Neotopia, Not So Alien, Science Fiction, Transhumanism, Twisty Realities

Legends of Tomorrow and Heroes from the Past

Watching DC’S Legends of Tomorrow Season 1 inspired me to dig into the DC comic archives and revisit some of the characters’ histories.

If you read comics for any length of time you’ll understand that characters change dramatically, and it’s easy to lose track of their origins and primary motivations. Of course, it’s easy to assume certain things, for example, Superman fights for goodness, Wonder Woman is an Amazon, and Batman is a detective. But even these underlying anchors can change, especially as each decade’s writers weave new concepts and pop culture psychology into them.  Powers also change, sometimes dramatically, and dead doesn’t mean dead, even if you do see the body.

For this reason, I dug into Golden Age (late 1930’s to 1950) and Silver Age (1956-1970) comics to find out more about those legends of tomorrow.

I got sidetracked almost immediately by Golden Age Green Lantern, a founding member of the Justice Society of America alongside the Atom, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Green Arrow, Black Canary (not White), and the Flash. Sounds like the Legends, doesn’t it?

This version of Green Lantern is not the science fiction superhero, Hal Jordan, that we’re familiar with today. The older Green Lantern is Alan Scott, a railroad engineer whose mystical lantern powered his famous green ring.

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Green Lantern, Golden Age, Superhero, Alan Scott
Green Lantern comic header from the 1940's.

Take the mystic potency of an ancient Green Lamp – potency which enables a man to walk through walls and gives him immunity to metals for 24 hours after he as touched the Power Ring to the Green Lamp – combine it with the tremendous willpower of Alan Scott – and you have GREEN LANTERN.

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Green Lantern, Golden Age, Superhero, Alan Scott
Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern, seen on the cover of JSA #77. Art by Alex Ross. (This image is under Wikipedia's Fair Use provisions.)

Scott’s powers were limited by modern superhero standards. He fought human villains most of the time although he also had run-ins with Legend’s, Vandal Savage. Scott’s first sidekick was Doiby Dickles, a non-super brawler with a good heart and a thick Brooklyn accent.

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Green Lantern, Doiby Dickles, Golden Age, Comic, Superhero
Golden Age Green Lantern with sidekick, Doiby Dickles. (Green Lantern #12, 1944)

The Golden Age heroes fascinate me as they exist on a human scale. In the old days, even if you weren’t lucky enough to find a magic lantern that turned you into a crime-fighting superhero, you might still join the fray as the hero’s normal sidekick. And that was a daydream worth sinking your teeth into. Modern superheroes might as well be alien gods, a common metaphor for Superman and a literal truth for Thor and Loki.

I think we need human scale heroes today, more than ever. We need to be reminded that human beings are good even as we’re told, every day online and in the news, that we are wicked and evil. Are we really? Some of us are, sure. But the majority are good and decent people who know the difference between right and wrong and stick to their morals.

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Green Lantern, Golden Age, Superhero, Alan Scott
A human-scale Green Lantern story showing how unjust circumstances make good people into temporary villains. When Green Lantern understands the truth of the man's despair from a mistaken medical death sentence, he is forgiven. (Green Lantern #20, 1946)

I imagine that many people will think me naïve or quaint for suggesting value in these old, tired stories from the Golden Age. But the thing is, I don’t think they’re tired, I think we are.

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Green Lantern, Golden Age, Superhero, Alan Scott
When the character is sincere, and all is forgiven, amends can be made. (Green Lantern #20, 1946.)

Tired of being blasted from one end of the galaxy to the another by emotionally bankrupt heroes who are constantly dealing with mind-bending moral issues. How can we relate to that? And are we even supposed to try…?

I prefer simpler adventures where I can relate to the main characters. Oh sure, I enjoyed Legends of Tomorrow but I don’t relate to either Hawkgirl or White Canary. It’s Rip Hunter, who appears the most human, that gives me a window into the story. But even he is not human enough. He’s a Time Master, whatever that really means. In the escalated hero stories of today we are left wondering what place we have in the collected daydream of superhero/gods.

Perhaps, we have no place there at all, but if that’s true then what place do we have in this planet’s collective consciousness? I know, these are just stories…but ask yourself…how do you really feel about being human when all of your entertainment suggests that there are greater beings out there who are free from our constraints? It’s never a healthy comparison, or a good one.

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Green Lantern, Golden Age, Superhero, Alan Scott
This was a Christmas story of tolerance. (Comic Cavalcade #9, 1944.)

Sometimes I think we need a 1940’s superhero to help us remember what it is to be human. And isn’t that just a kick in the pants?

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