When it comes to the big screen, superhero properties are displaying incredible longevity across various franchises (long-running ones like X-Men, the MCU as a whole, and perpetually revamping Batman properties come to mind), their television counterparts can’t seem to make it past one or two seasons though. This is a real goddamn shame because Green Lantern: The Animated Series is a great little show. A one season wonder from the brilliant mind of Bruce Timm, the man behind great shows like Batman: The Animated Series and Justice League, Green Lantern alternately explored every facet of the comic book history and mythos while laying the groundwork for a deeper dive into this material as well.
The series begins not with an origin story, mercifully, but with Hal Jordan already an established hero and cosmic presence as part of the Green Lantern Corps. With the emerging presence of the threatening Red Lanterns, Hal is called away from Earth and sent out on a mission to help bring the Red Lanterns down before they reach Oa, home world of the GL Corps. But an even bigger threat emerges in the form of the Anti-Monitor and a rogue piece of artificial intelligence that goes berserk.
Each episode, which balances the neat trick of continuing a larger narrative arch and a nice introduction to the series, takes our heroes to a different planet where they must fight off the Red Lantern forces, recruit new members for the Green Lantern Corps, meet newly emerging Lantern Corps (Blue, Yellow, and Orange), or finding a way to destroy the Anti-Monitor. The odd episode works as a complete stand alone, like the one where Hal finds himself in an alternate universe with a “Steam Lantern” that’s a wonder of charming and smart character and production designs.
The scope of the show is big as it explores various parts of the cosmos, creating new worlds populated with their own races, flora and fauna. The Star Sapphires, a group of females with lantern-like powers operating like deadly sirens from Greek myth, make several welcome appearances, as does Larfleeze, the sole Orange Lantern who are associated with greed, and a small group of Thanagarians, fans of Justice League will remember them as the race that Hawkgirl belonged to. These appearances serve as expansions of the universe, small seeds being dropped for eventual stories to blossom in later seasons. Alas, that wasn’t to be, but it’s wonderful to see the creators playing such a long game with their choices.
While the Green Lantern film may have been a diet version of the material, commodified to the essentials for popular consumption, the animated series gives us some of the weirder aspects of the comics. Cameos from Lantern Corps such as the alien squirrel and living planet are included, but the strangest trip may the central emotional core of the show. That core is the love story between a reformed Red Lantern named Razer and the ship’s AI, dubbed Aya, which takes on humanoid form. The entire series tracks a progression in their characters, highs and lows, and their romance eventually becomes the central story in the climatic episodes of the series.
It must be said though, that Green Lantern is a gorgeous show to look at. The character designs are clever and smooth, a transformation of Bruce Timm’s Silver Age drawing style into three-dimensional life. It looks better than I ever would have thought, and the animators get a tremendous amount of depth and range of emotions from the character using very little. Occasionally fluidity of movement or anatomy can go a little strange, but that can be forgiven. They had to produce 26 episodes at roughly 23 minutes each, which is a ton of work to complete. The landscapes are gorgeous and the action scenes are thrilling. The action scenes are also logically edited. There are no fizzy quick cuts and murky camera angles which make it hard to discern what is going on. Every scene is a work of clarity where each character is clearly located to a building or another character. Sometimes everything does have a smooth, flat texture so that rocks and flora look less like stylized versions of these things than plastic versions, but I never found it too outwardly distracting.
It makes me sad that Green Lantern didn’t last longer. I wanted more from this show. I loved what Timm and company had managed to create and pack in with these 26 episodes, but what else were they planning on doing? Hints and clues are peppered throughout, but I’d love to see what the major plans were for season two. Timm took Superman into more Jack Kirby-esque territory as the show went on, eventually ended up with a third season that featured Superman and Darkseid and all of Apokolis throwing down. It was thrilling stuff, and Green Lantern could have gone anywhere. Shame we’ll never see it.