With Green Lantern leading the charge for the DC universe with Brightest Day, two seminal franchise creators talked about their experience with the Corps at the Albany Comic Con on Sunday. Writer Ron Marz and artist Joe Staton held a panel at the convention, moderated by The Flash Companion writer Keith Dallas. Staton was a classic Green Lantern artist beginning in 1979 following Neal Adams and Mike Grell, while Marz is well-known for having created the character of Kyle Rayner.
"It's an interesting journey this character has taken over 35 years -- he became a back-up feature after that glorious Denny O'Neill, Neal Adams Green Arrow/Green Lantern collection," Dallas said. "35 years after he was relegated to back-up status, he's now forefront in the DC Comics universe."
Responding to a question about what he felt about Green Lantern before he actually worked on the book, Staton said "it occurred to me that I have been a Green Lantern fan since before there was a Green Lantern." He explained that "when I was reading comics in '50s, '60s, what I was really attracted to was Julie Schwartz sci-fi comics... [and] Green Lantern kind of consolidated the Julie Schwartz themes. The aliens, the psuedo-scientific mumbo-jumbo that made it sound reasonable, and a really cool costume that didn't have a belt."
Growing up as "a Marvel kid," "my first real exposure to Green Lantern was on Superfriends, and I thought he was kinda cool," Marz said. "I loved his costume, it was one of the best costumes in comics... I liked the episodes when you got more than the five traditional lame-ass Superfriends. It was always cool for me to see 'real comic book heroes,' which was Green Lantern, and not so much the Samurai and the Indian Chief guy. When Green Lantern came on, that was the one I was always the most interested in."
Dallas then asked the duo what they felt made Green Lantern such a compelling character. "Green Lantern, to me, isn't really a superhero comic as it is a sci-fi comic dressed up in superhero clothes, which makes it the exception rather than the rule," Marz replied. "The science fiction underpinnings, to me, are what make it a lot more unique than all the other books on the stands."
Staton, explaining that Schwartz apparently looked to the Edward Elmer Smith series The Lensman for inspiration, said that "some people have objected to Green Lantern as a superhero, because one character has the same power, as 300-something other people." Yet he said that one of his other childhood interests -- the Mounties -- were in a similar plight, with each wearing a brightly colored suit and having a gun. "They didn't have separate powers, but I loved stories about the Mounties," Staton said. "Green Lanterns are basically Space Mounties... these are the guys who show the flag on the far reaches of the universe."
Dallas then asked how the two got involved with the character in the first place. "I begged," Staton laughed. "As long as I've been at DC, I had this attachment to Green Lantern, and I always put my name in when there was a possibility." When Jack Harris became editor of the book, he said, "I had someone who went to bat for me."
Artistically, Staton said "I was always a Gil Kane [fan], with the Julie Schwartz stuff with Strange Adventures and Hopalong Cassady -- Gil is one my real formative characters... given my druthers, I would have taken it all back to him. But Neal had had this spectacular run and redesigned everything -- I had to consider what Neal had done in my version as well." The end result, he said, was "my version of Green Lantern was Gil filtered through Neal filtered through me. It wasn't as pure as I would have liked, but I reached my equilibrium with the character."
In terms of seminal writers, Staton said that he "had a lot of good writers," with Steve Englehart in particular standing out to him. "I never knew where that book was going, and I don't think Steve did either," he laughed. "It aways kept my attention." Other runs that really kept his interest was Mike Barr and Len Wein on Green Lantern Corps, which introduced Green Lantern Arisia, Blackest Night villain Nekron, as well as brought back a horde of dead Green Lanterns years before Geoff Johns had hit the scene.
Staton also praised Marv Wolfman, recalling a story where Hal Jordan, lost and snowblind in the Arctic without his ring, had to fight a polar bear bare-handed. "Marv defined the man without fear," Staton said. "Hal is not afraid of everything, with or without a ring."
Dallas then asked Marz how he got involved with the Green Lantern franchise. "My first DC work was a few Green Lantern Corps stories in Green Lantern Corps Quarterly... that was kind of my entry into DC," he said. While he was hired by editor Kevin Dooley, Marz was more directly supervised by Dooley's assistant, future Blackest Night editor Eddie Berganza. "Eddie was a fan of my [Silver Surfer] stuff and wanted to get me over at DC... yes, 20 years ago Marvel and DC still had pissing contests," he laughed.
The night that he finally got the assignment, Marz said, was a sign from the universe: he had just had a meeting at the offices at Marvel regarding his run on Thor, when he put on a Green Lantern T-shirt and took his wife out to dinner at a pizza parlor. When he got back, the phone rang -- and Dooley, Berganza, along with editor Denny O'Neil, executive editor Mike Carlin, and publisher Paul Levitz were on the other line. "And that's when they offered me Green Lantern -- I said, 'ooh I love Hal's costume,'" Marz recalled. "And that's when the other shoe dropped, and they said, 'this is what we're going to do.'"
Dallas pressed Marz on the evolution of Kyle Rayner, to which Marz replied that DC had told him to create a new Green Lantern, and not the other way around. "In retrospect, I was like, 'Are you guys nuts?' There was no corporate oversight about this, other than, 'Can it be a woman?'" Marz said. "Obviously, editorially, they weren't happy with where the book was ... which means the sales sucked. Ultimately, that's what drives things."
"[With] my sensibility of growing up reading Marvel characters, with heroes with feet of clay, that's what I was drawn to as a reader and thats what I wanted to do for Green Lantern," he said. "I wanted to do the opposite of Hal -- he was the man without fear, if Hal was the fearless test pilot, I wanted to do a guy who wasn't a fearless, square-jawed hero. I wanted to do that everyman character in the vein of Peter Parker... what appealed to me was anybody could have the ring... anyone could fill that role, if they were up to it."
When Dallas asked Marz to talk about how many fans still mistakenly believe that he pitched the idea of replacing Hal Jordan, Marz laughed and said, "yeah, I've been lying about it for 15 years. Consistently." Before the widespread use of the Internet, Marz said, "you were kind of insulated from the fan reaction." But when it came to the death of Hal Jordan, fan outrage hit new heights: "We got a death threat. I don't think anybody took it terribly seriously, people saying 'you deserve to die,' but 'you deserve to die, and I deserve to be the one that does it,' you take notice," Marz said. "The one that sticks out to me was there was a retailer that was so pissed off about the whole thing, he was telling customers not to buy the book... which I think says a lot more about comics retailers."
Marz also discussed the origins of Kyle Rayner and Parallax, whose looks were designed primarily by artist Darryl Banks. Unfortunately, Banks' time-intensive scheduling meant that fill-in artists came fast and furious during the book's first year. Back in the early 1990s, "if your book wasn't in the can three months ahead, you were in deep shit... it's different now -- if your book is done two weeks before its supposed to be out in stands, you're a conquering hero."
Looking back on his stories, Marz said that he likely had too many guest stars from the rest of the DC universe in the series. "It was a lot easier [to do that] when the books were all separate, or somewhat separate -- it was easier to bring in different guest stars, because you're not trying to play into an epic 48-issue crossover series. You were a bit more the captain of your own ship... [on] Green Lantern, they let me do what I wanted to do."
Discussing his relationship with his editors, Marz discussed the one story that Carlin and Levitz did not approve: "Parallax View." "I wanted for [Parallax] to create what was going to be a Silver Age DC world -- Hal was Green Lantern, and Barry was the Flash, and Ollie was Green Arrow, and everything was kind of like it was." Marz said. He compared villains like Parallax as more of the flawed antihero, saying that especially in this case, the villain was the hero of his own story.
"And at that point, they ran it up the flagpole, and they said, 'oh no, we're not going down that route. That's way too much like pre-Crisis DC, and we don't want to go back to that -- and as you can tell, they've really stuck to their guns," Marz laughed. "My eventual storyline was that sort of Silver Age world was going to come into conflict with the modern DCU, not as a sort of which one is better, but a contrast of this Silver Age, simpler, Norman Rockwell kind of time, compared to what things were like then."
Marz then added that it was neither he nor his editor's idea to kill off Jordan in the Final Night crossover: "It was kind of a waste of the dramatic possibilities of the character," he said. "Kevin wasn't real happy with it either -- we had created an antagonist that was of a cosmic level that wasn't Darkseid."
Dallas then asked Marz what Green Lantern story he was most proud of writing. "I liked writing Green Lantern/Aliens a lot, and 'Emerald Knights' a lot, because I got to write Hal as Hal, Hal as Green Lantern, which I never had the opportunity to do on the book. People think, 'Wow, that asshole hates Hal Jordan. I played the cards as I was dealt -- I could have refused, but somebody else would have done it. I was glad to do those projects because I was able to write Hal as he was always meant to be written -- not a toy salesman or insurance salesman or a truck driver, but as as he was meant to be."
Staton added that the major shift in Hal's status quo with Parallax wasn't something that was unheard of at the DC offices -- in many ways, he was a character who was always in flux. "One thing, to make a point, the things that happened with Green Lantern have happened before, just not as big in scale," Staton said. "People would realize the book was not selling, and make up something to do with Hal to make him more interesting."
"There has always been character drift on Hal, because for some reason The Powers That Be didn't know what to do with him, so, 'let's make him something different than he's supposed to be,'" Marz said. "Obviously Hal's character was sort of an artifact of the space age. If that's what he was created to be, that's what he should be." According to Marz, the best story with Hal Jordan in the last 30 years was Darwyn Cooke's DC: The New Frontier. "He works perfectly in that age... he's Sam Shepard in 'The Right Stuff. To me that's what he should be. The more you drift from that character, the less he works, and then people say, 'let's get rid of him because his hair is gray on the sides.' No, stupid... It doesn't work because you've made him everything he shouldn't be."
Opening the floor to questions, a reader asked Staton and Marz what they thought about Geoff Johns' recently completed Blackest Night, particularly his retconning of the history of both the Lanterns and the DC universe. "Like Joe said, a lot of this stuff is based on things that he drew, things that I wrote. That's the ongoing nature of comics -- at some point they can get too 'inside baseball' with this stuff, and once you cross the line of appealing only to the hardcore fanbase that has been reading these things for 20 years, the easiest thing is to preach to the converted," Marz said.
One of the things he liked best about the series, he said, was "that Hal was Hal." "Like Iron Man in the movie -- I love the fact that Tony Stark is kind of an asshole, and he knows it -- he isn't a vanilla hero. He makes mistakes, he does the wrong thing sometimes," Marz said. "And I like that there's an epic scope to it... one of the things about Green Lantern is it's kind of cyclical, and it's a very elastic concept, so you can have Hal and Kyle and Guy Gardner and John Stewart and you can tell compelling stories about them all. To me, that's the coolest part about what's going on, it's that it has been expanded to this epic proportion."
"I like the way they've been fleshing out the background as pilots and the whole military aspect," Staton said. "They really aren't going against the things I was reading in the '60s or drawing in the 1970s. They're really fleshing things out and making them more solid -- I'm generally pleased with what;s going on in the book right now."
One fan asked the two which were their favorite Green Lanterns. "Kilowog is definitely my big buddy... I love Kilowog and Arisia because they're my basic two that I added to the mythos," Staton said. "I totally love G'nort -- the times I got to play G'nort and Guy off each other... that's kind of my favorite. It's not cosmic, but it's real stupid, and I love it."
"I love the ones that are real alien, like walking plants," Marz said. "I think Mogo is kind of a one note [character], I like the ones that are really far out -- the ones that don't look like Star Trek aliens. Kilowog and Arisia brings a humanized alien face to it, but the ones that are really wacky-looking appeal to me."
As the panel began winding down, Marz was suddenly greeted by a surprise appearance of the 501st Legion, an internationally-based Star Wars fan organization, which presented him with a plague and nametag for his work on the Star Wars comics. Telling the audience to "be jealous, suckers," Marz then turned the trilogy back to its links with the Green Lantern franchise:
"Eddie Berganza, he's a huge Star Wars nerd. So one of the things that always drove Eddie about Green Lantern is that he sort of liked the relatability to Star Wars and that the Jedi were really like Green Lantern members. That's one of the appeals -- there's a connection there, and I think it's more pronounced since Eddie took over the editorial reins, that was one of the things that he liked about the book was the space opera," Marz said. "We started with that -- that's one of the things that makes the franchise unique. As much as Superman is a space character, sometimes he works better in Metropolis. But I think that the Green Lantern Corps works better in space."