Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Green Lantern and the Decennial Cycle

Have you noticed that we go through a Green Lantern about once every ten years or so?

The Trinity -- Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman -- adapt to each decade, as do their larger casts. They change their styles and personalities but still remain quite recognizably themselves.

But other characters, the ones who didn't continue being published through the Wertham Era, their personal momentum was halted. When they were re-started by Julie Schwartz in the Silver Age, they were ripe for replacement. And this has (so far) doomed the name "Green Lantern" to a succession of replacements at a rate of about one per decade, each a product of his time.

The Green Lantern of the 1940s. Alan Scott. A manly man of the WWII era. Barrel-chested and broad-shoulders, just as like to throw a punch as use his ring, which was full of strange mystic power.

Thanks to Dr. Wertham, we'll never know exactly what the Green Lantern the 1950s might have given us. But...

The Green Lantern of the 1960s. Hal Jordan. Ah yes; the space age. Test pilot, and dinner jacketed swinger. Smooth, but still kind of dorky in a NASA way. And, as the Guardians came into play, he became the Company Man. With his two brothers in tow, he was also the JFK of the hero set. Truly, a character of his era.

Hal Jordan tried to become the GL of the 1970s by hanging out with liberal Green Arrow and tuning in to the scene. But it really just showed how square he was. Eventually, instead of becoming the 70sGL, he became the 40GLs. A straight-laced eminence grise (grey hair and all). This is a pattern the other GLs would follow, as well. And so he was slowly displaced by...

The Green Lantern of the 1970s. John Stewart. Blaxploitation films, big hair, fighting The Man and The System, grassroots battles rather than galactic ones.

Ah, but the 1970s didn't last forever and John's political activism devolved into Political Correctness and "Mosaic" in the '80s. New decades demand new Lanterns, like...

The Green Lantern of the 1980s. Guy Gardner. You see, Gardner had been created much earlier (1968), but hadn't been very active. Comas will do that to you. No, Guy didn't really become his own man until the Big Eighties. Brash. Conceited. Childishly competitive. While John Stewart was busy being ignored as the main character of the Green Lantern series, Guy Gardner was becoming famous as the GL of the JLI. But Guy became as hard to take seriously as the pretension of the decade of his floruit, and so we got...

The Green Lantern of the 1990s. Kyle Rayner. Oh, Guy Gardner tried to become the Lantern for the '90s: tattoos, enormous guns that formed out of his body (ick). But that's not really what the decade wanted. It wanted a release from padded shoulder pretension of the '80s. It wanted ... Young! Edgy! Struggling! Down to earth! In search of himself! Ah, Kyle, sketching, hanging out in coffee houses, sleeping with his colleagues. In the 1990s, somebody gave Joey Tribbiani a ring, it seems.

But the new decade -- and millennium -- wanted something more. Millennial rebirth, a return to greatness, a Brave New World. Kyle tried, even becoming the godlike Ion; but it was still, in the final analysis, just Kyle. A new Green Lantern was called for.

The Green Lantern of the 2000s.

Hal Jordan.

Sure, the other ones are around, but they aren't the one the series is named after, are they?

Is this "Rebirth", then, the end of the cycle?

I hope so. For I do not like the Decennial Character Cycle of the Green Lanterns; it is like building a castle on the sand, only to see it washed away with each successive tide. It has spread, now, to the Flashes, and threatens to beach the Aquaman name as well.

DC; If you want these characters to remain also-rans behind the Trinity, stick with the Decennial Character Cycle. If you want these characters to grow in greatness, keep the same person in the role and evolve or adapt them, not just toss them aside as soon as the culture shifts underneath them.

What do YOU think, Absorbascommenters?

24 comments:

Gokitalo said...

While I've liked the various Green Lantern (and Flash) successors, I do hope we've seen the end of that cycle with Hal's return. A lot of times when a DC character gets replaced for being "dated," an Elseworld or something will come along and prove that the character can resonate with a modern audience.

Zaratustra said...

Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends.

Matthew said...

I really hadn't thought of it in that way before, but you hit the nail on the head.

I really hope Geoff Johns never tires of writing GL, because it would be a shame to see Hal and Gang replaced again.

Anonymous said...

I think the cycling has been a result of "Green Lantern"'s suckiness as a superhero comic. The comic has traditionally been pretty bad; really, how do you make a superhero interesting whose power is to make energy boxing gloves and energy toilet plungers and energy steam shovels?

The solution, it seems, is not to write "Green Lantern" as a superhero comic; instead, write "Green Lantern" as a cop show. That's what Geoff's been doing, and that's the primary reason why it's been working. It provides structure and framework, and best of all, it even offers a role for all the GLs: Hal, Guy, John, Kilowog, Soranik, even the holdover from Earth-8.

Please note that, in observing Green Lantern's traditional suckiness, I am speaking as someone who has loved GL since childhood, but has been disappointed by the low quality of the comic. I dug Gerard Jones's run (though it got long in the tooth in places), but just about everyone else's run was needlessly painful.

JonnyQuest037 said...

Great analysis, Scipio. So does this mean you want Barry Allen back?

RL2814 said...

Does this mean you didn't like Jack Knight either? Cause wasn't he simalar in a way?

Cannon said...

Yeah, I figured there was another level to that Dr. Manhattan line, too, Zara.

Perhaps I'm being unduly optimistic (I'd LIKE to think that being positive is a trait of being a Green Lantern fan, but that may apply to DC fanboys in general...Or should), but I don't think we really need to leave any of the Green Lanterns by the wayside; it's a matter of assigning writers that are obviously skilled at characterization, and are clever enough to find ways for these men of the times to play off each other.

Erm. That said, I'm a Hal fan (don't hit, Scip'), but if there can be only one, I'd rather that it be Alan. This is me shrugging.

psychonaut-raz said...

I really hope Geoff Johns never tires of writing GL
That's kind of a problem though, isn't it? Johns does write a really good Hal, but really, who else DOES?

Is it worth all the trouble he's gone to bringing him back when Hal is a way more bland character in anybody else's hands than the other GL's are?

**word verification is Xmbzdepb, the Aquaman equivalent of the 5th Dimension..**

Anonymous said...

Great article! Interesting idea. I do wonder, though, about Jon Stewart being the GL of the 1970's. I had the impression the character never took off the way Hal, Guy, and Kyle did. Did he appear a lot in the GL title and around the DCU during the 70s?

I would be interested to see how you would break this down with The Flash. Jay Garrick is obviously the 1940s Greatest Generation man's man. Barry Allen came out of the optimism and excitement surrounding the 1960s, not to mention the 'Leave it to Beaver' style values still prevalent at the time. But he was the Flash up through the 1970s. How did he decade affect Barry Allen? Wally West was a 1980s hero at first, but he stayed on as Flash through the 1990s. How did he change in that decade? The Flash legacy is not so easily compartmentalized by decade as the Green Lantern legacy. I'd be interested to see your analysis, and maybe apply the same model to the Justice League, Starman, Black Canary, Green Arrow, and other DC characters who went on hold during the 1950s.

SallyP said...

This is a perceptive essay, as usual Scipio. As you MAY know, I'm a huge GL fan, so I'm just glad that we have ALL of them, right now, plus all the great characters in the Corps. Because really, how can you NOT like Kilowog, Salakk, Soranik Natu, Arisia, and those wacky wacky Guardians?

Thanks to Geoff Johns, all the Earth Lanterns are back, more or less in possession of their brains, and interacting beautifully. It's a very good time to be a Lantern fan.

totaltoyz said...

To me, that's been the big difference between Green Lantern and Iron Man. Not counting the Golden-Age Green Lantern, of course, Green Lantern is an assignment. The little blue guys who look like Ben-Gorian decide to give the ring to someone, and that makes him Green Lantern. Iron Man, on the other hand, is more than the armored suit. The one true Iron Man is Tony Stark, the mind who built the suit and the dedication to use it to protect the innocent. (Don't remind me of what's been done to Tony at Marvel lately; I still say he's a Skrull.) There have been replacement Iron Men, from Happy Hogan to Jim Rhodes, but none of them came close to being the true Iron Man.

Allan said...

I haven't read a Green Lantern comic since I was 10, which probably explains why I'm willing to argue that the only worthy bearer of the ring was Ch'p. Because being adorable counts for a lot in my book.

Anonymous said...

For me the Green Lantern concept has always been more important than the character. The stories I enjoy tend to be ones where you could substitute one character for another and it wouldn't make that much difference. Most of my enjoyment of Hal Jordan is derived from my enjoyment of his origin story w/ Abin Sur & the flight trainer & so forth.

One of the Absorbascommenters asked who besides Johns could write a good Hal Jordan. Based on JLA Year One and the new Brave & the Bold, I think Mark Waid could write a really good Hal Jordan Series. Also, it was only a small scene, but Busiek had a flashback scene w/ Superman, Barry Allen & Hal Jordan in Action or Superman a while back and it was golden. It was the issue where Supergirl & the Legion were looking into the past. In just a few panels he perfectly captured Hal's arrogance. -Alex

Shamus said...

Hal Jordan has always been THE Green Lantern to me. I started reading comics in the early 70s when Stewart appeared so while I have a nostalgic soft spot for him, all the others are still stand-ins for me. I hate Guy Gardner and Kyle does nothing for me. After all of this however I still don't mind the idea of there being multiple Earth Lanterns. they co-exist but Hal Jordan is the definitive Lantern and I agree that if DC wants to push him up the echelon (sounds painful) then they should keep the focus, as they are presently doing, on Jordan/lantern.

Anonymous said...

Scip, does this mean you disagree with DC and Geoff Johns big thing about Legacies in the DCU?

The thing he and other DC writers have been building in the stories for over eight years now?

Hoosier X said...

Green Lantern is effing COOL!

So shut up!

grebok-sod said...

DC has their whole Love/Hate thing with their legacies. I think we as fans have the same problem.

If it's a character we like, we don't want a whole lot of replacement legacy nonsense we want the character we started with. Only sometimes are we begrudgingly able to accept a new face in old clothes. Preferably with some amount of endorsement from the previous tenant (ie. Wally being the natural inheritor of the Flash legacy v. Bart who was hastily slapped into a Kid Flash costume just in time to blow his kneecap off; Dick all-but forcing Tim on Bruce instead of Dick finding out months later that Bruce gave his costume to Jason).

However, if it's a character we didn't care about in the first place, we're all too happy to hang the old out to dry and ring in the new.

It's all relative to your personal fandom. Which is why my only wish for DC is they do what they feel they must to move books, but remember EVERY character is someone's favorite. Let's not be capricious.

Anonymous said...

Let's see ... an overabundance of GLs works because you can easily make a cop show out of Green Lanterns. So the question is, what do you do with an overabundance of Flashes; what genre works for them? This is a tough one because almost all genres involving an ensemble cast place the characters in the same physical setting, but the very nature of Flashes is to go elsewhere, at dizzying speed. The closest I can think of is "Mission: Impossible" where the characters are each given their own assignments to carry out; of course, "Femme Fatale Who Moves At Super-Speed" and "Master Of Disguise Who Moves At Super-Speed" are insultingly stupid, so that doesn't work either.

Aquaman may not be so hard to re-genrify; Scipio even once observed that Aquaman was traditionally a Western hero (stranger who rides or swims into town, stops the local varmints, charms the ladies, and takes his leave), so start there. It's a tradition in Westerns to have the main hero and his sidekicks; get seahorses for the lot of them, and you're on your way.

Jason said...

I agree that GL works best not when it's a superhero story, but when it's a story about the Space Cops . . . it makes a big difference.

Law and Order: Alpha Centauri

Doug said...

Great article. one comment...sure John Stewart was created in the 70s, but wasn't he really a factor only in the 80s?

totaltoyz said...

Great article. one comment...sure John Stewart was created in the 70s, but wasn't he really a factor only in the 80s?

I think what Scipio was going for is that John Stewart was a creation of the 70s, and personifies several characteristics of that era: blaxploitation (if that word isn't in Webster's it ought to be), the common man striking back at the system, etc.

Personally I can only think of two appearances of John Stewart in the actual 1970s: his first appearance, which I think was GL #87, and JLofA #110. There may be one or two more I don't remember.

Perceval said...

Gosh, there is a great deal of effective info here!
water damage repairs | picea abies | buy a college degree | wireless credit card machine | houston criminal lawyer

Sydney said...

Really useful piece of writing, lots of thanks for your article.
metal building

Samson said...

To my mind one and all must browse on it.
best console games | play free games | full games database | download games | full games direct