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Book Review: The Golden Age Green Lantern Archives, Vol. 2 by Bill Finger

November 1, 2019

The Golden Age Green Lantern Archives, Vol. 2The Golden Age Green Lantern Archives, Vol. 2 by Bill Finger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first volume set my expectations fairly low–I thought the stories were worth reading because they seem second only to Jerry Siegel’s Superman for combating social ills, but they were clunky and not very well drawn. Here both the writing and the illustrating–though still cartoony–make definite improvements, and, as Bails points out in the foreword–the creators gradually become much more fluent and the use of the comic book page to show narrative, until the final story, from Green Lantern #3, while the art screams early 1940s, the narrative structure has more of a contemporary feel, and both issues #2 and 3 make the standard-length story of the time a chapter in an issue-length story, with the issues being twice as long (and much more verbose) than a contemporary comic book.

Bails suggests that the best way for readers to distinguish between the art of Hasen and Nodell is through the part in Green Lantern’s hair, but I think Hasen started to conform to Nodell’s continuity as he went along. The easiest way, to me, is by the eyes, which are unusually large and round, while not anime style, they look more like that than anything I’m familiar with from the time, and the only DC volumes that have been reprinted in the past thirty years from the time period that I have not read are Blackhawk, Phantom Lady,The Seven Soldiers of Victory, Shazam! Family, some along with some Kirby Plastic Man, and the big three (after this point). He doesn’t always do this perfectly. The perspective of Irene’s face on page 55 (All-American #34) looks almost She-Freak strange, and there are a few others that are a bit off, but the big eyes are a dead giveaway. On the other hand, some art is clearly lightboxed, like the image of Winston Churchill on page 181, but when Hitler comes into the story, he’s full-on caricature, even compared to Harry Peter’s depiction of Hitler in Wonder Woman #2.

Presumably, most of the stories were inventoried, because the first comes up with a one-page prologue in which Doiby fails to escape from reporters to explain why he isn’t in the main story. The dropshadow behind the prologue has a real 1970s feel of straight green lines on black looking like old Apple computers. The first story is a variation on a commonly-trod theme in this era, covered twice by Superman in the first two years, that of an orphanage being used as a money laundering scheme. Unlike the two Superman stories, which have nearly identical scripts (the second is a bit more refined, and Jack Burnley’s art is more sophisticated than Joe Shuster’s), Finger’s version is similar in concept, but completely different in plot points and execution, with Assistant Mayor Logan directly involved in the scheme. A few stories later, we find out the Mayor (unnamed) is also thoroughly corrupt. We also find out that Green Lantern is based in Capitol City, although this would eventually be changed to Gotham City, even though Green Lantern and the Batman met on-panel only in two Justice Society stories, and never in a crossover until the Earth-2 stories of later years. Living in a homeless shelter made this story really relatable, although the real-life corruption I found in my research with Picture the Homeless is much more mundane, not nearly as violent, and spoiled food not so blatant, although it can be pretty bad (…).

Fisticuffs was apparently associated with manliness in the 1940s, because Alan Scott resorts to them far more than Hal Jordan would. The powers of the ring seem much more limited to making Alan bulletproof and to attack metal objects, along with flight, and even if they aren’t, Alan seems rally abstemious about how much he’s willing to use it, as though he is mindful of it potentially becoming a crutch. The next story involves GL helping in a setup playing against a perceived antagonism between a police officer and his son. On page 34, there is an image of Doiby hitting thugs on the head with a wrench, which editors obviously liked enough that it was redone for the following issue (33, p. 39).

Playing off well-known stories is a common trope. One story involving greedy capitalists trying to wreck a taxi drivers union has a theme of “Waiting for Hefty.” The phrase never actually appears in the story, but calling the character Hefty Martin is an obvious homage to
Waiting for Lefty
by Clifford Odets, though one wonders how many kids would have gotten the reference, even to a play less than a decade old at the time.

Filling fifty pages of story for the Green Lantern quarterly issues must have been difficult, since the main virtue of the Nick Bonaparte story of All-American #38 is to tell us Alan’s middle name is Wellington, but not until the end of the story.

One of the more disturbing elements is the casual murder of numerous homeless men noted on page 162. When the substitution of the “tramps” for scientists occurred isn’t quite clear. The scientist talking about understanding Einstein’s theorems while struggling with a plane safety belt seems like a jab at scientists but takes on new colors if the homeless men have already been substituted.

The heart of the volume are the stories from Green Lantern #2 and #3. The first is about a setup of an Italian immigrant named Stromboli who was handed ownership of a loan company by the company founder, his fishing buddy, and the massive plot to cover it up, including a villain called Baldy. Red herrings abound. And the story has a moral figure at the center, Frank Benton, a lawyer who rejects the idea of chasing ambulances with an education his mother worked so hard to obtain for him, out of work because he is too honest. Shady business deals mix with murder in a manner realistic enough to piss off an objectivist like Steve Ditko. In this story, Green Lantern keeps the Stromboli family in a hideout for their protection, and he binds up prisoners there for the Strombolis to guard.

In the final story of the volume, Alan and Irene’s boss (who, oddly, is never named–no iconic White or Bannermain or Morris) sends them on a ship for some macguffin job assignment (I had to return the book, and interlibrary loan from Pacific Northwest School of the Arts, to the library, so I don’t have it for reference), and several pages are spent just dealing with a comic sequence of Doiby sneaking on board. When discovered, Alan calls him a harmless moron, but Doiby doesn’t realize that “moron” is an insult. On the ship is the Sprig family, a married couple with two adult children, Roger and Vivian, the latter of whom is expected to marry Count Michel. Mr. Sprig is trying to teach Roger to be a ruthless businessman, and treats him as though he is stupid because his ethics get in the way of making a buck. They become stranded in the seaweed of the Sargasso Sea, where the descendants of the ships that have been stranded there have formed an unusual utopia where people remain loyal to their traditional garb, causing the newcomers to initially think that the place is magical and keeps people alive. It has its own kind of magic, however, and the Sprigs’ capitalistic ideals are heavily challenged. Roger, Alan, and Irene don’t mind participating in the community, and Vivian eventually becomes willing, while Mr. and Mrs. Sprig continue to behave like snobs who think they have the right to order other people around. Mr. Sprig convinces Roger to help him abscond with the treasures of the Sargasso, useless to the inhabitants, but Green Lantern has to rescue them from a kraken.

The next plot twist is the arrival of Nazi soldiers under Captain Schmidt. Schmidt is a Baron in civilian life, which helps him too woo Vivian as they attempt to turn the utopia into a fascist dictatorship, especially when Hitler (looking clownish, as previously stated) learns of it and wants to use it strategically. Lots of twists and turns in the narrative, including, of course, a climactic battle scene in which Green Lantern pounces on Doiby to protect him from a rain of bullets, and Roger gets corrected for calling him “Derby.” In the epilogue, the protagonists do all make it home, but they’ve been changed by the experience. Vivian sees Count Michel for his true self, and the Sprigs turn their backs on capitalism and begin to help the poor, a story much needed in the era of Trump!

I don’t know how much longer book-length stories ran in Green Lantern–the foerword is vague on the specifics but makes clear that it wasn’t long. Finger was certainly giving Marston a run for his money in his ability to tell an ongoing story, something he had yet to really do for the Batman, but Bails assures us they soon returned to one-off stories because it was easier to build an inventory of material when minimal continuity was used. The storytelling technique was still less fluid than today’s, which allowed them to crunch a lot more plot into 56 pages than would probably be acceptable today, but it still feels a lot closer to the multipart epics of today, or at least the ’70s and ’80s than the ten-page stories do. I have still many more Golden Age DC comics Archive Editions to read (Blakchawk, Phantom Lady, Seven Soldiers, Sandman, Newsboy Legion, Boy Commandos, Shazam! Family, Comic Cavalcade, Robin, Black Canary, plus later big three, JSA, and Plastic Man), but this is the last one that actually has “Golden Age” in the title, and it’s a surprisingly good one.

View all my reviews

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