'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10 (pilot only reviewed)
It takes a certain amount of guts to call a show Green Lantern: The Animated Series.
Sure, it's an animated series, and it stars Green Lantern, so on one hand, yeah, what else are you going to call it? But it definitely evokes another DC Comics-based cartoon— Batman: The Animated Series, one of the most celebrated comic book adaptations in any medium, be it animated, live-action, TV, movie or ViewMaster reel.
Nearly 20 years after the debut of that show, it certainly seems that Warner Bros. is suggesting that Green Lantern: The Animated Series is in the tradition of what came before. And there's a case for it — much like how Batman: The Animated Series sparked the last 20 years of DC Animation, Green Lantern is similarly leading a charge by being the first CGI-animated series based on a DC comic.That fact has already brought attention to the show, as computer-generated animation on TV inevitably brings out skeptics and ReBoot comparisons. (And yes, here's the obligatory mention that DC Entertainment co-publisher Dan Didio worked on ReBoot as a story editor.) It's not Pixar, but the characters on Green Lantern: The Animated Series are closer to the classic Bruce Timm look — Timm serves as executive producer here — than a DC show has been in years, which helps to ease the transition.
But while Batman: The Animated Series had a nuanced timelessness, Green Lantern is decidedly futuristic, set nearly entirely in space and with the addition of Aya, an artificially intelligent spaceship (that happens to essentially be the only other female character in the pilot besides Carol Ferris). The forward thinking extends to the characters involved — the main villains for the hour-long pilot sent to critics (and the entire first season) are the Red Lanterns, who have only existed in the comic books for about four years. Considering how other-media adaptations are so often tied strictly to a superhero's "classic" villains, it's pretty refreshing.And unlike past DC cartoons, Green Lantern: The Animated Series is surprisingly frank when it comes to the subject of violence. The very first scene depicts a (partially off-camera) execution of a Green Lantern at the hands of Zilius Zox, and it's not clouded in cutesy metaphors — words like "kill" and "die" appear repeatedly throughout the pilot, and Hal Jordan throws punches more often than he creates ring-generated objects.
Which isn't to say that this show is bleak or over-the-top, and the violence here is still nothing compared to the average superhero comic (especially given the rate of violence and gore in much of DC's New 52.) It's fun to see a superhero cartoon cut loose a little bit, and the high amount of action moves the pilot well, dropping the viewer right in the thick of it with only a cursory amount of exposition. (Hurray for no origin story retread.)Of course, there's another other-media adaptation that Green Lantern has to contend with, and that's this past summer's live-action film, which underperformed both financially and crticially. Other than the presence of Hal Jordan, Kilowog and Carol Ferris (who doesn't show up for more than a cameo in the pilot) and the general Green Lantern concept, the two are pretty distinct — while the film emphasized the enormity of the Green Lantern Corps in massive crowd scenes on Oa, the animated series looks to be setting up more of a buddy cop adventure between Hal and Kilowog. There's no sign of Sinestro or Tomar Re in the pilot, especially surprising for the former given his prominent role in both the movie and the current comic books.
There are a couple of notable voice actors on Green Lantern, specifically Josh Keaton as Hal Jordan and Tom Kenny as Zilius Zox. Both have been involved in very famous properties — Keaton was Peter Parker in Spectacular Spider-Man and Kenny is well known as SpongeBob Squarepants — but don't look for traces of those characters here, as both blend in rather seamlessly to their new roles.
Batman: The Animated Series truly distinguished itself by its ability to deliver moments of genuine poignancy and heart along with the action. There appears to be bits of that in Green Lantern — mainly in the conflicted Red Lantern, Razer — but at least in the pilot, it's mainly the backdrop to get to one space-based fight scene to another. That's a perfectly acceptable way to spend an hour, but it remains to be seen if Green Lantern: The Animated Series will become something more.Green Lantern: The Animated Series debut at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11 on Cartoon Network with a "one-hour special." The official series premiere is currently slated for spring 2012.