"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!"
(the Green Lantern Oath)
All-American Comics #16 (July 1940) hit newsstands. Comic Vine does not provide a source for this date, but there is little reason to doubt it. Even if All-American Comics #16 was not first published on May 21 1940, given its cover date of July 1940 it would have been very close to that date.
As to why All-American Comics #16 matters at all, it is because it marked the first appearance of the original Green Lantern, Alan Scott. All-American Comics was the flagship title of All-American Publications, a company that grew out of National Allied Publications (publisher of Superman) and Detective Comics Inc. (publisher of Detective Comics, the home of Batman). The company was founded by Max Gaines, who had played a large role in the creation of the very first American comic book, and Jack Liebowitz, who with Harry Donenfeld was co-owner of National Allied Publications and Detective Comics Inc. All-American Company was then very much a sister company to National Allied Publications and Detective Comics Inc., to the point that the companies cross-promoted their various characters and all of them were published under the DC imprint. It should come as no surprise, then, that All-American Publications was one of the companies that would become the modern day DC Comics.
As to Green Lantern himself, 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. Its only weakness was that was ineffective against wood (this at a time when superheroes rarely had weaknesses--it would be several years before Kryptonite would be introduced into the Superman mythos).
The idea for Green Lantern originated with comic book artist Martin Nodell, who would later leave comic books for advertising (he would be part of the team that created the Pillsbury Doughboy). Martin Nodell had began his comic book career in 1938 as a freelance artist. It was in 1940 that he was working for editor Sheldon Mayer at All-American Publications. All-American had only recently entered the field of superheroes in a rather spectacular way, publishing the first issue of Flash Comics (January 1940). Flash Comics #1 introduced such legendary characters as The Flash and Hawkman. It was then natural that Mr. Nodell wanted to create his own superhero. For him inspiration came on a day in January 1940 at the 34th Street subway station in Manhattan, where he saw a trainman waving a lantern along a darkened line of track. As to the inspiration for Green Lantern's power ring, that came from Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen.
Editor Sheldon Mayer was not particularly taken with Martin Nodell's creation. He felt that Mr. Nodell's drawing was "crude", but he went ahead and sent Mr. Nodell to see publisher Max C. Gaines. Fortunately, Mr. Gaines gave his approval to the new character. Sheldon Leonard then brought writer Bill Finger into work with Martin Nodell. Bill Finger was already an established name in the comic book business. Indeed, among other things he was responsible for co-creating Batman with artist Bob Kane and writing the bulk of that character's early stories. Bill Finger rewrote the origin that Martin Nodell had initially provided the character.
Particularly in the early years Green Lantern would undergo several changes. An engineer for a railroad company in his origin, Alan Scott would be established as working for a radio station for the rest of the character's run. Initially Alan Scott worked for a radio station called Apex. This would eventually be changed to WMCG with Green Lantern #12 (June 1944). With Green Lantern #20 (June 1946) it would change again, this time to WXYZ. Even Green Lantern's base of operations would change over time. Initially he was based in Capitol City, although it was not long before he moved to Gotham City, the hometown of the superhero Batman. Curiously, except in the pages of All-Star Comics (featuring the Justice Society of America), Batman and Green Lantern never crossed paths.
Green Lantern would eventually pick up a sidekick, not to mention comic relief, in the form of Doiby Dickles. Doiby was a taxi cab driver with a Brooklyn accent who helped Green Lantern on a case, which soon led to his position as the superhero's sidekick. Doiby first appeared in All-American Comics #27 (June 1941) and was created by writer Bill Finger and artist Irwin Hasen. Green Lantern and Doiby were inseparable for a time, with Alan Scott and Doiby even enlisting in the United States Army (after which they spent several issues doing special missions for the government).
Even the iconic Green Lantern Oath (quoted above) would change over time. For those unfamiliar with the Green Lantern mythos, when Alan Scott (as well as every Green Lantern since) recharged his power ring, he would recite an oath. The original oath that appeared in Green Lantern's origin in All-American Comics #16 was very basic, "and I shall shed my light over dark evil. For the dark things cannot stand the light, The light of the Green Lantern!" The oath would soon change, with two different versions alone appearing in Green Lantern #5 (fall 1942) alone. Several more versions of the oath would appear before in Green Lantern #9 (October 1943) there finally appeared a familiar variant of the Green Lantern Oath as we know it, "In brightest day, in darkest night,/No evil shall escape my sight./Let those who worship evil's might/Beware my power--Green Lantern's light!" This version of the oath also appeared not long afterwards in Comics Cavalcade #53 (December 1943). Other oaths would still appear for a time and the words "darkest night" would become "blackest night" in short order, but this version became the established Green Lantern Oath and has remained so ever since. As to who wrote the classic Green Lantern Oath, it has often been credited to science fiction writer Alfred Bester. Mr. Bester always denied writing the oath, but then the first several stories in which the oath appeared were written by Alfred Bester.
Of course, Alan Scott would have other notable opponents besides Vandal Savage. Aside from Vandal Savage, the most famous villain he ever faced may well be Solomon Grundy. Solomon Grundy was a man who had been murdered in Slaughter Swamp outside Gotham City. Fifty years after his murder his corpse was reanimated as a monstrous creature a group of hobos call "Solomon Grundy" after the famous nursery rhyme. Solomon Grundy first appeared in All-American Comics #61 (October 1944). Like Vandal Savage, he was revived in the Silver Age and has been an important character in DC Comics ever since. Among the other supervillians Green Lantern faced were: The Gambler (a master thief and expert knife thrower); the Sky Pirate (a modern day buccaneer who uses an airship for transportation); The Sportsmaster (a former athlete who used sports themed gadgetry); Harlequin (Alan Scott's secretary who pretty much became a supervillain just to get Green Lantern's attention); and The Icicle (a scientist who developed a gun that could freeze the moisture in the air--this well before the Silver Age Flash's archenemy Captain Cold).
Throughout the years several notable artists would work on the Green Lantern feature. Sheldon Moldoff, best known for his work on Hawkman and Batman, provided several Green Lantern covers. Joe Kubert, who worked on The Flash, Hawkman, and later Sgt. Rock, also provided covers for the character. E.E. Hibbard, best known for his work on The Flash, provided covers and artwork for stories. Among the artists most closely associated with Green Lantern was the legendary Irwin Hasen, who co-created Wildcat and would go onto co-create the comic strip Dondi. Irwin Hasen drew a much more dynamic Alan Scott than many other artists. When he drew Alan Scott throwing a punch, the reader could feel it. Another legendary artist closely associated with Green Lantern was Alex Toth. Alex Toth drew Alan Scott in such a way that one could actually believe the character could fly.
Green Lantern would prove to be one of All-American Publications' most popular characters, perhaps surpassed only by The Flash and Wonder Woman. He received his own title with Green Lantern #1 (fall 1941). He appeared in All-Star Comics and in All-Star Comics #3 was one of the founding members of the Justice Society of America, the first superhero team in the history of comic books. He was also one of the characters featured in Comic Cavalcade (the first issue was cover dated December 1942), which featured All-American's most popular characters: The Flash, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman. There was a point during the Golden Age that Green Lantern appeared in four different publications: All-American Comics, Green Lantern, All-Star Comics, and Comic Cavalcade.
While Green Lantern was a founding member of the Justice Society of America, he would be absent from the feature for part of the Forties. It was a policy at the time that once a character received his own title, he would no longer appear as part of the Justice Society of America. Having received his own title, Green Lantern, Green Lantern stopped appearing in All Star Comics with issue #7 (October-November 1941). Green Lantern returned to the Justice Society of America in All Star Comics, #24 (spring 1945) and remained in the feature until it ended with All-Star Comics #57 (March 1951).
Unfortunately following the end of World War II superhero comic books would begin to decline in popularity. To help bolster the popularity of Green Lantern he was given a canine sidekick in the form of Streak the Wonder Dog with Green Lantern #30 (Feb.–March 1948). Eventually Streak would begin to overshadow Green Lantern and even outlived the Green Lantern feature, with Streak's adventures continuing to appear in Sensation Comics until issue #93 (September 1949) of that title. Slowly but surely Green Lantern began disappearing from the pages of comic books. All-American Comics would shift to a Western format as All-American Western with issue #103 (November 1948), after which Green Lantern no longer appeared in its pages. Comic Cavalcade would switch to a funny animal format with issue #30 (December–January 1948). Green Lantern's own title would be cancelled with issue #38 (May–June 1949). By the end of the Forties Alan Scott only continued to appear as a member of the Justice Society of America in the pages of All-Star Comics, making one last appearance with issue #57 (March 1951).
Fortunately, Alan Scott would not remain gone forever. In 1956 editor Julius Schwartz assigned writer Robert Kanigher and artist Carmine Infantino to create a new version of The Flash. This new version of The Flash first appeared in n Showcase #4, October 1956. He proved such a rousing success that Julius Schwartz decided there should be a new version of another Golden Age character, namely Green Lantern. Like The Flash, this version of Green Lantern was entirely different from the Golden Age version. Instead of Alan Scott, the new Green Lantern was test pilot Hal Jordan, who is given a power ring and a lantern by the dying alien Abin Sur, a member of the Green Lantern Corps. Like the Silver Age version of The Flash, this version of Green Lantern would also prove successful.
Since that time Alan Scott has appeared in various comic books over the years. He appeared as part of the Justice Society of America in the short lived revival of All Star Comics in the Seventies. He also appeared in issues of All-Star Squadron, a comic book set in World War II, in the Eighties. He appeared in various revivals of the Justice Society of America through the years, including the short lived Justice Society of America in the Nineties and the somewhat more successful JSA and Justice Society of America in the Naughts as well. For a time in the Naughts he went under the name "Sentinel", but he returned to the name "Green Lantern" soon enough.
For much of my life Alan Scott has been my favourite Green Lantern. While I will admit his costume is outlandish (it was bizarre even by Golden Age standards), I always found the idea of someone finding a magic lantern more appealing than belonging to an intergalactic police force. At any rate, the Golden Age Green Lantern did play an important role in comic book history. He was one of the first superheroes with a weakness, his ring's ineffectiveness against wood pre-dating Superman's Kryptonite by a few years. Along with The Flash and Wonder Woman, Green Lantern was one of the most popular characters at All-American Publications. As a result he was one of the founding members of the Justice Society of America, the first superhero team in comic book history. Two of Alan Scott's archenemies, Vandal Savage, and Solomon Grundy, would become important characters at DC Comics, making several appearances beyond their battles with Green Lantern.
Of course, it must be pointed out that had Alan Scott never been created, then the Silver Age Green Lantern, Hal Jordan, would never have been created either. While the second version of The Flash sparked the Silver Age, it was in part the success of the second version of Green Lantern that would insure it took place. While Alan Scott may not be as well known as Hal Jordan, let alone such big names as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, he did play a very important role in the history of comic books.