Green Lantern: The Golden Age 1938 – 1956

Alan Scott’s rise and fall as the first Green Lantern
The First in a Series Examining Green Lantern History

Emerald Beginnings

The late 1930’s was a time of great tribulation as the United States slowly emerged from the Great Depression in a world on the brink of it’s second World War. American’s of all ages were looking for heroes to boost their confidence in a trouble time and the explosive success of the new comic book industry led the charge in providing cheap escapist entertainment.  Riding the wave of success that Superman and Batman generated for National Allied Publications / Detective Comics and their affiliated company All-American Comics, superheroes erupted from the page of comic book after comic book that filled the racks of newsstands from New York to California.  In 1940 the first tale of Green Lantern would establish another new character to join the ever growing roster of superheroes vying for public approval.

Green Lantern’s debut

Twenty year old Martin Nodell arrived in New York City with a dream of a life in the theatre or in art.  With a stage career seemingly more and more unlikely, Nodell picked a up Superman comic and chose one of the two addresses, that of All-American’s office, to try to find work.  His visit was short lived as Nodell had no pitch for a superhero and, with that being all the rage, he was sent away and told to come back once he had one.  On his way back to his home in Brooklyn, Martin began to put together some ideas in his head that combined elements of his love of theatre and opera with his interests in Greek mythology and Chinese folklore.

While the train ride home was uneventful it was the image of a subway worker at the station waving a green lantern to signal the all clear which stuck out in Nodell’s mind.  Combining the elements  of his inspiration together, Nodell designed a character possessing a great deal of theatricality – a cape, billowing sleeves and Greek inspired laced slippers – the Green Lantern.  Martin combed the telephone directory for names that sounded good together, settling on Alan Scott, and empowered him with a powerful mystic lantern crafted from the remains of a meteor which had fallen in ancient China.  The lantern instructed Scott to forge a ring, which Nodell had based upon the Wagnerian Ring Cycle operas, and a new superhero was born.

Interior artwork from All-American Comics #16

Less than a week later Nodell returned to All-American Comics with his design, backstory and outline for what the strip would be about, including the ring’s 24 hour recharge cycle and an oath.  Nodell was partnered with Batman co-creator Bill Finger to write the stories so that Martin could focus more on the pencils and inks.  Together Finger and Nodell put together Green Lantern’s first appearance which appeared All-American Comics #16 which appeared in May of 1940.  Neither men realized it yet, but the two had just created the next big hit for All-American and Detective Comics.

“And I shall shed my light over dark evil, For the dark things cannot stand the light; The light of…THE GREEN LANTERN!” – Alan Scott’s original oath.

 

Golden Age Icon

The debut of the JSA

Nodell and Finger’s Green Lantern was a big hit with readers and soon the character appeared in both All-American Comics and All Star Comics throughout the rest of 1940 and into 1941.  M.C. Gaines and All-American were taking risks in those days and in 1940 they decided to team together some of their most notable characters to form the Justice Society of America, debuting the team in the third issue of All Star Comics that winter.  The Gardner Fox penned story teamed Green Lantern with The Flash, The Spectre, Dr. Fate, Hawkman, Hourman, Sandman, The Atom and Johnny Thunder.

With Green Lantern’s star rising All-American awarded the character with his own series which debuted in the fall of 1941.  Along the way Alan Scott was paired with a sidekick in the form of heavy New York accented cabbie Doiby Dickles, who joined his friend, the “Lan’trin”, on many adventures in the coming years.  Along with so many Golden Age heroes Green Lantern fought the Nazis and the Japanese as part of the comics industry’s role in rallying the public during World War II.

The main Green Lantern series was published quarterly until 1946 when it became a bi-monthly series.  Nodell and Finger evolved Green Lantern’s ability as the character grew in popularity and appeared more frequently.  The pair eventually arrived at the idea of the ring forming objects from Alan’s mind and made the ring vulnerable to wood, in part due to the fact that most of his villains had be able to hit him with wooden objects during the first two years that Green Lantern appeared.  Bill Finger left the Green Lantern series after the third issue and was subsequently replaced by noted science fiction author Alfred Bester.

Green Lantern #10 debuted Alan’s new oath

While Alan Scott had faced mainly normal human adversaries Bester brought with him some ideas of his own including the introduction of both Vandal Savage and Solomon Grundy as adversaries for Green Lantern.  Bester also crafted a new oath for Green Lantern, one of a few facets of the character that would remain once the Silver Age dawned.  No one new it yet, but Green Lantern was about to face his first Blackest Night.

“In brightest day, in blackest night, No evil shall escape my sight. Let those who worship evil’s might Beware my power–Green Lantern’s light!” – Alan Scott’s new oath by Alfred Bester.

 

The First Emerald Twilight

During the war the paper shortage led to rationing and subsequently comic books reduced their page count to reflect the growing demand for resources to fight World War II.  But after the war things began to change for comics and the public perception of what they wanted to see on the news stands.

A sign of things to come

The fall of superhero comics came from several fronts, one being the weariness the public felt for fighting and violence as the country emerged from the war brimming with confidence and optimism.  The very heroes who often served as inspiration during the war were now viewed as a reminder of the dark days that society wanted to put behind them.  The sales numbers began to fall for superhero comics and the industry began looking for the next big thing to drive sales and it didn’t take long for them to capitalize on the booming film industry.  If the movies had found a way to mine comics for material the same worked as well financially for comic book publishers who found that media tie-ins and books based on popular characters from Disney and Warner Brothers made up the ground lost by superhero titles.

Frederic Wertham

Alan Scott and Green Lantern found its sales declining at a steady rate and that drop was helped along by the growing influence that German-American psychiatrist Fredric Wertham exerted on the public consciousness.  Wertham began to connect comic books to the growing problem of juvenile delinquency and in 1948 conducted a symposium titled “The Psychopathy of Comic Books” and published the results of the study in Collier’s Magazine.  In the middle of 1949, after thirty-eight issues, Green Lantern found itself joining almost half of the superhero comic book series that were cancelled.  The Justice Society ended a year later and by 1951 Green Lantern could not longer be found in any comic book.

While Wertham did not kill the comic book industry he nearly drove the final nail in the coffin and Detective Comics consolidated with its All-American affiliate to become the DC Comics we know today.  1954 would bring Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent but by that time only Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman were left to battle the forces of evil.  It would take a few more years and a reinterpretation of Nodell’s initial idea before Green Lantern would fly again.

 Sources: New Light on the Green Lantern (AlterEgo), 75 Years of DC Comics

About the author

Life long Green Lantern fan and co-host of the Podcast of Oa. I’m a Barbecue snob and aficionado of blues music. Hal Jordan is my co-pilot!

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