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Showcase 22
"SOS Green Lantern"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND SHOWCASE #22, featuring Green Lantern; Sept.-Oct. 1959; DC Comics (National Periodical Publications); Julius Schwartz, editor; all stories in the issue written by John Broome, pencilled by Gil Kane and inked by Joe Giella.

The cover by Kane and Giella gives us our first glimpse of the brown-haired, green and black clad GL, in flight in the sky over Coast City, as he attempts to halt a hurtling yellow missile plunging towards the city skyline.

I can remember buying or being given a copy of this very issue, at the age of five, and ever since Hal Jordan as Green Lantern has been one of my all-time favorite comic book heroes. For me, he had the wish-fulfillment aspect that an earlier generation of comics fans found in the original Captain Marvel. At that early age I already knew not only that I wasn't a super-powered refugee from another planet, but that I wasn't likely to grow up to be a super athlete like Batman. But I could still fantasize that one day I would be chosen as the worthy one to receive a Power Ring from outer space.... and I thought (and still think) that Green Lantern's ring-powered abilities were even neater than Superman's super-powers. A little later, as I started to read supplement my comics reading with the science fiction paperbacks my mother left around the house, GL was the most SF-nal of all comics heroes, with his frequent space missions, the Guardians of the Universe, and the throng of alien Green Lanterns. (Adam Strange was another early favorite.) I don't recall GL's debut issue being covered on the list before, so let's revisit it.....

"SOS Green Lantern" tells for the first time an origin which will become nearly as familiar as Superman's flight from a doomed planet and Batman's murdered parents. There are some surprising omissions in this first version, though. The opening caption tells us, "Hal Jordan had a fine reputation as an ace test pilot whose remarkable lack of fear was known to all his associates! (Here we already see one of the things that made Hal/GL distinctive from previous superheroes. It was traditional for heroes' civilian alter egos to be ordinary and unheroic; "meek, timid" Clark Kent, feckless playboy Bruce Wayne, mousy Army officer Diana Prince; even Barry Allen was supposedly slow, lazy and constantly late. Hal, on the other hand, put on no pose of weakness and was just as heroic in character as Hal as GL.) Inside that spaceship, a red-skinned alien in a green and black outfit is thinking his final thoughts; "No use fooling yourself, Abin Sur.... you are dying!....And you know what your duty pass along the BATTERY OF POWER to.... a deserving one.... It is what you would have been obliged to do had you met disaster on your own world.... and you must do it here.... on EARTH! You must try to find a DESERVING Earthman.... and pass along the Battery of Power to him!" Pressing the green ring on his finger to the Battery, Abin Sur sends out a green beam with an urgent mental instruction; "He must be one without fear! Entirely without fear! Hurry! The time is short!" (The point didn't bother me at age 5, but in later years it has occurred to me that-- perhaps because of his own mortal peril-- Abin Sur's priorities here were a bit skewed. Okay, courage is a valuable attribute, but is it the most important trait for a being who will wield a weapon that not only has vast world-changing power but protects against nearly all forms of mortal harm? Good judgment might be more important, as well as moral resistance to "absolute power corrupting absolutely". Of course, Hal Jordan had those traits as well-- at least until latter-day deconstructionist writers and editors got hold of him.....) Though the green beam criss-crosses the Earth, it lights relatively close by, at the Ferris Aircraft Company in California where test pilot Hal Jordan is manning a flightless pilot trainer intended to prepare "future space pilots". Jordan is nonplussed-- but presumably not frightened-- when the trainer takes off into the sky and flies into the Southwest desert where it lands near a wrecked spaceship. Hal is further startled to hear a telepathic voice in his head and meet the crimson-skinned alien Abin Sur. Hal offers to help the obviously injured alien, but is told, " is too late to help me! Besides....I must speak to you of a more important matter..." "More important than your LIFE?" Abin Sur points out an object which to Hal's eyes "looks like a GREEN LANTERN!" "Yes... in your words, a Green Lantern...but actually it is a Battery of Power....given only to selected space-patrolmen in the super-galactic system.... to be used as a weapon against forces of evil and injustice..." This weapon must be passed along only to one who is "fearless and honest". Probing Hal's mind, Abin Sur confirms, "Yes, by the green beam of my ring...I see that you are honest! And the Battery has already selected you as one born without fear! So you pass both tests, Hal Jordan!" As his last moments tick by, Abin goes on to explain how his spaceship was disabled by radiation belts in Earth's atmosphere and how an unexpected blinding flash from Earth's aurora borealis caused his fatal crash. (It required a later retcon story to explain why Abin Sur was flying a spaceship rather than traveling through space under his own ring-power as Hal would later do.) With his last breaths, Abin explains how to use the Battery to charge the Power Ring with 24 hours worth of power (funny how the alien-created ring just happens to have exactly an Earthly day's worth of power in it) and how a "necessary yellow impurity" in the Battery makes the Ring's power effective against everything "except what is YELLOW!" Abin Sur passes the Ring to Hal's finger and dies, with a last exhortation, "Do not fail me...." After donning Abin's green and black uniform and disposing of his body and spaceship in an unspecified fashiion, Hal tests his new power by using the green beam to detach and lift a whole cliff; "I can do anything I want with this ring...anything I want to happen...I can MAKE happen!" He concludes nonetheless than he must use the ring "only in the greatest secrecy! I'll adopt a SECRET IDENTITY! I'll call myself GREEN LANTERN-- after the Power Battery! And in time I hope to make Green Lantern a name feared by evildoers everywhere!"

As I noted, this first version of the origin has some omissions. There is no mention or depiction of the blue-skinned Guardians of the Universe whom we will later learn created the Batteries and Power Rings. (They will be introduced in GL #1, nearly a year later.) And though the other "selected space-patrolmen of the super-galactic system" are mentioned, it is implied that Hal came up with the "Green Lantern" name on his own; not till later do we learn that the whole organization is called the "Green Lantern Corps".

There are two more GL stories in this issue (DC was just starting the transition from three stories per book to two as the standard, and all later GL issues would feature a lead story and a single backup, or a book-length saga). The middle story is "Secret of the Flaming Spear!" and it introduces the leading member of GL's supporting cast, love interest Carol Ferris. After presumably being distracted by GL activities, test pilot Hal Jordan shows up late for his job at the Ferris Aircraft Company, and is mildly chewed out by Carol, "daughter of the boss, [who] frequently acts like the boss herself!" Unintimidated, Hal asks Carol for a date, and she accepts; "As long as it's not on company time...that would be wonderful!" But this romantic byplay is interrupted by a distress call from test pilot Frank Nichols, who replaced Hal at the controls of the experimental plane "Flaming Spear", now flying out of control. Hal suddenly disappears and, after he recites his "In blackest night..." oath on-panel for the first time, the masked, green-clad Green Lantern makes his first public appearance, soaring into the air ("Flying! What a strange sensation...I wonder if I'll ever get used to it!") and seizing the runaway plane with a green beam, bringing it to a safe landing. GL reveals his nom de guerre to the grateful but puzzled Nichols, but is more interested in tracing a strange radiation which he detects that caused the plane to go out of control. He follows the radiation trail even after it vanishes; "All radiation travels in a STRAIGHT LINE... and if I hold my course this way I ought to come to its point of origin!" That point is a house where a trio of typically thuggish but well-dressed DC crooks (all of whom, for some reason known only to the late great Gil Kane, are either balding or completely bald) are aiming a "radiation-sender" device out the window, and wondering why their device failed to cause the "Spear" to crash. Suddenly their wall glows green and a green-clad human figure plunges through it. "Wh-what's that? It ain't a BIRD..." "It ain't a PLANE!" "And it sure ain't SUPERMAN!" (Har, har.) "Whoever he is, he isn't paying us a friendly visit! SHOOT HIM DOWN!" But GL causes the bullets to explode like firecrackers-- "Cute tricks you can do with this power beam!"-- and the crooks resort to throwing things. One of them gets in a lucky shot with a yellow-colored lamp, knocking out GL momentarily, and they start to make their escape in a car also fortuitously colored yellow. But GL ingeniously halts them by firing spears of energy at the car's black tires, and rounds up the fleeing saboteurs for the FBI. Back at Ferris Aircraft as Hal Jordan, he hears the staff speculating excitedly about the mysterious Green Lantern, and arrives in time for a momentous announcement from company founder Carl Ferris. When his only child turned out to be a daughter, Ferris was initially crestfallen as he hoped for a son to inherit his business. But "Carol has proven herself to be as good as any son! She's got a real fine business head on her shoulders!" And so Carl feels free to go off with his wife on a two year world tour and leave the company entirely in Carol's hands. Hal suspects this will not bode well for him, and he is right; Carol cancels their date and informs Hal that "from now on, the relations between us will be STRICTLY BUSINESS!" In order to run the business effectively and justify her father's faith in her, Carol has sworn off romance for the next two years. Sitting among his new toys, his Ring, Battery and GL uniform, a disgruntled Hal reflects that "*sigh* My Power Ring can do anything for me except get me the one thing in the world I want most-- CAROL!"

The final, cover-featured story is "Menace of the Runaway Missile!" As test pilot Hal rides a high speed rocket-sled, his coworkers are impressed by his fearlessness, but he is actually apprehensive, not about the risky test but about his latest plan to ask Carol for a date. Entering her private office, he grabs Carol around the waist and greets her, "Hi, honey!" but she responds coldly; "Mr. Jordan! Do you have an appointment here at this time?" (Hal is lucky at that....nowadays, behaving like that in the work place could land him up on sexual harassment charges....) Carol fends off Hal's latest request for a date by telling him that her next social engagement is at the Celebrities' Ball, to which he isn't invited-- "You're not that famous yet!" Moreover, she expects to meet a real celebrity, "the mysterious Green Lantern", who has been invited. At that, Hal abruptly breaks off his seduction attempt and departs; Carol is slightly puzzled, but Hal smirks, "So Green Lantern is invited to the Celebrities' Ball? Well, in that case, Carol has a date with ME tonight-- whether she realizes it or not!" After reciting his oath, Green Lantern shows up at the ball and puts the moves on Carol, who gives him every dance and finds herself "fascinated" with the masked celebrity; "I expected to be thrilled meeting Green Lantern, but I didn't expect THIS to happen! He's got my heart acting like a jumping jack! I never thought I could go for any man but Hal Jordan, but now-- now I'm not so sure!" GL draws Carol into a clinch, but as they kiss, he suddenly breaks off and flies away, much to Carol's dismay. He has spotted a menace in the sky, a missile hurtling towards the heart of the city. He tries to halt the missile in midair, but his beam has no effect, for the missile is almost entirely yellow. (Hal seems to be having a bit of trouble getting a handle on this yellow weakness thing.) But in the nick of time GL realizes that the very tip of the missile is red rather than yellow, and creates a power-beam net to catch it by the tip before it strikes the ground. GL summons Army technicians, thinking the missile is out of control military ordnance, but they reveal that the missile is not government issue and is not, as GL had feared, an atomic warhead. But it was aimed at a building containing a vital government lab doing research on "hydrogen power". Making the rounds of "civil defense posts" to see if anyone spotted the missile launch, GL tracks the missile to a camouflaged headquarters in a remote woodland. Doing his passing-through-the-wall trick again, GL encounters yet another balding bad guy who aims a "telescopic battering ram" at him;but the Power Ring turns it into harmless water. "Lucky the battering ram wasn't yellow! I hate to think what would have happened if he had known the nuliifying effect that color has upon the power beam!" GL takes the would-be saboteur into custody and learns that he is a renegade scientist who hoped to destroy the government project in order to monopolize the secret of "H-power". Back at Ferris Aircraft, still in his GL identity, he tries to apologize to Carol for his sudden exit the previous night; but she rebuffs him. Yeah, he saved lives, but "if you had lost yourself in that kiss...the way I did...your eyes would have naturally CLOSED" and he wouldn't have spotted the runaway missile. "Whew! Now I'm in a DOUBLE DOGHOUSE as far as Carol is concerned! Both as Hal Jordan-- and as GREEN LANTERN!" Later issues would further develop the theme of Green Lantern being Hal Jordan's rival for Carol's affections. This of course resembled the long running Clark Kent/Superman/Lois Lane triangle-- with the exception that you could hardly blame Lois for preferring Superman to the ostentatiously "meek and timid" Clark. On the other hand, as I previously noted, Hal Jordan was just as manly and heroic as GL (indeed, it seems likely that he used his ring to cloud Carol's mind and prevent her from realizing that the two men with the same hair color, physique and personality were one and the same) so we must uncharitably conclude that Carol was rather shallow to prefer GL just because of his greater fame and glory.

As the Silver Age went into high gear, the new GL became a comics success much more quickly than his predecessor the Flash, appearing in three consecutive issues of SHOWCASE, then as a charter member of the newly formed Justice League of America shortly after the end of the SHOWCASE run, and debuting in his own title in mid-1960.

For anyone who hasn't read this debut SHOWCASE issue, it is reprinted in full in GREEN LANTERN ARCHIVES Vol. 1, and replica editions of SHOWCASE #22 were published as part of both the "Silver Age Classics" and 2000 "Millenium Edition" DC reprint series.