Green Lantern. Artists:  Darryl Banks and Romeo Tanghal.

GREEN LANTERN

Medium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1994
Creators: Ron Marz (writer) and Darryl Banks (artist)
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During the 1980s, DC Comics set a precedent for trading out superheroes that become hard to push on readers, but are still lucrative in …

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… merchandising. But The Flash was guilty of nothing worse than an interminably boring storyline when he was killed off and replaced with a new Flash. Hal "Green Lantern" Jordan was perhaps the saddest victim of the post-Watchmen tendency toward "grim'n'gritty" comic books — over-enthusiastic creators turned him into a drunk and a mass-murderer, rendering it difficult, if not impossible, to portray him credibly as a hero. Green Lantern really needed replacing.

The basic Green Lantern concept (an interstellar organization that included thousands of identically-themed superheroes of varying species) allowed for easy substitution. But none of the Green Lantern characters that had been used in the past (going all the way back to the one from the 1940s) seemed to work in the lead role. Probably the closest was John Stewart, who had been introduced in 1971, but he, too, had accumulated an awful lot of baggage. What they needed was to come up with a new one from scratch.

Kyle Rayner (often misspelled "Raynor") was a perfectly ordinary human being with neither noticeable villainous tendencies nor outstanding heroic qualities, and therefore had never appeared in a comic book before Green Lantern #48 (January, 1994). A blue-skinned alien named Ganthet, the sole surviving member (the outgoing Green Lantern had murdered the others) of the organization that sponsored the Green Lanterns (the formerly eternal Guardians of the Universe) had a single remaining power ring (the device Green Lanterns get their power from) that he was desperate to foist off on somebody (who would thereupon become the Last of the Green Lanterns). Choosing pretty much at random, he laid it on Kyle, who finally assumed the role three issues later. The story in which Kyle became Green Lantern was written by Ron Marz and drawn by Darryl Banks, both relative newcomers to comics at the time.

This Green Lantern was 20-something, and much like other 1990s 20-somethings. He learned quite a bit about a hero's responsibilities early on, when a villain named Major Force killed his girlfriend, but still didn't mature fast enough to please many long-time readers. Quite a few of those long-time fans of stalwart, heroic Hal Jordan were willing to forgive his recent peccadillos, and wanted him back — and were very vocal about their desires on the Internet, in fanzines and in the comic's letter column. In the latter venue, editor Kevin Dooley made it clear Hal was permanently out, Kyle was permanently in, and if you don't like it, too bad — but not in those exact words. In fact, he displayed a level of professionalism rarely seen among those holding responsible positions with large, mainstream publishers, and openly ridiculed correspondents who, despite the character's newly developed unsuitability for a heroic role, preferred Hal.

If some of Hal's fans were unable to accept Kyle, his colleagues seemed to have no such problems. In 1997, Kyle joined Superman, Aquaman and other early members of the old Justice League of America in launching a new incarnation of that venerable group. (But he wasn't a regular in the TV cartoons the JLA appeared in a few years later — there, the Green Lantern position was occupied by John Stewart, who, being black, supplied diversity; tho Kyle has appeared there as an auxiliary Green Lantern.) Meanwhile, Hal started making a down payment, at least, on atoning for his sins through a post-death career as The Spectre.

The Justice League incarnation that Kyle joined is still running — but Kyle himself isn't. Despite the certain pronouncements of Kevin Dooley (who, by the way, no longer works in comic books), Kyle (as of the 2004-05 mini-series Green Lantern: Rebirth) is no longer Green Lantern and Hal (purged of guilt through means available only in comic books) is. In comic books, not only is death not always permanent — neither is seemingly-irreversible psychic disfigurement.

— DDM

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Text ©2005 Donald D. Markstein. Art © DC Comics.