Wednesday, May 18, 2011

In Brightest Day, In Blackest Night, Follow the Second Star to the Right

As I may have mentioned before, the little guy has of late reached the stage where he can play with just about any object and utilize it as whatever the game at hand requires, which not only means that he can pretend a toy drum is a steering wheel if he’d rather play racecar driver than rhythm section, but (more fascinating to me, at any rate) he can take one miniature licensed character and imagine that it is a different, specific character from a completely unrelated franchise. The most frequent example of this comes up whenever he’s recently watched his favorite DVD, which is a collection of episodes of Bob the Builder, after which all of his Thomas the Tank Engine or Pixar Cars vehicles magically become the various pieces of construction equipment who comprise Bob’s team.

A few days ago, though, the little guy surprised me with a completely different character substitution when he grabbed one of my Green Lantern action figures and announced “It’s Peter Pan!” I should point out that my son has his own age-appropriate Fisher-Price Green Lantern (because of course he does) and he knows the character on site, so it wasn’t a case of him trying to fit one of my toys into his own limited frame of reference; he just wanted to play Peter Pan right at that moment. But the more I thought about it the more I realized that the little guy was really onto something, something which I never noticed before: the Green Lantern/Peter Pan parallels are fairly numerous.

1. Fondness for green apparel. This is the most superficial similarity, and quite possibly the primary reason why the little guy’s brain went straight to Neverland when he got his hands on that particular superhero doll. Obviously you can’t have the Green Lantern without the namesake color, but Peter Pan isn’t inherently obligated to deck himself out in emerald. Nevertheless if you ask anyone to picture Peter Pan, and then tell you the dominant color of his outfit, 99 percent of the time I bet they say green. (This is also where I could make a cheap joke about both Peter Pan and Green Lantern wearing tights, but let’s just assume that I did and move on.)

2. Refusal to grow up. So here’s where it starts to get a little more interesting (not to mention clearly way beyond anything the little guy’s thought process would encompass). In this case it’s something very much inherent to the concept of Peter Pan, the spirit of youth, and so on. Nothing about the Green Lantern concept rides on immaturity, but coincidentally that’s the way it kind of shook out. And here I’ll note that, given the way superhero comics work with traditions and legacies and so on, there have been many characters who filled the role of Green Lantern over the years and I’m focusing mainly on Hal Jordan, the first character who got to be the sci-fi space cop version. Hal was a cocky, risk-taking test pilot who got a power ring from an alien and became a cocky, risk-taking superhero. When other contemporaries of his like Barry “the Flash” Allen and Ray “the Atom” Palmer settled down and got married, Hal remained a footloose bachelor. Don’t let the super-serious version from the SuperFriends cartoon fool you: in the comics Hal Jordan had a certain juvenile fecklessness for so long that when they finally decided, after close to thirty years of ongoing stories, that maybe he should act a bit more like a wise, seasoned veteran, they actually changed his look to incorporate physical signs of aging. This just doesn’t happen in comics; you’ll never see crow’s feet on Wonder Woman or liver spots on Batman even though they should be older than our grandparents. But Hal Jordan got graying temples to denote his character evolution. And then he died, and came back (which actually does happen in comics all the time) and when he did the mature partial white-hair look was gone. That’s not just refusing to grow up, that’s reverse aging.

3. First among equals. But despite being a child and a man-child, respectively, Peter Pan and Hal Jordan are still recognized by their peers as the best of their breed and default leaders. Peter Pan runs at the front of the pack of the Lost Boys, and in fact technically is one, himself, but a very special one. Similarly, Hal Jordan is part of an entire thousands-strong Green Lantern Corps but quickly distinguished himself as one of their all-time greats.

4. No unaided flight. Here’s the kind of trick-trivia question that comics geeks are likely to utterly lose themselves contemplating all koan-like: Can Green Lantern fly? One potentially correct answer is “Yes, but not without help” which also happens to apply to regular human beings in the real world who use hang-gliders or, for that matter, 747s. Superman can truly fly, which means he can rise up off the ground, shoot through the air faster than a speeding bullet, and execute aerodynamically impossible hairpin turns all under his own innate power. Green Lantern can perform all the same moves but technically only because of the power of his ring; take away the ring and GL is grounded. And the same is true of Peter Pan, who doesn’t inherently possess the ability to ignore gravity and other laws of physics at will, but rather has access to pixie dust which bestows the flight on him. BUT! On closer consideration, even the ring and the pixie dust aren’t enough alone …

5. Positive thinking. Every time I read Peter Pan to my little guy, I get the song “You Can Fly” stuck in my head, and the lyrics of that ditty are almost exclusively about explaining that you need to think happy thoughts in order to fly, and then giving examples of same. And that kind of mental focus yielding a physical result is strikingly reminiscent of the secret to Green Lantern’s true strength: willpower. Granted that’s not precisely the same thing, but the general equation still works out the same: rare object (pixie dust/power ring) + inner mental state (happy thoughts/determination) = wish-fulfillment (ability to fly/ability to project giant green boxing gloves into bad guys’ faces, and also to fly)

I'm saving the comparisons of Sinestro to Captain Hook for another post.
After thinking my way through all of the above, I was all set to put the neatest possible bow on this whole weird Lincoln/Kennedy connection by pointing out that as of next month both Green Lantern and Peter Pan will have been portrayed in movies by Ryan Reynolds. I was dead convinced that a young Ryan Reynolds played Peter Pan in flashbacks in the 1991 Spielberg flick Hook. But when I went to go find a photo to back that up I realized I was slightly off, as a kid named Ryan Francis played that part in Hook and, so far as teh interwebs are concerned, Ryan Reynolds has never played The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. (Unless we’re going to count Van Wilder, I guess.)

And as I did finally allude to before my ill-fated Hollywood-casting digression, I know that most of Peter Pan is about wish-fulfillment, as are many children’s stories, and as are most superheroes, which is why superhero comics tend to be thought of first and foremost as children’s (or at least stunted adolescents’) entertainment to begin with. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that any two exemplars of those genres appear to have a lot in common. Just some of the particulars happened to amuse me and, given that I have this venue at hand, I had to share.

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