Sunday, 13 November 2011

Green Lantern: The Animated Series (Pilot Review)

It’s really hard for me not to be emotionally tied to the success or failure of this franchise. I suppose a little context is needed: I’m a huge fan of superhero comics. One of my favorite books as both a kid, and now as an adult has to beGreen Lantern. I always wished that the property would expand beyond the comic books, but sadly the travesty that was the 2011 Ryan Reynolds Green Lantern movie taught me to be careful what I wish for. But lo and behold! Mayhaps this cloud has a silver lining after all…
When Tim Burton’s Batman film was released in 1989, Warner Brothers made an animated series to be released alongside the feature to further expose the character to the world and increase the character’s already incredible popularity. The show, produced by Bruce Timm, was simply called Batman: The Animated Series, and it was a massive critical and commercial hit. Personally speaking, it’s probably the best superhero cartoon ever produced, and I dare even call it one of the best animated series of all time. (Totally high praise. I know.) The success of that series led to numerous other DC cartoons, includingSuperman: The Animated Series and Justice League. All were tied in continuity wise with each other and were produced by Timm, making what fans affectionally call the “Timmverse.” Now with Green Lantern arguably more popular now than he ever has been, it only seemed logical to release an animated series of his very own, entitled Green Lantern: The Animated Series. So how is it? Is it as good as the Batman epiosdes of yesteryear, or is it worse than the live action movie?
…ok, I’ll save you some time with that last question. It’s better than the movie, but that’s not really hard to do.
I suppose I have to address the elephant in the room first. This is the first Bruce Timm/DC animated project that is fully done in CG. I don’t really know why. Maybe it’s cheeper to do CG than traditional animation, or maybe they wanted a more “modern” look. It doesn’t really matter why they used it, cause either way it’s here to stay. And I hate it. I wish I didn’t, but to me this art style looks either one of two ways: ugly or boring. Which is odd, cause you can clearly tell that the characters are still designed in that signature Bruce Timm angular, geometric style that I loved so much in previous shows. I guess it just shows that there certainly are strengths and weaknesses in both CG and traditional animation, and what works in one doesn’t always work in the other. It’s incredible how in 2D this art style looks bold and dynamic, yet in CG it looks flat and lifeless.
This is the same criticism I have with the current CG Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series, in which they adapted Genndy Tartakovsky’s character design from the other (and frankly, better) animated series, which was 2D. I see nothing wrong with stylized human characters in CG, but unless you have a high level of detail on par with The Incredibles (which I’m sure would cost much, much more,) the characters will just look too plain and dull. The shininess of the character models doesn’t help either. I want to feel like I’m watching a show about super-powered space cops, but I feel like I’m watching a show about action figures that think they are super-powered space cops. And let’s be honest, Buzz Lightyear did that already.
Ok, ok. Enough raggin’ about the art style. Cause if the show has a solid script, I can at least look past that and enjoy the show on some level. With that said, the hour long pilot episode of the show, entitled Beware My Power, is…not bad. It’s not at the same level of quality as past DC cartoons yet, but it definitely has some potential. Our hero, Hal Jordan, is perfectly characterized here, displaying both his cocky atitude and his hard pressed stubbornness in full force. Also, one of my favorite characters, the tough as nails Kilowog, looks to be a central character in the series, (thankfully making up for his lack of screen time in the feature film.) They even planted the seeds for some very interesting backstory with Kilowog revolving around the tragedy that happened with his home planet.
However, even with the story, they made some very interesting, somewhat questionable, decisions. For one, this show clearly is built on a complete overarching plot. While some of Timm’s past DC works have an underlying, ongoing plot (Justice League comes to mind) most of the episodes were singular “one and done” adventures. It’s by no means a bad thing, but it is different than what I was expecting. Time will tell if it will pay off. I also don’t know if this series is tied into the “Timmverse” at all ( being the only DC show done in CG,) but I sure hope it is. How awesome would it be for Hal Jordan to eventually meet up with other cosmic DC characters like Lobo, the New Gods, or even Superman?
Speaking of over arching plot, now might be a good time to introduce the overarching villains of the show. The franchises’ main over arching villain, Sinestero, looks to be absent from this series in any form, possibly cause the movie wanted to have first dibs on the character if they ever decide (God forbid) to do a sequel, so instead we have the Red Lanterns. Looks like it’s time for MORE CONTEXT!
The Red Lanterns are still a relatively new group of villains in the Green Lantern comics. They are a rage-fueled version of the Green Lantern Corp, who are characterized as being violent and vengeful beasts. In the comics, the Red Lanters mostly act like mindless monsters except for their leader, Atrocitus, who has a personal vendetta against the Green Lanterns. The biggest change made is that all Red Lanterns now have the ability to think, talk and reason with each other clearly. They are also substantially less violent than their comic counterparts; they don’t even do their signature move of vomiting a napalm-like blood (yeah, comics are both weird and badass.) This does make the concept of “rage incarnate” villains feel a little neutered by comparison. I understand that some changes had to be made to make the show “kid friendly,” but without being mindless, angry monsters the Red Lanterns feel much more generic as villains. They don’t really have that spark that makes them unique. But again, it might be too early to judge. The writers might have something planed with the villains, particularly Atrocitus, that could be very entertaining.
All in all, the pilot wasn’t bad. I know that doesn’t sound like a glowing recommendation, but it does look like a show that has room to grow. There are some odd choices put into place so far (the choice to go CG being the biggest of the bunch,) but if you look past that, there might end up being a good show here. Only time will tell if Timm and his team will take advantage of the wealth of great stories and characters that DC’s history has to offer. I can only hope that this will be a good introduction to the Green Lantern universe for new audiences and hopefully new fans. It’s too early to say, but I’ll be watching closely and hoping the best.
No evil shall escape my sight.
- Moo