Writer: Tim Sheridan
Artist: Cian Tormey
Colorist: Matt Herns
Letterer: Lucas Gattoni
Cover: David Talaski
“And I shall shed my light over dark evil, For the dark things cannot stand the light, the light of the Green Lantern!”
Comic fans of a certain age have long been familiar with the original Golden Age Green Lantern whose engineer alter ego Alan Scott walked away as the sole survivor of a train accident thanks to a magical lantern from which he’d soon craft a ring. A mysterious meteor landing centuries in China’s past, Wagner’s Ring Cycle operas, and a cue or two from ancient Greek clothing came together in creator Marty Nodell’s imagination to form the character’s foundation. Nodell was joined by Batman writer Bill Finger and appeared in All American Comics #16 cover dated July, 1940. The comics title was the flagship comic of All American Comics, the sister company of DC’s precursor, National Comics. A little more than a year later Green Lantern also had a solo series which arguably made the character as prominent as Superman or Batman.
Superhero comics were in decline by the end of the decade and early 1951 would see the last of Green Lantern and his Justice Society teammates (except for Wonder Woman) until editor Julius Schwartz revived the Justice Society characters individually and as a group in the 1960s, followed by an All Star Comics revival in the mid 1970s, and Roy Thomas’s All Star Squadron in the early 1980s and later Infinity Inc which featured the children and mentees of the Justice Society. Among those characters were Jade and Obsidian, the daughter and son of Alan Scott, whose parentage was shrouded in mystery because “hey, it’s comics!” Then came a line wide new continuity with Crisis On Infinite Earths and Obsidian would eventually be revealed to be gay and have a loving boyfriend (thanks to Marc Andreyko) with a slightly bewildered but supportive father. Then along came another continuity land mine when in 2011 then publisher Dan Didio initiated the New 52 phase that eliminated so much of what nerds had come to know and love. Obsidian’s disappearance inspired writer James Robinson to fashion Alan Scott as a gay man. James Tynion revisited and fleshed out Green Lantern’s origin in the summer of 2020.
Easy to see that Green Lantern is on the list of characters with complicated histories like Hawkman, Hawkwoman, and Wonder Girl. This recap doesn’t even touch on changes to the mythos of Green Lantern from a heroic point of view. And did you know that starting in 1948 Alan also got a canine sidekick named Streak who became popular enough to star in a solo side strip? I didn’t either!
Flash forward (finally!) to another phase in DC continuity in which DC has greenlighted new stories for several of its Golden Age characters.
Writer Tim Sheridan and artist Cian Tormey have chosen the task of putting both Alan and Green Lantern into a new framework with familiar elements. The Justice Society is there of course because they go hand in glove. So too is Derby Dickles, AKA Doiby, who harks back to the time when several popular superheroes picked up comedic sidekicks as part of a comics trend to keep sales strong. No longer a caricature, Derby now reads as a street smart character in his own right and a friend who’s earned Alan’s trust with both his superhero identity and the truth about his sexuality, a truth that queer people in the decades before Stonewall went to great lengths to keep private out of genuine fear for having their lives ruined. Sheridan alludes to this when he has Scott expressing concern over being pressured by none other than FBI director J Edgar Hoover, infamous for his corruption and blackmailing efforts.
Instead of picking up at the point of Scott’s Golden Age origin, Sheridan asked what was Scott’s life before the day of that tragic accident and took that engineer aspect and pushed back the calendar to 1936 when Scott is a member of the Army Corps of Engineers assigned to a battle ship whose crew is tasked with tracking down a mysterious force called the Crimson Flame. Assigned to the same ship is Corporal John Ladd who has his eyes set on the twenty four year old Scott. This naval backdrop decades before the armed forces “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was instituted by Bill Clinton is the perfect setting for creating an underlying tension between Scott and John as they tentatively begin their relationship within the tight confines of a naval ship.
There is not insignificant Easter egg that leads to a mystery that many readers may gloss over while reading the story. It involves a scene with Alan and his new beau taking photographs together. Thanks to cell phone cameras today people under most circumstances don’t think twice about taking photos with their loved ones. It was a very different reality in 1936 when Alan and John’s picture taking scene is set. Back then queer people had to rely on a film developer in whom they could trust and sometimes even then it was a bad decision. Just who developed these photos and did they make copies to use as blackmail?
Cian Tormey is the artist who collaborated with Tom Taylor on the Superman: Son of Kal-El comic featuring Jon Kent and his boyfriend Jay Nakamura. While I very much miss that series having Tormey drawing this mini series is a real pleasure thanks to Tormey’s unfussy contour line style that makes any project he’s working on feel instantly inviting and visually accessible. The two page sequence with Alan and Johnny secretly holed up in an out of a way motel is a sheer delight. Along with the sexiness of boxers, boots, and dog tags, Tormey conveys playfulness, and affection of two young men in love made all the more precious by the stigma of the time.
With Son of Kal-El the tone was one of a brighter present day with an eye to the future. While the series is set in the late 1930s and early 1940s — the Golden Age of colorful characters cavorting across 64 pages for a mere dime — the tone is a somber one. Matt Herms’ coloring throughout this issue is subdued, even more so when contrasted to the coloring of the time which had its charm despite the lack of sophistication. Herms’ pays homage to that charm by subtly mimicking the dot matrix appearance of offset printing as well as a mezzotint effect in background areas to help create mood.
Of course the story is more to the story than romance and government coercion! Alan, John, and the rest of the crew make contact with the enigmatic and powerful Crimson Force which threatens to doom them all but is satisfied with the life of one man and just how is this connected with ominous events playing out five years later? Sheridan’s use of historically relevant points has me intrigued to learn what else he has in store in this regard and I’m very excited to see what’s in store for Alan and John and how Green Lantern will shed his light over dark evil, whether it’s an unimaginably powerful force, a judgmental society, or a corrupt FBI director.