Some years ago, when the late, lamented Comics Buyer’s Guide was still being published, comics writer and critic Tony Isabella offered up in its pages an opinion that’s always stuck with me — namely, that although he liked Green Lantern just fine, he’d never liked the concept of the Green Lantern Corps. As far as Mr. Isabella was concerned (and it’s been a long time since I read this, so I’m paraphrasing), a universe full of alien heroes all sharing the same name, wearing the same costume, and bearing the same super-powers as “our” Green Lantern, Hal Jordan, made Hal less special. The reason that this opinion has remained lodged in my memory, I think, is that I’ve always felt precisely the opposite. It’s the fact that Green Lantern is one of many heroes with the same name, powers, etc., that makes him (and his adventures) stand out from the rest of his costumed, code-named peers.
But in July, 1967, even though I’d been picking up issues of Green Lantern here and there for almost two years, I’d had very little exposure to the Corps. Sure, my very first issue of GL had been the classic #40, “The Secret Origin of the Guardians!”, which had filled readers in on where the ultra-powerful little blue guys who ran the Corps had come from, and why they had felt compelled to create an intergalactic organization of peacekeepers in the first place — but the only other power ring-bearer in that story was Hal Jordan’s Earth-Two counterpart, the Golden Age Green Lantern, Alan Scott, and he didn’t count. There had been several occasions between that issue and the latest one, #55, where one or more of Hal’s fellow Corpsmen had shown up, but I’d managed to miss all of them.
Looking at it from another angle, however, it wasn’t that surprising that I, as a semi-regular reader of Green Lantern for only a couple of years, hadn’t had a lot of exposure to the Corps up to this point — because the Corps, as a group, hadn’t been used all that much in the series up to this point. Although individual Lanterns (two, in particular, as we’ll get to in just a bit) appeared fairly frequently, there’d only been a been a couple of stories that featured more than a couple of Corpsmen at a time (GL #11 and #46, respectively). And the story that my ten-year-old self was about to read was, though I didn’t know it then (and, to be completely honest, didn’t realize it until fifty years later, when I started doing the research for this post), the first time that the Guardians of the Universe would send the members of the Corps into battle together against a common threat. It’s a striking contrast to the modern era, where we’ve had one Green Lantern Corps book or another on DC Comics’ monthly publishing schedule for over ten years, but in the Silver Age, the Corps was used pretty sparingly by GL editor Julius Schwartz and his creative teams.
Of course, I wasn’t aware of all that fifty years ago. All I knew was that I was finally going to get to meet some of those fascinating-looking alien Green Lanterns. But why had they, and their little blue-skinned bosses, turned against Hal Jordan? I couldn’t wait to find out. And the creators of “Cosmic Enemy Number One”, writer John Broome and artist Gil Kane, weren’t going to ask me to wait long. The first story page past the opening splash threw readers right into the scene depicted on the cover:
Appearances can be deceiving, however — for no sooner has “Green Lantern’s” lifeless body fallen to the floor than it’s revealed that what we’ve been watching is a scene from a television show, being broadcast live across the country — and that the fallen figure isn’t Hal Jordan at all, but an actor playing the part of GL. However, in spite of the fact that the power ring blasts which struck him were nothing but special effects, the actor lying on the studio floor is really dead.
(I don’t recall whether my ten-year-old self was annoyed at the “cheating” manner in which the cover scene’s promise was fulfilled — but if I was, the story didn’t give me time to stew about it very long.)
A TV show about Green Lantern, which by its nature would have to include a lot of special effects to work on any level, seems an unlikely candidate for a live production in 1967 — the “Golden Age of Television” in which live television drama flourished had been over then for about a decade — but, of course, the fact that the murder happens live on TV in real time allows the true Green Lantern to respond almost immediately:
GL flies out to the television studio, musing along the way about how the TV show couldn’t have come about in the first place without his own involvement as a consultant — he’d provided the scriptwriter with all the juicy details about the Guardians and the Corps, though only after the Guardians themselves had given their “special permission” (a notion which brings to mind the image of the little blue guys temporarily setting aside matters of cosmic import to pore over a Hollywood contract). He also notes that he’d met and liked the actor playing him on the show, a “devil-may-care fellow” named Charles Vicker, now presumably deceased…
One of the Guardians suddenly breaks in on Hal’s conversation with Charles (or Charley, as he’s known to his friends) to tell him that the Guardians and the Corps are facing a grave emergency:
There’s no editor’s note referencing an earlier issue of Green Lantern on this page, so one might easily assume (as my ten-year-old self did in 1967) that Davo of the planet Pharma was made up by scripter Broome just for this occasion. One would be wrong, however — for Davo Yull (as well as his never-named wife) had appeared before, and not even all that long ago, having been central to the plot of “Thraxton the Powerful Vs Green Lantern the Powerless” in GL #50. But as I hadn’t read that story back in 1967, the pathos of the moment where Hal learns of their deaths didn’t affect me as much as it probably did some readers.
(Davo, just in case you’re wondering, is still dead at the time of this writing in 2017 — though he was briefly resurrected as an undead “Black Lantern” in DC’s “Blackest Night” event.)
Back in the television studio, the Guardian finishes giving Hal his marching orders, and then:
(Yeah, the motivation for Hal’s implantation of a “magnetic signal” in Charley’s brain seems a little thin. But we’d better just roll with it, or else the story’s going to go off the rails around page 21.)
Before he can even get of the solar system, however, Hal notices something mysterious on Earth’s moon that require him to investigate. He finds out that it’s an alien criminal wielding a weapon whose radiation can cancel out the power of Hal’s ring, requiring him to resort to fisticuffs. Once he’s overcome the extraterrestrial bruiser through sheer physical prowess, Hal figures out his foe, Gmane, is connected to the coordinated assault against the Green Lantern Corps. (Frankly, the whole sequence, lasting about four pages, doesn’t actually do much to advance the plot — but it does allow Kane to go to town on some bravura depictions of action, so I’m not complaining.) After that, it’s on to the Guardians’ home planet of Oa, and a rendezvous with the rest of the Corps:
Tomar-Re was one of the Green Lantern Corps’ biggest guns in the Silver and Bronze Ages (and still is, if you ask me, no matter how long he’s been dead in DC’s primary continuity). First appearing in Green Lantern #6, he was the first other Green Lantern Hal Jordan ever met, not counting the late Abin Sur, Hal’s immediate predecessor. (The idea that Hal’s arch-foe Sinestro had met him at the very beginning of the former’s career, when the latter was still a Green Lantern in good standing, and showed him the ropes, is a much later continuity implant.) Tomar soon became Hal’s close comrade, and as such appeared in practically every story featuring the Corps, up until his heroic demise at the hands of the villainous Goldface, in DC’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths” event (as chronicled in GL #198). Of course, this being comics, a little thing like death didn’t prevent Tomar from appearing in later storylines, including “Blackest Night” (where he joined most of DC’s other deceased heroes in coming back from the grave as a Black Lantern), and his ongoing popularity is evidenced by his continuing to pop up alive and well in alternative DC continuities, both within the comics medium (e.g., the Injustice comic based on the video game) and outside of it (the much-maligned 2011 Green Lantern movie, whose CGI Tomar-Re was voiced by Geoffrey Rush).
Katma Tui was another major member of the Green Lantern Corps in the pre-Crisis era, equal to Tomar-Re in her significance. She made her debut a little later than her Xudarian comrade, in GL #30, but would appear in virtually every storyline involving multiple members of the Corps up to “Crisis on Infinite Earths” and beyond. Katma eventually married another Green Lantern of Earth, John Stewart, and then, at a time when she was without powers, got sliced to death by the GL villain Star Sapphire while standing in her kitchen (Action Comics Weekly #601) — a less-than-heroic end that serves today as a prime example of “fridging”, though published some years before the comics story (itself a Green Lantern tale, ironically enough) that inspired that term. Katma did receive a short-lived reprieve, being mysteriously returned to life in Green Lantern: Mosaic #17, before suddenly dying again, this time at the hands of the Parallax-possessed Hal Jordan, in Green Lantern (1990 series) #50, the concluding chapter of the “Emerald Twilight” event that saw the Green Lantern Corps all but wiped out. Of course, Katma, like Tomar, would come back once more, after a fashion, as a zombie-fied Black Lantern in “Blackest Night”; though, thankfully, like he and the other similarly-resurrected DC heroes, she was eventually returned to her rightful rest.
Interestingly, although Tomar-Re plays an active role in the rest of the story currently under review (as we’ll see in a future blog post), Katma Tui is hardly used again after her introduction on page 10. I’m inclined to think that this is due to the fact that, aside from her crimson-hued skin, Katma is a humanoid female, and thus simply not as interesting for Kane to draw as are her more physically alien comrades — especially when the story will soon call for the Lanterns to go into battle unaided by their rings’ power, and the sort of physical, fist-swinging action that Kane excelled at depicting was generally the exclusive domain of male heroes in this era of DC’s comics.
Once all the Lanterns have assembled, the Guardians explain to the combined group how, many years ago, they established a “Prison Planet” as a place to incarcerate the worst criminals in the universe — including one Al Magone, a gangster of Earth in the 1920s, who was taken into custody, per the Guardians’ command, by the aforementioned predecessor of Hal Jordan, the one and only Abin Sur:
I’m pretty sure that my ten-year-old self had never heard of the real-life 1920s gangster Al Capone; though, if memory serves, I posed some questions to my dad, and then did some checking in our family’s 1965 set of the World Book Encyclopedia, and eventually figured it out. (Though I think it must have been years later that I finally caught on to Kane’s basing Magone’s likeness on actor Edward G. Robinson, not to mention the story’s title’s referencing of the historical identification of Capone as “Public Enemy No. 1”.)
Eternal solitary confinement? Seems pretty cruel and unusual punishment to me today, although I don’t recall my ten-year-old self being fazed by it.
But give Al Magone props for this — in what appears to be a hopeless situation, he keeps looking for a way out — and eventually, he seems to stumble upon just that:
Soon, Magone has all the alien criminals answering to him — and with their combined expertise, they create the deadly “mini-nucleo” energy they then use to attack the Green Lantern Corps, and successfully kill thirteen of them (as well as the unfortunate Roger Vicker).
Having explained all this, the Guardians now order the Corps to take the fight to their foes on the Prison Planet — but before they do, we get this stirring scene:
And then, they’re off:
But just as the Guardians have promised, although the criminals’ energy weapons are technically able to counter the Lanterns’ ring energy, if the Corps members use enough willpower, they can compensate, and overcome their enemies’ weaponry:
Yeah, that’s for Davos of Pharma! And Chogar of Tyraea! (The latter of whom, in case you’re wondering, was made up just for this occasion.)
Penetrating the Prison Planet’s defenses, the Green Lanterns find that not only does the bad guys’ mini-nucleo energy cancel out their ringpower, but the reverse is true as well — and so, they’re soon engaging their foes in hand-to-hand combat on the planet’s surface, just as fate (and Gil Kane, who by this point much preferred drawing physical action scenes to the depiction of power ring energy constructions and the like) would have it:
This was the first story to give Chaselon, the crystal Green Lantern from Barrio III, a name, though he’d first shown up in GL #9. He would eventually emerge as one of the leading Lanterns, surviving both the Crisis and the “Emerald Twilight” events, and becoming one of the first “Alpha Lanterns”, before finally buying the farm (or appearing to, at least) in the Blackest Night event (Green Lantern Corps [2006 series] #42).
Next, we check in to see how another of Hal Jordan’s alien comrades, Zborra of Python IV, is doing:
Zborra made his very first appearance in this issue. He’d show up on a few more occasions over the next couple of decades, though never really becoming what you’d call a major player; ultimately, like his better known comrade Tomar-Re, he met an untimely end during the “Crisis on Infinite Earths”, as revealed in GL #197.
Back on the Prison Planet, however, we find that though some of his fellow Lanterns are proving victorious in their battles, Hal Jordan himself isn’t doing so well — for, despite his formidable pugilistic skills, the superior size and strength of his opponent, “Ashez of the giant world of Jubelo”, soon gets the better of him:
Umm, Hal? Maybe you should check the interior color scheme of this derelict spacecraft before you lock yourself in — oh, never mind, it’s too late:
Sure — maybe that will work! (Oh, who am I kidding? It has to work, or the story is over.) Anyway — Hal thinks really, really hard, and back on Earth, Charley Vickers gets a funny feeling in his noggin — and then, before you know it:
Having resolved his immediate problem, Hal is prepared to send Charley back home to Earth, but Charley begs for the chance to avenge his brother Roger — as well as to find purpose in a life which “has had no meaning up to now!” Charley obviously has plenty of pluck — and some of Hal’s fellow Lanterns haven’t fared as well in this battle as have Chaselon and Zborra. What should Hal do?
Wait, what? A continued story? But my ten-year-old self was already on tenterhooks waiting for the next chapter of this year’s Justice League-Justice Society two-parter! And I was going to have to wait weeks to see how a second continued story was going to turn out? Who did DC think I was, a Marvel reader?
Oh, well. Just like I had to in the summer of 1967, folks, you’re going to have to wait to see what happens next. See you back here in, hmm, about six weeks. OK?