Green Lantern vs. Green Lantern

A fundamental part of costume design for super heroes is to reflect the character’s origin and story. Just like in the real world, what they wear should tell you something about them. Today I’m going to take a look at one of my all-time favorite outfits, told in two parts — Green Lantern.

The original Green Lantern debuted in 1940, and derived his powers from magic. That origin is reflected in his dramatic cape with popped collar, tied boots, wide leather belt, piratically puffed shirt sleeves, and dramatic coloring:

You know just by looking at the guy that there’s something a little mystical and dramatic about him. Elements of his costume harken back to the Art Deco aesthetic of the Twenties and Thirties, but with a flair for the magical and dramatic that fit the Golden Age perfectly. The slightly flared jodhpur style leggings, for example, and the domino mask, along with the big chest logo clearly say “This is a Golden Age Super Hero”. It’s a really good design, fitting the character and his era perfectly.

But times change, and alas the final appearance of the Alan Scott Green Lantern was in 1951.

Fast forward eight short years, and the powers that be at DC wanted to revisit the character. Legendary artist Gil Kane was tasked with designing the visuals for this new edition of Green Lantern. America had moved from the Golden Age’s mysticism (a time when Hitler was actively searching for magical relics like the Ark of the Covenant!) to a new era with atomic bombs and trips to the Moon in the offing. A magic green lantern wasn’t going to do it, so instead we got aliens in charge of a galactic police force. Clearly there was no room for a cape and pirate sleeves, so Kane developed this instead:

Sleek and modern, with more muted colors, this outfit is unmistakably super-heroic, but without the circus-like aspects common in the Golden Age. The black elements suggest the darkness of space, the white the clarity of starlight, and of course the green for the color of his ring. We’ve gone from six colors in the original to just three here, a minimalism that doesn’t have space for frippery or nonsense. We’ve got giant glowing hammers to make, after all!

Alan Scott’s costume was all about flair, angles jutting out and causing movement, sleeves breaking up the line of the arm, pointy boot tops and chain links on the cape. The new GL had no extraneous lines, allowing the clean athleticism of the human form to shine through. The lantern insignia has been simplified down from a fairly realistic three quarter view to a head-on abstraction, just two lines and a circle.

Every element works to project the sense of a man of action and no nonsense, someone who would be at home on a spacecraft, cleaving through the hazards in his way with a laser-like focus. It’s a triumph of costume design, recapitulating not only the character’s time but his fundamental self. Along with the revamped Flash, this costume helped set the tone for super-hero comics for fifty years, and it’s easy to see why. Gil Kane took the essence of the concept and boiled it down to its absolute starkest expression, and in so doing created a standard by which all future designs would be measured.

19 Responses to Green Lantern vs. Green Lantern

  1. I fully agree (except for the part about Allan’s last appearance, but we’ll get to that later), especially when it comes to Hal’s costume. It’s simplicity at its finest. More than simple and sleek, it’s iconic. It was even mentioned in the comics, the second issue of Kyle Rayner’s appearance as GL. His girlfriend told him to re-imagine the costume design since it already belonged to someone else. That instant recognition doesn’t happen very often and when it does, it’s a sign that you definitely did something right.

  2. i never did like the Alan Scott costume. Just too goofy. Purple and red with a picture of a lantern on his chest? Bleuagh! Now, the Hal Jordan costume? One of the best ever. SOOO influential! Everyone has the chest/shoulder area on their costume. Love that suit.

  3. To be fair, Allan Scott’s costume was created during the 30a, just before World War II. It wasn’t exactly known as a time of great costume ideas. It goes in the same category as Betty Kane’s Batwoman costume.

    Now as far as his last appearance, he’s shown up for a long time with the JSA and alongside Kyle Rayner. This began during Rayner’s first year of being GL. Their relationship grew with Kyle and Jade getting together. Unfortunately, his appearance never really changed until the New 52.

  4. oh yeah it is definitely a product of the times. and im fairly sure jeff meant his last headlining appearance in his own comic or whatever.

  5. and then with have Guy Gardner’s turtleneck, sleeveless jacket and bowl cut

  6. barbario:
    oh yeah it is definitely a product of the times. and im fairly sure jeff meant his last headlining appearance in his own comic or whatever.

    Right, that was the date of the last appearance of Alan Scott before the franchise and character were rebooted. He’s obviously appeared a lot since then, most famously a few months ago!

  7. Love your descriptions and explanations regarding the juxtaposition of Golden and Silver Era costume design, Jeff. I think you nailed it.

  8. Thanks Myro!

    Also too, I love Gil Kane.

  9. As someone who has always wanted to be a wizard, I have a hard time saying no to a shiny high-collared cape and poofy sleeves. But the insignia is too complex and the red seems seriously out of place to me.

  10. I definitely think the original doesn’t hold up as well to modern eyes as the Hal Jordan edition, but I actually still really like it. I think it’s fun and dynamic, well suited both to the era it was created and the story behind the character.

  11. I’ll be honest, I never liked either of them.

    I don’t have a problem with their costumes. They’ve both got their own kind of cool retro charm to them. Their personalities, however, never appealed to me. Boring and boring-er are how a friend of mine once described them. They’re each about as exciting as a handful of Ambien.

  12. I’m a big fan of the Kingdom Come ‘Emerald Knight’ depiction of Alan Scott’s costume. It had such a presence with it, you could clearly see him as a force of nature rather than a solitary Green Lantern. They had used it sparingly up until the reboot, but alas now he has a new origin and a new costume. Although his current incarnation is at least somewhat reminiscent of the armor.

    For reference:
    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/d/db/GreenLanternJSA14.jpg
    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/2/27/AlanScottEarthTwo3.jpg

    I think his new costume tries to capture some of the sleekness of Hal Jordan’s redesign, but I’m not loving the monochromatic color scheme.

  13. I agree whole-heartedly with your general observation concerning the original Alan Scott costume, Jeff. I sliiightly disagree about how well it does or does not hold up to today’s costume styling, but that’s a matter of personal taste, really.

    The great thing about the original GL costume was the pomp and drama it brought the character. He was a crime-fighter, after all. He needed an image that would shock his opponents and make them stand in awe of him.

    The silver age reboot was designed to target a completely different audience. It was like the difference between Tarzan and John Carter. Despite many similarities between the characters (they were written by the same man, after all), Tarzan stories targeted an audience who wanted a drama and adventure grounded in near-reality. Meanwhile the John Carter novels were obviously targeting a group who wanted swashbuckling, romance and archetyped characters of extreme good or evil.

    in the end, I prefer the golden age Green Lantern’s look. I am a definite sucker for golden age characters/designs, though. My opinion on these matters is generally that we wouldn’t have silver-age designs and whatnot if not for the drama and “flare” of the golden age.

  14. Doornik1142:
    I’ll be honest, I never liked either of them.

    I don’t have a problem with their costumes. They’ve both got their own kind of cool retro charm to them. Their personalities, however, never appealed to me. Boring and boring-er are how a friend of mine once described them. They’re each about as exciting as a handful of Ambien.

    I can agree with you as far as Allan is concerned, but not Hal. I mean, he’s basically the kind of cocky dude you’d expect from either a pilot or a surgeon. Thankfully, he was the former. That kind of cocky nature is what appealed me more to Kyle. As stated in the last review, it’s the same reason I was never a huge fan of Guy Gardner. That, however, is another matter entirely.

  15. Patriot_Missile

    It wasn’t until I saw The Blue Rajah from Mystery Men that even gave thought to superhero costumes, especially the Allan Scott GL. I mean, the green color should stand out above all, just like the aforementioned man’s costume does now. I just miss that I-use-magic cape… Oh, and The three-color costume is awesome. Four colors maximum, like Robin or Dr Strange though.

  16. mcknight57: I mean, he’s basically the kind of cocky dude you’d expect from either a pilot or a surgeon.

    He is now. But back in the day, he was DC’s go-to guy whenever they needed a boring stiff-neck to belt out some trite lines. In fact the whole point of the “classic” Green Lantern/Green Arrow series was to contrast Olliver’s wide-eyed liberal idealism with Hal’s stodgy stiff-necked conservatism. And I admit they got some good stories out of that (I should stress the word some; not all of them were good) but it didn’t change the fact that on his own, Hal Jordan was about as entertaining as a test pattern.

  17. I might be alone, but my favorite GL costume (and one of my favorite superhero costumes in general) has always been John Stewart’s from the Justice League cartoon.

    http://images2.fanpop.com/images/photos/6900000/john-stewart-the-green-lantern-corps-6971546-400-411.jpg

    Just look at that! It’s so…dynamic! The mostly black allows the green highlights to stand out. The gauntlets just seem very “superhero” to me. The insignia is perfectly connected to the upper, green, triangle…thing. Okay, it’s hard to describe. But I love that it makes the outfit seem sleek and streamlined, but putting the circle at the tip avoids the classic “pointing-at-crotch-syndrome” the other costumes have. Not to mention, the Green Lantern logo is just always great.
    Hal and Alan are nice, but I think it’s just that I like John as a character more.

  18. Blazing Tornado

    Bash Alan Scott’s attire all you want, it’s still better than the 90s’ attempt at revamping it, not to mention the New 52 Earth 2 design that removes all the mystical elements in favor of an armored ripoff of John Stewart’s JLU costume.

    In any case, Alan Scott’s classic attire was always based off of the swashbuckling characters that were popular back in those days. I think the green, red and purple make for a gorgeously striking look. With the coming of the all-green-and-black Green Lantern Corps, it helped Alan retain his individuality and distinguish him fantastically from the space police.

  19. To be honest? I don’t like them both.