Sunday, June 28, 2009

Golden Age and Silver Age Green Lantern

Just like the Silver Age Flash, I first discovered Silver Age Green Lantern not in comic books but on the Aquaman cartoon show where he appeared in both his own solo back-up stories and as part of the Justice League of America. The thing that fascinated me about Green Lantern was that he belonged to a larger intergalactic organization designed to police all the planets in space. That imbued him with a greater calling than these other super heroes who simply got hit by radiation or fell into a pile of chemicals and gained super powers. Hal Jordan was blessed with his powers, or at least given a ring and lantern that contained powers, by a far superior group of aliens. If Superman was a veiled representation of Jesus Christ, the Green Lantern was something like a prophet.

I first learned Green Lantern's origin in one of the cartoon installments. Test pilot Hal Jordan is suddenly transported to a desert area where a UFO has crash landed. The alien belongs to the Guardians of the Universe and, now that the alien is dying, he has chosen Jordan to pass on his membership to because he is a good man without fear. The alien gives Jordan a green ring and a green device that looks like a lantern. The lantern charges the ring every 24 hours and, whitgh the ring, he can create just about anything he wishes. Its only weakness is that the ring is powerless against the color yellow. This was one of those bullshit twists that I always hated in comic books, like Superman's kryptonite. These guardians are so powerful, but all you have to do is paint your gun yellow and they're screwed. Oh well...

I discovered that there had been a Golden Age Green Lantern when DC Comics started publishing old reprints in the back pages of their comics in the early 70s. While Silver Age Green Lantern's origin was pure atomic age sci-fi, the Golden Age version had an origin borrowing more from magic, which was pretty common with those early super heroes. Alan Scott stumbles across a magic lantern made of green metal which has mysterious powers. Scott creates a ring that, when he touches it to the lantern every 24 hours, gives him great powers. While Hal Jordan's ring could not affect anything yellow, Scott's ring was defenseless against items made of wood. I think Hal Jordan had the better advantage here.

Like The Flash, Green Lantern was one of the top five super heroes of DC's powerful stable who had his own magazine in addition to appearing regularly in an anthology title (All-American) and as part of the Justice Society of America in All-Star Comics. Also like The Flash, Green Lantern faded away in the early 50s as super hero comics fell out of favor. Once The Flash was successfully resurrected in a new form in 1956, Green Lantern got his aforementioned face lift in 1959 and the Silver Age was off and running.

I wasn't a regular reader of the Green Lantern comics, but he was always a big part of my childhood through his appearances on the Aquaman show and, of course, the Super Friends. When I renewed my interest in the old Captain Action toy during the late 90s, I found there was a lot of fans online who wished Ideal had made a Silver Age Green Lantern costume for Captain Action. Indeed, had the toy line been more successful, I have no doubt that The Flash and Green Lantern would've been turned into costume sets for the trans-super hero. Of course, I had to make a costume for my own Captain Action.

The elements for the costume came from the usual suspects. The gloves and boots were courtesy of Wes McCue at Classic Plastick. To simulate the green ring, I cut out a ring shape from green electrical tape and stuck it on the right glove hand. The costume was made by Rauty, which cleverly consists of a full black leotard over which you put on the green one-piece bathing suit type of garment. The chest emblem was made by finding a copy of the logo online, adjusting it to size in Photoshop, and then printing the logo on sitcker paper.

The mask went through two versions. First, I used the mask that came with Playing Mantis's second generation Green Hornet costume over which I placed a green mask cut out of electrical tape. I had cut out the eye holes because Green Lantern was sometimes drawn with his eyes exposed. However, the Green Hornet face mask had bug eyes similar in look to Eagle Eye G.I Joe, and the hair style was all wrong. The finished mask didn't look anything like Hal Jordan.

After awhile, it occurred to me that Hal Jordan had a pile of curly hair similar to Aquaman. Since Ideal had made an Aquaman costume set for Captain Action, maybe I could repaint an Aquaman mask. One finally came on eBay for a price I was willing to pay, and I repainted Aquaman's golden locks brown. I used the same electrical tape technique for the green mask, but decided to paint the eye holes plain white. With this new face mask, I was reasonably pleased with my Silver Age Green Lantern.

A few years later, when I was making custom figures of all the Justice Society of America characters, I took on the daunting task of recreating Golden Age Green Lantern. His was one of the more audacious costumes from the era, featuring a red shirt, green pants, red boots with yellow criss-cross striping, a purple mask, and a high-collared cape with purple on the outside and chartreuse on the inner lining. In today's vernacular, he was a hot tranny mess!

Although I was no longer making costumes specifically for Captain Action figures, I decided to repaint a spare Lone Ranger face mask to use for Alan Scott's head because of the similarity. His hair went from black to yellow and his mask went from black to purple. To mitigate the extreme color pallate, I dyed a white shirt in a soft red tone and I used some olive drab pants instead of bright green tights. The chest emblem was created in the same process mentioned above. On the red boots, courtesy of Wes McCue, I created the striping pattern with yellow electrical tape. I wanted to make the cape, but I could never find the material in the right colors. For the sake of this post, I mocked up a cape with a little photoshoppery. This is a reasonable representation of what I want my finished Green Lantern to look like when I get the right cape material.

The Flash and Green Lantern survived through the 20th century by going through radical makeovers, but DC's other three big stars, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, remained relatively unchanged throughout their careers. I'll talk about my Wonder Woman action figure next time.

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Tale of Two Flashes

Going through my old posts, I realized that I neglected to talk about some of my earliest custom action figures. Although they lack some of the attention to detail that I brought to my later customs, I'm still pretty happy with them and thought it might be fun to share them. The Flash seems to be the best place to start since he was the first super hero to cross over from the Golden Age of Comics to the Silver Age in a completely new incarnation. Also, I just so happen to have created custom versions of each character.

Like many people born in the 60s, my first exposure to The Flash came not from the comics but from the Aquaman TV show where The Flash was featured in solo back-up stories as well as in The Justice League of America adventures. The Flash was the first "unitasker" hero I had ever seen. Unlike Superman who could do anything, or Batman who had no superpowers and relied mainly on his belt full of gadgets and gizmos, The Flash could do one thing well which was run like crazy. As a result, all his adventures were tailored to showcase his particular talent. The budding writer in me was fascinated by the contrived nature of these stories. I would think, "Boy, it's a good thing he doesn't have to lift up a train or set something on fire with laser vision. He just has to run across the country in time to defuse a bomb."

A few years later, I was able to read about The Flash's origin in the reprint comic title Secret Origins #1. In the story, police scientist Barry Allen leaves some jars of chemicals near an open window during a thunderstorm (why the window is open during a storm is not explained). Lightning jumps through the window, strikes the apparently conductive chemicals, and the resulting mixture splashes all over Barry Allen. Soon he discovers that he can move at super fast speed like a comic book character he remembered from his youth, the one we now refer to as Golden Age Flash. Since he already works for the police, Allen decides to become a new version of his comic book hero, fashioning a bright red costume for himself and fighting crime as The Flash.

I loved that story, not only because of the great Carmine Infantino artwork, but because the origin referenced an earlier DC creation. Barry Allen was inspired by a comic character who actually existed years earlier. This was the first time I learned of Golden Age Flash, but I was soon able to read his early stories thanks to DC's habit at the time of filling the back pages of its comics with Golden Age stories. Of course, this Flash was a completely different character. In this version, college student Jay Garrick has a lab accident (like Barry Allen) and he inhales fumes that make him super fast. Immediately, he puts together a costume modeled after the Greek god Hermes and starts fighting crime. His motivation for fighting crime is less clear than Allen's, but the stories were still a lot of fun.

As I grew older and became a full-fledged comic book geek, I learned that the creation of two versions of The Flash led to a major change in the DC universe. In 1961, The Flash #123 featured a story where the old and new Flash meet. It seems Golden Age Flash was not merely a comic book character, but a flesh and blood hero on an alternate world known as Earth 2. In fact, all the Golden Age super heroes lived there including older versions of Superman and Batman. This opened up a long series of cross over stories featuring the old and new characters.

Jumping ahead to the 12st century, I found myself increasingly fascinated with the idea of creating 12" custom action figures based on the super heroes I loved as a kid. More specifically, I was inspired by the old Captain Action line where you could dress Captain Action up in various super hero costumes. Unfortunately, the short run of the toy line prevented Ideal from creating certain super hero costumes that were no brainers, like The Flash and Green Lantern. I decided to create a Flash costume when I found a great Flash mask on eBay, created by Dale Van Slyke. I then purchased a red unitard from the Dr. Mego Web site. I have to admit that, although Dr. Mego makes great Mego parts, the unitard was of really poor quality. However, I liked that it was slightly baggy the way Carmine Infantino used to draw The Flash's costume, so I made some repairs and used it. I made the yellow lightning bolts around the elbows with electrical tape, and for the chest emblem, I took an emblem from the Internet, photoshopped it to size, and printed it on sticker paper. Once cut out and applied to the chest, the unitard was complete.

Since The Flash's boots had tread, I used a pair of army boots that I painted yellow. My original figure also wore red gloves which I bought from Classic Plastick, but I didn't like the way the mask fit on the figure, so I used a beefier action figure with a bigger head. Problem was, the gloves didn't fit his beefy hands, so I just painted his hands red. The yellow belt came from a uniform set sold by a Captain Action fan known as Rauty. His red unitard was better than the Dr. Mego one, but I used his for a different custom project.

The Golden Age Flash figure was created later when I got it into my head to make my own version of the Justice Society of America. I discussed the creation of this figure in an earlier post. Unlike my Silver Age Flash, which was originally devised to be a costume I could put on a Captain Action figure, the Golden Age figure was devised as a stand alone custom. After awhile, I liked the idea of just having figures on display that were meant to be solely one thing rather than making costume sets that could work on different action figures. That's why I chose a figure from ERTL's Fisherman set. I thought the headsculpt closely resembled Golden Age Flash's face.

After creating a Silver Age Flash action figure, my next logical project had to be the other super hero who got a Silver Age makeover: Green Lantern. A look at Silver Age and Golden Age Green Lantern next time!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Saturday Afternoon Matinee

If my calculations are correct, it was on this day 31 years ago when the summer vacation between my 8th and 9th grade school years began. The summer of 1978 was an especially wondrous time for me when my imagination came into full blossom, and I cherished every mundane aspect of life as if it were priceless. I remember that first day especially well because my friend Vince and I went to a matinee double feature at the Northpoint Plaza Theatre (now a dreary Wall-Mart).

In the time before home video, double features were a great way of coaxing people to see a not-so-great new release by pairing it with a slightly better film that had been released a couple years earlier. Movie-goers who liked the older film and wanted to see it again, or those who hadn't had a chance to see it when it was originally released, might be lured in to see the new film. In this case, the double bill was Warlords of Atlantis and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger.

It was a Saturday and, as with every Saturday from May to October, I had to mow my neighbor's lawn. The woman I knew as Miss Peggy was a widow with a house on the corner, so her lawn was much larger than the rest of the houses on the block, encompassing not only the front and back of her house, but also a large section on the side by the intersection and the long strips of grass between the sidewalk and the street. For the handsome sum of $7 per week, I would mow and trim that huge lawn with her Toro gas-powered mower and my father's cheesy Black & Decker weed whacker. To make matters worse, Miss Peggy had her lawn chemically treated, so it grew just as fast as I could cut it and those chemicals wreaked havoc with my sinuses. Still, in a day when comic books cost 30 cents and a matinee was only $2, making $7 a week in addition to my newspaper delivery boy salary was good money.

I finished mowing the lawn around noon, took a quick shower, and then called Vince to make sure he was ready to go. My dad drove us to the theatre as he so often did. Looking back, I would've thought it a pain in the ass to drive us all over town, but he liked to drive. My mom said he should've been a bus driver.

Anyway, the first film to be shown was Warlords of Atlantis, the new release. This was the fourth Amicus release to feature Doug McClure as a turn-of-the-century explorer who stumbles into some forgotten world of monsters and lost tribes. The first three films were based on Edgar Rice Burroughs books, but this one was original. I guess the film-makers thought they could save some money by writing their own story but swiping the formula. In this movie, McClure takes a bathysphere down to the ocean's depths and is swept into a strange underwater world. I had never seen a bathysphere before, so I was completely captivated by the concept. Here's the segment of the film that fascinated me the most:

Aw, up your bathysphere with an ancient golden statue!

Did you catch Cliffie as one of the crew members? Someone has uploaded the entire film on YouTube if you care to watch it. Once they reach the underwater world, I think the story kinda bogs down. To a 13 year old, though, it was pretty exciting.

Next up was the much better Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, featuring the incredible special effects of Ray Harryhausen. It star's John's son Patrick Wayne as Sinbad and Tyrone Power's daughter Taryn. A very young Jane Seymour and Doctor Who #2 Patrick Troughton are also in the movie. There was only one scene that stayed with me all these decades, and someone just so happened to put it on YouTube. You'll discover fairly quickly why it burned itself so vividly into my adolescent brain:

More than the stories themselves, I became completely lost in these depictions of fantasy worlds from a bygone era. Having already had my fill of space opera like Star Trek, Space:1999, and Star Wars, I was ready for some new fantasy legends. In between the countless comic books I read that summer, I poured over books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the stories of Sinbad, and even tales from The Arabian Nights. All that lawn and newspaper money went straight to the comic book/used book store in my neighborhood. So lost was I in these fantasy tales that I doubt my parents were even aware of my existence until I showed up for dinner.

To this day, I remember that summer as a dream-like blend of fantasy and reality. While mowing the lawn, I was a giant slaughtering hordes of soldiers with my swirling blades of death. Wandering the sun-baked sidewalks of my neighborhood delivering newspapers, my mind was underground in the hidden world of Pellucidar helping David Innes defeat the evil Mahars. It was the last summer when I had no worries and could afford to completely block out the harsh realities that were looming on the horizon. During those sultry, hot days in 1978, I was purely a kid for the last time.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Men Into Spa-aaa-ace!

Although I read comics from the time before I could read, I didn't seriously collect comics until I was about 12 years old. Among my early obsessions were the Dell/Gold Key comics from the 50s and 60s. Dell was the comic book arm of the Western Printing and Lithograph Co., which held the licensing rights to numerous pop culture properties from comic strips, movies, and television. Instead of having regular titles with monthly or bi-monthly publishing schedules, Dell primarily put out an anthology series known to collectors as Four Color Comics featuring an array of properties including Buck Rogers, Mr. Ed, the Three Stooges, and Leave it to Beaver. The quirky line-up of pop culture icons, coupled with the unique covers using either paintings or photo-collages, really jumped out at me as a collector. Also, they were way cheaper for me to buy than old Marvel or DC comics. This was important on my newspaper delivery boy/lawn mower salary.

One of my favorite Four Color Comics was the issue featuring the Men Into Space TV series. At the time, I had never heard of the show, but I was intrigued by the grim-faced astronaut on the cover with the cool helmet sitting next to the Chesley Bonestell painting. I later discovered that Men Into Space was a half-hour, syndicated series about the United States Air Force's attempts to explore space. Led by Colonel Edward McCauley (played by William Lundigan), these space explorers dealt with the hazards of space travel as they built space stations, moon bases, and planned trips to Mars. Although the stories were supposed to take place in some vaguely defined near future, everything looked like 1959.

Of course, I only had the comic to go by when I was 12, and it seemed pretty exciting to me. While I knew that the science presented in this 1960 comic bore no resemblance to the realities of the Apollo missions, I enjoyed experiencing this "what if" view of the future that seemed so much more elegant than the truth. The frustrating part about the comic book was that the story ended with a cliffhanger. During one of their moon missions, one of the crew is injured. Also, they do not have enough fuel to get back in their rocket ship, so the injured man and another astronaut are sent home in a makeshift rescue craft, leaving McCauley and another astronaut stranded on the moon waiting for help. I spent decades trying to find the second issue of this comic so I could read the conclusion of the story. It wasn't until a few years ago, with the help of the Internet, that I discovered Dell never published that second issue. I don't know whether the series' cancellation or poor comic sales were to blame, but Col. McCauley was never rescued from the moon.

I always wanted to see some episodes of the show, but the only way I could see them was to buy the entire set of 38 episodes on DVD for about $40. I wasn't prepared to invest that much money on a show I had never seen before, so I never bought them. Now, some generous person has posted one of the episodes on YouTube, so I'd like to share it with you. As I suspected, it's kinda like "Sea Hunt in Outer Space." The budget is low, there's a heavy reliance on stock footage, and the story is rather uneventful. Still, I wish I could have seen it in syndication when I was a kid. I think I would've enjoyed it. This episode features a young Robert Vaughn as guest star, who is clearly the best actor in this episode. Anyway, here it is: