Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Green Lantern: The DCAU show that wasn't

I was going to write something about the pervasive influence of the Silver Age on comics, but for whatever reason I couldn't get it to work, so instead I'm going to go with a positive this week and talk about Green Lantern: The Animated Series.

I've been seeing it hanging around on Netflix since I signed up, and I was a bit suspicious, since it looked CGI and for whatever reason, it reminded me of that awful Ryan Reynolds movie (which I haven't even seen, but it seems to have replaced Daredevil as one of the worst superhero movies ever).

On the other hand, after finishing Justice League and its sequel, Justice League Unlimited, I was in the mood for something in the same vein. Those two shows were so well-done that I felt I wasn't quite done with superheroes. Young Justice didn't really hit the spot, though, and Batman: The Brave and the Bold, while charming, felt a little light. And then I started on Green Lantern.

There's a reason they say not to judge a book by its cover.

Now, it is all-CGI, which gives everything a weird, plasticky look, but for all that, the action sequences are really good. Moreover, the animators did a good job of making every Lantern's constructs distinct and inventive - John Stewart in the JL shows seemed to only shoot lasers and make bubbles, whereas here you get big green hands, baseball mitts, hammers... It sounds a bit silly, but that's one of the things you go to Green Lantern for.

Then there's the stories, which really are resonant and grown-up enough to appeal to kids as well as parents. The first half of the show's single season was taken up by a single storyline involving the Red Lanterns, who are seeking revenge on the Green Lantern Corps and its Guardians, whom they blame for the destruction of their home sector. The second half, which I haven't quite finished yet, deals with the return of the Manhunters, the robot police force that's responsible for that destruction.

Amid all of that have been themes like the futility of revenge, the destructiveness of emotions like rage, and how authority figures shouldn't automatically get our trust. There's been an interesting subplot for two characters who are (or were) falling in love, and the show has been up front about certain characters being killed, right from the very first scene.

The thematic similarities with the DCAU shows is not entirely an accident, as Bruce Timm executive produced Green Lantern too, which also means he brought the character designs from the earlier shows. If the voices aren't as distinguished as in JL/JLU (they didn't bring back Andrea Romano to do voice casting), then they certainly aren't bad, with talents like Tom Kenny (Spongebob Squarepants) and Josh Keaton (Spectacular Spider-Man), among others, lending their pipes.

Another thing I like about the show is that it's made sense of a lot of the plots of the comics from the last 20 years or so for me. I stopped reading Green Lantern in the 90s because I found the Ron Marz/Darryl Banks run, which introduced Kyle Rayner, kind of boring. And every time I've glanced through issues in comics shops I've found new stuff to confuse me - there were now Lanterns Corps of many colors! Hal Jordan was back! The Guardians and Kilowog weren't dead anymore!

There was also a big crossover event called Blackest Night at one point, where you got the Black Lantern Corps, an excuse to bring back dead characters as zombies. Not really my speed, man. So it's nice to see the various colors (Green, Red, Blue and Purple, in the form of the Star Sapphires) woven organically into a single story that stands on its own while also paying homage to the comics.

It's just a shame there's so little of it. I'm aware that animated shows typically have a shorter lifespan than live-action, but with 5 episodes to go (out of 26), I'm wishing there was more for me to get stuck into. Hal Jordan has been running around as Green Lantern for over 50 years, and even ignoring the worst silliness of the Silver Age, there are plenty of stories the creators could have lifted for the TV show.

But them's the breaks - it came out too close to the movie, which spawned disappointing toy sales, and that's apparently what killed it. Still, I'm glad that DC managed another good show featuring one of my favorite characters. It'll probably only ever be a footnote in the history of DC animated shows, but well worth tracking down once it disappears from Netflix at the end of March.