Comic book fans, it’s time to admit a hard truth: While Batman and Superman have universal appeal, Green Lantern is more of an acquired taste. Ever tried explaining Green Lantern to a non-comic-reading friend?
Your friend: This Green Lantern stuff sure looks exciting. What’s it about?
You: He’s a test pilot who gets an alien ring. It’s powered by green energy, which he can turn into any physical object he can imagine. The stronger his willpower, the more he can do with it.
Your friend: Interesting.
You: But the ring has to recharged every so often, by sticking it into a lantern-shaped battery and reciting a special oath.
Your friend: OK…
You: Now that he has the ring, he’s part of an intergalactic police force, made up of hundreds of aliens to keep track of, all with different sizes, shapes, and personalities.
Your friend: Um…
You: There are also Yellow Lanterns and Red Lanterns and Star Sapphire Lanterns. The green energy doesn’t work against the color yellow, or against wood depending on which version you read. There’s a planet that’s a Lantern, a doglike comic relief Lantern the fans hate, and cute cat Lantern that vomits blood. And let’s not forget the Lantern that…
Your friend: I’m going to go watch a Rachel McAdams movie now.
If you are a fan, and were disappointed by the watering down of the GL mythology in the 2011 Green Lantern movie, now you have an alternative in the far-out, space-based Green Lantern: The Animated Series.
Hal Jordan (Josh Keaton, General Hospital), the Green Lantern of Earth, is called to space to investigate a series of murders committed against other Green Lanterns. The culprits are the anger-fueled Red Lanterns. Aboard his cool new ship the Interceptor, Hal explores the galactic frontier with his Green Lantern partner Killowog (Kevin Michael Richardson, Young Justice) and analytical robot girl Aya (Grey DeLisle, Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated). They later get a reluctant ally in Razer (Jason Spisak, Star Wars: The Clone Wars), a Red Lantern betrayed by his own kind.
When Green Lantern: The Animated Series debuted, the simplistic CGI animation was something of a turnoff, and the tone seemed to mark it as a mere cash-grab, piggybacking off the 2011 film. My fellow comic book and animation fans, however, kept singing the show’s praises, with many of them arguing that it delivered the sci-fi/superhero action they felt was missing from the live action movie. So here I am, giving the series a second try on this two-disc Blu-ray and, I must admit, it’s growing on me.
On the surface, the show is riffing on Star Trek: The Original Series and similar sci-fi “ship shows.” In any given episode, our heroes visit a planet where weird stuff is happening. They investigate, have adventures, save the day, and then fly off to find another weird planet in the next episode. The show’s creators, however, have bigger ambitions, and are playing the long game throughout the whole series. Every episode introduces some important story point or character beat that adds to the protagonists’ emotional journey and the ongoing conflict between the Green Lanterns and Red Lanterns.
Hal is mostly portrayed as the genuine, always-does-the-right-thing good guy, with his “cocky flyboy” persona occasionally rising to the surface. When he learns he’s more or less stranded in space, several months’ journey from Earth, Hal takes it in stride. He has a job to do, and he’s not going to sit around whining about how much he misses home. Don’t worry—Hal’s romance with Carol Ferris does get some play in later episodes. Hal is the tight-laced cop when facing evil, but he’s the rebel when confronted with rules and regulations he disagrees with. Hal and Killowog have a breezy buddy-cop chemistry as well. When Hal is the serious one, Killowog is the funny one, and vice versa. Killowog is the pragmatic one, rushing headlong into any conflict with both fists swinging, while Hal is the one to stop and ask if there’s a better way.
Although Razer is initially aboard the ship as a prisoner, he is soon upgraded to “reluctant ally” status after we learn his tragic backstory, and that he has reason to rage against his fellow Red Lanterns. He’s the bad boy of the group, the one who pokes holes in the others’ goodness with his cynicism. Thanks to his budding friendship with Aya, Razer gets to show his more emotional side, so that’s he’s not always cold and angry. Stuck in the “emotionless robot” role, Aya is a little harder to get a read on, character-wise. She seems to care genuinely for Razer in a way the others don’t, and sometimes she shows a desire to prove herself an equal to her shipmates, but beyond that, she’s usually just an exposition-delivery device.
On the villain side of things, we have the Red Lanterns. They’re certainly an imposing force, and any time they take on the Green Lanterns in a fight, it feels like they could win every time. The problem is that their rings are fueled by rage, and their motivation is revenge for something the Green Lanterns did ages ago. This makes them simplistic enemies at their core, with their big plan boiling down to just “Let’s get those darned Green Lanterns!” Along the way, we get a number of side villains, each who come back in surprising ways in later episodes. More interesting among these are a gang of gladiatorial Thanagarians—Hawkman’s people—and the Star Sapphires, who say they’re about love, but are really more like the seductive Sirens of old-timey myths.
Once the Red Lanterns are dealt with, the second half of the series takes off in even wilder directions, introducing more and more characters from Green Lantern lore, including Guy Gardner, Larfleeze, the Anti-Monitor, and the big bad himself, Sinestro. Although the creators should be applauded for their high ambitions, perhaps they got a little too ambitious with this final stretch of episodes, even if they do continue the Razer/Aya relationship in a big way.
About the weekly-TV CGI. It’s not that bad. It’s true that the characters can sometimes come across as a little stiff and weightless, but the animators actually do a good job of teasing a lot of acting out of the CGI models. Facial acting is especially impressive, an excellent example of animators accomplishing a lot with very little. The visuals are bright and colorful overall, and the action scenes aren’t too repetitive, even if the green energy constructs are sometimes not as imaginative or outrageous as some fans might prefer. The big downside is that everything and everyone looks like they’re made of plastic. One of the advantages of CGI is texture. Instead of a drawing of a rock, a CGI rock can have a genuine rocklike texture. On this show, everything on screen is the same smooth, plasticky texture. Perhaps it’s a budget limitation or perhaps it’s an attempt to make the style more “cartoony,” but the lack of texture is distracting throughout, a serious flaw in an otherwise entertaining, engaging superhero epic.
My complaints about the visuals are partially tempered, because the show looks real good on Blu-ray. Damn good. Taken directly from the original digital elements, the colors are bright and vivid, and the characters’ movements practically pop right off the screen. This is best seen in the outer space action, in which animators use the starry backdrop to their advantage, making the show look big and expansive, even within the limitations of a weekly TV budget. The DTS-HD sound comes only 2.0, but it is nonetheless clean and booming. Any bonus features must have been left on the other side of the galaxy, because you won’t find them here.
It’s a sci-fi show for fans who want space to be populated with every kind of alien, ship, and gadget you think of. It’s a superhero show for those who want the good guy to save the entire universe instead of just saving his home city. In simpler terms, it’s for fans only. If you go into Green Lantern: The Animated Series with that mentality, you’ll have some fun.