[November 24, 1961] In Brightest Day, In Blackest Night (Alter Ego Fanzine #3; Fall 1961)

Here’s a treat!  Our Copy Editor, Erica Frank, is not only a demon at formatting manuscripts, but she is also an avid follower of our rich fan culture.  She now takes up the quill for her first article for The Journey – I think you will be as glad that she did so as I am…

by Erica Frank

For some reason, comic books often aren’t considered science fiction, even though they’re full of aliens, time travel, futuristic weapons, genetic mutations, and villains with the goals and technology to destroy the planet, who have to be thwarted by heroes with fantastic powers and specialized training. There is no Hugo award for comic books, and comic book authors and artists are not usually asked to be guests at science fiction conventions. Many people, however, consider comics a perfectly valid medium for fantastic stories that touch on universal themes.

Around every medium of science fiction/fantasy, you’ve got Fanzines.  Fanzines are amateur magazines published to discuss those stories and themes; they are generally available for the cost of postage and sometimes a small charge to cover printing. You’ve probably heard of or even read a few sf zines, but did you know that comics also have zines?  Now you do…and many of them are well worth keeping an eye on.

For instance, Alter Ego, a new comics-themed fanzine, got its start earlier this year; it’s now on its third issue. Jerry Bails, the main editor, noted in the first issue that publication was likely to be irregular. As is the case with many amateur publications, production may slow down after the initial rush of enthusiasm fades. Currently, it has a mimeographed print run of over 300, and is available for 50 cents in coins or stamps, with unfolded “collector” copies available for a few cents more to cover the cost of the special envelope.

Issue 3 focuses on Green Lantern, a superhero of National Comics fame, with a couple of side articles and the obligatory letters column. Like many classic characters, he had a heyday in the 1940s, disappeared, and returned to print recently.  Alter Ego #3 includes a retelling of Green Lantern’s origin story by George Paul and two related articles from different authors; they discuss the history of the original Green Lantern from the 40s and what’s similar and different in the modern version. The issue also includes a parody comic, Bestest League of America, and an overview of the mid-40’s cinematic adventures of Captain America, which I may cover in a later column.

The original Green Lantern’s power came from his ring, which was powered in turn by a lantern fashioned from a strange green metal, formed from the remains of a meteor which crashed to earth in China. Astute readers will recognize this a rather clichéd way of indicating “exotic, untraceable origin” – because it was expected that none of the comic’s readers would have any relatives in or from China, who might wonder exactly when and where such a meteor supposedly fell.

By means of many years of handwaved history, it eventually found its way into the hands of Alan Scott, a railroad engineer in the United States, who made a ring from part of the metal. Touching the ring to the lantern activated it for 24 hours, making him “immune to metal” (presumably, that means “from damage caused by,” rather than “unable to touch”) and able to fly at “the speed of light” and walk through walls. Alan then acquired a costume with a mask and cape, which is the sartorial trend of super-beings in comic books, and devoted his life to fighting crime and dispensing justice.

Green Lantern’s oath to his ring is perhaps as famous as his costume and history:

“In brightest day, in blackest night, No evil shall escape my sight.  Let those who worship evil’s might Beware my power–Green Lantern’s light!”

The first article, And then there was light—the light of the Green Lantern, is by the editor of the fanzine, J.G. Bails. He points out that the 40s version of GL had a “magic lamp,” with many obvious similarities between him and the traditional Arabian story of Aladdin. Presumably, modern children are more interested in scientific terminology than fantasy themes, so the lantern is now a “power battery.” The original GL was more powerful, melting bullets in mid-flight, but was vulnerable to certain tricks based on metals. The new lantern, by comparison, has a sharp limitation: its powers do not work on anything yellow, a nonsensical feature that is sure to be exploited by many super-villains while being ignored in more mundane encounters.

Bails goes on to discuss GL’s first appearance in 1940 and charter membership in the Justice Society, and considers whether other, less-prominent heroes would’ve been just as popular if they had gotten the same front-page editorial support. M. C. Gaines, Sheldon Mayer, and Whitney Ellsworth of DC Comics all had a hand in making Green Lantern one of the most well-known comic book heroes, along with Martin Nodell’s art and Bill Finger’s writing. Bails gives a solid history of the character and the people who’ve helped bring him to life.

The next article, New Lamps for Old by Roy Thomas, goes into more detail about the differences between original and new Green Lantern. He speaks, or rather writes, with a bit more inflection. Some words underlined for emphasis, and his love for the character is obvious – along with his disappointment at many of the changes.

The character’s had a complete overhaul recently. He is no longer an engineer but a pilot, Hal Jordan, who was given the lantern by a dying alien. (China is apparently not distant enough anymore, with movies like this month’s Flower Drum Song making it clear that the “exotic east” is peopled by, well, people, not mystical sorcerers armed with prophecies and meteor metal.) Our GL is no longer the only fellow with a power ring; he’s now part of an interstellar “Green Lantern Corps,” many of whom are not remotely human-like. They function as a kind of “interplanetary United Nations” and patrol the galaxy with their don’t-call-it-magic green light powers.

The villains and sidekicks have also gotten an overhaul; many old favorites are gone. Thomas misses them but is intrigued by the newer Sinestro, a former Green Lantern (of the new variety) gone bad. He wraps up the article with an upbeat tone; he’s happy to await what the future will bring.

Alter Ego makes it clear that comic books, just like Astounding, Galaxy and the other mags, can contain rich storylines and complex characters. And just like any other science fiction literature, comics occasionally fall back on cheap gimmicks or stereotypes in the interest of telling an exciting story on a deadline. The critical analysis and review in comics fanzines can help mature readers spot the clichés while they share their enjoyment of the iconic characters and dramatic stories.

7 thoughts on “[November 24, 1961] In Brightest Day, In Blackest Night (Alter Ego Fanzine #3; Fall 1961)”

  1. Thank you for opening the Journey to this new field, and I hope you’ll continue to do so.  I did like the reference to Aladdin.

    And – who knows? – perhaps the comics will become more mainstream and Hugo-ed in future.

  2. Alfred Bester, from whom we haven’t seen much new work in recent years, wrote several excellent Green Lantern stories in the 1940s.

  3. Interesting article. I’d thought the Green Lantern Oath was something only the new (Hal Jordan) GL did; I wasn’t aware it originated with Alan Scott.

    I’ve seen Bails and Thomas’s names in various comic book letter columns (Justice League especially), so I’m not surprised they have a fanzine. You’re right about Roy’s writing, it’s quite good. He might make a good comics writer someday, as he seems to love the medium. Looking forward to more comics coverage!

  4. Bester is raking in the cash writing for Holiday magazine, one of the slicks you only see in the reception rooms of corporate offices, or maybe at your dentist’s. It’s really cutting into his sf writing.

  5. It looks like 1940s comics heroes are being revived all over the place – I think Marvel just brought back the Sub-Mariner. (Or was it promised to bring back? I’m not sure; I only look at the funnybooks when at the newsstand. “This ain’t a library, kid”.)

    Next: Captains America and Marvel?

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