DC Comics goes through stretches where Green Lantern is a second-tier hero; then there are stretches like now where he’s as popular among readers and creators as Batman and Superman. As a result, the best-known version of Green Lantern—cocky test pilot Hal Jordan—has had a tangled history, including lengthy stints as a villain and a corpse. The direct-to-video animated feature Green Lantern: Emerald Knights avoids the complicated mess that is Hal Jordan by ignoring it altogether. Jordan appears throughout the movie—voiced by Nathan Fillion, whom many fans wanted to play Green Lantern in the new live-action film—but only as part of a framing device that sees Jordan telling stories of the Green Lantern Corps to new recruit Arisia Rrab, voiced by Elisabeth Moss. Emerald Knights is more about “Green Lantern” as a concept than Green Lantern as a character.

These DC Animated features have found it useful to fold multiple stories into a single movie, and it helps that the stories in Emerald Knights are fairly strong. While the Corps waits for an attack by its arch-nemesis Krona, Jordan and his colleagues tell Arisia how The Guardians Of The Galaxy first gave power rings to four brave souls, to help bring order to a chaotic universe. They also talk about the grueling basic training that the hulking Kilowog endured, the poignant mission that the warrior Laira took to her destroyed homeworld, the strange case of the beast who challenged the mysterious Mogo to a fight, and the last days of Jordan’s predecessor, Abin Sur. Some of these stories are funny—like the tale of Mogo, based on a classic six-pager by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons—and some are more dramatic. All are intended to define the courage of a Green Lantern in the face of some of the galaxy’s most extreme threats.

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The minimal presence of Hal Jordan works against Emerald Knights, since he’s traditionally been our entry point into understanding The Guardians’ larger machinations. Also, the action-heavy stories make the movie clangy and explode-y, without enough of the character-driven scenes that have made some of the other DC Animated films effective. Still, scattered moments here run a little deeper, like Laira fighting while surrounded by holograms of her childhood, or Abin Sur learning that his friend Sinestro will one day foil the Guardians’ philosophy of intergalactic policing. Emerald Knights is hit-and-miss as a superhero movie, but it works as a series of illustrated policy debates on how best to serve the cause of life itself, and how the job of preserving peace is bigger than just one man.

Key features: A highly pretentious half-hour examination of the concept of “bravery,” a much more convincing 20-minute look at how writer Geoff Johns has changed the Green Lantern character, a commentary track by Johns and DC honcho Dan DiDio, plus further featurettes and bonus cartoons.