Green Lantern’s key comic book stories

News James Peaty 14 Jun 2011 - 13:10
Green Lantern

If you're looking to find out more about the incoming Green Lantern movie, then why not dig out some of the important comic book stories? Here's our guide...

Earlier in the week, we took a look at the creation and general mythos of the Green Lantern universe. Now, we move on to my personal selection of some key early stories that any newly minted Green Lantern fan should check out.

The Silver Age

For those who aren't hardcore comic book geeks, Silver Age is a term that refers to the second flourishing of popularity in superhero comics dating from the late 1950s through to 1970.

Alongside the revived Flash, Green Lantern was a key player during this period as Hal Jordan not only starred in his own solo book, but was also a regular member of the Justice League Of America, the title that inadvertently spurred Marvel Comics into changing the comic book industry forever.

It's during this period that pretty much all the foundations of the current Green Lantern universe are laid out. In addition to Hal Jordan, we're introduced to fellow Green Lanterns, Tomar Re and Abin Sur, the Guardians of the Universe ,as well as arch-foes Star Sapphire, Dr Polaris, Hector Hammond and, of course, the legendary Sinestro.

While, for the casual audience, this period of comics probably doesn't hold great contemporary interest, for the more serious reader it's definitely worth a look.

Featuring the gorgeous artwork of Gil Kane and the inventive writing of John Broome and Gardner Fox, many of these stories are collected in the affordable Green Lantern Chronicles series of trade paperbacks. However, for the more discerning (or affluent!) collector, the Green Lantern Omnibus is a 600-page hardcover collection of most of the same stories, albeit in more pristine and restored condition.

The Bronze Age

By 1970, as in the 1950s, tastes had changed and the sunny, Kennedy-esque Americana of the 60s was about to be replaced by the darker, edgier 70s. In comics terms, the Silver Age's shine was definitely gone and the dull glow of the Bronze Age was about to take its place.

Generally referring to the more mature and modern comic books of the early 1970s to the mid-1980s, this period saw significant generational shifts within the make-up of the professionals who worked within the comic book business.

Jack Kirby, the hottest artist at the time, left Marvel Comics to set up shop at DC, while at DC many of the company's long-standing writers and artists, including Broome and Fox, were replaced by the first wave of creators who were fans/readers of the medium.

The influence of this new, ‘realism' that was beginning to take hold is probably most keenly felt in Green Lantern's title.  Seen as a perfect, Kennedy-era spaceman with no flaws and very little personality, it was decided that the only way to revive Green Lantern (whose sales had been flagging for some time) was to literally bring him down to Earth.

Teaming up Hal Jordan with the similarly revived and revamped Oliver Queen (AKA Green Arrow), these new adventures of Green Lantern were written by former journalist, Denny O'Neil, and illustrated by artistic wunderkind, Neal Adams.  Taking their cue from Jack Kerouac's seminal On The Road, the story, entitled Hard Travelling Heroes, was a key part of comics' evolution in the 1970s, as it put our super-powered heroes, literally, in a truck, driving cross-country in search of the 'real' America.

Although somewhat creaky by modern standards, these issues are still potent, not least because of Adams' jaw-dropping artwork and the conviction with which the stories are written.  Seemingly never out of print, most recently these stories were made available again in the Showcase Presents: Green Lantern Volume 5 collection.

It's also during this period that the notion of just who Green Lantern is begins to be deconstructed and, at various points, Hal Jordan gives up the power ring and hands it over to his designated replacement, black architect, John Stewart.

It's tempting to see Stewart as little more than a token early-70s attempt to ride the coat tails of Blaxploitation, but Stewart, as a character, has lasted way beyond that narrow stereotyping and has established himself as a vital and potent part of the Green Lantern universe.  But more on him later.

Some of the finest Green Lantern stories during the latter part of this period aren't straightforward arcs or adventures, but rather short stories written by the finest writer mainstream comics has ever produced, Alan Moore. 

Commissioned to write a series of back-up strips for the Tales Of The Green Lantern Corps title, Moore expands and broadens the palette of the Green Lantern mythos in three small, but perfectly formed stories.

The first, Mogo Doesn't Socialize, is a brilliant and funny little story about the largest and most antisocial member of the Corps. Superbly illustrated by his Watchmen collaborator, Dave Gibbons, it's a story that's recently been adapted by Gibbons himself as an animated short for the upcoming Green Lantern: Emerald Knights straight-to-DVD release.

The second, Tygers, is, by contrast, a dark and unsettling tale illustrated by Moore's future League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen co-creator, Kevin O'Neill.  Telling the story of just what Abin Sur was doing before he crashed on Earth and bequeathed his power ring to Hal Jordan, it also puts in place a prophecy that will come to fruition in the Green Lantern title more than twenty years later.

The final story of Moore's brief sojourn into the world of the Corps is In Blackest Night. A charming story, illustrated by future Fables writer, Bill Willingham, it follows Green Lantern, Katma Tui, as she is charged with appointing a new corps member for the region of space known as The Obsidian Deeps.

However, what seems like a straightforward enough mission is more complex than it first appear, as The Obsidian Deeps is soon revealed to be a sector of space so devoid of light that its inhabitants have no sight and, therefore, no concept of the colour green!

In typical Moore fashion, quite how Katma Tui gets around this problem is a brilliant inversion of all that we think we know about the Green Lantern Corps and leads to the creations of a unique addition to its ranks.

These three stories are all available as part of the collection, DC Universe: The Stories Of Alan Moore (a collection which is worth buying quite apart from its Green Lantern connection), and possibly more than any other strips published during this period, they've had the biggest influence on the current, blockbusting run by DC's chief writer, Geoff Johns.

However, before that glorious future could be reached, the most tumultuous period in Green Lantern history would first have to be navigated.

In the next article, we'll take a look at the Modern Age of Green Lantern, from Emerald Dawn to Emerald Twilight, the Justice League Of America, and the road to Rebirth.

More of our Green Lantern stories are found here.

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