Cartoon Network has given fans a glimpse at the new Green Lantern: The Animated Series in a special hour-long episode that sets up the overall concept and provides an opportunity for the network to show off the slick, CG animated style of the show. While DC has normally done well by its heroes in the animated arena, Green Lantern: The Animated Series doesn’t quite live up to one series it is clearly attempting to follow.
Like the similarly titled Batman: The Animated Series, Green Lantern: TAS is being launched with a feature film still relatively fresh in the minds of its intended audience. After the critical drubbing and underwhelming financial gains of the Green Lantern movie, however, the world beyond the comic book pages has begun to look unduly harsh for the Emerald Knight.
To set this right, Green Lantern: The Animated Series intriguingly begins not with Hal Jordan or any sort of unnecessary exposition into the Green Lantern mythos, but by first introducing the audience to a relatively new faction of the overall GL universe: the Red Lanterns. This recent expansion of the Lantern color wheel – which was previously limited to green and yellow – has helped define the Green Lantern characters by the emotion associated with that lantern’s hue. For instance: green (willpower), yellow (fear), red (rage), orange (avarice), indigo (compassion), violet (love), black (death) and white (life).
In starting the episode with these newer Lanterns – Razer and Zilius Zox, to be specific – Green Lantern: The Animated Series is telling the audience that this will not be a simple rehash of the feature film – but instead it will be a far more expansive experience, akin to the direction writer/DC Entertainment executive Geoff Johns has taken the characters in the various GL books over the past few years.
Like the story-arcs seen in the books, there are hints of larger forces at play as Razer and Zilius Zox (basically a toothier version of Marvel’s MODOK) bait and kill a distant galaxy’s Green Lantern. Before we are allowed to learn more of the nefarious plot, however, the focus quickly switches to hot-shot pilot Hal Jordan and the only time we see him on earth. After setting up an unrequited romance with Carol Ferris, Hal is summoned to a strangely unpopulated Oa by Ganthet and the other Guardians. While answering to the Guardians for his unorthodox methods, Hal learns of the fallen Green Lantern and demands action be taken. Unfortunately, Hal and Kilowog are informed that even at full speed, it would take them 18 months to reach the sector where the murder(s) occurred.
As soon as they commandeer (at the unspoken suggestion of Ganthet) a prototype spacecraft that Hal dubs Aya, he and Kilowog are off, basically setting up what appears to be the initial story arc of the show: Hal and Kilowog stranded light-years from Oa (or earth, for that matter) doing battle with the incredibly powerful and dangerous Red Lanterns.
The singular focus guarantees that Green Lantern: TAS will take place where the series belongs – which is space, not earth – and will give a serialized feel to the overall story. It also works in the series’ favor the same way limiting Batman’s world to that of Gotham in Batman: The Animated Series made that series feel unique. Instead of providing the program with the entirety of the DCU (like Young Justice), Green Lantern: TAS will likely play solely with Green Lantern characters, which will hopefully translate into better Green Lantern stories. The downside to this means it may be a while before we get to see other characters like John Stewart, Guy Gardner and Kyle Rayner, or the conspicuously absent Sinestro and Tomar Re.
Tonally, Green Lantern: The Animated Series resembles Batman: The Animated Series more than any other DCU animated series has since that series ended. With Bruce Timm working on both, it’s no wonder. Right off the bat (no pun intended), GL: TAS sets the tone with the off-screen death of a Green Lantern – telling the audience that there will be life-and-death consequences to the action that is expected of superhero program.
What the series fails to do, however, is give those consequences the kind of emphasis that would help shape the series as a whole and make the impact of such loss more than just a plot device. As it stands, ‘Beware My Power: Part 1 & 2’ takes a somewhat cavalier approach to violence with the aforementioned Green Lantern deaths, and, more disappointingly, the obliteration of an entire planet and (seemingly) its occupants – after which, Hal’s reaction is to beat a somewhat conflicted villain into submission with a giant green fist. Unfortunately, the notion of sentiment was brushed aside in favor of yet another battle sequence.
Sure, Green Lantern: The Animated Series is a cartoon intended to appeal to the interests of a younger crowd, but so was Batman: TAS. Given the talent and effort involved in bringing this series to life, it seems that more emulation of the superlative storytelling aspects of Batman should be present in Green Lantern.
Additionally, recognizing that this is a cartoon means we must discuss the animation style.
Given the uproar Ryan Reynolds’ CGI costume caused, the all-CG animation style of the series seemed risky, at first. After viewing the first two episodes, however, the intent and functionality of the animation style is clear – but just like the negative aspects of the feature film, the end product feels unfinished.
On one hand, using CG does make the light-emitting aspects of the Lanterns’ rings and constructs more vibrant and exciting. On the other hand, the ultra-smooth texturing and seeming lack of shadow anywhere in the universe has the awkward effect of making all the characters look like an overly-illuminated maquette dropped inside a rather rudimentary diorama. There is no sense of impact or true physicality with any of the characters or environments – felt in similarly-animated programs like Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
Hopefully, as the series progresses, the animation style will begin to feel more natural and actually aid in telling this space-faring tale, instead of acting as detraction from it.
When all is said and done, 2011 certainly wasn’t the kind of auspicious year DC comics and Warner Bros. were looking for with stalwart hero Green Lantern. Thankfully, Green Lantern: The Animated Series doesn’t actually being airing weekly until spring of 2012, as part of Cartoon Network’s DC Nation block of animated programs. Maybe by that time the expectations will have died down and the series will be looked at as a welcome addition to Cartoon Network’s line-up, instead of an unpleasant reminder of a missed opportunity.
Green Lantern: The Animated Series is expected to air on Cartoon Network in spring of 2012.