If you learned everything you know about the intergalactic police force known as the Green Lantern Corps from that 2011 Ryan Reynolds movie, the good news is that at least you have the basics — they’re space cops cool power rings that let them focus their wills to manifest anything they can imagine. The bad news is that you watched that film, so you probably don’t have the highest opinion of the organization. But we promise that it’s way more interesting than you think.
The Corps has been part of DC Comics’ offerings since 1959, and their on-page history contains countless secrets and nuances that you may not be aware of. And with a new movie in development and a member of the unit reportedly set to appear in this year’s Justice League film, it may be time to catch up on the original version of the team.
Here are 15 Things You Never Knew About The Green Lantern Corps.
15. They’re the ‘second draft’ of Oa’s cosmic guard
The GLC is based on the planet Oa, which lies at the middle of the DC cosmos. It’s home to the immortal Oans — also known as the Guardians of the Universe — who are the oldest beings who exist in that continuity. Early in their history, the Oans took on the duty to protect everything everywhere, and since they’re a bunch of small, bald guys in robes, they decided they would need some help. That “help” eventually became the Green Lanterns, but it wasn’t their first idea.
That was the Manhunters, a race of sentient androids that the Oans created billions of years ago. In some versions, the same-named Martian team to which the Justice League’s J’onn J’onzz belonged inspired the squad. And sometimes it’s the other way around. Unfortunately, the Guardians built their robot police thousands of millennia before The Terminator, Westworld, Ex Machina, and every other film and TV series about androids and cyborgs going crazy and turning against their makers premiered, so they didn’t get the warning signs. The Manhunters predictably (to us) went rogue and developed an obsession with making their name literal. Their original oath, “No evil escapes the Manhunters,” became “No man escapes the Manhunters,” which is an important distinction, because only one of those assumes that the target of the hunt has actually done anything wrong.
This happened thanks to a renegade Guardian who thought it was not the best idea to put the universe’s security into the hands of emotionless constructs. And because just arguing his point wasn’t enough, he programmed the Manhunters to murder all but five of the trillions of beings living in an entire sector of space. When the violence came to Oa, the Guardians disbanded and mostly destroyed their creations and decided that their next attempt at space cops should use living beings who could reason and make better decisions.
14. The Corps is billions of years old
That transition from unfeeling killbots to living and thinking beings brought in a few more changes for the group. For one thing, it led to the Guardians creating the Corps’ trademark power rings, because even in the DC universe, not everyone can fire energy beams out of their faces. The rings are the most powerful weapons anywhere, and they let the worthy bearer create anything they can imagine. (That last bit makes it all the more annoying that Reynolds’ Lantern spent an entire movie constructing energy-based race car tracks and giant fists, doesn’t it?)
The power rings also let the Oans focus on picking the best candidates for their group, and they proceeded in this way for over 3 billion years. That’s about as long as Earth plants have been doing photosynthesis, and only slightly younger (relatively speaking) than the planet’s first animal life. That’s right — the Green Lanterns were zipping around the universe punching evildoers with massive fists made of light while our plants were still getting their crap together.
13. One of them is a squirrel
Enlistment in the Green Lantern Corps depends entirely on the recruit’s strength of will and mastery of fear. And it’s a big universe containing countless species, so it would be ridiculous to think that all of the members would be even vaguely human-looking. It’s not like we’re talking about Star Trek here, in which every species just looks like people with a bunch of stuff on their heads.
Among the more interesting-looking Green Lanterns is Ch’p, protector of Sector 1014. That region of space contains the Lantern’s home world of H’lven, on which every inhabitant is an anthropomorphic squirrel. Ch’p earned his ring after helping to defend his world from an invasion of crab monsters (clearly, the squirrel’s natural enemy). Thanks to Guardians of the Galaxy‘s Rocket Raccoon proving that a talking rodent can not only work, but be one of the best parts of a movie, we wouldn’t be surprised to see Ch’p show up in the upcoming film about the Corps. We’d actually be disappointed if he didn’t.
Other non-human-looking Lanterns include Brokk, who looks like a balloon with tentacles coming out of its neck; Bzzd, a tiny, fly-like insect; and Bivvix, who was some kind of dinosaur. But Ch’p will always be our favorite because look at that little face, and sometimes he wears a bow tie.
12. They’re one of a rainbow of emotion-themed groups
The Green Lanterns aren’t the only color-coded squad of ring-bearers patrolling the universe. The cosmos hosts a whole Skittles bag of similar groups, each with its own purpose. Collectively, all of these disparate units are called the Emotional Spectrum, and they all have different abilities and motivations.
We already know that the Green Lanterns value willpower and bravery, and their foes, the Sinestro Corps (named after a Lantern who went a bit off), wield yellow rings and draw their power from the fear of others. The rage-based Red Lantern Corps rose from a survivor of the Massacre of Sector 666, and they have the weird ability to regurgitate their own corrosive blood. We imagine you’d have to be pretty mad to do that, so it checks out.
Agent Orange is a master thief with a power ring that runs on greed, the Blue Lanterns run on hope, the Indigo Tribe wields compassion, and the all-female Star Sapphires use love. We assume they use “sapphire” because “purple” sounds neither pretty nor impressive. And those are all of the colors, but a couple more groups exist.
In the major event “Blackest Night,” an Oan prophecy that has all members of the Emotional Spectrum coming into conflict comes to pass. Part of this involves the formation of a new group: the Black Lantern Corps, which is made of the zombified bodies of dead Lanterns. This includes poor Ch’p who, despite his amazing, cosmic powers, died a remarkably squirrel-like death when a truck hit him.
The obvious and natural enemy of Black Lanterns is the White Lantern Corps, which uses the power of life and is easily the mightiest group in the Spectrum. The seven White Lanterns combined, Captain Planet-style, hold the all-powerful Life Equation and can shape reality, which comes in handy whenever DC decides it needs to reset the universe again.
11. It has fewer than 10,000 members
Originally, the Green Lantern Corps only had a few dozen members because the Oans thought that was enough, and they didn’t want a repeat of the “unstoppable, massive army of deathbots” thing from the Manhunter days. But early in their space-copping days, the Guardians took on the small task of invading Apokolips, home to perpetual cosmic villain Darkseid, whose presence was teased in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and is certain to show up in the Justice League movies at some point.
The Oans decided that they probably needed a bigger group to take on a guy who can shoot homing lasers that can kill anything out of his eyes, so they restructured. They divided the universe into 3,600 sectors and recruited one Green Lantern to cover each one. Eventually, another troop surge brought the total number to 7,200, or two per sector. While individual Lanterns typically stuck to their assigned area, the Guardians could always call them all in to face bigger threats together.
That’s the peak figure; various shakeups and catastrophes have led to sharp drops in their numbers from time to time. Still, even though they carry the most powerful weapons/tools ever to exist, that doesn’t sound like a whole lot of cops to protect quintillions of lives. But they seemed to do alright, for the most part.
10. They have a secret, black-ops division
It sounds like the kind of “extreme,” “in your face,” “edgy” business that comic books regularly churned out in the ’90s, but The Corpse is only about 10 years old. Besides, if they had been born in the decade that gave us both Spawn and Deadpool, we’re pretty sure the name of the group would have been spelled “The Korpse” because K’s just have way more attitude than C’s.
The Corpse (spelled correctly) is a subgroup of the Corps (with no “e”) that does all of the dirty, secret work that normal Lanterns can’t. And they aren’t even technically Green Lanterns because they don’t have rings of their own; instead, they swallow round wafers that give them the same abilities for a limited amount of time. That’s probably equal parts plausible deniability and not wanting the people doing the craziest of crazy stuff to have all those awesome powers all of the time.
9. They also have an Internal Affairs section
Thanks to the Guardians’ learning from their past mistakes, careful candidate selection, and keeping the Corps’ numbers low, the organization has a pretty remarkable integrity level. Few of the thousands of Lanterns who have worn the power rings have gone bad, with probably the most famous example being Sinestro, who turned his back on his comrades and went off to start his own evil version of the team.
But the Oans also have safeguards in place to investigate their members’ possible wrongdoings, and the ones who handle that work are the Alpha Lantern Corps. It’s like the DC Universe’s very own Law & Order-style spin-off, and we would totally watch that show.
The Guardians established the Alphas after the Sinestro Corps War, which forever changed several of the Green Lanterns’ oldest laws. Chief among them was the new authority to use lethal force, and the Oans decided — wisely — that oversight was a good idea, probably on account of that time where their army of killdroids snuffed out trillions of innocent lives.
The Alphas were originally supposed to have six members, including former “regular” Green Lantern John Stewart. But he turned the job down, partly because the enforcement agency came before the laws they were supposed to be protecting, so the Oans just decided five would be enough. Being an Alpha Lantern is a huge honor, but it’s not all perks. They don’t ever have to recharge their power rings, but that’s because they undergo procedures that fuse them to their batteries and connect their minds to the Book of Oa, which contains all of the laws they’re meant to protect. We don’t even like sitting through benefits meetings when we start new jobs, so surgery seems like a bit much.
8. Lanterns once had a ridiculous power limitation
Every (interesting) superhero has a weakness or flaw; even Superman, who at one point boasted every ability the writers could think up, can be brought low if he gets too close to the wrong space rock. And the Green Lanterns were no exception, although their original limitation seemed a bit silly even by comics standards. But it all kind of made sense, eventually. Maybe.
First-draft Green Lantern Alan Scott, who debuted in 1940 and worked alone, built his own ring, which drew its powers from a magical lantern that he found after a train accident. Its powers didn’t work on wood. And that seems arbitrary, but it makes slightly more sense than what happened when the Lanterns got their reimagining as cosmic law enforcement in 1959.
The problem with giving your heroes the most amazing object that has ever existed and which lets them summon any weapon or tool they can imagine is that it’s hard to build any suspense or put them into meaningfully dangerous situations. The only real limitation on that is making a Green Lantern lose their ring, but writers can only think of so many ways for that to happen before it starts to feel contrived.
One way around that is to come up with something that the Lanterns’ powers just don’t work on, and originally, that was the color yellow. That’s it: not a particular, cosmic material that just happens to be yellow and not a particular kind of radiation other than visible light — anything that was yellow was just a non-starter for the green power rings. That was the color of the truck that killed poor, brave Ch’p, which is the only real way to explain why it happened with two Green Lanterns around.
We discovered decades after the Corps’ debut that the reason for the weakness was because the Oans were also using the Central Power Battery — the source of all energy for every Green Lantern ring — as a prison for their long-time foe Parallax. Parallax is the physical manifestation of fear, and yes, it is yellow. We assume the Guardians thought that the green energy of willpower and courage was enough to contain and counteract the enemy, so that’s why they decided to house it in the most important thing they own. But it backfired because it was just not a good idea.
Parallax’s presence corrupted all of the rings that draw from the Battery, and no Lantern could influence yellow things until it escaped its prison. But it did so by possessing Hal Jordan and making him crazy and evil, so it was a real good news/bad news situation.
7. One ring rules the entire Emotional Spectrum
Anyone chosen to wear one of the power rings gains full control over a single facet of the Emotional Spectrum. But six billion years ago, Rami, the Guardian inventor who built the original Green Lantern rings, crafted the Phantom Ring. It lets the wearer control any of the seven aspects — will, fear, hope, compassion, love, greed, and rage — at any time.
The Guardians didn’t think anyone should have so much power, so they banished Rami. They didn’t disapprove so much that they made any attempts to confiscate or destroy the dangerous Phantom Ring, but they were young and foolish then. They were only like a few billion years old, after all.
The Phantom Ring is all-powerful, but it’s also highly unstable. That’s because it doesn’t charge from a battery like every other ring, but rather through constant contact with the Emotional Spectrum, and it’s possible that wearing the object too long could cause its bearer to just explode. And that’s assuming the person survives the constant shifts between colors, alignments, and behaviors that occur anytime the Phantom Ring picks up the slightest change in emotions.
6. They did a crossover with Duck Dodgers
The Green Lantern Corps have appeared in several weird crossover events with other universes; comics publisher IDW even did an event that had Hal Jordan hanging out with the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise from the current Star Trek movies. But if we had to pick our favorite, oddball meetup, we have to go with the time the GLC appeared with space-faring hero Duck Dodgers.
Duck Dodgers ran on Cartoon Network from 2003-2005. In the first-season episode “The Green Loontern,” the hapless protagonist accidentally gets his feathers on Jordan’s suit and ring when he mistakenly picks them up at the dry cleaners (yeah, it’s that kind of show). Obviously, he tries them out because who wouldn’t, and Dodgers ends up helping the Corps fight Sinestro’s robot army and the villain’s plot to use imprisoned Lanterns to power a galaxy-endangering machine.
Dodgers Jar Jars his way into accidentally freeing the prisoners, and they go ahead and finish the job for him. And if you watch that episode and still really want to see more of Daffy Duck all space-copped up, “The Green Loontern” is a playable character in the video game Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham. He plays exactly like the other Lantern characters, but he’s a duck, so we know who’s getting our play time.
5. The Antimatter Universe had its own Anti-Green Lantern Corps
The Green Lanterns already have their own opposite number in the Sinestro Corps, but they also had an evil counterpart in the Antimatter Universe.
Billions of years ago, Krona, a scientist on Maltus (the original world of the Guardians) conducted an experiment that aimed to see how everything began. His efforts accidentally created a second, antimatter universe that’s basically like this one except that things are decidedly more evil there. The Antimatter Universe is home to Qward, the anti-Oa, which has its own race of bald-headed super-geniuses.
The Qwardians decide that as evil Oans, it makes sense to have their own nefarious crew of powered space soldiers, so they build the Anti-Green Lantern Corps. But their knock-off power rings require so much brainpower that it burns out their troops and kills them, so they kidnap Hal Jordan so they can study his device to fine-tune theirs.
Not much comes of this plan, however, as the Green Lanterns show up and take out the Qwardians’ Central Power Battery. And because supervillains apparently never make plans or blueprints so that they can rebuild their destroyed doomsday weapons, this solves the problem forever.
4. The lantern has two totally different origins
If the idea that a race of super-advanced immortal beings would adopt something as odd and specifically terrestrial as a lantern as their symbol of cosmic justice seems a little old-fashioned to you, we understand.
The 1940s Green Lantern draws his power from an object that originally fell to Earth in a meteor. A lamp-maker forged the original light from the extraterrestrial material, and then a mental patient converted it into its more familiar modern form. Thanks to its cosmic nature and just being generally eerie, the lantern emits green light and can speak. But it’s more of a telepathic thing, because we’ll buy the mystical space metal, but a talking lantern should take its act to Disney where it belongs.
Green Lantern‘s writers were kind of tied to this object when they rebranded the character as a sci-fi hero, since it’s right there in the name. But they sort of retconned it sufficiently to make sense.
DC lore says that the first civilization in the universe developed on a world with an abundance of fog. Eventually, the society created the first police force anywhere, and its officers carried lanterns that used a green-burning chemical fog to light their way. The Guardians adopted this imagery to pay tribute to the beginnings of law and order in the universe they protect, and we suppose it just works out that these long-dead cops just happened to use a chemical that shines the same-colored light as the portion of the Emotional Spectrum that the GLC controls. It’s really just an amazing coincidence.
3. They were not allowed to use lethal force
The Guardians administer the Green Lantern Corps using the Book of Oa, a huge tome that contains their civilization’s entire history. It also has the basic laws that Lanterns have to follow, the first of which being that their first duties are to life and liberty. Members of the Corps also have to follow all orders from the Guardians, practice non-interference in cultural development, and just generally not be a-holes. And we’re glad they wrote that all down because of the whole “most powerful object in the universe” thing.
But let’s stick with that first thing, because it’s important and surprising. Unlike Superman in Man of Steel and Batman in every movie he’s appeared in, the Green Lanterns were not allowed to kill their enemies. That makes sense because they are supposed to be good, but it sounds almost impossible. And that’s probably one of several reasons why we are not Green Lanterns.
A 2007 storyline detailing a war with the Sinestro Corps caused the Guardians to revise their statutes, and the non-murder policy was the first to get a gritty reboot. The first of the new laws says that Green Lanterns are allowed to use lethal force against members of the Sinestro Corps, and the second extends that authorization to “all enemies of the Green Lantern Corps.” And while this is a bit of a departure from that whole “life and liberty” thing they started with, we like to think they still use their best judgment.
2. Rings iterated from the Emerald Eyes of Ekron
We’ve already mentioned that Green Lanterns come in all shapes, including squirrels, flies, and weird tentacle things, but one member of the Corps was just a head floating in space.
Ekron was an ancient construct that the Oans built, and its superpowered eyes served as a prototype for the later power rings. During the 2005 event Infinite Crisis, intergalactic bounty hunter Lobo stole one of the Lantern’s peepers, and it ended up outliving its former host when Ekron sacrificed himself to stop the villainous Lady Styx (not to be confused with the song “Lady,” by the rock group Styx), who had destroyed his entire system.
It’s probably just as well that he died, since we aren’t sure what Green Lanterns do when they don’t have a sector left to look after. But we figure that once you’ve spent some time floating around the cosmos without a body, you get really good at filling downtime.
1. The Green Lantern Oath is both a code and a timer
A Green Lantern’s power ring carries enough charge to last it a single Earth day, and as owners of the Apple Watch, we know how inconvenient that can get. Lanterns regularly have to top up their devices, and unlike our wearables, the process doesn’t take that long. At the end of their cosmic crime-fighting day, members of the Corps go home and point their rings at their personal, miniaturized versions of the Oans’ Central Power Battery, and it will draw in the juice seemingly through the air. While they do this, tradition dictates that the soldier recite the Green Lantern Oath:
In brightest day, in darkest night,
No evil shall escape my sight.
Let those who worship evil’s might
Beware my power, Green Lantern’s light.
That’s the modern version; the Oath premiered with the original, Alan Scott version of the character, and the second phrase originally referred to “blackest night.” And individual Lanterns in the Corps might adopt their own wordings, but everyone says something while they’re fueling up their rings.
It’s not just about reiterating their dedication to the Corps or taking some time to re-center after a long day of punching aliens with fists made of light, though, as the Oath is also practical: reciting it serves as a timer for the charging. And that means that a power ring can go from zero to full in about 15 seconds. Our watch takes like an hour, and it can’t even keep us from dying in space.
Do you know of any other fun factoids concerning the Green Lantern Corps? Which of the Lanterns do you want to see in the upcoming movie? (Besides Ch’p, obviously.) Sound off in the comments.
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