Ah, the nineties! What a time to be alive for comic book fans! We saw Clark Kent/Superman die and be replaced by four imposters before returning…with a mullet! We saw Bruce Wayne/Batman get his back broken and be replaced with a Frank Castle/Punisher-like nutjob. We saw Arthur Curry/Aquaman get his hand bitten off by piranhas and replaced…with a harpoon! And we saw Hal Jordan, the premier Green Lantern, go mental, kill a bunch of his fellows, and take on an antagonistic role as Parallax. Yet, the legacy of Green Lantern lived on in a new, young, sexy replacement who was to take the title in a bold new direction; a character who, though he exists today, is a shadow of his former self, prompting me to ask…
DC Comics like to paint Hal Jordan as the greatest Green Lantern that ever lived; literally almost every time the character appears, text boxes, character dialogue, or story events are geared towards this agenda. This was especially obvious in 1992 when, after being replaced buy Guy Gardner, Jordan decided that he had had enough of bitching, moaning, and moping about and forced Guy to relinquish the Green Lantern power ring and reclaim his mantle.
This was sold to us as a miraculous return; characters, including Guy’s Justice League teammates, openly gushed at Hal reclaiming the mantle and trashed Guy; I mean, sure, Guy was no saint and was a massive pain in the ass, but for everyone to talk so much shit about him was jarring. Things went from bad to worse, however, when Mongul and Hank Henshaw/Cyborg-Superman obliterated Hal’s home town, Coast City, during the ‘Reign of the Supermen’ (Jurgens, et al,1993) arc that saw Superman return to life. Hal, unable to cope with the loss of his friends and family, tried to recreate the city and was admonished by the Guardians of the Universe. Incensed at what he saw was a betrayal after years of loyal service, ‘Emerald Twilight’ saw Hal fly to Oa, relieving multiple Green Lanterns of their rings, killed Kilowog and Thaal Sinestro (later revealed to be an illusion), and absorbed the entire power of the Central Power Battery. This immediately depowered every Green Lantern in the universe (it is implied that the majority of them died, though this was also later retconned) and transformed Hal into Parallax.
While Parallax went out into the cosmos to acquire yet more power and would eventually attempt to rewrite all of time itself in Zero Hour: Crisis in Time (Jurgens, et al, 1994), the last remaining Guardian, Ganthet, travelled to Earth and, seemingly at random, presented the last power ring to the first person he saw: Kyle Rayner. Kyle, a young freelance artist, was initially characterised as being cocky and irresponsible; a rookie who received no training or instruction, he struggled to get to grips with his newfound power and responsibility. Attacked by enemies of Jordan’s who mistook him for the former Green Lantern, Kyle endured a trial by fire made all the more testing when Clifford Zmeck/Major Force infamously killed his girlfriend, Alexandra DeWitt, and stuffed her into a refrigerator! For a long time, this was a constant source of guilt and angst for Kyle; it seemed that he would openly mention it to anybody at the drop of a hat, even amidst battling Parallax, saving the universe, and joining perhaps the strongest incarnation of the Justice League ever. In time, though, Kyle was able to master his emotions and his power; unlike other Green Lanterns, Kyle’s ring did not carry a weakness to yellow (later revealed to be because the weakness was a result of Parallax being imprisoned within the Central Power Battery), did not need to be recharged, and could only be used by him, which effectively made him the most powerful Green Lantern ever seen at that point.
As part of the Justice League, Kyle struck up friendships with Wally West/The Flash and Connor Hawke/Green Arrow, just as Jordan had been friends with Barry Allen and Oliver Queen in the past, and voted to keep Batman (one of his strongest supporters) in the Justice League following the ‘Tower of Babel’ storyline in 2000. As his career progressed entered into a romantic relationship with Alan Scott’s daughter, Jade, and evolved into a leader when he fought off the Circle of Fire. After Parallax sacrificed himself to reignite the Sun in the ‘Final Night’ storyline, Kyle received a massive power boost and was rechristened Ion. Wielding God-like powers, he eventually restored Oa, the Central Power Battery, the Guardians of the Universe, and the Green Lantern Corps in order to relieve himself of the burden of his newfound powers. Restored to a regular Green Lantern, but still unrestricted by the yellow impurity or the need to recharge, went from being the last of the Green Lanterns, and a God, to be one of many Green Lanterns. His status was further damaged when writer Geoff Johns took over the Green Lantern title and orchestrated Hal Jordan’s return in the ‘Rebirth’ storyline; Jordan, who had since become the Spectre, was absolved of all his previous crimes by the revelation that Parallax is actually a parasitic fear entity that latched onto his soul and drove him to evil. Thanks to the efforts of Kyle, Guy (who also had his recent years of messy writing undone), and John Stewart, Jordan returned to life as a Green Lantern once more and promptly took over the Green Lantern title.
Despite transforming back into Ion during Infinite Crisis (Johns, et al, 2006) following Jade’s death, Kyle was possessed by Parallax during the ‘Sinestro Corps War’ storyline (Johns, et al, 2007) and continued to operate as just one of four (five, if you count Alan Scott) Earth-based Green Lanterns, even after being promoted to ‘Honour Guard’ status. He even found his very existence branded as an anomaly during ‘Countdown’ and ‘Countdown to Final Crisis’ (Dini, et al, 2007 to 2008) and spent most of 2007 bouncing around the Multiverse with little rhyme or reason. He found himself on the frontlines during Blackest Night (Johns, et al, 2010), which saw Jade restored to life, and sacrificed himself to destroy a bunch of Black Lanterns. He, too, was restored to life and, during War of the Green Lanterns (ibid, 2011) assumed the role of a Blue Lantern after Parallax infected the Green Lantern rings. Unfortunately for him, Blue Lanterns are pretty useless; they only real do anything when Green Lanterns are around, making him the weakest of the rag-tag group (obviously led by Jordan) that stood against the renegade Guardian, Krona. As much as I hate to praise it, The New 52 actually returned some semblance of importance to Kyle; while Sinestro and Jordan dominated the main Green Lantern titles like it was the late-eighties, Kyle was the focus of the New Guardians title. When power rings from all the different corps are drawn to him, Kyle goes on a universe-spanning pilgrimage to master the entire emotional spectrum and once again reaches the levels of God-hood he enjoyed as Ion by becoming a White Lantern. Oddly, The New 52 also put Kyle in a romantic relationship with Jordan’s long-term love interest, the Star Sapphire Carol Ferris, which only further bogged his character down with unnecessary ties to Jordan’s legacy. It wasn’t to last, though, it soon became apparent that the powers of the White Lantern were too much for any one person to wield and, as of Rebirth, Kyle has returned to being a lowly Green Lantern.
It gets worse for Kyle outside of the comics; although his name and profession were used, he looked exactly like Hal Jordan when he appeared in Superman: The Animated Series, and even had Hal’s origin! With John Stewart acting as Green Lantern in Justice League, Kyle was relegated to brief cameos and bit-parts in Justice League: Unlimited. While Stewart is generally included as an alternative costume for Hal in various DC videogames, this luxury is rarely afforded to Kyle; he appears as a skin in Justice League Heroes (Snowblind Studios/Warner Bros. Games, 2006) and is featured in DC Universe Online (Daybreak Game Company/WB Games, 2011) and Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham (Traveller’s Tales, 2014) but barely gets a mention in the Injustice videogames (NetherRealm Studios/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, 2013; 2017) due to being unceremoniously killed off in the prequel/tie-in comic books. I remember, many moons ago, reading an article in Wizard around the same time that the ‘Emerald Twilight’ storyline happened; whomever was being interviewed at DC said something along the lines of “DC reserve the right to not give their characters happy endings” and basically said “Hal is evil; Kyle is Green Lantern – deal with it!” as I mentioned, DC was all about major character changes in the nineties; Wally West had become the Flash following Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1985), Dick Grayson became Nightwing in the ‘Judas Contract’ storyline, and Tim Drake succeeded him as Robin, in addition to the aforementioned Connor Hawke and even Roy Harper progressing to Arsenal.
Kyle was supposed to be the next in line of these young new legacy heroes; his costume was bold and striking, a far cry from the regimental style favoured by most Green Lanterns, and his constructs were often infused with manga and anime imagery. As a young, untested hero, Kyle made reading Green Lantern was perfect for newcomers at the time who got to learn about the Green Lantern mythos through fresh eyes. However, once DC’s editors and writing staff switched hands and decided that they wanted to bring back Silver Age characters like Barry Allen and Wally West, the writing was on the wall for characters like Kyle. Once the sole Green Lantern and the figurehead for the Corps, Kyle was relegated to being just another face in a sea of green once Hal came back; even his costume and haircut changed and became far less interesting.
For my money, DC massively dropped the ball by not keeping Kyle bonded with Ion and carrying that codename; at least then Kyle would have been set apart from Hal Jordan and the other Green Lanterns. In these modern times, where we have a Corps for every colour of the emotional spectrum, there really is no excuse for Kyle, Hal, Guy, John, and newcomers like Simon Baz to all be Green Lanterns. I would have kept Kyle as the White Lantern, Guy as a Red Lantern, and John as an Indigo Lantern if only to mix things up and keep everyone different and relevant. Instead, with Hal still at the forefront of the Green Lantern titles and constantly being branded by DC writers, editors, and characters as the greatest Green Lantern of all time, there doesn’t seem to be any room for Kyle these days. Once upon a time, DC vowed that characters like Kyle and Wally were the new standard but, now, they’re pale imitations living in the shadow of the apparently far superior Silver Age counterparts and that’s just sad for people like me, who grew up in the nineties reading about Kyle’s adventures and growing attached to his character, rather than that of Hal Jordan.