The new Green Lantern series begins the game with a big strike against it. Warners was clearly hoping for a big hit with the live-action movie; in their ideal world, the new cartoon would debut amid a glut of action figures, excited sequel talk and little kids dressed up as Ryan Reynolds for Halloween. It didn’t happen. The movie was a major disappointment and the new series opens amid the sour taste of what might have been rather than the triumph of what was. Does it stand up to the challenge?
By and large yes. Its trump card remains the solid script and a nice flowing sense of action, which helps it overcome its single glaring deficiency (more on that in a sec). It sticks with Hal Jordan (voiced by Josh Keaton) as its primary figure and sets up a simple yet effective plot arc for the first series. Warners decided that Sinestro would not be a part of the show, so the Red Lanterns (and specifically Atrocitus) have stepped up to fill in the gap. They provide a nice high concept to keep the action focused: the enemy is operating in a remote part of the galaxy, so after a brief opening on Earth, Hal and Kilowog (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson) are shot off to the frontier – so far away that they need a special ship to get there.
They’re thus left cut off and on their own, facing a superior force with nasty long-term plans for the Guardians. Directors Sam Liu and Ernie Altbacker play up the GLs’ underdog status, as well as their complete lack of knowledge about the Red Lanterns. That allows us to learn as they do, even as they struggle against an enemy with power they can’t readily counteract. The villains evince the sense of moral ambiguity that the comics have brought to them: obsessed with vengeance, but possessing some very good reasons for their rage. The pilot episode is wise enough to let those reasons be for the moment (though comics fans may have some idea) and plant a few suspicions in the Guardians’ direction.
That also helps them establish Jordan as an interesting character rather than the bland stock figure he might have become. His maverick tendencies and willingness to defy orders are a bit cliché, but deliver strong justification for his clever quips and instantly put us on his side. Kilowog is a welcome addition as well, rendered perfectly by Richardson and establishing his no-nonsense tough guy in contrast to Jordan’s seat-of-his-pants iconoclasm makes for a great pairing. (Longtime GL fans will likely be salivating at the thought of the character showing up every week.)
The directors pack that with a lot of keen action, plenty of constructs, and a plot narrative that never pushes any boundaries, but also never overplays its hand. That strong foundation should provide for an engaging series, even if the budget can’t always handle the epic scope they’re striving for. Speaking of which… the choice to go with CG images produces a huge flaw that undermines the show’s otherwise first-rate efforts. While the flow is good, the modeling itself looks cheap and shoddy. The characters are deliberately stylized, with very few details and an extremely simplistic look. The Clone Wars adopts a similar technique, but uses texturing to deliver a unique visual tone. While theirs is a deliberate choice, Green Lantern’s models betray signs of corner-cutting, and distract from the otherwise agreeable whole.
If you can look past that, however, the show displays real signs of promise. The epic scope fits it well, and keeping it in the stars instead of on Earth avoids the temptation of bringing in other DC heroes as cameos (though the producers have promised that other human Lanterns like Guy Gardner might make an appearance). The story arc displays considerable intrigue, but can also deliver good stand-alone episodes, so newcomers can get up to speed without having to keep a scorecard. Considering the huge let-down of the live-action film, any Lantern fan worth his ring will happily take some visual clunkiness in exchange for all that. We’ll see how it goes once the regular schedule is set. For now, Hal Jordan is off to a reliable start, and hope springs anew for the Green Lanterns.