Know Thy History: The Green Lantern

During the initial superhero boom of the 1940′s, several Superman clones came and went, many to be forgotten in the annals of time. One superhero that managed to persevere, though, was The Green Lantern. The Green Lantern originally debuted in July 1940 under All-American Publications, 6 years before the company was bought out by National Periodicals (publisher of DC Comics). The purchase of All-American, by the way, would grant DC a fertile roster of superheroes, including Wonder Woman, Flash, Hawkman, The Atom, Dr. Mid-Nite, and previous Know Thy History subject The Red Tornado.

The Green Lantern was created by Martin Nodell and Bill Finger (the guy who co-created Batman). Nodell, by the way, went under a pseudonym, “Mart Dellon,” because “Comics were a forbidden literature, culturally unacceptable. It wasn’t something you were proud of”.

So why a Green Lantern? I mean, you break down that name, and it isn’t the most superheroic name of all. The green part, maybe, since it is a pretty heroic color. (There’s also the Green Arrow and Green Hornet, for starters.) But lantern? That think you take take to camp so you can find the outhouse? Why is a hero whose main superpower is driven by a ring named after a portable lighting device?

Surprisingly, the Green Lantern name has its origins in railroad engineering. Nodell explains:

I picked out the name from the train man on the tracks who was waving a lantern, going from red to green…. green meant go and I decided that was it, Marty reported. Then I needed a colorful and interesting costume. I was interested in Greek mythology and so the costume took on elements of that. It just all fell into place.

As such, the original Green Lantern was also a railroad engineer. And that magic power ring charger is a train man’s lantern. That’s … pretty darn imaginative, actually. More comics need superheroes who are also transportation workers.

Along with the train engineer connection, there’s a lot of symbolism from various different sources as well. Alan Scott’s full name was Alan Ladd Wellington Scott. Besides sounding kinda prissy, the name is also a reference to “Aladdin.” In Green Lantern mythos, the original lantern was a lamp that contained a green flame. (That was until a patient in a mental institute got a hold of it and thought it would look cooler as a modern lantern. No foolin’.) The Aladdin parallels extends to Green Lantern’s powers, which, when you think about it, resembles a wish-granting genie.

Also, in The Golden Age Green Lantern Archives, Nodell mentions that another influence was The Ring of the Nibelungen, which means that Lantern may be the only superhero whose creation was influenced by an opera. (Fun fact: the sci-fi Silver Age Green Lantern was likely based on E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensmen sci-fi series.)

The green flame commands Alan Scott to craft this ring from its metal, which gives him fantastic power! This includes flight, phasing, temporary paralysis or blindness, melting metal, causing dangerous objects to glow, creating light rays that shoot from his … wait … what … WHAT ARE YOU DOING, ALAN SCOTT?!?!?!?!

Man, you’d think that getting beat by a giant mallet of a novelty hand would be the height of humiliation, but it looks like Scott’s got everyone beat. With his powers, he protected the city from the likes of … The Three-In-One Criminal? Furries? The Icicle? A bunch of hooligans who want to ruin the country fair? OK, so the original Green Lantern’s rogue’s gallery wasn’t exactly the stuff of legends.  I have to say, though, that The Crime of the Month Club is a pretty solid name for a villain team.

EDIT: I take that back. It turns out that the archetypical Green Lantern villain is none other than Solomon Grundy. You have humbled me again, Alan Scott.

It should be noted that Alan Scott also had a thing — a sexy, sexy thing — for female supervillains. His first wife would be the bipolar Flash villain Rose and Thorn, who had the powers of both plant mastery and spinning like a top. That’s … pretty random. Obviously she and Alan Scott were made for each other. Rose would have two children, Jade and Obsidian, before dying after a battle with her evil side. Later, Scott married Molly Maynne, who was once the supervillain named Harlequin.

Reforming clown-based villains through the power of love: Alan Scott: 1, Batman: 0.

Every superhero needs a sidekick. Batman has Robin. The Human Torch had Toro. Wonder Woman had Etta Candy. And the Green Lantern … had a chubby taxi driver named Doiby Dickles. “Doiby” because that’s how you said “Derby” in Brooklynese. And Doiby wore a derby. Give Alan Scott credit for teaming up with a gainfully employed adult instead of putting yet another teenage boy in dangerous peril. Besides, as far as sidekicks go, though, Doiby was indispensable. I mean, dude knew how to handle a pipe wrench. And springs, apparently. Plus, Doiby had a cab, which means that Alan Scott saved money on a cab fare whenever there was a crime to get to. Doiby also gets a pretty sweet send-off in the pages of Young Justice.  He ends up marrying a hot Space Princess, making him the luckiest cab driver in all of Brooklyn.

Alan Scott picked up a lesser known sidekick: a German shepherd named Streak the Wonder Dog (not to be confused with other Wonder Dogs). Turns out the guy was pretty handy in giant bird attacks … which happen more often than you imagine. Streak proved to be so popular that he was on the cover of the very last Alan Scott Green Lantern book. Notice that, outside of the title, Green Lantern isn’t even on the cover. It was a sign of the times.  In 1949, superheroes were out, animal comics were cool, and Streak went on to abandon his own master by starring in his own adventures in the pages of Sensation Comics.

By the way, in case you were wondering, Streak is the direct descendant to the more notable Rex the Wonder Dog.

But let’s talk about the thing everyone talks about when they mention Green Lantern: his super-lame weakness. A weakness so embarrassing that, to this day, comic fans shake their heads in disbelief. I’m talking about how Green Lantern’s weakness… was wood. This means that, yes, Alan Scott was worthless in a fight with Mokujin. Or, you know, some random goon with a baseball bat.

Still, that’s less lame than one that tops the list of All Time Lamest Weaknesses: the color yellow. An entire color! Which was the weakness assigned to the next character to wield the ring: Hal Jordan. Incidentally, Frank Miler lampooned this in the only worthwhile sequence from All-Star Batman & Robin.

Hal Jordan, though, turned out to be the guy with the staying power. Hal’s going to be the one played by Ryan Reynolds … or Nathan Fillion, if fan made trailers are your thing.

Alan Scott, on the other hand, got demoted to “not really being a Green Lantern” once DC got rolling with their complicated cosmic mythos that turned the Green Lanterns into an intergalactic police force. Alan Scott’s powers even got retconned to not being of Green Lantern source of power, and rather from some alien force known as “Starheart.”

In the end, though, Alan Scott did pretty well for himself. His character pioneered a successful franchise, and he provided the groundwork for all the necessary iconography (the ring, the lantern logo, the green light, the name, and the famous oath). He scored a cameo in Smallville as one of the founders of the original Justice Society. And he will always be known as the first Green Lantern. You can still find him in the pages of Justice Society, playing the wise elder who’s seen it all.

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About El Santo

Somehow ended up reading and reviewing almost 300 different webcomics. Life is funny, huh? Despite owning two masks, is not actually a luchador.

Posted on May 23, 2011, in comics, Know Thy History, The Webcomic Overlook and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. thanks Santo I was looking for this since Alan kisther took down the first part of the green lantern articles he did
    http://www.monitorduty.com/2006/02/alan-kistlers-profile-on-green-lantern-part-2/

  2. I didn’t even know that this guy existed. You’re quite well versed in history, El Santo.

    • To be fair though, Alan Scott is less obscure than some of the other stuff I’ve covered. He still appears regularly in DC Comic titles. But it’s still kind of a surprise to a lot of people that there was a Green Lantern before THE Green Lantern!

  3. I’ve seen Alan Scott in several current day books but I had no idea about things like his weakness to wood or that he worked as a railroad engineer.

    How do you go about doing research for these kind of posts? Its not like you can just go to a website and read the characters full archive like you do with webcomics. Do you just read like ten different wiki-pages or what?

    • Something like that. The biggest challenge, though, was trying to figure out key elements of the original Green Lantern’s history before all the retcons set in. Like, there were some really lame attempts in recent comics to try to explain away both Scott’s connection to the “real” Green Lanterns and the weakness to wood (something about how a Green Lantern had wielded Alan Scott’s power and to fix things the Guardians of Oa forced the power to get stipulated with a major weakness), but that didn’t ring true to the original concept. More of a studio mandate that was forced on the character. Another thing was that Alan Scott apparently worked at Gotham City. But was that before or after National Comics purchased All-American to become DC? There’s a very good chance of that — Bill Finger was involved in the creation of Green Lantern, after all. But I’m not sure it wasn’t a retcon, either, and the older comics were edited on re-releases. Online sources — dominated by Alan Scott’s DC history — aren’t too clear on that either.

      But there’s also all the stuff that I absorbed over the years of just reading comics. I remembered Doiby Dickles because I ran across him when I was a kid camping out in the library and reading about comic history. The whole pudgy-taxi-cab-driver thing always struck me a kinda unique, so I made sure to throw that in when I got the chance.

  4. I was one of those (not at all versed in comic book history) that was about to flip when I saw the trailer because “I thought the Green Lantern was black!!!” (hey, I watched the Justice League cartoons.) But then I went to google it instead of actually flipping. Very interesting super hero premise, I like the idea that there are many of them all over the universe. I guess the Green Lantern is also…a squirrel?

  5. Heck – if the Captain America film showed the real Nick Fury (as opposed to the “Ultimate” Fury, whose existence i deny), as the trailer suggests it will show at least some of his Howling Commandos, some people would be flipping out because “That’s not Nick Fury – Fury is black!”

  6. Minor correction: Alan Scott was a construction engineer, not a railroad engineer. He was a passenger aboard the first train to cross a bridge that his company had built, but a bomb planted by a saboteur from a rival construction company destroyed the bridge and killed everyone but Alan.

    Also, the wood weakness made a lot of sense from a storytelling standpoint. They wanted a hero who could shrug off bullets but still be challenged in a fistfight, which is visually more exciting than a gunfight. So, the ring gave him “immunity to metals,” which, after the first couple of years, morphed into a vulnerability to wooden objects.

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