Strange but Wonderful: the history of Mystery in Space


Knights of the Galaxy

In one form or another, I have accumulated good, comprehensive runs of most the the major DC Comics characters of the Sixties, the Silver Age, the years when I was discovering comics as a boy, and expecting to lose interest in them as I grew older. And I did. It just didn’t take, that’s all.
There is, however, one major DC character of that era whose stories I never read then, and of which I am only vaguely acquainted now. That’s why I took the chance to pick up a DVD-Rom with a complete run of Mystery in Space comics, 117 issues starting in April-May 1951, only a month or so after All-Star Comics was transmuted into All-Star Western. Mystery in Space, a joyfully science fiction series, was home to several space-set series, none more important than that of Adam Strange.
That’s who I’m here to read, but Adam and Alana, and the planet Rann are a long way off from the start, so let’s begin with that issue 1 and the stories it featured.
Mystery in Space followed hard on the heels of DC’s other SF title, Strange Adventures. The impression most often given of the In-Between Age from 1951 to 1956 is of DC floundering, creating titles and cancelling them six issues later as flops. Wasn’t this why Showcase was devised? But the two SF titles were glorious examples of the opposite. They were in tune with the times, with the boom in SF in magazines and novels. Maybe they took some pointers from EC’s SF titles, I don’t know; I know too little about EC to do more than guess. Were they weak cousins of it?
Issue 1 impressed me. It led off with the first story featuring the first ongoing series, The Galaxy Knights, law enforcement officers of the Thirtieth Century, and the first case entrusted to new Knight Lyle, to stop a pair of space villains and save the life of Knight Commander Arthro’s beautiful daughter, Ora. Ah yes, all very Golden Age, big-jawed heroes playing Cowboys and Indians on the space prairie, but with a typically Schwartzian emphasis on intelligence, ingenuity and science.
Comics were still in their 52 page format, allowing room for four decent-length stories, including scripts by Gardener Fox and John Broome, plus art from the likes of Carmine Infantino and, I think, Joe Kubert. There’s nothing particularly original about any of them, but there’s a happy enthusiasm to the work that makes it clear and likeable, plus Broome’s story has an ironic twist as to Man’s ignoble instincts that could do with a bit more development.
If you’re thinking I may have been a mite too harsh on the Galaxy Knights, the title of their second appearance might convince you otherwise: “Jesse James – Highwayman of Space”. As for the brave, resourceful, short-skirted Ora, she had a Knight of her own in Lyle, and it looked like she was going to need him.
As the only recurring feature, Knights of the Galaxy stands out in these early issues, especially with its vigorous and clean art, which has a look of Carmine Infantino about it. Weirdly, writers are credited, so I know the series was by Dion Antony, but not artists. Wikipedia confirms my eye is good on this score, and also that Dion Antony was a pen-name for Robert Kanigher, which comes as little surprise given the formal language used throughout.
But the title was created less than a year before the final size cut, as the 48 page comic went the way of its predecessors, transformed into a 32 page package with only three stories per issue instead of four, as of issue 6.
But the Knights only ran until issue 8, in which they were pushed to the back of a two-story issue. This was something of a shame as Infantino’s clear, crisp art was excellent, not being softened by Joe Giella or Sid Greene as it later would be on The Flash. I also confess a partiality for the skirt-abbreviated Ora. On a more serious level, the SF art of the era tended to put women in far shorter skirts than would have been remotely acceptable on an American, or a British street. But whilst Infantino had been free with leg-shots in issues 1 – 5, it was very noticeable that he confined himself to mostly head and shoulders or upper torso shot in issue 6 – 8. Given that we’re now into 1952, I think I’m not far wrong if I suspect the influence of Wertham, Kefauver and the soon-to-be-imposed Comics Code.
Before leaving issue 8, I do have to comment on its other story, a bizarre and twisted affair that envisaged a future in which, after the election of the first woman President (in 2980!) society had been completely reversed by 3100, with women the dominant force and men the despised weaklings.
For seven of the story’s eight pages, it’s a straight role reversal satire, with men downgraded, discarded, treated as unfit, helpless, inadequate when set against brave, daring, strong, intelligent women. The one young male who forces his way into Rocket Training, to fight an evil enemy, is cold-shouldered, shunned, disrespected just as a female cadet in an academy of men would be. Then, just as the plucky, brave, competent woman would do, he saves the day, rescues the captain, defeats the enemy. Proves his sex is not as helpless as people think.
So far as simplistic as you have to be in an eight-pager, straightforward and exact. Until the last page. In which the cadet newbie Greg marries the experienced veteran commander Stella, tells her that in their house she’ll be doing the vacuuming (she loves this macho stuff) and by the last panel, with males flooding back into leadership positions she’s happily cooing about women having run things for long enough (120 years out of 3100) and it being time ‘you men’ take over again.
What can I say? Somehow just repeating 1952 and What Can You Expect, not to mention the fact this was before I was even born just doesn’t cut it.
Incidentally, there were no short skirts for these dominant women of the future. No, they wore two part bathing suit bottoms and fishnet tights into battle. For no doubt logical combat reasons.

Interplanetary Insurance

All issues so far have credited Whitney Ellsworth as editor, though given the nature of MiS, it’s clear that Julius Schwartz is the assistant editor doing the groundwork. Further evidence of this is the spectacular cover to issue 9, clearly drawn by Murphy Anderson, in the grand Schwartzian tradition of having action covers drawn to inspire scripters to pen stories in which, far too often, just like this one, the actual cover scene – a young couple, she in short skirt, trapped in a gigantic diamond – ends up squeezed in in a very minor manner. As cover cheats go, this one’s a doozie!
Without a regular feature, the comic is patchy but I couldn’t ignore a story in issue 12 that involved the Earth’s first landing on the moon. Like Tolkien’s Notion Club Papers, which foresaw the Great Storm of 1987 to within a few months, forty years earlier, this Moon landing, nearly a decade before President Kennedy’s commitment to reaching the Moon before the end of the decade, gave its date as 23 May, 1969, less than two months before the real thing.
It’s fair to comment that, despite an ongoing educational feature from issue 1 onwards, dealing with science fact about planets, moons and the Solar System, the stories themselves are pure, unbelievable science nonsense, with impossible science, planetary invasions and humanoid aliens from as far out as Pluto in story after story.
MiS‘s next recurring series debuted in issue 16. This was Interplanetary Insurance Inc., and their ace investigator, Bert Brandon, and if you want to know how to turn an insurance salesman into a hero, don’t look here. This is insurance company as machine for sucking in money and spewing none of it out, and whilst that makes it extremely accurate to life, putting it in an SF milieu doesn’t make it any more interesting. This is mid-Fifties, middle-America, business-is-God era with a vengeance.
A second recurring feature was added in issue 21, this being Space-Cabbie, about an unnamed taxi-driver in space, which, like the insurance one, was intended to have an underlying humorous aspect. At first it was a one-off, but the Cabbie was popular enough to be brought back in issue 24, though he didn’t get a regular gig until two issues later, when he replaced Bert Brandon. Unlike the Galaxy Knights, Brandon wasn’t missed.

Space Cabbie

Also on board now, from issue 25 in fact, was the Comics Code seal. There had already been very little in the way of micro-skirts by then.
To be frank, MiS wasn’t doing much throughout these issues. It had started with the advantage of space as a 48 page title but had been reduced to 32 pages early on. Instead of reducing the number of stories per issue it ended up reducing the number of pages per story. Six were insufficient for more than rather perfunctory tales on a limited number of Cold War themes, infected by paranoia, treachery and constant invasion, and undercut by far too many mundane stories given an SF veneer.
I did find issue 33’s scientific feature fascinating, dealing as it did with the status of Pluto. Anticipating the decision of a half-century later, it analysed anomalies in Pluto’s composition and orbit to query if it was a planet at all, though the alternative proposed was that it was a satellite, a lost and unrecaptured moon of Neptune. Many decades were yet to pass before Pluto’s oversized moon, Charon, was even detected, a discovery that I missed even hearing about until many years later.
The Space Cabbie series bowled along with Gil Kane’s art, Infantino appeared every issue, artwise MiS was solid at its very worst, albeit softened from its early days, but the stories remained crude and gimmicky, using tropes that SF had left behind. One story had the Empire State Building converted into a spaceship to attack would-be invaders, whilst another had the entire continent of North America, including Canada, spacelifted to another galaxy in one piece to save that galaxy from destruction. And brought back intact with everyone alive on it. Boy, did it need an uplift.
Yet even in this form it was popular enough to go from bi-monthly to eight-times-a-year with issue 45. Usually, this frequency was for titles dependant on a single artist (those with multiple artists could go monthly without deadline threats) but MiS had multiple artists available.
Space Cabbie went missing after issue 47, leaving the series without a regular feature as it approached its 50th issue. But the time I had been waiting for was nearly upon us.

A classic Adam Strange cover

Adam Strange arrived in Mystery in Space in issue 53, cover-dated August 1959. The creation of Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky, he had originally appeared in Showcase 17-19, the previous year but, unlike The Flash or Green Lantern, his sales had not added up to quite enough to justify his own title, and Julius Schwartz had opted for berthing him here.
The formula was simple: each issue, Adam, an archaeologist, would rendezvous with a Zeta Beam from Rann, teleporting him 25 trillion miles to the Planet Rann, in the system of Alpha Centauri, to the beautiful Alanna, who he could never hold for long enough, and her scientist-father, Sardath. But instead of spending these visits lovemaking, Adam continually found Rann being menaced by monsters and disasters that could only be defeated by the application of his scientific mind and the effects of Chemistry Class, as was only right and proper in 1959.
Adam Strange’s early stories mostly feature Mike Sekowsky on art. This is not as scratchy or littered with weird anatomy as his Justice League stories, which start up shortly after, and he’s getting better inkers than the wholly unsuitable Bernard Sachs, but there is a world of difference between his jobs and the occasional one drawn by Infantino. But Fox’s stories are very formulaic, from the business with Adam’s difficulties intercepting the next Zeta-Beam to his inevitable return to Earth. What lies between is inventive, but the brackets bore very quickly.
Of course, the moment I said that, issue 61’s story decided to be different, with Adam being snatched by a different beam in the northern hemisphere, Rann and Alpha Centauri only being visible from the southern hemisphere, intercepted to prevent him saving Rann from a tyrant out to conquer it. That would-be dictator was the Tornado Tyrant, a sentient tornado with an unexpected future as a component element of The Red Tornado, Gardner Fox’s last creation for DC, eight years hence.
Oh, and for once Adam wasn’t snatched directly out of the loving Alanna’s arms the moment the menace was defeated, and the loving couple had several days sea, sun, sand and… oh come now, not under the Comics Code Authority.
The non-Adam Strange stories remained as predictable and dull as ever but Murphy Anderson – used primarily as an inker in the Silver Age – produced a short series of beautifully-drawn tales that at least looked the part for me.

A one-off story in issue 66, drawn by Sid Greene, another DC artist used primarily on inks, became a short series in Mystery in Space. The Star Rovers were three rivals, Homer Gint, novelist and sportsman, Karel Sorensen, former Miss Solar System turned space-adventurer, and playboy Rick Purvis. Their stories involved them bringing three different viewpoints to the same incident, the total vision, Rashomon-style, adding up to the real truth. They would appear every three issues until MiS 86, with two further stories appearing afterwards in Strange Adventures.
It’s interesting to note that throughout most of this run of the series there were full page house-ads, promoting National’s titles as ‘still 10c’. A change in price, DC’s first ever, was due very soon (in Britain, they would go from 10d to 1/-), but I wasn’t previously aware that DC had held out against the increase so blatantly.
Adam Strange had been the lead feature and main attraction of the series for over two years now, at nine pages an issue, but with issue 71, DC finally did what should have been done long before and expanded Adam’s feature to 17 pages, eliminating one redundant one-off story but still leaving one.
And for issue 75, Adam was given the whole comic for a book-length, and excellent, story guest-starring the Justice League of America (plus Snapper Carr but without Superman), a story written in response to a fan identification of a flub in the League’s own title. This had come in Justice League of America 4, the issue that admitted Green Arrow. Among the possible nominees, The Flash put forward Adam Strange. All very well for me, reading that in retrospect, but nobody but Alanna (and the rest of the planet Rann) knew of Adam’s exploits.
So Schwartz and Fox put their heads together and came up with a story, set between Justice League 3 and 4, that gets the League to Rann, in pursuit of Kanjar Ro, the villain of issue 3, as he tries to takeover Adam’s adopted planet. I’ve known of this story for over fifty years and this is the first time I’ve read it. And it’s excellent (except for the bit where a clearly-impressed Flash thinks, ‘wow, I’ll nominate Adam for membership when we next have a meeting’, which is too knowing).
Issue 81 gave Adam Strange another book-length adventure, this time starting with Alanna seemingly coming to Earth. Obviously it’s a cunning plot, this time by yet another of Rann’s past would-be dictators intending to take over the planet again: between all these former dictators and the alien races all trying to take over Rann for no better reason than that it’s there, the backgrounds to the stories do drag at Adam’s constant ingenuity in combatting these scientific menaces.
Incidentally, the letter column contained interesting letters from two young and eager comics fans, the increasingly regular Paul Gambaccini, and one Marvin Wolfman.
The next issue had most of its cover obliterated on the DVD but as soon as I started to read the story I remembered it. I saw many Mystery in Space covers in this era, in house ads in comics I bought, in spinner racks that I combed through but didn’t buy. But Carmine Infantino’s work has never left me.
A similar obliteration concealed the cover to issue 82 but this time my memory banks couldn’t supply the image. There was another Star Rovers story, exposing the limitations of the three-sided formula. And a complete no-cover on issue 84 made three, though this was one of those instances where the cover was duplicated as a panel in the story, instantly reminding me. The same thing applied to issue 84’s cover, by which time it was getting particularly annoying.
Covers returned with issue 86, in which Adam’s adventure on Rann turned out to be only a dream: the lad just can’t escape having to save this most vulnerable of planets even when he’s asleep! It also featured the last Star Rovers story to appear in MiS. And it also made much, both in the lettercol and in the final panel of Adam Strange’s story, of the arrival of Hawkman to share this space next issue.
This is the part of Hawkman’s Sixties stories that I know of but had never read. Revived as Katar Hol by Julius Schwartz and Gardener Fox in Brave & Bold, the editor had been shocked when this third revision of an old Justice Society hero had failed to take off. Not then, and not after a second three-issue run. These issues had been drawn by Hawkman’s old star, Joe Kubert, but Kubert’s style had evolved, brilliantly, past the point where he was suited to superheroes. Refusing to give up, Schwartz put Hawkman into MiS and replaced Kubert with the somewhat blander Murphy Anderson (and I speak here as a fan of Anderson), whose style was much more in keeping with DC’s ‘house’ look.
The first shared issue was very cleverly constructed. Hawkman took over the cover – the first since issue 52 not to feature Adam Strange – but Adam still had the lead, double-length story, in which he accidentally gets mutated into a highly-evolved, mentally magnificent version of himself, who is also offensively superior and dismissive, especially of Alanna who, in a very understandable if selfish gesture, smashes the machine that has evolved, bringing back the version she (and we) love. At story’s end, Adam beams back to Earth, carrying with him a stone his brain-heavy self has created, which he places in a museum.
And in the Hawkman back-up, introducing regular foe Ira ‘I.Q.’ Quimby, the latter becomes a super-crook when the combination of sunlight and his presence by the stone sets his brain off on incredible ideas. That’s what you can do when the same writer is writing both features. You can also get Carter and Shiera Hall meeting an archaeologist named Adam Strange, in both their guises, and getting a bit suspicious about him…

The issue even contained a letter from Joe Kubert, regretting the commitments forcing him to stop drawing Hawkman, and praising his mate Murph.
At this point, I’d like to bring up a point about the Adam Strange series that’s mildly surprised me. DC’s not supposed to have had a continuity in the Sixties, only Marvel. That was never entirely true: both Fox and John Broome employed regular footnotes in their stories, harking back to previous tales. But from early on, Adam Strange did this to an unusual degree. Each story was an individual tale, but Fox would constantly refer back to the previous story, and earlier ones, and would very often base a new story in the events or aftermath of its predecessor. If you could have thrown an entire years worth of The Flash, or Justice League of America in the air and read them in whatever order they came down without noticing any difference, that could not be said of Adam Strange. Adam’s stories were a sequence, and Fox would emphasise this with Adam’s constant musings bout how, every time he arrived on Rann, there was yet another menace to overcome, and was there a jinx, was it him? Given that we are still only up to 1963, I’m pretty impressed.
The cover of issue 88 was a throwback to the Golden Age Flash Comics, showing that Adam and Hawkman would alternate, with headshots plugging the other. Inside were two separate stories, one in which Alanna got a new figure hugging costume which swapped her blue-and-yellow colour code for yellow-and-blue (made for her by an Earth couturier she never met: wonder how Adam got him the precise measurements when, under the Comics Code, good girls definitely didn’t), whilst Mavis Trent, the long-forgotten girl archaeologist fixated on Carter Hall, having died her hair Shiera-red, accidentally discovered and donned Hawkgirl’s costume: much frivolity ensued.
One issue later, Hawkman was not only back on the cover but taking the lead story, whilst in the back Adam Strange had to fend off an interstellar ‘Lorelei’ who wanted him to marry her (even the bad girls didn’t…) but saved himself with a profession of love so profound that Fox would rip it off himself for a similar situation in the future Hawkman 13. here though it was accompanied by an engagement: Awww!
This little spell of Mystery in Space is probably the best of the entire series, but little it was, only four issues, Issue 90 posed a classic cover, another I recall from scrabbling through racks, probably on a Saturday afternoon in Droylsden, allowed to walk on my own from Grandad’s to the newsagents at Fiveways: Adam Strange hurtles through space to try to prevent Earth and Rann from colliding.
The book-length story was a team-up between Adam and Alanna on one side and Hawkman and Hawkgirl on the other (though it’s noticeable that neither of the lovely heroines has a word to say to each other). Artistically, it’s a fun compromise: Infantino pencils Chapters 1 (Adam-oriented) and 3, Anderson the Hawkman oriented Chapter 2, as well as inking the lot. And at the end, the Hawks give Adam a lift back to Earth, ending his Zeta-Beam tyranny, and Alanna asks if she can come too, and there’s going to be a wedding: double Awww!
As for Hawkman, less than four issues of MiS had done what six of Brave & Bold had failed at: the Flying Fury had finally got his own title.
More than that was to change. Julius Schwartz was also leaving, and taking with him Fox and Infantino, to rescue the Batman titles which, unbelievable as it sounds, were in serious danger of cancellation. His replacement would be a straight swap, with Jack Schiff – who’d cynically and unhappily commissioned awful, ludicrous, ridiculous stories that were completely wrong for the Caped Crusader, because that sort of shit seemed to be what the public wanted and who was he to stand in their way – taking over Mystery in Space with issue 92.
No-one knew it then, but the title had only 19 more issues to live.
The first thing Schiff did was to bring Space Ranger with him from Tales of the Unexpected, putting him on his first cover, although Adam Strange retained the lead spot, now by Dave Wood and Lee Elias. This was an apt line-up: both Adam and Space Ranger were created as a result of a 1957 request by Editorial Director Irwin Donenfield that Schiff and Schwartz create two new SF heroes, one from the present, the other from the future. Schiff, given first choice, chose the future hero, who became Space Ranger, Schwartz’s present hero was our man Adam.
Two issues were enough to demonstrate that Wood and Elias didn’t have the wit and sophistication of Fox and Infantino, and that Space Ranger didn’t have the wit and sophistication of the new Adam Strange, plus ugly art in which everyone stood with bent legs. Nasty. Also, Elias dropped Adam’s finned helmet like a shot.
The two stars teamed up in issue 94 despite the time-gap, with Space Ranger finding a menace that had lain dormant since Adam’s time, Adam himself referring to the mystery in his diary and his descendent, also named Adam, taking up the mantle, uniform and ray-gun in the future, only with red-hair not blonde.
Adam regained the cover for issue 95 but lost the lead spot inside. Next issue, the set-up was reversed. In fact, it was turnabout time again. It stayed that way until the landmark issue 100, cover-date June 1965, which gave the cover to new character Interplanetary Agent Jan Vern, appearing in one of two one-off stories behind a particularly poor Adam Strange purporting to feature the Death of Alanna. Space Ranger wasn’t even there.
Then it was Adam’s turn to drop out of issue 101, allowing Space Ranger back, though the cover once more went to a nothing story, a one-off. With three stories an issue once more, MiS was going backwards, rapidly. Turnabout for issue 102, with Adam also on the cover and accompanied by Jan Vern inside. But that was it. It had taken Schiff only twelve issues to kill off the very popular Adam Strange, and Space Ranger only lasted one issue longer.

That issue, 103, introduced Mystery in Space‘s new star for the remnants of its run, Ultra – the Multi-Alien. I’d seen Ultra in house ads but never read him before, and he’s drivel. Another Wood and Elias creation, he’s Captain Ace Arn, shot simultaneously by four blasters, each intended to turn him into a duplicate of a native of a different planet, but instead turning him into one-quarter different alien each all with different powers. The idea is stupidity squared, a perfect example of DC’s increasing descent into moronic crap as they tried to work out, vainly, why Marvel was so popular. It’s a painful demise.
Mystery in Space was cancelled with issue 110, cover date September 110. There was no reference to its cancellation in that issue. Years later, in 1980, it was revived for a further seven issues, but that run lies outside my remit, as does a second series many years after that.
I came to MiS for Adam Strange and I got my money’s worth from the Schwartz/Fox/Infantino stint, and whilst the comic could be dull in the long months leading up to the arrival of the Champion of Rann, there were still series that were enjoyable and there was classic art from Infantino, Anderson, Kane and others to enjoy.
But Jack Schiff’s editorship killed the series as surely as it was killing Batman in 1964, when Julius Schwartz was transferred over. He remained editor on Strange Adventures and Tales of the Unexpected for another eleven months before retiring. There’s a story there, but not for here. Time to look at another series.

The Prisoner: Other Media


A Graphic Novel

Though the canon of The Prisoner lies solely in its seventeen, much-repeated episodes, there were attempts, both contemporaneous and afterwards, to expand the concept into other media. I am not referring to the 2010 re-make by American TV, which I neither have nor will watch. But there were spin-off novels, in the tradition of the American market for popular shows, and several attempts to translate the series into comics.
The most prominent examples of trying to cash-in on the appeal of the series were the three novelisations written in America between 1968 and 1969: The Prisoner by Thomas M Disch, Who is Number Two? by David McDaniel and A  Day in the Life by Hank Stine (a mini-pseudonym for JeanMarie Stine).
I bought these in the Eighties when they were re-published in the UK through New English Library, though I’d read the first and third as library books in the late Seventies, whilst living in Nottingham. I sold them on again, years ago, and my memories of them are faint and patchy.
The three books are very different in style and approach, although the three authors wrote them to be continuous, with the succeeding novels having some vague reference to their predecessor, as if that adventure had been half-obliterated by brainwashing or drugs.
Disch was a major SF writer of repute, whose work centred upon helpless, passive individuals in situations they are unable to control, so not the obvious writer to continue the story of Number Six. His story was set after the end of the series and Number Six’s ultimate ‘escape’, and involved his recapture and return to the Village, in an oddly prosaic fashion.
However, he has been brainwashed to forget completely his previous incarceration and everything to do with the Village (he only discovers this in the form of videotapes – several years before these became available – consisting of the seventeen episodes of The Prisoner).
I remember little else of the story, save that the book as a whole was downbeat and generally dull. It completely lacked the surreality of the series, save for that in-joke, and the device of effectively restarting the whole thing, treating The Prisoner as something done and dusted, seems to me to be, in retrospect, a device to allow Disch to write as Disch, and not in McGoohan’s model.
McDaniel, in contrast, was a prolific writer of licensed properties – The Man from U.N.C.L.E and Star Trek being two of his regular berths – and a very good exponent of the field according to those who collect such books. His Who is Number Two? was chronologically second, but not released until last, for some unfathomable reason.
It’s the most conventional of the trio, and the one most anchored to the format of the series. McDaniel’s Number Two plots to undermine Number Six’s resistance, to gradually overcome his desire to escape by allowing him to have his /lotus in the Village, and by gradually providing supplies that enable the Prisoner to lavish attention on cleaning, re-tuning and eventually racing his beloved car on a self-built track near the beach.
The more Number Six has a stake in life in the Village, the less determined he will be to resist. But Number Six is very slowly constructing an escape plan, as his new, customised, fibreglass streamlining is actually intended as a boat hull, with the Lotus to motor an escape. Which fails,of course, but which enables Number Two to get away in Number Six’s stead.
Stine’s A Day in the Life, though the furthest removed from the series, was always the most interesting book. It’s a subjective, sollipsistic, impressionistic account of life in the Village as a mixture of good and bad times. The Prisoner ends up getting away to London, absolutely free and clear, only for the whole experience to be revealed as some kind of hallucination which, as he has expected all along, cracks in one go.
Incidentally, both McDaniel and Stine specifically identify Number Six as John Drake.
All three are worth reading as curios, and several different editions are available through Amazon and eBay, but they bear the usual relationship spin-offs have to a series: they are neither canon nor able to evoke more than an impression of the original.
Since then, there have been two other attempts to invoke The Prisoner in print. Roger Langley, founder of Six of One, wrote three Prisoner novellas in the Eighties, all privately printed and collected in a single Volume that can be bought in the Six of One shop in Portmeirion. I have read none of these, but the internet accounts are dismissive.
More recently, the LA-based Powys Media, who specialise in Space: 1999 novelisations, have branched out into Prisoner spin-offs as well, with two to date and a third due in 2013. Again, I have read none of these, but the on-line reviews available for The Prisoner’s Dilemma do praise its capture of the mood of the series and its sheer energy of invention.
The world of comics has not ignored The Prisoner either, with both Marvel and DC taking their turn at trying to adapt the series. Marvel licensed the show for adaptation in the mid-Seventies, at the behest of writer Steve Engelhart, who was in tune with its anti-establishment theme. Working with veteran artist Gil Kane, he produced an eighteen page adaptation of Arrival which, in a later interview, he described as following the episode faithfully, but adding thought bubbles.
The result, to the best of my knowledge, has never been seen, as Stan Lee decided it wasn’t visual enough, and gave the project to Jack Kirby instead. Kirby had already demonstrated his enthusiasm for the series in 1968, plotting and drawing a four part Fantastic Four story, set in a similarly mysterious Village in Latveria, operated by Doctor Doom.
With the standard page-count having been adjusted yet again, Kirby got seventeen pages now, and he duly wrote and pencilled an adaptation of the first half of Arrival. A total of six and a half pages were inker by his regular inker, Mike Royer, before the plug was again pulled, and Marvel concluded that they couldn’t turn The Prisoner into a Marvel Comic, for which I am grateful.
Nevertheless, many of Kirby’s pages have appeared, and can indeed be seen on-line: enough to make you wish he’d been given more latitude. He does a sterling job of interpreting McGoohan and Portmeirion into his style, whilst working within his own futuristic design, and the work intrigues.
It would be left to DC, a decade later, to actually succeed in getting a Prisoner comic into print, as a four part Prestige format series later collected as the Graphic Novel, Shattered Visage (the title being taken from the Shelley poem, Ozymandias).
The comic, co-written by Dean Motter and Mark Askwith and drawn by Motter, was fully approved, with both McGoohan and Leo McKern agreeing the use of their faces. It departed from the series in being set contemporaneously, twenty years on (and dismissing the series’ own finale as a drug-induced hallucination).
The story centre on a divorced couple named Drake, Thomas and Alice (the latter a nod to Lewis Carroll), who both come from a British Intelligence background. Alice, who has resigned, plans to sail the world in a computer-controlled yacht. Thomas, who is still in the system, rigs her boat to run aground and strand her on the island where stands the decaying ruin of the Village.
Twenty years on, the man who was Number Two, after a long prison sentence, has published an autobiography exposing the Village. Thomas has been responsible for vetting it and has blurred many details as to the programmes running at the time (as well as contemporary, real-life security issues). But what Thomas knows is that, when the Village was closed down, the man known as Number Six stayed on, renumbering himself Number One. And the former Number Two is on his way to the Village.
Hence, Alice is sent on ahead, whilst Thomas, working alongside a seemingly rogue American agent, follows later. By now, Alice has been named as Number Six by the ageing, heavily bearded familiar figure, who speaks mainly in shallow platitudes, and whose decision to stay when he could leave makes him look like a mere contrarian, as opposed to a principled man.
When Number Two turns up, intent on ‘freeing’ his erstwhile enemy from the Village, instead of the subtle psychological battle of Once upon a Time, we get a fist-fight. Though it is interesting to have the ex-Number Two claim that the Prisoner was defeated: unable to bend, he broke, shattered, and when he took a Number, any number, even Number One, he accepted the Village’s valuesand lost.
This pertinent point is, however, undercut when Thomas and his American pal arrive, find the underground control rooms that were the scene for Fall-Out and discover several more active nuclear weapons. These get set off, destroying the Village once and for all, and killing Thomas with it.
Alice and Number Six sail back to London, where he shaves off his beard and delivers one final platitude that undermines the precepts of the series: “Does the presence of Number Two require the existence of Number One?”, and assures her that his secrets are still completely safe and that the World would have been destroyed by now if they weren’t.
All this takes place against a background of sub-Le Carre intrigue, culminating in a new set of masters taking over British Intelligence. Thomas’s boss is ordered to resign, is gassed and take away mysteriously, implying that the cycle is beginning again.
What might have been moderately interesting in its own right, turns out to be confused, confusing and over-eager to stuff itself with unexplained hints, nods and winks, and it falls a long way short of living up to McGoohan’s original ideas, even if it was approved by him (“he didn’t hate it,” Motter said).
So, when all is said and done, we only have the seventeen true stories, and nothing else to lend itself to expanding our visions.

JSA Legacies: no. 4 – The Atom


The Atom 1 – old style

The Atom was created by writer Bill O’Connor and artist Ben Flinton for All-American Comics issue 19, though it’s also been said that the pair wrote and drew interchangeably. Neither men were stars, neither appear to have created anything apart from The Atom, and they left the industry in 1942, to go into the Armed Services, never to return.
The Atom was college student Al Pratt, of Calvin College. Pratt was distinguished by red hair and by being only 5’1” tall, which led to his being mocked and picked on. Pratt was further demeaned when, having finally persuaded classmate Mary James to go on a date with him, the pair were stopped by a mugger. Furious that Pratt did nothing to stop the crook taking her jewels, Mary walked away.
Frustrated, Pratt ended up in a local coffee bar, where he bought a starving bum a meal. The bum turned out to be former boxing trainer Joe Morgan, who spent the next year training Pratt as a fighter. Pratt intended to build a ring career in a mask, as The Mighty Atom, but was diverted from his course when he prevented Mary James from being kidnapped. Instead, he turned to crime-fighting.
As the Atom, Pratt wore a full face blue hood incorporating a short cape (that looked more like a towel!), a loose fronted yellow blouse, high-waisted brown leather trunks, blue gauntlets and boots. He was a founder member of the Justice Society of America and was second only to Hawkman in terms of appearances. He was present in the opening and closing chapters of All-Star 21, but his solo chapter was, for some unknown reason, overdrawn as Dr Fate, replaced by Wildcat in issue 27, supposedly permanently but instead only for one issue, and absent for issue 36 due to an injury in a basketball game (!), for which he was replaced by Batman.
The Atom’s solo career was somewhat disrupted. He appeared in all issues of All-American bar one from 19-61 before disappearing for eight issues. He returned for three more issues but it seems likely that he was going to be dropped, and replaced in the JSA, until some scheduling issues in All-Star forced his being kept on. His series transferred to Flash Comics with issue 80, where it appeared intermittently until the series’ cancellation with issue 104.
To be frank, the Atom was never better than second-rate. He had no superpowers, not until much later in the decade, and O’Connor and Flinton’s work was generally very poor in comparison with the early Golden Age comics. It was an era of crude art, but of great vigour and enthusiasm, with flashes of untrained but vivid imagination, against which O’Connor and Flinton could not compete. As time went by, Flinton’s art grew looser and more ill-defined, avoiding faces as much as possible.
Even after they left, the Atom still failed to get decent art, except for an Alex Toth chapter in All-Star 37. Then, suddenly, the Atom displayed super-strength in All-Star, and a couple of issues later changed his costume – yellow top and leggings, blue boots and a blue head-cap/eye-mask with a red fin whose shape continually changed. It didn’t do much for him, and the advent of super-strength wasn’t explained until the 1980’s, where an awkward 1942-set All-Star Squadron story had Pratt exposed to radiation that has no immediate effect upon him but might have a delayed effect…

The Atom 1 – new-style

Having said all this, it seems strange that the Atom should be chosen as the fourth, and in the event final Golden Age hero to be revived at the beginning of the Silver Age. Though Julius Schwartz was again the editor, and Gardner Fox the writer, the initial notion appears to have come from artist Gil Kane, who suggested reviving the Atom with the powers of Doll-Man.
The latter was a character created at Forties’ Quality Comics. Scientist Darrell Dane swallowed an amazing formula that enables him, by the force of his will, to shrink himself to six inches in height. Schwartz and Fox came up with research physicist Ray Palmer (named for a friend who was a prominent – and short – SF magazine editor), of Ivy Town University, researching the compression of matter. Palmer discovers a fragment of white dwarf star matter fallen to Earth (disbelief has to be severely suspended when it comes to Palmer picking it up, no matter how heavy he makes it out to be).
Palmer uses the star to grind a reducing lens that can indeed shrink objects to microscopic size. Unfortunately, when the object returns to its normal size, it explodes. Before Palmer can get round this difficulty, he joins his fiancée, lady lawyer Jean Loring, on an expedition taking the Scouts to nearby caves. A landslide seals them in and Palmer makes the ultimate sacrifice by using the lens to reduce himself to a small enough size to escape and rescue everyone.
Preparing for death, Palmer returns to his normal size unharmed. Some mysterious, mutant force in his body clearly protects him. So he devises a costume that he can wear at all times, over his street clothing (again, yeuch!), which is only visible when he shrinks himself to his regular height of six inches. The costume is a one-piece, blue at the top, red below, with blue boots, red gloves and a pull-over head-cowl and eye-mask. Palmer sets out to fight crime as the Atom.

The Atom 2 – classic style

Unlike the other revivals, the Atom’s motivation was intimately entwined with his romantic life. Like Barry Allen, Ray Palmer had a fiancée, but unlike Allen, Palmer was continually urging Jean to set a date. But Jean was determined to make a success of her legal career before agreeing to marry Palmer and, impliedly, give it up to become a housewife. So Palmer became the Atom to help Jean win her cases, so that she would become a success, and marry him, all the sooner.
Bearing in mind that this was an era in which the relatively recently established Comics Code Authority presided, whose iron rule ensured that good girls didn’t until they were married. So Ray Palmer became a superhero in order to get laid… not that anyone would ever have admitted that.
The Atom, unlike Hawkman, needed only two Showcase appearances to step up into his own bi-monthly series. He became the second hero to be inducted into the Justice League, in issue 14 of their series, although he was to become one of the ‘Small 5’, whose appearances were somewhat rationed. Although the JLA did organise for him a floating chair so that at the meeting table he could hover in everybody’s eye-line.
Nor was his series anything more than steady in terms of sales. Fox introduced a couple of villains, the longest-lasting being Chronos, the time-manipulating thief. He refined Palmer’s size-and-weight controls by adding fingertip controls within the Atom’s gloves, to get over the need to keep fumbling at his belly-button, and introduced a charming, erudite and offbeat series of adventures where the Atom would go through Dr Hyatt’s ‘Time Pool’ into the past, and meet luminaries with no obvious appeal to ten year old boys, such as Edgar Allan Poe.
The Atom 1 returned in the first JLA/JSA team-up, and continued to appear irregularly in following years.
Ray Palmer teamed up with Al Pratt on a couple of occasions, the second of which allowed us an update on the original Atom’s later years. Pratt was still at Calvin College but now as a Professor, in nuclear physics. Like Hawkman, he had retained his latter-day costume, plus his super-strength, but in their second adventure together, we learned that Pratt was still single. A blind date with the wealthy Marion Theyer who, suddenly, aged to over 50, led to a fast-moving, criss-crossing story of women ageing on Earth-2, men de-aging on Earth-1 and two Atoms fighting.
It ended with Pratt and Marion getting off to a good second start, but Marion Thayer never reappeared, and ever since the case has been that Pratt eventually managed to get Mary James to overlook his size and marry him (though if any stories were ever published showing them as a married couple, interacting, I confess I’ve never read them).
Palmer was also allowed a friendship with Carter (Hawkman) Hall, in the manner of the Superman/Batman, Flash/Green Lantern pairings, with occasional team-ups and crossovers.
But by 1969, The Atom’s sales were declining. Hawkman was cancelled and merged into The Atom, alternating between half-length shorts and full-length team-ups, but this merely delayed the inevitable for a year or so, and the series was cancelled after issue 45. This issue had seen Jean Loring driven temporarily insane, but this plotline was resolved in Justice League of America 81, when her mind was restored.
Little happened for either Atom during the Seventies. Palmer continued to appear with the Justice League, off and on.  In 1977, the year that Steve Engelhart wrote Justice League of America, Palmer displayed a certain resentment at the more prominent JLAers – i.e., the ‘Big 5’ over how he and the less-powerful members were not being treated as equals.
Pratt was not included in the All-Star revival series, an omission stemming from Paul Levitz’s decision to ignore the supposed ‘Earth-2-is-twenty-years-behind’ theory and treat the JSAers as being heroes now in their fifties: as a more-or-less non-powered hero, The Atom 1’s plausibility was threatened and he was side-lined. He was however going to feature in that decidedly oddball mid-Seventies series, Secret Society of Super-Villains, which ran for 16 issues without ever settling to a theme or direction for more than four and a half: in its final period, the scene had shifted to Earth-2 and the then-writer (Gerry Conway? David Kraft? Bob Rozakis?) had decided to bring out the JSA members Levitz wasn’t using in All-Star when a kindly fate intervened and it was cancelled, mid-series, with one complete issue unpublished.
He would, however, feature to an unexpected degree in All-Star Squadron, in his original costume, being something of a favourite with Roy Thomas. From this point on, Pratt’s character would be developed as a hot-headed, aggressive, punch-first-and-ask-questions-later youngster, for whom his Atom costume was a release from the frustrations of being picked on for being short.
Thomas would also retcon Pratt’s sudden and unexplained acquisition of super-strength and change of costume, though in highly contrived manner (an unfortunately common characteristic of all Thomas’s retcons in this period). In 1942, Dr Terry Curtis, a physicist, would be forced to become the radiation-wielding villain Cyclotron, in a costume identical to Pratt’s later uniform: Pratt would be exposed to radiation from Cyclotron, who sacrificed himself to defeat the ultimate villain. Pratt and the superheroine Firebrand would look after Curtis’s baby daughter, and Pratt would be godfather to her son Albert Rothstein, aka Infinity, Inc. member Nuklon, but in the short term, the delayed effect of the radiation would give Pratt his super-strength in 1948.
Throughout the Seventies, Palmer and Jean Loring remained steadfastly engaged, though with no sign of marriage (maybe Palmer had now got lucky in an age where moral standards and the CCA were shifting). Eventually, though, it was decided to fulfil the pair’s happiness. A short-series in the equally oddball Super-Team Family saw Loring kidnapped by the villain T.O.Morrow, and Palmer enlisting the aid of several different heroes to rescue her, as a result of which Jean finally agreed to set the date.
The marriage took place in Justice League of America 154, which started with Palmer’s ‘bachelor night’, at which point he revealed that he’d still not revealed his Atom identity to Jean. Having been persuaded that he’d better do so, and in double-quick time, Palmer was shocked when Jean repudiated him for lying to her all these years. Fortunately, by issues end she recanted, and the two wed at long last.

The Atom 2 – barbarian-style

Funnily, enough, having taken almost two whole decades to bring this clearly loving pair together, the marriage didn’t last five years. The Atom 2’s original artist, Gil Kane, a fiercely independent creator, had been pushing for more barbarian comics for several years and, with writer Jan Strnad, finally had a proposal accepted to completely revolutionise Ray Palmer.
Via a four-part Sword of the Atom mini-series and two Specials, Palmer firstly discovered that his preoccupation with his work at Ivy University and his superheroics had driven an increasingly lonely Jean into an affair with her Law partner, Paul Hoben (they call it an affair now, but in 1983 it was being caught snogging in the car). Hurt, Palmer jetted off to a South American conference to think, but the plane crashed in the Amazon jungle. Palmer escaped by shrinking to Atom-size but, in the fall, his controls were destroyed and he was stuck at six inches (with his hair flapping in the breeze as the top of his cowl was torn off).
Palmer then discovered a colony of six inch tall, yellow-skinned barbarian pygmies called Mohrlaidians. He became their protector, a frog-rider, and decided not to return to civilisation, except for once, to grant Jean a divorce, tell his life-story to a thinly-disguised Norman Mailer (Brawler) which revealed his identity to the world, hand his Atom costume and belt to the afore-mentioned Paul Hoben (who in some quarters is regarded as The Atom 3, but not here, given that the new Protector of Ivy Town never even used them once), and returned to the jungle to re-unite himself with the lovely five-and-a-bit-inches tall Princess Laethwyn.
I’m sorry, I apologise. It was by Kane, whose art is tremendous, and Strnad’s a good, subtle writer, and it’s far better than I’ve made it sound. But it’s hardly surprising that it didn’t last.
Palmer did not return until post-Crisis on Infinite Earths in Power of the Atom, written by Roger Stern. Pratt, at this point, had gone into a Teutonic Gods limbo with the Justice Society, holding back Gotterdammerung.
Stern quickly dispensed with Princess Laethwyn and her Mohrlaidians, having an illegal logging operation slash-and-burn that quarter of the jungle, and them, forcing Palmer to return to civilisation. At first he went back to superhero stuff and his old villains, though another new direction came in after Palmer learned that the rainforest raid had been deliberately aimed at driving him back to America, where a sinister CIA offshoot wanted to recruit him as an operative. Palmer got his revenge, which involved killing the director of the operation and shrinking the five operatives to the standard six inches.
These operatives then formed a Micro/Squad working for the Cabal. With Power of the Atom cancelled after only 18 issues, Palmer’s story carried on into Suicide Squad, working deep cover, assisting the Squad, and attracting the Cabal’s attention. This backfired spectacularly when Blacksnake of the Squad suddenly turned on the Atom and impaled him.
It was a stunning shock, but it was also a cheat. Palmer then revealed himself as having infiltrated the Micro/Squad by impersonating one of its fallen members: the Atom who has assisted the Suicide Squad and fought against the Cabal is The Atom 3, aka Adam Cray, son of a Senator murdered by the Cabal, who had been working with Palmer to facilitate Palmer’s infiltration. A retrospective Atom 3, like Fel Andar as Hawkman 3. Cray, incidentally, was using the costume and controls Palmer had left with Paul Hoben.

The Atom 3 – no-style

In the meantime, Al Pratt had returned to the scene in 1992. The success of the Justice Society of America mini-series, from which he’d been omitted, led to a short-lived ongoing series, with Al Pratt as a regular. Pratt returned from limbo in his original costume, but rapidly changed it for a blue face-hood, sleeveless yellow top and blue pants. He was now bald, with a bushy moustache, a touchy, defensive, stocky man, protective of team-mate Wildcat (who had been crippled for life before the JSA had gone to limbo and been mystically rejuvenated), and quietly heartbroken that, whilst he had gone, his wife Mary had died, without him being able to say goodbye.
Pratt was not long for the DC Universe. Justice Society of America was cancelled after 10 issues, amid allegations that it was a political, not commercial issue. The JSA next appeared in Zero Hour, when they gathered to face the apparent villain, The Extant. Hot-headed as usual, The Atom 1 was the first to spring into the attack. He was killed instantly by a blast of radiation. Apart from the occasional flashback, he would never return.
DC were thus left with one Atom, Ray Palmer, and his life had been put through so many changes that DC decided to use Zero Hour to completely reset him. In the final confrontation, The Atom tries to slip into the molecules of The Extant’s body, but finds him to be composed of pure energy: Extant reverses Palmer’s ageing, intending to send him all the way back past his birth, but Waverider intervenes, stopping the reversal with Palmer aged about eighteen, albeit with all his memories. Adopting an Animal Man style jacket over his re-redesigned costume, Palmer founds and leads a new incarnation of the Teen Titans.

The Atom 2 – teen style

That didn’t last long either, just 24 issues, ending with Palmer returning to his standard 30-ish age and disappearing into the background again, until Identity Crisis.
I’ve written about this series elsewhere: suffice to know that the death of Sue Dibny, wife of the Elongated Man, starts a frenzy of concern for the superhero community, who fear attacks on their loved ones. One such attack is made on Jean Loring, now single again. Palmer’s fear for her safety is manifest and indeed he saves her at the last moment, bringing them back together, to his intense delight. It’s short-lived however, as a casual remark from Jean exposes her as Sue Dibny’s killer, albeit clumsily rather than deliberately, and that she has done everything in the hope of winning Palmer back to her: instead, it gets her into Arkham Asylum.
(Where she becomes the new Eclipso, and becomes a forever-tainted character, in a way that Carol Ferris was never so irretrievably tainted by being Star Sapphire. It was a bad move, cutting off an avenue for Palmer’s life.)
Hurt beyond measure, bitterly ashamed and distraught, Palmer shrunk himself into oblivion, pausing only to tell his close friend Carter Hall (the restored Hawkman 1) that he was never coming back. And throughout Infinite Crisis, One Year Later and 52, there was no Ray Palmer. But one of the underlying stories of DC’s next weekly, Countdown (to Final Crisis) was the hunt for Ray Palmer.
Palmer’s shrinking had taken him into a microscopic universe where, after Infinite Crisis, he found himself on Earth-51 of the new Multiverse, a seemingly-idyllic world in which their Ray Palmer had just died before going on a blind date with a woman named Jean Loring. It seemed too good to be true. Palmer’s friends were all his old Silver Age colleagues, all of whom had retired after crime was eradicated (due, it seemed, to Batman killing all the villains).But Palmer found his Earth-51 equivalent had been working on something to avert a danger to the whole Multiverse,which made it essential that he complete the research.
This idyll ended when he was finally found by a search team from his own Earth, bringing with them an unsuspected danger who ruins Palmer’s life in exile. He teams up with his colleagues to help save the Multiverse.

The Atom 4 – eastern-style

Meanwhile, in the wake of Infinite Crisis, DC came forward with The Atom no 4, whose series was entitled The All-New Atom, but which was as short-lived as the others before it. The Atom 4, who was developed from ideas put forward by Grant Morrison at a time when he’d been trying to re-write virtually the entire DC Universe, was Ryan Choi, a Hong Kong-born and based Physics Professor and a correspondent with Palmer, who took his place among Ivy University’s faculty. Choi then found Palmer’s old size-and-weight belt and became the latest Atom.
Over the 25 issues of the series, Choi was initially mentored by a mysterious figure whom everyone assumed was Palmer, but who instead was exposed as Palmer’s oldest foe, Chronos, who had manipulated everything, up to and including Palmer’s side of the original correspondence. Choi was part of the team that retrieved Palmer from Earth-51, and eventually impressed Palmer sufficiently that Palmer insisted both use the name, The Atom.
During Blackest Night, Palmer took on another role by being deputised into the Indigo Tribe, the Corps that wields the light of compassion, though he retained his size and weight command, which has long since been keyed to his thoughts so as to make things easy for unimaginative writers. Then, in Brightest Day, Choi was found to have been murdered, offstage, by the mercenary assassin Deathstroke, arousing controversy over the killing of one of the very few Asian-American heroes at DC.
Once again, that left only The Atom 2.
It seems clear, down the years, that there is a small fandom for the shrinking Atom, but not one large enough to sustain Ray Palmer, in any form, as other than a supporting character.
It should be mentioned in passing that, in addition to his godson Nuklon, who would later be admitted to the new JSA as Atom-Smasher (i.e., a cyclotron) in a new costume based on The Atom 1’s, Al Pratt was later credited with a son he never knew, Grant Emerson, aka Damage. Emerson’s origin was eventually that he was conceived by Pratt and his wife Mary, but she was kidnapped by an old JSA foe, during which ordeal she was led to believe she had miscarried. Instead, the foetus had been removed and, treated with DNA taken from every JSA member, was born artificially, As Damage, Emerson could channel energy into explosions: he was used to re-start the Universe in Zero Hour, after Parallax was attacked. He too ended up donning an Atom-inspired costume and joining the even newer JSA, post Infinite Crisis, only to be killed off some years later.
So now it’s the New 52. Ray Palmer appears as a scientist and supporting character in Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E but not as a superhero. Sgt. Al Pratt appears in Earth-2 and has now have received superpowers that once again make him The Atom. Ryan Choi was supposed to be resurrected and appear in Justice League, but the frontline Atom is actually The Atom 5, aka latina student at Ivy University (apparently, nobody can learn to shrink anywhere else), Rhonda Pineda. Good luck to her.

The Atom 5 – lady-style

JSA Legacies: no. 3 – Green Lantern


Green Lantern Golden Age

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 engineer, 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 form used in later years has always been the first version, “…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.

Green Lantern

After the successful revival of the Flash, DC looked for another character to transform. Julius Schwartz 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, Schwartz 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 Schwartz 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 and 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 ring 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 three, consecutive 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 the last of these appeared, his third outing was as a founder member of the Justice League of America: Schwartz 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 Israeli 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, Carl, left 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 the 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 inherent 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, and 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 sudden decision to get engaged to someone else, 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. Schwartz, 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.

Green Lantern 3 debuts

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 permitted solo glory.

During this period, Guy 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 some 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 4

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.

Green Lantern 5

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 ‘redeemed’ Jordan of his crimes (or at least of responsibility for them), 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, bringing 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.

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