No Evil Shall Escape My Sight :

The First Green Lantern

Brace yourselves; this is a painful little anecdote.... I was about seven years old when I first saw comics' original Green Lantern. I was about to leave my grandparents' apartment and, as it was a particularly frigid winter's day, was going through the tedious business of donning the many layers of garments little boys habitually wear to guard themselves against the elements. As I pulled on my second sweater and fumbled with latches of my galoshes, I couldn't help noticing a bundle of brightly colored magazines sitting by the door. They had all belonged to my uncle, grandma told me: would I care to take any?

I idly thumbed through a few as I dressed. One of them featured a blond man clad in a red tunic, green pants, and red boots. On his scarlet chest was a little green lantern icon. I liked the drawing, but as far as I was concerned the only comics really worth owning were the likes of Hopalong Cassidy and Roy Rogers. Besides, I much preferred the funnies. I finished dressing and ran out to my parents' car. The comics were left behind. They were sitting at the door to remind my grandfather to take them out with the trash. (I told you it was a painful little anecdote! Hey, I was only seven years old!)

What I had been looking at, all those years ago, was a copy of All-American Comics. I doubt if I'll ever have enough spare money to buy an original copy. I now know, of course, that the gaudily-clad superhero was the first Green Lantern,one of the most popular of DC's Golden Age super heroes.

Strictly speaking, Green Lantern didn't debut at DC, however. All-American Comics was owned by the publishing company of the same name, founded by William (EC) Gaines' father, Max. Gaines senior had been hired by National/DC executive Harry Donefeld to start a new comics line under the All-American imprint. Both companies would share ad revenues and distribution. It was an arrangement born out of necessity inasmuch as Gaines had the considerable advantage, during this wartime period, of owning important contracts for paper supplies. Thanks to Gaines' contracts and his editor Sheldon (Sugar and Spike) Mayer, the line would also launch two other of DC's stars, Wonder Woman and The Flash.

By 1944 Max had grown tired of his arrangement with DC and opted for a buy-out, selling his part of the business, paper contracts and all, for a sum in excess of half a million dollars. Gaines used the money to start a new company, Educational Comics. His timing was excellent, but must've caused Donefeld some pain later; in the next few months the war ended and acquiring paper simply became a problem of the past.

The early, first Green Lantern was the creation of a young artist named Mart Nodell. Nodell, so the story goes, simply walked in off the street to present editor Mayer with his idea for the character. Mayer wasn't impressed with Nodell's art, but "What he did have, crude as he was apt to be in his drawing, was an effective first page. He had taken the lead from the Superman motif and applied the Aladdin formula to that. I don't know if he included the ring, but he did have the hero with the magic lantern. I didn't want to take it."

Still, DC was looking for new material and Mayer fortunately changed his mind, bringing in writer Bill (Batman) Finger to flesh out the character. Artist Irwin Hansen (who would later draw Dondi) handled the artwork, at first under the pseudonym "Mart Dellon." Under the two, Green Lantern made his first appearance in All-American Comics #16, 1940, with an eight-page origin story that detailed how construction engineer Alan Scott had discovered a mysterious lantern made of glowing green metal. By fashioning a ring from the metal and touching it to the lantern every 24 hours, Scott would gain extraterrestrial superpowers, including the ability to fly. Immune to all weapons, save those of wood, Scott went on to fight crime in his purple cape, black domino mask, red tunic and boots, and green tights.

Quite a difference from the second Green Lantern's black and green body suit, but the gaudy outfit had a purpose,
according to Finger's script: "I must make myself a dreaded figure! I must have a costume that is so bizarre that once I am seen I will never be forgotten!"

Scott originally had a different oath for the ring recharging ritual: "And I will shed my light over dark evil, for dark thingscannot stand the light...the light of...THE GREEN LANTERN!"

By 1945 the oath was thankfully changed to the less awkward "In brightest day...in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight! Let those who worship evil's mightbeware my power, GREEN LANTERN'S LIGHT!"

Green Lantern proved to be a popular addition to the new super hero field, helped along by the talents of Irwin Hansen, who proved to have the right touch for the character. In issue #27 Hansen and Finger introduced a character to the series-- GL's comedy sidekick Doiby Dickles and his anthropomorphic taxicab. Doiby was an excitable little guy, inspired editor Mayer once said, by 1940s comedian Lou Costello. Another notable character was the Lantern's foe Harlequin, oddly enough Alan Scott's secretary. Harlequin fought GL in several battles but eventually repented her evil ways and became a federal agent.

(In the last few years the character has been revived in an animated tv series and revised in print in Batman: Harley Quinn, a Prestige Format title written by Paul Dini. She also had a 38 issue run in her own title.)

Hansen continued doing the art for Green Lantern until All-American Comics #51 (July 1943). Other artists and writers contributed material for the title. Scripts, containing elements of mystery, science fiction and comedy, were written by science fiction greats Henry Kuttner and Alfred Bester (who recommended Julius Schwartz for an editing job at DC), as well as National staffers Bob Kanigher and John Broome. In addition to Hansen, dozens of artists handled penciling chores, including Carmine Infantino, Joe Kubert, and, most notably, Alex Toth, who drew the series from 1947 to 1949.

In 1941 Green Lantern got his own comic title, which was to run for 38 issues before calling it quits in 1949. All-American continued to star Alan Scott until #102, when GL was bumped from the book in 1948, replaced by a western hero, Johnny Thunder. Green Lantern's last appearance was in the pages of All Star Comics, where he had regularly costarred with Dr. Fate, Hawkman, The Spectre, and others, until finally the title ceased publication in 1951. The first era of super heroes had ended.

It would be eight years before Green Lantern would be brought back to life in the pages of Showcase #22, illustrated by Gil Kane. His Silver Age rebirth would do much to uphold the DC line, and would have a considerable influence on the sixties revival of the super hero genre.

--Steve Stiles