Monday, July 28, 2008

The Green Lama #3 (1945): "The Riddle of Toys"

Admittedly, the primary reason I started reading, and have continued to read, the comic book series Project Superpowers is due to the presense of the Green Lama. I'm rather fond of the character, and I rather like what Alex Ross & co. have done with him in terms of his powers. Many other super-heroes from the Lama's era (the Golden Age) are more or less Superman clones in terms of their abilities. For me, though, the Green Lama has always been just different enough from other Golden Age heroes to be much more than a "Superman clone." After all, Superman isn't a practising (and rather blatant) Buddhist, and he certainly doesn't wear green -- and I've always been fond of "green" heroes, anyway. Besides, unlike many other super-heroes, the Green Lama is a pretty easy-going guy (though definitely NOT nonviolent) and never seems to take himself TOO seriously.

Most people have never seen an old, original Green Lama comic book story. So, let's have some fun and peek at The Green Lama #3 (1945), featuring the work of legendary artist Mac Raboy, and featuring the closest thing the Lama has to an arch-enemy: Falstaff!

Falstaff (named after the beloved Shakespeare character from Henry IV and The Merry Wives of Windsor) is kinda like the Burgermeister Meisterburger from the old Rankin-Bass stop-motion TV special, Santa Claus is Comin' to Town (1970), in that he robs children of their toys. Unlike the grouchy ol' Burgermeister, though, Falstaff is generally a jolly guy -- though that doesn't stop him from having his thugs pull guns on poor little kids. (Here's an interesting bit of trivia: Actor Paul Frees, who did the voice of the Burgermeister, also did the voice of the Green Lama in a 1940s radio serial.) Anyway, Falstaff is a lousy, rotten toy thief who creates real problems for toy lovers, and for the Green Lama. Hide your action figures, fanboys and fangirls, and read on!

The tale begins in New York, with a bunch of kids playing outside on the street ('cause, hey, that's where kids played back then). One kid has a big, shiney new toy fire engine, and he's showing it off to his buddy: "Mr. Jerome, who owns a toy store, is my pop's friend and he gave this to me!"

Suddenly, a thug leaps out of the shadows and takes the fire engine away from the kid. He then shoves the kid and leaps into a getaway car.

Witnessing the crime, though, is wealthy playboy Jethro Dumont, alter ego of the Green Lama! He says his words to transform into the Lama: "Om Mani Padme Hum!"

Green Lama flies after the car, but the bad guys see him. The car suddenly emits a smokescreen, and the Lama gets lost in the smoke. The car gets away.

After changing back to civilian attire, Jet has a word with the boys and learns that the one kid, Bobby Stout, received the fire engine "only yesterday."

Jet promises to get Bobby a new fire engine. He pays a visit to Mr. Jerome's toy shop and while there tells Mr. Jerome about the theft. Mr. Jerome says he'll go ahead and give Bobby a new toy himself, and claims there was nothing special about the one that was stolen. Jet then leaves the store, but he still feels a bit suspicious about the theft. Why would anyone want to steal an essentially "worthless" toy?

(Hey, Green Lama -- by the 21st century, that toy may not be so worthless and may, in fact, become a hot item for toy collectors! But, I digress ...)

The next day, at a boys' baseball game in Central Park, a boy named Jimmy is showing off his new baseball glove to his pals: "Robby Steller is my pop's friend and he autographed this glove himself! See where he signed his name!"

Three guesses what happens next.

(Now, just what kinda scumbag pulls a machine gun on a little kid?! Geez!)

However, standing on a terrace with a great view of the park is Tsarong, Jethro Dumont's buddy from Tibet. Tsarong sees the theft and calls Jet, who immediately transforms into Green Lama and goes after the crooks.

This time, the Lama succeeds in stopping the car, but the bad guys still give him some trouble:

(I gotta admit, one of the reasons why I love green super-heroes so much is that, for some odd reason, they're all so endearingly clumsy. Hey, Jet -- did you forget you can fly?)

Jet finds out where the boy who lost the baseball glove lives, and pays a visit. He finds out that the glove was autographed by famous pitcher Robby Steller and it was "the only thing he ever autographed!"

Playing on a hunch, Jet then decides to pay a visit to his friend, Lieutenant Caraway of the NYPD (who apparently knows that Jethro Dumont is the Green Lama). Jet describes the bad guys' getaway car to Caraway, who checks his records and verifies that it was stolen. Jet tells Caraway to watch out for checks with Steller's name forged on them.

Readers are then given a peek inside Falstaff's hideaway, which indeed shows a clerk practising rewriting the baseball glove's signature.

Later, while out and about, Jet spots the bad guys and follows them into a local five-and-dime shop. Just as the bad guys hold up the store clerks and steal a bunch of toy mechanical men from a store case (all the while asking Falstaff why the heck they're stealing mechanical dolls), the Green Lama shows up.


Green Lama hauls the crook back to police headquarters and turns him over to Caraway. It seems that Caraway likes having Green Lama around so that he can use him threaten crooks: "If you don't start talking, I'll let the Green Lama take a swing at you!"

The crook claims to know nothing except that all members of Falstaff's gang were to meet at 4th and Main at 3:00. Caraway determines that they must be planning to rob the bank on that corner. Green Lama changes back to Jethro Dumont and goes to the bank, posing as a customer.

Sure enough, at 3:00, Falstaff and his gang show up at the bank and turn loose the toy mechanical men they previously stole. The toys march toward the bank vault and blow it wide open. Jet then changes to Green Lama and confronts the bad guys. He has better luck against them this time.

Yeah, that's right -- Falstaff's the toy store owner, and he took advantage of that position to have the local kids tell him all about the toys they had. Whatta jerk.

So, why did Falstaff steal the "worthless" toy fire engine at the beginning of the tale? Well, it turns out that he'd hidden the key to his personal safe in the toy, and then accidentally gave away THAT toy instead of one of its duplicates.

Oops! This definitely makes Falstaff a candidate for an episode of America's Dumbest Criminals.


SallyP said...

I wasn't too sure what I was getting into, when I started reading this, but this...this is LITERATURE!

What an amazing lair for Jethro! He can see anywhere in the city from his balcony! Batman must be an idiot for hanging out in a cave.

He slips on marbles...just like Hal would've done!

Traumitization of small children! Always fun! And those BOOTS! Ye Gods, those boots.

I see you're having fun with the "G" box.

ComicsAllTooReal's Chris said...


Definitely the traumatization of the kids was the funniest part. What a dumb villain, lol. The Green Lama does look a little Lanternish, though, heehee!

Sea_of_Green said...

Green Lama stories ARE fun. It's really a shame that the character has had a hard time surviving outside of the Golden Age, especially since Western culture is now more open to Buddhism. Still, some of those old WWII stories are rather painful, with their ethnic stereotypes and such.