In 1994 writer Ron Marz was given the unenviable job of writing the story that would end Hal Jordon’s tenure as Green Lantern and create a new character to take his place. Hal Jordon was a test pilot and knew no fear. He was part of a Universe spanning police force and had decades of history. Basically there was nothing even remotely approachable about the title. He had begun to be defined more by his interactions with others than his own character. With the death and return of Superman it was decided that this would be a good time to revamp Green Lantern. This is where Kyle Rayner came in.
I doubt that Ron Marz knew at the time that this story would end up being one of the most controversial stories of the 90s. Websites, petitions, and even organizations would grow out of the decisions he would make. What this meant for comics as a whole is still debated to this day. For me though what happened was one of my favorite characters – and one I would end up being able to share with my wife - made his first appearance. Kyle Rayner is and likely always will be my favorite Green Lantern.
Hal Jordon fans were angry about the way he was written out of the title. Many claimed that death would have been acceptable, but seeing their hero fall from grace and destroy the Corps in the process was more than they could accept. I personally enjoyed watching him go through a breakdown. The city he protected was destroyed while he was away. While his fans declared that it was out of character, I completely understood these events breaking him. I think it would have broken anyone.
The second major controversy came from the death of Kyle’s girlfriend Alex. This death has been pointed to as everything that is wrong with comics treatment of woman. There is a claim that she was a two dimensional character whose sole function was to motivate Kyle with her death. I question if the people who claim this have ever read the actual story. Alex was an interesting and strong character. She motivated Kyle to be a hero with her interactions. Her death motivated him, but she had already made him a hero with her life. It is sad to me that this character who I found to be one of my favorite supporting characters of the era has been marginalized not by the story, but by the controversy it triggered.
Despite the controversy and eventual retcons the Emerald Twilight\New Dawn stories were successful. Where Hal had become unrelateble Kyle was created to be the ultimate entrance character. He was a super hero fan like us. He wasn’t hand chosen for the role, but was just in the right place at the right time. While other heroes were filled with confidence he continually doubted himself and didn’t really know where he fit into the world. You could imagine yourself in his role and picture how you would react to similar situations. Since you cared about Alex her death shocked you as well and you could imagine how you would want to lash out at the person who had done it.
Kyle was a different kind of Green Lantern than had been portrayed before. He didn’t answer to the Guardians, didn’t have a built in ring weakness, and was basically on his own. The biggest difference though came from him being a freelance artist. Kyle was more creative than previous Green Lanterns. Hal might have been more efficient with a giant boxing glove, but Kyle had more style with a giant Hulk Hogan. You never knew what Kyle would create next, but you knew it would be fun. Despite life continuing to kick him the character was still upbeat and fun to read.
With the New 52 Universe Kyle has lost some the history that helped define him. He was never the sole Green Lantern and was no longer responsible for single handedly recreating the Corps. The father\son like relationship he had with Alan Scott never happened because Alan Scott only exists on Earth 2. With the retcon of Alan Scott out of continuity Kyle has also lost one of his longest relationships with Alan’s daughter Jade. Kyle continues to stand out as a special Lantern, but his rich back-story is lesser for these losses.