Note: The P:R staff is currently abuzz as we narrow down the 150+ entries into the final 20-something entries that will earn Honorable Mentions or the prized 1st, 2nd and 3rd place awards. While you’re waiting, we’ve asked long-time P:R writer Joel Priddy to write a little bit about his appreciation for the first Green Lantern redesign: that of Hal Jordan in the Silver Age by writer John Broome and artist Gil Kane. – Chris A.
The original Green Lantern, created by Bill Finger and Martin Nodell, was a blousy affair with a high-collared cape and thong-wrapped booties. It was, in the most damning phrase that can be tossed around in the rarified world of amateur superhero costume redesign, not iconic. But there is something fundamentally satisfying on a playground role-playing level about a magic ring, not to mention the dissonant thrill of having a character named after one object wielding another. And so, the Green Lantern concept lingered long enough to be given a second chance.
The Green Lantern’s Silver Age revival, courtesy of John Broome and Gil Kane, followed the successful example of Carmine Infantino’s the Flash. Like Infantino, Kane set about streamlining and modernizing the Green Lantern’s look. Let’s break down a few of the elements Kane turned his attention to:
For a character with a color right there in his name, the Golden Age Green Lantern’s color scheme was all over the place. With Kane’s redesign, green and red and yellow (and tan and purple-black) were simplified to black, green, and white. This scheme represents to highest range of value (white), the lowest range of value (black), and the middle range in a high-intensity color (not as intense as red, but with kinder connotations of growth and renewal). This is a powerful scheme that creates both a sense of dynamism (maximized value contrast and high-intensity) and stability (colors equally distanced on the value range and in balanced proportion), two attributes that are nice to have in a hero.
The pulp and pseudo-Classical elements disappeared, replaced with silhouette-emphasizing spandex. There is a reason that art textbooks, when discussing heroic proportions in figure-drawing, inevitably use Hal Jordan as the Green Lantern as an example. The Green Lantern was the first major male superhero to have such an unadorned silhouette. It emphasized the soundness and athletic beauty of the body, which propagandists and myth-makers have been using for millennia to convey mental, spiritual, and moral health.
Perhaps most importantly, the Green Lantern’s emblem was changed from a representational drawing of a railroad lantern to a minimalized icon (two lines and a circle in elegant proportion to one another). The strength of an icon over a drawing is that an icon is read more as a pattern than an object. And, while humans are pretty good at recognizing objects with incomplete data, we excel at reading patterns from incomplete data. Once readers have learned to recognize the pattern you have established, it can be obscured, partially removed, manipulated, deviated from, pushed and pulled in every conceptual direction, and we’ll still be along for the ride.
It is a costume that embraces capital-M Modernism. It is undeniably iconic. And it is versatile.
This versatility is what makes it so much fun to populate the Universe with Green Lanterns in unending variation from Guy Gardener’s motorcycle turtleneck to Mogo’s pattern of forestation.