The title of Green Lantern is attached to several specific traits. A Green Lantern uses willpower to confront and overcome fear, literally shining his/her light through the darkness. This core value of willpower illustrates the true heroism of any Green Lantern. Additionally, Green Lanterns show a wonderful sense of imagination. The all-powerful Green Lantern ring allows its wearer to create bright, glowing constructs of any size or shape, only limited by his/her imagination. Such a wide range of possibilities manifests in some awe-inspiring visuals in Green Lantern comics. Most importantly, the title of Green Lantern is part of a time-honored tradition. Each Green Lantern is a member of the intergalactic force known as the Green Lantern Corps. The corps leaves plenty of room for a variety of Green Lanterns. Over the years, several Green Lanterns have emerged to define specific generations.
The first human member of the Green Lantern Corps was Hal Jordan, introduced in 1959. Jordan, a product of the Cold War era, is a traditional American hero even outside of the Green Lantern uniform. In his civilian life, Jordan is a test pilot for Ferris Air, and a former fighter pilot, with dashing good looks to boot. It is Jordan’s fearless attitude and indomitable will which allowed him to be chosen as the Green Lantern of sector 2814. Like many heroes of his era, Jordan possesses several classically heroic qualities, including bravery and charisma, but his personality leaves much to be desired. There is a nostalgic appeal to Jordan, due to his origin in the “silver age” of comics, yet most of Jordan’s appealing have been retroactively introduced to the character. During Jordan’s original adventures in the ’50s and ’60s, the test pilot had little personality outside of bravery and heroism. Furthermore, Jordan’s traditional selection as Green Lantern makes him more of a “chosen one” rather than someone who has worked to become a hero. The traditional values attached to Jordan worked well in the 1960s, but as time moves on, readers, require more nuanced Green Lanterns.
In 1994, comic book readers were introduced to Kyle Rayner, a new kind of Green Lantern. Many aspects of Rayner’s character were formed around a relatable, human superhero archetype. Rayner is very reminiscent of Peter Parker, struggling to balance his regular life of work and romance with his duties as a Green Lantern. Additionally, Rayner constantly cracks jokes and makes sarcastic remarks, adding a quick wit and snarky attitude to his personality. Rayner was also chosen at random, rather than being traditionally chosen based on willpower and fearlessness. When the Green Lantern Corps was destroyed, Rayner became the last Green Lantern, working hard to earn his title and live up to the tradition. This random selection makes Rayner much more relatable to readers, as he earned his place as a Green Lantern rather than simply being a chosen one. Rayner is also an artist by occupation, making a for a creative use of the Green Lantern ring. Rayner’s passion and imagination make him a perfect Green Lantern.
Of course, the circumstances which led Rayner to replace Jordan were controversial, to say the least. During the Emerald Twilight storyline, Jordan snapped after his hometown of Coast City was destroyed. This mental breakdown led to Jordan’s transformation into the villain known as Parallax. Jordan then slaughtered much of the Green Lantern Corps and the Guardians of the universe, nearly ending the Green Lantern tradition. However, one last guardian survived, passing the last Green Lantern ring on to Kyle Rayner. As the last Green Lantern, Rayner had to carry the legacy of the Green Lantern Corps with no training, experience, or guidance from anyone else. While time allowed Rayner to develop into a formidable Green Lantern, his initial replacement of Jordan did not sit well with readers. First of all, a completely new character came in to replace the Green Lantern of several decades. Secondly, Jordan’s character had been tainted, turning him from a gallant hero into a psychotic monster. While new blood was injected into the Green Lantern mythos, the legacy of a hero was shattered.
Additionally, while Kyle Rayner is certainly a more relatable Green Lantern, his exploits are not quite as memorable. Specifically, Rayner’s selection of villains is unremarkable. Most of these adversaries are one-off villains, including robots, aliens, and science experiments gone wrong. The two most memorable storylines during Rayner’s tenure were his introduction storyline and when he teamed up with Hal Jordan from the past. What makes these two stories so interesting is how Rayner faces the Green Lantern legacy in both of them. If Rayner is to continue the tradition of Green Lantern, he should face traditional Green Lantern threats. For example, Hal Jordan fought several colorful foes, such as Sinestro, Black Hand, Hector Hammond, and many others. New takes on old enemies such as these would be perfect for Rayner to battle. Furthermore, when Hal Jordan returned years later, many new storylines and ideas were introduced which revitalized the Green Lantern mythos. For example, Jordan learned about the emotional spectrum, fought the manhunters, and even brought back the Green Lantern Corps. Rayner may have the more interesting personality, but Jordan experiences the more exciting adventures.
There is also a large difference in how Jordan and Rayner use their Green Lantern rings. As a product of the silver age, Jordan tends to create simpler constructs. Jordan’s creations include boxing gloves, giant elephants, vacuum cleaners, and other basic ideas. Rayner, on the other hand, takes full advantage of his artistic mind when creating ring constructs. Going into battle with an imaginative, artistic mindset, Rayner creates suits of armor, laser guns, giant mech robots, and many other creative constructs. The difference in the use of their rings highlights a generational gap between the two Green Lanterns. As comic books advanced as an artform, so too did the creativity behind Green Lantern constructs. This creativity is perfectly captured in Rayner’s artistic occupation, and his use of the Green Lantern ring. Rayner’s creative mind takes full advantage of the powers inherent in the Green Lantern ring.
Both Jordan and Rayner also have important connections with the larger DC Universe. Green Lanterns have a historic relationship with both Flashes and Green Arrows, originating with Hal Jordan, Barry Allen (the Flash), and Oliver Queen (Green Arrow). The buddy cop dynamic of Jordan and Allen, along with the clashing ideologies of Jordan and Queen, adds much to Jordan’s broader connection to the superhero community. Rayner continues this connection between Green Lantern and other heroes. As a more contemporary Green Lantern, Rayner is friends with modern versions of the Flash (Wally West) and Green Arrow (Connor Hawke). New dynamics are formed in this new generation, as Rayner and West share a friendly rivalry, while Hawke is the naive straight-man to Rayner’s wilder personality. Allowing titles to be passed on to new characters creates new dynamics within a new generation of heroes. Additionally, both Green Lanterns have been members of the Justice League. While Jordan was a founding member of the League, however, Rayner had to earn his way onto the team. Rayner first joined the Titans, a group of younger heroes, proving his mettle during his time on this team. Seeing Rayner work his way up from the Titans to the Justice League is very rewarding, showing true character development.
Ultimately, years of Rayner’s character development seemed to be all for naught. Although he enjoyed a lengthy tenure from 1994-2004, Rayner’s time was up as soon as Hal Jordan returned during Green Lantern: Rebirth. During the time of Jordan’s return, Green Lantern comics simply were not selling. Rayner was a great Green Lantern, with the right personality for a new generation, but the stories did not live up to the character. Jordan’s return ushered in a revival for Green Lantern comics, beginning writer Geoff Johns’ nine year epic run on the character. The Green Lantern Corps returned, new ideas such as the emotional spectrum were introduced, and the Green Lantern stories themselves were very exciting. Additionally, Jordan was redeemed of the crimes committed during Emerald Twilight. Still, Rayner seemed to be sidelined in favor of the nostalgia for Hal Jordan. The acclaimed Green Lantern Corps title by Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason featured Rayner prominently, but Jordan ultimately returned to the role of central Green Lantern.
Since the character’s inception, Kyle Rayner has been a much more appropriate Green Lantern for modern times. Rayner is more developed, relatable, and imaginative than Hal Jordan ever was. Yet Jordan, ever since his return in 2004, has had much better material in which he is featured. Storylines written by creators such as Johns have better villains, concepts, and supporting characters than storylines featuring Kyle Rayner. Rayner has a strong personality, which belongs in exciting storylines which feature characters like Jordan. Hal Jordan should be remembered fondly, as a great Green Lantern of the silver age. Yet Kyle Rayner should be the Green Lantern of the modern day. Combining Rayner’s winning personality with better story material would make for the ultimate Green Lantern experience. Ultimately, if Rayner could be written into stories with stronger ideas and more memorable villains, he could be seen as the greatest Green Lantern.
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