When it comes to superheroes, DC created some of the most iconic of all time. In the 1930s and ‘40s, the comic giant developed names like Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. They became flagship characters, beloved by people around the world. Other superheroes like Green Lantern became popular too, but the identity wasn’t confined to one person. Mainstream audiences are familiar with characters like Hal Jordan, Kyle Rayner and Simon Baz. Before all of them, Alan Scott wore a power ring.
The original Green Lantern, Scott debuted in 1940. In contrast to the sci-fi background of other Lanterns, Scott’s powers came from magic. A founding member of the Justice Society of America, Scott is an important part of the superhero community.
Creating a legend
Artist Martin Nodell was responsible for creating the original Green Lantern. Taking inspiration from Richard Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung, Nodell wanted to create a superhero with a magical ring. In the story, a train man carried a green railway lantern and the image stuck with Nodell. The artist described his process in an interview.
“I picked out the name from the train man on the tracks who was waving a lantern, going from red to green…green meant go and I decided that was it. Then I needed a colourful and interesting costume. I was interested in Greek mythology and so the costume took on elements of that. It just all fell into place.”
“When I sent it in, I waited into the second week before I heard the word to come in. I was ushered into Mr Gaines office, publisher, and after sitting a long time and flipping through the pages of my presentation, he announced “We like it!” And then, “Get to work!” I did the first five pages of an eight page story, and then they called in Bill Finger to help.”
Building on the magical concept, Scott got his powers from a mystical green flame. A meteor had crashed on Earth, releasing the flame in ancient China. A voice within the flame predicted three acts of death, life and power. The first act came when a lamp-maker used the green metal of the meteor for a lamp. The local villagers saw it as sacrilege, so they killed him. The second act occurred when a patient in a mental hospital received the lamp and it restored his sanity.
The third act happened in 1940, when the lamp passed into the hands of Alan Scott. Working as a railroad engineer, Scott failed to stop a bridge from collapsing. The flame taught him how to create a ring and he used it to stop the people responsible.
Magic vs science-fiction
As Green Lantern, Scott had the power to fly, walk through solid objects, melt metal and shoot energy beams. He could also create solid force fields, which served as the inspiration for the power of future Green Lanterns. While the ring could protect Scott against metal objects, it couldn’t be used on wood or plant based objects. This made Scott vulnerable to enemies like Solomon Grundy, who was made up of swamp matter. Scott went on to become a founding member of the Justice Society of America. He worked with other Golden Age heroes like the original Flash, Wildcat and Doctor Fate.
After WW2, Green Lantern’s popularity faded, so DC came up with a fresh take. Hal Jordan debuted as the new Green Lantern in 1959 and his origins were steeped in science fiction. Scott and Jordon’s stories were split into parallels realities, with Jordon graduating into the mainstream Green Lantern.
Eventually, the JSA were transplanted into the main DC reality, allowing Scott and Jordon to exist together. Scott assumed the role of elder statesmen within the superhero community. He acted as a mentor to other Green Lanterns like his daughter Jade.
I think it was a smart decision by DC to differentiate Scott from other Green Lanterns. As the original, he should be unique. His magical powers give him the chance to fight his own set of problems and enemies. But he can crossover into other stories and help the Corps when needed. The character is an integral part of comic history because the Green Lantern universe wouldn’t have existed without him.