DC Comics’ most well known characters are Batman and Superman. With two extremely successful Christopher Nolan-led Batman movies and a refresh of the Superman franchise on the way, DC and Warner Brothers are keen to raise the profile of other comic book characters from their stable. The first is Green Lantern, which hits movie theatres later this week. With a character who is nearly an unknown to the general public there needs to be more exposition in the promotion to get them interested. There has been a big marketing push to try and cover the basics, but there are still many unanswered questions, such as who is Hal Jordan and why was he chosen to be a Green Lantern? What is a Green Lantern? What is it with all the shiny jewelry? Where did the ring come from? And if I enjoy the movie, is there a good place to start with Green Lantern comics?
Green Lantern was created in 1940 by Bill Finger and Martin Nodell. While the original character has many attributes in common with the movie version, it’s more relevant to focus on the newer incarnation that began in the 1950s. There are a few minor spoilers below, but they will not give away any major plot points or spoil the movie.
Hal Jordan is an aircraft test pilot, someone who relishes a challenge and enjoys living life to the full. As we’ve seen in the trailers Hal likes fast cars, fast women and fast airplanes. He pushes himself and the planes to their absolute limit and, as you might expect, there are many dangers that come with a job like that. It isn’t that Hal doesn’t care about the consequences, it’s just that he doesn’t let his fear of what might happen stop him from trying. While that may sound simple and easy, I’m sure there are challenges all of us have wanted to overcome, but never got around to tackling. Some of them are impossible (I’m not going to fly through space and visit other planets like Superman), but there are others we never even try because it seems too hard or we’re too scared of failing.
Hal Jordan doesn’t have that in him. He goes for it 100% and if he fails, then so be it, but he will at least try. His father was also a test pilot who died while piloting a new aircraft and it happened in front of Hal. You would think that seeing something like that would cripple some people, make them develop a phobia of planes and flying, but Hal went the other way. He still gets scared and is afraid like anyone else, but he embraces it and is able to overcome it. This characteristic is what makes him unique, and in many ways is at the core of the character and the movie.
It’s a minor spoiler, but in the trailers and TV spots we’ve seen that a dying alien crash lands on Earth and Hal is the one who finds him. The alien insists Hal take his green ring and the lantern from his space ship, and that he speaks an oath. Hal is then transported to another planet where he is told about the Green Lanterns. An ancient and immortal race of beings—simply called the Guardians—created the Green Lanterns Corps as a sort of intergalactic peace keeping force. The Corps protect the 3600 known sectors of space, with two Green Lanterns per sector, and Hal Jordan has just been recruited to protect Earth. Aliens of all shapes and sizes from all over the universe protect their homeworlds and others from danger.
The unusual thing about the Green Lanterns when compared to other superheroes is the source of their power and their abilities. Each Green Lantern wields a ring, which allows them to turn whatever they can imagine into reality, although it will be green in color. There are almost no limits to what can be created by a power ring, so this could be something as small as a microscopic organism or as a big as an aircraft carrier. All you need to create an item is the willpower to make it real, to force it into existence, and the greater the person’s willpower, the more powerful they will become. The difficulty comes in creating objects for attack and defense under duress in combat while you’re distracted. Out in the deep darkness of space there are lots of unpleasant aliens, intergalactic despots, space pirates and all manner or creepy things that could make you lose concentration. This comes back to the theme of being able to overcome fear, even in the face of such dangers, and this is one characteristic that is common to all of the Green Lanterns. In the movie, Hal Jordan is told this, and a great deal more about the Green Lanterns, right before they introduce the villain that is now threatening Earth. I won’t go into any more detail, but this hopefully gives you an idea of what sort of story to expect if you are interested in seeing the movie.
The Green Lantern movie is different from the comics, but the changes are very slight. As has been mentioned elsewhere, DC Comics are relaunching all of their ongoing monthly comic books, which includes Green Lantern. In September, you can pick up issue 1 of Green Lantern, which follows the ongoing adventures of Hal Jordan. If you’ve seen the movie then you would be able to pick this up and follow it with no problems. There is also a title called Green Lantern Corps which focuses on an elite squad of Green Lanterns, featuring aliens from many different planets. There are two other Green Lantern ongoing comic book titles, but they are tied into the larger mythology of the comic book series, which is part of the movie. If you’ve not read a Green Lantern comic before then I would recommend going to see the movie first before looking at them to avoid any spoilers.