Out of the Ashes of the Golden Age
The Third in a Series Examining Green Lantern History
Space Age Revival
The years following the demise of heroic comics were a wasteland with the exception of the Trinity, as Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman lived on by adapting to the changing sensibilities of the era. DC Comics began acquiring the properties of other comic book lines that were desperate to stay afloat, bringing characters like Plastic Man and The Blackhawks under the DC Comics banner. Irwin Donenfeld, son of DC’s owner Harry Donenfeld, became DC’s editorial director, and with his new position came a new approach that forever changed comics.
Irwin studied the sales patterns of DC’s books and the types of covers, noting that for the young target audience for whom comics was an impulse purchase, the cover seemed to matter more than anything else. The younger Donenfeld decided to try an experiment and suggested that DC try a new title, Showcase, that would present new ideas and characters to readers as a way to test the waters in a market where retailers were less than willing to put a new, untested series on the rack. Irwin rotated editors and with the title’s forth issue he assigned the next round to Julius “Julie” Schwartz.
Julie loved science fiction above everything and was ready for a change from editing DC’s stable of western and media tie-in books. The Flash had been perhaps the most successful title not featuring the Trinity, so Schwartz thought that if there was going to be a revival of sorts it might be best to lead with their strongest character. Jay Garrick hadn’t been seen since 1949 and, long before anyone had heard of the term reboot, Julie’s radical idea was to keep the base idea of the character and re-invent the rest based on the country’s fascination with the Space Race and the idea that science now trumped mysticism and would appeal more to the audience of the 1950’s. With that notion writer Bob Kanigher and artist Carmine Infantino created a new Flash who leaped off the cover of Showcase #4 in the summer of 1956.
It would take some time for sales numbers to be determined, so while DC waited to see if the children of the day were ready for a new superhero the pages of Showcase were filled with tales of Lois Lane and repeat appearances by the Flash to keep him in the memory of the audience. Three years later in 1959, while Flash became the first new superhero solo title for DC since 1941, Schwartz unleashed the second Golden Age revival in Showcase #22. It had been eight years since Green Lantern had flown and now it was time for a new Green Lantern to rise from the ashes of the old. Like the reinterpretation of the Flash in Barry Allen, Green Lantern was about to go from having a magic ring to being part of an entire space age police force.
Guardians of the (new) Universe
Julie enlisted writer John Broome to update Green Lantern to have a modern space-age flair, and together they came up with the idea of the Guardians of the Universe choosing agents to patrol sectors of space. While both Broome and Schwartz have denied it, their Green Lantern posed great similarities to E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensmen novels of the 1930’s. Hal Jordan was crafted with the country’s romanticized notion about test pilots and space travel in mind; it was a time when Chuck Yeager was a household name and there was no greater draw to a young boy than an exciting occupation. Broome had written about a dozen science fiction short stories for pulp magazines and had done some work for Fawcett Comics as well as writing an issue of the Golden Age Green Lantern series. Schwartz was his agent and the two worked together to craft a space-age version of Alan Scott that stands to this day.
Julie Schwartz brought in artist Gil Kane, a man who’d been drawing comics since he was sixteen. Kane was eager for the work and was given the charge to design Jordan and the universe this new Green Lantern would explore. Kane drew upon actor Paul Newman, a one time neighbor of Kane’s, to use as a point of reference for Hal Jordan. For Sinestro, Green Lantern’s nemesis, Kane again looked to Hollywood and chose David Niven due to his mustache. And for the reverent Guardians of the Universe Kane looked to Israel’s Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion. Much like Infantino’s design choice, Kane went with a cape-less sleek look among the designs he was to present Schwartz for approval. Of course Kane only colored his favorite of the bunch and Schwartz went with it, only shifting the blue areas of Kane’s design to a black tone.
Unlike the strategy used with The Flash, Schwartz didn’t wait until the sales numbers came in to jump into a new solo title for Green Lantern. So, after appearing in three issues of Showcase, Green Lantern flew into his own series which debuted in the summer of 1960, calling on John Broome and Gil Kane to continue the exploits of the latest Golden Age reinvention. On Hal Jordan’s shoulders Broome and Kane would beging to build the entire mythology of the Green Lantern universe which continues to this day. The Guardians, Sinestro, Nekron, Star Sapphire and dozens of other new characters would leap from creators’ imaginations in the coming years fueled by the seeds that Schwartz planted from his fertile imagination.
In Brightest Day….
Green Lantern and The Flash were key to the revival of heroic comics and it was their success in Showcase that led to the Schwartz reviving yet another of the Golden Age concepts, the Justice Society of America. Once again Schwartz modified the formula for his audience and before Green Lantern even had his own series he appeared as one of the founders of the Justice League of America on the pages of issue 28 of The Brave and the Bold. This version of Green Lantern would serve as a founding member of the Justice League for nearly every incarnation in DC’s history.
With the Alfred Bester Green Lantern oath intact Hal Jordan’s adventures had some commonality with Superman’s. Hal’s love interest, like Lois Lane, was far more interested in his super-alter-ego than Jordan himself and Hal also had a fanboy follower like Jimmy Olson, a Ferris Aircraft mechanic named Tom Kalmaku who would keep a casebook chronicling all of Green Lantern’s adventures. Something that the creative team gave Hal that was uncommon for the day was a family, primarily brothers Jim and Jack Jordan, who featured into a number of Broome’s scripts as major elements of the story.
Broome’s Jordan was confident and self-assured, but not cocky, and solved his problems with as much brainpower as willpower. Gone was the silly weakness to wood, replaced by the equally silly weakness to the color yellow. Prolific writer Gardner Fox joined John Broome and the two men shared writing duties throughout the Silver Age. Kane drew all of the first 59 issues of the run and then returned after taking a break to finish out the rest of the Silver Age.
The creative boom for all of the new Silver Age DC Comics led to the company reviving their Golden Age counterparts and the creation of the multiverse, allowing for Alan Scott and Hal Jordan to not only cross paths, but fight alongside each other as equals. Over time Scott would become much like a father figure to Hal and their meetings allowed current readers, most of whom had never read any of Scott’s adventures, to discover Martin Nodell’s creation for the first time.
The Silver Begins to Tarnish
As the 1960’s progressed it became apparent that some of the creators’ early decisions might have been hastily made to capitalize on the craze of the day and didn’t translate as well in the rapidly changing American landscape. The conquering of the Moon and the escalation of war in the East, combined with rising racial tensions made Hal’s once glamorous job mundane and the creative team struggled with keeping Green Lantern relevant to the readers of the day.
The decision was made to change Hal’s occupation, and location, so it would take him far away from the familiar Coast City and Ferris Aircraft. Carol Ferris grew less fond of Hal due to his Green Lantern duties increasingly taking him away from Earth and soon found another love. Hal’s departure from Ferris led him to taking pilot for contract work which over time evolved into a stead gig of being, of all things, an insurance adjuster.
Other gimmicks were tested to see if they would stick, including sending Hal Jordan far into the 58th Century where he became known as Pol Manning. They even tried creating a potential co-star for Hal Jordan in Green Lantern #59 where they introduced Guy Gardner who later became fated to be Hal’s backup until an accident would leave him sidelined.
None of these changes stuck and Green Lantern‘s sales continued to drop as the creative teams struggled to keep readers interested. One thing was certain, if something didn’t change the book was heading for cancellation. Social relevancy was about to enter comics and Green Lantern would play a major role for DC Comics. While the Silver Age creators were losing their grasp on what was once a winning formula, what Broome, Fox, Kane and Schwartz came up with during their run would carry forward with the mythology they had created until long after their deaths.
Source: 75 Years of DC Comics