Every weekend this summer, we’ll be bringing you a new installment of a 12-part series of reviews of meaningful comics found in the collections of our writers. “Long Box” refers to the lengthy, white cardboard boxes most comics find themselves stored within – bagged, alphabetized and numerically ordered.
These reviews, then, are the tales of those collections: illuminating characters, artists, writers – even eras – in addition to the personalities of the very owners of those fine collections.
Green Lantern # 200
Writer: Steve Englehart
Artists: Joe Staton and Bruce Patterson
Evolution, in the comic book sense, is a strange thing. For periodicals that are generally published on a monthly basis, the evolution of a character, their world, their storylines can happen quicker than you can read an issue. Origins are revisited, rearranged and rewritten with a frequency greater than the number of Gods worshipped on Paradise Island. Love interests are as fickle as the Dark Knight’s detective skills are exacting. Arch villains come and go at a pace that would leave the Scarlet Speedster gasping for air and popularity is as fickle as the Man of Steel’s freeze breath is cold or heat vision is hot.
That’s just the way it is for comic book characters. Always has been . Always will be.
In 1940, legendary comic writer Bill Finger and artist Martin Nodell created the Green Lantern. But this isn’t the Green Lantern you know today. No, Finger and Nodell’s creation was named Alan Scott, an engineer given the fantastical, magical power of a green lantern that emanated from a small ring, and employing a costume of green tights, red top and black cape. Interestingly, Nodell came up with the idea after watching a New York subway engineer stop trains for track maintenance by using a red lantern and then employing a green one to notify drivers that the track work was complete.
Initially a popular character, after World War II comic sales, in general, slipped and the Alan Scott Green Lantern series was cancelled.
In an attempt to breathe life into their stable of heroes, DC Comics engineered a revival of some of their characters, harkening the arrival of the silver age of comic book heroes in the process. Green Lantern was brought out of hibernation and, in true comic book spirit, he was renamed, redesigned and given a new potency for the post-war generation. Hal Jordan, as the Green Lantern, was born in 1959 in the pages of Showcase #22. A test pilot, Jordan seized upon the inherent fear of a cold-war era, wearing the green and black costume that fans around the world now recognize, once again becoming a popular character in the DC stable – a popularity that would ebb and flow for over twenty-five years. Still, Green Lantern was never able to crack into DC’s holy trinity of comic book characters: Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. Indeed, you could say that the trinity was formed by a collective world zeitgeist and not by the hand of the publishing company or the stories told by writers and artists.
Green Lantern #200 was published in early 1986 and was the concluding chapter of a historic run by writer Steve Englehart and artist Joe Staton. In their tale, they had reconfirmed the world of Hal Jordan and his role within the Green Lantern Corps, the interstellar police force that patrolled the known sectors of the universe. They had also brought secondary characters like Guy Gardner and John Stewart to the forefront, imbibing them with a personality, a history, and a comic book fan club of their own. In fact, Gardner would go on to star in Justice League through the late 1980’s and early 1990’s while Stewart would feature prominently in the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited cartoon series (voiced by comedian Phil LaMarr) from 2001-2006, introducing him to a whole new audience.
The 200th issue of Green Lantern wraps up all the loose ends Englehart had been writing when he took over the series with issue #188. He was originally told by Dick Giordano, the editor of the series, that sales were stable – that nothing the publisher ever did could change the volume of sales for the comic. Within six months of taking over the reigns, Englehart and Staton were told that worldwide sales for the book had, in fact, doubled.
So what did these creators do to garner such a reaction from comicdom?
Englehart and Staton expanded the universe, showcasing more alien races, more alien worlds, more villains and a greater sense of mythology behind the Green Lanterns and the Green Lantern Corps. Green Lantern, the series, became a science fiction space opera – and fans loved it. In the 200th issue, the Guardians of the Universe ascend to another plane of existence and leave the various Lanterns to administer themselves – a wholesale change from the status quo that the world had become accustomed to. The title of the series would change in the very next issue, becoming Green Lantern Corps to reflect the wide diversity of the characters and the universe. It, too, was initially a huge hit with fans and would see Englehart and Staton continue the story of the Guardians ascension in the 8-issue mini series Millenium. (I actually wrote a Tales from the Longbox piece on that series which you can find here.)
Interestingly, the buzz around Green Lantern Corps would only last a few years as the series was cancelled with issue #224 in favour of placing Hal Jordan in a starring role in the new anthology series, Action Comics Weekly.
The world of comics is as circular as the ring the Green Lantern’s wear.
There’s been a resurgence for Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern comic of late under the stewardship of writer extraordinaire Geoff Johns. Over the last five years, the monthly series has been one of DC’s top sellers, loved by readers and critics everywhere. Each story arc has been collected into a hardcover edition, a business decision made only for the best of comic books, while an “Absolute” version (an oversized hardcover with supplemental material and a slipcase – reserved for the cream of the crop of comic book tales) of Johns first Green Lantern tale, Rebirth, has been scheduled for 2010. Blackest Night, a storyline emanating from the pages of Green Lantern promises to affect the entire DC Universe and is now on sale while First Flight, the characters first animated movie, details the origin of Hal Jordon. The film goes on sale Tuesday, July 28.
Arguably, the biggest news for the franchise is that Ryan Reynolds has just been cast as the lead in a big-screen, big-budget, Green Lantern film, set for release in 2011.
The big “trinity” at DC Comics has always been Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. These days, there seems to be room at the top. Green Lantern has been able to cement his role among the pantheon of comic book royalty.
There seems to be a distinctly green glow around the DC offices of late as well as in the smiles and eyes of fans everywhere.