Just as the Golden Age Green Lantern followed the Golden Age Flash as Chairman of the Justice Society of America, Alan Scott followed Jay Garrick into a solo quarterly title, so swiftly that Green Lantern 1 carried a house ad for All-Flash Quarterly on the same page as the ad for GL’s only tale as JSA Chairman, in All-Star Comics 7.
Once again there were prominent creator credits on all four stories, as well as mini biographies for writer Bill Finger and artist Marty Nodell (no relation to Naydel). The formula was adhered to strictly, with a two-page re-run of Alan Scott’s origin and four single stories, though as the Lantern came ready made with his own comedy sidekick already, it was a surprise, and a pleasant one, to see Doiby Dickles only turn up in the last story. Alan Scott’s early sweetheart, producer Irene Miller, appears in all four, more happily, and gets an (off-panel) kiss from Green Lantern when she asks him how he wants to be thanked…
But there’s an immediate distinction to be drawn between this and All-Flash and it’s the art. True, issue 1 is sourced from a poor original, dark and blurry, but that doesn’t obscure the essential fact that E.E. Hibbard was a much better artist than Martin Nodell. He may be unsophisticated by modern standards but Hibbard was clear, concise, his figure work proportionate and his layouts very readable. In issue 1, Nodell has none of this.
Since GL’s power rested on Will-Power, there was a short feature on the subject in issue 1, which continued into the next issue. The writer was a member of Detective/All-American’s Advisory Board, and a closet writer: Dr William Moulton Marston.
Green Lantern followed the formula of All-Flash by going to novel length stories with issue 2, as well as giving Alan Scott his promotion to Radio Announcer but it was the next issue that showed originality. Alan, Irene and Doiby, sent to Australia, are shipwrecked by a Nazi raid. They and an objectionable family of selfish snobs wind up in the Sargasso Sea (which unaccountably seems to have shifted from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean) where they discover a Utopian civilisation of multiple cultures who have learned to live in peace and community. Unfortunately, the Nazis discover it as well and both Alan and GL embark on an extended fake-out, pretending to back the Nazis until the whole community can be raised to throw them off.
Of course it’s naïve as all get out, but it’s equally heartfelt, and I can forgive naivete for the right message, delivered to young boys and girls. It’s just a pity that a similar message wasn’t given to the next generation, the ones who grew up to back Trump.
On a less important note, it was confusing to have Doiby refer to his beloved cab as ‘Esmerelda’, not ‘Goitrude’…
Green Lantern hit the war head on in issue 4, in a sprawling tale pitting Alan Scott – facing the white feather off Irene for not joining the Armed Forces despite being classed Reserved Occupation – and his alter ego against the Nazi Captain Cortz, leading a raid against America’s West Coast meant to coincide with the Japanese one in the West. Our boy ended up a doughboy but it was GL who got to practice tonsil-tickling with the lovely Irene this time. And I note that Bill Finger’s name has already dropped off the credits.
Unlike All-Flash, Green Lantern concentrated on War stories now Alan Scott had enlisted, even if the link was a bit stretched at times. GL got a bit forgetful with his Oath in issue 6, proclaiming that ‘The Light of Green Lantern pierces darkness and mystery, and it’s radiance will strike at the heart of Evil’. And my comments about Nodell’s art were further demonstrated in the same story, first with the Ring switching from hand to hand in mid-fight, then GL talking about a villain getting a straight left – even as he’s punching at the guy with his right hand!
With issue 7 there was a sea-change. Firstly, Private Alan Scott was discharged from the Army – Honourably, of course – to use his skills troubleshooting radio communications across America: there was no mention of Irene Miller’s reaction. This was accompanied by a massive increase in art standards, which continued into issue 8, where the novel length stories were abandoned.
Some of the upgrade comes from a change in source on the DVD: the issues are smaller on the screen but substantially clearer. I don’t recognise the compositions, making me wonder if, despite his being the only name appearing, Mart Nodell is no longer drawing the series only writing it. Certainly, whoever is writing the stories is dipping his pen in the purple inkpot, with florid and overblown narration. Incidentally, issue 8 had only three GL stories, the space made up by a Hop Harrigan short and several of Bud Fisher’s ‘Mutt and Jeff’ half-pagers.
Having said all that, issue 9 was the worst kind of reverse, another blurry, almost colour-free source, a deterioration in the art back to stiff and ungainly, and three silly stories that made the ones with the Three Dimwits look sophisticated. Against that, in two of the stories Green Lantern uses the famous Hal Jordan oath of later years, suggesting that the stories were being scripted by its creator, SF legend Alfred Bester. I hope not.
Unfortunately it was. But Bester turned in a wonderful two-parter next issue, introducing Vandal Savage, the Immortal Villain. For once, here was a villain who was smart and sophisticated, a wielder of power, confident and with an undertone of amusement underlying his measured speech, instead of some stereotypical gangster speech. But for me the finest bit was Savage’s recounting of his origins. When first I encountered him, in The Flash 137, in 1963, the third team-up between the two Flashes, Savage gave an account of his history, and was said to have an old headquarters in a certain place. And now the same themes, even the same words, rolled out again, and the headquarters was exactly where Gardner Fox had it, echoing Alfie Bester. It was wonderful. Even Doiby Dickles couldn’t undermine the higher seriousness of this story (though he was given the back-up story to turn into total nonsense).
War-time paper restrictions struck at issue 11, reducing the package to 48 pages. The space given to Mutt and Jeff, and Hop Harrigan, left room for only two Green Lantern stories, both of which were crap, the first of these – drawn by Paul Reinman? – particularly badly drawn, by someone who seemed never to have seen a hand pointing a ring at anyone.
It was back to three stories next issues, the last of which, introducing The Gambler, being the only serious one and the only one worth reading. At this point, let me declare that the Green Lantern solo series is awful. Between the poor and ugly art, the overwhelming presence of Doiby Dickles – far more toxic than Winky, Blinky and Noddy – and the generally clumsy writing, I am seriously disillusioned. Autre temps, autre mores as they say, but even the Star-Spangled Kid was better than this.
The All-American severance phase started with issue 14 and ran until issue 17. There’s nothing to say about the stories in this sequence that isn’t a repetition of what I’ve already said so far. It was, however, interesting to note that though Nodell is always the only name credited, Bester was still writing the stories, as was made plain in the last one of issue 16, in which a gang boss’s face shows itself to be covered in tattoos… every time he is affected by anger or dread.
I’d noted in advance that, where All-Flash got promoted to bi-monthly very quickly, Green Lantern stayed a quarterly until issue 18. I’m tempted to put that down to the quality of the stories but in fairness it was probably the War effect that kept it from any earlier elevation. However, two issues after coming under National Comics’ aegis, GL’s solo vehicle was increased to six times a year. One story didn’t feature Doiby and one about a Jonah with bad luck had half a dozen pages in the DVD duplicated, but apart from that it was business as usual.
The Gambler made a second appearance in issue 20, one of the more distinct characters in the whole run, and Mutt and Jeff took a powder at the same time.
It’s not just the presence of Doiby Dickles that makes Green Lantern’s stories so awful to read – much worse than I remember him being in All-American Comics – but there’s the repetitivity in which GL gets clonked over the head with something wood – his Nemesis! Every story he’s knocked out, to the point that concussion and premature dementia must be inevitable. I know that, structurally, it’s no different from Hal Jordan in the Sixties, when things used to turn yellow as soon as he crossed a panel border, but there was room for more variation with that weakness. Here it’s just clunk, clunk,clunk, and if it’s not a crook taking him by surprise and sneaking up behind him (you’d think he’d have the intelligence to wear some sort of metal helmet, wouldn’t you?) it’s some inanimate wooden object falling over or whirling round to smack him one on the bonce until it appears Alan Scott has some super-secret enemy imbuing wood with malevolence against him.
On another tack, it was getting to be noticeable how many covers plugged stories that would be scheduled last in the pages on each issue.
Cotton-Top Katie, who’s cropped up in a couple of series I’ve read, turned out to have been introduced in Green Lantern, in issue 23, which also introduced her friend, the Professor.
In an era where superheroes didn’t rely on supervillains returning again and again, Nodell broke with the consensus by throwing in several villainous characters, though quite a few of them didn’t carry forward into the Silver Age with him. Amongst this number were characters such as The Dandy, and the Fop, though in the latter’s case his suicide by overdose when exposed was an insuperable barrier. In any case, neither of these one-note villains had the staying power of The Gambler, who made his third appearance in issue 27.
There was an abrupt change of image next issue, with the Green Lantern logo greatly diminished in size and the introduction of The Sportsmaster, the splash page for which story doubling as the cover. The Sportsmaster had already debuted as ‘Crusher’ Crock in All-American but returned from death via a fall to take on his nom-de-crime before dying from a fall. The same issue also saw the debut of a villain who never appeared in All-American, The Fool, who committed crimes by doing foolish things and repeatedly saying how foolish he was or was doing in damned near every panel, thus wearing out a not that strong idea long before the final page.
The biggest change however was in the artist, with Mart Nodell replaced by someone with a much lighter and less intense touch, less detailed without becoming cartoony,and the colour palette brighter. Add to that a de-emphasis of Doiby Dickles – absent from one story, not getting into the fight in either of the other two – and it was a welcome, if belated step. Would it be at least semi-permanent, however?
Either way, there was a triple treat in issue 29, with all three stories featuring GL’s red-headed enemy (and Alan Scott’s secretary) Molly Mayne, aka The Harlequin, who loves him and keeps trying to make him see he loves her by committing crimes, whilst he steadfastly and wooden-headedly ignores that she’s a bombshell and refuses to see beyond the fact that she’s a criminal who, significantly, never gets away with a crime. Hmm.
We’re into that part of the Forties now, when superheroes start slipping away, and adverts start appearing for new comics adapting radio series like Gang-Busters. Green Lantern kept going strong for the moment, enjoying another upgrade in the art in issue 30 – if it’s not Alex Toth it’s someone who copies his style well – and another visit by the Gambler, looking more like his traditional portrayal in the modern era. Doiby made a return in the third story, as did Knodar, the criminal from the 25th Century was was also introduced in issue 28.
There wouldn’t be much room for Doiby in future – the same issue introduced GL’s new crime-fighting partner, Streak the Wonder Dog (all this time and he still can’t rely on just the ring?)
Suddenly it was raining super-villains. A two-part Harlequin adventure (yay!) in which the blond and the redhead face off without their weapons, and a reappearance by The Fool (boo!) wearing out somebody else’s welcome, having already done his own. There was more of The Harlequin in issue 32, still trying to get into GL’s thick head, along with some no-mark calling himself The Juggler.
By now, you could almost call Harlequin a co-star since she was appearing in every issue, next time taking advantage of Leap Year to propose to GL, but the clown hasn’t got the smarts to accept when he has the chance.
Those of us who’ve read up on our Golden Age characters have long been aware that it was eventually retconned that The Harlequin was actually an FBI Agent, posing as a criminal to gain information on the underground, just as Black Canary was very rapidly retconned from jewel-thief to heroine in Johnny Thunder’s strip. It has all the hallmarks of a Silver Age invention, maybe even as late as a Roy Thomas story. I was completely wrong about that in issue 34, as Green Lantern is asked to partner up with FBI Agent H-9, aka our red-headed friend. No exchange of secret identities, however, and no change in their public rivalry, but who knows…?
Streak was back in the same issue, this time in a solo story, with Alan Scott in a bit part. If I was wrong about Alex Toth earlier, I was right about him here, and possibly on the final story too, a second Western-oriented tale in five issues, echoing the fate of All-American Comics.
Of course, the moment she was revealed to be a good girl, Harlequin disappeared, except for a one panel cameo by Molly – with brown hair! – in The Gambler’s fifth appearance. Streak’s solo series continued, this time signed by Toth. But he also got the cover, alongside a redesigned Green Lantern logo.
It was the same in issue 36: Streak gets the cover and the middle story – Toth’s art is predictably superb but does it have to be about a bloody dog? – and a Molly supporting role, a bit longer this time but now she has blue-black hair. Is anyone editing this thing? In fact it’s not Sheldon Mayer by now, he’s gone back to freelance cartooning and Scribbly has his own comic. Just as with All-Star, Whitney Ellsworth has taken over.
But the sands are running out very rapidly now. Issue 37 managed to fit in four stories, the extra being a Sargon the Sorceror tale. At least GL got the cover back for his penultimate issue, which contained the first Alan Scott story I ever read, back in the Seventies as a repeat.
But the last cover went to Streak, All three stories in the final issue bore tags about Green Lantern and Streak appearing in every issue of Green Lantern Comics, but there wasn’t an issue 39 until Hal Jordan hit that mark in the Sixties. At least Molly Mayne reverted to her real hair colour for her final appearance.
So there we have it. Green Lantern’s solo comic took far longer than The Flash’s to get out of quarterly status, but it went on for longer, running to 38 issues instead of 32, and finally being cancelled, apparently at short notice, under the cover date May/June 1949. The series splits into two phases, firstly issues 1-30, drawn and developed by creator Mart Nodell, with various writers including Bill Finger and Alfred Bester, but dominated boringly by Doiby Dickles. The art and the direction changes over the last eight issues, several of them drawn by the great Alex Toth, with Doiby sidelined and costumed villains all over the show, especially the Harlequin. Despite the decision to feature the blasted dog, this short run was fun and far more entertaining than the rest of the series put together.
Overall, however, and despite Winky, Blinky and Noddy, and especially Martin Naydel, I have to give the palm to The Flash as the better series, just as ultimately Flash Comics was better than All-American.
Something different next time, I think. Something Silver Age…