When DC Comics made it official last week that Alan Scott – the original 1940s hero who bore the name Green Lantern – would be reinvented as a gay man in the pages of James Robinson and Nicola Scott's "Earth 2" series, very few were caught by surprise. The move had been widely speculated after and outright spoiled after DC teases a "major, iconic" hero would see their sexual orientation changed in the wake of the publisher's New 52 relaunch.
After a weekend of largely public support for the move (alongside some particularly humorous cries of "controversy" and expected fanboy continuity questioning), one of the topics returned to in discussing Scott's new status has been whether the hero counts as being major and iconic. Though the original Green Lantern is a foundational piece of DC history and the major inspiration for one of DC's biggest franchises, Scott has also been a character best known to die-hard readers. Over the years, his role at DC has bounced from major player to hero in limbo to elder statesman with many stops in between. But when you step back and view the whole history of the character, his latest iteration seems only the most recent turn in a decades-long process of defining who Alan Scott is.
In fact, from his earliest days to his most recent appearances, the first Green Lantern has been constantly shaped and reshaped by the wills of his creators as they've tried to make him an icon for the times.
Alan Scott was created in 1940 by artist Martin Nodell. A new face to the comics world at the time of his creation, Nodell pitched the hero to All-American Comics (DC's Golden Age sister company) editor Sheldon Mayer during the post-Superman boom of caped heroes. The artist conceived of Green Lantern's costume, powers and background after seeing a subway worker usher in a train with a green lantern shortly after his first pitch meeting. That image combined with Nodell's love of the theater – particularly Richard Wagner's The Ring of the Nibelung opera cycle but also with theatrical costuming touches – to create a shape for what the Green Lantern strip would become.
"To me, it was just a matter of how I put everything together," Nodell told Roy Thomas in a 2000 interview for "Alter Ego." "The possibilities, to me, were a characterization, or pictures, of a meteor falling into a small Chinese town, and that became the method wherein a green lantern was built in."
When his editors teamed Nodell with "Batman" writer Bill Finger, those possibilities gained a more concrete shape. What had initially been a story about an engineer who gained mystical powers from the lantern made of meteorite changed subtly as Alan Scott became a broadcaster and then a radio mogul, and Green Lantern was able to use the power of his imagination to create forms and control metals (though it didn't work on wood). Nodell recalled his working relationship with Finger, telling Thomas, "He liked [my origin story], and he liked to do the writing with me. There was no problem at all. He enjoyed it, and, as far as I was concerned, we worked easily together."
Of course, many more hands came in to work with Green Lantern over the course of the 1940s, and each of them continued to contribute touches that made the hero rich in history but somewhat ill-defined. Nodell and Finger shepherded him to "All-Star Comics" where he would serve as occasional member and occasional leader for the Justice Society of America. Meanwhile, creators Robert Kanigher and Irwin Hasen fleshed out his rogue's gallery with villains like the Icicle while sci-fi writer Alfred Bester added lasting contributions like arch-foe Solomon Grundy and the final version of the Green Lantern's oath.
However, in all those years, Scott never developed an ongoing romantic interest the way Superman did with Lois Lane. An early attempt at a girlfriend in Irene Miller was unceremoniously dropped by Nodell and Finger, and though Kanigher and Hasen introduced his eventual wife Harlequin, the character was more of a comedic villain than a true love interest. Mostly, Scott ran out his Golden Age years oscillating between serious adventures battling Grundy and silly ones with his comedic sidekick Doiby Dickles.
After spending the '50s in cancelation limbo, Scott was faced with a crisis of meaning upon his return in the '60s. By then, new science based Green Lantern Hal Jordan stood as the core Green Lantern (a distinction he holds onto today), leaving Alan and his Justice Society counterparts a bit out of step. Though they now inhabited their own reality in Earth 2 where they remained the primary heroes, the Golden Age greats were often portrayed as "old timer" foils for their slick Silver Age counterparts. In his appearances in Jordan's "Green Lantern" series of the era (often written by John Broome or Mike Friedrich, and always drawn by Gil Kane), Scott often played good cop against the
Eventually, this struggle to control his powers became a major theme for Alan Scott stories. While the character was no longer a top flight hero, the creators who worked on his stories amped up his power levels in dramatic fashion. Paul Levtiz and Joe Staton pushed him over the edge thanks to the villain Psycho Pirate in 1976's "All-Star Comics" #68, and then Roy Thomas and Jerry Ordway told a similar tale involving villain Brainwave in "All-Star Squadron" #20 in 1981. Eventually, the Justice Society was set aside in these titles in lieu of a new generation of Earth 2 heroes taking the spotlight, and that change would also turn the first Green Lantern towards his final and perhaps most recognizable role.
Ever a fan of celebrating the Golden Age of comics in modern stories, Roy Thomas turned his attention to what we now call legacy heroes when he came to DC in the early '80s. The biggest example of this was "Infinity Inc.," a series created with his wife Dann and artists Ordway and Mike Machlan. The comic teamed up Levitz/Staton creations like Huntress with more offspring of the Justice Society, including Jade and Obsidian – two children of Alan Scott that he had no idea had existed.
In the Thomas' story, Scott had married Rose Canton – the good half of split personality villainess Thorn – only to have his wife seemingly commit suicide after their wedding night. In truth, Rose had hidden their offspring from Alan worrying that her Thorn persona would hurt the entire family. This being comics, the story only got more complicated since Scott had married former villainess Harlequinn in the intervening years, but the core of the story focused on the children, relegating Green Lantern to the part of father and mentor.
This remained Scott's stock in life for the better part of the next 20 years. Eventually, he and the original Flash became stand-ins for the "Greatest Generation" of World War II from modern writers ranging from Geoff Johns to Peter David. "The JSA is not the JSA without Alan Scott and Jay Garrick," Johns told CBR News in 2004. "It's just not. Everyone else, our rotating cast of a dozen or so, can be moved in and out."
"JSA" co-writer David Goyer also synched this characterization of Scott up with his past as a powerful man out of control as the mythology behind the hero's "Starheart" power was given stronger focus and the hero was briefly called Sentinel. "I also like Sentinel quite a bit. He's always had a kind of quiet nobility-but also quite a bit of suffering and personal tragedy in his life," Goyer said at the time.
Parallel to Scott's ascension to elder statesman, creators sewed seeds that Obsidian was gay, though it took until the 2000s for this story to come to fruition at the hands of "Manhunter" writer Marc Andreyko, "Roy Thomas gave Obsidian failed, awkward, unconsummated romances in 'Infinity, Inc.,' which Gerard Jones extrapolated and danced around in 'Justice League,'" Andreyko explained in a previous CBR series on gays in superhero comics. "Thus, looking back on the character's history, gayness seems logical. Now, if somebody suddenly turned Wolverine gay, that is untrue to the character and just bad plotting, like when they turned the Punisher black in the '90s.
"I also have to tip my hat to DC for giving this little book all the chances it could and for giving me the creative freedom to do the things I did in the book, like having the Obsidian storyline where there is a gay couple who have the healthiest relationship in the book. Doing stuff like that and trying to bring in real world themes makes me really fortunate."
The move to openly embrace Obsidian's sexuality collided with Scott's powerful legacy in recent years under the hands of none other than James Robinson. Already having written a Green Lantern pressured by the Communist witch hunts of the 1950s in his seminal "The Golden Age" series, the writer tackled the family of Scott, Obsidian and Jade in the most recent Justice Society/Justice League crossover pre-New 52. The happy reunion that hit at the end of that series morphed into a strained relationship during Scott's final appearances in the pages of "Justice Society of America" under writers like Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges and Marc Guggenheim. Even as Scott saw his power levels increase again, the old-timer's ability to cope with his son's sexuality felt a generational strain – something that's ironic considering where he'll be headed in "Earth 2."
So ultimately, how major or iconic has Alan Scott been? While the first Green Lantern isn't the publicly identifiable hero some fans were hoping for when DC first teased this change, the character has long been put in positions of prominence within the world of the DC Multiverse thanks to rafts of creators who respected his historic place in the canon. And today, Robinson is promising to continue that tradition without so much of the old man baggage accrued between the '40s and now. "Alan Scott is a very forthright, type-A personality," the writer told CBR. "One of the things I want to stress and one of the things I take pride in and hopefully do well is that when you meet these characters – and both Alan and [the Flash] Jay Garrick were only in two pages of the first issue – you'll see that I'm not changing them. I'm just turning them into modern day versions of how they used to be when they started out in the Golden Age."
Only time will tell if that take will stick and keep Green Lantern iconic beyond his sexuality for a new generation of comics readers.