Since I was eight years old, the Green Lantern has been my favorite comic book hero. Test-pilot Hal Jordan was a normal Joe, picked to be the Green Lantern of sector 2814 (space surrounding our solar system). He wasn’t super-powered, but was given a ring that could create anything the bearer imagined — the stronger the will, the more powerful the construct. Cool. Jordan was selected due to his courage, loyalty, perseverance, and confidence. The story of Hal Jordan as Green Lantern has been a fifty-year epic of one man battling his inner strengths and weaknesses, demons and angels to be a champion and hero. From time to time, evil rears its ugly head, takes control, but is ultimately defeated in the light of good and virtue. Throughout the series, biblical and theological themes recur.
Take Blackest Night, the most recent epic in the series. In addition to Green Lanterns, turns out there are yellow (fear), red (rage), orange (avarice), blue (hope), violet (love) and indigo (compassion) lanterns as well. The combined lantern light emerges from a pure white light, but a terrible force — Black Lanterns — have emerged representing death and destruction. An apocalyptic battle of light versus darkness ensues, pitting the heroes of every galaxy against the risen dead bearing black rings.
I was talking to a couple of fellow comics geeks about the series, and talked about the religious symbolism saturating the whole thing. One of my friends said, “You’re projecting! There’s nothing religious about “Blackest Night”!” Not much. The planet that generates the Black Lanterns is 666, the powers of hope, love, and compassion are critical to any kind of salvation (I Corinthians, anyone?), and a host of deceased DC comic characters of the past decade are resurrected by the conclusion of the series. There is a definite spiritual side to all the science of the saga.
I would love to do a series of discussion guides on modern comics/graphic novels. They are rife with religion and philosophy, physics and metaphysics, delving into the deep questions of good and evil, life and death, light and darkness, meaning and purpose. They offer a lovely jumping off point to talk about timeless topics of human existence. Are they realistic? No, not in the least. Good does not always triumph over evil. The set-up of Blackest Night is bogus — the Black Lanterns should have eradicated all trace of goodness. They were set up as too powerful, and it required contrived solutions to beat them ensuring a fundamental “good always wins” solution. But even this contrivance calls into question the basic human spirit — the beliefs that keep us getting up in the morning. It would be very simple to lay down as victims and give up, but that isn’t what we do. We fight. We strive. We prevail.
The best comics (those that do not make the heroes as morally ambiguous — if not evil — as the villains) hold forth a vision for the best that people can be. This they share with religion and myth. There is great promise in a message that calls us to courage, perseverance, mercy, kindness, compassion, justice, and love. I guess that’s why so many people are Christian — deep down inside we would all like to be heroes, but we all need help to be the very best people we can be.