Friday, October 07, 2005

Men In Green

How much do the people of DC-Earth know -- I mean really know -- about the Green Lantern Corps?

We readers know that the GL Corps is billions of years old and consists of thousands of sentients patrolling the universe on behalf of a few dozen immortal beings. However, as far as Joe DC Sixpack is concerned, "Green Lantern" is just another super-guy's name. There was a Green Lantern in the '40s and '50s, but he retired. When the superheroes started appearing again en masse, a younger Green Lantern with a different suit was one of them. Since then, there have been a few more GLs flying around. For a while there were several in a California headquarters, but that didn't last long. Then there were three, including two in the Justice League; and for a while after that there was just one. (The old guy came back too, but with a different name.)

I tend to think it is better for the average DC denizen to think of a Green Lantern as just another superhero, because the truth is kind of mind-blowing on its face. The average GL has a broad mandate to keep the peace in its sector, and is answerable only to a small group of blue-skinned immortals, the Guardians of the Universe. While the Guardians do punish abuses of GL power, one can only imagine what it would be like to get on their bad side, even for a minor offense.

Imagine -- you're sitting around, minding your own business, when suddenly a green energy sphere scoops you up and hauls you across space to Oa. There it's explained that you are like the proverbial butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil, and if something isn't done about you, there will be tremendous consequences for your galaxy. Naturally, this all comes out of the Guardians' well-used brains, and they're the ones passing sentence on you.

It makes sense, therefore, that on Earth "Green Lantern" is just another superhero. From that perspective, defeating Star Sapphire isn't part of the ongoing struggle between factions of the Guardians' race, it's only a super-fight.

However, it is somewhat odd that Hal Jordan's new supporting cast includes a few military pilots. I'd imagine that the military keeps a very close watch on every Earth-based GL, because it knows any one of them could call down dozens, hundreds, or thousands more. I also wonder if the governments of Earth (and other planets too) have established extradition treaties with Oa, to make it simpler to transfer Star Sapphire or Sinestro from a terrestrial maximum-security prison to an Oan Sciencell. Probably not -- and I bet that troubles those governments even more, not knowing for sure even where these dangerous beings are headed.

The Guardians' jurisprudence doesn't appear to have changed since they originally sentenced Krona. If they determine you've done something wrong, that's it. You might get a trial, like Arkiss Chummuck, but the Guardians themselves pass judgment and carry out the sentences. (Moreover, Chummuck was a GL himself, so the trappings of that tribunal -- including defense counsel -- might only have been available to GLs. I don't remember Krona or Sinestro being represented.)

Clearly all this asks both the reader and the GLs to put a lot of faith in the Guardians. That's provided fodder not only for Hal's various rebellions, but also for more philosophical stories (mostly in the Denny O'Neil '70s and the Gerry Jones '90s) about the Guardians' fallibility. Regardless, the basic Green Lantern Corps setup hasn't changed since its introduction. Maybe Green Lantern and the new Recharge miniseries will address these issues, but they too seem focused more on the idea of GLs as policemen or soldiers than of the Guardians as judges.

Getting back to the original thought, I also hope the GL writers exploit this idea of "hiding in plain sight." It would add an air of mystery and might provide some more dramatic tension. (Cary Bates' Captain Atom used a similar premise to good effect.) Sure, the Justice League accepts that Kyle, John, Guy, and Hal have to answer to the Guardians, because as beings of great power themselves, they're used to taking those kinds of relationships on faith. However, I have a feeling that if the public were confronted with the whole truth about the Guardians, they'd be a lot less charitable towards the GLs in their midst.


Captain Qwert Jr said...

Then how do DC people react to the alien invasions and the obliteration of cities. Five major cities off the top of my head have been destoyed, and how many invasions have there been? If their minds have not been blown by now, they simply can't be blown. I see no reason why a detail-vague understanding with the the US of the UN can't be established. Just enough to explain why GL is not a lawless vigilante and establish a editorial boundary, that writers would be advised not to cross.

Tom Bondurant said...

I think of an alien invasion as less personally threatening than being singled out by the Guardians. With an invasion you know the JLA, etc., are looking after you. I'm saying, what if the Guardians told your resident GL you were a threat to galactic security? Those kinds of X-Files/MIB scenarios would be fun to explore, even if the GL setup doesn't automatically lend itself to such a paranoid tone.