Shedding light on 'Green Lantern'

NewsdayJune 17, 2011 

  • A Green Lantern movie idea has been bandied about since at least the 1980s, when Eddie Murphy was briefly attached to a script. Back in 2000, a film seemed close enough that Warner Bros. registered the website GreenLanternTheMovie.com. But it proceeded in fits and starts - Jack Black was to star in a comedy version, and Quentin Tarantino said in 2009, "I was offered the 'Green Lantern.' Not since it's been a script, but just like, 'Hey, we own the "Green Lantern. Would you like it?'"

    The version opening this week has been in the works since October 2007, when TV writer-producer Greg Berlanti was asked to direct and co-script it with Michael Green and comic-book writer Marc Guggenheim. Their draft was rewritten by Michael Goldenberg ("Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix") when director Martin Campbell ("Casino Royale") replaced Berlanti.

    The producers' top contenders to play Hal Jordan aka Green Lantern were Bradley Cooper, Jared Leto, Justin Timberlake and eventual winner Ryan Reynolds, who stars in an origin story that follows that of the comics: Dying alien bequeaths power ring, human wearer joins intergalactic peacekeepers. The movie follows his attempts to learn the ropes, fight a planet-destroying entity and win over the lovely Carol Ferris (Blake Lively).

    And Warner Bros. appears to be optimistic about the future: Last August it hired Goldenberg to write a script for "Green Lantern 2."

Ultimately, there is just one Superman, just one Batman, just one Wonder Woman. But there are countless Green Lanterns within DC Comics' fictional universe, and at least five have starred in comic books and animated TV series. When the live-action "Green Lantern," starring Ryan Reynolds, opens today, moviegoers could be forgiven if they wonder, "Green who? Lantern what?"

The answer, in the movie's case, is Hal Jordan, the second and most prominent character of that name. Created in 1959, a product of the Space Age, he was a test pilot in the day of the right stuff. When he went to help a crash-landed alien, the dying extraterrestrial bequeathed him a "power ring" that could create objects out of one's imagination, and a lantern-shaped device for charging it. Protecting this sector of the universe as part of the intergalactic Green Lantern Corps is part of the deal.

"All pop culture has to reflect what's going on in the world or it won't be very popular," says Ken Gale, producer-host of the long-running WBAI-FM's comic-book radio show "'Nuff Said." "This Green Lantern arrived after Sputnik but before the Mercury space flights," Gale notes, "when test pilots were considered the bravest people around."

Writer John Broome and penciler Gil Kane introduced this second Green Lantern in the tryout title "Showcase" No. 22-24 (cover-dated October 1959-February 1960). At the behest of comics editor Julius Schwartz, they took the name, the ring, the lantern and little else from the original Green Lantern, Alan Scott - created in 1940 during the "Golden Age of Comic Books" by writer Bill Finger and artist/character-conceptualist Martin Nodell (who lived in Huntington from 1941 to 1943 and drew "Green Lantern" through 1947).

The 1959 "Silver Age" Green Lantern got his own series, "Green Lantern" Vol. 2, the following year. And while the writing in his beautifully drawn stories might be charitably described as "child-friendly," Jordan himself was a fully functioning grown-up, as were many aspects of the feature.

Jordan's boss at Ferris Aircraft was a woman, manager Carol Ferris (played by Blake Lively in the movie). Her father may have owned the company, but she was Ivanka Trump-savvy in business and a modern woman who didn't need rescuing. Unlike Lois Lane at the time, who pined in vain for Superman, Ferris would go on dates with Green Lantern. When the superhero expresses doubts about their romance, because he always has to dash off, the sensible Ferris tells him he's no different from a doctor on call.

The comic also rejected the ethnic stereotypes used for some sidekicks in early comics. True, Hal Jordan's mechanic was an Inuit called "Pieface" - and despite fan speculation, that comes not from the ice-cream treat Eskimo Pie, which goes unmentioned in the early comics, but from an existing term for "a person with a round face and a blank ... expression," according to the 1960 edition of "The Dictionary of American Slang." Yet Thomas Kalmaku, as he was formally named, was Jordan's smart, capable and always respectfully depicted best friend, eventually becoming a business executive and more. As played by Taika Waititi in the film, he's an aerospace engineer.

Other Green Lanterns followed. Guy Gardner was introduced in "Green Lantern" Vol. 2, No. 59 (March 1968) as Jordan's backup. When Gardner was injured in issue No. 87 (January 1972), architect John Stewart replaced him -- becoming DC's second African-American superhero after writer-artist Jack Kirby's Army Sgt. Willie Walker, aka Black Racer. Gardner and Stewart both eventually became full-fledged Lanterns.

Neither are characters in the new film. Nor is Kyle Rayner, the most recent of Earth's Green Lanterns, a 20-something, half-Hispanic freelance artist introduced in "Green Lantern" Vol. 3, No. 48 (January 1994). He replaced Hal Jordan when Jordan became infected with the alien entity Parallax and became a mass murderer, killing the rest of the Corps.

Not to worry, death is impermanent in comics, and Jordan atoned for his temporary insanity by sacrificing himself to reignite Earth's dead sun in "The Final Night" No. 4 (November 1996). Then, he became the spirit of vengeance/redemption, the Spectre, and now he's back.

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