It was a train wreck, literally. By 1940, less than two years after an infant arrived from a doomed planet, a man destined to become the Champion of the Oppressed, every comic book publisher in America was in a race to have their artists and writers come up with the Men and Women of Tomorrow, clad in even brighter, more outlandish costumes, outfitted with a secret identity you could identify with, an identity that was designed to keep these supergods grounded and relatable. You couldn’t hurdle a twenty-story building or lift tremendous weights with your hands, but you could grow up to become a reporter, one of the city’s finest or an engineer. These were gods, but these were also good people and they showed you how you could be, too. This was when America moved out of the Great Depression, right before it entered into a war, and this was when comic books were the new medium of choice. There was a sense of optimism around, and comic book publishers were pulp magazine publisher with a new trick. While the pulp magazines told you about adventurers and mysterious vigilantes and about the dangers which lurked in foreign countries, or the diabolic schemes of sadistic masterminds bent on taking over America first and then the whole world, the men and women in their colorful costumes, who hid their real face behind a domino mask or a cowl, were a beacon of hope and light. Still, you had to be on guard. In this new America, there was still the old evil of corruption. Men with power to abuse and money enough to make sure they’d get their way, kept good, earnest, hardworking citizens down and in the grind, while they, with their lust for more, were lining their pockets with gold. These crooked politicians and raiders of the corporate world were holdovers from the days of the Depression, but in the pages of the comic books they were larger than life and the perfect foil for these new superheroes and superheroines. Any man who corrupted, or a man who was corrupt, was a symbol of the past. Superheroes and their young, optimistic sidekicks were the men and women and children of tomorrow. Little did the kids in America, who quickly embraced these new characters that could do anything, really, ever suspect that while their heroes fought men who were dishonest and unscrupulous but still posed as upright citizens, the same was true for the men who made sure that every newsstand across the country had a sufficient supply of these cheap, four-colored pamphlets at the ready that by this time featured pulp-style adventurers less and less, but soon were all in on the superhero craze. Case in point Harry Donenfeld, who controlled both Superman and Batman via his companies National Allied Publications and Detective Comics. Harry also owned a powerful distribution company, Independent News. Like so many Jewish immigrants who came from Eastern Europe at the end of the 19th century (in Donenfeld’s case from Romania), he began his career in the garment industry. After a brief stint as a clothing salesman, he opened a store with the money his father-in-law had lent him, only to discover that he was a man made for the road and working the telephone, not a guy who did his best work while he was confined to pacing the floor of a little store with an eye to keeping the shelves stocked and the tiny shop window attractive. After his business went bust, Harry joined his brothers who owned a printing press. Now back as a salesman without a second’s hesitation to get past any secretary, and a firm handshake for the managers he met, men whose names he could recall in his sleep, and the names of their wives and children as well, Harry helped his brothers to expand their business. And what if, during the prohibition, he helped some gangsters to move their product across the border from Canada into the States. Money came flowing in, and not only did it buy some shiny, new printing presses, it also brought respectability. Wherever Harry Donenfeld went, he’d always make sure to tip handsomely, and he knew who to tip. After securing a large order from William Randolph Hearst, one of the biggest media moguls of those days, a man who also knew that sometimes doing things above board was only a matter of perspective and appearance, Harry Donenfeld got a taste for distributing and creating content. Thus, setting his sights very high once more, he forced his brothers out of their own company, which he took over, and then, once in control of all the cashflow that came through the door, he founded his very own publishing house. With America soon in thrall of a crashing market, publishers of printed material discovered what was still selling: escapist fantasies, if you knew how to market them. If Harry Donenfeld knew one thing, it was how to play to an audience. This was the time when he had his staff put out a wide array of lurid pulps magazines under imprints with ever changing names and with titles such as Spicy-Adventure and Spicy Detective. Not only were the stories featured in these cheaply-produces thrills, which cost you a whopping twenty-five cents per copy, a tidy sum in the late 1920s, especially if you happened to have deep holes in your pockets, very much skirting pornographic material, cover artists like Norman Saunders made the pulps well-nigh irresistible to many men in their late teens and early twenty. Back then, here was your Playboy when Hugh Hefner was still a child, with hyper-realistically painted, albeit far less realistically proportioned beautiful young women, whose badly torn clothes covered only the bare necessities with very little left to the imagination. This was already alluring but not without precedent among magazines publishing. But the Spicy publications, and likewise magazines like Mystery Adventure, Horror Tales and many others, presented a tantalizing mix of unrestrained racism, sadism and misogyny and artists like Saunders, Hugh Joseph Ward and John Newton Howitt dug deep into their most horrendous nightmares at their publishers’ behest. However, this parade of glamorous ingenues in unadulterated, xenophobic peril and manly man in khaki jodhpurs and knee-high leather boots to their rescue couldn’t last, especially not since more and more publishers jumped with both feet into this latest fad, like Fiction House and Timely (which one day would become Marvel Comics). By the mid-1930s, the party was over. Livid church groups and lawmakers raised public awareness for good or ill, but in consequence, soon legislation was passed which began to regulate the sale of those all-too-indecent magazines. While the pulps were forced to clean up their act, here was a new medium which was even cheaper to produce, in fact so cheap, that even little kids could afford it, if they were willing to collect and sell some scrap metal in lieu of an allowance which had fallen by the wayside during these years of poverty. With comic books on the horizon, men like Harry Donenfeld not only started to look around for content, but also for start-up companies they could buy on the cheap. Right around this time, two men, teenagers, really, from Cleveland were trying to sell their idea and the concept work they’d created over the past years to syndicated newspapers which ran comic strips. This was where the money was for an artist working in sequential art, a nice job if you could get it. But Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster couldn’t. After enough rejection letters to redecorate the walls of their parents’ decrepit apartments with, Jerry’s mother was a widow after her husband had been killed in a robbery, they were desperate enough to sell the rights to their creation to Harry Donenfeld for a song. But Harry offered something in return that was more valuable than more cash, at least to them, at that moment.
The owner of the company that one day would be called DC Comics and which, at least from a creative perspective was built on the idea and hard work of Siegel and Shuster, gave the two creatives a contract that not only pretty much guaranteed that the duo would work exclusively for him and on their creation Superman, which Harry now owned, but which awarded each of them with an annual five figure income for years to come. This contract catapulted the two teens from rags to riches, at least comparatively. It still must have irked them that while soon they were invited to give interviews to the same newspapers which had rejected their pitch, Harry Donenfeld was courted even more by the media, and while Harry hadn’t put in the work or had felt the sting of one crushing rejection after the other, Donenfeld became a bigger celebrity than they. And he made sure that the biggest star in all this was not a real person but their hero Superman, a hero who had birthed a new genre of stories overnight. Though Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who only a year earlier quite literally had lived and worked in their parents’ basement, now had nice apartments of their own, pretty girlfriends and the money to hit the nightclub circuit of New York City, something they could only have dreamed about back when the duo was still fantasizing about a highly lucrative deal with a newspaper for their Superman strip, which meanwhile they had converted into a comic book series that had proven immensely popular with kids right out of the gate, their hero had also left the two dimensional world of Joe’s rather crude drawings (the artist’s eyesight was slowly failing which would prove a personal and financial disaster some years down the road). Only two years after Action Comics No. 1 (1938), The Man of Tomorrow was everywhere. Granted, his own radio show was still half a decade into the future, with voice actor Bud Collyer making Superman even more iconic and an announcer’s voice shouting: “Up in the sky! Look!”, and a little sooner, Fleischer Studios would be commissioned to produce Superman cartoons that soon played in actual movie theaters, Superman was the word on the lips of every kid in America, boys and girls alike. And Donenfeld, who knew when an opportunity presented itself, made sure that Superman had an agent all of his own who oversaw all the licensing deals that fluttered into their offices, and there was not one item too small or too big not to carry his likeness or the emblem Joe had conveniently created and which adored Superman’s chest. It was like Superman was born with his own very marketable logo. But Jerry and Joe also saw him every time they were called into Harry Donenfeld’s office that felt like it had the size of a football field. There he was, life-size and made more real in oil on canvas than Joe could ever hope to achieve in pencils and inks and with his bad eyes. Superman had 20/20 vision, though, and with his eyes, that were also super here on Earth, he not only saw you, but he looked right into your head. He knew your thoughts. Every time you walked into the publisher’s office, he looked at you from his portrait that was mounted on the wall behind desk of the man who now owned him. It felt a bit like the contract they’d signed with Harry had transferred Superman from one of Joe’s panels onto that very canvas, only in this case, Joe wasn’t the artist. Joe was no painter. He clearly had no experience in working with oil. Not like this, he hadn’t. Out of the two, Joe was very timid, and he always stayed in the background. Jerry though, who’d always had a tendency to be a bit too overconfident for his station, and who was willing to go to bat whenever he and his friend faced an obstacle, mostly certainly asked the question. Most assuredly, he’d promised himself that he’d wait for the right moment, and most certainly, the moment he finally picked when he asked the question was the wrong one, since every moment he could have chosen was the wrong one. It was nothing to Harry, however, this question, nor did he even notice that it was Jerry who asked this question for his friend, Joe who was the artist. The life-size portrayed of their creation, which Donenfeld displayed on the wall behind his desk as if he was flaunting the skin of some poor creature he had slain during a hunt, was painted by Hugh Joseph Ward. The publisher had commissioned the same artist who only a few years earlier was painting pulp covers which depicted petite blonde ingenues with milky skin getting menaced by huge, dark-skinned men with long sabers which so much were instruments of death as they emphasized the wielder’s male potency and insatiable sexual appetite. A blatant warning to any man in America to closely guard his wife or his daughters while playing on racial stereotypes and dark, xenophobic anxieties. Ward, the artist who depicted a pretty raven-haired woman with red lipstick lips and in French underwear with her nylon stockings showing, as she was getting attacked by an intruder who was holding a long knife, a man with an unshaven face and a dirty cap on his head like he’d walked in from a country torn into two halves by the Depression, the haves and the have-nots. A man who bore close similarities to how Jerry had always imagined the shoplifter his father had confronted at his store. His father had suffered a deadly heart attack in the process. This happened a few months before Jerry turned eighteen. Donenfeld, Jerry knew, had also owned a clothing store. Now he owned a publishing and distribution empire. He had paid him and Joe one hundred thirty dollars for the rights to Superman. Looking at the huge canvas with their Superman painted on it, little could Jerry know, that in less than a year from now, his mother would also die of a heart attack. However, he was aware that he was rich. They were both rich. Their annual income in 1942 would top sixty thousand dollars, nearly a million U.S. dollars adjusted for inflation. Neither Jerry nor Joe could know that Otto Binder, a former writer for the disgraced pulp magazines, was about to take over some writing duties at rival publisher Fawcett Comics which had just launched a Superman knock-off called Captain Marvel. Created by artist C.C. Beck and writer Bill Parker, the red and golden garbed hero was Superman, but with a twist. His alter-ego was a little boy, just like their readers were mostly kids. Binder would eventually begin writing for Marvel and his family of characters, and with a writer as gifted as he, Captain Marvel would soon outsell Superman. Harry would sue for copyright infringement, of course. Meanwhile, Binder would become the highest paid writer in this new medium of comics with an annual income just for himself that was nearly double of what Donenfeld paid Jerry and Joe combined. Jerry didn’t know this but standing at Harry’s desk in the presence of Superman like The Man of Tomorrow was some kind of supergod and Donenfeld merely his messenger, he could sense that the marketplace was getting crowded and much more competitive. But as a matter of fact, it had begun with the two men who’d invented comic books, and both eventually crossed Harry’s path with distinctly different results. In 1934, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson set up the first comic book publishing company, National Allied Publications. A year later he put a tabloid-sized series called New Fun which, among reprints of newspaper strips, offered original material, a first. The Major banked heavily on his idea that readers would buy these books independent from your common newspaper which offered this kind of content already included. But nay-sayers doubted him, and soon he also lost his financial backers who began to lose faith in his crazy idea. Wheeler-Nicholson, who still kept his small line of books afloat sans new investments or any significant sales, needed a new partner, one who was able to extend his line of credit. At around the same time, a man named Max Gaines had an idea. Born Max Ginzberg, Max Gaines came from a similar background as Harry. Born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Max had chosen not to go into the textile trade but rather worked hard to land a job as a teacher. However, he soon discovered that there was money to be made in printed material. In 1933, he started a new career when he was hired by Eastern Color Printing to work in the promotional department. He and his boss needed a new gimmick for their biggest client, Procter & Gamble. Gaines suggested that they try this new format that Wheeler-Nicholson had invented, comic books, albeit with reprints of newspaper strips like other had done before. The Major had almost stumbled into using all new material since he couldn’t secure the required licenses he needed. Eastern Color had long standing relationships with newspaper and they could. Even though Procter & Gamble did not like the idea of a comic book as a coupon-based free giveaway, Harry L. Wildenberg backed Max up and they went ahead and printed the books anyway. When he saw how popular these were, he went to publisher Dell to sell them on the idea to put out a comic book with original content like Wheeler-Nicholson was via his small National Allied Publications shingle, but with a catch. Max Gaines and Wildenberg, Eastern Color’s sales manager, had looked at the format and all the cost incurred when producing a tabloid-sized book with a sturdy cardboard cover and the pages glued into the spine of the book. What if they made the books smaller in size and had them saddle-stitched, a process that was cheaper and friendlier to the newsprint business anyway. And instead of a giveaway, they could sell the books like The Major did, but at a lower price point, low enough to have kids buy one or two per month. Dell went for it, and thus, with the first issue of Famous Funnies (1934) the modern comic book was born. While Gaines paid close attention to what The Major was doing, apparently, he had not gotten the memo that he was in financial difficulties, and further, that it wasn’t advisable to get into bed with a man like Donenfeld if you were in dire straits.
By the mid-30s, having been turned down by the banks and other investors he’d approached, The Major talked to Donenfeld about a partnership. The Major needed money but fast, and he had an idea for yet another comic book. This one wouldn’t feature funny cartoons or anthropomorphic animals but would be geared at kids who saw their older brothers reading these lurid pulp magazines. Why not offer them a cleaner alternative, tales about the same type of detectives and adventurers, but with pictures? Even kids who were too young to read could follow these stories. Harry knew all about the pulps, since they were part of his revenue stream. But what had worked so nicely for some years now, had turned into a major headache almost overnight. The ruckus raised by interest groups who wanted to see these books banned, began to cut into his bottom line. But worst of all, the pulp magazines with their covers, which presented young women in a rather poor state of attire, often in bondage and in the hands of a foreign looking man if not men, could easily provoke an ambitious district attorney to order a raid by NY Finest on his offices on a trumped up obscenity charge. Now, that was something Harry couldn’t risk. In order to keep the wheel greased, Donenfeld regularly made cash payments under the table. What were a few thousand dollars to Harry Donenfeld, even during the Depression? But to these men Harry paid to look in whatever direction he told them to, and most importantly, the other way, such handouts represented a small fortune. Good, hard cash was the best way to curry favor with someone, anyone really who you couldn’t intimidate or who might prove useful in the long run. And he did have his own money man. In 1929, Julius Liebowitz, one of Harry’s many business associates, asked Donenfeld if he had used for a young guy who was very apt at doing the books. Harry, who understood what such a random question meant, said yes, and soon he hired Julius’s son Jack as an accountant. Born Yacov Lebovitz in the Ukraine in 1900, Jack never knew his real father, his mother’s first husband who had left their family before he was born. His mother Mindi quickly remarried, and in order to have her son be legitimized, Mindi made sure that her new husband Yulyus Lebovitz gave him his name. Like so many Jews from Eastern Europe, they immigrated to America and settled on the Lower East Side of New York City. Yulyus was aware that they needed to Anglicize their names for him to be successful in business, which he was. But Yacov was also hard working. He took on many odd jobs to put himself through college. Early on, he’d discovered that numbers were like a language, a language he spoke fluently. After obtaining an accounting degree from New York University at the age of twenty-four, he set up his own accounting firm with one client, the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. In 1925, just a year later, the union called for a strike among its fifty-thousand members. The strike lasted six months. The fact that Liebowitz kept their union well-funded during this long period brought Jack to the attention of the union’s top brass. He’d studied the stock market carefully, and soon he was allowed to invest large amounts of money. Though he was very successful initially, like so many other investors, Jack wasn’t able to foresee the stock market crash of 1929. He and the union soon thereafter parted ways and Jack was without funds and clients. Though humbled by the experience, and the additional embarrassment of having to ask his stepfather to put in a good word for him, Jack still had his business acumen and the burning desire to one day run his own company again. Yet for the time being, he settled for working for Donenfeld’s Independent News. Harry, who was seven years older than Jack, treated him like an also run initially. Jack wasn’t his pick. Jack was there because it made strategic sense to keep Julius happy. Harry, who was from a similar background, was not a big fan of nepotism, though he himself had been taken in by his brothers when his store had failed. But Jack’s specific skill set in finding loopholes and sometimes creating them, proved valuable to him, especially since Harry had too much cash on hand, and funds coming in or leaving without receipts. Very soon both men discovered that they complemented each other tremendously. Harry had always possessed a cunning savviness and unrestrained ruthlessness, that were both born out of street-smarts. Liebowitz brought the finesse a business needed to appear legitimate. Together, they were unbeatable. When they met with the well-refined, rail-thin Wheeler-Nicholson in 1935, the deck was heavily stacked against The Major from the get-go. Whereas Harry and Jack had grown up dirt-poor, Wheeler-Nicholson had spent his boyhood riding horses. Being one year older than Donenfeld, their upbringing wasn’t only separated by many miles across the country, but socially by lightyears. Born into a wealthy family in the South of the United States, The Major spent his youth in Portland and on a horse ranch in Washington State. He went to a military school and joined the U.S. Cavalry as a second lieutenant. He rose through the ranks quickly and became the youngest major in the Cavalry. And then his career stalled. Showing the kind of hubris that comes with life handing you things too easily, he began to criticize the U.S. Army and its leadership publicly. When he accused senior command in a letter to President Warren G. Harding in 1922, he was convicted in a court-martial for violating the 96th Article of War. Though he didn’t face a demotion as a consequence, he resigned from the Army a year later. Oddly enough, The Major chose to become a writer next, with the pulp magazines as an ideal outlet for his stories about military topics. Only these were very different pulps from the cheap, well-nigh pornographic books Harry and his peers were peddling the late-1920s. Back then, publisher Street & Smith published pulps like Adventure and Argosy which told their male readers about noble men doing manly things. This in turn had brought The Major into publishing, and there was no way of going back really. Street & Smith were now selling pulps about a cloaked vigilante called The Shadow. And even though this hero, who knew what evil lurked in hearts of men and who scarred the superstitious, cowardly lot with his eerie laughter, was fighting for justice, his was most definitely not the American way. Wheeler-Nicholson had assembled a talent pool of young and hungry creators who were all in on his idea of detective-adventurer comics, but he lacked two things, money and distribution. Newsstands were still reluctant to order comic books which came with new, untested material and in a format that was neither a booklet like the pulps or a tabloid-sized magazine. How were they even supposed to display these comic books? For the time being, publisher Dell still hung on to Famous Funnies, but they had at least better distribution. But this didn’t work out so well for Max Gaines who had big dreams but was getting nowhere with Dell or Eastern Color. Thus, Max took a job as editor at the McClure Newspaper Syndicate in the department that oversaw the strips which were still immensely popular, and which were created by artists that were well respected. To get into such a business that paid well, or well enough, you needed a classical training at an art school. For those who couldn’t afford such an education, comics might promise just the right thing. But since these weren’t properly displayed, they hadn’t caught on. Donenfeld had both. Money to spend on a legitimate business and excellent distribution. When Harry wanted books displayed on the newsstands, they were displayed, his crews on the ground made sure of that. Harry proposed a deal. Independent News would buy the debt of Wheeler-Nicholson’s National Allied Publications and they’d set up a second company which was to be co-owned by Wheeler-Nicholson and Donenfeld. The Major would handle the editorial side and Jack would take care of business. And they’d adopt this new, smaller format their competitor Dell was using. The Major, who had taken his commanding officers to task when he felt that they lacked leadership skills, knew a gentlemen agreement when he saw one. The only thing he didn’t realize: these were no gentlemen. While he and Harry set up the new business which they’d name after the first book they wanted to put out, Detective Comics, Jack Liebowitz put all the machinations into place Donenfeld would need to oust The Major. It was in Wheeler-Nicholson’s office, that Jack met the talent The Major had assembled for the debut issue of Detective Comics, among them a writer-artist duo he had worked with before. As was his wont, Liebowitz asked the teens straightaway if there was something else, they could offer in way of content. Jerry Siegel looked at the man who would become his nemesis for years to come and who would end up as the publisher of the biggest comic book company in the world, and with an eye to his friend, the man who was a teenager still, said, no, sir. This was Jerry playing it smart. Their Superman strip was sitting on the desk of a powerful newspaper editor-in-chief right at this time, and there were signs of encouragement. Thus, when Detective Comics No. 1 saw print in 1937, it didn’t feature Superman or any other superhero for that matter. And Wheeler-Nicholson was absent as well.
After he’d put so much work into the first issue of the comic book that bore the name of their company, which eventually would be the brand under which all of Harry Donenfeld’s publishing endeavors were consolidated, The Major and his wife went on a trip to Cuba, paid for by Donenfeld. During his absence, Harry took over National Allied Publications which he owned via the debt he’d bought. Then he recalled the credit he’d extended to The Major, so Wheeler-Nicholson could buy his stake in Detective. All Harry needed to do was to show evidence that The Major had defaulted on the agreed upon loan payments, which in fact he had, since Jack, who handled all money transactions, must have forgotten. Now lacking the funding to pay its vendors, including Independent News for their distribution services, the company fell into bankruptcy quickly. At the same time, Jack took over talent management to make sure there’d be a steady stream of content for both companies. Casting around for content, Jack Liebowitz phoned up some of the newspaper syndicates which constantly received proposals for newspaper strips from hopeful young creators with big dreams. There had to be some material that had already been rejected, but which might still prove useful to Harry and Jack, and with the artist about to receive a rejection and his or her dreams soundly crushed, these pages could be bought on the cheap as well. When Liebowitz reached the McClure Newspaper Syndicate, the man who answered the phone, realized that here was the opportunity he’d been waiting for all this time. Of course, he knew that Liebowitz worked for Harry Donenfeld and everybody knew who Harry Donenfeld was. A favor from Harry carried a lot of weight if you wanted to get anywhere in this industry. The man at the other end of the line paused for a moment and then he told Jack Liebowitz about these two teens he was about to phone to let them know that in the end his boss had decided not to publish this strip they’d pitched. It was something new and unique. A guy in tights and a cape who could leap tall buildings in a single jump. And best of all, he had his own logo right on his chest. He could ask the creators if they were interested in him forwarding the material to Liebowitz which he would make sure they were. Liebowitz asked about their names. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Jack honestly said that he’d never heard of them. In his mind, he hadn’t. Who were Siegel and Shuster to him? He couldn’t remember the faces of the creators who worked for them. They looked the same really, all these artists with their big dreams and no sense for business or money. And neither did he ever read any of the comics Wheeler-Nicholson had packaged for their companies. In fact, a guy in tights and a cape who could perform fantastical feats sounded preposterous, to say the least. But it also sounded like the right kind of power fantasy of little people that kids would eat up. He told the guy on the phone that yes, he wanted him to make sure that these two teens saw him in his offices. He was interested in their crazy idea. Before Max Gaines hung up the phone, he told Jack that he’d make certain that they did just that, and he told Jack that he was sending his regards to Harry Donenfeld. Meanwhile, Detective Comics, Inc. was in bankruptcy court where Judge Abe Mannen was appointed president of the fledgling enterprise. With most of its debt owed to Independent News anyway, the judge saw it fit to sell all of the company’s assets to its biggest creditor. Thus, he made sure that his friendship to Harry Donenfeld couldn’t be construed in such a manner that he hadn’t been impartial in his decision, and he could tell himself that he had Detective Comics’ best interest at heart. Such was the beauty of the favors Harry asked for or bought when needed. Deeply dismayed by this conduct of business affairs, Wheeler-Nicholson left the world of comic books and publishing behind to focus on in his writing once again. His history with comics had ended at the same time Max Gaines’ was about to begin. When Superman took flight, only figuratively at first, the flying part came much later, this not only created a whole new genre within this new medium of comic books, it gave these books the popularity Max knew they’d have once his format caught on. Comic books needed to be cheap pamphlets, not tabloid sized. This way you could roll them up and carry them around. Soon, other pulp publishers began to establish imprints or entities to put out comic books as well, but Harry had the first mover advantage and he had two companies up and running already. While some relied on shops to produce their content for them, Jack knew that if you wanted to control what was going on, you needed to bring people in-house. Thus, while they stayed freelancers, their contracts made sure they couldn’t pitch their tent elsewhere. With increased demand for this new product, talent was sought after as well. But Jack loathed talking to these people with their ink-stained hands and their petty needs. When Gaines walked into their offices after he’d phoned Jack to remind him that he’d had a hand in them securing the rights to Superman, his timing was perfect. It was time for another rodeo for Harry and Jack. Harry would partner with Max to set up a new company. Jack would be co-president with Max, handling the numbers once again while Max Gaines took care of the product and the talent. But Gaines was no wide-eyed Southern gentleman who had been taken for a spin in what amounted to a Mark Twain tale in reverse. Max, like they, was from the shtetl, even if he wasn’t born in the old country technically. They needed to move carefully. But after six years, in 1944, Harry sat Max Gaines down for a talk. He’d buy up this stake in the company they’d called All-American Comics to honor their new home. Max Gaines, who was shrewd in his own right, was smart enough to know that this was not a suggestion. He could keep the office, Harry promised once he signed the check. Contrary to Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, Gaines didn’t leave comics behind. He was certain that Harry and Jack were banking on the wrong horse for too long. Soon, the war would be over. Their heroes had been popular even before America had entered into the fray, but the war had proven a boon if you had a stable of colorful garbed men and women with superpowers and enough patriotism to spare. And certainly, he’d done his part to ensure that All-American Publishing had just that. Every superhero and his sidekick and girlfriend was a super-patriot. But he’d also begun to work on a different line of books. In fact, his first book, Picture Stories from the Bible had already seen a test run when he’d put out some issues at All-American, and then under his own name. Gaines was ready for the time when kids tired of the same old battles, the villains with their gimmicks and the war. Nobody wanted to see torture for a sustained period of time. The pulps had died and so would the superheroes. Max was certain of it. Thus, with the cash from the sale of his stake in All-American he founded a new company, Educational Comics.
When you opened Green Lantern No. 1 (1941), you needed to pay close attention to notice the darkness at all, this all-encompassing darkness of corruption and backroom deals from only a year earlier. Really, why would you even look for it at all? And if this was your very first comic book, why would you assume that this was not how the story began? After all, didn’t it say No. 1 right on the cover? This cover, which made the book stand out among many other comic books on the newsstand which all featured heroes and heroines who could do impossible things. There was the title of this series, named after the hero, in bold letters, but set against a blazing green flame with a profile shot of the hero’s face between the two words: Green Lantern. The background of the cover was black like the night or evil itself, but there was something else in the background, a huge green lantern, like the one used by railroad workers. For the hero himself, they could not have chosen a more dashing man. He was tall and athletic, but not too muscular. He was clearly not a circus strongman, he needn’t be. Unlike the enemy he was in the midst of fighting, he was blonde. Then there was his costume which was unlike any other superhero costume out there. This mix of colors seemed odd at first. A red top with long sleeves and yellow circular symbol. The logo inside the yellow circle was the same green lantern that took up almost the entire background. But his crimson top was not as tight fighting as with other superheroes, in fact it seemed a bit baggy as were his green pants, almost as if this costume was a hand-me-down from his older brother and he had yet to grow a bit more for it to fit more tightly. Then there were his knee-high boots, which were red, too, like Superman’s. But they came with yellow thongs that were laced crosswise almost as if his boots were too big for him as well and he needed to make the bootlegs fit better. If this wasn’t bizarre enough for you, Green Lantern had a cape as well. Of course, a superhero needed a cape, but his didn’t come in a bright, primary color like his top and his boots or his chest emblem or the corny laces. His long cape, which flew around his slender frame as if it possessed a life of its own, was deep purple, the same color as worn by a king. But then again, if you had paid attention in Sunday School, you knew that there was a special man made to wear a purple robe. Jesus Christ, the son of a carpenter, but truly the son of God and the son of man, was made to wear a purple robe by his Roman captors as he was led to his death. The occupiers of the Holy Land who were not content with bringing their rituals and their government, but also their gods, and who saw the need to stomp out any trace of the original culture of the natives. And their new religion. Purple was the dye extracted from shellfish and it was rare, thus it was used to color the robes of their senators worn for special occasions. No one, but a person from the ruling class of Ancient Rome, a true Roman or who they called a New Man, was ever even permitted to touch such rare and luxurious garment, let alone wear it in public, especially not one from a lower station and from a country that had fallen under the crushing might of their legions. To his many followers, this common man, this son of a carpenter, was royalty, he was their king. But to the Romans, he was a rebel leader, who asked those who were now the subjects and slaves of Rome, to rise up, to challenge Rome in what amounted to an open revolt. Word had travelled back that Jesus had walked up to a resident who lived in the desert by himself, a man who clearly had taken leave of his senses and who was called the Maniac of Gadarra. Rumor had it, that this self-proclaimed King of the Jews was convinced this maniac was not insane but that a spawn that had escaped from the netherworld, had taken possession of his mind right as if a dark night had fallen over his very own soul to blacken it completely. When Jesus allegedly spoke to this demon, according to local legend, to command him to release his stranglehold on this individual, once the man from Nazareth had established communications, Jesus demanded to know the demon’s name. “My name is Legion, for we are many.” Then the unclean spirit begged this man who claimed to be the son of the Jews’ “most High God”, “not to send them out of the country.” If this was not a daring, outrageous call to arms from this rebel king to tell his people to rise up against the legions of the Roman Empire, who were indeed many, what was? Was it not prudent to make a mockery of his royal claim at the very moment of his crucifixion? Therefore, what came more natural for these soldiers stationed on foreign soil than to clad Jesus in the same color that was exclusive to the ceremonial robes of the ruling class of Rome and to place a very special crown upon his head, one that came with thorns, those which were liable to cut deep into his flesh. And verily, as any Roman and Jew present could testify, this Christ, this savior of theirs, came in the flesh. Maybe he was the son of their God, but most certainly, he was a son of man. But then, as you remembered from Sunday School, there was one among his disciples, his apostles, who saw a different color for the robe which was put on Christ. According to Matthew: “They stripped him and put on him a scarlet robe.” Scarlet, crimson or red was the other color you noticed on this new superhero. His top and his laced-up boots were red. He didn’t wear a crown of thorns, clearly, but his eyemask, which he needed to hide his true identity, lest the bad guys harmed his loves ones, it came in the same color as his cape. If Superman was Baby Moses sent in his basket from the stars grown up to be the Champion of the Oppressed, Green Lantern was Jesus Christ as superhero. The similarities didn’t end with his costume, either. On the cover you saw a bad guy, who was a soldier from a foreign country which was in an uproar, as the fourth story in the book would tell you, and as he lunged forward towards the hero; he wielded a long saber. Clearly, if you were a kid still, you most likely had never seen the cover to the October 1936 edition of Spice-Adventure Stories on which a young women with light-blonde hair and milky skin was menaced by a huge Arab while she was tied with ropes and her clothes were torn to shreds. The grim looking, dark-skinned man held a long, silver saber with its tip pressed to a smoldering fire to heat the gleaming metal for whatever sadistic purposes that lurked in the recesses of his clearly demented brain. This magazine was published by Harry Donenfeld via one of his companies like so many other pulps which pounced on this trend in publishing in the 1930s. The cover was painted by Hugh Joseph Ward who only a few later would paint the life-size portrait of Superman that hung on the wall behind Donenfeld’s desk as a reminder to Superman’s creators who the real boss of The Man of Steel was. They could create fanciful stories and dream up new powers for their creation, but at the end of the day, their Moses from a doomed world was a prince and a slave at the same time. The man with the saber was out for blood, and given the opportunity, he’d pierce Green Lantern’s side like Jesus’ side was pierced by a Roman soldier’s lance to make certain that the rebel had perished on the cross. The cross was made of wood, of course, and wood was the only material that could resist the ring this new superhero wore, a ring that gave him his fantastical powers, a ring fueled by the lantern as depicted on the cover, but smaller of course, but he also needed his will to operate this mysterious weapon, thus while it was visible and tangible, it was useless without his mind. But there was more. Above all else, as this lantern itself told this blonde man, he needed faith: “Power to fight evil… power – if you have faith in yourself!… Lose that faith and you lose the energetic force of the Green Lantern, for will-power is the flame of the Green Lantern!” Since the lantern looked like the lantern used by a railroad worker, there was the small chance that its impurity, its ineffectiveness against any object made of wood, was but a reminder of the wooden beams that were part of a train track. But as you learned from the first pages, those two pages that told you the all-important origin tale of this new superhero, it hadn’t always been a lantern. Curious enough, the lantern told its own tale to the blonde guy and the reader, and in its tale, we learned about its original form. It was a green meteor that had fallen to Earth during the time when China was ancient, a meteor with a green flame and a voice to warn those who found it: “Three times shall I flame green, first – to bring death! Second – to bring life! Third – to bring power!” What else then was this rock but God? And like the God of the Old Testament, he was cruel to those who rejected him at first. As the story went, an old Chinese, who was an outcast in his community, but also a holy man, a prophet, took the rock to fashion a lamp from it. But those who feared the rock and what it represented; they callously murdered the old man as they were ruled by their superstition. But the rock from outer space, now a lamp “fulfilled the first prophecy by bringing death to the men who killed him!” Over the next centuries, the lamp wandered through many hands, but neither did it ever speak again or did those who had it in their possession show any will-power or faith to believe in its invisible magic. As willed by fate or the lamp itself, it turned up outside an asylum for the insane in modern-day America where the strange, green-hued lamp was given to one of the patients. It was he who fashioned it into the design of a train lantern, but though the lamp, which was now a lantern, never spoke to him either, it did what Jesus had done for the Maniac of Gadarra, it drove out whatever demon had taken over his soul. Thus, the second prophecy was fulfilled. With the man restored to his senses, ready to take his place among other citizens once again, it had brought life. It was now ready to give power to the man who’d one day would carry its message to a new congregation, a captivated mass-audience sitting in front of the radio.
You learned very little about this man Alan Scott during the course of these two pages. But immediately, you knew that he was important, and that he was a survivor. The first panel you saw him in, Alan Scott was presented as the one soul who’d escaped a man-made disaster by the skin of his teeth. A powerful train, the symbol of pioneer spirit and progress in America, had been brought down from a bridge in an earth-shattering explosion. The train had passed a bridge which had been blown up by a bomb, as Scott suspected, a bridge he and his crew had built. While his suspicions of foul-play would be proven right, Scott, who was a builder of things, a civil engineer by trade, was also a humble man. How else were we to explain what we saw next? Scott, our hero, this survivor, lay flat on the ground as if in worship. Sure, the lantern had a hand in this, making him dizzy and confused, but was this not liable to happen when you found yourself in the presence of your god? And God spoke to Alan Scott: “To you I bring fulfillment of the last prophecy… power! Power to fight evil… power – if you have faith in yourself!” And Alan Scott had faith and he did what the lantern told him. He made a ring with a symbol of the lantern at its center like a cross to be worn from a chain around your neck. And Scott even changed his profession. The time for making things with his hands in a workshop was over. Now he was a broadcaster of the gospel. Alan became a radio engineer at the Apex Broadcasting Company, an enterprise he would one day lead. But for now, as you could expect from any superhero comic, there needed to be time for action. And in the first story you saw Green Lantern defeat some mobsters who had designs on the racehorse his secretary Irene Miller had inherited. Clearly, these were men who were dastardly and cruel, but they weren’t like the crooked men in the backrooms who hid their faces from the light. But they were still around, only to be exposed by “the light of The Green Lantern!” You found them right in the next story, when Green Lantern learned that even the Commissioner of Police could be in leagues with a criminal. Likewise, you couldn’t trust the news, as you found out in the third story when Barton, the publisher of a newspaper, was exposed as the man responsible for acts of arson in what amounted to a real-estate scheme. Once you turned the pages to the fourth tale, though, you heard about how foreign agents operated in some faraway country in South America, in which they tried to unduly influence the locals to overthrow their democratic government. But thankfully, Green Lantern was there to shine his light on those enemies of democracy and to show the rebels the right path to prosperity. With the next issue you saw Alan Scott now assume the mantle of radio announcer, he needed to speak to the people, of course, while under the guise of his alter-ego as the Emerald Crusader, he took on a crooked lawyer and a crime boss in an epic four-part story, all in one issue. But the days during which superheroes, and especially the Master of Light fought enemies of America who were her citizens as well, were decidedly numbered. When No. 3 of the series appeared in the Spring of 1942, Green Lantern’s and America’s enemies came from one country only, Nazi Germany. You might encounter them on the battlefield, and Green Lantern did just that on the cover for issue No. 5 by artist Irwin Hasen, on which the hero lifted a tank to protect a group of American soldiers, but they might also operate in the shadows as members of the fifth column. But Alan Scott was no slouch either. Soon he and his sidekick, the hapless Doiby Dickles, enlisted in the U.S. Army as all men were expected to, all the while Green Lantern never seemed to be able to make up his mind what oath to say to himself when he recharged his ring like a religious person might strengthen their faith by attending the Holy Mass or a sermon. But Nazis weren’t the only villains a hero like Green Lantern had to face. Once Charles Darwin published his groundbreaking work “On the Origin of Species” in 1859, a heady brew of evolutionary theories began to proliferate around the globe. The very idea of the involvement of a higher power in the development of mankind was done away with by those who travelled in scientific and intellectual circles, to the point, that revered writers like H.G. Wells began to view Jesus Christ as just another leader who’d emerged over the course of history. A charismatic man, sure, but most assuredly not the son of God, because among the hard facts of scientific findings, there simply was no longer a place left for a god. Naturally, this brought about some detractors who espoused their very own unique beliefs. Specifically, writer, philosopher and lay theologian G.K. Chesterton took exception to Wells’ theory that human life had seamlessly grown out of animal life and that Jesus was just one of the guys. His book “The Everlasting Man” (1925) was his rebuttal to Wells’ “The Outline of History” (1919-20). In “The Everlasting Man”, G.K. Chesterton postulates that there had to have been a collective consciousness throughout history which could be traced back to a divine origin. Civilizations didn’t simply grow or cease to exist without a trace to make room for something else. There were points of overlap, and seeds for ideas that were carried forward as time progressed. This tied in with the idea of The Eternal Man, a myth which can be found throughout the dawn of time among many civilizations. The idea of one man who had witnessed the development of all mankind, and thus had become a vessel of our collective experiences and achievements, is a potent one. If Green Lantern, the Master of Light, was comic books’ version of Jesus Christ, who better to pose a real threat than such an everlasting man? Especially if he was evil and he came with a face and a body that resembled the Greek god Pan or how many Christians were taught to imagine the devil. This ancient evil was created by writer Alfred Bester and artist Martin Nodell and he made his debut in Green Lantern No. 10 (1943). To Bester’s credit, he kept any reader of this twenty-six pages long extravaganza guessing why this little, bearded man, who introduced himself as Vandal Savage, knew this much about the stock market, the history of the world and Scott. “The Man Who Wanted the World” is tightly plotted, beautifully illustrated and in true serial movie fashion, it provided many cliffhangers and surprising revelations. The villain knew that all it took was a club of wood to best the Emerald Crusader. The most shocking twist came at the end of act two when this devil strapped Green Lantern and Doiby Dickles into an electric chair. Not only did this fiend, who possessed no superpowers, know Green Lantern’s dual identity, but once Vandal had made certain that they’d perish and he’d have Washington D.C. in palm of his hand as newly elected U.S. Senator, he revealed his origin. And to readers who were still certain that Green Lantern No. 1 saw the premiere of the hero, the tale Bester had Vandal tell seemed disproportionate when compared to the meager two pages that gave you the origin of the Master of Light. That this villain should also receive well over two pages to tell his story seemed almost grotesque, especially if you considered that he’d come about in exactly the same manner as our hero had. A flaming meteor had crashed onto Earth, only much further in the past, as a matter of fact one million years ago. Savage was one million years old. He was a savage not in name only, and the meteor had made him an immortal man. He wouldn’t age or die, barring any lethal force, and over the years, he kept on growing smarter as he accumulated all the knowledge and growth of mankind. He witnessed every man from his tribe of cavemen die, he saw the pyramids getting erected and Rome reach the pinnacle of power. Through it all, the immortal assumed many names, like Cheops and Julius Caesar. He did so over the span of centuries, until it was time for him to control things from the background, to “become the power behind history’s scenes”, almost as if he was a brother to men like Harry in the world of comics. Like he, Vandal had his men to do the dirty work. Eventually, this had become a game to him. But lest Green Lantern thought for a moment, that this joke he’d begun to see in everything, this man who was exactly like G.K. Chesterton had imagined his everlasting man, only without ever considering that he might get driven insane by his knowledge – viewing the history of the world, of mankind, as a game, had made him only more dangerous. Now Savage had come for America, and his ambition was such, that once he was an officially elected member of the U.S. Senate, he’d steer politics in such a way that would but guarantee that America were to lose the war: “For in a dictatorship I shall be able to play with power as I never could in a democracy!” While often the villain was the exact opposite of the hero, Superman was all brawn, his nemesis Lex Luthor was the brains, The Batman was always in control, the Joker was insane, Green Lantern and Vandal Savage moved along the very same spectrum. Green Lantern had power as long as he kept his faith, the lantern had told him. Vandal Savage had all the collective knowledge of mankind, accumulated over the span of one million years, yet it was but a means to an end, to obtain the power he wanted. Green Lantern was Christ ascended into heaven here on Earth, to shine a light and lead the way. Savage was still a savage beast from the netherworld. And like the demon who was legion, this was where to Green Lantern finally banished Vandal when he used his power ring to return this beast to the bottomless pit from whence it truly came. Victory at last.
A comic with a No. 1 meant you could get in on the ground floor, you’d get the full story. Not like with Superman, whose adventures began three years prior when you were too young for these thrilling tales of flight and raw power. The tales of men and women who could do anything or who just used their will and determination to help America and its citizens during these difficult times of war. But like Superman No. 1 (1939) was not the first adventure of Superman, this came in Action Comic No. 1 (1938), this issue was not the start of Green Lantern’s story. Once Max Gaines had made his deal with his very own devil, he was off to the races. Naturally, since he, Harry and Liebowitz had named their company All-American Publishing, there was a comic book series called All-American Comics. Gaines started with what he knew best from his days with Dell: funny cartoons. Then came the science fiction heroes, bare-chested fellows who held a ray-gun in one hand and a beautiful girl by her small waist with the other, since the pulps, which had been morally defanged, were now doing this sort of much cleaner entertainment. But Gaines saw the success Harry and Jack had with their superheroes, National’s Superman and Detective Comics’ The Batman. And when Flash Comics made its debut in the following year, Max had a superhero of his own, The Flash, created by artist Harry Lampert, who ran his own studio, the type of set-up that would be called “a shop” soon, and writer Gardner Fox who’d switched to writing comic tales when he’d heard about the kind of cash his erstwhile colleague Otto Binder was making at Fawcett Comics. Binder was a workhorse. Fox knew that to get close to what he was making, he needed to pull double shift. Thus, Fox created a second hero for the same issue with artist Dennis Neville, Hawkman. And there was even yet a third hero in that issue, Johnny Thunderbolt. When he and Liebowitz saw the sales numbers for their new title, which usually took a couple of months, they knew they were on to something. Superman and Captain Marvel were selling gangbusters. Now, if only you put a mask and a cape on a guy and gave him some kind of fantastical powers, the kids would eat it all up. As far as his origin story was concerned, it needed very little imagination, really. Jerry Siegel had proved that when he explained Superman’s might in just one single page at the beginning of Action Comics No. 1, a page that had nothing to do with the story he was telling. And when Bill Finger and Bob Kane finally revealed the backstory of The Dark Knight in Detective Comics No. 39 (1939), the writer who also had some experience in the pulps, used just one page as well. Between his three comic books publishing companies Donenfeld had cornered the market on superheroes. Sure, soon many companies flooded newsstands with their imitations and knockoffs, like girlie magazine and pulp publisher Martin Goodman did at Timely, but Harry had a superpower all of his own. He owned a large distribution company, and if Goodman wanted to move his product, there was no way around it, he had to go through Independent News. This was like the days of the prohibition, only this time around, Harry was calling the shots. Meanwhile, in his function as managing editor of All-American Publishing, Max and his assistant Sheldon Mayer made sure there’d be an endless stream of new superpowered characters at All-American. In issue No. 8 of All-American Comics, they premiered Gary Concord, The Ultra-Man, a well-drawn blend of science fiction with the Superman mythos created by writer-artist Jon L. Blummer. Though Ultra-Man certainly brought the brawn, and he had a beautiful blonde girlfriend, he was a bit dull, like the jocks at your junior high school, and he was missing one all-important item. He didn’t have a cape, and every child knew that a superhero needed a cape. Thus, he was gone soon. This was something Martin Nodell noticed when the artist, who was in his mid-twenties, put a pitch together he mailed to the address that was printed in All-American Comics. Nodell wanted to make it as an artist, so why not start at the top with the man who was Superman’s boss? Nodell did not know that National and All-American weren’t located at the same address. While his subway train had approached the station at 34th Street in Manhattan, Nodell saw a workman of the railway company waving a lantern along the dark tracks. He got home and drew this lantern which had shown the engine driver a green light. Next, he drew the whole thing in green which looked pretty darn fine. Strangely, in his mind, he began to associate the lantern with the imagery of a ring, something Nodell recalled from an opera he’d once seen, Richard Wagner’s ring cycle. James Hilton’s novel “Lost Horizon” (1933) was still popular in 1940, after Frank Capra had turned it into a hit movie three years earlier. It was the story of a veteran who embarks on a journey to the magical city of Shangri-La, located high in the mountains of Tibet. There, among the monks and their Buddhist belief, he finally finds enlightenment. Nodell liked the idea of Chinese folklore, and if you had a hero with a lantern, why not a man who had transcended his ordinary life and who now dispersed his own special brand of spiritual awareness? And what better model to use for a hero in general than Greek mythology. And yes, he needed a cape. Nodell made sure he’d have one. Anxiously, Nodell waited to hear back from the man who owned Superman. Instead, in the second week, he received a phone call from Sheldon Mayer who invited him in to see his boss, Max Gaines. Though the wiry, balding man with the face of a bulldog intimidated Nodell, he very much liked what Gaines told him. In short, the man who was a publisher, just not Superman’s publisher, gave him the green light to go ahead. As Nodell remembered in 2000: “I did the first five pages of an eight pages story, and then they called in Bill Finger to help. We worked on it for seven years.” However, what kids saw who picked up the first issue in which this new hero appeared, All-American Comics No. 16 (1940), was vastly different to the debut of Superman, Batman or any other superhero at that time. What they saw instead was a mini movie that made the origin of the hero very much part of his fist adventure. In this story we meet Alan Scott who is an engineer. He and his crew take a train ride across a bridge, the same bridge they’d built after Scott had been awarded with the order by the government above one of those ruthless businessmen who did not take no for an answer. When the bride gets blown up, there’s no doubt in Alan’s heart that the man responsible for the explosion is none other than his rival Dekker. With every man from the train dead, he realizes that he’s still holding on to the train lantern he’d found on the train earlier. Once again, the lantern tells the story of its own origin, but in direct contrast to the retelling of Green Lantern’s origin from a year later, handled by the same creative team, Nodell doesn’t show Scott on the ground in a position of worship, but he is seen lying flat on his back, with his upper body and his legs held straight, one arm stretched to the side, the other arm in such an angle that his hand points to his side where Scott might feel the phantom pain from a wound he never sustained. The background is shaded in such a way that it seems that his back is not touching the desert sand, but that he is suspended by long wood beam. The part of the origin that handle the time in China and the healing of the insane man take up one page each. And when it’s time for Alan Scott to ascend, Nodell depicts Alan like he’s almost floating in mid-air, still resting, with this voice, which came from the lantern, lifting him up. Only Alan thinks this all a dream. It’s only once he touches the green lantern again and he feels the power surging from it, that his faith is rekindled. Now feeling this new power coursing through his entire body, he turns his attention to the dead. There is Alan’s friend Jimmy, who is dead and whom he now cradles in his arms like Mary did with the body of her son after his crucifixion like in Michelangelo’s famous Pietà sculpture, commissioned by representatives of a very different Rome in the 15th century. Though “pietà” is the Italian word for pity, Scott neither has time to mourn the fallen for long, nor has he any pity to spare. His attention quickly turns to the crooked businessman who’d caused all this death around him, a man who put his financial gain ahead of the lives of others like all these men in the dark backrooms who feasted on America and her hardworking citizens during the Depression. And thus, for the remainder of this eight-pager, we follow Scott as he fashions a ring from the lantern and then hunts down the guy, he holds responsible for all the dead bodies, his crooked rival Dekker. Yet once Alan slips the ring on the middle finger of his right hand, something strange happens. This raving lust for murder he’s felt since lifting up Jimmy, leaves him: “Why, I must have been mad! I wanted to kill a man, Dekker! No! I must fight him another way!” It seems as if the ring was his teacher now and he learns that murder mustn’t beget murder. He won’t allow it. But the ring is also power, and under the ring’s power he takes flight. And when Alan walks through a wall and he appears in front of Dekker and his henchman while his body is bathed in the glowing light of the ring, the cowardly criminals, who were certain that they’d killed him in the crash, believe him a ghost. To them, the blonde engineer had risen from the dead. But Scott was a man of flesh and blood, a man who could be knocked for a loop by a simple piece of wood. But in the end, Dekker died because the strain was too much for his black heart. Justice was served as Scott concluded: “He’s paid for the lives lost in the wreck!” This was most convenient, of course, since now he couldn’t blabber to nobody really about the fantastical feats, he’d seen Scott perform. All Scott still needed to do was to make a costume for himself and he was ready to fight crime as America’s latest superhero. The way he draped his purple cape around one side of his body, with the heavy cloth almost touching the floor, it looked indeed like ceremonial robe. This, and a catchy vow: “And I shall shed my light over dark evil… for, the dark things cannot stand the light… the light of The Green Lantern!” Lest readers thought they’d need to wait too long to see the return of the Emerald Crusader, the final panel alleviated any such fears: Green Lantern would return in the very next issue of All-American Comics. He did indeed. Though Nodell didn’t create the cover for his debut issue (the task was handled by Sheldon Moldoff, an artist who would follow Gaines a few years later to his new company), and he wasn’t asked to create the cover for the first issue of Green Lantern’s own series a little more than year later (Howard Purcell did that one), Nodell had given Gaines a new hit character. Green Lantern became the flagship character for All-American until the title got cancelled in 1948, starring on every subsequent cover but the last three. When it was time to create a solo series for Green Lantern, Gaines and Mayer asked Bill Finger and Nodell to switch over to this new title, with Irwin Hasen replacing the artist on All-American. For readers who hadn’t been following Green Lantern’s adventures, a retelling of the origin was needed. Finger was by now well-versed in telling the origin of a hero in one page. He’d learned it all from Jerry Siegel and he, like many other writers in this new world of superheroes, followed this template when he’d finally revealed the origin of The Batman, the character he’d co-created with Bob Kane, a character his much younger friend had stolen from him to sell him wholesale to Harry Donenfeld but with a much better deal than the one offered to Siegel and Shuster. Finger dug in his heels, though. He stuck around. With the pulps dying, there was nowhere else to go. If there ever had been any doubt that Gaines had latched onto the Christian motifs present in Green Lantern, when he launched Picture Stories from the Bible, first under the DC brand, then for the All-American, and finally under his own name, to take it to his new company eventually, he didn’t hesitate to put Jesus Christ on the cover for the New Testament editions. There he was, his soft brown hair at shoulder-length, his beard carefully trimmed, his features a bit effete, a proto-hipster by design. Clad in a long white robe he rode into Jerusalem “and the people cried HOSANNA… blessed is HE who cometh in the name of the LORD!” Cover artist Don Cameron made sure he pleased his rather difficult boss who was known for his bad temper. Here was publisher Max Gaines, a Jew born in America to poor immigrant parents from Eastern Europe, who was convinced that superheroes would go away, and who instead offered children the most famous superhero of all time.
Gaines was right. The superheroes died. Not all of them, but most of them. Case in point, Green Lantern was jettisoned from the final covers for All-American Comics to make room for western characters. And it was even worse when you looked at Green Lantern’s solo series, where Streak the Wonder Dog took the starring role until the book was put out of its misery in 1949. If you were a fan of Comic Cavalcade, an anthology series that featured all your favorite superheroes like Wonder Woman, The Flash and, of course, Green Lantern, in 1949 it was back in the hands of talking animals. Superheroes no longer sold. Picture Stories from the Bible had been a bust as well. Gaines, who’d started his new shingle Educational Comics in 1944, was soon forced to settle for crime comics which were the latest trend. In 1947, Gaines died in a boating accident. When his son Bill took over, he did crime comics, western and romance titles. These were hits. Even though these sold at best a million copies per issue, the market was contracting. Older readers began losing interest after the war. For good reason. After you had seen your heroes fight real bad guys like the Nazis, now that they had to content with battling aliens and robots, it all seemed a bit dull by comparison. Really, after you had knocked Adolf Hitler out, there was nowhere left for you to go. Sure, Superman and Batman hung on, and a few others, but that was the same old. Then Gaines, Jr. and his new editor Al Feldstein stumbled onto the new thing. Horror Comics. And luckily for them, it happened right around the time when the first kids of the new baby boom were old enough to discover comics. Now, everybody was doing horror titles, the more gruesome the better. But like with the pulps in the 1930s, soon politicians began to put a stop to all this sex and violence that would most definitely pollute the minds of these youngsters, and more so, made them violent as well. In a desperate step to save comics from going extinct, publishers like Timely’s Martin Goodman and Donenfeld, who recalled what had happened to the pulps since they’d published them, created a seal of approval which told you that all of their content had been vetted prior to publication by a self-regulatory body, the Comics Code Authority. Books without this new seal on their cover couldn’t get distribution or at least retailers would not display them in the stores but instead they’d send them back to claim full credit. In a way, this was what Donenfeld had feared. This was the same song and dance routine. Once you took the bite out of a publication, the allure of the forbidden and exotic, kids no longer had any interest in them. With their new favorite medium of choice, it might no longer matter that his lawyers had finally succeeded to have Fawcett sign an agreement that they would stop publishing their Captain Marvel titles. Fawcett was run by its founder’s sons and they’d seen the writing on the wall. They had no interest in publishing comics, not if they could publish magazines and paperbacks instead, which were now the market in publishing. Donenfeld still had a huge revenue stream via Independent News, but Goodman and his latest shingle Atlas Comics were hanging on by a thread. Fiction House, Fox and many others were long gone, or they had switched to paperbacks like Fawcett and Dell had. And Dell had the license to publish Walt Disney Comics which were still popular, as were the titles Archie Comics produced, which in fact would keep a foot in the top ten of all comic books sold in America until the end of the 1960s. But would superheroes have a new day to fight a new battle? It was highly doubtful. America had entered into a time that was bright and hopeful, an era that relied on science and on progress. There was the shiny chrome on every new car, and every new kitchen appliance promised you an easier homelife. On television you saw good cops telling people to do the right thing, and Superman, portrayed by actor George Reeves, was about truth, justice and the American way. At the movies, scientists were now attractive men in their thirties who showed you that science was a benefit to mankind not some arcane evil. And as a child you wanted to grow up to become a jet pilot, men who had fought in the war and who were now testing new fighter jets to protect America from its enemies. This was also the time when Dads went to work, and women stayed at home. There were career girls, obviously, but didn’t they want to get married to settle down in one of the new suburbs? Men could chase women, because men were men, and men were financially independent, but for a woman, marriage meant protection, financial security and stability. Men offered all of these things. That was how it was supposed to be. According to men. And contrary to how things had been after the war when the men had come home to find that their wives and girlfriends had taken on jobs of their own, men were in control again. They were confident once more and defined the gender roles. And like before, maybe even more so than before, comic books, which were made for kids, were teaching important life lessons, and to do that, they had to reflect the state of America in the 1950s. It was a good time, provided you were white and part of the new American middle-class that had begun to emerge during the post-war years. Now, during the Eisenhower era, there was prosperity, there were many opportunities for you; if only you agreed to fit in, if you were willing to conform, if you played by the rules of this new world and you were accepted. Chances were high that your parents and you were part of this new society if you had the pocket money to spend on a dozen of comic books a month. But how to get kids interested in comic books again after the cool horror and crime comics had pretty much fallen by the wayside? What would be the next big trend now? Strangely enough, comic books’ unlikely new hero was a fellow named Julius Schwartz. Born in New York City in 1915, Schwartz’s parents came from the same country and economic background as Harry Donenfeld’s parents, the difference being that like Max Gaines, he was born in America and that he was twenty-two years younger than the man who became his boss in 1944. Early on, Schwartz developed a love for science fiction. If you were a fan of those thrilling adventures to the stars, there were the pulp magazines. These were exclusive to nerds for a while, but by the mid-1920s and especially during the Depression, pulps went mainstream. Harry Donenfeld and his peers made sure of that. Now with more young men (and even some women) trying to get their tales into these magazines which had reached unprecedented circulation numbers, as was to be expected with any medium that turns from a niche audience into cultural sensation, Schwartz and his friends figured these aspiring writers would need some form of representation. There was certainly money to be made as a writer for a pulp magazine, you only needed to ask rising stars like Otto Binder or Gardner Fox, but there were also many sharks in these waters. Thus, after he and his friends Forrest J. Ackerman and Mort Weisinger had put out one of the first sci-fi fanzines, when Julius was seventeen, at nineteen, he and Weisinger founded the Solar Sales Service literary agency. Schwartz kept their outfit going even when Weisinger left in 1941. Mort had seen the writing on the wall. The pulps were dying on the vine. After the influx of girlie pulps with their sex and violence and the subsequent crack-down from local legislators, pulps were once again strictly for pimply geeks who weren’t able to get a date on a Friday night. The new big trend were comics, Mort told Schwartz, who ironically pitched his tent with the company that was mainly responsible for what had happened to the pulps, National Comics. But he wasn’t the only one. Some of the pulp writers Solar represented, did freelance work for comics as well. Men like Alfred Bester, who was now writing a character called Green Lantern. As Bester’s agent, Julius saw how much money his client made on those funny books and he’d heard rumors how much a writer like Otto Binder was making. Thus, in 1944, Julius phoned up Mort who was now a powerful editor for one of the companies run by Donenfeld’s right-hand man Jack Liebowitz. Weisinger brokered a meeting with Jack who hired Julius on Mort’s recommendation. But when Schwartz started with National Comics as an editor, he soon discovered that there was far less money involved than what he’d heard. He soon realized that this was because the first boom of comic books was over and he and Weisinger were there to rearrange the deck chairs. Then the horror trend hit. And it hit big. Surprisingly, Donenfeld sat this one out. Not because he was a good man, but because he’d seen it all before. In fact, none of the men were good men. Rumor had it, that Donenfeld had partnered-up with gangster Frank Costello to help the mobster to get alcohol into the country when it was illegal to have a stiff drink. This was for starters. He’d forced his own brothers out of their own printing company, he’d manipulated Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson into a position that made the trusting man vulnerable, a man who had grown up among men who still believed in a certain code of conduct on how you did business, and then he’d stolen National Allied Publications right from under his nose. He and Jack had conned creators out of the rights for their characters, and Jack was a horrible tyrant. They’d forced their former business partner Max Gaines to sell All-American Publishing to them, Gaines who beat his own son black and blue. But Bill Gaines, who had declared himself an atheist at the age of twelve to spite his sadistic father, had gotten the last laugh it seemed. He became immensely successful with his new line of horror comics, and how Jack Liebowitz hated those books, and now, like Harry had predicted, it all came crashing down around them. Comics had begun to sell much better again, but after Gaines had made a fool of himself during his testimony to the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, the public was out for blood. Something needed to be done, and Liebowitz and Archie’s publisher John L. Goldwater helped to set up the Comics Code Authority to placate the media and the hungry mob of well-intentioned and poorly informed interest groups, and ultimately, to shut out Gaines. But the Comics Code was a double-edged sword. Like with the pulps before, readers began to lose interest fast once the thrill was gone. No, these were not good men, and neither was Schwartz who loved nothing more than to chase the girls around the office with the little power and authority he had as editor. But his power was waning, and they still had to put out comic books and those better sold, or Liebowitz would be out for their heads. Mort had it easy. He was responsible for the entire line of Superman books. Superman had a hit television show. Superman sold. He’d always sell. But what was Schwartz to do? Creators came to his office now on a constant basis to ask for more pages to draw. Even artists as talented as Carmine Infantino couldn’t secure enough work to put food on the table for their families. All he could offer them were westerns to draw. But he noticed something. With many advances in science and all those positive role-models on television, kids wanted to be good, they wanted to see grown-ups who did exciting things, men they could aspire to, like all the scientists, the brave detectives and the jet pilots. Now how to compete with these real heroes? By their own nature, kids were as powerless as he felt. In 1952, he’d married his secretary Jean Ordwein. Julius wasn’t a good-looking guy. In fact, he was already losing his hair. But he liked to have power. If you had power, you could check out the other girls in the office and they’d be too afraid of you to give you any trouble. It was all just for fun really. All the guys did it. But you needed power. DC/National had launched a new anthology book that featured firefighters in one issue, kings of the wild in another and deep-sea divers in the next. And it sold like crap. But what if you gave those man superpowers? What if the heroes wore colorful costumes again? They were heroes already, not some random guy chosen by destiny like the writers had done it in the 1940s. These new heroes were already special. Giving them superpowers would make them stand out even more. What if the superheroes came back and they were real heroes?
To give his idea a go, Julius turned to a veteran writer of the comic book industry. Robert Kanigher once had true literary ambitions when he saw one of his earliest short stories win a story contest at the New York Times. He then wrote for radio and the movies and even did a few stage plays. But he also realized that there was money to be made in comic books. He worked for Fawcett and Archie and he welcomed other writers to join him when he included a section on comic book writing in his article “How to Make Money Writing”. Kanigher was a commercial writer through-and-through. When Schwartz approached him with his idea, Kanigher looked at what had worked before. The hero would have a regular job in his civilian identity, one that fit with the times. For that he combined the scientist with the cop. This made him a bit of a hero and a nerdy guy at the same time. Clearly, he needed to have a girlfriend, since you mustn’t ever doubt his sexual orientation after this had become a point of concern, not only in comics, but society at large. His girlfriend would be a reporter like Lois Lane. She’d be stuck-up as well. His girl would take our guy to task whenever he let her down. But readers knew, that he’d secretly snuck away to save the day. This way, fans and the hero could laugh at this silly female behind her back. As for what made him super, why not use some of the old ideas, but with a more scientific twist. Kids loved science, at least those who read comics did. Yet this hero’s true secret power came from the artist with whom Schwartz combined Kanigher. Carmine Infantino had a style that was sleek and modernist, and he knew how to draw hyper-modern cityscapes and interiors, and his characters looked clean and handsome as if they were movie stars, but with a slightly less glamorous look that still kept them grounded and most of all relatable. Infantino re-designed the old character The Flash that Gardner Fox and Harry Lampert had once created when there was still an All-American Publishing, which by now had been folded into DC/National. And thus, with Showcase No. 4 (1956) not only was The Flash back, but superheroes were back as well. Soon, Kanigher and artist Ross Andru would revive Wonder Woman and bring her into the modern age as well. Readers clearly loved the all-new Flash who was not an overtly muscled strongman, but instead looked like the ornament on a modern car with the body of an athlete. The Flash was science personified and he was the right character for a time when kids read books about astronomy and played with chemistry sets. You might never get superpowers like The Flash, but you could grow up to become a police scientist. Little by little, the old trinity from Comic Cavalcade was coming together again, but in an overall healthier package. There wouldn’t be any talk about feminism or crooked men in backrooms. Readers wrote in to inquire about the old heroes. What had happened to the old Flash, Jay Garrick? Did he just die? To answer this question in a way that left the door open to revisit the very first generation of superheroes DC/National still owned all the rights to, Schwartz turned to the writer who had brought the original Flash into existence back in 1940. In fact, after four appearances in Showcase, which were interspersed with tales featuring a quartet of non-superpowered science heroes called The Challengers of the Unknown, The Flash took over the original series of his predecessor which had been cancelled in 1949, and which now was simply called The Flash. No, Jay Garrick hadn’t died. He was alive and kicking. But it would take until 1961 for readers to find out, what had happened to him and to every other hero and heroine owned by the publisher. In The Flash No. 123 (1961), The Flash learned about the existence of another Earth, a whole universe in fact, which existed in the same place and time as our own Earth, but whose molecules vibrated at a different frequency. This was pure sci-fi. Due to their unique powers of superspeed, both Flashes could move between the worlds. It was designated, by the characters, but ultimately by Gardner Fox and his boss Julius Schwartz, that Barry Allen, the new Flash, lived in the very same universe that the current readers lived in, but the characters that readers read about in the 1940s, they lived on what was now called Earth-2. Matters were made a bit more complicated in that our Flash had been inspired to call himself Flash not because Garrick’s adventures were part of the history of his world and our world, but because he read about them in a comic book. In fact, in Showcase No. 4 (1956) we see Barry reading an issue of Flash Comics from the 1940. This was solved by saying that the writers back in the 1940s somehow knew what was happening on that other Earth, and they simply had thought it was their imagination that had allowed them to come up with these outlandish tales. Now, with the door open, the older heroes and their counterparts were liable to run into each other more frequently. Indeed, the revival of the old superheroes as modern gods of science that had begun with a new version of The Flash, continued when Schwartz and his boss Liebowitz saw the sales numbers. But there was a catch. If Earth-1 and Earth-2 existed at the same time, this meant that the original heroes from the 40s were no longer in their prime. Almost two decades had passed and clearly it wouldn’t make such sense to show them as if they were still in their twenties. They weren’t. They had aged into middle age. Most of them had even married their girlfriends and had retired from fighting crime. For the most part, this didn’t matter much. The old heroes were sidelined in favor of the new heroes on our world, in fact they had been sideline since the end of the 1940s, with the exception of Superman, The Batman and Wonder Woman, whose series had survived cancellation. But once you showed readers that superheroes could age like we all do, as it was the case with this first generation of superheroes, superheroes felt a bit less godlike than before. It was almost like those older incarnations were a premonition of things to come. If superheroes, especially the new superheroes, could age, this meant that they’d sweat and bleed and could die. This brought a new sense of danger to the superheroes that hadn’t been there before. More so, any decision they made now might have long-lasting implications into their future, because now all of these superheroes had a future, one in which they’d be older, married and maybe even had children.
Such considerations weren’t yet on Julius Schwartz’s mind when he ordered the second re-design of an old superhero in the Summer of 1959. It had taken the editor this long to convince his boss that in fact there was a market for superheroes again. Robert Kanigher had moved on to Wonder Woman only one year earlier and Schwartz felt that now the time was right to complete the old trinity. But the world had changed a lot during the past years. In October 1957, the Soviet Union had launched Sputnik 1 into the low Earth orbit. This small metal object with a total mass of less than 200 lbs. had circled the Earth for twenty-one days, powered by a battery of just one watt. This had prompted the United States to set up a space program of their own, Project Mercury, which sounded like something from a comic book. Thus, it wasn’t surprising that in the pages of Showcase you saw brave men travelling into space, and through time as well. But what if you took one of the men from Project Mercury, seven fighter pilots picked to be trained into what was called an “astronaut”, and you gave him superpowers? Wouldn’t this be the kind of thing that got the kids’ attention? And if you thought about the men who flew fighter jets in the war and who had become test pilots once the war was over, there was no better model for such a man without fear than the man who was the first man to break the sound barrier, arguably the bravest pilot to ever walk the Earth, Charles Yeager. Chuck Yeager was pushing forty by the end of the 50s, thus you wanted someone younger, a guy with movie star looks, but with the same spirit of honesty and courage. He’d be the new Green Lantern, and Schwartz had the right kind of artist on his team who could convey the idea of a body in flight without the need of an airplane. Alan Scott had been able to fly with his ring granting him unlimited power. Schwartz phoned up Gil Kane who was wasting his talents on books like All-Star Western and The Adventures of Rex the Wonder Dog. All he needed now was a writer who had a similar vision. There wouldn’t be any Christian motifs around this time. The new Green Lantern would be science-based and not faith-based, since science had replaced religion for the most part and the new churches in America were the scientific laboratories in which the jets and rockets were developed that would help the United States to beat the Communists around the globe. John Broome was exactly the kind of writer Schwartz was looking for. Broome had briefly worked for some of the science fiction pulps that had replaced the well-nigh pornographic books of the 1930s. But right around the same time when he signed up with Schwartz’s literary agency, he began to write text filler pieces for Fawcett, biding his time until he got a shot at the grown-ups’ table to get the kind of gigs Otto Binder had. Naturally, when Schwartz landed at DC/National, he brought Broome over as well. And this was where he really excelled. Broome was born to write superheroes with a science-based bent. In the 1940s, during the last days of the comic book boom, he’d worked on The Justice Society of America and issues of Green Lantern. Once that was done, he took on the science fiction influenced standalone tales DC/National was putting out. How would he like to go back to Green Lantern now, but starting from scratch by rooting the character in hard science and what Dwight D. Eisenhower would soon call the military-industrial complex? As his editor expected, Broome liked the idea. While Kane began to draw up character sketches for their main character who they’d name Hal Jordan and whose appearance the artist based on actor Paul Newman, Broome stripped away the Judeo-Christian origin story that Martin Nodell had come up with. Since he was an avid reader of science fiction, he was familiar with the series of novels by Edward Elmer Smith, which was now referred to as the “Lensman Series”. Between 1948 and 1954 “Doc” Smith had seen six novels published in which he introduced an entire universe of characters to his readers. At its core, the series dealt with an order of galactic police officers who were called the Lensmen. Each member of this corps wielded a powerful weapon called a lens. The first recruit came from Tellus (Earth). Naturally, to be worthy of such a powerful tool, you had to be a natural leader, intelligent, forceful and capable. But most of all, you had to be worthy. Anyone who ever tried who did not fulfill this most important aspect, he or she would suffer painful consequences if they dared to touch let alone wore such a lens. There’d be no training. A new recruit was expected to figure it all out by himself. But once you did, you weren’t confined to your own planet any longer. Your lens made it possible for you to explore other star systems and to visit species and civilizations on alien worlds. Your lens enabled you to communicate with anyone telepathically. “Doc” Smith’s Lensman series had actually started much earlier than the publishing dates of his novels would suggest. The first novel had appeared in serialized format in Amazing Stories as far back as 1934. And while the second novel, which gave you the backstory of the first man to ever wear such a truly unique object of immense power, was written in 1950, the material that described what he called the Galactic Patrol and which made up the third, the fourth and the fifth book, had also appeared prior in various pulp magazines in the late 1930s and early 1940s. In 1960, right around the time Green Lantern received his own series for the second time, albeit not the Alan Scott version, Smith published a collection of three stories in one book called “The Vortex Blaster”, which was intended as a sequel to Smith’s series of novels about the Galactic Patrol and the Lensmen. What is really unique about this sci-fi series, is that we don’t stay with one protagonist, but we learn about the fate of various lensmen over the course of centuries. This idea of a legacy was something Broome picked up as well, like the concept of an intergalactic police force made up of members from various planets including Earth. Broome also introduced the idea of going into space to the Green Lantern mythos he was creating, something Scott had never done, even though his lantern was made from a sentient rock from outer space. In fact, John Broome dispensed with the idea that the lantern had been anything other than a lantern originally. He retained the ring and the idea that it had be charged every twenty-four hours, but now this had nothing to do with faith but was owed to the fact that the lantern was a power battery and that the ring, which was now an object to be passed from one galactic officer to the next, could hold only so much energy. To charge it, you now needed to recite a sacred oath, something Alan Scott had made up along the way since this was something you did if you were a superhero. After several variations across his different series in the 1940s, Alan finally settled on one version he’d use till the end of the run: “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!” This oath was written by the second Lantern scribe Alfred Bester. Broome liked it and thus he kept it unchanged. And he kept the idea, that by using your will and your ring, you could create tangible green constructs out of thin air. At first glance this felt corny and at odds with the science element Broome was going for, but this had a nice visual flare and he knew that Kane would draw these objects manifested from Jordan’s mind in a way that was believable and visually arresting. And speaking of which, as an officer in an intergalactic police force, their Green Lantern definitely needed a costume upgrade. Kane and inker Joe Giella gave Jordan a tight-fitting, streamlined costume that was attractive, but utilitarian and authoritarian at the same time. Via the color guide, they made sure that their colorist would use the right colors: black for the sleeves and pants legs, a dark green leotard-like middle section, green boots and most importantly, white gloves as you would see them on a traffic cop. All he needed was a mask. They used a mask similar to Nodell’s original design, only dark green as well. If you overlook the Christian motifs, it still boggles the mind how little green Nodell actually used for his Green Lantern.
The first adventures of the new Green Lantern appeared in Showcase No. 22 (1959). While the covers for the issues since The Flash had gotten his own series after Showcase No. 14 (1958) were pretty good, especially those by Kane and inker Joe Giella, the first cover for what would become known as The Silver Age Green Lantern was a study in human anatomy combined with a striking sense for visual composition and dynamism. We see the hero floating effortlessly in the air space above a major costal city. His back is turned to the readers and his face is in profile. But even though he has one arm raised while his eyes are focused on a yellow rocket that streaks towards the skyscrapers of the urban landscape below, and his power ring emits several burst of green energy, we only need to look into his face to see that Green Lantern is tremendously frustrated. His ring is completely ineffectual against this strange weapon which menaces millions of lives on the American seaboard. We see it on his face, and in the air as well. There is still the glow of spent energy that illuminates the sky, little specks of glimmering green that are slowly dying. This hero, our hero, is a failure. He won’t be able to stop this runaway missile. Worst of all, there is no explanation, no caption or blurb that told us that everything would be alright. Instead we see this weapon of destruction, and we remember the duck and cover drills from our schools. Progress, nuclear power and technology were good things we were told, but in the hands of America’s enemies, all these had been forged into means to destroy us and our way of life. And now here was a new superhero who was just as helpless to stop this from happening, if it did happen, as we were. We could hide under our desks, but deep in our hearts we knew this would be as useless as the hero’s glowing ring. Green Lantern was not a guy who could push a tank to one side with one beam from his ring, this Green Lantern could not. And he didn’t look that strong, and surely, bullets wouldn’t simply bounce off his chest. We didn’t know that it was the color of this missile, this specific color, that rendered his powerful weapon so very ineffective and his attempt at saving the city beneath futile. But we knew one thing: if he was a hero at all, he’d find a way to overcome this obstacle, because he didn’t stop trying, because he wasn’t afraid. We could do that, we could be like him and through him, we could also learn how to better deal with a problem and most of all, how to deal with our fears. Green Lantern wasn’t afraid, not even in a moment of crisis. And as we turned the pages, we learned that he, Hal Jordan, had always been that, not afraid, long before he became a superhero. As a matter of fact, it was the reason why he was given his powers in the first place. Hal Jordan was “born without fear”. And he was honest. Right from the first page we were in for one thrilling ride. We see how he is drawn towards the wreckage of a strange spacecraft by a green light beam while he is trapped inside a tiny, wingless capsule he calls a “pilot trainer”. Jordan is not afraid, but curious. And there was a helpful caption that explained why that was, to help us make sense of it all: “Hal Jordan had a fine reputation as an ace test pilot whose remarkable lack of fear was known to all his associates! But Hal never dreamed his reputation was so wide-spread that an unearthly being would single him out to receive the greatest gift in the universe!” Then we were in the desert and in the presence of this wreckage from the splash page. And there was a strange, red-skinned man who was in the process of dying. If you’d picked up the first issue of the original series from some store that sold old comic books, or it was handed down to you from your much older brother or your father, this was a scene that was strikingly similar to what had happened to the blonde engineer Alan Scott. It was a scene that was familiar and completely different at the same time. Scott had survived the destruction of the train he was on after an explosion had rocked the bridge he’d built. In the crash, he’d held on to the green lantern that he’d found in the engine driver’s cabin. There was also a green lantern present in the picture that showed you this strange humanoid alien amidst the remains of his broken spaceship. But whereas his green lantern had saved Alan Scott, this alien was obviously in pain. Alan’s lantern had spoken to him and it had lifted him up into the air for his rebirth and spiritual ascent. This green lantern was mute, and it didn’t do a thing. But while the man from outer space was dying, he didn’t think about himself, instead he held his ring to the lantern which he called a “battery of power” to send out a signal, not a distress call for others to come to his rescue, this stranger knew any chance of survival for himself was beyond the pale, but to find a replacement for himself. He was a soldier who’d sustained a mortal wound in battle and who, with his dying breath, appointed a fellow soldier to lead the charge. But there was a catch. He couldn’t be any man. He had to be deserving of such power, and “He must be without fear! Entirely without fear!” Immediately, a green beam of light raced around the entire globe until it came to Hal Jordan, a good-looking test pilot who worked for the Ferris Aircraft Company and was just testing a new flightless simulator designed for “space pilots of the future…!” Effortlessly, the light lifted the entire capsule with Hal inside into the air and soon the young pilot found himself at the crash site. Like it was his very nature, without hesitation or fear Hal decided to investigate and he climbed into the severely damaged silver vessel from the stars. There he encountered the alien who introduced himself as Abin Sur and who communicated with him telepathically like the Lensmen did in “Doc” Smith’s books. Naturally, Hal wanted to help the wounded man, but his life didn’t matter, Abin told him with his mind. There were more important matters at hand. Abin pointed to the green lantern, his power battery, then he explained: “… it is a battery of power… given only to selected space-patrolmen in the super-galactic system… to be used as a weapon against forces of evil and justice…” But there was a second test. Jordan or whoever was considered worthy of such an awesome object needed to honest. Abin pointed his ring directly at Hal who was now bathed in an intense green light. “Yes, by the green beam of my ring… I see that you are honest! And the battery has already selected you as one born without fear!… So you pass both tests, Hal Jordan…” There was a small problem though. As Abin related to Hal, he’d been blinded by the very radioactive band that surrounded Earth, a band of light that was yellow: “The unique metal which charges the battery with its wonderous power has a yellow impurity in it! Strangely enough… if the yellow impurity is removed, the battery loses its power!” Right then, as Abin Sur took his last breath, he bestowed upon Hal his ring which needed charging every twenty-four hours. Hal Jordan put on the clothes of the dead alien as he was told to do. This was no superhero costume and technically, he wasn’t a superhero either. It was a uniform, and he was a police officer now, a cop who served in an interstellar police force. And then, Hal was left to his own devices to figure out the abilities the ring gave him, like Virgil Samms had to, the first wielder of the lens. The difference being that Hal wasn’t the first man to wear such a fantastical item in this new continuity. There were others. The Galactic Patrol had already existed for millennia. The new hero came from a long line of succession which was unique for a DC hero.
After two more issues in Showcase, like the Silver Age Flash before him, Green Lantern received a new solo series, the difference being that it did not continue the numbering from Alan Scott’s old series. As Showcase continued to serve as a launchpad for Schwartz’s revival of the superheroes, not all concepts he and his talented creators tried out would prove a success, readers were able to pick up Green Lantern No. 1 from newsstands in the Summer of 1960. Like with Alan Scott’s solo title, the original team made the transition to the new series, though inker Murphy Anderson stepped in for Joe Giella for the first of the two stories in the issue. Naturally, the first story “The Planet of the Doomed Men”, offered another go at the origin of this new iteration like it was done for the Green Lantern No. 1 all the way back in ‘41. Whereas Bill Finger significantly abbreviated Nodell’s origin tale for the original Green Lantern when he retold it, the second time the origin of his newer counterpart was told, John Broome followed the model of decompressed storytelling before there was even a word for it. After the required splash page, done by Kane and Anderson in a dynamic style that made you hungry to learn more about this several stories tall alien beast the superhero was going up against, we see fearless pilot Hal Jordan testing a fighter jet. But things don’t go as planned. Suddenly, the sleek, ultra-modern aircraft spins out of control. Hal stays cool while we become aware that he is being observed by a group of blue men who use words we don’t yet understand: “The energy-duplicate of the possessor of a power battery in sector 2814 will arrive in a moment…” Broome confronts readers with a tenet of clever science fiction writing: readers and often even the protagonist lacked some basic information of the world that was presented to them, and they had to figure it all out like Hal had to learn how his power ring worked. Thus, you engaged the readers. The same was true with the weakness of the ring and battery. Originally it had been wood and yes, you could make a connection to the cross Jesus Christ had been nailed to by the Romans. But why the color yellow, why would this specific color represent a weakness to our new Green Lantern, pilot Hal Jordan? Now, what would you call a person who was fearful, who was cowardly, a person who did not possess the will-power necessary to make the world better? You’d call such an individual with this much fear in his or her heart “yellow”. As we learn, the little blue-skinned men who seem ancient and of whom we’re to find out that they refer to themselves as The Guardians of the Universe, run the show, and they need further evidence that Sur’s power battery had chosen wisely when it had selected Jordan as their latest recruit. And by the way, a “terrible emergency has arisen in his sector…”, and what better way to learn more about the rookie Lantern was there really, than to observe how he conducted himself in a stressful situation. In that, you discovered a great secret of these little men who hailed from the planet Oa: they were like any other boss, and maybe like your own father as well. And once Hal’s essence appears right before this ancient council, while he is still on Earth commanding his fighter jet, we see how much that was true since they first tell Jordan what he already knows. For the next six pages we see how Hal came into the possession of the ring and the battery, first from The Guardians’ perspective and then, once he is prompted to do so, as told through the eyes of our hero. A year has passed in his life since he became a Green Lantern, and with some time for reflection, his origin tale takes on epic proportions which gives Kane the chance to let the art breathe a bit more for dramatic effect and Broome the opportunity to fill in some blanks along the way. And to Gil Kane’s credit, the artist didn’t simply re-draw the images he’d done for Showcase No. 22, but instead he offered an entirely new version of these past events. The way he animates Abin Sur’s face when he relates his plight, with Murphy Anderson more suitable to the task than Joe Giella, is surely a sight to behold. Due to the artistic strength of Kane and Anderson we become deeply invested in this weird, red-hued man’s fate. His face emotes the core of his soul. Abin Sur is now less of a plot device, Jordan has to get the ring, the power battery and his uniform, but a fully rendered being, if not human, at least humanoid and sentient. Kane and Anderson make us feel Abin Sur’s pain, his desperation in finding a worthy successor. When he does, and his ring has assured him this was truly a man who was fearless, honest and ultimately noble, there is relief and sweet release. Abin has done what needed doing, and we salute him for his service, as a Green Lantern and for fulfilling his duty with honor, up the last second of a life which he gives gladly albeit due to the impurity that henceforth would be the nemesis of Hal Jordan as well. Like Alan Scott had to re-new his faith in a higher power, Hal must not waver in his confidence. That he would, over time, would open up great story potential and make for some of the most exciting stories to come in this new age of superheroes. Jordan was not vulnerable to some rock from his home world. He wasn’t like Superman who lived through the same deeply seated panic many Jews in America felt whenever their mask of self-assimilation slipped in the presence of the past and its reminders and tokens of the old world. Jordan was still the Christian superhero Alan Scott had always been, only Hal ascended under the power of his new God, technology. Yet ultimately, as the years wore on, his faith would be tested many times and he turned his back on his employer who rested deep within the military-industrial complex. Jordan would become a travelling salesman, a truck driver, a seeker for spiritual growth and renewal. He’d be cast as “the man” and as a drop-out. That was many years into his future, and thankfully, his new bosses, who could do many things, they couldn’t see into the future. With Jordan passing their tests as well, the Guardians deem it wise not to reveal themselves to him, or more precisely, they made sure that Jordan wouldn’t be able to remember his job interview. Instead they inform him about the emergency within his sector, or “beat” to use the terminology of a police officer, via his power battery, while unbeknownst to him, they monitor him with their advanced surveillance system from far-away Oa while conducting an employee review. But it was time for action. We see Jordan as he’s charging his ring while reciting his oath. This was new to readers who hadn’t read any of the Showcase issues that introduced you to this new Green Lantern. Then the hero’s off into the far reaches of space. Not the first time. Broome and Kane had taken Jordan off-world in his second issue in the try-out comic. Hal Jordan arrives on a weird alien world, and naturally, with his ring, he is able to communicate with its indigenous population as any wielder of the lens in “Doc” Smith books could. He finds out that they fear the beast we saw earlier on the splash page, but now we learn what a formidable opponent the towering creature truly is. The huge beast unleashes a single beam of mental energy that attacks Green Lantern where he is most vulnerable. It drains his will-power from his brain. Readers who were also following the adventures of the new Flash knew that this was par for the course. These heroes always seemed to face odds that attacked their Achilles’ heel like you might have to face an issue which seemed insurmountable. But these new heroes were no quitters. Neither were they just men of action who only knew how to use their fists and their new godlike powers. These heroes were heroes because they were brave and smart. They studied their adversary and their immediate surroundings carefully. There had to be a way to win the day if you used your wits, most likely one that involved some scientific lesson. Lo, Green Lantern eventually figured out a way of how to best solve this problem. With the help of his power ring, Green Lantern froze the brute in a solid block of ice which he placed in a cold region. Naturally, the natives rejoiced. Off he was again, very pleased with himself and sans any considerations for the creature. In the 1950s, you simply didn’t think that hard about the fate of your enemies. If at all.