CW: Sexism, Violence Against Woman
The following is a review of Green Lantern (Vol 3) #48-64.
Written by Ron Marz. Published by DC Comics between the years of January 1994 to July 1995.
Recently, I decided I would finally sit down and read the Kyle Rayner Green Lantern comics from the 90s. I always knew things about them (Ion, Alex’s death, Arsenal’s Teen Titans, etc.) and I grew up with him as my Green Lantern. Superman: The Animated Series “In Brightest Day” helped keep him in my mind. However, most of what I knew came from later comics from Geoff Johns, Teen Titans runs and Justice League.
And I really loved the costume. I know its become one we make fun of lately with the really big mask on his face, but I always loved it. I even had a refrigerator magnet of it as a kid.
So my option was either to read the modern stuff post-Hal Jordan’s return, or go back to his first appearance. I decided to go for the former. Kyle was created by Ron Marz and a quick Wiki search said that he first appeared in Green Lantern (Vol 3) #48. So I found a copy and started reading. To my surprise… this was the start of “Emerald Twilight.” Arguably the most hated Green Lantern story ever? Probably? Since I’m obsessive, I decided to start from here. As of right now, I’ve read #48-64.
Here are some rough thoughts on the introduction of Kyle Rayner…
This is okay. It’s not great, it’s not awful.
That includes “Emerald Twilight.” That was surprising to me. For a story as universally panned as “Emerald Twilight,” it wasn’t that bad. And its surprisingly short. “Emerald Twilight” runs from #48-50 with the issue titles “The Past,” “The Present,” and “The Future.” It was the 90s, the story was an editorial mandate, and forced the creation of a new character. In all honestly, this could’ve been much worse. The idea of this story might in fact be worse than the story itself.
See, Green Lantern is a space cop. Alan Scott had his run but for 35 years, Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner and John Stewart redefined the mythology as one of Star Trek style exploration, Sci-Fi moral dilemmas and imaginative technology (for more on that, click here). The transformation of Hal into Parallax, the destruction of the central battery, and the deaths of genuinely great characters is, frankly, insulting. I’m not opposed to making Hal a villain. I actually think that’s a great idea given the destruction of Coast City. And #48 does a great job of giving us a psychologically ruined Hal. He’s in shock, and his means of rehabilitation is a power fantasy. He recreates the city, tries to make it seem like everything’s okay, and all of his insecurities start poisoning him. In fact, the ring as a mind probe is a really cool idea, which we see later with Kyle.
Figure 1: Green Lantern (Vol 3) #59
So Hal’s transformation and the ring as device for that transformation is not really an issue. In fact, you can even go back to Star Trek with former Captains reshaping planets in their image because they have a moral theory and power to execute it. If you want Hal in this mold, its fine. It has a lot of potential. However, you have to make sure he’s crazy. He needs to act in a way that isn’t rationally driven. Which he does, for the most part. DC tried to retool this with “Zero Hour.” It never quite worked, though we’ll touch on more of that later with “Parallax View.”
Here’s the problem: what Hal does to the rest of the mythology. Taking Hal down the road of Sinestro only works if you have a counterweight. What Hal ends up doing is destroying everything we knew as Green Lantern. Kilowog’s death is particularly hard to see…
Figure 2: Green Lantern (Vol 3) #50
…not to mention all the past lanterns set up in Green Lantern (Vol 2), and Green Lantern (Vol 3) #1-47, as well as Sinestro himself.
Regardless of what Kyle’s legacy became or the good stories as a consequence of this, what happened was a slap in the face to Green Lantern fans. The worst part is realizing later that lanterns must have died just flying through space as their rings gave out without the central battery. Aside from this, #49-50 of “Emerald Twilight” are nothing but action scenes with the occasional ranting about how tyrannical the Guardians are, or how great Hal Jordan used to be.
If you want to read Kyle Rayner’s journey, you can honestly skip this arc. Just know that Ganthet is given the powers of all the other Guardians in order to forge one last ring, which he then gives to Kyle after arriving on Earth. It’s worth noting Kyle wasn’t destined for this. It’s simply a matter of right place, right time. He’s not the ideal lantern, he’s just a guy on the street that was available.
Figure 3: Green Lantern (Vol 3) #50
There’s more to say about this ear of Green Lantern, the editorial history, the reader impact, and the legacy of the arc but I want to focus on Kyle so let’s just leave it at this: “Emerald Twilight” isn’t a good story, it’s insulting to fans and poorly thought out, but it’s also not the venomous trashcan fire modern fans would have you think.
From here, we follow Kyle as he tries to use the ring without any guidance from the Guardians. These next set of issues are nothing truly unique. The late 90s had many retooled, younger characters with old mantles.
The list goes on and on…
In that tradition, Kyle’s early adventures are familiar, to put it mildly. And after you’ve read Jack Knight’s history as Starman, it’s a little hard to find anything to top it. Though, Kyle had the advantage of immediately enjoying his powers and having someone to share them with.
Figure 4: Green Lantern (Vol 3) #51
Kyle and his girlfriend, Alex, are an enjoyable couple, though a little generic. Alex wanting Kyle to act more responsibly and Kyle rising to the challenge due to the ring are fine touches. Yet, it might’ve been nice to know why they were broken up prior to his getting the ring. There’s certainly an element of thrill in their relationship, as if they’re having more fun with each other than emotional fulfillment but none of that is developed.
Because Ron Marz kills her.
Yes, this is the infamous “Women in Refrigerators” moment that marked another male hero triumphing at the expense of a female character. I have many, many, many, many thoughts on this, as well as the emerging feminist critiques of comics but I want to spare the philosophical rant, and instead focus the sexism of this particular narrative.
Killing Alex comes only 3 issues after we meet her. Her lack of any unique qualities aside from the cool girlfriend trope makes the death meaningless. And yet, it received an image as graphic and insulting as this:
Figure 5: Green Lantern (Vol 3) #54
This aside, I was hoping for better treatment of female characters but, for whatever reason, there is some scattered sexism in this first string of issues. Not only is Alex killed in an attempt to give Kyle more character, but a former Green Lantern named Adara kills herself in front of Kyle because she missed the ring [Green Lantern (Vol 3) #56]. While a neat idea, it’s another case of the female character operating only in relation to the male character they serve. It doesn’t help matters that she sleeps with Kyle prior to these events. I’m not saying every female character we see should be perfect woman that no harm can come to. I’m simply bothered by the string of violence against woman comics has a history of, and the lack of care given to the emotional well-being of woman. Like robots in cartoons, anything can seemingly happen to a female character. All we need is male advancement.
And then we have this page demeaning one of the greatest female characters in comics, Black Canary:
Figure 6: Green Lantern (Vol 3) #63
Also, it’s the 90s… so convenient wardrobe malfunctions for the sake of…story?
Figure 7: Green Lantern (Vol 3) #61
And Kyle has an annoying habit of creating sexist female constructs.
Figure 8: Green Lantern (Vol 3) #61
Figure 9: Green Lantern (Vol 3) #52
That’s particularly annoying because, aside from this, Kyle’s constructs are the most creative I’ve ever seen in a Green Lantern comic. It might feel like I’m grasping at nothing but reading all these issues together, the disrespect of woman really stands out. I was willing to let some of it slide as simply Kyle’s character prior to maturing, but when you look at the history of comics, it’s hard not to address the sexist nature of the story structure.
If anyone is keeping a tally at home: “Emerald Twilight” is a strike. Sexism is strike two and now we get into strike three…
Why must this series tie into everything? It’s the 90s so perhaps it’s wrong to hold this particular book at fault but given that this is a hero’s journey, why are some of Kyle’s greatest moments happening outside his own series? I can look past his joining the Titans in a different series. This happens all the time and the team dynamic is handled well in both books. But beyond that we have tie ins to “Zero Hour,” “Capital Punishment” (an event with Guy Gardner when he was going by Warrior), and “The Siege of the Zi Charam.” Kyle learns how to use his battery, travels to space for the first time, and finds his footing as Green Lantern, escaping the shadow of Hal Jordan, outside his own comic which is a massive distraction since you end an issue with an insecurity and when you grab the next in the sequence (excluding events) the insecurity is gone.
So if you decide to start reading this run, you have these three road bumps to address. For me, they don’t quite kill the journey since I’m viewing this as a run rather than individual stories. Though I admit, the sexism angle, and particular the way Alex dies, is more than a small issue. Dropping the series there is more than justified.
This aside, this set of issues is quite fun. I don’t normally like this but each story reads very quickly and so you more or less get a quick, quirky adventure, with compounding character growth. Kyle’s arc here is centered on four things:
- relocation to New York,
- his relationship with Donna Troy
- his use of the ring
- his confrontation with Hal Jordan
Relocating from California to New York comes after Alex’s death. Both of them dreamed of living there together since they didn’t have any other family, and upon her death Kyle decides it’s the best way for him to try and move on. He finds an apartment with an entertaining landlord and from there starts working and superhero-ing full time.
Figure 10: Green Lantern (Vol 3) #57
His goodbye is tender, even if the relationship had little to no time for development. And Kyle’s desire to go to New York is something I relate to heavily. Growing up in small towns and reading stories of superheroes in New York creates a sort of fetishization of the city that’s hard to escape. So, well written or not, I liked that touch. And I especially like the touch of Kyle not quite knowing where to go, and finding all sorts of weirdness in the city when he arrives.
Kyle’s journey might be typical but it’s also filled with universal heroic themes. The relocation is a good metaphor for his leaving the shadow of the past Green Lanterns. And his sporadic interaction with the intergalactic and the magical helps to keep the flavor of sci-fi in the story.
While in the city, he joins Arsenal’s New Teen Titans consisting of Donna Troy (now called Darkstar), Terra, Impulse, Mirage and Damage. Not exactly the iconic line-up but later down the line we’ll see Supergirl and Ravager join their ranks, allowing for a stronger connection to Titans history. Here, he starts to hang out with Donna and they develop a relationship. Now, I was never a fan of splitting Donna and Terry, so I have some issue with this relationship strictly as a premise. Yet, Donna and Kyle have a good chemistry. They don’t actually have much of anything in common, or hang out as friends enough for the relationship to seem natural, but Marz does a great job of writing their dialogue. They genuinely have fun together.
Figure 11: Green Lantern (Vol 3) #61
Kyle will have almost a Nightwing-esque serious of love-affairs as we go down his history, but for now this is refreshingly tender. Especially when we have to deal with the Arrowverse that thinks every relationship is founded on convenient truths and lies.
Donna calls Kyle out on his use of the ring. Again, a little generic, but add that to the mind probe aspect from earlier and you have the basis for an interesting study of power and corruption, which was attempted with “Emerald Twilight.”
Figure 12: Green Lantern (Vol 3) #57
Kyle helps Superman in a fight, battles Parallax, gets lost in space, and fights Major Force while trying to figure out how to use the ring effectively. As an artist, there’s a natural creativity to his constructs, as Alex points out early on. And so you’d think Kyle has it made. And yet, the issue isn’t the thoughts, it’s the will. This is added to the mythology more complexly by Geoff Johns but the ideas of will-power are constant in Green Lantern comics, and Kyle who lacks responsibility has to find his will to act. That inevitably leads to over-confidence in the rings power and we see him using it for trivial things. We still haven’t had a solid “what is Kyle without the ring?” story but I find all of this as good material to forge that story later.
This finally brings him face to face with Hal Jordan in “Parallax View” which is #63-64. Essentially, this story deals with Ganthet returning to say Kyle is unfit to wield the ring but gets caught in Hal’s quest to reclaim it. Kyle fights Hal, and Ganthet recruits the Justice League to put an end to this fight once and for all. In the fight, Kyle does as much as he can, but Hal is simply too strong. When Hal reclaims the ring, Kyle insists on fighting on. Thus, Hal is defeated and Kyle is found “worthy.” If that sounds a bit rushed to you, its because it is. Not altogether bad, simply too fast paced. Hal is clearly more insane here but the dialogue towards the ends suggests a kind of reasoning capability that I didn’t see before. I wish we could’ve fleshed more of Hal’s views out in wanting the ring.
If there’s any motif so far, its identity in objects. Donna’s child, Kyle’s ring, Adara’s ring, Alex’s camera, etc. So, Hal wanting the ring back is a natural thematic place to take the story. The issue is more so that I wish Hal argued for what he thinks of himself without the ring, and how his powers are any different with or without it. I understand the symbolism, I just wish it was more in play with the action and dialogue.
Overall, #48-64 is a mixed bag. I loved #59 as a Christmas issue. I think Kyle is a fun and relatable character. The problem is simply that the series hasn’t found its footing yet. And with all the sexism and crossovers, it’s hard to figure out if I can review this as a coherent identity. I’m still interested in future stories so I’ll keep up with it, but if you’re looking to get into Kyle Rayner’s era as the solo Green Lantern, I hope this gave you a clear overview of the ups and downs in his introductions.