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February 19, 2010

Touring The Cosmos: Lantern Colour Spectrum

Over four years ago, Geoff Johns took the reigns of Green Lantern. Since then, he has added whole new levels to the Green Lantern mythos by creating new characters, fleshing out the history, and adding new elements to the already exciting story. Teamed with artist Ethan Van Sciver, Johns and Van Sciver have brought amazing new twists and looks to the Green Lantern story.

Joseph Campbell, in his book Hero With a Thousand Faces, created a description of a “heroic journey,” which describes when a hero is born, what it takes to be a hero, the trials and tribulations of a hero, and the return of a hero into reality. Many other notable artists and creators have cited Campbell’s work as an influence to their own. Other authors such as David Leeming in Mythology: The Voyage of a Hero have used Campbell’s works to describe their own heroic journey. We will also be taking an excerpt or two from Bulfinch’s Mythology, with an edit by Richard Martin.

With Blackest Night in full swing, we are going to take a good look at each of the respective colours of the Lantern spectrum, and how they relate to what Campbell describes as the hero’s journey, or monomyth.

Red Lanterns:

Red Lanterns are found on the furthest end of the spectrum. Being the most encompassing emotion, the red ring of rage takes over its wearer, making them become mindless hounds, bent on attacking anything around them. Atrocitus was the first wearer of the red ring, and is the only one to keep a clear mind while in possession of its power. Because of the fact that the Red Lanterns have very little thoughts but those of anger, they display their power by spewing a red plasma out of their mouths. This represents the fact that they expel all of their own blood, and all that fuels them is the red rage.

Atrocitus used the rage he had built up throughout the years of being captive by Sinestro to harness the power of red. Atrocitus was part of the Five Inversions, the last beings of Sector 666. After years of terrorizing the universe as part of The Empire of Tears, Sinestro finally managed to hold Atrocitus in captivity with the other Inversions. Atrocitus freed himself, killed the other Inversions, and used their blood to forge the red power battery.

The most difficult emotion to associate with a hero is rage. Heroes are figures that have to keep a calm and collected mind in order to fulfill obligations and duties with the clearest conscience. The rage that wearers of red rings feel is all-encompassing and does not allow for heroic deeds. In mythology, the Greek hero Heracles was a perfect example of this. Heracles is often a hero associated with the classical “heroic journey,” being noted as “…suffering essential in ancient Greek notions of the heroic life…” (Martin and Bulfinch, 129) and “…is the paradigm of a Greek hero..” (Martin and Bulfinch, 129). This being the case, Heracles was also prone to bouts of rage wherein he would kill, including his wife, children, and music teacher. Sometimes the red ring takes over its wearer who has good intentions, but are being used in the wrong outlet. For example in Blackest Night, a red ring takes over Green Lantern Guy Gardner, when he sees that Kyle Rayner has been killed.

Orange Lanterns:

Avarice is the emotion that fuels Orange Lanterns. Well in this case, Lantern singular. Larfleeze is the sole wearer of the orange ring, keeping all of the power for himself. His constructs are phantom forms of those he has killed throughout his life, usually being someone who tried to steal his power, or just merely crossed his path. He carries around his own power battery, having formed a bond with it so that he is constantly being powered. This gives him the ability to control his constructs from great distances. Larfleeze is in a constant state of hunger, which is either a drawback from the orange ring, or of his own greed.

The Guardians of Oa had a big part in forging the story of the Orange Corps. Larfleeze and his mercenary crew had stumbled upon a box containing Parallax during a heist. Larfleeze and company fled to Okaara, seeking sanctuary. The Guardians of Oa had followed the group to Okaara because they wanted the Parallax entity. In exchange for Parallax, the Guardians told Larfleeze and the last remaining mercenary that they would be allowed to keep the orange power battery, which was hidden in the temple they fled to. The only catch was that in order to wield this great power, only one of them was allowed to live, and they must remain within the Vega system. Here begins the story of Larfleeze, born through greed.

Joseph Campbell wrote that part of the hero’s journey is their Trials and Tribulations:

Once having traversed the threshold, the hero moves in a dream landscape…where he must survive a succession of trials. This is a favorite phase of the myth-adventure. It has produced a world… of miraculous tests and ordeals… it may be that he here discovers for the first time that there is a benign power everywhere supporting him in his superhuman passage (Campbell, 97).

Larfleeze lived a life of trials, and once he gained the orange power battery, truly entered his dream world of adventure. He discovers his power in the form of  avarice and the orange light. The power of greed can consume someone. Although at times it may benefit someone else, that is rarely the intention. Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps must fight these greedy urges. They wield an extremely powerful weapon, which can be used to benefit themselves. Instead, they choose to use it as an instrument of good, like other heroes of myth.

Yellow Lanterns:

The Yellow Lanterns are as big a corps as the Green Lanterns. They are near mirror images, but unlike the Green Lanterns, their power derives from fear. In order to wield a yellow ring, you have to be able to instill great fear in others. This doesn’t mean you have to be inherently evil, but most members are. Notable members include Mongul, the Anti-Monitor, Kryb, and Amon Sur. The Yellow Lanterns, also known as the Sinestro Corps, are able to create constructs as far as their imaginations will take them. This makes them extremely powerful, because devious minds can create devious devices.

Sinestro was formerly of the Green Lantern Corps. Once heralded as the greatest member of the Green Lantern Corps, Sinestro ruled his sector with ruthlessness. His sector, although devoid of crime, had in turn become a sort of dictatorship. Once Abin Sur, Sinestro’s best friend, had died, Sinestro slowly became unhinged and continued his quest for a Totalitarian rule. This did not sit well with the Guardians of Oa, and they exiled him. Sinestro found the Anti-matter universe and the planet Qward. There, along with the Qwardians, he developed the yellow power of fear, a yellow power battery, and yellow power rings.

Leeming in Mythology: The Voyage of a Hero, describes this part of the hero’s journey as: “The psychological basis for … human’s need to define or ‘prove’ himself- … to ‘make a name’” (Leeming, 153). Legends of the hero’s actions are typically spread throughout the land, instilling a sort of fear or excitement about the character and his deeds in others. This is what gives power to the Sinestro Corps. This sort of fear that the yellow ring-wielders broadcast is not necessarily that of evil. In Sinestro’s case, the people of Sector 1417 feared his rule, but respected him at the same time because he brought peace.

Green Lanterns:

The Guardians were originally from the planet Maltus. After one of their own, Krona, had unleashed different evils upon the universe, the Guardians relocated to Oa, the center of the universe. Here, they vowed to keep order and stability throughout the cosmos. They divided it up into different sectors, and created the Manhunters to police the universe. After the Manhunters rebelled against their creators, the Guardians created the Green Lantern Corps. The Green Lanterns are powered by their own willpower, and can exert their emerald energy as far as their imagination will take them. They require their power battery to recharge their rings, like all the other coloured corps. The Green Lanterns are tasked with fighting for justice and virtue.

Hal Jordan is arguably the greatest Green Lantern to wield the ring. Before him was Sinestro, who was soon exiled for twisting and bending the meaning of the word “justice.” The power of will that fuels the green rings is in the middle of the spectrum. This allows the Green Lanterns to be easily influenced by other colours of the spectrum. For example, Hal briefly wielded a blue ring, as well as a red ring, because he lost focus and succumbed to the power of the other colours. There are four members of the Green Lantern Corps from Earth, including Kyle Rayner, Guy Gardner, John Stewart, and Hal Jordan.

Hal was able to prove to the universe that he had the sufficient willpower to be able to wield the ring. In Secret Origin, Hal was forced to watch his father, a fighter jet test pilot, crash and die right before his young eyes. This dramatic event proved to be the driving force behind Jordan’s adventures for the rest of his superhero career. Joseph Campbell describes the beginning part of the heroic journey as the “call to adventure.” During this period, the hero may refuse the call, which is when the hero chooses not to take on the task demanded of him (Campbell, 59-68). In order for a Green Lantern to be worthy to wield this powerful weapon, they must have the willpower to accept it; they must be willing to dedicate their life to justice.

Blue Lanterns:

The Blue Lanterns’ emotion of power is hope. This is the most fundamental and powerful emotion of the spectrum, and only a select few can wield it. The Blue Lantern’s selection process is a tedious one. The first Blue Lantern was chosen by the Guardians Ganthet and Sayd. Then from there, the first lantern must not only fight for hope, but begin selecting and training the next Blue Lantern. Because the blue rings can charge a green ring, feed off the hope of others, and provide peace in another by showing what they hope for, they are considered one of the more potent rings on the spectrum. The only catch to the blue rings is that in order to be used at their full potential, they must be in the vicinity of a green ring. Without will, hope will only take you so far.

Saint Walker is the first Blue Lantern. He was born out of a world that was plagued by natural destruction. He lost his family and his way. Throughout all of it, he still managed to cling to some hope that a greater power will help him, and free him from turmoil. This happens in the form of the Blue Lantern Corps.

Hope is the universe’s ultimate weapon. It fuels all of the other emotions on the spectrum. This was brought to light by Ganthet and Sayd, the guardians of the blue rings. The guardians are millennia old beings, which “screen” ring-wielders, and grant them with the immense power of a ring. The guardians represent the supernatural aid that Campbell describes as the step right after accepting the call: “…the first encounter of the hero-journey is with a protective figure (often a little old crone or old man) who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass” (Campbell, 69).

Violet Lanterns:

The Violet Lanterns wield the power of love. They fall on the opposite of rage, and are consumed by the emotion they project. Also known as Star Sapphires, the ring wearer is initiated by showing that they have great love in their heart, and then accepting the ring. Their homeworld is Zamaron, which is run by the the Zamarons, who are a splinter group of female Guardians that left Oa in order to embrace emotion. The Zamarons forged their own battery, with crystalized corpses of Adam and Eve within the power battery.

The intrigue of the violet power of love is that even though to wield a ring you have to accept it, you basically become a drone. A drone in the sense that your only mission is to spread love, much like the Red Lanterns’ is to spread anger. Being such a positive force in the universe, it is difficult to accept that the Violet Lanterns act like this. But the Zamarons encapsulate any being that needs to accept love in their heart, essentially forcing these beings to become one of their own.

The strength of love can be a powerful blast of energy, or it can show the target opponent what they love the most in the world, quelling other emotions and allowing for that love to bloom. Carol Ferris is the most prominent of the Star Sapphires. She has been called to her duty many times over the years, but has only recently fully accepted her role. She admitted to loving Hal Jordan, and wanting to protect him, but also realized that they will never be an item.

“The mystical marriage with the queen goddess of the world represents the hero’s total mastery of life; for the woman is life, the hero its knower and master”(Campbell, 120).

Indigo Lanterns:

On the polar opposite end of the spectrum of greed is compassion. The wielders of the power of compassion are called the Indigo Tribe. During Blackest Night, the Indigo Tribe has shown some displays of their power. They can channel the power of any of the other colours of the spectrum, and combined with their own, are a powerful force. They are a mysterious lot, and come to aid those in need.

The members of the Indigo Tribe have no names and only number themselves. For example, Indigo-1 is the first Indigo Lantern, then Indigo-2, Indigo-3, so on and so forth. The most prominent member is Indigo-1. The members of the Indigo Tribe speak their own language, which can only be understood by fellow Indigo Tribe members. When Hal Jordan tried to translate their language via his ring, it was unrecognizable.

Deciphering the actions of the Indigo Tribe is quite difficult. During Blackest Night, they are aiding the other corps in coming together and defeating the Black Lanterns. But just before the war, they appeared in a few short pages which showed them suffocating an injured Green Lantern with his own power, and scaring away a Sinestro Corps member with his own yellow light. “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself” (Campbell, 123). Campbell is describing compassion and its relation to the hero, but this quote can be interpreted in different ways. It does not always mean your actions are for good, but for the greater good.

Well there you have it. A description of each of the corps, with a look at how they can compare to common heroic adventures and modern heroic tales. Now that we are all caught up with War of Kings and Blackest Night, Touring the Cosmos will next focus on book reviews and character descriptions that bring light to the dark corners of the galaxy.

Mike Parente



  1. Eli

    This is great! This really helps those of us who’ve been a little behind the lantern times.

  2. billy

    Eli, I’m with you. I think this article is great because it lets someone like me know who is who, and what is going on with the Lantern Corps. Great stuff MP.

  3. There are so many characters involved it can be hard to keep track of everyone. Glad I could help you guys out.

  4. Kristin

    Hey hey, I think someone else already wrote Hero With a Thousand Faces. His name was Aristotle. 🙂

    This was a really well-written piece, Mike.

  5. Fantastic write-up Mike! I love the references with Campbell and the Lanterns, very well thought out stuff my friend!

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t one of the Indigo Lanterns names Munk?

  6. quite good indeed!

  7. They started calling him Munk just to give him a name I believe. I think it is easier to yell out “Munk look out for that Black Lantern!!” rather than “Indigo-2 look out for that Black Lantern!!!”

  8. Ah, that makes sense.

    …but what’s a “colour”?

    : p

  9. […] It's also a success in the general opinion, held as one of the two classics the band made. …Touring The Cosmos: Lantern Colour SpectrumTeamed with artist Ethan Van Sciver, Johns and Van Sciver have brought amazing new twists and looks […]

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