Green Lantern: The Animated Series is far from the first time DC’s legion of intergalactic cops has come to life in animation, but it is most definitely the best. This is a series that mixes established lore with its own originality to present its subject in a way that can satisfy committed fans and entertain newcomers. Just over a year after the broadcast of the 26th and final episode of the show…well, it wouldn’t be quite right to say Green Lantern: The Animated Seriesis getting what it deserves because just one season of this is too short. But thanks to the good folks at Warner Archive it can finally be seen on Blu-ray in vibrant high definition just the way it was meant to be, and in this complete collection the show shines brightly in all respects.
Green Lantern: The Animated Series wastes no time getting down getting down to business. Working on behalf of the Guardians of the Universe of the planet Oa, the numerous and diverse members of the Green Lantern Corps are charged with being the ultimate force for peace and order in the cosmos, and they have the power to back it up. With their mighty power rings the Green Lanterns conjure energy constructs with their minds, limited only by their imaginations and strength of will. But they do have limits, as we see when a dire threat manifests in the series’ very first moments. On the distant outer frontiers of guardian jurisdiction, Green Lanterns are being mysteriously slaughtered left and right. This fact soon comes to the attention of Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern of “sector 2814” — an Earthling of the corps, dedicated to duty but also headstrong to a fault and a hotshot pilot at heart. Hal is eager to take decisive action and has no patience for the Guardian inner council’s prolonged deliberations on what to do, but his exhortations fall on death ears – mostly. One sympathetic guardian decides to discreetly “loan” Hal the Interceptor, a prototype state-of-the-art spaceship equipped with an “ultra-warp drive” that can rush the vessel’s passengers to the frontier. With his stalwart partner Kilowog at his side Hal departs to investigate the situation, only to run afoul of the culprits in short order: the brutal Atrocitus and his Red Lantern Corps, who are the inverse of what the Green Lanterns represent. Their power is also based in mental discipline but the Red Lanterns draw on the volatile emotions of rage and hate, and Atrocitus leads his followers on a quest of conquest and revenge against all of Guardian-protected space for past wrongs. The first clashes with these foes sees a world shattered and the Interceptor’s ultra-warp drive damaged, leaving it up to Hal and Kilowog to overcome imposing odds to protect peace in frontier space and, soon, the entire galaxy.
Any superhero show like this is generally going to be as strong as its primary heroes, and fortunately Hal Jordan and his crew more than deliver. The character of Hal Jordan takes flack from some for being uninteresting at best and something akin to a superpowered jerk jock at worst, but I’d argue that his portrayal here is positive – though not without room for improvement. The downside with Jordan is that he’s a static character: the same man at season’s end that he is at the start. With the series so occupied with Jordan constantly questing to save the galaxy, there is scant opportunity to examine the man and his life on Earth. The good news is that Jordan is also enjoyably and admirably heroic, possessing character that’s like a mix of Superman with Star Trek‘s Captain James T. Kirk. Jordan is a fundamentally good guy who is clearly shown to care for the welfare of his fellow man (and alien), and more likely to resort to words first than force. Yet when he thinks it’s time for action, Jordan is equal parts natural born leader and bold pragmatist, ready and willing to do what he believes is right whether that means complying with orders or not. Kilowog is the muscle of the group and Hal’s straight man, though always a stalwart ally when it counts. Rounding out the crew is the Interceptor’s sentient artificial intelligence, who Hal quickly dubs Aya, which occupies a robot body to physically assist the group; and the Red Lantern Razer, who turns renegade over moral objections to Atrocitus’ brutality and guilt over his complicity in it. The presence of these two is the series’ strongest asset.
In a talk with the fabulous World’s Finest, series producer Giancarlo Volpe once expressed a desire that viewers come away from the show believing that “the ‘good’ emotions” would ultimately triumph over the negative ones, and in my view Aya and Razer caught on with many viewers precisely because they depict the conflict between them and between good and evil more vividly than any battle ever could. Aya’s story echos that of the android Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, the key differences being that Aya has to earn recognition of her free will and ability. It soon becomes clear that she’s evolved into an entity capable of emotion, but rather than pursuing humanity, Aya’s struggle is to make sense of and fully realize her sentience. Razer’s tale, meanwhile, is that of a tortured soul gradually redeemed. He goes from hating Green Lanterns to hating Atrocitus to hating his own paradoxical reliance on Red Lantern power to oppose him in the first place, ever plagued by grief over the loss of his wife and his war-torn world. What guides him toward a peaceful spirit and Aya toward her goal is an unlikely romance slowly nurtured between the two of them, which appears to be star-crossed and impossible more than once between Aya’s awkwardness and Razer’s volatile heart. Their bond is the stuff of great drama, and changes both undergo by the end compared to the beginning are simply tremendous.
Green Lantern: The Animated Series doesn’t have the degree of subtlety and cleverness of its contemporary Young Justice, but it is no less well-plotted and planned in my view. The difference between them is a matter of the nature of both. Young Justice was a show fixated on a covert superhero team, designed to revolve around the subject of “secrets and lies.” Green Lantern: The Animated Series, on the other hand, makes an admirable effort to capitalize on the scope of its galactic scale. The 26 episodes split in half to form two major story arcs. Just about every episode keeps the major story arc’s plot moving forward at least a bit, but many also take opportunities to introduce something or someone new along the way. Hal’s exploits include the induction of new Green Lanterns (including a queen and even a sentient planet), and the discovery of other cosmic powers besides the Red Lanterns, representing other emotions: the Purple Star Sapphires and love, the Orange lantern battery and greed, and the advent of a Blue Lantern Corps championing hope. References to the yellow power and its aspect of fear are also present, and fans will recognize the groundwork being laid for that to mainfest later. Overarching the entire series are the android Manhunters, as the cause for the Red Lanterns’ vendetta and the season’s overall storyline. By season’s end there are many new faces and factions in play, to the point that Green Lantern: The Animated Series builds up its universe and introduces its subject no less admirably than what Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series accomplished in the 1990s. With more time, I have no doubt its scope would have expanded substantially further.
Warner Archive’s Blu-ray release of Green Lantern: The Animated Series is as basic as it gets, in keeping with what they’ve done for Beware the Batman and Batman: The Brave and the Bold so far. The complete collection comes with two discs holding thirteen episodes apiece, with options to view with English subtitles and to either watch the episodes individually or in one grand marathon. There are no extras whatsoever. The main attraction, however, is presented in pristine and vibrant quality, and the high definition treatment is richly deserved here. The CG animation of the show is simply stellar and the best I’ve seen yet in a television production, the main attraction definitely being the visual effects that come with the Lanterns’ powers. Aside from the constructs they produce the auras manifested by Lanterns of any color are a triumph of subtlety, exuding a sense of power to the viewer and reflecting the nature of the emotion from which the power comes. For instance Red Lantern power can appear to burn like an inferno, Green Lantern constructs tend to appear strong and rigid, Star Sapphires and Blue Lantern power are characterized by softer glows in keeping with their comforting influence. In space, the action becomes particularly vivid against the black backdrop of the universe, while the series’ mechanical designs, portrayal of planets, and expressiveness of its characters set a standard for the upcoming Star Wars: Rebels to live up to. This is a series that feels as big as it is, deserving of being seen on the largest screen available.
Based on the example of these twenty-six episodes, I have every confidence that the best days of Green Lantern: The Animated Series were forthcoming. Regrets over unrealized potential aside though, this first season does tell a complete story even as it tantalizes us with the prospect of further adventures yet to come. This is a satisfying and grand space adventure through and through, and no DC fan or lover of good serialized storytelling should miss out on what this has to offer.