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Green Lantern's Lite
My reaction to
Showcase Presents Green Lantern #1
jriddle
Comics Comments
1 April, 2006

I'd never read the earliest years of the Silver Age "Green Lantern." I'd read the origin story, and, over the years, I'd made a few half-hearted attempts to pick up Archive editions on Ebay. I always failed, because I was never willing to put up the money needed to beat out the competition for such pricey editions. The proposition of DC's new "Showcase Presents" compilation, offered for an incredibly low price ($9.99), was something like a dream come true for me--a chance to read the formative years of one of my childhood heroes on the cheap.

As it turns out, GL would have probably been worth the outlandish price of those expensive Archive books. "Green Lantern" was one of the original Silver Age titles, and it embodies a good deal of what made that age so great. The Showcase collection was a joy to read, and served as a refresher course on why I've always loved the books of that era.

Hal Jordan is an ace test-pilot, who, while playing in a flight simulator, is nabbed by "some incredible force" which draws him to a downed alien spacecraft. Inside, he meets Abin Sur, a dying alien, who informs him that he's just been chosen as the recipient of a powerful weapon to be used "against forces of evil and injustice," a "green lantern" described as a "battery of power, given only to selected space patrolmen." The lantern is used to charge a special ring which will give Jordan "power over everything except what is yellow." The exception is a result of an "impurity" in the battery, and, one suspects, of the need of the creators to place some sort of limit on their protagonist's power. Another limit: the ring must be charged from the battery every 24 hours. The alien dies without ever getting to explain much more than this. Jordan, in time-honored superhero tradition, dons a mask, dubs himself the "Green Lantern," and goes forth into the world--and, eventually, the galaxy--to do battle with evildoers.

John Broome writes nearly every issue in the Showcase volume.[1] His work, here, is feather-light when it comes to characterization.[2] This proves to be of little importance, though. Broome's GL wasn't character-driven; it was plot-driven, and this is where his work excels. Without decades of continuity baggage, the pressure to serve the prejudices of a long-established fan-base, or the need to reference a larger company-wide universe outside the confines of the book[3], Broome just cuts loose with everything he's got, and what he's got turns out to be quite a lot. He's well-schooled in pulp sci-fi and fantasy,[4] and his stories are a wild and heady mish-mash of genre elements. Parallel universes, weird alien menaces, and bizarre super-technological threats abound. Jordan is virtually omnipotent, and Broome feels free to throw anything and everything at him. As with the best Silver Age material, the reader never knows what may be coming next. Jordan's power battery speaks, ordering him to attend to emergencies on other worlds. Unable to find a great leader in their own era, the far-futuristic inhabitants of Star City (in the year 5700) use their advanced technology to snatch GL from the 20th century and fill his head with a phony identity so that he might aid them in fending off an army of invading mutated Gila monsters. The 100,000 residents of a west coast town vanish in a flash of light, leaving GL to solve the mystery of their disappearance. In one of my personal favorites, GL, desperate to avoid the marriage proposal he knows is about the pass the lips of gal-pal Carol Ferris, uses his power-ring to conjure up a huge monster to act as a distraction. He's immediately hit in the head and rendered unconscious by a model airplane some children were flying nearby, and the monster goes on a rampage! Even better, we get to read the monster's thoughts! "Strange... I know I'm a 'chiller-diller' but what that means.. or what I'm supposed to do... I don't know!" Classic! The stories are simultaneously exciting, goofy, imaginative, cheesy, action-packed, and fun. It's amazing how consistently well Broome juggles all of these elements; the book only tips over into tedium a few times.

I've always liked the most excellent Gil Kane. "Green Lantern" is the project with which he's probably most strongly identified, and he handles the art chores throughout the Showcase volume. His uniform design for the character is a real classic, but his major innovation is the fluidity of movement he gives GL. Over in the Superman books, at the time, Wayne Boring's take on the Man of Steel had become virtually the house style, but Boring's Superman (and even, to an extent, that of then-upstart Curt Swan, which was replacing it) looked incredibly awkward in flight. Kane's GL, by contrast, moves through the air effortlessly, appearing, at times, like a skydiver, a speed-skater, a swimmer, a runner; someone as completely at home sailing through the sky as he would be walking on the ground. Even after nearly 50 years of seeing this style ripped off, it's still impressive. Another of Kane's strengths in play, here: he draws remarkably beautiful female faces. His women, throughout the Showcase volume, are visions of loveliness. Also on display, however, is one of his significant weaknesses; he simply can't draw monsters worth a damn. I've read his monsters described as looking like Mardi Gras masks, and that's about right. I also thought of Macey's Parade floats, and, at times, even stuffed animals for children. Even less intimidating than the creatures in a Gamera movie.

On the whole, "Showcase Presents Green Lantern" #1 is, warts and all, a wonderful volume, a solid exemplar of the Silver Age at its finest, and I'm probably going to be hunting down some of those Archive editions of these issues after all.
 

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[1] These books were written at a time when DC's editors were often much more active in the writing of the companies' books. For the purpose of this review, I've assigned authorship of the stories to the writer and artists of record, but it should be understood that the editor may have played a large role in their authorship, as well. The editor of "Green Lantern", at this tsime, was the legendary Julius Schwartz

[2] Hal is given a romantic interest in Carol Ferris, the daughter of his boss. When the father leaves for an extended world tour, he puts Carol in charge of the company in his absence, making *her* Hal's boss. It's a very unusual arrangement to be featured in a book of this era, but Broome never does very much with it. Instead, he opts for a nearly-exact clone of the Clark Kent/Lois Lane relationship that had been featured in the Superman books for years. Hal loves Carol, but she loves Green Lantern instead, she comes to suspect Hal is Green Lantern, but can never prove it, and so on. This had become tiresome routine in Superman long before Silver Age "Green Lantern" was even a thought at DC.

[3] A team-up with the Flash, in issue #13, and a stray mention of Lois Lane is the only acknowledgement of any wider DC universe.

[4] As the book unfolds, we learn more of the source of the power battery, and of the "space patrolmen" spoken of by Abin Sur--they're a sort of galactic police-force established by a mysterious, ancient race known as the Guardians, and Jordan is just one of many "Green Lanterns" who patrol the galaxy. As many have noted, the premise is a direct steal from E.E. "Doc" Smith's epic "Lensmen" books.


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jriddle73@hotmail.com

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