Review- Green Lantern: The Animated Series

WARNING: THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE CONTAINS FULL SPOILERS TO GREEN LANTERN: THE ANIMATED SERIES.
It also contains some really nerdy talk about comics so sorry in advance about that.
 

Not many people remember this but there was a brief moment in time where the entire DC Comics universe revolved around Green Lantern. Events like the Sinestro Corps War, Blackest Night, Brightest Day, and Wrath of the First Lantern were game changing events and for nine years, Geoff Johns and his fellow writers and artists redefined the DC Universe. His most notable contribution wasn’t bringing back Hal or Coast City or retconning Parallax or even changing how the power rings worked. Johns idea of an emotional energy spectrum that makes up the cosmos created a literal rainbow of Lantern corps with their own color, oath, culture, and a specific emotion that drives each lantern. Moreover, it gave characters like Star Saphire, Sinestro, and Black Hand a new lease on life (so to speak) as their hand jewelry became connected to their own Lantern corps. This rainbow connection felt like a natural extension of what was built before and gave readers loads of new lanterns to claim as their favorite.

This foldout spread page is by Ethan van Sciver for Green Lantern #20.
This foldout spread page is by Ethan van Sciver from Green Lantern #20. Pretty much the perfect encapsulation of Geoff Johns nine year run.

So it made sense in the late 2000’s to make a live action Green Lantern movie based on all these mind blowing, best selling comic books. I remember 2011 being “the year of Green Lantern”. I even remember when Geoff Johns did a Free Comic Book Day signing at Earth-2 Comics Northridge and gave out Green Lantern marked cans of Brisk to promote the Hell out of that film. But unfortunately, it was all for nothing as the Green Lantern movie tanked on opening weekend. That terrible and rushed Green Lantern movie was a rare moment when WB decided not to make a superhero movie based on Batman or Superman and a setback for WB’s planned Justice League movie so they had to start from scratch…again. The only good thing to come from any of this was Green Lantern: The Animated Series (GL:TAS), a cartoon tie-in to that abysmal movie which had a lot of pedigree behind it. It had legendary animator Bruce Timm serving as the series Executive Producer, Avatar: The Last Airbender & Star Wars: The Clone Wars episodic director Giancarlo Volpe in charge of the animation, and it had veteran animation writer James Krieg in charge of creating the storylines. Together, they created a beautifully crafted universe rich with strongly written characters, brilliant sci-fi ideas, and the first CGI animated series ever produced by WB Animation.

SIGHTS AND SOUNDS

A lot of people moan at cartoons animated with computer graphics and I was one of them. I saw the promos and even The Flaming C Movie Trailer and I wasn’t impressed. But after watching the show for a few episodes, I think it’s a nice fit for this kind of storytelling. If you’re going to have space combat and fights involving constructs formed from power rings, I don’t think traditional 2-D hand drawn animation would’ve done a show like this any justice. Fights are well choreographed while the dozens of action sequences feel epic in size and scope. Color is important to Green Lantern (obviously) and the use of color in this series is beautiful. From each of the ring slingers to the alien backgrounds, everything looks gorgeous and distinct. Easily the best thing going for the CG in GLTAS is that Bruce Timm’s signature character design translates very well in three dimensions. While the CG animation has issues with characters looking too much like plastic and occasionally backgrounds will be barren, I regret ever doubting the decision to have this cartoon going full on CG as it makes the show stand out from every other DC/WB Animation production.

While the series is animated with CG in 3D, the series was first developed in 2D with 3D dimensions in mind.
While the series is animated with CG in 3D, the series was developed in the same techniques traditional done for WB’s 2D cartoons but with 3D in mind.

Sound design in this series is superb. Josh Keaton, Kevin Michael Richardson, Jason Spisak, and Grey (DeLisle) Griffin do great work as the series lead characters as well as several other side characters. Griffin in particular voices multiple female characters in the series and pulls it off quite well. Several guest stars like Jonathan Adams, Jennifer Hale, Tom Kenny, Brian George, Ron Perlman, Diedrich Bader, Phil Morris, and the late Ian Amberchrombie do impressive work voicing their respective characters without a single weak performance amongst the cast. Composer Frederik Wiedmann delivers a fantastic orchestral score. That theme song that plays when the show starts (and I’m not talking about the truncated version Cartoon Network used when it originally aired) conveys a sense of heroism every time. The use of foreign instruments and choirs add this otherworldliness to alien environments while horns, strings, and percussion punctuate every action scene making each sequence feel epic. There’s a reason why WB Animation still uses Wiedmann to compose music for their projects and well…just listen to this:

RISE OF THE RED LANTERNS

The first storyline consisted of 13 episodes that only set the tone for the series but also set up story threads that the show would later revisit. Within the first minute of the two part series premiere “Beware my Power”, we see a novice Green Lantern getting murdered (off screen) by Red Lanterns Razer and Zilius Zox. Later on, we’re introduced to out series hero Hal Jordan. He’s a stubborn test pilot, a lousy boyfriend, and his duty as Green Lantern of Sector 2814 (Earth) knows no bounds. After being summoned to the GL homeworld Oa by the council of Guardians (little blue people who’re old as the universe but very arrogant with their powers) for punching a diplomat, Hal, the Guardians, and drill sergeant Kilowog discover that GL’s from the frontier space are being murdered. After the guardians decide to do nothing about it, Hal and Kilowog commender the Interceptor, an experimental spacecraft with an on board navigational A.I. that Hal dubs “AYA”, and they head out to Frontier Space.

They arrive and rescue Frontier Lantern Shyer Rev from the Red Lanterns Corps. In part two, they discover that the Red Lanterns are organized and led by Atrocitus. Fueled by his rage, their goal is to take vengeance against the Guardians of Oa and anyone standing in their way will be crushed. At the end of the second part of the episode, Razor activates a planet killing warhead over Shyer Rev’s home planet to prove he’s loyal to the Red Lantern cause. While the Interceptor crew evacuates Rev’s planet, Rev sacrifices his life to buy them more time. Hal captures Razer and forces him to make amends for the damage he’s done. It’s a great two parter that introduces our four main characters and demonstrated how dark this series could get.

That’s not to say that this series was trying to be “dark and gritty”. Far from it. Humor is a big part of the series which helps alleviate this series from being too self serious. Characters often ridiculed each other for their weird customs (apparently, aliens don’t see the need for Hal to put on a mask and protect their secret identity) while several side characters like Goggan and LANOS provided comedy relief to the proceedings.

Best comedy relief character in the series? This guy.
Best comedy relief character in the series? This guy. Just look at all his shiny facets.

Having this nice mix of comedy and drama made the material feel serious while making the procedural episodes feel less like filler. What’s even cooler is that standalone episodes like “Into the Abyss”, “Heir Apparent”, and “…In Love and War” tied back into the main narrative of war with the Red Lanterns near the end of the season. They created a space opera among the lines of Star Trek with compelling characters that gradually evolved and furthered the plot. Events in these first 13 episodes unfolded slowly but provided great payoff moments for the main characters…well just two of them.

Despite this show being named after Green Lantern, it was Razer and Aya who stole the show. Their budding romance formed the emotional crux for this series and made it stand out from other superhero shows focused on stopping some bad guy. Hal and Kilowog didn’t really grow as characters over the course of the series. Hal remained the arrogant hotshot he was at the beginning of the show and Kilowog was still the hardened, no nonsense drill sergeant at the end of the series. Razer and Aya were specifically created for the show (although Aya made an appearance in Green Lantern #65 [2011] but that was Geoff Johns doing some synergy between the show and the comics) which provided enough leeway for the writers to write whatever story arcs they wanted with these characters. Starting with “Razer’s Edge”, you see the first pieces of their relationship fall into place and seeing it all unfold over time makes the Razer and Aya’s romance feel endearing.

Other than the romance, the series drew influences from characters and concepts introduced in the Green Lantern books. In particular, Geoff Johns and Alan Moore’s contributions were the ones used the most in these 26 episodes. They took several liberties with each of the lanterns (Red Lanterns don’t die after their rings have been removed, Blue Lanterns can use their rings without being next to a Green Lantern, etc.) but only when it suited the story or to prevent the series from becoming too dark for children to watch.

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This first part of the series ends with the episode “Homecoming”. With Aya and the Interceptor taken hostage by Atrocitus  and the entire Red Lantern invasion fleet crossing into Green Lantern space, war seems imminent. Kilowog decides to stave off the Red Lanterns while Hal and Razer head to the Star Sapphires’ homeworld of Zamaron in order to teleport to Oa. But Hal ends up on Earth, catches up with Carol on a dinner date, and she discovers he has no memory of his time as a Green Lantern. After a recharge from his Lantern Battery, Hal’s memory comes back to him and he defeats Atrocitus. The Guardians own up to their misdeeds in creating the Manhunters and leaving the Frontier Space in ruins and they broker a deal with Zilas Zox (who becomes the de facto leader of the Red Lanterns) to make reparations for the damages done. So Hal saves the galaxy from the brink of war and returns to Earth to get dessert from Carol. All’s well that ends well, right? Not quite.

MANHUNTER MENACE

The second half of the season was more focused with its 13 episode story arc and it set up a gigantic and satisfying conclusion to the series. Starting with the episode “The New Guy”, we see a massive metallic being known as the Anti-Monitor pass through a portal and signals pulse activating all the decommissioned Manhunter droids. Soon after we see Hal Jordan return to Earth to find a new Green Lantern named Guy Gardner and is not happy that the Guardians replaced him. Predictably, they fight but have to put aside their differences when a troop of reactivated Manhunters start attacking them (and ace reporter Vinessa Swelter). At the end of the episode, Hal loses his role of being the Green Lantern of Earth but gets promoted to Honor Guard. In “Reboot”, Hal uses his new position to round up his Intercepter crew (because no one wants to be stuck with LANOS) to track down the source of the Manhunters only to find the Anti-Monitor waiting for them. They’re quickly outmatched and the Anti-Monitor fires an energy beam that kills Hal!

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Well no. He doesn’t die. It’s his show after all but that’s what we all thought after Cartoon Network put the show on a forced hiatus two episodes into the new storyline. Thankfully the episode “Steam Lantern” was briefly released on iTunes the following day it was supposed to air and I’m glad I bought it because it’s the best standalone episode of the series. After being blasted by the Anti-Monitor, Hal lands on a Victorian steampunk world. There, he meets Gil Broome, the Steam Lantern who fashioned a suit after a Green Lantern on his world who wore a red cape. Hal discovers the galaxy consuming nature of the Anti-Monitor, helps Gil end Duke Nigel’s reign of mechanical terror and with his new allies, finds a way back to his home dimension to find a way to stop the Anti-Monitor.

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After Hal returns from his steampunk excursion (and a ridiculously long hiatus), the crew retrieves Razer from his meditations with the Blue Lanterns in the episode “Blue Hope”. In “Loss”, the crew mounts an assault against the Manhunters from destroying the Red Lantern base Ysmault. Aya becomes critically injured from saving Razer and he confesses his love as she fades away. In the next episode “Cold Fury”, we learn that Aya survived the by grafting Manhunter parts but upon seeing her, Razer tells her that the feelings he had were because Aya reminded him of his deceased wife. Aya becomes unable to cope with Razer’s rejection and per Hal’s advice, shuts down her emotions. She absorbs the energy of the Interceptor’s Central Battery and slingshots herself straight into the the Anti-Monitor. She takes down the Anti-Monitor and in a shocking twist, takes over the body with the intent of ridding the universe of all emotions.

From the episode
From the episode “Love is a Battlefield”. Great episode but not my favorite Pat Benatar song.

Positioning “Aya-Monitor” to overtake the main villain of the second story arc is a bold move and one that puts the interceptor crew in the tough position of whether or not they should kill their friend to stop her from ending all life. The Intercepter crew tries to find a way to stop the Aya-Monitor as she goes on a galactic rampage absorbing the life-force from planets and building more and more Manhunters. In the episode “Scarred”, the Intercepter crew follows the trail left behind from the mysterious Science Director (who fans know as the rogue Guardian known as Scar) and they discover that Aya is not a navigational A.I. but a living being created from the life force inside the Green Lanterns’ Central Battery.

The Intercepter crew fails to stop the Aya from reaching “Ranx” and it all comes to a head in the series finale “Dark Matters”. The entire Green Lantern Corps mounts an assault against the Manhunter army and to prevent the Aya-Monitor from going back in time and altering the beginning of the universe to be devoid of emotions. Hal realizes that planets Aya destroyed were uninhabited so he sends in Razer to try and change her mind. Aya fatally injures Razer and with his dying breath, confesses his true feeling for her. Distraught from what she’s done, Aya returns to normal and heals Razer back to life but loses control of the Manhunter armada. She uploads a virus to destroy the manhunters once and for all but in doing so, she kills herself. Believing Aya is not truly gone, Razer sets out from Oa on a journey to find Aya. Hal and Kilowog are left contemplating if Razer will succeed and the series ends with Razer flying off to find the woman he loves…as a blue lantern power ring emerges to chase after him.

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ALL WILL BE WELL
The sad irony of it all is that GL:TAS got cancelled due in part because of the Green Lantern movie, the very thing it was created to tie into. Between disappointing box office numbers, movie merch that nobody bought effectively clogging up toy aisles, and general audience disinterest in Green Lantern, the show never stood a chance. The only pieces of merchandise at the time were coloring books, a line up of McDonald’s Happy Meal Toys, three statuettes from DC Collectables which are no longer for sale (unless you like buying from online scalpers), a set of really cool looking Halloween masks, a two volume soundtrack composed by Frederick Wiedmann, and a comic book series that loosely tied into the series. Worse is that the shows expensive production costs (I’ve heard that it costs $20 Million to produce this series) and lackluster ratings didn’t warrant Cartoon Network any incentive to renew the show for another season when they could easily produce a new show for much less money.

While most of the story threads were tied up, some plot points will forever remain open due to the series cancelation. The fate of characters like Carol and Galia were left open ended for future stories that will probably never happen. Based on Scar and the Book of Black that just so happened to be in her bookshelf, I assume they were going to adapt the Blackest Night storyline. Personally, I believe the biggest thread left dangling from the series cancelation was Sinestro. Green Lantern fans such as myself know how crucial Sinestro is to the mythos so it was disappointing to see him appear in one episode “Prisoner of Sinestro”. It seems that the producers had plans to use Sinestro earlier but couldn’t use him due to that live action Green Lantern movie calling dibs on him first (stupid DC TV embargo). I’m glad they showed him in his pre-villainy phase even if it was super brief but I’m heartbroken that we may never find out what their plans were for Sinestro.

Despite of all that, Green Lantern: The Animated Series will live on in the hearts of fans not for what could have been but for what the producers had accomplished with the time and money they were given. I’ve had time to rewatch this series from beginning to end and it still holds up nicely on the Blu-Rays Warner Archive put out two years ago. While the second half of the series is stronger and more focused than the first half, the series as a whole is great with setting up and paying off story elements. The 3D animation complements the creative writing and Bruce Timm’s aesthetics wonderfully. The casting is top notch and a couple of performances were so good, they made me cry tears of sorrow. And the series ended PERFECTLY by leaving the fandom feeling hopeful.

My biggest take away from this series was that I understood what it meant to be alive. It’s not just about breathing, moving independently, or simply existing. It’s about feeling. That’s why I think emotional spectrum is such an awesome concept in the Green Lantern comic books. Whether good or bad, emotions are powerful enough to change lives. How you handle these complex things requires a willingness to integrate and accept them into your life. So to the producers, writers, actors, animators, and fans of Green Lantern: The Animated Series, thank you for the emotions I’ve felt watching this show.
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