Saturday, 12 June 2004

Green Lantern

I hope anyone reading this blog forgives me for talking a bit more about comic books. As I said earlier, after Batman my favourite superhero is Green Lantern--namely Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern of the Golden Age. I suppose for people who not comic book fans or are not familiar with the history behind the Green Lantern name, it can be rather confusing. Quite simply, there have been several different characters who have borne the name "Green Lantern" over the years.

The original Green Lantern first appeared in All-American Comics #16, July 1940. He was Alan Scott, an engineer for a railway company. Scott's company had beat out another company in a bid to build a bridge. Unfortunately, the owner of the rival company did not take this well at all. He planted explosives under the bridge so that they would detonate with the first train to go over the bridge. When Scott's company sent a train across the bridge, then, there was a huge explosion. Everyone aboard the train was killed, save Alan Scott. Scott's life was saved by a green train lantern made of some unknown metal. To make a long story short, the lantern told Scott to remove a bit of its metal to make a ring. By touching the ring to the lantern every 24 hours, the ring would have the power of the lantern's magic green flame. The lantern's green flame was a very potent weapon. With it, Scott could fly, create various objects using the flame, fire bursts of energy, deflect attacks, and so on.

Green Lantern was one of the most successful superheroes of the Golden Age. He was a founding member of the Justice Society of America. And for most of his run, he was appearing in three different magazines: All-American Comics, Green Lantern, and Comic Cavalcade. Unfortunately, superheroes declined in popularity after World War II. In 1948 All-American Comics switched to an all Western format. In 1949 Comic Cavalcade switched to a "funny animal" format. That same year, Green Lantern's solo book was cancelled. He continued to appear with the Justice Society of America until that series ended in 1951.

Of course, I was not alive during Alan Scott's initial run in comic books. The first Green Lantern I encountered, then, was the second Green Lantern, Hal Jordan. In 1956 DC Comics created a new version of the Golden Age superhero The Flash. The new Flash met with such success that they decided to revive other Golden Age characters, the next of which was Green Lantern. Hal Jordan was introduced in Showcase #22, September/October 1959. Jordan was a test pilot who came upon Abin Sur, an alien who crashed on Earth. Abin Sur was one of the Green Lantern Corps, an interstellar police force founded by a group of aliens called the Guardians of the Universe. The members of the Green Lantern Corps were equipped with power rings (pretty much the same as the ring Alan Scott had made from the magic lantern) in their constant fight against evil across the galaxy. Equipped with the ring, Hal became Green Lantern.

As a child I was naturally drawn to the Silver Age Green Lantern. A large part of it was the art. For much of his run, Hal Jordan's adventures were illustrated by Gil Kane, quite possibly the greatest comic book artist to ever live. Kane's style was both dynamic and fluid. Perhaps no artist could better portray a superhero in flight than Kane could. Beyond the artwork, I was also drawn to Jordan's intergalactic adventures. Often Jordan found himself fighting villains in outer space or other planets. Finally, there was the matter of Hal's powers. With the ring could create practically any object, fire energy blasts, fly, and so on.

Of course, with the success of the new Flash and the new Green Lantern, DC Comics saw fit to revive their Golden Age characters. First, the Golden Age Flash appeared in his Silver Age counterpart's magazine. There it explained how the Golden Age heroes lived in a parallel universe, thereafter called Earth 2. It was not long afterwards that the Justice Society of America appeared in the pages of The Flash, among them Alan Scott--the Golden Age Green Lantern. The Justice Society of America would make yearly guest appearances in The Justice League of America. Alan Scott would make regular appearances in Hal Jordan's magazine. Initially, I preferred Jordan to Scott, but as time passed I found the Golden Age Green Lantern more to my liking. For one thing, I found the idea of a magic lantern more appealing than that of an interstellar police force. For another thing, Alan Scott was unique. He was the only Green Lantern in the reality of Earth 2. On the other hand, Hal Jordan was one of 3600 Green Lanterns on Earth 1!

Regardless, Scott and Jordan were not even the only people from Earth to bear the name "Green Lantern." For a time Hal retired as Green Lantern and a man named John Stewart took on the mantle of Green Lantern (he is the Green Lantern featured on Cartoon Network's Justice League cartoon). Yet another man, Guy Gardner, was chosen by the Guardians as Hal's alternate. He would substitute for Hal in a pinch and eventually became "Green Lantern" full time. Brash and temperamental, however, Guy was eventually stripped of the title.

While Hal eventually resumed being a Green Lantern, he would not remain so for the rest of his years. Unfortunately, DC Comics saw fit to turn Hal into a bad guy known as Parallax. He was apparently driven mad by the destruction of his hometown, Coast City. Jordan killed the rest of the Green Lantern Corps. He then killed all of the Guardians of the Universe save one. Eventually he came to his senses. He attempted to atone for his crimes and even sacrificed himself to save the world. There would be no rest for Jordan, however, even after death. Hal would return as the new Spectre.

Here I have to editorialise a bit. I have always thought that in turning Hal Jordan into a villain, DC Comics mishandled one of the greatest Silver Age heroes very, very badly. Even with Coast City destroyed, I could not see Hal Jordan going off the deep end. I certainly could not see him committing mass murder and (in the case of the Guardians) genocide. It was the one of the worst cases of a hero acting out of character in comic books, or any other medium for that matter.

Regardless, even with Hal gone mad, the Corps dead, and most of the Guardians, there would be another Green Lantern. Kyle Raynor became the latest "Green Lantern." The Guardians of the Universe and hence the Green Lantern Corps having been destroyed, the last of the Guardians gave Kyle the last Green Lantern ring in order to continue the legacy of the Corps.

Of course, through it all, Alan Scott was still around. He continued to fight crime, both on his own and as a part of the Justice Society of America. In fact, it seems that Scott had used his ring so much that he absorbed the power of the green flame and no longer had to rely on the lantern or the ring. He then took the new name of "Sentinel (although a lot of fans, like myself, still consider him the Green Lantern). He appears regularly in the current revival of the Justice Society of America, JSA.

Regardless of the various characters who have borne the name "Green Lantern," regardless of DC Comics' mistreatment of Hal Jordan, over the years the various Green Lanterns have remained popular. Indeed, Green Lantern was even referenced in the lyrics of Donovan's 1966 song "Sunshine Superman (I always wondered if it was Alan or Hal to whom he was referring...)." There is even a hip hop artist going by the name DJ Green Lantern (I assume, "Green Lantern" being a trademark of DC Comics, he got their permission...). And there have been talks of a movie based on the popular character (although I have no idea which Green Lantern will appear in the movie). I rather suspect that Green Lantern will continue to be popular in years to come. At the very least, I know I will continue to be a fan.

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