Martin Nodell and The Green Lantern

Tomorrow is opening night for Green Lantern, the movie I’ve been dreading/looking forward to for a while now.  The character has always been my favorite superhero through his many incarnations.  I was noodling this when my thoughts turned to Martin Nodell.

Nodell was an illustrator, working freelance in New York City in 1940.  Superman had debuted two years prior and since then, a number of comic book companies had sprung up, looking for new characters to grab a piece of the superhero action.  Heading back to Brooklyn one night on the subway, Nodell spotted a train man swinging a lantern with a green light on the tracks, signalling the train to get moving.  Something about the image inspired him and he quickly drew up his own super character: The Green Lantern.

He brought it to Sheldon Mayer, who was an editor at All American Comics (now DC Comics).  Mayer liked the idea but thought it was rough.  He brought in his go-to writer, Bill Finger, to help Nodell pollish the concept.  The end result was a character who wielded a magic green ring, powered by the lantern, that could conjure up anything he imagined.  This original version of the character (his real identity was Alan Scott) was the owner of a broadcast company and his only weakness was wood (that one was never explained). 

The character was popular throughout what’s called The Golden Age of Comics.  After WWII, superheroes lost their popularity and Alan Scott’s adventures came to an end.  Out of all the brightly clad heroes of the era, only Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman saw their series continued.  A few years later, Nodell left comics forever to begin a successful career in advertising.  The most popular of his ad designs was the character now called The Pillsbury Doughboy.  I bet you didn’t know he’s Green Lantern’s relative.

GL did find his way back to comic books.  In the late fifties, DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz was reviving the superhero comic.  He’d already brought back The Flash and decided to do the same with Nodell’s creation.  This time, though, he wanted to switch out mystical powers for a science fiction approach.  He and writer John Broome developed the idea of Hal Jordan and The Green Lantern Corps.  Gil Kane created the iconic look for the character.  It’s this version of the character that’s hitting movie screens tomorrow.

I met Mr. Nodell in the last several years of his life, when he became a regular guest at the Motor City Comic Con.  Being a big Green Lantern fan, I was excited to meet him.  He struck me as optimistic and was very pleased his original concept had shown so much staying power.  As I was a guest as well, I got to have a couple of conversations with him while we were both taking breaks from the floor.  The most memorable of these was when I discussed politics and the Garden of Eden story with him and Peter David.  I have a Super 8 video somewhere of an interview I did with him.  I took it very much to heart when he told me I was a “bright young man” and I should keep going after my ambitions even if they seemed impossible.  He died in 2006.

I’ve seen multiple interviews with cast members, the director, and other creators behind the new film.  Not once has his name come up.  In fact, no one has ever mentioned Bill Finger, Julius Schwartz, John Broome, or Gil Kane either.  You’d almost think Geoff Johns made him up, as he’s the only comic creator I’ve heard referenced.  Whether the film succeeds or fails, it was once only an idea these men turned into a lasting concept.  Many others have made a lot of money from it and at the very least I hope their names appear in the credits.


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