Blending sci-fi wonder with superhero thrills, DC’s Green Lantern mythology is everything you could want from an ongoing saga, and this week we’re celebrating its 80th anniversary. The story of the Green Lantern Corps has had many defining—and utterly unforgettable—twists and turns over the years, and today we’re looking back at twelve of its biggest moments. Whether you’re a longtime fan or one of the Green Lantern Corps’ newest recruits, it’s time to summon your will because we’re about to travel to the outer reaches of space…and beyond!
Alan Scott Lights the Lantern for the First Time
Before the Guardians and before the Corps, the Green Lantern saga began in 1940’s All-American Comics #16. Alan Scott was an engineer whose life was changed forever after a saboteur caused his train to crash. Thanks to a mysterious force known as the Green Flame of Life, which was held within a green train lantern that had fortuitously made its way into Alan’s locomotive, Alan survived the incident and gained some new abilities. Cutting a piece from the bizarre green lantern, Alan makes the first Green Lantern ring and searches for the saboteur. By the end of the story, the legend of Green Lantern had officially begun.
Later stories would expand upon the origins of the Green Flame of Life, revealing that it was a power source called the Starheart that had been created by the Guardians of the Universe.
In Brightest Day, In Blackest Night
We may be biased, but the Green Lantern oath is one of the greatest things to come out of comics. Try saying it out loud and you’ll feel like you can take on an entire army of Manhunters.
“In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight. Let those who worship evil’s might, beware my power, Green Lantern’s light.”
Instant chills, right? A few different versions of the oath appeared in Alan Scott’s earliest stories, until the version we all know made its debut in 1943’s Green Lantern #9. Everything about the scene was perfect. Alan Scott stood in darkness illuminated only by the glowing green lights of his lantern, as he said those iconic words for the first time.
Hal Jordan Gets Recruited
By 1959, Alan Scott hadn’t appeared in a comic in eight years, and it seemed like Green Lantern’s light had died out until John Broome and Gil Kane reignited the flame in Showcase #22. The story introduces a test pilot named Hal Jordan who finds a dying alien named Abin Sur. The wounded Sur reveals that he’s a Green Lantern, and that he must find a successor before he passes away. Jordan is chosen because of his strong willpower, which he will need to successfully operate the powerful Green Lantern ring.
Not only did this story introduce Hal Jordan and revive the Green Lantern concept, but it completely reinvented the mythology. The introduction of Abin Sur was the first step to building the concept of the Green Lantern Corps as an intergalactic police force. Hal Jordan is also the most iconic of the Lanterns, and his introduction took the saga in a direction. It was also one of the key pillars of the Silver Age.
The Guardians and the Corps
The success of Hal Jordan’s adventures in Showcase led to him getting his own series in 1960, and it started off with a bang. In the opening pages of Green Lantern #1, Hal Jordan is transported to the planet Oa for the first time, where readers are introduced to the Guardians of the Universe.
As the governing body of the Green Lantern Corps, the Guardians want to size up Abin Sur’s replacement and make sure he’s worthy. Of course, Jordan proves himself to the Guardians, but it wouldn’t be the last time he’d find himself at odds with them. Over the years, Jordan and the Guardians would clash over their conflicting ideologies, as the hotshot test pilot would challenge their dogmatic philosophies. Green Lantern #1 is more than the first issue of Hal Jordan’s title, it’s an important piece of Green Lantern history that established key concepts and relationships for the Green Lantern Corps.
Alan Scott Meets Hal Jordan
Green Lantern’s light will never die out, so it was only natural that Hal Jordan’s rise in popularity would lead to Alan Scott’s return. After a twelve-year absence, Alan Scott appeared (along with his Justice Society teammates) in Flash #137, but what fans really wanted to see was a team-up between the Golden Age Lantern and his Silver Age successor. Readers got their wish in Justice League of America #21-22 when the Justice Leaguers of Earth-1 met their Earth-2 Justice Society counterparts. In this game-changing storyline, Alan Scott teams up with Hal Jordan for the first time, and the Lanterns even combine the forces of their rings to free their captured teammates. The friendship between the two Green Lanterns only grew from there, with Hal and Alan teaming up many times over the years.
Not Such a Bad Guy
Most of us are probably more like Guy Gardner than we’d care to think. If you’ve never met Guy, he’s a Green Lantern who isn’t exactly big on modesty. He’s brash and smug, but in all fairness to him, some of it is earned.
The truth is Guy Gardner always comes through for his friends, and he’s put his life on the line to save the galaxy more times than we could count. Guy was first introduced in Green Lantern #59, when Hal Jordan is shown what would’ve happened if Abin Sur’s ring had chosen someone else. Interestingly, Guy is more of a noble character in this story, with most of his more arrogant qualities coming along in future comics. Love him or hate him, it’s safe to say that without the introduction of Guy Gardner, the Green Lantern saga would be missing one of its most flavorful ingredients.
Enter John Stewart
In 1971, comic readers met John Stewart, DC’s first African American superhero. In Green Lantern #87, the Guardians asked Hal Jordan to train John Stewart, in case a situation ever arose where a relief Lantern was needed. Stewart was a struggling architect, and during his earliest appearances he had a real chip on his shoulder. Jordan initially resented the choice, finding Stewart’s methods unorthodox, but after John’s quick thinking helped unmask a corrupt politician, Hal realized the Guardians had made the right choice. John’s popularity grew over the years, with some fans choosing him as their favorite Lantern. His training paid off in 1984 when…
Hal Drops Out, John Steps In
Let’s face it, being a Lantern is tough, and sometimes you just want to throw in the towel. In 1984, Hal Jordan shocked the Guardians and his fellow Lanterns when he chose to turn in his ring and retire. Hal wanted to start a new life with Carol Ferris, and he wasn’t going to the let his responsibilities as a Lantern stand in his way. That led to DC history being made in Green Lantern #182 when John Stewart leapfrogged from relief Lantern to full-time hero.
Stewart’s background as an architect came in handy during his Lantern adventures, as he was able to use his creative mind to build more elaborate constructs. John was careless with his secret identity, however, eventually being unmasked by a reporter named Tawny Young, something that shocked Hal Jordan. It was unheard of at the time for a superhero to abandon their secret identity, but John Stewart wasn’t here for tradition. He was ready to break the mold.
The Corps Comes to the Fore
After Green Lantern #200, everything changed for the Corps, and one of the greatest eras in Green Lantern comics began. The Guardians decided to leave Oa, and Hal returned as Green Lantern. What did these two things mean for the Corps? The decision was made that the Green Lantern Crops would govern themselves, and that meant all hands on deck. John Stewart remained a Green Lantern, alongside Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner and a colorful cast of aliens. The Green Lantern series was renamed Green Lantern Corps with issue #201, resulting in a creative renaissance for the title. Alien Lanterns like Ch’p, Katma and Kilowog took center stage, shifting the comic to more of an ensemble book. (Think Hill Street Blues meets The Office, but in outer space!) Eventually the Guardians returned, and the Lanterns went back to a more traditional methodology, but this was truly an unforgettable era.
The Fall of Hal and the Rise of Kyle
In 1993, Hal Jordan’s hometown of Coast City was destroyed by Mongul and the Cyborg Superman. In his grief, Hal tried to use his ring to rebuild the city, but the Guardians forbade it. To say Hal didn’t respond well to this is like saying the Red Lanterns have a slight anger control issue.
Jordan attacked the Guardians and his fellow Lanterns, seemingly destroying them all. In Green Lantern #50, one of the dying Guardians used his last ounce of energy to give the final Green Lantern ring to a young artist named Kyle Rayner. The Corps was gone, Hal had fallen from grace, and now Kyle was forced to carry on their once bright legacy without any guidance.
Although Hal’s dark turn was a controversial move, readers enjoyed Kyle Rayner and the everyman take he brought to the role of Green Lantern. Since Kyle was an artist, his constructs brought a sense of fun and imagination to the title, and his youthful energy resonated with readers.
Hal Jordan Returns
Although Kyle was a hit with the fans, something was missing. Longtime readers missed Hal, and the way things ended with him had never felt right. Hal had adopted the name Parallax, and redeemed himself by saving the world during DC’s Final Night crossover event. After his death, Hal found new purpose in the afterlife as the spiritual entity known as the Spectre, but readers wanted to see Hal Jordan return to his life as a Green Lantern, and in 2004 they got their wish.
Green Lantern: Rebirth was a six-issue limited series that brought Hal Jordan back to life, and began a new direction for the Green Lantern Corps saga. In addition to reviving Hal, the book also redeemed him by revealing that his evil actions were the result of an alien parasite. Green Lantern: Rebirth was a success, spawning Rebirth titles for other heroes like the Flash, and inspiring DC’s 2016 rebranding. It also served as a “pilot episode” for Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern series, which would reinvent everything about the Lantern mythology over the next few years. And speaking of Rebirth…
Jessica and Simon Partner Up
In 2016, a new series called Green Lanterns was launched as part of DC’s line-wide Rebirth initiative. The comic focused on Jessica Cruz and Simon Baz, two of DC’s newest Lanterns. Jessica was a young adult suffering from PTSD brought on by seeing her friends killed by the mob during a hunting trip. Simon was a Lebanese-American who had previously been incarcerated for a false terrorism charge. Hal Jordan, who had become good at seeing people’s potential, knew that they could bring out the best in each other, so he combined their power batteries in Green Lanterns: Rebirth #1, forcing them to partner up.
Green Lanterns may not have been Jessica or Simon’s first appearance, but the series fleshed out their characters, and played with their dynamic in a fun way. Throughout its run, the book read like a superhero “buddy cop” series, with the pair forced to contend with everything from intergalactic threats to Jessica’s paralyzing anxiety attacks. It brought a new dynamic to the long-running franchise, revealing that even close to eighty years on, the Green Lanterns’ light was still shining bright.
Nobody could have predicted that a train crash in 1940 would result in one of DC’s greatest ongoing sci-fi sagas. Since that humble beginning, Green Lantern and the intergalactic corps he’d eventually join have faced armies of Manhunters, powerful rogue Guardians and a full spectrum of fellow ring corps, some friendly and others decidedly not. Their tale has spawned movies and animated TV shows, and an upcoming new HBO Max series that promises to go deeper into the Green Lantern mythology than ever before. Where will the Green Lanterns’ rings take them next? Wherever it may be, evildoers should watch their backs and beware the power—Green Lantern’s light!
Could any of them have imagined they'd be going strong for eight decades? Celebrate the DC Universe's many Green Lanterns by picking up the 100-page Green Lantern 80th Anniversary Super Spectacular, which is now available in comic shops and as a digital download.
Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DCComics.com and DCUniverse.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.