DC’s first Green Lantern, an ancient Chinese monk, was offered a ring before Hal Jordan – and he was far more heroic than the Ryan Reynolds version.
DC’s very first Green Lantern was the complete opposite of Hal Jordan and is much more heroic as a result – especially when compared to the Ryan Reynolds portrayal. Many humans of Earth (and even non-humans such as a literal whale) have become Green Lanterns over history, from Hal Jordan to his predecessor Alan Scott to John Stewart and Jessica Cruz and beyond, and the planet has produced more Lanterns in a shorter timespan than any other. But Earth’s very first Green Lantern, a Chinese monk from the 7th century, deserves to be remembered by fans and DC Comics alike – and his adventures in Green Lantern: Dragon Lord prove it.
While Hal Jordan is perhaps the most famous human member of the Green Lantern Corps, he was far from the first. The Green Lantern comic series began in 1940 with the character Alan Scott, who didn’t even know there were other Green Lanterns in the universe (and the way his ring and associated powers worked was quite different). Showcase #22 would see Hal Jordan in the role of Earth’s new Green Lantern, equipped with a new costume and an entirely new backstory involving a crashed alien ship. But while Hal Jordan and Alan Scott used the ring liberally, Earth’s very first Green Lantern – the ancient Chinese monk Jong Li – was absolutely terrified of it.
In Green Lantern: Dragon Lord, written by Doug Moench with art by Paul Gulacy, Joe Rubinstein and James Sinclair, the monk Jong Li’s world is forever changed when Imperial soldiers burn down his temple and kill everyone inside in retaliation for harboring the Emperor’s escaped concubine who sought sanctuary. With his brothers and Master dead, Jong Li wanders until he is met by an ‘Emissary from Heaven’ (in reality an alien member of the Green Lantern Corps) who gives him a ring and a power battery. Jong Li uses the power of the ring to save others from the Emperor’s tyranny – but as a Buddhist monk, he is gravely concerned that the power is a corrupting influence (and wonders if the Emissary was a demon in disguise).
The difference between Jong Li and Hal Jordan is night and day. Whereas Jordan uses his ring and even shows off the power at times (especially in the Ryan Reynolds Green Lantern film version), Jong Li uses the ring as little as possible, and even makes a point to rescue prisoners of the Emperor without the ring at all – he buries it in the dirt for roughly half of an issue, and deliberately waits 24 hours without charging it to ensure no power remains in the weapon. From the beginning of the story until the end, Jong Li worries that rising above others, even while helping the innocent, will lead him down a dark path.
Jong Li is an introspective and thoughtful superhero, a personality that flies in the face of the usual headstrong and stubborn action heroes of the medium. Jong Li would never have allowed fear to corrupt him as it corrupted Hal Jordan in Emerald Twilight; the character indeed proves himself worthy of the ring’s power by not using the power. As DC continues to push Hal Jordan before all other Green Lanterns, the company would do well to remember that other lesser-known characters exist; Jong Li is one of them, and he deserves to be remembered.
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DC’s First Green Lantern Is the Opposite of Ryan Reynolds’ Portrayal