Green Lantern’s modern age stories

As Green Lantern swoops into cinemas today, James takes a look at the superhero’s modern age adventures...

Earlier this week. we looked at some Green Lantern story highlights from the Silver and Bronze ages of comics.  Now, we turn our attention to what is, rather unimaginatively dubbed…

The Modern Age

It’d be fair to say that the period between the mid-1980s and the early-2000s was not a particularly great time to be a fan of Hal Jordan. 

After the universe-redefining crossover, Crisis On Infinite Earths, the powers that be decided to reduce the Green Lantern Corps to a rump membership of just Hal Jordan, fellow human Lantern, Guy Gardner, space raccoon, Ch’p, and the anthropomorphic (and rather useless) alien dog, Gnort.  

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On the list of great franchise revamps, this one does not rank high. Not unsurprisingly, DC soon decided to try a different approach.

This was the time of comics famously ‘growing up’ and DC had recently experienced huge success with darker and more contemporary revamps of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and The Flash.

However, in comparison to these reboots, Green Lantern‘s was, frankly, pretty mild, amounting to no more than a token tweaking of his origin in the two solid, but unspectacular, Emerald Dawn mini-series.

Written by Keith Giffen and Gerard Jones and drawn by former Iron Man artist, Mark Bright, Emerald Dawn‘s major contribution to the Green Lantern mythos was to make Jordan a far more fallible character.

Filling out his background by elaborating on his troubled relationship with his brothers and the death of his father, it established Jordan as a far more troubled and troublesome character, even going so far as to make him an embittered drunk driver.

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That aside, the other significant contribution these two series made was to tie Jordan’s rise to power directly into the origin of his arch nemesis, Sinestro.

Originally one of the finest Lanterns in the Corps, Sinestro of Korugar was now cast as Jordan’s instructor. Overseer of the most ordered sector in the galaxy, Sinestro was eventually cast out of the Corps in disgrace as his somewhat despotic method of peacekeeping was brought to light.

Seemingly marooned in the antimatter universe of Qward, Sinestro constructed a yellow power ring, plotting and waiting for the right moment to take his revenge.

With a new origin in place, a new Green Lantern ongoing series was launched in 1991, starring Jordan, a newly re-empowered John Stewart, and the gung-ho blunderbuss that was Guy Gardner.

Under the guidance of writer, Gerard Jones, this series took the unusual step of seemingly aging Jordan, giving him twin streaks of grey hair in his usually brown locks and setting him off on another cross-country journey. However, this time Jordan wasn’t searching for America, but rather himself.

An unusual and not wholly successful take on the character, the attempts to give Jordan depth merely made him seem indecisive, unappealing and remote. Perhaps sensing this, DC quickly established a new status quo, with Jordan sent off into space to establish and recruit a new Corps of Lanterns, while Earth was left under the watchful eye of Gardner.

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An interesting curio from around this time was the Green Lantern: Mosaic series.  Again written by Jones and drawn, ostensibly, by Cully Hamner, it followed the adventures of John Stewart on the Mosaic World, a patchwork collection of different intergalactic communities transplanted together against their will onto an alien world.

Running for eighteen issues, it was a weird and wonderful antidote to the usual spacefaring antics of the GL books and provided Stewart with a defined role for the first time in many years.

But despite this period of seeming stability, there was a chill wind on the horizon. Sales of the various Green Lantern books began to flag and it was decided that truly radical action was needed.

In the early 90s, DC had experienced huge success by killing and/or replacing their frontline characters in blockbuster storylines such as The Death Of Superman series and the similarly epic Knightfall storyline in the Batman titles. With sales on these books reaching new heights, DC decided that a similar approach was the right one for Green Lantern.

Spinning out of the end of DC’s much ballyhooed Return Of Superman story, Jordan was faced with yet another existential crisis. His home city of Coast City left in ruins by the Superman villain, Mongul, Jordan tried to rebuild the city using his power ring. Violating Green Lantern law, this brought him into conflict with the Guardians of the Universe.

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A crass and cynical plot, the ensuing Emerald Twilight storyline, written by Ron Marz, would see Jordan turning rogue, destroying the entire Green Lantern Corps and killing many of his friends and colleagues (and even his oldest enemy) along the way.

His fall from grace complete, Jordan absorbed the entire power of the central battery and was transformed into the villainous Parallax, a being dedicated to rewriting history and preventing the destruction of Coast City from ever happening.   

But with Jordan now out in the universe as Parallax, and with the central battery destroyed, what were DC’s plans for Green Lantern?

Following on from Emerald Twilight, Ron Marz and artist, Darryl Banks, were charged with creating a new Green Lantern character. This one would be a reluctant hero, not chosen for his unique abilities, but because, well, he was in the right place at the right time.

This character, Kyle Rayner, would receive the last remaining power ring in the universe from the last surviving Guardian. He alone would have to keep the emerald light burning in a universe where the legacy of the Green Lanterns was diminishing daily.

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While it’d be fair to say that Marz wrote some good material for Rayner during his time on the book, arguably the best use of the character during this period was in the pages of Grant Morrison’s Justice League Of America (JLA). Morrison’s use of Rayner as the everyman character among gods during his defining run was inspired and gave the character a unique and charming edge.

However, despite Morrison and Marz’s work, it’s hard to feel that the powers that be at DC viewed their treatment of Hal Jordan as anything other than a mistake, and as early as 1996, Jordan/Parallax was rehabilitated in the Final Night mini-series.

In this story, with the Earth freezing to death and its occupants dying, Jordan would reconnect with his heroic side one last time and sacrifice his life and power to reignite the sun and save all life on Earth.

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But Jordan’s story wasn’t over.  In 1999, during the all but forgotten Day Of Judgement mini-series, Jordan’s spirit was summoned from the afterlife and given a shot at full-on, bells and whistles holy redemption, as the new host for DC’s supernatural spirit of vengeance, The Spectre.

This new Spectre was even given his own series, but the merging of these two distinctive characters was never a comfortable fit and the series was canned after twenty-seven issues.

However, Jordan’s brief tenure as The Spectre had given him some form of spiritual redemption for his past transgressions as Parallax. All that was missing now was his literal rebirth as a hero.

In the concluding part of this series of articles, we’ll take a look at Green Lantern: Rebirth, the second coming of Hal Jordan, the Sinestro Corps war, and Blackest Night.

More of our Green Lantern stories are found here.

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