Thought For The Day 7/25/09

So, we’re all fair to moderately excited/interested about the “Green Lantern” movie, yes? I mean, not as excited as Ryan Reynold’s agent or any blank t-shirt distribution middle-man with an excess of stock in “green,” but it’s got the people it needs talking talking. But… here’s something that I haven’t seen considered around much:

GL is one of those comic figures like Iron Man who (prior to the movie) is HUGELY important and well-known in the comic-reading world but not so much outside of it. To that end, the only real “penetration” the GL brand has had into the cultural mainstream has been the character’s heavily-featured presence on the Bruce Timm “Justice League” cartoons – which was probably watched and internalized by more young kids than will EVER pick up a GL comic these days – sorry, Geoff Johns.

On the one hand, that means that the character already has some semblance of a “broader” audience. On the other hand, well… the movie is using the “best loved by fans” Hal Jordan Green Lantern (briefly: The Green Lanterns are a space police force, so there are and have been a fuckton of different ones) while the League cartoons used the John Stewart version. Principal difference between the two: John Stewart is Black. And for a pretty solid segment of the generation “behind” the comic-reading thirtysomethings who’re thrilled to have Hal Jordan back (it’s complicated); Stewart isn’t just “a” Black cartoon superhero… he’s THE Black cartoon superhero. In other words, when the posters and trailers for this movie start showing up within the next two years, there’s going to be A LOT of people who’re genuinely surprised to see that Green Lantern is white – and a good number of them are likely to be African-Americans who have “grown up” with John Stewart and may be more than a bit dissapointed to now “lose” one of the (scandalously) few superheroes who looked like them.

Make no mistake: This WILL come up. And it’ll get a little ugly in spots, too, particularly on the “comic fan” side. One of the less-attractive elements of geekdom is the way some of “us” occasionally behave toward people who’re fans of properties from “second tier” versions, (want to make a hardcore DC comics devotee bleed from the eyes? Tell him you think the “Smallville” version of Superman’s origins is superior to the comics’…) add a racial component to that and… yikes. My question is: How much do you want to bet that Warner Bros. has NO IDEA that this is going to be an issue?

9 thoughts on “Thought For The Day 7/25/09

  1. Magnus says:

    Heh, interesting! Being swedish I really know very little about Green Lantern, Justice League never made it over here in any significant way, only the Marvel guys.

    Always thought of him as a bit wonky though, he has a ring that can project anything? That's weirder than all the Marvel guys put together (I purposely did no research prior to writing this =P)!


  2. Anonymous says:

    This is a very insightful post, and it makes a point that I had also thought of, too. Being a comic/movie geek, though, it's rough when these issues are brought to light way too late and your only thought is “I thought of that months ago” Who will listen?


  3. FistfulOAwesome says:

    The Green Lantern used to be white!?

    (Grew up on Bruce Timm Justice League)

    Anyway, good point, Bob. John Stewart is the Green Lantern for me since I know of him from the Bruce Timm Justice League cartoon, so I was pretty disappointed to hear that they were going with the Jordan version.

    I'll still check out the movie if it's good, but I'm disappointed to not get “my” Green Lantern in the role (I read the Green Lantern oath you wrote in your first GL post in Phil Lamarr's voice (and was quite teary-eyed).

    Question: Since the movie is still early in development, do you think there is any possibility of executives realizing that kids grew up on John Stewart and that he might be a better choice for a movie over Hal Jordan?


  4. Bob says:

    “Question: Since the movie is still early in development, do you think there is any possibility of executives realizing that kids grew up on John Stewart and that he might be a better choice for a movie over Hal Jordan?”

    No chance in hell 😉

    This is sort of a unique situation. See, while there've “always” been multiple GL's in rotation; Jordan has engendered one of the most devout and easily-annoyed fanbases in comicdom mostly due to his prior “mishandling.”

    Short version: In the 90s, DC went through a period where they were really high on the “kill off an older character and replace with new young version” routine all over the place. When Hal's number came up (replacement was another white guy only younger, in the comics Stewart has mostly been an omnipresent 'assistant' GL) they went the extra mile of turning him into a genocidal supervillian. Aside from being a huge betrayal of the character, it was also a badly-concieved mess of a story that pissed fans off so much it spawned (PRE-Internet!) a whole subculture called HEAT (Hal's Emerald Action Team) that spent over a DECADE dogging DC to rehabilitate Hal as the 'one true' GL.

    Over the last few years, HEAT has finally “gotten it's way” as a sympathetic writer named Geoff Johns has expanded a huge amount of effort to both restore Hal (which he did, rather nicely) and turn the GL “universe” into something like a central focus of DC continuity. There's just no way DC is going to “provoke” HEAT by making anyone other than Jordan the first live-action Lantern. I wouldn't be surprised, though, if the negative reaction by Stewart fans coupled with the innevitable fangasm for War Machine (aka “The Black Iron Man”) in Iron Man 2 makes WB suddenly hot to work Stewart into the sequel.

    Don't feel too bad for Stewart, in any case. Not long from now, there'll be guys writing at DC who also grew up with him as “the” GL, and I predict he'll make a big comeback under them.


  5. Bryce says:

    I'm just wondering how much of the script of this movie has been written? I mean, the moment I heard about the movie and Hal as the main character, I kinda expected Stewart and Rayner cameos.

    And hell, if Alan isn't mentioned, or cameoed, I will be a disappointed fan.


  6. tyra menendez says:

    don't forget when garth ennis did his parody version of the justice league, he also used the black green lantern.
    in part, lets me honest, the black green lantern was used on the tv show so that the entire cast wouldn't be white (and one martian). he was the token black character. he dated a white chick. we still have a long way to go. milestone was the only company with the good black characters because it was founded on the idea of a black superhero universe. spawn was black, sure, but he also had a hamburger head and wore a full mask all the time, so you couldn't tell.


  7. DQed says:

    They are totally oblivious! It's not sad now, its gonna be REALLY messed up when they realize this, and shoe horn Jon Stewart into GL2 as the “urban” comic relief side kick. What a missed opportunity!

    Hopefully they'll come around in time. Warners usually takes the lead in stuff like this right???


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