All-American Comics #16 – Green Lantern’s origin

I think Alan Scott’s origin story is fairly well-known to GL fans. In July 1940, young engineer Alan Scott is on a train, traveling with his friend Jimmy towards a trestle bridge that the engineering firm employing both has built. They won the bid over a rival company owened by a man named Dekker, and Jimmy is concerned that Dekker will do something drastic. Alan doesn’t think so, but is soon proven wrong when the trestle bridge explodes and the train is derailed, killing all aboard… except for Alan, who can’t understand why he’s still alive. He is drawn to the light of a green lantern, and as he approaches it, it begins to speak to him and relate its long history.

The lantern originated as a meteorite that landed in ancient China, and the voice from the meteorite promised that it would bring three things: death, life and power. A local lampmaker fashions a lamp from the meteor, and when the superstitious locals kill the lampmaker, the lamp kills all of them, fulfilling the first promise. Centuries pass until the lamp falls into the hands of a man in an asylum, who refashions it into a more modern lantern. It restores his mind, giving him life. And Alan is the third individual, the one to be given power. The lamp advises him to use part of the metal to make a ring, and that he has to charge up once every 24 hours for the ring to remain powered up, and that Willpower is what will fuel him. Without will, he has no power. Alan takes all this in, and seeing all the dead bodies around him in the wreckage, including his friend Jimmy, is enraged and promises to kill Dekker. He makes the ring as advised, has time to cool down, and wonders how he could ever have thought murder was the solution. There has to be another way.

So Alan, still in the same clothes he was wearing when the train crashed, discovers that he can fly and heads for Dekkers. He is able to phase through the wall (something he refers to as “passing through the fourth dimension”) where he finds Dekker and his cronies celebrating the train crash. They recognize him, try shooting and stabbing him and decide that he’s the ghost of Alan Scott since he won’t die. A wooden club on the back of the neck knocks him to the floor, leading Alan to decide that he must be immune to metals, but not organic objects. One of the things the lantern says is that its light is green, “like green growing things” (and this is probably where James Robinson got his ideas for the source of New 52 Alan Scott’s powers), so it’s possible there was meant to be a link between the source of the power and Alan’s vulnerabilities. The story isn’t explicit though, so it’s hard to say.

Alan gets up and this is too much for the thugs, who run for it. Alan takes Dekker and flies him around, threatening to drop him if he doesn’t confess. Dekker does and writes out a full confession, only to die of a heart attack from the shock of the night’s events.

Alan muses that it feels like destiny has taken a hand in his life, and that he is meant to go on to do big things with the power he’s been given. He decides to design a costume so that “once it’s seen, it won’t be forgotten!”. And if you’re familiar with the Golden Age Green Lantern costume, he certainly succeeded in creating something garish and colorful.

  • Martin Nodell’s art is probably the most crude of the Golden Age artists that I’ve seen. There is a redrawn version of this story in Green Lantern Corps Quarterly #1 that’s very faithful to the original while being much easier on the eyes.
  • Art aside, it’s a very strong origin story, and the history of the lantern is something that is wide open for exploration. I find it interesting that even the original Green Lantern’s power source is extraterrestrial, since the metal used to make the lantern came from outer space. Of course in the 70s Denny O’Neill would explain it was the Starheart, the magic from the universe that the Guardians had collected and removed from their universe, but here the source of the power is left vague, beyond allusions to “green growing things”.
  • There are no energy constructs. Alan uses the ring to fly (which does surround him with a green light in this origin story)and to pass through a solid wall, and it automatically protects him from bullets and knives.
  • The first story, and they’re already using the old standby of “the forced confession”. I always wonder how well those will hold up in court.
  • James Robinson borrowed elements of this story wholesale for Earth 2. He mainly used the train crash and the green flame appearing to Alan and offering him power afterwards, so the revised Alan’s origin is much closer to the original than most other Earth 2 characters. (The exile of Grundy to the moon is from All-Star Comics #33).
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