By Jacobus Dixon

Although All-Star Publications wasn’t in a complete rivalry with National Allied Publications or Detective Comics Inc. (due to the fact that they were all owned by Harry Donenfeld) they still didn’t want to sit out on the superhero craze that was transforming the publishing industry.  They had some success with the Flash, Hawkman, and Johnny Thunder in Flash Comics. And naturally that taste of success led them to produce more superheroes. The spooky Spectre had promise, but he may have been a little too supernatural to attract more average readers. While most superheroes were defined by their phenomenal abilities, it was that human appearance that made them so appealing to readers. So you didn’t want to step too far away from that (at least not in the late 1930s/early 1940s) if you wanted your character to be successful. People do like supernatural stories though, so where do you strike the balance?

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A terrific example was the Shadow (even though he was a character from radio and pulp novellas, not comic books). He was essentially a wealthy American who learned strange and arcane talents from Asia and used those talents to fight crime (and often against Asian criminals). Since Western colonialism was still big in the first half of the 20th century, the cultures that Europeans and Americans came in contact with were regarded as strange and threatening, yet appealing in some instances. Asian culture in particular stood out (probably due to the fact that the Boxer Rebellion was still fresh in a lot of people’s minds by 1940). And as a result, Western mass media capitalized on characters and situations (no matter how ill-informed or racist) that would capture this foreign perception to thereby spice up their productions. The Shadow jumped onto this bandwagon with great success, why not All-America Publications?

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Would this character be a wealthy businessman who treks into the high mountains of Tibet to learn mystic arts from a lama? Mmmm…nah, too derivative. Ever the problem solver though, writer Bill Finger (writer of a little character known as Batman) found a way to give us our oriental-themed hero without ever leaving the States. We’re introduced to engineer Alan Scott as he’s testing the structural integrity of a bridge he designed. However he didn’t get this project without stepping on some toes, and gets an explosive surprise as disgruntled rivals derail his train. Scott miraculously survives due mostly to energies of a strange green lantern that was being carried on the train.

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A disembodied voice explains how this green lantern was originally a meteorite that landed in China and promised to glow green three times. The first time would be to bring death. Superstitious peasants kill Chang, the occultist who found the meteor and carved it into a lantern, after it began glowing. The second time it glows it promises life. Years later the lantern glows after it comes into contact with a mental patient named Billings, who fashions the lantern into a more industrial model and is cured of his problems in the process (which gives him a new life). The final time (fortunately for Scott) would be power. The voice then instructs Scott to chip away a small piece from its side to fashion into a ring. Scott need only press the ring into the lantern once every twenty-four hours to do unbelievable feats. Naturally, Alan’s first order of business is to find Albert Dekker (the rival responsible for the bomb) and force him to confess. He comes at Dekker like some kind of phantasm through the wall, naturally Dekker does what he’s told and shortly dies afterwards from fright (personally I’m amazed he didn’t die of fright beforehand).  Alan Scott then vows to fight crime and dons a colorful outfit to complement this crusade (hey, ya gotta accessorize right).

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“What’s with the ring?” That’s the first question that comes to mind when you look at this cover. And when you look, this is also what the gunman is thinking. He’s holding his trusty Tommy gun, and he’s up against this garishly dressed fellow threatening him with a…ring? Both objects are obviously tools to be used, but there’s a danger to the beautiful luminosity of the ring’s glow. Like China and the Orient (as it was known as in the 40s) it’s an alien object that both threatens and seduces. But never fear, while this is a foreign power, a face that is familiar wields it and reassures the audience that All-American is aiming for (male urban westerners to be succinct). And the result is a character that is unique without being too alien for readers to identify with.

The views expressed herein are solely those of the writer, and not Midtown Comics.  Additionally, Midtown Comics makes no representations as to the accuracy of any of the information expressed herein.

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