Wednesday 19 September 2012

The Oath Maker - Alfred Bester

I was scouring through my back issues of The Green Lantern Corps a few months (reliving the great Flodo Span appearances as it happens) when I stumbled across a very interesting excerpt heading up the letters column of issue 223.  The book, cover dated of April ’88; was entitled The Last Testament of the Green Lantern Corps and it was here that the following obituary appeared:

As the piece quite rightly points out, Bester is best known for his work with classic 1950's sci-fi novels and short stories.  I had not realised that he had worked in the comic book industry.  Between 1942 and 1946 he wrote for an number of publishers working on such famous titles as Phantom, Superman and Green Lantern.

The Lantern of the time, Alan Scott, is best known for his oath, "...And I shall shed my light over dark evil.  For the dark things cannot stand the light, The light of the Green Lantern!", and this is in fact the oath created for the character's first appearance in 1940.  The 'Brightest Day' oath is considered to belong to the Green Lantern Corps who were not created until 1959 and I for one had assumed that that oath was created for especially for Hal Jordan.  I was surprised to find it's existence can be traced to much earlier in the lantern mythos and to a science-fiction writer of world renown.

I immediately took to Twitter to share my find with the masses.  I hailed science-fiction and the comic book as complementary art forms who thrived together in feeding on brilliance.  And then Warren Ellis (yes... THAT Warren Ellis) tweeted me back to conjecture that I didn't know my @rse from my elbow, although he did put it rather more eloquently.  He pointed out that the literary world of the 1950s would shun their fellow creators if it ever became common knowledge that they had worked on the funny pages.  Writers and artists hid behind a multitude of pen names to keep their dirty little secret from getting out.

That said, it is a tribute to Bester that his words have been immortalised so completely over the last 70 years.  Other heroes have a mere word or two in which to express their mission statement.  Green Lantern has a whole verse of poetry with a rhyme and structure so recognisable that it can be imitated and parodied as required to provide oaths for unique characters such as Flodo Span which will still be identifiable against the original.  The words that make up these four short lines have been reworked and reused to spawn countless issues titles, story arc titles and, in recent years, even DC universe crossover events in the form of 'Blackest Night' and 'Brightest Day'.  The legendary Green Lantern willpower is felt behind each utterance.  Wrong-doers do well to take heed - no evil shall be overlooked.  Other superheroes may flex and prioritise but Green Lantern is ever vigilant, shining brightly. In the golden-age of comics Alan Scott brought justice to every corner of the world and his successors, the Green Lantern Corps, continue to bring that same justice to every corner of the universe.

All-American Comics #92, Dec 1947

So I would like to join DC Comics in thanking Alfred Bester for his contribution to Science Fiction and to comics, but more importantly to the moral code of my hero, Green Lantern.

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