Character: Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner)
Creators: Darryl Banks and Ron Marz
First appearance: Green Lantern (vol. 3) #48
First encounter I had with him: It might actually be the episode of the Superman cartoon he showed up in, where Kyle was the new cartoonist at the Daily Planet. In the comics, I probably skimmed an issue of Green Lantern at some point in a store, but the first book I could point to for certain is probably JLA #47, which marks the point I started buying that book regularly.
Definitive writer(s): Grant Morrison or Joe Kelly, most likely.
Definitive artist: Doug Mahnke.
Favorite moment or story: There are a host of moments of Kyle being a dork that amuse me. Go to Devon Sanders' old blog, Seven Hells, and peruse the "Kyle Rayner, Adult!" posts for a string of them. In that JLA story arc I mentioned, where the League battles the Queen of Fables, there's a good one between Kyle and Wally West as neither one of them can bring themselves to play Prince Charming to Wonder Woman's Snow White. But for a favorite, it has to be Obsidian Age. Kyle's freaking out throughout the story, shaken by prophetic dreams of his and the rest of the League's death. Even so, he saves them early in the story, and offers his heart as the receptacle to maintain their spirits across 1,000 years or however long it was.
What I like about him: Almost all my experience with Kyle comes from JLA. I own more issues of Hitman that feature Kyle than I do his own series. In JLA, Kyle was the guy who wasn't sure he could play in the big leagues. He was the replacement alongside the legends, and it freaked him out, no matter how reassuring Wonder Woman, Superman, or J'onn tried to be. Batman giving him grief, and Wally giving him the side-eye out of some loyalty to his "Uncle Hal" probably didn't help (though Kyle and Wally's gradual friendship was a nice growth out of their initial hostility, and something I enjoyed about alter issues of the series).
But Kyle stepped up. He made mistakes, often spoke without thinking, but when it was all said and done, he'd come through. That's an encouraging thought, we can overcome our fears and doubts when it matters. That was the nice thing about Obsidian Age. Kyle was really badly shook by those visions, apprehensive about going into the past, leery of staying once they were there. Everyone else on the League seemed fine, business as usual, no big deal. But when it all went wrong, Kyle was the last man standing, and it was his actions in part that convinced Manitou Raven to shift sides. Looking back, I wonder if that story (or Kyle's story in general) wasn't a major building block for Geoff Johns' Green Lantern: Rebirth. The key for Kyle in that story wasn't that he was without fear, Kyle had plenty of fear. It was that he knew it and was able to overcome it, anyway. Kyle gets scared, he's not unflappable like Batman, but he fights through.
Beyond that, Kyle's just a pretty pleasant guy. Little melodramatic, little quick to run his mouth, certainly not the brightest bulb. Doesn't always show good judgment when it comes to his romantic relationships (not so much in who he falls for, more in the decisions he makes while in those relationships). But generally sweet, fiercely loyal to his friends, creative, and resilient. Having the ring has given him the chance to see and experience things few people have ever seen, but it's also cost him dearly. And yet he keeps going, keeps showing a willingness to sacrifice when it's needed. The one issue of his series I own is the last one, where Major Force tries to talk him into giving up the ring, and Kyle actually does it. For a moment he decides he doesn't need the hassle. Then Force implies Kyle wasn't cut out for handling such power, that the government will find someone appropriate to carry the load, and Kyle remembers all he's seen and done (and who he's talking to), stabs that asshole in the eye with some glass, takes back the ring, and kicks his stupid butt. There's that instant of self-doubt, then he stands firm and takes care of business.
I've mentioned visuals play a role. With Kyle, it isn't his costume - my favorite is the one he wore around Obsidian Age, and I completely understand people who say it looked like a sneaker - as the potential of the ring. You can create anything you can conceive of with it, and because Kyle is an artist (also a bit of a goober) the things he uses the ring to make can be really cool, or really silly. Witness the scene above, where Kyle rides to the rescue on a giant cat. One of those GL issues I skimmed had Kyle and Alan Scott skirmishing a little. Alan created a giant bee for some reason, and Kyle responded with a giant green Stone Cold Steve Austin, who unleashed the Stunner on said giant bee. It's silly, but if I had a ring that created whatever I could think of, it'd probably wind up creating a bunch of silly stuff based on whatever amused or entertained me, too. Giant Green Earthworm Jim! But it can be silly, because it works. Just offhand, Kyle once made a steam shovel that lifted the entire city of Manhattan out of the path of a tidal wave. That wasn't even the big climax of a story, it was just something he did at the beginning of a story arc, a response to the initial sign of a threat. Cool scenes, sometimes that's all you need.