Green Lantern | Origin | The Comic Cavalcade Tales | Green Lantern magazine
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These best stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number.
There is a separate article on the Silver Age Green Lantern of the 1950's and 1960's.
Green Lantern's secret identity is Alan Scott, a radio engineer. In the 1940's, this was a high tech, glamorous profession. Siegel and Shuster's 1930's comics were full of radio, as an exemplar of high technology, and the Green Lantern stories follow in their footsteps.
Green Lantern's sidekick, taxi driver Doiby Dickles, is a lovable character. He has a New York accent. His nickname really is "Derby", but he pronounces it Doiby. Similarly, the beloved cab he drives, Goitrude, seems to be his way of saying "Gertrude". Doiby does in fact wear a derby all the time, as part of his clothes. Like many comic book characters, he is almost always dressed the same, so that readers can easily identify him. Doiby is a roughneck, but he is also a highly admirable person. He is a man of 100% integrity, and a loyal friend and supporter of Green Lantern on all of his adventures.
This richly detailed story creates a good deal of the mythos of Green Lantern: the lantern, the ring, the costume, his ability to fly, to walk through walls, his invulnerability to metals, including bullets, and his weakness to wood. It shows that the power of the Green Lantern is related to Alan's will power. It does not show the sweeping powers that Green Lantern will later achieve, using beams of green light from his ring - although the ring does shed a green glow backwards here as Alan flies. The only aspect of Alan's personal life displayed is the fact that he is an engineer. It also shows him mourning for a dead male friend in the wreck, Jimmy. Right from the start, Green Lantern is involved in male bonding.
The Green Lantern is ambiguously poised between science fiction and fantasy. The green lantern comes from a green meteor, filled with a strange green fire, that crashed to Earth in ancient times. Meteors are part of science, and everything about the lantern can be viewed, therefore, as a scientific possibility. Alan Scott's profession of engineer is also science oriented. Furthermore, the super-deeds done by Green Lantern resemble those of Superman and other super-heroes, rather than the supernatural "magical" deeds of the many magician heroes that also thronged the Golden Age of comic books. Also, Green Lantern's costume resembles those of other super-heroes, rather than the white tie or tuxedos of the comic book magician heroes. However, the lantern makes prophecies, talks in terms of strange powers, and is treasured by a Chinese wise man and lamp maker who is regarded, probably falsely, by his contemporaries as a sorcerer. In this, the lantern seems to use imagery related to the world of the fantastic. The splash of the second story will refer to the ring's powers as "super-natural". Jerry Siegel's supernatural super-hero, the Spectre, was already a well established character by the time these stories appeared.
Gardner Fox's 1960's tales of Super-Chief, Saganowahna also will involve a meteor poised between science, and super-natural revelation and power.
The Chinese characters who appear briefly in the early history of the lamp, are completely non-stereotyped. Finger regularly included respectfully treated Chinese characters in his tales. See Batman's highly intelligent criminology student, Paul Wong, in "The Man Behind the Red Hood" (Detective Comics #168, February 1951).
Alan Scott here is an engineer, having built a huge railroad bridge out West. The is part of a tradition of glamorized engineers, virile men who build vast projects in remote areas of the globe. This tradition in prose fiction goes back, at least, to the prose adventure novels of Richard Harding Davis. Nodell has Alan Scott in the traditional outfit of such engineers: tall, heavy boots, flared khaki trousers, white dress shirt. This is a very flattering and glamorous costume.
The Sign of the Green Lantern (1940). Writer: Bill Finger. Art: Martin Nodell. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) Crooked building contractors work with corrupt city officials to bilk the public. In this story, we see green beams from Green Lantern's ring for the first time. These are treated as power beams: where they strike, they melt metal. They are like the ray gun beams that were so popular in 1930's science fiction stories and comic strips. They are not yet the abstract green beams that can perform any task, that are such a central feature of the Green Lantern mythos. Still, they look much like the ring beams to come.
Nodell has a beautiful depiction of a building (p3), with repeating glass windows of two sizes in the Art Deco style, and a river landscape in the background. Also, in this story, Alan Scott wears suits for the first time, a nice double-breasted one that makes him look very gentlemanly. There is a good portrait of him at home, with the numerous books that are typically associated with comic book heroes in their homes.
At the World's Fair (1940). Writer: Bill Finger. Art: Martin Nodell. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) Gangsters at the real life New York World's Fair frame Irene Miller's brother Danny for murder. The origin of Green Lantern's girl friend, Irene Miller. The framing is an early example of one of the many hoaxes that dot Finger's stories. They tend to be quite thorough and devastating to their victims.
While Irene Miller became a continuing character, her brother Danny never showed up again in later stories, as far as I can tell. He is there to support that ancient but still functional storytelling cliché, the "nice girl who becomes innocently involved in a criminal situation to help her brother who is in trouble". This has been the subject of countless prose mystery tales, movies and TV shows.
Sheldon Moldoff's cover shows GL beaming green rays from his ring, for the first time on a cover. The story is notable for a scene in which Green Lantern shines his ring's light on a bad guy's head, enabling him to read the man's hidden thoughts. This will become one of Green Lantern's standard powers. It is a major step towards the broad widening of GL's powers, that will eventually make them the widest and most open-ended of any super-hero's.
Both the cover and the splash have beautiful aerial panoramas of the Fair, showing the complex, geometric, futuristic architecture of the Fair's buildings. Such New York World's Fair panoramas probably inspired and influenced the many depictions of futuristic cities in the comics. Nodell includes many views of the Fair's real life futuristic buildings throughout the story.
Mystery at Apex Studios (1940). Writer: Bill Finger. Art: Martin Nodell. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) Green Lantern solves the murder of a radio announcer at the Apex Broadcasting System, where by coincidence Irene Miller works. Irene Miller becomes a permanent part of the series here.
Alan Scott goes to work as a radio engineer here, at Apex Broadcasting System. This will be a continuing part of his Golden Age mythos. He reasons in this tale that working for a radio station will help keep him in contact with breaking news stories. This setup recalls Superman's secret identity as newspaper reporter Clark Kent. It also makes him the fellow employee of his girl friend Irene Miller, just like Clark Kent and Lois Lane are both reporters for the Daily Planet. This story also sets up a mild rivalry for the affections of Irene, between Green Lantern and Alan Scott, just like that between Superman and Clark Kent for the affections of Lois Lane.
This is the first tale in which Alan does much switching back and forth between his Alan Scott and Green Lantern roles. He shows a flair for hoaxing everyone about his secret identity. Finger's tales are full of hoaxes. Alan is clearly enjoying himself with this.
This story has a pleasant mystery plot. Finger had a long time interest in mystery plotting in his tales. There are more actual elements of mystery here than in many other Green Lantern tales. All of the early GL stories are basically crime stories, with Green Lantern going up against various crooks, gangsters and racketeers. These crooks are tough gangsters, similar to those in hard-boiled pulp magazine crime stories of the 1920's and 1930's. There is nothing science fictional about the plots or backgrounds of these tales. Only Green Lantern and his powers are science fictional in nature.
The Sins of the Father (#23, February 1941). Writer: Bill Finger. Art: E. E. Hibbard. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) Green Lantern aids Delia Day, a movie star, when she is blackmailed by crooks. This otherwise fairly ordinary story is notable for the extensions to Green Lantern's powers. Finger is beginning to show that the ring's rays can do just about anything, although this is not explicitly stated in the story. Nor does Finger note that Green Lantern is doing new things with his ring. The powers are just there, without much commentary.
Sabotage at the Steel Mills (#25, April 1941). Writer: Bill Finger. Art: Irwin Hasen. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) Green Lantern investigates a steel mill plagued by sinister "accidents". Minor if readable tale. The solution to the mystery here shows Finger's skill with hoaxes. As usual, authority figures are untrustworthy in Finger.
Meet Doiby Dickles (1941). Writer: Bill Finger. Art: Irwin Hasen. Cover by: Howard Purcell. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) Cab driver Doiby Dickles helps Irene Miller against thieves who are trying to steal a new static-free radio system. The origin of Doiby Dickles, Green Lantern's sidekick.
This story contains most of the permanent characterization of Doiby Dickles. His gallantry to women, his idealism, his roughneck dialect, his courage and skill in fighting are all present. So is his cab driver job. So is the comedy he brings to the stories. The final blurb in the tale says that the Green Lantern stories are now going to combine "comedy and thrills".
Howard Purcell's cover shows Doiby using a wrench. This will later become a permanent part of his characterization, but it does not appear anywhere in the actual story. Doiby is shown wearing a Green Lantern costume on the cover. This shows up in the story, but as a one-time event in this tale's plot, not as a fixed part of his appearance. Instead, for most of the tale, Irwin Hasen has him in the familiar costume he will wear throughout the series, regular but flamboyant street clothes that make him look like a turn of the century saloon waiter or musician. These clothes suggest that Doiby is a representative of traditional urban life, one from the working classes.
Doiby's New York City accent only makes sense if one views Green Lantern's stories as being set essentially in some version of New York City. The presence of the headquarters of a great radio network also suggests that we are in New York City. The characters here talk about going down to the Sound; this well could be Long Island Sound, near New York City.
Doiby gets his funniest moment late in the story, when a hoax he tries to pull off fails. This is a rare moment in Finger: most of the hoaxes in his plots are big successes. Here he is playing one for comedy.
It is notable that in the best early Green Lantern tales, such as the origin stories, we also tend to have a high tech background.
The earliest Green Lantern stories are pretty mild stuff. None is especially outstanding or creative. The best are pleasant tales, that also establish the mythos of Green Lantern.
The bored, snooty heiress here is an imaginative creation. No matter how much anyone does to help her, she judges people's actions by how much they have entertained her or amused her - usually very little. She winds up driving Doiby and everyone else nuts.
This story is comic in tone, and rich in zany plot developments. Its comedy recalls the prose mystery stories Norbert Davis was writing for the pulp magazine Dime Detective. Davis' stories also include snotty heiresses and strange but comic mystery plot events.
Green Lantern's girl friend Irene Miller plays a prominent role in the early Comic Cavalcade tales, but disappears from the later ones. She is a broadcaster at the Apex Broadcasting Company, where Alan works as a radio engineer. In later tales, after Irene's departure, Alan seems to become a radio broadcaster himself. The otherwise minor story, "Mayhem Comes to Town" (Comic Cavalcade #14, April-May 1946), opens with a good natured spoof of broadcasting, in which Alan's spiel over the air waves seems to hit every cliché used to cover live events. His oily line of patter there is a gem.
Handsome John Riley (1943). Writer: Bill Finger. Art: Jon Chester Koslak. A talented police detective is also offered a movie contract because of his good looks. Zingy story, rich in human relationships, comedy and plot.
The story has a decently constructed "dying message" mystery puzzle plot. It shows Finger's interest in the approaches of classical prose mystery fiction. The puzzle plot also shows other Finger traditions, especially his use of false authority.
The relationship between policeman John Riley and his boss Chief Brannigan somewhat resembles that of the leads in Hecht and MacArthur's play The Front Page (1928). Riley keeps wanting to quit the force and go to Hollywood and become a star; Brannigan keeps manipulating him into staying on the force. Both men constantly squabble with each other; both are also best friends. It also goes beyond this; Brannigan loves Riley like a son.
Alan Scott is a glamorous figure. He is not a nerd, unlike Clark Kent. His clothes regularly oscillate between good suits during the day, to white tie and tails for his evening dates with Irene Miller. These are the same outfits as worn by his equally well-dressed colleague, Jay "The Flash" Garrick. While this story keeps talking about how good looking Riley is, Alan Scott is at least equally as good looking, maybe more so. Both men are fashion plates. Later in the story, both men are dressed in identical white tie and tails outfits. Although they are rivals for Irene, both men seem to be doubles for each other. They are experiencing male bonding, based on their heightened looks and shared mode of dress. This means that Riley, Alan Scott and Brannigan are all part of a shared nexus of personal relationships. This makes a complex and interesting personal net.
The story is more multi-media than many of Finger's works. It opens with a series of monologues by the characters. There are also newspaper stories imbedded in the storytelling.
Have You Read Any Good Books Lately? (Comic Cavalcade #4, Fall 1943). Writer: ?. Art: Paul Reinman. A retired crook sends a book filled with his secrets to a successor, who uses it to plan robberies. This is a minor tale. It has some interesting points, however. The story experiments with unusual modes of seeing. At one point, Green Lantern is blinded by the green light from his power ring, and can see only red. A panel shows the world from this "red light" point of view. Another panel shows how a fight between a good guy and a bad guy looks like when viewed through an x-ray machine in a hospital.
Also noteworthy: a spectacular Art Deco building. This is the all glass facade of the Crystal Optical Glass Co. It is full of the curving lines and streamlined flanges of Moderne Deco buildings. It is a creatively imagined piece of architecture, by Paul Reinman.
Lantern and Dickles are Invincible (1944). Writer: Alfred Bester. Art: Paul Reinman. (Title taken from table of contents page of magazine.) The author of the GL stories appears as narrator; he sets forth a multi-path story about Green Lantern and Doiby, showing how they might have responded to different circumstances.
This is a highly imaginative work. Its multi-path narration recalls that of modern films, such as Lola Rennt / Run, Lola, Run (Tom Tykwer, 1998). It also anticipates the Imaginary Stories that would be part of the Superman family in the 1950's and 1960's. Bester uses the term "Hypothetical Stories" here. It is also one of the earliest of all comic book stories with the writer as a character. Such tales would regularly be part of the 1950's science fiction comic books, Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures.
Alfred Bester was a prominent science fiction writer, known for his off trail and multi-media approaches to narration.
I also loved the (apparently imaginary) book that appears in the splash panel alongside Bester as part of the writer's library, entitled How to Write and Eat Three Meals a Day. This is still a book that many writers could use today, unfortunately. Many author portraits in later comics would also show them framed against representative books. It's a comics tradition.
This is one of the few stories in which crooks try to discover Green Lantern's secret identity. This will be a much more used plot in the Superman stories.
GL uses will power and his ring to replace an old building with a new one here. The new building is in the same spectacular Art Deco mode as the one in "Have You Read Any Good Books Lately?". Both show Paul Reinman's view of Art Deco.
A Race Against Time (1945). Green Lantern and Doiby take part in a 6 day bike race, while also trying to prevent a killing. The race is held indoors, with Doiby and Alan spelling each other. It resembles the dance marathons of the era. At one point, Alan holds up a sign to communicate with Doiby, who is pedaling around the ring.
Grin and Bear It (1947). Writer: ?. Art: Paul Reinman. Green Lantern bets he can drive Doiby's cab Goitrude for a day, without losing his temper. Alan Scott here has condescended to working class life, stating that driving the cab is "a cinch", and not really work. He soon learns otherwise. GL also expresses exhaustion here after a hard day crime fighting. He has some interesting reflections on the benefits and penalties of a crime-fighter's life. These are atypical of comics, which usually show their heroes as tireless. This story thus looks at both Green Lantern's and Doiby's lives and careers.
The story has a partial role reversal. Alan Scott takes on Doiby's role, although Doiby does not take on Scott's. Such role reversal's were often associated in later years with writer Edmond Hamilton.
We see Alan at home in the evening, in a dressing gown, relaxing by reading a book; there are many other books on shelves nearby. Comic book heroes were usually depicted as intellectuals who loved to read. It is part of the deep respect for intellect usually shown by the comic book medium.
The Roof of the World (1948). Writer: ?. Art: Paul Reinman. Green Lantern's flying ability begins to be affected; eventually he and the villainous Sky Pirate wind up on Mount Everest.
On the Air (1946). Writer: Alfred Bester. Art: Martin Nodell. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) This mystery tale explains in flashback why Green Lantern's secret identity Alan Scott works at so many different jobs at radio station WXYZ. Inventive mystery story, with lots of plot ideas. The story has some affinity to the Weird Menace genre of mystery tales in prose pulp magazines, with strange events gradually being given logical explanations.
The story involves a business called "Padgett's Prunes". This is probably a humorous homage to Bester's fellow GL scriptwriter Henry Kuttner, who sometimes published prose science fiction stories under the name Lewis Padgett.
Bester worked in the early days of live television. His essay "Inside Television" (1955) (in the anthology The Best of Holiday, pieces collected from Holiday magazine) is a gem of dynamic storytelling. This story similarly takes an interest in radio of its era.
The Invisible World (1946). Writer: Henry Kuttner. Art: Martin Nodell. Based on a cover by: Paul Reinman. Green Lantern and Doiby travel to a microscopic world, one full of trees that can walk around. This is a full fledged science fiction story, somewhat atypical of GL tales of this period.