The Green Lantern Chronicles: Volume One

As I continue on the epic saga of working my way through entire decades of comics (seven trades in, woohoo!) I’m already seeing a personal taste develop.  Certain stories and characters feel more engaging than others, and I find myself looking forward to specific trades based solely on which characters appear in them.  This Green Lantern trade, a collection of his early appearances in 1959-1960, was not one of the comics I was especially looking forward to.  After his appearance in All-Star Comics: Volume One, I was not overly impressed with the character or his stories.  I worried  that I would feel forced to slough through this trade (as well as Volume Two, which is coming up shortly) without any real interest in what was happening.

Silly comic newbie.  There’s a reason these characters are so beloved.  You should have known the stories would evolve and become so much more interesting.

From the very first issue, Green Lantern is a compelling, interesting story.  With the dawn of the silver age, there is a rebirth of the character.  We receive a well-developed origin story in the very first issue, explaining how the dying alien Abin Sur uses his power ring to summon a worthy human to take up his mantle.  Enter Hal Jordan (no explanation given at this point as to what happened to the golden age Green Lantern, Alan Scott).  Hal instantly adopts the Green Lantern persona as a means of hiding his identity, and is faced with one crisis after another.  Early on we are introduced to Green Lantern’s oath, the ever-catchy phrase he must say in order to charge his power ring.  There’s no doubt in my mind little kids ran around in the early 60’s chanting this oath, pretending to be The Green Lantern.

Unlike the earlier Green Lantern, these stories grab you from page one and create a thoroughly entertaining tale.  The artwork has clearly developed since the 1940’s, and the stories have greatly surpassed the originals.  I smiled early on, as the comic harkened back to another popular character:

wpid-20150914_133100.jpgHow do you not laugh at “It’s a bird, it’s a plain, it sure ain’t Superman!”?  John Broome’s dialogue throughout this trade was well-written and entertaining.  Yes, there was still the prevalence of explaining what was going on (I’m itching for these writers and artists to learn the importance of “show, don’t tell”), but the dialogue felt less forced and much more natural than in earlier comics.  Rather than being distracting, the dialogue served its correct purpose and enhanced the storyline.

Just as the writing improved, so too did the artwork make a drastic leap forward.  The artists became much more creative, as was only fitting for the more developed stories:

wpid-20150914_135111.jpg Here we see The Destroyer, a villain born from a scientist’s subconscious, springing to life out of the man’s brain.  The depiction may not be up to today’s standards, but compared to earlier comics this feels like a dramatic leap forward in illustration, especially because such visual depictions are a common occurrence in this trade.  The combination of colorful, lively artwork with well-written dialogue made me eager to keep reading this collection.

I was surprised by how vast Green Lantern’s powers extended.  His ring can perform any feat he wills, be it creating a net for a falling victim or forming a protective shield around his body.  Yet it also has the power to make him completely invisible:

wpid-20150914_200322.jpgWith this many powers, Green Lantern seemed completely undefeatable.

Enter the color yellow.  I’m not sure how this became a thing, but the Green Lantern’s ring has no power over anything yellow, and the color itself has the ability to severely weaken him.

Never in my life have I seen so many yellow objects as I saw in this Green Lantern trade.

Lamps, cars, jumpsuits, alien monsters, missiles.  There was no end to all the yellow in these comics.  I suppose the artists had no choice; with all of Green Lantern’s powers, they had to make yellow a prominent color, otherwise the stories wouldn’t have any sort of suspense.  Enemy enters, Green Lantern overpowers. Easy peasy.  I’m just amazed that none of the villains have picked up on the fact that yellow weakens him.  Just throw some bananas at him and be done with it.

Moreso than the art and writing, I was most drawn to the stories themselves.  These Green Lantern comics further depict a movement away from war-based stories and a more into science-fiction based plotlines.  Stories about your average everyday thug are gone, and any references to war or threats to national security are minimal.  Instead, these tales focus on threats of a larger scale, often of the alien variety.  Green Lantern even journeys to distant planets in a handful of stories, being called by his power battery to help those in need.

wpid-20150914_191656.jpgJust a giant neon-colored monster threatening Earth and destroying everything in its wake, no big deal. If this doesn’t scream late 50’s sci-fi, I don’t know what does.  These monsters are visually interesting, over the top, and downright entertaining.  It’s no wonder Green Lantern became so popular. How does anyone not like this??

Interestingly, a similar trend developed in Green Lantern as was seen in The Flash comics coming out at the same time – a movement towards strongly science-based stories.  As in The Flash, we find numerous scientific principles being mentioned at random in Green Lantern:

wpid-20150914_135454.jpgEither kids in the late 50’s were a hell of a lot smarter than me, or Bromme included such references to get kids interested in science.  Given that these stories were written at the height of the space race, it’s no wonder that these comics would focus on interstellar travel and be heavily peppered with scientific references.  Once again we see a clear example of real-life events affecting the overarching theme of comics.

One development I was excited to read what Green Lantern explaining why he must keep his identity a secret.  As I mentioned in my previous post, The Flash maintains his anonymity because he feels it adds an aura of mystery and gives him a leg up over criminals.  Green Lantern, on the other hand, provides what I know to become a common motive for his secrecy:

wpid-20150914_190606.jpgGreen Lantern’s anonymity stems from his desire to keep his lady love, Carol, safe, knowing that she could come into harm’s way if his identity was revealed (nevermind that Green Lantern and Carol engage in a rather public relationship, which means she’s just as likely to be attacked by his foes anyway).  I had been surprised that this reason for secrecy hadn’t been used in earlier comics, it seeming like the most rational explanation.  Now that this common trope has been introduced, I will be curious to see how long it takes for other superheros to adopt it as their own.

By far the most exciting part of this trade was when the rebel Qwards, members of an alien race, warn Green Lantern that the Weaponers seek to possess all of the power batteries:

wpid-20150914_200848.jpgThis was the first reference, not only in Green Lantern but in any comics I’ve read so far, to the possibility of a larger story-arc.    No longer primarily self-contained stories with a clear solution by the end of the comic, here was the first hint at a larger universe and a major quest for Green Lantern.  I was desperate for this story to continue, and can only hope it’s expanded on in Volume Two.

I am happy to say that after reading this trade, I am a Green Lantern convert. His character is well-developed, his stories are engaging, and he’s much closer to my image of what a comic superhero represents.  With quite literally hundreds of comics ahead of me, I’m glad I can add Green Lantern to the list of characters whose stories I’m excited to read.

-Jess

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