How Green Was My Hero: Hero History #2
- Tuesday, March 29, 2011
To enhance your appreciation of the source material for the upcoming film, Green Lantern, we offer this brief "hero history."
Published by National/DC Comics, Green Lantern is actually a hero with several histories. The first to wear the moniker was the "Golden Age" Lantern, Alan Scott. Created in 1940 by writer Bill Finger and artist Martin Nodell, Scott was a young railroad engineer who discovered a metal lantern formed from a mystical "green flame." From the metal, he makes a ring which gives him fantastic powers. He adopts a costume of red, purple, and green and fights crime as The Green Lantern. Scott later joined the Justice Society of America (Smallville fans will remember seeing a painting of the JSA, including this version of GL). The series veered between desperate battles with the hulking zombie, Solomon Grundy, and comedic fare featuring GL's rotund sidekick, Doiby Dickles.
With the end of World War II, super-heroes declined in popularity and DC quietly laid Green Lantern to rest. Though the Golden Age had ended, however, a Silver Age of comics lay just around the corner. Having had success with a revamped version of The Flash, editor Julius Schwartz decided it was time for a new take on Green Lantern. In 1959, he assigned the task to writer John Broome and artist Gil Kane.
The team wrote a story, published in Showcase #22, about a test-pilot named Hal Jordan who comes upon a dying alien in the desert. He'd come to earth to find Jordan, a man "utterly honest and without fear." The alien, Abin Sur, represents a group of intergalactic peacekeepers, each armed with a ring powered by a battery in the shape of--you guessed it--a lantern. Jordan is recruited to patrol "sector 2814" of the universe. Eventually, Hal learns that he, like the rest of the Green Lantern Corps, is accountable to the Guardians of the Universe, a race of small, elderly, blue-skinned men. (Writer and GL expert John Pierce mentions that that Broome meant for the Guardians to be a "dramatic representation" of God.)
A stirring element of the feature was the dramatic oath of the GL Corps. As Jordan charged his ring in the green glow of his lantern, he utters this solemn verse:
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!
Schwartz's Green Lantern was usually featured in two stories in his book, a longer tale featuring a "name" villain (i.e., Sinestro) and a shorter, lighter story. For example, in GL #3 (1960), after facing foes from the anti-matter universe of Qward, Green Lantern is hounded by his teen-aged girl fan club.
1970, however, brought a radical change to the series. Now the Emerald Gladiator was considered just another bop-yo-head cop—at least by his new buddy and constant critic, Green Arrow. Faced with dropping sales, the galaxy-spanning adventures were abandoned for a dubious flirtation with social issues. Arrow and Lantern toured the country in a pick-up truck, battling air pollution and drug abuse. Although well-written by Denny O'Neil and beautifully drawn by Neal Adams, the well-meaning attempt at "relevance" was wasted on a space-opera hero. Nor did it did it increase sales. Before long, O'Neil and Adams left the book—which was cancelled.
As attempts were made to revive interest in the character/concept, a number of GL titles appeared, one of the more interesting being Green Lantern Corps. Others were granted the power of the lantern, including black John Stewart, artist Kyle Rayner, and jerk in a Moe Howard-haircut named Guy Gardner. As for Hal Jordan—he went nuts. Of course, watching your hometown blown up by an evil Superman-impersonator will do that to you! Destroying the Green Lantern Corps and the Central Power Battery on the planet Oa, the emotionally-exhausted hero became possessed by the malevolent Parallax. Several years, not to mention a death-and-resurrection or two, would pass before the Hal we all know and love would return.
Though many have worn the ring and the name, Hal Jordan remains most closely associated with, and desired as, Green Lantern. Disrespected in the seventies, deconstructed in the nineties, overrun by a host of imitators, Jordan has hung on. His staying power reminds me of James Earl Jones' speech in Field of Dreams. Erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again, like baseball, Jordan has marked the time. His strength of character has been sorely tested—not least by a wave of anti-heroic cynicism that has swamped comics for the last twenty years. But, like The Big Lebowski, the green dude abides.
None of us is "utterly honest and without fear," and none of us is exempt from testing either. But the otherworldly gift, the power that remains in believers enables them to persist in faith and good works—"persecuted but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed." Yes, the hero abides.
Gary D. Robinson is a preacher, writer, and comics fan in Xenia, OH. He blogs at www.garydrobinson.com
*This article first published 3/29/2011
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