Green Lantern was created by artist Mart Nodell and writer Bill Finger for All-American Comics no 16. He was conceived by Nodell, and refined in concert with Finger in much the same manner that Finger had previously done for his pal Bob Kane and his costumed creation, except that Nodell was not so selfish as Kane, who made sure that Finger never got any official credit for co-creating Batman.
Nodell originally called his hero Alan Ladd, for reasons that will become clear when you realise he will possess a Magic Lantern, but was persuaded to accept Alan Scott, this occurring short months before the actor Alan Ladd came to prominence.
Scott was a railroad engineer on a test trip on a new line designed by himself in the Southwest States. Unknown to him, a business rival had sabotaged the line. The locomotive and its crew were destroyed, but Scott mysteriously survived, carrying an old railroad lantern. A voice from the lantern spoke: it had fallen to Earth as a meteorite, prophesied to flash three times, once to bring death, once to bring life and once to bring power. It had destroyed the frightened villagers who had killed the ancient Chinese scholar who found it, restored the mind of the man in an asylum that had carved it into the shape of the lantern, and now it would give Scott power over metals.
He was to form a ring from the body of the lantern that, if touched to the lantern every twenty-four hours, would give him power under his mind’s control. Scott could fly, and the green beam that issued from the ring put metal under his control: this would later be extended to cover all materials except wood, which remained his weakness.
After his origin story, Scott moved east to Gotham City (yes, that one) where he became a radio news announcer, in order to find out about crime, fast. He adopted the name Green Lantern, after the magic lantern, and a costume that, puzzlingly, was not dominated by green: Scott wore a purple domino mask, a long, grey, high-collared cloak, a loose-sleeved red top, with the symbol of the lantern on his chest, and green tights with red boots.
Green Lantern was a founder member of the Justice Society and its second chairman, though he held that position for only one issue of All-Star. This abrupt departure was later explained via a previously unrevealed JSA adventure in which Green Lantern failed to save an unnamed boy, implied to have been a future President, from being killed: recognising that he was spreading himself too thin, GL quit the JSA to concentrate on his own cases and prevent that happening again.
Like the Flash, Green Lantern was very popular in the Forties, appearing in All-American, Green Lantern and Comics Cavalcade as well as returning to the JSA and All-Star. He too was appearing in more titles than Superman and Batman, although the former would soon outstrip him on that score.
At a very early stage, Green Lantern acquired a comic relief character in taxi-driver Doiby Dickles, a small, round, pugnacious little man with a pronounced bronx accent, a derby (i.e. bowler) hat forever clamped on his head and a taxi named Goitrude, providing ‘Soivice dat don’t makes youse noivous.’
The Lantern also had an oath that he took when charging his ring. Its wording changed over the years, but the best known form of it was “…And I shall shed my light over dark things, for the dark things cannot stand the light, the light of the Green Lantern.” Later in the decade, this was replaced by a four-line verse devised by future Science Fiction giant, Alfred Bester that became better known as the oath of Green Lantern 2.
After the War, when the tide turned against superheroes, many series became dominated by comic relief, but not Green Lantern, who instead found himself playing second fiddle to Streak the Wonder Dog.
In 1948, Green Lantern and Comics Cavalcade were cancelled, and All-American became All-American Western with issue 103. Green Lantern remained with All-Star until the end before going into limbo.
After the successful revival of the Flash, DC looked for another character to transform. Julius Schwarz has told it both ways: that he was asked to do the same thing with Green Lantern, that he was asked what he wanted to do next and chose Green Lantern. However it was, Schwarz this time turned directly to John Broome, and to Gil Kane – whose, angular, vigorous, balletic style was superb at portraying movement – to create Green Lantern 2.
Alan Scott was a hero with a magic weapon: typically of Schwarz and Broome, and of the Fifties, Hal Jordan’s near identical weapon was firmly based in science, or rather science fiction of the most florid kind.
Jordan, whose features were based on Kane’s neighbour, aspiring actor Paul Newman, was a test pilot for Ferris Aircraft, based in Coast City, California. Jordan is testing a new, flightless trainer when, suddenly, it is enveloped in a green light, torn from its place and drawn into the mountains outside the city. There Jordan finds a crashed spaceship and a red-skinned alien, dressed in a strange green, black and white uniform, who ‘speaks’ to him telepathically.
The alien is Abin Sur and he is dying, his spaceship crashed after being hit with a blast of yellow radiation. His final duty is to pass on his Power Ring and Battery to a worthy recipient, someone who is completely honest and without fear. The Ring has chosen Jordan. The Ring and Battery are made of an alien metal which responds to thoughts: because of a yellow impurity in the metal it is ineffective on anything of that colour, yet remove the impurity and the metal ceases to have any power.
Jordan accepts and tests the Ring, astonished to realise just what raw power it contains, subject only to the limit of his imagination the strength of his will – and the colour yellow, of course.
He takes Sur’s uniform as his costume, adding a green domino mask. It is a one-piece body-suit, with a green leotard decorated by the rung symbol on the chest, with black sleeves and white gloves, black leggings and white boots. Over the next few years, the design will change, the black spreading in symmetrical curves across the chest until it almost reaches the symbol.
He also adopted, and made famous, Bester’s old rhyme as his oath on charging the Ring:
In brightest day, in blackest night
No evil shall escape my sight
Let all who worship Evil’s might
Beware my power – Green Lantern’s Light!
Green Lantern 2 needed only two try-outs in Showcase to be awarded his own series, although this one did not pick up the numbering of Green Lantern 1’s old series, either of them. Before even then, his third outing was as a founder member of the Justice League of America: Schwarz was very certain about this one.
Over the first eight issues of the series, Broome started to unfold the makings of a wide-ranging series, and a mythology that is still being exploited and expanded upon to this day. Jordan would slowly learn that he was not alone in being a Green Lantern, and that there was an entire Corps of them, 3,600 being strong and each with a sector of space as their responsibility, not merely a planet. The Green Lanterns worked for the Guardians of the Universe, little blue-skinned immortals from the planet Oa, their common appearance based on the Israel Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion.
This gave Green Lantern an unparalleled scope, as well as 3,599 potential comrades. He would find a mentor in winged Tomar-Re, and an arch-enemy in former Green Lantern Sinestro, expelled from the Corps from using his ring to make himself dictator of his planet, and still yearning for power.
Broome also created an intriguing romantic background to the series. Barry Allen had Iris West as fiancée, Carter Hall was married to Shiera, but Jordan’s eyes were set upon his boss, Carol Ferris. Carol was the daughter of Ferris Aircraft’s owner, and in charge whilst he was away on a world cruise. She was determined to prove herself as good as any son could be, and despite reciprocating Jordan’s attentions, held him at arm’s length, since he was an employee. Unfortunately, Carol fell whole-heartedly for Green Lantern, leaving Jordan the psychodrama of being his own rival.
And Broome knew how to twist that knife, making Carol into a semi-villain equivalent of Green Lantern, Star Sapphire, possessed of her own gem of power. Carol was never conscious of her submerged identity, who was supposed to be Queen to the man-hating Zamoran race, whilst Star Sapphire, though hating Green Lantern, was subconsciously aware of Carol’s conflicting attraction to him.
Carol Ferris as Star Sapphire
When the Golden Age revival started, the two Green Lanterns met each other in the first JLA/JSA team-up, and immediately paired off to rescue the two Flashes. Scott and Jordan were firm friends, occasionally teaming up. Their first adventure together, in Green Lantern 40, was not only a great story in its own right but would become an essential element in the mythos of the DC Multiverse/Universe, proving to be a foundation story for Crisis on Infinite Earths.
Whilst The Flash was fun and games, and he and Green Lantern became close friends, sharing identities and guesting in each other’s titles, Broome’s work on Green Lantern was in a wider range. Beginning to toy with the inherit concept of the interchangeable Corps, Broome introduced unemployed actor, Charley Varrick, who was saved by Jordan and inducted into the Corps, to become a Green Lantern himself, in another sector.
Another story, in Green Lantern 59, introduced Guy Gardner. Whilst on Oa, Jordan learned that Gardner could have become Green Lantern in his place: Sur’s ring had identified Gardner as equally deserving but, being a physical instructor in an East Coast school, was further away than Jordan. The Guardians went on to construct what Gardner’s career might have been had he inherited the ring, which was more or less on the same lines as Jordan. Except for the adventure that ended with Gardner dying of an alien disease, an Jordan, inevitably, being the Ring’s choice as his successor.
Gardner would go on to become part of the Green Lantern mythos in a big way but, for reasons we will shortly come to, cannot be named Green Lantern 3.
Perhaps the biggest change under Broome came in issue 49, which climaxed with the unexpected revelation that Jordan, frustrated at Carol’s continuing repulsion of him, threw up his job and took to the road as an Insurance Adjustor. Instead of the bog-standard hero with a home city and a steady girl, he became an on-the-road traveller, turning up any and everywhere.
But as the Sixties wore away, Broome found himself less and less interested in comics. He began to travel, mailing in scripts from Paris and Israel, where he planned to settle. It was all part of the sea-change that saw the long-established writers disappear from DC/National in the wake of a threatened strike for benefits and pensions. In their place came writers and artists with a fraction of their experience, prepared to work for a (slightly higher) fraction of their page-rates, former fans eager to play with the symbols of their youth, and more in tune with the wavelengths of the readers of the day. Schwarz, as editor, took the opportunity to play with the mood of the times, the Age of Relevance sweeping through all DC’s titles. He brought in writer Denny O’Neill and artist Neal Adams to take over Green Lantern with issue 76, which added the revitalised Green Arrow as co-star.
Green Lantern’s Power Ring was restricted by the Guardians, confining him to Earth and he was sent on an Easy Rider style journey across the country, to discover what America was really about.
O’Neill has confessed that he had difficulties with Green Lantern, that he could only see him as a cop, and it is true that over the 13 issues of his collaboration with Adams that Green Lantern is first demeaned and his confidence broken over his failure to engage in social issues but that, in the so-called dialogue between Jordan, the Law and Order figure, and Green Arrow, the anarchistic liberal, it is the Archer that wins every time, until sales died out and the series was cancelled.
Not before the creators were able to introduce Green Lantern 3.
In a time of social upheaval, it was unacceptable to have another White Anglo-Saxon Protestant as Hal Jordan’s alternate, so Guy Gardner was abruptly disabled, whilst behaving heroically, of course, and Jordan was forced to choose a new alternate, to take his place at times when he was incapacitated.
This time, the Ring chose John Stewart, up and coming architect but also, crucially, black. Stewart’s characterisation was DC’s cliché for 1971, Angry Young Black Man. Jordan was allowed to both advise Stewart of his new status and try to train him, including emphasising that the ring is not for personal gain or political ends, with Stewart, naturally, finding ways around that proscription.
For a number of years Jordan went into a back-up series in The Flash, during which the restriction on his ring’s powers were lifted and he again returned to the stars.In 1976, he had had his series restored, initially with Green Arrow as co-star, but eventually restored to solo glory.
Gardner recovered from his injuries and finally learned of the fate that could have been his. In fact, he was enlisted as a Green Lantern during a period when Jordan was in another dimension, becoming Green Lantern 4, despite having been introduced before Stewart.
This was only intended as a temporary measure, and not as a serious career for Gardner, for the duplicate Power Battery provided to him was faulty, and he was dragged into a limbo dimension when he tried to use it, suffering brain damage. However, both Gardner and Stewart had greater roles to play in future.
The stories during this period were not particularly glorious. Jordan was now a truck driver, and he was being pursued by a pretty young hero-worshipping Green Lantern named Arisia. Unfortunately, Arisia was, a) alien and b) underage. It was not a good era.
One story that was of moment sought to tie Alan Scott into the Green Lantern Corps mythos. It appeared that, when the Guardians first assumed their role, they determined that theirs should be a Universe of science. Thus, they gathered together all the Magic into one object, the Starheart, and transferred it into another dimension, that of Earth-2. The Starheart, naturally enough, became the source of Scott’s ring and lantern.
In the meantime, Green Lantern 1 was undergoing a new lease of life in the revived All-Star. Having risen, in the intervening years, from Radio Announcer to Station Manager, Scott had gone on to be President of Gotham Broadcasting Company, only to find that the time he spent on superheroics with the JSA denied him the time to keep his corporation afloat. GBC went bankrupt, Scott lost his life’s work, and immediately turned upon Gotham and the JSA, driven to despair by the second Psycho Pirate, though the Pirate was soon beaten by the Justice Society.
When All-Star Squadron started in 1980, Green Lantern 1 played a more prominent role than others, as Roy Thomas wanted to get around All-Star 13, in which the newly-enlisted Justice Sociey threw back the Japanese in a way America had signally failed to do in real life.
Thomas constructed a story in which these victories were a delusion, created by the Brain Wave, but took things further by having Green Lantern 1, believing his team-mates to have been killed, cut loose with his ring (still in delusion, thankfully) and single-handedly destroy Japan, a heavy-handed foreshadowing of Hiroshima that had profound mental effects upon Alan Scott, who was now conscious of the true extent of the power he wielded.
In the main Green Lantern series, a new direction led to big changes. Accused by the Guardians of neglecting his Space Sector in favour of his planet, Jordan was ordered off Earth for a year of space stories. The Arisia situation was alleviated by ageing her to at least above the age of consent. But the big shock was when Jordan got home. Glad to be on Earth, eager to spend some time just … with… Arisia, he resigned as Green Lantern. His ring, his costume, his role went to John Stewart, now Green Lantern 3 in fact.
Stewart took over and starred in the series for the years until Crisis on Infinite Earths, though the ongoing events of Jordan’s life remained a big part of the series. Stewart was mentored by Green Lantern Katma Tui, a female from Abin Sur’s planet who held a resentment for Jordan (whose identity was withheld from Stewart) because he, whilst Green Lantern, had talked her out of resigning to be with her love, only to do the same himself with Arisia. Of course, Katma ended up getting it on with Stewart.
Green Lantern was one of the books substantially affected by Crisis, and new writer Steve Engelhart made use of the issues leading up to issue 200 to set up the forthcoming ground condition. Jordan got his ring back, a new, hardline faction among the Guardians split from their fellows and gave a ring to Guy Gardner – who dressed in a green, military jacket and massive padded boots and had definitely not recovered fully from his brain damage – and ended issue 200 by disbanding the Corps, whilst leaving all the Lanterns their Rings and Batteries, but freed from the obligation to defend specific Space Sectors.
Immediately, that is, in issue 201 of the newly-retitled Green Lantern Corps, half a dozen of them settled on Earth.
This included Green Lanterns 2, 3 and 4, together with the girlfriends of the first two, Arisia and Katma Tui, although Gardner – portrayed as an obnoxious, sneering, cold blowhard, who believed himself to be a natural leader – was displaced into the new Justice League International after the events of Legends. The team also included Salaak, a crusty four-armed alien, Ch’p, a cute and furry alien chipmunk and Kilowog, who looked like a warthog and was a scientific and engineering genius. It didn’t last, but it left DC with three contemporary and active Green Lanterns.
I don’t count any of Arisia, Katma Tui (who was killed by Star Sapphire), Salaak, Ch’p (who was run over by a truck) or Kilowog (who was killed by Jordan when the latter became Parallax, but was resurrected) as Green Lanterns in Alan Scott’s legacy. None were successors in any way, none were leading characters, none were more than evidence of the breadth of the original Corps.
So it was for much of the next decade. The Guardians returned and sent Jordan off into space to recruit for a new Corps. He featured in the next Green Lantern series, which grew out of two Emerald Dawn mini-series that served to re-write Jordan’s past, establishing him as an older figure, hair white at the temples.
Stewart clashed with Jordan and went off into space himself. In Cosmic Odyssey he inadvertently allowed a planet to be destroyed, with its population, retired briefly, and returned to action in the short-lived series Green Lantern: Mosaic, as protector of a Guardians initiative bringing together cities from different planets to create a mosaic civilisation on a deserted planet. Stewart became the first human Guardian until Jordan destroyed the Corps again whilst become Parallax.
For a time, though, oddly, it was Green Lantern 4, Guy Gardner, who was the most popular figure. He was treated as primarily a comic character in the JLI, blustering, disrespectful, prey to pranks, but he was highly visible. Even after he challenged Jordan for the right to call himself the Green Lantern, and lost, Gardner couldn’t be kept down: he stole Sinestro’s yellow ring, changed his costume to eliminate the green, and was awarded his own series, unprecedentedly called Guy Gardner.
After eighteen months, Gardner was temporarily removed from the Green Lantern mythos, when he was retconned to discover that he had Vuldarian ancestry, the Vuldarians being an alien race who could create very modern and advanced guns out of his own body. That too didn’t last.
It was again a strange, bitty, unfocussed time. And the changes made to Hal Jordan’s backstory, which included a spell in jail, were not welcomed. Indeed, like Hawkman before him, between Jordan’s shifting story and the ups and down of Stewart and Gardner, it was getting complicated and confusing. A change was needed.
DC had Zero Hour coming up, which would re-reset continuity, but they weren’t prepared to wait. Green Lantern 50 was coming up ahead of the crossover and it would feature the third and final part of ‘Emerald Twilight’.
It had been a bad time for Jordan. He had been drawn into the long aftermath of the Death and Return of Superman story that had lasted almost ten months. One of the four might-have-been Supermen was a traitor, in league with the alien warlord, Mongul, and had offered him Earth as a new WarWorld. To move the planet, Mongul had to install two massive engines. The first of these was dropped on Coast City, vapourising it and its 7,000,000 inhabitants.
Jordan was knocked off balance. He tried to use his Ring to restore Coast City but didn’t have enough power. The Guardians refused to give him enough power. Maddened with frustration, after giving so much for so long, and being denied the one thing he’d asked for, Jordan rebelled. He marched on Oa, defeating every Lantern set against him and taking their Rings. His intention was to take the power of the Central Battery.
The Guardians sent Kilowog against him: Jordan killed him. The Guardians released Sinestro to stop him: Jordan killed him, breaking his neck. He stole the power of the Central Battery, destroying the Guardians and the new Corps. Renaming himself Parallax, Jordan set off to fulfil his aims. The final Guardian fled to Earth, where, after being turned down by Gardner, he handed the last ever Power Ring to a random stranger, having a breath of fresh air out the back of a disco, aspiring graphic artist, Kyle Rayner.
Enter Green Lantern 5. Rayner was to hold the ring for the next decade, form an uneasy friendship with Wally (Flash 3) West. He would be motivated early on by Major Force killing his girlfriend and stuffing her into a fridge (which gave a name to an increasingly frequent and mysogynistic trend in comics). He would radically re-design the costume, providing himself with a much more complex mask, keeping the green, black and white colours, but redistributing them. Later he would discover a Latino heritage. Even later still, he would twice rename himself Ion, a higher power version of a Green Lantern.
The once-cohesive Green Lantern mythos seemed irreversibly splintered, with no overall sense of direction or value. Scott, returned from limbo with the JSA, won his own solo series in a Green Lantern Quarterly extra-sized anthology. He was rejuvenated to his twenties by the power of his ring, his subconscious spurred on by the machinations of the new Harlequin (the old one was Scott’s wife). He survived the JSA’s destruction in Zero Hour, but retired, abandoning his ring (which was destroyed), only to discover that the years of exposure to its magic had caused his powers to become inborn: he continued his career as Sentinel before reclaiming the name Green Lantern, and creating for himself a new ring, in JSA 50.
As Parallax, Jordan was the villain behind Zero Hour, destroying the Universe by drawing together the entropies before and after Time. His intent was to restart it, control its development and prevent all the bad things, especially the destruction of Coast City, from happening, but in the end he was overcome – Green Arrow, his best friend, shot him in the chest – and Time reformed without anyone’s direction.
Jordan would sacrifice himself as Parallax at the climax of The Final Night, dying to help rekindle the sun. In Days of Judgement, he would accept the mantle of The Spectre, as we’ll see later in this series. It would take until the mid-2000s before he would be restored to his former position of glory.
Stewart became a Darkstar (a rival Corps who were real Eighties/Nineties bad-asses), was crippled in action, returned to being an architect, regained the use of his legs again thanks to Jordan, shortly prior to the latter’s death, and resumed being Green Lantern 3 when Green Lantern 5 went into space on extended duty. This resulted in his being cast as the Green Lantern of the Justice League animated series on TV, a substantial part of Time Warner’s growing animation division.
The nonsense about Gardner being a Vuldarian was finally dispensed with during Hal Jordan’s return in Green Lantern: Rebirth, when his Vuldarian DNA was overwritten. By this time, Gardner had gone through changes that mellowed him somewhat, and he had become less active, as a hero and more visible as a bar-owner and dispenser of gruff, hard-hearted wisdom.
As for Rayner, he would enjoy his time in the spotlight, becoming first a Teen Titan, then a Justice League member when the original ‘Big 7’ were reunited as the foundation stone of a new series, sweeping away the equally-splintered, multi-team years that were the ultimate end of the Justice League International era. He would go on to absorb all of Jordan’s abandoned power after Parallax’s death, temporarily becoming the God-like Ion, before siphoning off the surplus into the Central Power Battery on Oa and creating the Guardians anew, in order to regain his humanity.
But in the 2000s, the advent of Dan Didio as Managing Editor, and the growing prominence of Geoff Johns was turning DC into a very editorially-controlled operation, with an increasing urge to return to the iconic Silver Age continuity.
Thus Jordan’s entire life was refurbished by Green Lantern: Rebirth, which freed Jordan of his crimes, restored him as Green Lantern and hero, rewrote the entire Guardians continuity and laid the basis for several years of mythic continuity for the surging Green Lantern stable.
Parallax was revealed to be a creature of Fear, imprisoned in the Central Battery since time immemorial, and responsible for the so-called ‘yellow impurity’. It was Parallax who was responsible for Jordan’s Parallax period. The Battery and the Rings were a manifestation of the Guardians’ Will, and now the Green Lantern Corps was reinstated with two Lanterns per Sector (Jordan and Stewart). Rayner was recreated as Ion again, Gardner became a trainer with the Corps, bring on the new recruits.
Green Lantern 1 remained with the JSA in its several forms, separate from Johns’ increasing myth-making. We discovered that the entire spectrum had emotional ranges that had Corps of differing degrees associated with them: Red was Rage, Orange was Avarice, Yellow was Fear, Green was Will, Blue was Love, Indigo was Compassion and Violet is Love: this sector is represented by the long-established Star Sapphires. The Blackest Night storyline, originally intended to be a Green Lantern story but elevated into a company-wide crossover, introduced Black and White to the Spectrum: Black Lanterns were the hordes of DC dead, returning to overwhelm the living, White was the Saviour.
And Blackest Night was just a prelude to Brightest Day, which was supposed to be the end of death’s revolving door and bringing back whole tranches of DC dead as a final flourish. And still there were five Green Lanterns, all active and, with the exception of Scott with the JSA, involved with the same, multiplying, spreading, too complex to summarise story.
Then came the New 52. So far, Green Lanterns 1 and 2 have appeared in the new continuity and, as with the Flash, their orders of precedence are now reversed. Hal Jordan is the Green Lantern and Alan Scott is the Earth-2 Green Lantern, again wearing a completely different and horrible costume. And he has become the first ‘major’ DC character to be gay. Green Lanterns 3 and 4 participate in the parallel Green Lantern Corps series. Kyle Rayner has yet to appear, but Simon Baz has debuted as Green Lantern 6.
So DC have chosen, again, to have five fully-fledged active Green Lanterns. It’s sad that the first is the least of them.