My new year’s resolution is to read my stack of ‘DC Showcase’ at the rate of one comic magazine per day. As they usually contain over twenty issues I should get through one and a bit per month. I can’t do more than one a day as they tend to blend into each other in a foggy blur of pseudo-science which makes individual issues hard to remember. This volume runs from Green Lantern # 18 (January 1963) to Green Lantern # 38 (July 1965) so it’s two and a half years worth of comic books.
The thing with Silver Age DC Comics is that nothing changes in the life of the characters. When this volume starts Hal Jordan (Green Lantern) works as a test pilot for the Ferris Aircraft Company run by Carol Ferris who likes Hal but loves Green Lantern. He is assisted by a ‘grease-monkey’ called Thomas Kalmaku – nicknamed Pieface, an Eskimo who knows his super-hero identity and keeps a file of his cases as Doctor Watson did for Sherlock Holmes. Jordan is a member of the Green Lantern Corps founded by the Guardians of the Universe who occasionally summon him to help out on another planet. By the end of the book, none of this has changed.
As most issues contain two stories there are nearly forty tales here so the thing to do would be to pick out the highlights. There aren’t any highlights. One yarn is pretty much the same quality as any other. Partly that’s because they were all written by either John Broome or Gardner Fox. Both have a way with science that is less than accurate but generally Fox takes it to greater extremes of fantasy. He writes every issue from # 32 onwards but before that it’s more or less fifty-fifty between these twin titans of the tall story.
Lacking highlights I will, in a good-natured way, pick out the worst science. Not that I know much science but a clever ten year-old could see through most of this hokum. In ‘Green Lantern vs. Power Ring’ (GL#18) Hal is practicing controlling the ring at a distance through rock when he is separated from it by a cave in. A hungry hobo picks it up and thinks he fancies a melon. A melon appears! But the ring cannot work on anything yellow ‘due to a necessary impurity’ so how can it create melons? In GL#24, ‘The Shark That Hunted Human Prey’, a tiger shark is evolved into a human and then beyond by a freak nuclear accident so that with ‘mind power’ it can do anything. An ‘invisible yellow aura’ protects it from Green Lantern’s ring. How can something invisible be yellow? In ‘The House That Fought Green Lantern’ (#28) the ring is useless because it’s affected by the vibrations of a grandfather clock. In ‘This World Is Mine’ (#29), an evil force animates a giant papier-mâché model of Green Lantern and uses it to destroy fairground rides. Steel is generally reckoned to be stronger than papier-mâché and able to resist it. In ‘Three Way Attack Against Green Lantern‘ (GL#34), villain Hector Hammond uses his super-brain to create an ‘energy duplicate’ of a Guardian of the Universe to defeat Green Lantern. This is from Gardner Fox who had someone use ‘tornado power’ to create duplicates of the Justice League of America to defeat them. How can you create things more powerful than yourself? Oh those duplicates!
Part of the problem is that the power ring can do anything. In ‘Secret Of The Power-Ringed Robot’ (GL#36), it transforms Hal’s flesh into a robot body, allowing a spectacular cover in which his arm comes off. In another story, ‘The Spies Who Owned Green Lantern’ (GL#37), it turns him into a letter and Pieface posts him to the criminals hideout. It frequently reads minds and there’s a microworld inside it where Abin Sur trapped a villain called Myrwhydden in ‘World Within the Power Ring’ (GL #26) as you do.
On the credit side, a few ideas here seem to precede similar stories over at the Mighty Competition, a company whose oeuvre I know well. ‘Parasite Planet Peril’ (GL#20, April 1963) is a kind of highlight because it’s of ‘novel’ length and teams GL up with Flash. They are both shrunk down to a microworld. Something similar happened in the world’s greatest comic magazine in July 1963, though to be fair, the microworld idea is older than that. In fact, it dates back to ‘Out Of The Sub-Universe’, a 1928 story by Roman Frederick Starzl. In ‘The Strange World Named Green Lantern’ (GL#24, October 1963), the emerald crusader meets a living planet, a whole world that is one single entity. Perhaps lacking a big ego (geddit?), it calls itself Green Lantern after the hero it so admires. Research indicates that the notion of a living planet dates back to Nat Schachner and Arthur Leo Zagat’s 1931 short story ‘The Menace From Andromeda’. There are probably few far-out ideas that weren’t explored in the first three decades of American Science Fiction magazines.
In a few of the adventures, our hero wins when all seems lost because he had, with unusual prescience, done something earlier to foil the villain’s final attack. In ‘Master Of The Power Ring (GL#22), he had ordered the ring to drain itself of energy if another mind took it over. In ‘The Defeat Of Green Lantern’ (GL#19), he had previously created a globe of green energy to rescue him in time of need. Perhaps he read the script first, like Colombo.
As for the art, Gil Kane pencils are constrained by the DC house style and the inks of Joe Giella and Murphy Anderson up to issue #28. In number #29, Sid Greene takes over the inks and there’s a bit of a step up in quality, I think. Not a giant leap, the other two are worthy professionals, but he seems to put in more blacks and generally give it a more solid look. Kane’s pencils still keep the house style but there are odd flashes of the more dynamic poses and knobbly figures he developed over time. Personally, I prefer the restrained stuff to the unleashed Kane of later years. All the art is fine and much of it is first class.
Some of these reprint editions are being sold at ludicrous prices but this one is still available for a few pounds or dollars. A reasonably good read if taken in small doses and not too seriously. The art is a treat and the stories are good for a laugh. The science should be taken with a pinch of salt. No, an oil tanker of salt. I’m off to have dinner now. I shall eat beans and then use the wind power generated to create an energy duplicate of Superman who will conquer the world for me.
(pub: DC Comics, 2007. 522 page graphic novel softcover. Price: £ (UK). ISBN: 97-8-140121-264-3)
check out website: www.dccomics.com