Excerpts by Les Daniels
Many Hands Make Light Work
Green Lantern, All American's next important hero, was synthesized from as many different elements as there were colors in his guady garb. His pants may have been as green as his name, but his shirt and boots were red with yellow details, his mask was black, his hair was blond and his huge, wraparound cloak was deep purple. The outfit looked like it had been thrown together in the dark, and the character was created in much the same fashion, yet somehow everything seemed to work.
Editor Sheldon Mayer actually hadn't wanted to publish Green Lantern at all. When artist Martin Nodell showed up with his initial sketches, Mayer wasn't impressed with the drawings, even though he was looking for more super heroes. So he brought in Bill Finger, the writer responsible for the original Batman scripts, and together they hammered out a storyline that might help support Nodell's shaky style. The artist had to be part of the package, of course, since the original concept was his. It consisted of a costume and a magic lamp.
Green Lantern made his debut in issue 16 of All-American Comics (July 1940), thus introducing super heroes into that formerly old-fashioned environment. The origin story, credited to Bill Finger and "Mart Dellon," was a mixture of comic book conventions and the Arabian Nights fantasy of Aladdin. Narrated in part by the lamp itself, it told of a meteor that fell in old China and was fashioned into a magic lamp that possessed strange powers. In fact, the "green lantern" itself was the title character and hero of the tale, instructing young Alan Scott that its verdant light "must be shed over dark, evil things." A ring made of its metal and touched to the lamp daily gave Scott virtual omnipotence (wood somehow resisted his power), and it was his own idea to construct that wild costume, "so bizarre that once I am seen I will never be forgotten."
The character proved his popularity and graduated to his own title, Green Lantern (Fall 1941). By that time, most of the art was being contributed by Irwin Hasen, who turned out to be the definitive interpreter. Mayer introduced a slapstick sidekick named Doiby Dickles, a comical cabdriver, to showcase Hasen's cartoonish, deceptively simple approach; the style eventually won Hasen his own newspaper strip, the long-running Dondi. New writers for Green Lantern included science fiction specialists Alfred Bester and Henry Kuttner. Bester's scripts were good, but his greatest contribution to All American and DC was recruiting Julius Schwartz to become Sheldon Mayer's story editor.
Julius Schwartz, whose long career would give him a significant influence on DC's output, began as a literary agent for writers like Bester and horror virtuoso H.P. Lovecraft. "I hadn't read a comic book story in my life," says Schwartz. "I had to learn from a script what a caption was, what a speech balloon was." Schwartz went to work for Mayer in 1944, just months before All American merged with DC, and would stay on the job for more than forty years. "When I was hired, I didn't get involved with the artwork at all," he says. "I didn't have an official title, but I would plot the stories with the writers, edit the scripts, and give them to the artists. Then the artists would bring their pages in and show them to Shelly, and I had nothing to do with that, but I loved to plot." With separate editors for story and art, with scripts created by collaboration between editors and writers, with illustrations divided among pencillers and inkers and colorists, the job of putting together a comic book was becoming a matter of complex teamwork rather than individual inspiration. Producing the regularly scheduled appearances of a successful super hero was more like making a movie than writing a novel, and Green Lantern is a prime example of this process in action.
Sheldon Mayer, Bill Finger, and Irwin Hasen were so fond of Green Lantern that they made one of their later characters his fan. Called upon to provide a new hero for the first issue of an All American anthology called Sensation Comics (January 1942), they came up with Wildcat. He was a boxer who wanted to battle corruption and got the idea of dressing up as a black panther when a neighborhood kid described a Green Lantern story to him. "You mean he wears a costume so nobody would recognize him?" asks Ted, so delighted with the plan that he slips his informant a buck. "Gosh," says the kid as Ted runs off to fight crime, "now I can buy Flash Comics too!"
Green Lantern Lit Again
Comics Get Cosmic Consciousness
In 1959, editor Julius Schwartz made the second move in his campaign to revive classic super heroes. "I said, now that the Flash is a success--well, I always liked Green Lantern," he recalls. Nonetheless, he felt the character needed an update. "I decided to use more of a sciene fiction angle," he says, and in fact he dropped the vaguely magical premise of the old Green Lantern for a concept that sent its protagonist careening through space and time, through new dimenions and to other worlds.
To write adventures on a cosmic scale that had never really been attempted in a super hero series before, Schwartz called on his friend John Broome. Collaborating on the plotting, they conjured up the tale of Hal Jordan, a test pilot who is drawn by an eerie force to the wreck of an alien spaceship. Within lies Abin Sur, a bald, scarlet-skinned moribund visitor from beyond. He identifies himself as one of the "selected space-patrolmen in the super-galactic system," passes on his mission to Jordan, and promptly expires. Armed only with a ring powered by a battery of overwhelming energy, Jordan dons his benefactor's costume and becomes Green Lantern.
"Julie and John Broome figured out the essential qualities for the character, and I figured out a costume for him and so on," says Gil Kane. An artist who started in comics as a teenager, Kane had aspired to work at DC but found it at first "very hard to get into." After a false start he became a DC regular in 1949 "and then I stayed there forever." A thoughtful artist who was critical of his won work and always striving to improve, Kane began to forge a new approach to super heroes when he got his chance with Green Lantern. "I started to use the lines of the body as a basis for the costume, not just putting on a pair of tights and an intial on the chest," he says. The design was part of an approach that emphasized grace as well as strength, an approach especially notable in Kane's flying scenes. Most heroes seemed to struggle to stay aloft (perhaps because Superman began as a jumper, not a flyer), but Green Lantern appeared to soar effortlessly across the cosmos. "That lyrical look sort of caught on," says Kane, "before super heroes started bristling with weaponry and all sorts of mechanization."
The new Green Lantern made his debut in issue 22 of the tryout comic book Showcase (October-November 1959), but Schwartz was confident enough to bring him back for the next two issues, and Green Lantern #1 (July-August 1960) was apparently a foregone conclusion. John Broome stayed on for fifty-nine issues, and Gil Kane for sixty; there was ample time for the team to envision a saga of unusual scope and power. Their grand vision was evident as early as the first issue, when Green Lantern was introduced to his supervisors, the blue-hued Guardians who police the universe. In the ninth issue, readers encountered the entire Green Lantern Corps, a group of similarly empowered beings drawn from the farthest reaches of outer space. For all his amazing abilities, this super hero was just a cog in a vast machine.
His power, however, was virtually infinite. Fueled every day by the battery that resembled an old-fashioned lamp, Green Lantern's ring cast forth verdant rays that he could transform through pure will into any shape, force or energy. Even by Superman's standards he seemed casually omnipotent, but there was a fly in ointment: due to an "impurity in the battery," Hal Jordan was helpless against anything colored yellow. The was a somewhat strained solution to the necessity of giving the protagonist problems to solve, but in the days of multicolored kryptonite, perhaps it was inevitable.
"Julie ran a very tight ship," says Kane. "John Broome was a sweet, lovely man," he adds, but writers and artists had limited contact in this era. "Everything came through Julie, and Julie would plot every single story." No one can recall who was responsible for specific details, but Green Lantern got a typical supporting cast with a few interesting twists. His young side-kick, a Jimmy Olsen type with no powers, was an Eskimo mechanic named Thomas Kalmaku. Hal Jordan's romantic interest, Carol Ferris, ran the company whose planes he tested. There was the usual stuff about her loving Green Lantern and ignoring Hal, but the fact that she was his boss added some spice, especially since she was occasionally transformed into "that mistress of mighty powers and eerie energies" called Star Sapphire. Clad in a clinging crimson costume, she was one more reason for him to recall his oath:
In brightest day...
In blackest night,
No evil shall escape my sight!
Let those who worship evil's might
Beware my power---
Green Lantern's Light!
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