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The History Of The Green Lantern Corps Explained

In 1940, during the first superhero comics boom, Batman co-creator Bill Finger and artist Martin Nodell created Alan Scott, the first Green Lantern. A caped crusader who fights crime using a magic lamp and ring, he can manifest just about anything with the power of will and imagination. In 1959, as part of a line-wide revamp of floundering DC Comics characters, editor Julius Schwartz, writer John Broome, and artist Gil Kane rebooted the concept for the space age, creating a new Green Lantern named Hal Jordan. Jordan is the first earthling inducted into the Green Lantern Corps, an intergalactic peacekeeping force. Like the original character, Jordan has a ring that transforms thought into reality, but his is powered by advanced alien technology shared with over 3,000 other Green Lanterns. Over the next 35 years, Green Lantern comics have featured not only typical superhero-versus-supervillain stories, but also broad space adventures starring humans and extraterrestrials alike.

While the Green Lantern Corps has gained a complex mythology over the course of the past few decades, most of its relevant lore springs from Geoff Johns' Green Lantern series, which ran between 2005 and 2015. This run rewrote and expanded the history of the Corps, creating new characters and concepts that continue to be the center of Green Lantern stories today. We're here to explore that history with this deep dive into the past, present, and future of the Green Lantern Corps.

The Maltusians study the power of creation

10 billion years ago, on the planet Maltus, an ambitious scientist named Krona seeks to observe the birth of the universe and understand the origins of life. Against the protests of his contemporaries, he successfully opens a viewport in time and witnesses the Hand of Creation at the Big Bang. But his observation changes the outcome, leading the universe to be "born old" and possibly even introducing the concept of evil into existence. Krona is cast out for his hubris, and many of the remaining Maltusians pledge to protect the universe from the corruption he has unleashed. They proclaim themselves the Guardians of the Universe.

Krona's experiment attracts the attention of a universe-hopping time traveler named Volthoom, a human from a doomed alternate world dubbed Earth-15. Volthoom travels via a device called the Travel Lantern, powered by his great discovery: The Emotional Spectrum, an energy field created by the collective will of all life in the universe. Volthoom seeks collaborators for further experiments into harnessing the Spectrum's power, and the Guardians seek to rid themselves of all feeling and become beings of pure logic. A partnership is formed, as the Guardians agree to expel their emotions into a device called the Great Heart, which becomes a keyhole into the Emotional Spectrum and the power of creation itself. Once the Great Heart is charged, it mysteriously gives birth to a ring that allows the wearer to access its power.

The First Lantern goes mad with power

The ring born from the Great Heart is given to Volthoom, who performs experiments with Maltusian scientist Rami to try and unlock its power. Volthoom hopes to use the power of this ring to save his homeworld, Earth-15, from a mysterious cosmic calamity destined to destroy it. Volthoom finds he is able to produce pure energy from the ring by stirring up his strongest emotions, but the results are limited. After all, one person can only feel so much. Hoping to test their limits, Rami and Volthoom decide to implant the Great Heart into Volthoom's chest. Now, Volthoom's own emotions are amplified by the expelled feelings of a dozen immortal beings. This allows him to unlock the ring's full potential, and tap into the Emotional Spectrum to produce unimaginable levels of creative and destructive energy.

But this power proves to be more than any one person can handle, as all of his feelings — from love, to compassion, to rage — begin to fly out of control, with physically destructive results. When Rami discovers that Volthoom himself is the doom that will destroy Earth-15, he halts their work and dismantles the Travel Lantern, saving Earth-15 but stranding Volthoom in his present dimension. Enraged, Volthoom wreaks havoc across Maltus, ultimately destroying an entire populated world in a tantrum.

The first Green Lanterns are created to fight Volthoom

As the Travel Lantern is rich in the energy of the Emotional Spectrum, Rami melts it down and recasts it into new tools that can harness power more safely. Rami attempts to draw power only from the center of the Emotional Spectrum, where it is most stable. Like the center of our own spectrum of visible light, this energy manifests as green, and represents emotionally agnostic willpower — the balance between the extremes of feeling. Rami's new weapons, the first seven Green Lantern rings, spread out across the galaxy in search of warriors with a strong enough will to wield them.

The rings eventually select their wearers, a motley assortment of soldiers, mercenaries, and adventurers from the universe's earliest spacefaring civilizations, such as Mars, Krypton, and Tamaran. Each has difficulty controlling their ring, and one is even completely torn apart by its power. Luckily, thanks to a pre-destination paradox, two Green Lanterns from the 21st century arrive to help train them, teaching them how to use their rings to fly and create hard-light constructs. Contemporary Lanterns Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz join their ancient predecessors to fight Volthoom, and though they are successful, only two of the original seven survive. Rami considers the Green Lantern experiment a failure, and the idea is abandoned for centuries.

The Manhunters are a failed precursor to the GLs

With Krona in exile and Volthoom incarcerated, the Guardians of the Universe turn their attention towards maintaining peace and order across the vast cosmos. They create a new stronghold on the planet Oa, situated in the center of the universe, and create an army of sentient, emotionless androids called the Manhunters to patrol worlds and enforce their brand of justice.

The Manhunters are autonomous and efficient, but cold and literal in their understanding and enforcement of law. No life is up to their standard of order, causing the Manhunters to glitch and overreach their intended programming. They begin exterminating life instead of protecting it. The Manhunters ultimately turn to mass murder, wiping out entire worlds and snuffing out trillions of lives. By the time the Guardians of the Universe can stop them, the population of the once-thriving Sector 666 is reduced to a mere five individuals. Most of the Manhunters are destroyed, the rest go into hiding, and with few surviving to speak of it, the scale of the Guardians' failure passes into legend over the next few millennia. The survivors become the Five Inversions, founders of the galaxies-spanning Empire of Tears and ancient enemies of the Guardians.

The Green Lantern Corps thrives for millennia

After the retirement of the Manhunters, the Guardians acknowledge that an arbiter of justice requires a heart and a conscience, and decide to revisit the Green Lantern experiment on a grander scale. They build a giant central power battery on Oa to serve as a reservoir of green willpower energy from which their new army, the 3,600-strong Green Lantern Corps, can draw power into their rings. Made up of all sorts of sentient life — humanoids, insectoids, robots, and even the living planet Mogo — the Green Lantern Corps successfully prevents chaos and assorted apocalypses from befalling the universe for billions of years.

The Green Lanterns operate autonomously within their sectors, but are subject to certain strict guidelines dictated by the Guardians, documented in their guiding document, the Book of Oa. The Book of Oa states that each Green Lantern is bound to protect life and liberty in their assigned sector, but that they must do so without escalating violence, using lethal force, or violating the laws of the worlds they serve. A Lantern's power is limited only by their imagination, the need to recharge every 24 hours, and a mysterious weakness against the color yellow.

Earth, which resides in Sector 2814, eventually becomes so important to the Corps it is permitted multiple concurrent Green Lanterns: John Stewart, Guy Gardner, and most notably, Hal Jordan, who is considered the greatest Green Lantern of all time.

Hal Jordan and Parallax destroy the Corps

For years, Hal Jordan is the pride of the Corps, a leader and legend among his peers despite (or perhaps, because of) his frequent insubordination. He fights countless battles against the despotic former Lantern Sinestro, the Manhunters, and even Krona himself. However, unbeknownst to him or even the Guardians, Jordan draws the interest of the evil energy being Parallax, who has been imprisoned inside the Central Battery for millennia. Parallax is the living embodiment of fear, made up of the yellow segment of the Emotional Spectrum and responsible for the ring's Achilles heel. Despite his imprisonment, Parallax is able to reach Jordan through his ring, secretly weakening his resolve and influencing his actions.

When Jordan's home of Coast City, California is destroyed, he becomes emotionally compromised enough for Parallax to take direct control. Parallax fans the flames of Jordan's mistrust of the Guardians and drives him mad, leading him to go to Oa on a quest to absorb the full might of the Central Battery and claim unlimited power for himself. Jordan defeats, maims, or kills any Green Lantern who stands in his way and destroys the Central Battery, stealing its energy. This inadvertently frees Parallax, binding him to Jordan's soul. In the hope of stopping Jordan, all but one of the Guardians sacrifices themselves to create a final, self-sustaining Green Lantern ring, which Ganthet, the last surviving Guardian, bestows upon human comics artist Kyle Rayner.

Kyle Rayner restores the Corps

Now wielding the power of the entire Corps, Hal Jordan attempts to rewrite time and reality to his own liking. His plans are foiled by Kyle Rayner and the combined efforts of Earth's superheroes, and Jordan disappears for a time. Rayner carries the torch as well as any one individual could, and other intergalactic peacekeepers such as the Darkstars attempt to fill the power vacuum. Still, the absence of the Green Lantern Corps is felt across the universe. Jordan eventually resurfaces in Earth's time of need: He expels all of his stolen power in order to reignite the dying sun, sacrificing his life to save his home planet. The power of the Central Battery remains as part of Earth's sun for a time, but is eventually retrieved by Kyle Rayner, who returns it to Oa where he reignites the Central Battery and resurrects the lost Guardians. With the Battery restored, Ganthet begins the work of reassembling the Corps.

Shortly thereafter, the truth about Parallax is revealed and the creature is defeated and imprisoned once again within the Central Battery. Hal Jordan is resurrected and exonerated of the crimes he committed under Parallax's influence. He rejoins the reestablished Green Lantern Corps, as do John Stewart, Guy Gardner, and a number of veterans from before fall. With a newly expanded roster of over 7,200 Lanterns (two per sector, plus an honor guard), the Green Lantern Corps becomes stronger than ever.

New armies of light go to war

After the rebirth of the Green Lantern Corps, knowledge of the Emotional Spectrum spreads across the universe, and new factions form to claim their piece of it. First, the rogue Lantern Sinestro uses Parallax and the yellow energy of fear to create his own brutal army, the Sinestro Corps. The war between the Green Lanterns and the Sinestro Corps proves so devastating that the Guardians are forced to rescind their rule against lethal force, the first amendment to the Book of Oa in ages.

The rest of the spectrum fills out rapidly: The Blue Lantern Corps, powered by hope, the Star Sapphires, who wield the violet energy of love, the Red Lanterns, who are fueled by wild rage, the Indigo Tribe, who represent compassion, and finally Larfleeze, AKA Agent Orange, who keeps the power of avarice all to himself. This rainbow of rings all possess similar powers, and each is represented by its own ageless cosmic entity, such as the yellow Parallax, the green Ion, and the red Butcher. Rivalries and alliances between the corps form, leading to an all-out War of Light. However, a temporary peace is arranged when the seven corps join forces to fight back the terrifying undead army of the Black Lanterns and their elemental leader, Nekron.

In the climax to the war with the Black Lanterns, a White Lantern ring is also discovered, which allows a master ringslinger to channel all seven energies.

The Guardians' Third Army wreaks havoc

In the aftermath of the War of Light, the Guardians gradually lose their way. The proliferation of power rings from across the Emotional Spectrum makes it more difficult for the Guardians to maintain order, and their control over their own Corps slips as more and more Green Lanterns question their judgement. In a cruel twist that parallels their failure with the Manhunters, the Guardians begin to see free will as an obstacle, and secretly scheme to create a new force. Seeking an energy superior to the Lanterns', the Guardians unearth Volthoom and harness his power to create the Third Army.

The Third Army is a grisly combination of their first two: Organic like the Lanterns, but emotionless and programmable like the Manhunters. They lack any will of their own, being controlled directly by the Guardians. They spread like a virus, infecting and assimilating other beings, overwriting their minds and DNA. The Guardians pit the Third Army and an unsuspecting Green Lantern Corps against each other, and the Third Army grows with each Lantern defeated. A coalition of Lanterns from across the spectrum comes together to fight the Third Army, which leads the Guardians to over-extend themselves and accidentally free Volthoom, who instantly wipes out their new creations and vows to take final revenge against his captors.

The First Lantern returns

Free from his eons in prison, Volthoom plans to use his mastery of the energies within the Emotional Spectrum to rewrite time and space. Though depleted by his captivity, all he needs to ascend to full-on godhood is to recharge his batteries with emotional energy, which he harvests by torturing Lanterns with his reality-bending powers.

Lanterns from across the spectrum join together once again to fight Volthoom on Oa. But this is to no avail, as Volthoom's connection to the power of creation is so strong that he literally cannot die without taking the rest of the universe with him. To defeat an enemy that is connected to all life, Hal Jordan enlists Nekron, the embodiment of death and master of the Black Lantern Corps. Nekron drains Volthoom of his energy and seemingly destroys him — but, in fact, Nekron imprisons him inside his own extradimensional domain, the Dead Zone.

While the armies of Lanterns battle Volthoom, Sinestro executes most of the Guardians of the Universe. Only a few survive: The lovers Ganthet and Sayd, and the Templar Guardians, led by Rami, who have spent the past 10 billion years as Volthoom's jailors and have had no involvement in the other Guardians' actions with the Green Lanterns or the Third Army. When the dust settles, the seven corps maintain an uneasy peace and the Green Lanterns are left to govern themselves.

The Corps rebuilds for a new future

Following the battle with Volthoom, the Green Lantern Corps rebuilds with Hal Jordan as their new leader, John Stewart as second-in-command, and the Templar Guardians as the new keepers of the Central Battery. Earth continues to bear new Green Lanterns, with a half a dozen humans serving simultaneously. Conflicts and alliances between the different armies of ringslingers continue to form and dissolve, and still more power sources, such as the Invisible Spectrum, are discovered.

Green Lanterns continue to face peril on both the personal and the galactic scale. In the short amount of time since the death of the Guardians, the planet Oa has already been destroyed and resurrected, though its original leaders remain deceased. While the various corps light up the universe, the interdimensional refugee Relic has revealed that the power of the Emotional Spectrum may be an exhaustible resource, and that when that power dies, so will all life in the universe. The Green Lantern Corps may, in fact, have an expiration date, a point at which they must stop their work, or risk destroying everything they've vowed to protect.

Things may never be calm for the Green Lantern Corps, but glimpses of the distant future indicate that the Corps will continue to protect the universe for centuries to come, and that the time of Hal Jordan and company will be remembered as a golden age.