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In Brightest Day, In Blackest Night, No Evil Shall Escape My Sight…

January 24th, 2006

In recent weeks my lunchtime reading material has been Showcase Presents Green Lantern, the second in a series of “phonebook” reprints of “Silver Age” DC Comics superhero stories. So far, I’m enjoying it much more than its companion Superman volume, as it emphasizes straight-up adventure rather than “trick” tales in which the lead character pulls an elaborate hoax on friends, foes and readers.

Green Lantern was originally created in the ’40s as a caped crusader dressed in an especially garish purple, red and green ensemble, and wielding a power ring which could do virtually anything once it was charged by a magical battery in the form of a green lantern. He was one of the more popular heroes of the day, eventually granted his own title, but it wasn’t enough to save him from the superhero purge that ended the so-called Golden Age.

In the late ’50s, DC began reviving its World War II-era characters and updating them as sci-fi-inspired heroes. Green Lantern was reborn as Hal Jordan, daring test pilot selected by a dying alien to replace the latter as a member of an interstellar police force. While Hal initially adopts the Green Lantern name in reference to the shape of his power battery, we eventually learn that the organization he has unwittingly joined is collectively known as the Green Lantern Corps, agents of the blue-skinned, immortal Guardians of the planet Oa.

As is the case with most superheroes, Hal must balance his career–as a pilot for Ferris Industries–with his duties as protector. And of course, there are the prerequisite problems of keeping a secret identity. His chief confidante is his Eskimo buddy Pieface. (So far, the book does not make clear whether he eats a lot of baked goods, or if this is some sort of Eskimo Pie reference.)

Then there’s the beautiful Carol Ferris, who becomes Hal’s boss once her daddy leaves on an extended business trip. Hal has the hots for Carol, who naturally brushes off his advances in favor of Green Lantern. And while Hal is not above using his GL persona to date Carol, he wants her to love him for himself. This, of course, is the old-school superhero concept of “love,” which apparently does not include trust, since Hal has no intention of revealing his secret. Carol seems to be a colossal bitch, which makes one wonder why Hal bothers with her…except that she is drawn as very, very hot.

The fact that GL’s ring is virtually all-powerful, limited only by Hal’s willpower and imagination, gives the writers The Old Superman Dilemma: how can one invent a credible threat to an unstoppable hero? Hence, Green Lantern is given a vulnerability; due to “a necessary impurity,” his ring is useless against the color yellow.

As it turns out, yellow objects and people are much more common in GL’s world than in mine, and a significant number of stories hinge on a tense moment in which Hal realizes that the thing he’s trying to zap is this forbidden color. (I’d think after the first few times, he’d notice something that happened to be all yellow before trying to power ring it, but then I’m not a test pilot leading a dual identity. Nor, come to think of it, do I have a friend named Pieface.)

Now, I could think of all sorts of ways in which an all-powerful ring could stop a yellow villain/weapon. Using a chunk of concrete as a shield, for instance, or removing all of the breathable air from the area surrounding an evildoer. And it’s true that GL eventually comes up with those sorts of tactics, but never without a prior moment in which he declares “My power ring is helpless against the color yellow!”

Apparently, this vulnerability extends to gold, which is not technically yellow except in old comics using the four-color printing process. It also applies to non-yellow objects under certain circumstances; in one tale, the other-dimensional Qwardians fire a missile installed with red lights glowing beneath its translucent yellow skin, allowing it the mind-bending capability to appear red while still being yellow. (Yeah…okay.)

I’ve thought about this, and have decided to compile a list of things against which Green Lantern would be powerless:

  • lemons
  • a yield sign
  • a legal pad
  • daffodils
  • Big Bird
  • the Yellow Pages
  • Pringles
  • urine
  • cowards (think about it)
  • McDonald’s golden arches
  • SpongeBob Squarepants wielding a banana

Undoubtedly, there are more. Feel free to e-mail me your own lists.

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