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Focus testing and hard-light constructs
April 14, 2014 2:47 PM   Subscribe

Giancarlo Volpe, the showrunner for the short-lived but critically acclaimed Cartoon Network program Green Lantern: The Animated Series, has posted a minicomic about his bad experience when the studio ran focus testing on the show. Executive producer of GL:TAS and creator of Batman: The Animated Series Bruce Timm shows up in the end to provide some perspective.

GL:TAS ran for a single season of 26 episodes from November 2011 to March 2013, and between the extra-long season, inconsistent scheduling, and low toy sales from the live-action Green Lantern movie, there wasn't very much hope for the show to be renewed.

The series is currently streaming on Netflix.

Previously in Cartoon Network superhero cartoon production.
posted by Small Dollar (20 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Glad they didn't listen to the feedback. Talking to the guys running the focus group looked absolutely soul crushing, and the show itself was a pleasant surprise.
posted by mordax at 3:31 PM on April 14


I feel for this guy but I've always felt that the reason the live action GL movie and this animated series never took off had everything to do with the making them about a property that had struggled over the decades to be sell its own titular comic book AND using the Hal Jordan version of GL instead of using the John Stewart version that Timm had used for the better part of a decade in his JL/JLU series.

Practically a whole generation of kids had gotten used to the idea that Batman's & Superman's friend was a gruff, tough African American ex-Marine and then when the live action GL movie comes out, they get smirking white fratster Ryan Reynolds.

Then there's the problem that the Green Lantern property has always faced: diminished recognition compared to the "Super Friends Four" (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and yes, even Aquaman). GL was going to be tough sell to new fans because, at best, it has always been an "oh yeah, that guy-- what's his deal again?" type of character in broader popular culture. Hell, even comic book fans had an antipathy to the character. with the title being cancelled several times or packaged as a team up book with another hero(s) over the years. Hell, Green Lantern didn't start to sell a ton of comics until they turned Half Jordan into a villain and killed him off in the 90's and basically turned it into an update on the classic Spider Man formula with a young, inexperienced GL who had to learn how to wield his new power on his own (instead of relying on a corps of Alien Space Cops to show him the ropes).
posted by KingEdRa at 4:15 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


I love GL but it is an acquired taste. Aliens and a big cast that had decades of backstory is kind of hard to translate in a cartoon show.

But the richness and weirdness of characters (yay, Guy Gardner!) takes a while to appreciate and it should have gotten a couple of seasons to get things going with an audience...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 4:20 PM on April 14


I just noticed this week that GL:TAS was on Netflix, and I've been intending to check it out.

I was never much of a superhero fan as a kid--I was all about Star Trek--but my kiddoes have really gotten into them, especially via Justice League, JLU, Batman:The Brave and the Bold and Batman:TAS on the DC side, and various Spider-Man cartoons and Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes on the Marvel side. The whole family dressed as superheroes for Halloween (except my two year old, who wanted to be a lion, but we called her Sabertooth). (Obligatory pic.) I decided to avoid the ultra popular Supes and Bats in favor of GL. At the time, I barely knew the first thing about Green Lantern, but my kids thought that I must be a huge fan, so they started looking stuff up about him and begging me to watch episodes of JL or B:B&B that were GL-centric. Pretty soon I picked up the basic idea, and could tell you a bit about Guy Gardener, Hal Jordan, and John Stewart. I even memorized the oath. And even though it all started off as "hey, I'll dress as that guy I know nothing about," I think at this point I am a borderline fan. Enough, anyway, to really want to watch the series and be glad that it was well-done, even if it didn't last long.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 4:25 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


(Awesome picture Pater.)

KingedRa-

I've always had a dislike for Hal Jordan as GL. Lacks humility. Like a 40 yr old single dude going to Spring Break. John Stewart GL was a revelation and his personality had a place next to Batman, Superman and WW in the cartoons. Plus he looked really cool. I liked the idea of Kyle Rayner but his mask was SO UGLY I gave up, even though he directly appealed to me as a 13 yr old artist that loved comics and had the same haircut. So, anyway, John Stewart was a great Green Lantern. I only really know him from catching the odd episode over the last decade and he really stands out as a great choice for the character.
posted by kittensofthenight at 4:45 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]


I don't believe that the reason the movie didn't do well was because they cast a white guy but kids were used to a black guy. Put aside that the show was just one medium showing GL, and in the comics, you had Kyle Rayner as GL with John Stewart less around, the movie just was a lowball weak execution, script wise, compared to the show. Green lantern isn't batman. While its easy to do a crappy batman story too, it's easier to do a good batman story than it is a good green lantern story. There's just a lot more common knowledge about the particulars of batman, and his story and personality is both awesome and dramatic. By comparison, you have to have real vision to bring out green lantern and make his story mean something to an audience member. And that's what those justice league animated shows did. They did it for every one of those characters though. I thought that was just an all around incredible series, and John Stewart was definitely one of the best of an already excellent, well defined and interesting cast. By the regression to the mean, the movie version sucked because on average comic book movies are so-so. There's a handful of amazing ones, but the average is somewhere around Spider-man III.
posted by scunning at 5:03 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


I was genuinely hoping to see Razer become a Blue Lantern. He had a great story arc. Much more interesting than Hal!
posted by Biblio at 5:06 PM on April 14


Also, as others note, GL is straight up science fiction. Aliens, outer space. But on the animated JL series, that typically was toned down. I've always thought that a lot of the members of the JL (like the Xmen) are great supporting each other in a team story, but I wouldn't really be interested in their solo stories. Batman is the exception; I always like his JL stories because he seems so uncomfortable being around others, and its cool to see how everyone basically ribs him about being so moody and antisocial. GL and Flash though -- they're great when they're playing off one another, because they deeply care about one another. I really loved that they managed to make that GL-Flash friendship that special on the animated show even though it was Wally West and John Stewart and not Hal and Barry (which is the more classic friendship).
posted by scunning at 5:10 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


I think one of the reasons it's hard to tell a good Green Lantern story is that the character's powers are so broadly defined it's hard (for a non-fan, and possibly even for fans) to know what his limitations are, and without limitations can the character really be in any jeopardy that the audience will care about?

The character's strengths and limitations have changed over the years, but when the definition of the character that is known to most non-fans is "he's that guy who has a ring that can make anything he needs as long as he can imagine it" you're going to have problems with dramatic tension.
posted by Nerd of the North at 5:59 PM on April 14 [4 favorites]


I don't believe that the reason the movie didn't do well was because they cast a white guy but kids were used to a black guy.

I'm old skool and used to seeing Hal Jordan, and I thought the movie was lame, and the only good section, the middle section, was basically ripped out of a DC animated film that had come out a couple of years before. The GL animated series was good, though not as good as B:TAS, and plenty worth watching even though I can get why people are kind of tired of Hal as GL.

I haven't seen all the Justice League or Brave & Bold stuff with John Stewart, but I always enjoyed him in the comics, and I was hoping he'd turn up in the second season of GL:TAS (sigh).
posted by immlass at 6:16 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


Immlass: justice league unlimited is awesome. Watch it. Lots of fleshed out secondary characters from dcu, like the Question, Huntress, the justice society guy who boxes and whose name I'm blanking on. Timm must have had so much credibility after batman they let him do whatever he wants. I mean, (spoiler) huntress and question? Totally romantic and I loved every second of it. He really gets the core fan stuff, but then manages to actually do great storytelling that isn't even as common in the very people's stories you probably were primed towards beforehand. His hawkgirl for instance -- I honestly wouldn't believe anyone if they swore the comics hawkgirl was even half as awesome as how Timm made her. She was a bad ass and a heart breaker. She and Stewart were an item forever, had an actual relationship with non-exaggerated ups and downs, and broke up. And permanently broke up, and moved on. I don't even see relationships like that that often on television at all, and this was an animated story about the justice league. Timm is ballsy.
posted by scunning at 6:38 PM on April 14


I thought these were a pretty good entry point to the green lantern universe & mythos. My son needed a lantern ring in every color after watching a few episodes. That said, CN started and stopped the season sporadically so it was hard to catch them all. There were some interesting things about it but the tone wavered between kiddy/cute and tragic/disturbing.

They've also added Young Justice to Netflix. It's our favorite DC property since BtAS. We actually like YJ better. It's great.
posted by putzface_dickman at 7:01 PM on April 14


When the definition of the character that is known to most non-fans is "he's that guy who has a ring that can make anything he needs as long as he can imagine it" you're going to have problems with dramatic tension.

The massively successful Lego Movie is about a Chosen One joining a fraternity of heroes who can make anything they need as long as they can imagine it. The tension comes about because said Chosen One is a well-meaning dolt who can't imagine anything more exciting than a new variety of couch.
posted by Iridic at 9:55 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]


Bruce Timm has a great track record overall, and reading this post makes me want to check out the animated GL.

As an old guy, I knew Hal Jordan as the primary GL, with occasional appearances from Alan Scott in the JLA/JSA crossovers and similar. Original test-pilot Hal didn't have a lot of personality, but by the time he was traveling with Green Arrow, he'd been fleshed out quite a bit more. Overall, I remain fond of the Silver Age GL, though as immlass said above, I get why some people are tired of him. I think they did Hal a disservice with the whole Parallax business, and I'm not even sure what his status is now in the main DC universe.

As for the other GLs, John Stewart is fine by me, never liked Guy Gardner, haven't read enough Kyle Rayner stories to have an opinion.

I think the live-action movie was a missed opportunity - the effects looked good, but the script was lacking - too much Sinestro and Hector Hammond, not enough of GL doing cool stuff. I'm not a huge Ryan Reynolds fan, but I think there's a version of a GL movie starring him that could have worked; it just wasn't the one they made. If the live-action movie had some of the virtues described in the Comics Alliance review of the animated series, it might have been a lot better.

It seems odd that DC's animated product is mostly very good - much better than most of the stuff Marvel has put out - yet they seem to be lagging behind Marvel in live-action features. Maybe they should give Bruce Timm $300 million or so and see what he can come up with?
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 10:07 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]


Green Lantern, like a lot of comics characters, has moments of true brilliance but is also severely weird in a way that movie studios don't think that general audiences can handle. The movie failed for the same reason the Fantastic Four movies failed - they didn't go all-in on the Silver Age weirdness that's hardwired into the Green Lantern idea. He's got a wishing ring from space and counts a squirrel and a living planet among his colleagues. He can fly at warp speed. For awhile there, only the color yellow could mess him up and before that, wood. He ain't Batman, grounding him is missing what makes Green Lantern great. You gotta go Full Mantlo and let it get real weird.

Hal Jordan is the dullest of the lot, by far. The trailers and preview clips were all I cared to see of the recent film, but surely it wouldn't be too hard to soft reboot the franchise. The Guardians revoke Jordan's Lantern status every eighteen issues or so in accordance with the cosmic laws of Keeping Things Lively Somehow so there's certainly precedent for a movie about Space Sector 2814 in need of a new Lantern. Cast Jamie Foxx as John Stewart and Damien Lewis as Guy Gardner, pitted against each other by the Guardians to see who proves worthier for Jordan's old assignment. But when Krona's careless experimentation sets the Anti-Monitor loose throughout the time space continuum, they'll have to work together on an adventure through the very structure of the cosmos to put their universe back together.

Include all weird creatures possible. There should be sentient plants giving witness statements and jellyfish looking things floating around quasars with hidden knowledge for our heroes to uncover. Take advantage of the reality scrambling to recast Nathan Fillion as Hal Jordan, who can cameo occasionally in the sequels. If any writer suggests Lobo make a cameo, fire that writer.
posted by EatTheWeak at 12:19 AM on April 15 [3 favorites]


Wildcat
posted by Billiken at 6:06 AM on April 15


Green Lantern, like a lot of comics characters, has moments of true brilliance but is also severely weird in a way that movie studios don't think that general audiences can handle.

I find a lot of the DC/Marvel film comparisons facile even as I agree Marvel's films are collectively doing a lot better. But GL vs Guardians of the Galaxy really is "I don't think the audience will get this" vs "whee we have a raccoon with a big gun!"
posted by immlass at 8:20 AM on April 15 [2 favorites]


Point, Nerd of the North: I think one of the reasons it's hard to tell a good Green Lantern story is that the character's powers are so broadly defined it's hard (for a non-fan, and possibly even for fans) to know what his limitations are, and without limitations can the character really be in any jeopardy that the audience will care about?

The character's strengths and limitations have changed over the years, but when the definition of the character that is known to most non-fans is "he's that guy who has a ring that can make anything he needs as long as he can imagine it" you're going to have problems with dramatic tension.


Counterpoint: Superman.


Seriously:
"OK, gang, we're going up against Superman. So, who's got the kryptonite? [silence] SERIOUSLY? Alright then, new plan: we go back to grad school and finish our degrees, 'cuz this plan is a nonstarter."
posted by IAmBroom at 10:03 AM on April 15


Counterpoint: Superman.

While this is true, Green Lantern has additional problems with dramatic tension: first, the powers are, in addition to being extremely broad and poorly defined, inherently silly. Superman can be played straight or silly (contrast Silver Age wackiness with Superman:TAS' relatively grounded protagonist), whereas even the most serious Green Lantern is still doing goofy stuff. John Stewart in JL/JLU is played about as straight as a Green Lantern can be, and he still solves a problem in the series finale with a giant catapult.

Second, and much more crippling, there's a whole bunch of them. If Superman does happen upon a problem that he's not quite fast enough to solve, or exploits weaknesses that could reasonably extrapolated beyond Kryptonite, fantastic: you have achieved dramatic tension. If a Green Lantern does, you still have to address why the Guardians don't just send backup. (I haven't read the comics - more a fan of the DCAU - but I imagine this is why Hal Jordan is in constant conflict with the Guardians in them, and it's certainly why GL:TAS immediately puts Hal and Kilowog outside their immediate sphere of influence.)

Finally, in connection with the above, superheroes are pretty blatant wish-fulfillment power fantasies. The fun of reading about Superman or Batman is picturing what you might do with all that power, and absolutely no oversight. Would you be good? Would you fry the guy who cut you off in traffic with heat vision? Either way, half the point is imagining that you would be the one making the call.

These guys have bureaucracy. Red tape. Rules, regulations. Regimented training. A promotion track. They can be fired from having superpowers for poor job performance, or even just office politics. (This sort of thing comes up a few times in JL/JLU.) If that isn't a buzzkill in silly daydreams, I dunno what is.

Green Lantern is definitely the hardest sell out of DC's big iconic names. Even, as was pointed out above, including Aquaman. This is why I was surprised to like the animated show, and skipped the movie.
posted by mordax at 10:48 AM on April 15


The massively successful Lego Movie is about a Chosen One joining a fraternity of heroes who can make anything they need as long as they can imagine it.

And oddly enough, the Green Lantern was counted among those heroes yet he was universally shunned for no obvious reason. At one point, Superman ditched him by claiming to have to fly home to Krypton to see his parents.
posted by radwolf76 at 11:27 AM on April 15 [1 favorite]


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