Kyle Rayner, Green Ray of Identity
Episode 1: Hope Bearer
By: Thurston Liptrot (@blackestboi)
Identity is important. We, as humans, strive to stand out; it doesn’t get much simpler than that. It wasn’t until I had graduated high school in 2017 that I really sought after these answers of what and who I am as a person. What legacy do I want to leave behind for the next world to see? I was freshly graduated and a young (pretty novice at that) artist, not realizing that my life had only just begun, wondering if there was more to life, if there was more to me as an individual. I had so many questions regarding my identity as a person that only I had the answers to, and I yearned to satisfy myself in finding them, but where do I look to find these answers? That was when I found myself in the colorful, charming, optimistic, and heart-of-gold DC icon of hope and legacy-the Green Lantern of the wicked 90’s: Kyle Rayner. His journey of self-discovery helped set me on the path to find my own, it’s one I guarantee will inspire anyone and everyone.
Dave has allowed me the wonderful opportunity to gush about Kyle Rayner and take a deeper, introspective dive into the awe-inspiring quest he takes to make his ground as the new bearer of the Green Lantern ring. I can’t cover every single issue of the iconic 100+ issues of Ron Marz’s legendary run in one article unless I was crazy (I mean I am, but anyway), so this’ll be a series of parts. The goal is to study and pick apart Kyle’s character as both a hero making a newly defined mark in the Green Lantern mythos and as an individual trying to figure out who exactly he wants and needs to be in his life, while also breaking down what makes him arguably the best legacy character ever created. Today we’ll be diving into issues #48-#55, Kyle’s debut as the titular hero. I hope if you haven’t read ANYTHING about Kyle before, this’ll get you at least mildly interested. Kyle is such a rad and down to earth guy to learn about that I think anyone will rock with him just as much as I do. Without further ado ladies and gentlemen, let’s begin this journey!
Star-Crossed Lanterns (#48-#50)
Ron Marz starts this run off with pure tragedy and makes you think about two key words in the first few issues-loss and hope. We all know of Parallax, he’s power hungry, fueled by loss, an unstoppable force not meant to be felt for, but I think what really makes his character for me through the entire run is how perfectly he sets up Kyle’s destiny as a hero while also being his exact parallel (parallel, Parallax?). Hal does things as Parallax that make him impossible to be redeemed. He kills most of the Green Lantern Corps and strips any existing members of their right to be Lanterns so unfairly by taking the Central Battery for himself. He is a hopeless character; his power comes from loss. Kyle on the other hand is given the ring through Ganthet, telling Kyle “You shall have to do” before handing off the ring. Being given the last power ring in the universe, he is Ganthet’s last stand, to be THE savior for the Green Lantern name, to be a spark of hope against Hal’s overbearing power and shadow. I would like to add too that Kyle is given the ring in the back alley of a bar, I always loved this little touch to his origin and it makes him feel that much more human to me. I think this page from #48 perfectly captures Hal and Kyle’s dynamic. A pre-Lantern Kyle passes off an enraged Hal’s flying emerald trail in the sky as a shooting star, causing Kyle to make a wish on him. His wish is for a second chance, for an escape in life. There is something so charming in this. Kyle turns such an intense, tragic moment with Hal Jordan into this endearing and gentle moment of wishing for a second chance. Wishes are hopes. Kyle sees hope in a malicious Hal Jordan, and he doesn’t even know the guy. That’s when I knew I was in for a treat with this character.
Kid with a Power Ring (#51)
Kyle continues to charm very effortlessly with just pure, honest character and feelings, always displaying acts of courage and showing off his heart whenever and wherever he can, and I just dig that so much. It’s easy to recognize that he’s a dunce with one of the most powerful weapons in the DC universe, but he always gets back up, he refuses to be put down for good and understands his new responsibilities pretty easily. I always loved his first battle with Ohm, a DC villain nobody. Kyle is getting WHOOPED but keeps getting back up, eventually apprehending Ohm and receiving his applause from onlookers. Kyle is standing there, showboating, gloating in his praise with the traditional Green Lantern suit absolutely destroyed, but it didn’t matter to Kyle because he was busy gleefully smiling with bystanders. I always got Spider-Man vibes from this one particular moment and thought Marz showing Kyle’s optimistic personality despite being in this tattered Green Lantern suit showed that with or without the power ring, this has always been Kyle Rayner and always will be.
Sure, Kyle can come off as immature and way over his head, but he IS a kid. Alan Scott, Hal Jordan, Jon Stewart, Guy Gardner? All fully grown adults by the time they got their rings, but Kyle is still in his prime youth. Anyone could’ve gotten the ring but it was Kyle, and he’s making sure to see to it that this ring will bear all his hopes and dreams, to give him the escape he knows he deserves, the identity he strives for.
You’ll also quickly notice that Kyle’s girlfriend, Alex, is at the forefront with him, pushing him to fully utilize the ring to its full capacity because Kyle IS an artist and she knows the possibility for his constructs can be endless. She’s his ringside coach and I love their relationship wholeheartedly. Usually a hero’s partner is used as nothing but a damsel, but Alex is almost like his mentor. She even pushes Kyle to don his own costume, resulting in the iconic black, white, and green suit he’s known for.
I was attached to Alex as much as Kyle was. I was looking at her consistently to keep motivating and supporting Kyle, to be as colorful as he can be and to be himself because that’s when he truly shines to me.
90’s Dnynamism (#52)
These first couple of issues from #50-#55 play almost like a 90’s sitcom, Kyle and his mentoring, responsible girlfriend Alex, always side by side and discovering new things about the ring. Kyle shows off his quirky and humorous side and Alex proceeds to scold him and push him to learn something new. It’s wholesome fun, it pops, it has so much comfort in it and optimism it just feels great to read and observe these two young adults figure things out and make a name for themselves with the ring.
The first instance of major growth for Kyle comes with his battle with Mongul in #52, someone way over Kyle’s head he doesn’t even know it. He repeatedly gets back up against the overwhelming conqueror until Superman swoops in and apprehends the evildoer with Kyle’s help. So many great, heartfelt moments here from Kyle that just makes me cheese so big thinking about them. Moments like Kyle standing up against someone like Mongul, knowing he stands no chance and telling Alex he truly feels like he can do this, that he has what it takes to be a Green Lantern, to be a hero, it just makes you applaud him for learning and growing as a person.
I can’t help but feel so proud of Kyle, I see so much of myself in him and watching him grow makes me feel like we’re both growing and finding ourselves side by side.
A Hero’s Loss (#53-55)
Now we know Kyle wasn’t without his tragedy, but it’s not the tragedy I want to focus on, it’s how clever yet simply crafted Marz does it to hook you as a reader, to make you think “Wow, this guy is like no other”. Kyle is infamous for having one of the worst tragedies happen to him in comics, when Alex is stuffed in a fridge by Major Force in #53. This is the first instance we see Kyle cut loose and go all out, with his constructs mirroring beautifully with his rage, crafting a sledge hammer to almost pulling the switch on Major Force after containing him in an electric chair construct.
Luckily, he didn’t pull the switch and flew off from the scene, grieving over the loss of Alex. I remember seeing the electric chair Kyle constructs and being both impressed and genuinely terrified. Yes he’s getting the hang of the ring, but at what cost? He momentarily loses that gleeful shimmer of innocence and optimism and could’ve easily let loose and kill Major Force, perhaps even turning into another Parallax. I’d like to argue that how Kyle experienced loss was a lot more felt than Hal’s loss for Coast City. Yes the numbers loss of an entire city is unbelievable but at least Hal only had to experience a blank aftermath of where the city once stood, Kyle had to witness his girlfriend’s mangled body in the fridge and fight off her killer almost instantaneously. Alex was Kyle’s crutch, she kept him grounded and focused and pushed him to be the best version of himself and just like that she’s gone. He has no one else. What would you do if you were in Kyle’s shoes? Wouldn’t you give up?
Well, here is what makes Kyle shine. Returning home, he’s greeted by the first Green Lantern, Alan Scott, here to warn Kyle of Parallax, making this the first time he’s ever heard of Hal Jordan. Alan also tells him that he is the last Green Lantern and that he needs to be present for the final showdown against Hal because of his destruction of the Green Lantern Corps, almost as if it were destiny for the two to face off. Alan leaves and Kyle sits there, with the odds stacked against him and the world bearing its full weight on him, what follows is one the most defining moments for Kyle to me in the entirety of his run. Kyle sits on the roof of his apartment building, and gives these final words of reflection before the next arc in this story, showing you that power doesn’t come from solar radiation, from a speed force, or a power ring-it comes from optimism, it comes from hope, and hope is what Kyle Rayner’s identity is all about.