell
Played by: Ryan Reynolds
The first silver screen outing for the Lantern is due for release in July 2011. Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) is directing and the script apparently focuses on Hal Jordan taking over as Green Lantern from Abin Sur. Ryan Reynolds become the first actor to star as both a Marvel and DC superhero.

• The original Green Lantern’s weakness was objects made of wood.
• Thanks to Alan Moore, members of the Green Lantern Corps include a virus, a planet and a mathematical progression
• The first Lantern’s alter ego was originally meant to be Alan Ladd, a twist on Aladdin – who also had a magic lamp and magic ring
• Ol’ smoothie Guy Gardner once took fellow Justice League of America member Ice on a date to a porn theatre
• Scott’s sidekick was cab driver Doiby Dickles. Against sidekick type, he ended up marrying the alien Princess Ramia and becoming king of her planet, Myrg
• Daffy Duck as Duck Dodgers, once became The Green Lantoon after accidentally picking up Hal Jordan's laundry
• The original Green Lantern oath (“...and I shall shed my light over dark evil, For the dark things cannot stand the light, The light of the Green Lantern!”) was supposedly created by The Stars My Destination author Alfred Bester who penned the character in the 1940s, though he later claimed it was already in place when he took over
• Artist Martin Nodell also helped create the Pillsbury Doughboy in the 1960s

Sinestro: Arrogant former Corps member with slightly different ideas about policing the universe (think “Stalin” different). Banished to the antimatter universe world of Qward, the Guardians’ enemies the Weaponeers of Qward promptly gave him a yellow power ring and sent him right back to seek revenge. With a name like Sinestro, the Guardians really should have seen this coming.

Star Sapphire: Hal Jordan’s on-off lover Carol Ferris was one of those chosen by the immortal race of warrior women, the Zamarons, to serve as host body for their Queen. Battling Green Lantern for years before Hal Jordan – as the Spectre – removed her Star Sapphire persona, which then “skipped” from woman to woman in bizarre romantic pursuit of Jordan.

Parallax : Ancient parasite of “pure evil” trapped by the Guardians in the Central Power Battery and the source of the Lanterns’ weakness against yellow (yellow, apparently, being the colour of fear), it latched onto Jordan when he drained the Battery. Unable to corrupt Jordan, Sinestro had apparently woken Parallax and encouraged it to make the Lantern its host. Eventually freeing himself, Jordan led the Green Lanterns in a final conflict against Parallax, who was cut into four parts and imprisoned in each of the Earth Lanterns’ power batteries.

Manhunters : The Guardians’ first attempt at creating an interstellar police force, they became obsessed with the act of hunting criminals rather than seeing justice done. Eventually rebelling, their remaining members plot revenge against the Guardians and their replacement, the Green Lantern Corps.

Return to main page
Go to the Number 5 Superhero

SFX Magazine is the world's number one sci-fi, fantasy, and horror magazine published by Future PLC. Established in 1995, SFX Magazine prides itself on writing for its fans, welcoming geeks, collectors, and aficionados into its readership for over 25 years. Covering films, TV shows, books, comics, games, merch, and more, SFX Magazine is published every month. If you love it, chances are we do too and you'll find it in SFX.