Recently, someone asked me why I liked the comic book character the Green Lantern so much. The person described the Green Lantern as “boring” and “stupid” among other things. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion and if you don’t put much thought into the character it’s easy to come to this conclusion.
As a young black kid, my fascination with the Green Lantern was the fact that he wasn’t THE Green Lantern…he was A Green Lantern. A Green Lantern was just an intergalactic cop and anyone could be one.
When a black kid fantasizes about being a superhero it’s different from when a white kid does it. A white kid only has one layer of fantasy to go through, “I am Superman today”. A black kid has two layers of fantasy to go through. First, a black kid has to fantasize that he is white and then proceed to a second layer of fantasy to become Superman. It’s a fantasy within a fantasy. As a white kid once said to me on a playground, “You can’t be Superman because Superman is white!” I couldn’t argue with him because he was right.
One of my favorite comic series as a kid became Tales of the Green Lantern Corps. The Green Lantern wasn’t just another “Super White Guy”. The Green Lantern of Earth was a chosen superhero that just happened to be white. His fate could’ve just as easily fallen upon a black man. To exaggerate this point, Tales of the Green Lantern Corps told several stories of different creatures from different planets and really went off the deep end with a comic book example of diversity. All shapes, all sizes, all colors, all Green Lanterns. In short, you don’t have to be a white guy to be a Green Lantern.
The absence of race altering fantasy isn’t the only reason that I liked the Green Lantern stories. I was always fascinated with the fact that the Green Lantern’s power was about his brain and not his brute strength. The Green Lantern was as powerful as his imagination. As a superhero he couldn’t just get angry and destroy things with super strength, he had to outthink his opponent with every confrontation. Being a scrawny kid with a seemingly endless supply of bullies in my life, I could directly relate to the Green Lantern’s combat situation. I quickly learned that the smart guy in a confrontation is just as dangerous as the strong guy…in many cases even more dangerous.
The metaphors in Tales of the Green Lantern Corps comic books gave me a unique perspective on life. The idea that simple, quick solutions were just quick fixes was reiterated on the regular. The overall theme was that your brain and imagination is the most powerful thing you have going. The Green Lantern’s power was “with this ring you can create anything that you can imagine”. I haven’t read a Green Lantern comic book in years, but I still firmly believe that imagination is power.