Some Thoughts on Green Lantern

Posted: October 29, 2010 in Braak, comic books
Tags: , ,

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.”

  1. Jefferson Robbins says:

    Well, duh.

  2. braak says:


    But shit, did you ever get to thinking about a thing, and you’re just thinking about it in a particular way, and you kind of can’t get unstuck from it?

    That’s how I was about Green Lantern. This idea is now a hundred thousand times more interesting to me.

  3. John Jackson says:

    I never thought about it like this before. Yes, it is awesome.

  4. Erin says:

    There was a JLA arc years ago where they wound up in the Dreaming. Daniel remarked that Green Lantern’s “Ring of Wishes” would be particularly potent there.

    Overall, I think 90% of your analysis is right, although traditionally the strength of the constructs is determined by a combination of the architecture (support beams help), the user’s willpower, and the amount of energy poured into that particular construct.

    As for whether a construct of a train is green energy in the shape of a train or actual train made of green energy, it depends who’s making it. Well, probably not so much with a train, but it comes up when they need to make a functioning fusion bomb.

    Also, the rings don’t carry infinite energy: the 24 hour estimate only applies to “normal” heroic use. A while back someone unloaded 90% of a ring’s energy in a single blast.

  5. braak says:

    But are the support beams actually supporting the architecture? Or are they there because once you’ve conceived of the object, it begins to suffer from concretization, and you need to conceive of ways it could be stronger without scrapping it and starting over? The green stuff that you’re making doesn’t have any structure integrity — it’s contiguous green energy, so it’s not like it’s going to “break” in any real sense (especially if you could theoretically put enough energy into it to fly into space).

    The question of “how much willpower” do you have and “how much energy do you put into it” is part of the problem that I have, though. Firstly, what does it mean, “how much willpower”? What does that even mean in the first place? What do you measure “willpower” in? If it’s a question of focusing on a thing though you’re becoming increasingly distracted (which, as far as I can tell, is the basic operating parameter of willpower for a human being), then the exercise of willpower is going to directly correlate to how 1) unique and 2) intricate the construct is, because maintaining a construct that is complicated and weird is going to be harder than maintaining one that’s simple and easy.

    “How much energy” is put into the construct, yes, but what is the mechanism for putting more energy into something? How do you conceive of that? What does it feel like? Do you just want something harder? Is interfacing with the power ring an exercise in will power itself, such that just using it is physically (or psychically) exhausting? Why should that be? And what is that like? Psychic exhausting, for me, comes from focusing on one thing for a very great length of time, so I was assuming that this would be concomitant with expenditure of energy; that is, it’s the length and depth of focus that represents how much energy you’re putting into the construct.

    I like the idea that the constructs and their design are a quirk of the interface system; the idea of making a fusion bomb with the power ring is less appealing to me (though, if you think about it, it should be really hard — or, anyway, according to my analysis it should be really hard, because you can’t just rely on the ring to fill in the details: you’re going to have to think of all those tiny lasers, simultaneously, and in full detail, at once).

    Like wise the idea that the ring has a finite amount of energy, as opposed to a finite amount of time during which it has access to an essentially unlimited amount of energy. Because then why the 24-hour limit? If I charge the ring up and then just don’t use it all day, does it stay charged up? Or is the 24-hour limit a hard-coded “ground” — like, no matter how much energy is left, 24 hours after charging the ring just dumps the left over energy (or sends it back to Oa or whatever).

    Hm. I guess that’s okay. I still prefer the idea that the limits of the power ring are a quirk of its psychic interface. Or else if there are some kinds of safeguards in place making it really unlikely that you’d just discharge all the power in the ring, because if you COULD do that, it begs the question as to why, once Mongul has shrugged off your giant green fist, you don’t just hit him with all the power in your ring at once.

    I also don’t really like the idea that the rings can produce “heat”. I want them to just be force-constructs, but I probably missed the boat on that one.

  6. Jefferson Robbins says:

    Silver Age stuff I’ve seen characterizes the ring as essentially a powerful rechargeable battery managed by a reasonably competent AI. Hal Jordan CAN discharge all the energy — he can use the ring more or less any way he wants — except the AI is always reminding him of shit like “energy capacity 63%.” It kind of gives advice and consent.

    It also has an overriding directive to protect its wearer from harm. That’s why he’s usually got a forcefield, which goes up automatically when he’s wearing the ring and under threat. (In the Justice miniseries a few years back, the ring quarantined Jordan inside its own substance, after Sinestro boom-tubed him so far out into space that he’d run out of ring-juice before he could get to any habitable planets.)

    So as I see it, a Green Lantern’s use of his ring is limited by 1) willpower, 2) imagination, 3) energy capacity, 4) the ring’s hardwired protect-from-harm protocols.

    But then, duh. And this is a great song. But again, duh.

  7. braak says:

    The protocols idea is also interesting to me. As I’m sure you remember from when Jack T. Chance was a Green Lantern, the ring actually refuses to kill — but how does it know? Can it automatically calculate the survival chances of hitting Mongul with a locomotive, and just shorts out if those odds are too high? Will it tell you first?

    The idea that the ring is a perfect weapon with an imperfect psychic interface (63% charge is interesting, but what would be more interesting if the ring responded with various images that indicated different levels of fullness, that were drawn from the wielder’s subconscious and that he had to learn to successfully interpret) is fascinating to me. Like when you first get it, and sometimes it does what you want, and sometimes it doesn’t, and it’s hard to tell why.

    For instance, say you wanted to his Major Disaster with a giant green wrecking ball, and smash him into the wall of the building behind him, but when you tried to do it it just didn’t work — because the ring was aware of the fact that there are people in that building, and it refused to comply with an instruction that had such a high fatality risk.

    Especially if the ring only communicates in imagery (which makes the relationship between ring and ring-wielder interesting — like having a psychic connection with someone who was infinitely powerful but also deeply autistic), how does that change the thought processes of an experienced Green Lantern? Does it make it harder for you to interact with normal society? Do you suffer communications problems as you slowly move away from language-oriented thought?

    This is a really neat idea. It’s kind of a shame that so many Green Lantern stories devolve into flying guys with space lasers.

  8. Erin says:

    “The green stuff that you’re making doesn’t have any structure integrity — it’s contiguous green energy, so it’s not like it’s going to “break” in any real sense (especially if you could theoretically put enough energy into it to fly into space).”

    I see where you’re coming from – I actually like your logic – but this IS the DCU. Like most comic book Universes, that means that immovable objects are regularly hitting each other with unstoppable objects with infinite force. In DC, when Superboy Prime punches a Green Lantern force field, that force field breaks. This is differs from Wildstorm, where The High splatters against a force field.

    “Firstly, what does it mean, “how much willpower”? What does that even mean in the first place? What do you measure “willpower” in?”

    In the DCU, emotion is a substance these days (see the last 3 years of Green Lantern comics – particularly Blackest Night, where the Black Lanterns could actually see the quantity of different emotions in different characters).

    “How do you conceive of that? What does it feel like?”

    In Rebirth, it was established that it hurt like hell (Oliver Queen used a Green Lantern ring to make one construct and wasn’t feeling well afterward).

    “Because then why the 24-hour limit?”

    I don’t think the 24-hour limit’s in effect anymore. I believe the rings can retain their power indefinitely in a “powered down” state, but I’m not 100% sure.

    “This is a really neat idea. It’s kind of a shame that so many Green Lantern stories devolve into flying guys with space lasers.”

    But I LIKE stories about flying guys with space lasers!

  9. Erin says:

    My guess is the version in the movie next year will probably be at least somewhat closer to the version of GL you want to see.

    Personally, I prefer Green Lantern when the rings operate according to fantasy physics in a SciFi setting while the characters behave as though they’re in some combination of police drama, spy movie, and the marine corp.

    But that’s me.

    In the comics, the rings “speak” to the wearers. I’m not 100% clear on how much of that is psychic vs. auditory (it doesn’t seem to be a huge distinction, anyway, since the rings are constantly translating everything everyone is saying).

    The decision to deactivate when lethal force is attempted seems to be based on the user’s intent, as determined by the ring’s psychic connection to the user. This is why Lanterns can sometimes kill by accident (such as John Stewart’s infamous destruction of an entire planet).

  10. braak says:

    Well, that’s all crazy. I’ll just go and make my OWN Green Lantern stories. With blackjack. And hookers.

    In fact, forget the Green Lantern.

  11. braak says:

    Aaa, forget the whole thing.

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