Green Lantern: First Flight, the latest direct-to-DVD release from the DCAU (DC Animated Universe), shows traces of the “reduced age” demographic guidelines imposed upon producer-artist Bruce Timm back when Timm was working for television networks. Significant portions of this 77-minute cartoon adventure may be distinguishable from other “blow up the bad guys” manga only to comic book readers already familiar with the myth of the Green Lantern Corps and their amazing power rings.
But you might also be someone who likes good “blow up the bad guys” manga. (Be warned that GL:FF is an Americanized flavor. It’s space opera for kids, not quite like Teen Titans.)
Bruce Timm and Paul Dini reawakened my long-dormant interest in comic book superheroes with their first run of animated Batman episodes produced for The WB network in the 1990s. The simple but brilliant depiction of Batman’s resourcefulness—relentless stamina and ironic wit applied to the pursuit of justice—won me over. What could you possibly not like about this? (It’s a question with no answer, unless you happen to be an aging Bruce Wayne watching someone turn your life into a musical pastiche on your birthday.)
The popular success of those Batman cartoons led to the creation of a Superman series for The WB, followed by reboots of both shows and several seasons of a Justice League series. Bruce Timm was able to enfranchise a stable of writers, animators, voice actors, musical composers, directors, and producers to propagate the DC Animated Universe. However, with each new production in the DCAU, pressure increased from the sponsoring network to lower the age demographic for the target audience. Several years ago, I heard Bruce Timm tell an audience at Wondercon that the Batman Adventures had started with an intended audience age demographic of 14 to 16. Subsequently, they were asked to cut 1 to 2 years off of that for each new series. This led to a decision for them to transition from producing weekly TV episodes to making feature-length cartoons for the direct-to-DVD market.
Me, I’m an s-f/fantasy geek, who was captured, as a teenager, by the myth of a ring that allows a bearer with sufficient willpower to perform amazing feats. The magic ring in Andrew Lang’s The Dragon of the North was a direct linear ancestor of the ring found by Alan Scott, the original DC Green Lantern. (That’s Alan holed up inside the crystal prism shown in the last bitmap on my webpage—not Hal/Parallax.)
As for Hal Jordan’s power ring and battery (fueled by the cosmic energy of the Guardians of the Universe), my guess is that the inspiration came from other literary sources. E.E. Smith’s Lensman stories first appeared in Astounding Science Fiction right around the time that Julius Schwartz (who attended the first World Science Fiction Convention in 1939) began his editorial career at DC Comics. Schwartz participated in editing the adventures of the first (“Golden Age”) Green Lantern and became the comics godfather who revived Green Lantern as Hal Jordan in the “Silver Age” (1956-1973) .
For another probable root source of the Hal Jordan Green Lantern, check out this IMDB description of a classic sci-fi film: This Island Earth (1955):
Nuclear physicist Cal Meacham begins experiencing strange phenomena. First his plane has a burnout and just before it crashes, it is surrounded by a green glow and lands safely. Next he receives the parts for a strange device called an interroceter. When he assembles the device, it puts him into contact with an individual named Exeter. Exeter, then invites Cal to join a group of scientists on a secret research project. He meets old flame, Ruth Adams, […and] eventually discovers that Exeter is an alien from the planet Metaluna.
Do these people look or sound like anyone we might know?
In the first five minutes of Green Lantern: First Flight (before the title credits roll), the stratosphere module flown by test pilot Hal Jordan is captured, through a green energy beam projected by dying alien Abin Sur. Abin Sur has crash-landed his spaceship in the Mojave desert. As his last act, the dying alien bequeaths to Jordan a glowing power ring and membership in the intergalactic Green Lantern Corps. This is a scene that hardcore GL fans have witnessed many times. The best version of it is probably presented in last year’s direct-to-DVD offering: Justice League: The New Frontier. (Go here if you’re not armed with a capable multimedia PC.) I recommend JL:TNF as an excellent introduction to Bruce Timm’s work—but I like the original graphic novel by Darwyn Cooke even better.
In Green Lantern: First Flight, we don’t hear Abin Sur instruct the ring to find one who is totally without fear. Instead, he simply tells the ring “Find him!” After Hal inherits the ring (and the title credits roll), we see a happy, flying Jordan intercepted by three green-beam surrounded emissaries of the Green Lantern Corps. Kilowog, a familiar face to readers of the comic book, projects a big green energy claw out of his ring to throttle Jordan against a rock face. “I want it off,” Kilowog says, reaching for the power ring on Jordan’s finger. “The Poozer’s not even trained!” A short duel of green beam energy constructs ensues, which is abruptly interrupted. The first surprise, for longtime followers of GL comics, might be the arrival of Lantern Sinestro to join the welcoming committee consisting of Kilowog, Tomar Re, and Boodikka.
This Boodikka (voiced by Tricia Helfer) is thin and silver-haired, not the chunky warrior we know from the comics. Sinestro (in his GL uniform) and Kilowog look their usual selves. [9-1 rev:] There’s comic book precedent for including Sinestro in the welcoming committee, from series reboots written by Gerard Jones and Geoff Johns. The original Sinestro was a renegade Green Lantern exiled by the Guardians to an anti-matter universe before Hal Jordan ever joined the Corps. (Wikipedia only remembers this in “Talk” pages, now.)
Several years ago, Geoff Johns wrote a series of stories portraying Sinestro as a high-strung character who became Hal Jordan’s first mentor and trainer, based on Gerard Jones’ revision of the GL backstory. This idea was, apparently, so popular with the fanbase that it has now become canon. In a special feature on the 2-disc version of GL:FF Johns says: “I don’t think anyone should ever call themselves the greatest anything, except Sinestro. He is the greatest Green Lantern.”
The Lantern welcoming committee informs Jordan that he must be transported to the planet OA, for GL training and evaluation by the Guardians of the Universe. They fly him there in a spaceship “constructed for his comfort” out of green energy. On OA, Hal parries the disdain of the Guardians for “humans” with bravado. “My uncle was a cop, 30 years on the Coast City police force—he used to let me turn on the siren,” Hal says, when the Guardians try to explain the precinct breakdown of the Galaxy into 3600 sectors.
Sinestro addresses the Guardians and asks for permission to take Hal under his wing. He informs Hal that their first mission will be to track down the murderer of Abin Sur, in a plot development that goes against all canon established in the comic books. (Don’t click on this, if you don’t want to know how the DC writers in the comic books developed the life of Abin Sur into a theatrical tragedy—adapting material originally presented in an Alan Moore story.)
In GL:FF, the investigation into the death of Abin Sur is a convenient plot hook on which to hang a colorful alien barroom brawl. Sinestro reveals a bit of his true nature, here, in a brutal interrogation session with a couple of aliens. Sinestro confronts Labella (voiced by Juliet Landau), the saloon owner who might once have been his lover. Hal watches silently, until Sinestro’s ring construct begins torturing the woman. Hal destroys the ring construct, ending the interrogation.
Hans and Luke Sinestro and Hal then stand back-to-back, wielding their rings against a roomful of outraged raygun-wielding aliens, before engaging in a flamboyant flying chase through building corridors and streets in an alien city. After a sufficient number of buildings are blown up, Green Lantern Corps reinforcements fly down onto the scene (fans will recognize Ch’p and Arisia), and a murder suspect is captured for transport back to planet OA.
The character designs for GL:FF, produced by artist Jose Lopez, have a distinct manga flavor—as do the backgrounds and cell animation attributed to an entire platoon of Japanese animators. (Here’s Bruce Timm weighing in on some of the production details.)
The animation is spritely and colorful. But in the first half of the movie, the Lanterns use their power rings in a fairly predictable and unimaginative manner. They surround themselves with green force bubbles to ward off raygun fire, project energy beams to explode “bad guy” aliens, and occasional use tractor beams to lift something heavy. (Hal does create a green fly swatter and giant green sneaker at one point to try stomping some winged insectoid villains. He seems to be the only GL who uses the ring creatively.) I enjoyed seeing the rings deployed as energy-tong forklifts and tractor beams. This use conveys the sense that the green beams are acting upon real objects that are physically heavy. Whoa! Must take some willpower to lift that giant water bucket and flip it over to dowse that fire.
Sinestro chews Hal out for interrupting his interrogation (“You went soft on me back there, Earthboy!”) and continues, in a private session, to torture the prime murder suspect the Lanterns have captured. Back on OA, Boodikka confides her misgivings about “the greatest Green Lantern,” clinking rings with Hal to beam him information as they grow a bit closer.
Hal learns about the “necessary impurity” built into the Guardians’ Central Power Battery. The rings get their energy charge from mysterious green crystals that the Guardians discovered and built into the Central Power Battery at the dawn of creation. But the rings have no power over anything that reflects the color yellow. Alan Burnett’s storyline in GL:FF borrows from early assumptions made by John Broome, the first regular writer of the Hal Jordan/Green Lantern comic book.
There’s no Parallax here. Boodikka tells Hal: “Unfortunately, the Battery had one vulnerability, the color yellow. It’s the one part of the light spectrum that can resist the green. And the most powerful source of yellow energy is the Yellow Element. For eons the Guardians had it hidden underground in another dimension.” But recently, an alien Warlord has located the Guardians’ stash of the Yellow Element and given it to a race called the Qwardians to forge into a new power source. Abin Sur discovered this and was about to report it to the Guardians when his ship crash-landed on Earth.
Mild plot spoiler for anyone completely unfamiliar with the Green Lantern comic books:
Sinestro is, of course, in league with the alien Warlord. He despises the Guardians, not so secretly, ragging on them to Hal early in the movie and eventually describing them as an assembly of “arrogant little gnomes.” In the movie’s second half, Sinestro discards his green ring and GL uniform for a new costume and yellow ring. He takes possession of the Yellow Power Battery from the Qwardians (who “return to their home dimension,” their work being done). The design of Sinestro’s new uniform is taken from last year’s multi-issue Sinestro Corps War graphic novel, but unlike in the comic book story, Sinestro is the only one here who wields a yellow power ring.
The yellowbeam vs. greenbeam outer space battle action heats up satisfactorily in the second half of the movie, as Sinestro is defeated, Hal proves that he is, indeed, a hero, and Kilowog shows that he has “a few ring tricks of his own.”
The voice actors in GL:FF, under the guidance of perennial DCAU Voice Director Andrea Romano, deliver the usual first-rate performances that are a signature of all Bruce Timm productions. Victor Garber gives us an impressively menacing and egomaniacal Sinestro, Christopher Meloni is a folksy, good-cop Hal, and Tricia Helfer plays a haute-elegant, but approachable Boodikka. Michael Madsen’s Kilowog sounds exactly like any GL fan would want him to.
The first disc of the DVD prominently features a sneak preview of the next DCAU feature: Superman/Batman Public Enemies, due out sometime this Fall. This one, longtime fans may note, will feature the original voice actors from those great WB TV cartoons.
If I’ve made Green Lantern: First Flight sound interesting to you, I recommend buying the 2-disc version. The added second disc features Bruce Timm’s Top Picks: a re-release of two 30-minute Justice League Unlimited episodes (Nos. 12 and 13: The Once and Future Thing, pt. 1 and pt. 2, written by Dwayne McDuffie). These episodes spotlight a different Green Lantern (ex-Marine John Stewart) teaming up with the JLU in a a time travel adventure. In an Old West segment, the JLU encounters Bat Lash; and in a future Gotham City segment, present-day Batman, Wonder Woman, and GL/John Stewart meet up with Terry McGinnis and the older Bruce Wayne of Batman Beyond.
If that’s not enough for you, disc 2 includes a cartoon featuring the adventures of yet another Earth-based Green Lantern: Daffy Duck, starring in Paul Dini’s The Green Loontern. Due to a mistake at the dry cleaners, Duck Dodgers winds up with Hal Jordan’s Green Lantern uniform instead of his own. Dodgers flies around with the power ring, crashes on OA, and learns of a distress call from Kilowog sent to all GLs in the galaxy. After reciting his version of the Green Lantern Oath, Daffy is dispatched by the Guardians to save the universe. But some things never change.
GL Corps Members from Green Lantern: First Flight
Lenny Bailes is a longtime science fiction fan, who helps put on small s-f literary conventions and even still publishes a fanzine. IT specialist by day and college instructor by night, he desperately tries to find time for other reading, writing, and music making.