NYCC2011: "Green Lantern: The Animated Series" Premiere Takes Off Like a Rocket
The pilot episode of Green Lantern: The Animated Series was met with thunderous audience approval once the end-credits rolled, and with good reason. The series is an absolute blast all the way through, turning in a smart, well-crafted, and thoroughly satisfying launch to this space-faring high adventure series.
The pilot hits the ground running, skipping the origin story of Hal Jordan as Green Lantern in favor of filling in just enough context on the fly for those who aren’t familiar with it. It works fantastically well (although, to be fair, I should make it clear that I know this stuff intimately so my views on this might be biased). An impressively brief opening sequence quickly communicates everything we need to know about the cocky but good-hearted Hal, wonderfully voiced by Josh Keaton, as he hot dogs his way through a test flight and ends up having to save a speeding train from a bridge. He’s got the same roguish charm as Han Solo or any number of roles Errol Flynn played, but his arrogant swagger is charming rather than off-putting and never ever seems out of place next to his fundamental decency. This is the Hal Jordan hinted at in the two prior Green Lantern DTV movies, who tended to be more of a character sketch than a character, and it’s a beautiful riposte to those (including me) who thought Hal tends to be stiff and uninteresting. A broader story arc is also quickly introduced, as a mysterious pair of Red Lanterns is established as the series antagonists. I’m most impressed at how quickly the series manages to establish their genuine threat while also communicating character traits about them.
Without giving too much away, the pilot creates a situation that grounds the show in the established DC characters, but flings them headlong into new and unexplored territory. The net result is that everyone, in the show and in the audience, is knocked a little bit off balance and left unsure exactly what to expect. Not coincidentally, this change also happens to limit the cast, ensuring that the show can maximize its limited budget for modeling and rendering. In any event, the story is amazingly compelling and extraordinarily well-done, nicely setting up lots of future plotlines. I don’t think a DC Animated TV series has proven to be this sure-footed right out of the gate since getting hit with the one-two punch of “On Leather Wings” and “Heart of Ice” when Batman the Animated Series premiered. Green Lantern: The Animated Series perfectly balances thrills and excitement with more emotional, heartfelt moments; one late-episode moment even brought the audience to overwhelmed silence and even elicited a few tears. Best of all is that the exceptionally smart script never forgets to pack a sense of humor along with the power rings, with beautifully timed gags that never feel forced or out of place.
There has been much concern about the CGI animation for this series, but any fears that it would fail to measure up to the hand-drawn animation of past DC Animated series can be put to rest. The animation may not be as technically accomplished as other TV CGI shows like Star Wars: The Clone Wars or even Transfomers Prime, but the show’s writing and staging is more than strong enough to allow us to accept the relatively textureless world easily enough. The characters are convincing enough in their performances that we soon accept what they look like, just as we did 16 years ago when Toy Story hit movie screens. Hal is an immediately recognizable Timm-ish hero with a barrel chest, lantern jaw, and tiny waist. Green Lantern Kilowog is given impressive heft and bulk and a completely convincing sense of weight, and Kevin Michael Richardson’s vocal performance finally gives me a Kilowog whose voice matches the one I’ve heard in my head for years. One welcome new cast member is Aya, the artificial intelligence that pilots Hal and Kilowog’s interceptor spacecraft. Despite her limited role, she proves to be a quite charming and winning presence on the show (and apparently she’s struck a nerve since she’s already been imported to the comics before the show has even aired, although according to Bruce Timm, she’s flying backwards). The show also takes full advantage of CGI’s freedom of camera movement, with a series of white-knuckle space battles and dogfights that will be sure to satisfy all but the most finicky action fans.
I will freely admit I walked into the screening with skepticism, but emerged as a convert. Green Lantern: The Animated Series is pretty much everything I could want out of a series and I can hardly wait for it to begin its inaugural run in 2012.