Some Thoughts on Green Lantern
Oh, man, I can’t believe it took me this long to figure the guy out. But here I am, sitting on the couch, trying to figure out why Hal Jordan would use his power ring to conjure a giant green jetplane when he wants to fly around instead of just, you know, flying around with his Green Lantern power, and it hits me, and now obviously I have to talk about it.
You guys, no doubt, already have it figured, because you read the comics, or whatever.
I never read the comics, though, because while the idea always seemed neat in theory, whenever I spent a few seconds thinking about it, I’d ask myself, “Well, wait. If he can conjure a giant green fist to punch Mongul, Lord of War World, why would he bother conjuring a giant green locomotive? Why wouldn’t he just take the green fist and hit him harder? It’s all contiguous green energy, just pump some more power in there, hoss.”
Duh. I’ve always been thrown off by the fact that you can see the green stuff coming out of the ring and turning into whatever the Green Lantern is thinking of, and I guess that was misleading me.
But, obviously, the shape that the power ring makes must be more than cosmetic, otherwise the whole adventure is stupid. There must be a difference between trapping a supernova with a giant green safe and just using an invincible green sphere.
What happens is that the power ring is actualizing your intention (your will, duh, oh man DUH) according to your imagination — so Hal Jordan wants to GO FAST, and the way that he imagines going fast is by flying in a super-fast jetplane, so that’s what the ring makes for him. Well, it doesn’t really make a jetplane, actually, it just makes GOING FAST, and because it’s Hal’s ring, “jetplane” is what that looks like.
Likewise, the reason that you might hit Mongul with a giant green fist at one point, and then hit him with a giant green locomotive at another point is because — IDIOT — the locomotive HITS HARDER. Because when you’re the Green Lantern and you’re in a hurry, and Mongul has just shrugged off your green fist, you start wracking your brain for things that hit harder. Or, rather, you start trying to conceive of the idea of “hitting harder” and when you think HIT HARDER, the images that pop through your mind are, you know, “baseball bat,” no, HARDER, “anvil” no, HARDER, “Mac truck,” HARDER, “LOCOMOTIVE,” BLAMMO!
Obviously you’d start with your giant green fist, for several reasons: the first is, when you think, “Augh, HIT HIM!” PUNCH is probably the first thought you can form — and WITH YOUR HAND is probably what springs to mind whenever you think HIT, anyway. Moreover, you see your hands every day — it’s easier to think of a fist than it is to think of a locomotive. And, in fact, Green Lanterns probably learn that giant green hand early on, and use it for all kinds of things, from punching Mongul (obviously) to fondling alien boobs, so that giant hand is pretty easy to conceive of.
Because you have to really be able to picture the thing to will it into existence, since imagining the thing is an extension of your will. THEREFORE — oh, MAN, I can’t believe I never thought about this before — therefore regular, ordinary things are going to be less effective at expressing your will than insane things that you had to just think up. HAND is easy to think of, so when you use HAND to hit something, it doesn’t have the same force of will behind it. But when you have to conceive of a gigantic locomotive, you’ve charged up the idea of HIT IT with more power.
Not only that, but if you’re training to be a Green Lantern, you’re going to (1) need a couple ideas that you can think of really quickly, and (2) need a variety of different images to accomplish the same task — because you don’t ALWAYS want to hit something with the force of a locomotive. Sometimes you want to just punch through a wall without taking the whole building down, and then the last thing you want is to think up a train. AND, ah-ha! And, look — the more you use a hand when you think ‘HIT IT,” the more easily and inextricably “hand” and “HIT IT” are going to be entwined; this means that the giant fist is going to be less effective at different tasks.
This is because there’s a reciprocal arrangement because of what you see and what you can conceive. Which explains ALSO (damn it, why do I find this so exciting?) why once Green Lantern has hit Mongul with a giant locomotive, Mongul might flip out and punch the locomotive so hard that it disappears.
Because when the locomotive is conceived, it only has the properties that the Green Lantern imagines for it IN THE ABSTRACT — but the second it’s manifested it becomes concrete, and then subject to whatever the Green Lantern imagines the qualities of a locomotive might be; so if you punch it hard enough to smash a train, Hal Jordan can’t really help but imagine that the train he’s imagined will get smashed.
Or maybe he wouldn’t, because maybe Hal doesn’t have that good of an imagination, which reveals some interesting ways in which imagination impacts the powers of the Green Lantern. Hal’s conjurings are tougher than most, because he doesn’t have much of an imagination — but that means the extent of what he’s able to achieve is limited, because his ability to conceive of achievements is limited. Kyle Rayner, on the other hand, has a wide variety of complex “objects” that he can imagine easily and in great detail — simultaneously accomplishing much, and making them strong, but not necessarily stable, since the drawback to the breadth of his imagination is the ease of his imagination.
(All of this, by the way, goes to show that the Green Lantern’s manifestations are going to be the most effective the moment he thinks of them, and then gradually become more and more concretized — as “HIT IT” starts to degrade into “punch it with this fist” — and require more and more concentration.)
Which suggests that Green Lantern training is going to involve fewer deadly Danger Room Obstacle Courses, and more lateral thinking exercises — the Green Lantern has twenty-four hours of basically unlimited power, but he’s limited by what he can imagine. The challenge is less, “practice wanting things really hard,” and more, “think of some innovative way for this to happen.” Except, it’s also going to involve a lot of, “QUICK, PROTECT YOURSELF!” so that you’ve always got, “AUGH, INVINCIBLE GREEN SAMURAI ARMOR” at your disposal at all times. It’ll be calibrated according to the dangers that you’ve had to protect yourself from — and, ooooo, hey, do you purposefully have to “leave room”, like, purposefully NOT think of what might be more protective than your invincible green samurai armor so that when you need to protect yourself from something bigger, you’ll have something bigger to think of?
Also, what does it mean when you can start to think in abstracts? Is the ideal situation for a Green Lantern one in which they no longer need to think of STUFF in order to express their will, but can just do it with disassociated geometries, into which they can put as much or as little force as they want? Or is that what happens, how the Guardians know that a Green Lantern is getting old — the better he gets at imagining, the more easily abstract ideas come to him. The more easily any of his imaginings come to him — and therefore the less effective he becomes at his job.
I kind of dig the idea that a characteristic that is, by all accounts, GOOD — imagination, creativity, a capacity for abstract thought — is actually a bit of a detriment for a superhero. And the better he gets at becoming an intelligent human being, the more difficult it becomes for him to actually be a superhero.
All of which doesn’t mean much, I guess, except that now when DC calls me up and is all, “Hey, Chris, do you want to write some Green Lantern for us?” I’ll be able to say, “Yes. Because Green Lantern is the hero of IMAGINATION.”