Go for Green!
As fans await the expansion of a live-action DC Cinematic Universe at a theater near them, the comics giant's animation division has proven to be much more bountiful. From television capers to full-length DVD features, the small screen has served superhero buffs a feast of fantastic feats and good old-fashioned crime-busting. In 2011, DC took one of its greatest gambles yet when Cartoon Network first aired Green Lantern: The Animated Series, the computer-bred, three-dimensional solo debut of everyone's favorite intergalactic supercop. The show lasted a mere 26 episodes, having unfortunately been eclipsed in notoriety by the failure of the Ryan Reynolds film with which it was meant to coincide. But in spite of its brief run, Green Lantern is a real blast to watch, with its expansive scope, long-form storytelling, and distinctive cast of characters at long last assembled in an eye-catching Blu-ray set from the Warner Archive Collection.
The series surprisingly forgoes the origin route, instead dropping us directly into the wide, weird world of test pilot Hal Jordan (voice of Josh Keaton). As an officer in the Green Lantern Corps, Hal is duty-bound to protect his sector from all danger, with the help of a ring that allows him to summon objects out of sheer willpower. But as the show begins, Hal is forced to abandon Earth and head to the furthest reaches of the galaxy to confront his biggest threat yet. The hate-driven Red Lanterns, furious over their home world's destruction, are on the warpath -- and making a beeline for Green Lantern HQ. With his partner Kilowog (voice of Kevin Michael Richardson) and an ultra high-tech spacecraft to assist them, Hal takes it upon himself to try to stop the Red menace before it's too late. The team's travels take them to multiple worlds and test them with multiple perils, not the least of which includes the planet-devouring Anti-Monitor (voice of Tom Kenny), who really gives the Red Lanterns a run for their money.
Having been underwhelmed by Beware the Batman, DC's latest adventure into CG-animated programming, my hopes for Green Lantern weren't exactly in the stratosphere. The plasticine look of the 3D-rendered characters felt as if it'd be hard to warm up to, and the show's goal of carrying on story threads throughout its entire run resembled the Dark Knight's own botched efforts to do so. But all it took was a couple of episodes for me to realize that Green Lantern had its act together, for it comes across as considerably confident in its world and how much viewers would grow to care for the personalities inhabiting it. The series doesn't make little callbacks and references just to appease fans but to remind you of how wide its storytelling net has been cast and to shed light on the smallest participants in the big picture. There are one-off episodes that feature a particular character or scenario (as when Hal encounters the "Steam Lantern" of an alternate Earth), but they're the exception more than the rule, with the series' two overarching threats (divided conveniently between the Blu-ray set's pair of discs) still ominously looming in the background.
"Big" is the operative word with Green Lantern, as it does a mighty effective job of selling the hugeness of its universe. Where Beware the Batman's lack of Gothamites was a distraction, it makes sense that Hal and Kilowog spend so much time patrolling frontier space by themselves (the galaxy has lots of room, you know). But there's always some strange alien world to touch down on, planets whose bizarrely-crafted citizens are done a service by the show's angular style of animation. It's a funky look that suits the series well, although it's the characterizations that get you hooked in the end. Seeing Hal go from cocky blowhard to stone-faced crusader of justice so often and so abruptly got a bit tiring, but Keaton breathes personality into the role and helps create an enjoyable rapport with Richardson's Kilowog. However, the real highlights are a pair of characters created exclusively for the series: a reforming Red Lantern named Razer (voice of Jason Spisak) and Aya (voice of Grey DeLisle Griffin), an artificial intelligence that takes on a humanoid form. Each has a personal journey that lasts the show's whole tenure, with the highs and tragic lows they encounter gradually forming what becomes the emotional core of the entire enterprise.
Of course, Green Lantern: The Animated Series is just the ticket if aliens battling each other with an assortment of gigantic thought-weapons are more your style. It can be a dark show at times, though not heavy enough so that little children can't partake in the pleasure of seeing Hal Jordan clobber robots with magic fists, hammers, and whatever else his ring can help whip up for him. While its live-action counterpart represents the nadir of comic book-based media, the well-executed and highly-entertaining Green Lantern: The Animated Series gives us hope that the genre hasn't forgotten how to have fun.
(Green Lantern: The Animated Series is available to purchase through the Warner Archive Collection: http://www.warnerarchive.com)