Green Lantern: The Animated Series

Green Lantern: The Animated Series

The Green Lantern: The Animated Series debuts tonight at 7 p.m. Eastern.

With an expanded role in the DC comic book universe and a big budget movie under his belt, Green Lantern is getting his own animated series headlined by DC animated mainstay Bruce Timm. While the show doesn’t debut until 2012, tonight’s special “movie event” is essentially the series’ pilot, similar to how Timm premiered Justice League ten years ago. Miles above Green Lantern’s abysmal summer blockbuster, “Beware My Power” is a stronger pilot than Justice League’s “Secret Origins” and the best DC animated debut since Batman Beyond.

Tapping into the qualities that make Hal Jordan a hero while building an expansive world for him to play in, Timm and his team create a captivating story that lays a strong groundwork for an ongoing series. Assuming that most of the audience is familiar with the characters from either the comics, film, or previous TV appearances, writers Jim Krieg and Ernie Altbacker immediately jump into the action. There’s no origin story here, just high-octane space action with a nice balance of humor and emotional depth.

The first completely computer-generated DC animated series, Green Lantern has a sleek “Pixar lite” look. Over the past decade, animators have figured out how to make Timm’s estyle work in three dimensions (gone are stiff, lifeless visuals of the Justice League opening credits) and there are some stunning visuals this episode, especially when it comes to the high-flying action sequences. With extensive experience on Avatar: The Last Airbender and Star Wars: The Clone Wars, producer Giancarlo Volpe deserves much of the credit for the crisp action and expansive landscapes, and directors Sam Liu and Rick Morales choreograph intense fights that move at a snappy pace. The environments could use some more variation (space sure does look a lot like the Ferris Aircraft testing grounds), but hopefully future episodes will have more diverse alien settings.

The episode begins with the introduction of the series’ villains, the Red Lanterns, a group of vengeful killers with a grudge against the Guardians of Oa, creators of the Green Lantern Corps. On the outskirts of the universe, Red Lanterns Razer (Jason Spisak) and Zilius Zox (Tom Kenny) murder a Green Lantern and take pleasure in the fact that his ring will find a new bearer, giving them a new target to kill. It’s a chilling opening scene, establishing the Red Lanterns’ threat level and how high the stakes are for the Green Lanterns. Flashing to 18 months later, Hal Jordan (Josh Keaton) is on Earth testing a new billion-dollar airplane for Ferris Aircraft, schmoozing with his boss Carol (Jennifer Hale) and being his usual cocky self.

In this week’s Justice League recap, I discussed the qualities that make John Stewart stand out as a Green Lantern: his sense of honor, duty, and obedience that comes from his military background.  “Beware My Power” shows just how different Hal Jordan is from his Lantern comrade, breaking rules and disobeying orders in the name of his own moral code. Hal has no fear, but he also has little understanding of consequences, always thinking that his plan of action is the best. He ends up saving the day, but there tends to be personal fallout. When he ejects from the Ferris plane to keep a train from crashing, he sacrifices the aircraft to save lives, but has to deal with an enraged Carol when he returns.

Hal is reminiscent of Peter Parker in many ways; he understands that he has incredible power that must be used for good, but he doesn’t really know how to negotiate his human life with his superpowered one. He has to lie to Carol to keep his superhero identity secret, and when he goes off-planet to deal with the Red Lanterns, he ends up missing his dinner date. The writers make a smart decision keeping Carol out of the loop rather than following movie continuity, and Carol’s presence keeps Hal connected to Earth while offering a romantic subplot to counter the action. It’s fitting that Josh Keaton was also the voice of Peter Parker in The Spectacular Spider-Man animated series, and he brings Peter’s sense of humor to Hal while throwing on a thick layer of charm, making him a lot more likable than recent interpretations of the character.

When Hal is called to Oa for his misconduct against an alien viceroy, the deceased Green Lantern’s ring from the opening scene completes the 18-month journey from the frontier and lands on Oa. Despite protests from the other Guardians on sending a party to investigate the death, Ganthet (Ian Abercrombie) shows Hal and Kilowog (Kevin Michael Richardson) an experimental spacecraft that runs on the green energy from its own power battery, capable of making the trip to the frontier in a fraction of the time. Ganthet has always been the heart of the Guardians (although he’s recently been lobotomized in the comic books), and I’m happy to see him as an ally to Hal, because the rest of the Guardians are total jerks.

When Hal and Kilowog travel to the frontier, they find Green Lantern Shyir Rev (Kurtwood Smith) on the run from Zox and Razer. They battle it out and save Rev, but the Guardians demand that the group return to Oa before taking further action. The devious Guardians pretend to not know about the Red Lanterns, although they’re responsible for their creation. The writers may make some changes to the story, but in the comics, the Red Lanterns were created when the Guardians’ robotic Manhunters malfunctioned and destroyed Sector 666, claiming all but five lives. One of those that survived was Atrocitus (Jonathan Adams), the leader of the Red Lanterns, who believes himself a crusader firmly in the right. When Atrocitus attacks, he tells the Green Lanterns, “I am wrath. I am hate. I am righteous vengeance.” The best villains are ones that think themselves heroes, and as evil as Atrocitus is, it’s difficult to blame him for wanting revenge after his entire world was destroyed.

When Hal and Kilowog take Rev to his home planet for medical assistance after he is seriously injured, the Red Lanterns appear on their massive floating fortress and issue an ultimatum: turn over the Green Lanterns or be destroyed. As Hal fights Atrocitus, Kilowog tries to appeal to Razer’s conscience and convince him to give up the fight while Rev holds back the energy beam aimed at his home. Kilowog knows Rev isn’t strong enough to stop the blast and survive, but Rev refuses to give up, asking Kilowog what he would do if he had the chance to stop his own planet’s destruction. Kilowog saves the colonists as the beam breaks through Rev’s green barrier and destroys the planet, taking Rev’s life in the process. It’s a moving moment, given extra weight by the brief glimpse of Rev’s family earlier, and when the Green Lanterns try to comfort Rev’s daughter, she responds with a heartbreaking question: “Is it OK if I still miss him?”

The most surprising aspect of “Beware My Power” is the emotional depth of the story. After Rev’s sacrifice, Razer attacks Hal in hopes that the Green Lantern will kill him and wipe out his guilt, but Hal refuses, stripping Razer of his ring and taking his as a captive. Hopefully future episodes will continue to delve into the moral dilemma faced by the Red Lanterns as they essentially repeat the atrocities committed against them in the name of vengeance. Between the Guardians’ deception, Hal’s relationship with Carol, and Razer’s crisis of conscience, the writers have set up a number of plots to get fleshed out over the course of the series, and if they can maintain the quality of this first episode, they might have a new classic DC animated series on their hands. 

Stray observations:

  • The only time the Green Lantern oath is said is when Hal quickly recites it while falling onto the Interceptor’s power battery. The quick delivery may not have much dramatic effect, but after hearing Ryan Reynolds yell “beware my power…GREEN LANTERN’S LIGHT!” at the end of every Green Lantern TV spot, Keaton’s snappy speech is appreciated.
  • Hal’s ring construct of Ganthet he creates to gain access to the Interceptor looks like a floppy marionette, and it’s great seeing the ring used for comedy.
  • Hal’s a charmer, even when he’s talking to a female computer.
  • Kilowog is fantastic comic relief, especially his speech about criticizing Hal for wearing a mask.
  •  “Plane go fast, very fast. Plane good.”
  • “I punched the viceroy in the stomach. Then I headbutted him in the head.”
  • “For the record she said ‘most likely,’ not ‘totally likely.’”
  • “I make hammers.”