Monday, 31 December 2001

Green Lantern

Recently, one of the oldest fictional characters in comic book history has achieved world-wide television recognition, thanks in part to WCW wrestler Greg "Hurricane" Helms. Helms tells all who are willing to listen that Green Lantern, whose power rivals that of Superman himself, is the greatest super-hero of all time.

But while listening to Mr. Helms, I am left to wonder - exactly which Green Lantern is he talking about?

Not taking into account the entire intergalactic GL Corps, I can name five natives of the planet Earth who have taken on the mantle - Alan Scott, Hal Jordan, John Stewart, Guy Gardner, and the current incumbent, Kyle Rayner.

For the purposes of this exercise, I will recall only the first two listed above. This is in no way disrespectful to the other characters. John Stewart was one of the first mainstream African American super-heroes. Guy Gardner achieved a cult following. He was more of an anti-hero than any of the others. And Kyle Rayner - I mainly know of his adventures while serving as a member of the Justice League of America.

Firstly, to Alan Scott. Created in 1940 by artist Martin Nodell, the first Green Lantern was almost never seen. Sheldon Mayer, an editor for All American Comics, which had a very close working relationship with DC Comics, Mayer was far from impressed, so he brought in writer Bill Finger. Finger had worked on the early Bat Man stories, and with his help, the first Green Lantern saw the light of day, making his debut in the July 1940 edition of All-American Comics. Drawing heavily on influences such as Aladdin, the obligatory origin story which was the norm back then told of a mysterious meteor that fell to Earth in China. The meteor was fashioned into a magical lamp. The lamp, which somehow achieved sentience, told the young Alan Scott to use it's power to protect the innocent against evil forces, and a ring made from the same material as the lamp gave Scott virtual omnipotence. And so the first Green Lantern was born - even though the only green part of his costume were his trousers.

Also the norm for the early days of comics was the sidekick - GL had his sidekick, a taxi driver named Doiby Dickles. Hardly in the Dick Grayson league.

Green Lantern was one of the most popular heroes of the so-called "Golden Age" of comics, a name given to the first wave of popular comics. Noted science fiction writers like Alfred Bester worked on the series, and one of it's editors, Julius Schwartz, would later go on to have an even greater influence on the entire GL series.

Green Lantern was also part of another landmark in comic book history. As a charter member of the Justice Society of America, he was a member of the first ever comic book super-hero team, an idea that would inspire hordes of writers for years to come, including me.

But after World War Two, super-heroes, apart from Superman, Bat Man and Wonder Woman, fell out of fashion, and Green Lantern disappeared from sight.

Apart from the original three super-heroes, this genre of comics fell out of vogue, and it wasn't until 1959 when Julius Schwartz made the bold attempt to revive the genre. His first attempt at reviving The Flash was a great success, as was his second - reviving Green Lantern.

The idea this time though, was to update things a little, and to give the character more of a science fiction feel. With the help of writer John Broome, they came up with the goods.

Test pilot Hal Jordan was drawn to the wreck of a space ship. There, the strange, scarlet skinned alien named Abin Sur entrusted Jordan with a power ring and battery, and asked Jordan to carry on with his mission. Thus, Hal Jordan became the "Silver Age" Green Lantern.

The scope of the second Green Lantern story was far greater than that of his 1940's counterpart. In effect, Hal Jordan had joined a sort of interplanetary police force, the Green Lantern Corps, who counted among their number men and women from the far reaches of the universe. His "bosses" where the short, blue skinned Guardians of the Universe, a race of beings who basically policed the universe.

Jordan was virtually omnipotent, and indeed, his power did rival that of Superman. But for all his power, Jordan was just a small part of a very large machine, and his ring did have one fatal flaw - it was powerless against anything coloured yellow.

The Hal Jordan is also a very interesting one, because over the decades, Jordan went from a super-hero to perhaps one of the most powerful villains in comic book history. His "heel turn" can be traced to perhaps the most famous story in comic history, the death of Superman, in which his home, Coast City, is destroyed, and millions of innocent people are killed. Jordan asks the Guardians to help him revive Coast City. The Guardians refuse his request, and Jordan, going mad with rage, destroys the Guardians and the entire GL Corps, takes their power, and sets about destroying time and space itself, leading into the excellent DC mini-series Zero Hour; Crisis In Time. It was during this storyline that the final GL ring came into the possession of the young Kyle Rayner, but that is another story entirely.

And so, with the help of Greg Helms, Green Lantern is once again being mentioned around the world. He is perhaps one of the most popular comic book heroes ever created, certainly on the same level as Superman, Bat Man and Wonder Woman, and judging by the number of web sites I've found about the character, Green Lantern is as popular as ever!