In 1940, while much of the world was headed on a devastating course towards World War, a new hero burst into life in the pages of All-Americans Comics to “shed light upon dark evil.” And 75 years later the legacy of this self-same hero continues to do just that. In that time we have been introduced to literally hundreds of character baring the moniker of Green Lantern but I thought it would be a fitting 75th anniversary tribute to take a look back at where it all began.
All-American Comics #16 has a cover date of July 1940 but according to that wonderful reference source Mike’s Amazing World of Comics the issue actually hit newspaper stands on May 21, 1940. The book was a collection of humour and adventure romps that included original stories alongside reprints of older strip comics. The cover art of most previous issues promised readers a rollicking good adventure but nothing compared to the thrilling noir of a masked, cloaked Alan Scott leaping perilously across an exposed girder straight into the muzzle of a loaded tommy gun. The character’s origin tale is a whistle-stop tour of everything that ever went into a ‘boys’ own adventure’.
The Green Lantern opens with an explosive train crash orchestrated by a crooked businessman seeking revenge after losing out on a new construction contract. The only survivor of the crash is his rival who is protected by the supernatural light emanating from a mysterious green railway lantern. The lantern speaks to the survivor, Alan Scott, in “an ageless, toneless voice”, recounting the details of its own magical history. It first came to earth as a flaming meteor with prophetic abilities and was duly carved into a lantern shape by Chinese lamp maker with a reputation for sorcery. Fearing the lamp was cursed, the lamp maker’s associates killed him and burned his possessions own to meet their only dreadful end to the mystic green flame. The lamp next turns up many years later to grant sanity to a patient in a mental asylum. The patient remoulds the lamp into a modern railway lantern which finally passes into the hands of Scott during that fateful train journey. The lantern imbues him with extraordinary powers and recruits him to fight evil. All this this in 3 pages of a comic book! They don’t write ‘em like that anymore…
Despite the many developments and new directions introduced with Green Lantern over the course of the last 75 years it is pleasing to note some of today’s core character traits were established in this very first story. The Lantern explains the nature of its gift to Alan, “Power shall be yours if you have faith in yourself. Lose that faith and you shall lose the energetic power of the Green Lantern, for will power is the flame of Green Lantern”. Without these words, penned by legendary writer Bill Finger, Geoff Johns might never have created the emotional spectrum and the landscape of the modern day Green Lantern universe might look very different indeed. How could artist Martin Nodell have know, when he devised this character at the age of 25 under the pseudonym Mart Dellon, that it would go on to become his most famous creation. Nodell didn’t want his works in comics to stigmatise his chances of an advertising career. And while we are discussing credits, much respect should be paid to Sheldon Moldoff for bringing us the gripping noir cover mentioned earlier.
Under the green flame’s instruction Alan Scott fashions a ring from its metal that manifests his powers for 24 hours before being recharged at the green flame’s lantern source. His first act as a newly appointed superhero is to swear vengeance on the saboteur responsible for the tragic deaths of his fellow train passengers. The ring immediately flies him through the air to the villain’s hideaway. It spirits him straight through the wall where he confronts the crook and his startled henchmen. The flames protective green aura renders Alan impervious to bullets and a steel blade but he unwittingly discovers the green energy’s ‘Achilles heel’ when he is struck over the head by a simple wooden billy club. This flaw in Green Lantern’s power set was published a full 3 years before Kryptonite was officially introduced to the Superman mythos and would be the forerunner to the Silver and Bronze Age Green Lantern Corps’ weakness to exert the powers over anything coloured yellow.
Of course, the hero was not down for long and Scott immediately bounced back with a flying kick that Bruce Lee would be proud of and a round of good old fashioned fisticuffs that soundly took care of his would be attackers. Powered by his ring, he whisked the criminal’s leader high into the sky and threatened do drop him. Not surprisingly the bad guy spilled everything and signed a confession before promptly dying of shock. Poetic justice is served and Alan feels destiny pulling him towards a life fighting evil wherever he finds it. The saga ends with our protagonist declaring he will become a dreaded figure sporting a costume so bizarre that he will never be forgotten. With that he dons the famous Dracula cloak and the red and green swashbuckling garb that has been the original Green Lantern’s signature style ever since.
But what would Green Lantern be without his oath? The traditional GL oath has seen some changes and variations over the years but the solemn vow to shine brightly over evil has its roots right here in All-American Comics #16, “…And I will shed my light over dark evil… for the dark things cannot stand the light… the light of The Green Lantern".
I’m sure Martin Nodell and Bill Finger could never have imagined how far Green Lantern would go. All of his earliest appearances pitted him against hoodlums and petty criminals. He stared down the barrels of revolvers and machines guns and slugged his way to victory with a tasty right hook. It seems another world from the cosmic level dramas of Zero Hour or Blackest Night, from Kingdom Come or Lights Out. But all of these stories owe a huge debt of gratitude to an 8 page pulp adventure from 1940 that intrigued and delighted its young readers and kept them coming back for more. Then again, maybe the journey from street level vigilante to galactic peacekeeper is not so unpredictable after all. For even in this very first story the mighty power of Green Lantern came from a meteor that crashed to Earth from space. Perhaps it’s only fitting that one day it would return to the stars once again.
You can enjoy the early adventures of Green Lantern for yourself in DC Archive Editions: The Golden Age Green Lantern, Volume 1, available from Amazon and all good comic book stores everywhere.
If you enjoyed this post please do keep coming back to Flodo’s Page through June and July 2015 when we will have some other great surprises to celebrate 75 years of Green Lantern.
For more anniversary awesomeness with everybody’s favourite Emerald Gladiator make sure search the hashtag #GL75TH across social media platforms.