Friday, December 7, 2007

Green Comic Book Heroes: More Than Most People Know!

In comic books, starting with the Golden Age era in the 1930s and 1940s, many characters have had colors tagged to their names. Oftentimes, for creative purposes, a character couldn't be called just "the Avenger," for example -– he had to be "the CRIMSON Avenger," or something similar. It made the character sound more interesting, it gave the creators a color scheme to work with, and it made it easier for the publisher to establish rights to the character.

Though often dismissed by '30s and '40s book and magazine printers as a “cheap” color (particularly for political ads), the color green wasn't exempt from the character-name color trend. Green was used for the names, appearances, and even weaponry of heroes and villains alike. To this day, it has held up as a very popular and durable color choice for many characters.

When it comes to comic book characters, particulary super-heroes, most readers know of at least one or two “Green” heroes. Most readers have heard of Green Arrow, for example, or Green Lantern. However, the list of Green heroes is much more extensive than that. Ever heard of the Green Ghost? How about the Green Turtle? Or the Green Lama? Following is a mostly-chronological listing of Green heroes that have appeared in comics over the decades.

Green Hornet

First among the Green heroes was the Green Hornet. The Green Hornet first debuted as a radio serial hero in 1936, but was adapted for comic books by the 1940s. A descendant of the Lone Ranger, newspaper publisher Britt Reid continued his family’s crimefighting legacy as the Green Hornet. However, instead of the Lone Ranger's six-shooter, the Hornet carried a knockout-gas gun, and also a Taser-like gun. He also had a big, intimidating black sedan called Black Beauty instead of a white horse named Silver.

Where the Lone Ranger had Tonto as a sidekick, the Hornet had Kato, an expert in martial arts and also a gifted mechanic and chemist. Kato was originally depicted as Japanese, but depending on which country the United States was at war with at the time, Kato’s ancestry changed over the years to Filipino and then Korean before eventually returning to his original Japanese origin.

The Green Hornet and Kato are perhaps best known today via the 1960s Green Hornet television show starring Van Williams and Bruce Lee, but the characters continue to have a complex comic book history. In at least one series of comics, the roles of Green Hornet and Kato were handed down through generations of the Reid and Kato families, and the role of Kato was once filled, briefly, by a woman.

Green Mask

Debuting in Mystery Men Comics #1 in 1939, the original Green Mask was the alter-ego of private investigator Michael Shelby. Initially a gun-toting crimefighter similar to the Green Hornet, the Green Mask eventually acquired super-strength, invulnerability, and the power of flight after being exposed to “vita-rays.” He also had a teen sidekick, Domino the Miracle Boy. His last appearance was in 1942.

The second Green Mask, who debuted in 1944, was Johnny Green. He was said to be the son of (and looked very much like) the original Green Mask. Johnny Green was sort of like a strange combination of Captain Marvel (Shazam!) and the Hulk in that he was a teenager who, upon becoming angry, transformed into an adult crimefighter.

Green Lama

The first Buddhist superhero, the Green Lama first appeared in Double Detective #5 in the spring of 1940. In addition to comic books and pulp stories, Green Lama was also the subject of a brief radio program in the 1940s. The Lama's alter ego was rich American college student Jethro Dumont, who traveled to Tibet to study Buddhism. After spending years in meditation, Dumont returned to the U.S. as the mystical superhero Green Lama, often helping the armed forces fight Nazis and other bad guys.

By reciting the Jewel Lotus Mantra (“Om Mani Padme Hum”), the Green Lama gained strength, invulnerability, and the power to fly. The Lama also could deliver electric shocks by drinking a potion, had the power to summon ghosts, and sometimes wore a red scarf that he used alternately as a whip and a garotte.

Recently, the Green Lama was revived as a major character in Dynamite Entertainment's comic book series Project Superpowers.

Green Lantern

In the DC Comics universe, there are literally thousands of Green Lanterns from thousands of worlds. Every Green Lantern wears a green ring that enables the bearer to do pretty much anything that the bearer can imagine, including fly, travel through space, walk through walls, read minds, and generate (usually green) solid constructs. Most Lanterns are officers of the Green Lantern Corps, and the real names of a few dozen Lanterns are known to readers.

The first Green Lantern to appear in comics, Alan Scott, was not a member of the Green Lantern Corps. Alan Scott debuted in All-American Comics #16 in the summer of 1940, as a young engineer who survived a terrible accident with the help of a mystical green lantern. Alan Scott carved a ring from the lantern and became the superhero known as Green Lantern. The powers of the first Green Lantern were primarily magical in nature, but readers would eventually be introduced to a Green Lantern with an entirely different background.

In 1959, DC Comics overhauled the Green Lantern concept to take advantage of then-popular science fiction trends, and a new Green Lantern was introduced. Test pilot Hal Jordan first appeared in Showcase #22, becoming Green Lantern after receiving a ring from dying alien Abin Sur. Over time, readers were introduced to the Green Lantern Corps, a sort-of intergalactic police force made up of 3600 officers and their respective space sectors (Hal Jordan was the Green Lantern for space sector 2814).

The comics have introduced other Green Lanterns from Earth through the years, notably Guy Gardner, John Stewart, and Kyle Rayner. However, Hal Jordan has remained the key Green Lantern of Earth, on and off, for over 40 years now.

Over the decades, DC Comics has tried numerous times to replace old Green Lantern characters with newer ones, or do away with the Green Lantern Corps altogether. Ultimately, every attempt has resulted in not only the return of older characters but an increase in the overall Green Lantern population. At this writing, even Alan Scott is still active, as a member of the updated Justice Society of America, and the current population of the Green Lantern Corps is 7200 officers.

Green Ghost

The first Green Ghost, originally known merely as the Ghost (and not to be confused with a pulp hero of the same name from the early 1930s), debuted in Thrilling Comics #3 in 1940. The Ghost was really magician and occult investigator George Chance, who put his skills to use fighting crime, aided by his wife, Betty. The Green Ghost’s initial run ended with issue #52 in 1946, but the character was revived by Alan Moore in 2001. Most recently, Green Ghost appeared as a member of the America’s Best Comics superhero team S.M.A.S.H. (Society of Modern American Science Heroes).

The second Green Ghost (along with his female partner, Lotus) was a main character in Evolution Comics’ short-lived New Frontiers comic in the late 1980s.

Green Giant

Long before the Jolly Green Giant (symbol of the Green Giant food company) there was Green Giant, who appeared in –- and only in -- Green Giant Comics #1, in 1940. Green Giant (real name: Brent Wood) was 15 feet tall, super-strong, and invulnerable. He was a precursor to later giant-sized comic book heroes like Giant-Man, Goliath, and Elasti-Girl of the Doom Patrol.

Green Arrow

Green Arrow first appeared in More Fun Comics #73 in 1941 and remains a very popular comic book hero. Based on Robin Hood, Green Arrow (alias Oliver Queen) uses archery to fight crime.

Initially, Green Arrow bore more than a passing resemblance to Batman. Like Batman's alter-ego Bruce Wayne (but also like many comic book heroes that debuted in the 1940s), Oliver Queen was a wealthy man with tremendous resources at his disposal. Like Batman, Green Arrow also used gadgets (mainly trick arrows) for fighting crime. He even had an Arrow Cave, an Arrow Car, an Arrow Plane, and a teenage sidekick (in his case, Speedy).

In the late 1960s, Green Arrow was drastically redesigned as a bewhiskered battler of social injustices, and has been that way (and has been a much more popular character) ever since. Much grittier now than during his Golden-Age days, Green Arrow usually operates as a sort-of liberal counterpoint to some of the more conservative heroes of the DC Comics universe.

Oliver Queen's son, Conner Hawke, also fights crime as Green Arrow.

Green Knight

Comic book history is full of adaptations of the Green Knight of Arthurian legend (from the 14th century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight). Unrelated to those, in December 1941, a super-hero called the Green Knight made his debute in Dynamic Comics #2. The Green Knight was wealthy American sportsman Denis Knight, who, inspired by tales of the knights of old, decided to use his archery skills to fight crime. He was very similar to Green Arrow, and he also had a kid sidekick, named Lance. The Green Knight and Lance appeared in only two issues of Dynamic Comics before fading into obscurity.

Green Turtle

First appearing in Blazing Comics #1 in 1944, Green Turtle was a Chinese crimefighter who battled the Japanese in occupied China during World War II, aided by his heavily armed Turtle Plane and a teen sidekick called Burma Boy. The Green Turtle was often accompanied by a large “turtle shadow” that seemed to function as a sort of Greek chorus for the hero.

Green Fury - Green Flame - Fire

Brazilian super-hero Beatriz Bonilla Da(Corvalho)Costa made her debute in the original Superfriends comic book (issue #25, 1979), at a time when DC Comics was seemingly eager to add as many international super-heroes to its roster as possible. Originally called the Green Fury, Bea’s powers primarily revolved around the presence and manipulation of a mystical green flame. Over the years, her powers evolved and changed to include flight (at one point, somewhat embarrasingly, by breathing flames through her nose), fire blasts, the ability to case illusions, and the ability to completely engulf herself in flames (which often resulted in her burning off all of her clothing).

Only a few years after her debute, Bea underwent an origin change in DC Comics Presents #46, 1982, and her powers became science-based rather than magic-based. Her super-hero name also changed, from Green Fury to Green Flame, before she finally settled upon Fire when she joined the Justice League along with her friend Tora (Ice) Olafsdotter. Fire’s other team affilitions within the DC Comics universe have included the Global Guardians, Checkmate, and the Super Buddies.

If anyone out there has any detailed information about other comic book heroes with “green” names (and, please, I’m interested in cataloging heroes, not villains), I’d love to hear from you!


SallyP said...

This is a darned fine piece of scholarship! Very nicely done.

Oh, and the Green Turtle just cracks me up. pants!

Sea_of_Green said...

Thank you. :-) And, yes, isn't the Green Turtle a hoot? :-) My favorite, though, is Green Lama. Would you believe his radio voice was done by Paul Frees, the same actor who did the original voice for the Pillsbury Doughboy? Too funny.

I think Green Giant looks intimidating as hell. "Where's that Little Green Sprout -- I'll mash 'im into vegetable paste! Grrrrrrrr ...!"

SallyP said...

Yeah, I was making "jolly" jokes in my head about the Green Giant. I have no shame whatsoever.

And I originally thought that the Green Lama, was the Green LLAMA! I was wondering what the heck was intimidating about a llama for heaven's sake.

SallyP said...

Hey, I just thought of another "Green" hero. Actually Fire, from the old JLI was originally known as the Green Flame when she was first with the Global Guardians. Ice was originally called Ice Maiden.

I must say that I greatly prefer Fire and Ice to their original codenames.

Sea_of_Green said...

I thought about Fire, actually. I left her out because she went by Green Flame so briefly compared to her current handle, and all major references refer to her merely as Fire. I'll continue thinking about it, though. :-)

Sea_of_Green said...

Article UPDATED 10/29/08.

Sea_of_Green said...

Article UPDATED 2/16/09.