If you happened to read my blog post about Green Lantern #55 some weeks back, you’ll recall that that issue was merely the first chapter of a two-part epic. But if you missed that post, or would simply appreciate a memory refresher, here’s a handy recap of GL #55’s “Cosmic Enemy Number One” from writer John Broome and artist Gil Kane — straight from the splash page of issue #56 itself:
Got all that? Sure you do.
After separating from his friend Charley Vicker, our main man Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern of Earth, almost immediately comes upon a bruiser by the name of Ashez, who’s already had the better of our hero in an earlier bout (as depicted in issue #55). As has been the case with all the encounters between the Lanterns and their foes so far in the course of this two-part story, the two combatants’ energy weapons essentially cancel each other out:
This state of affairs rather conveniently allows artist Kane to proceed to draw multiple pages’ worth of dynamic hand-to-hand combat — which, by this point in his career (as we’ve already noted in our post about #55), he found preferable to drawing GL using his power-ring to whip up energy constructs.
After working almost exclusively for DC Comics for a decade, Kane had, since 1965, been picking up a considerable amount of freelance work, primarily for Tower and Marvel. His work on Marvel’s “Hulk” and “Captain America” features — which found him following in the footsteps of Jack Kirby — seems to have been particularly inspiring to the veteran artist, leading him to add new qualities of power and dynamism to the grace and anatomical precision that had long been the hallmarks of his style.
In “The Green Lanterns’ Fight for Survival!”, Kane and his collaborator, scripter John Broome, up the ante for Hal Jordan in his struggle against his larger, stronger foe by having the hero be suddenly blinded (just as promised on the issue’s cover):
The concept that the loss of one of our physical senses can cause the others to grow measurably stronger is a familiar one, and seems to have a solid scientific basis — but I’ve never read anything that indicates that such an effect could occur instantly. Um, maybe Hal’s ring’s residual energy gives him some sort of head start? Oh well, let’s just go with it.
Ultimately, Hal’s suddenly super hearing allows him to lure Ashez into a false sense of security, and then to deliver a knockout blow in a powerful panel that takes up more than half a page:
Once Ashez is down for the count, Hal uses his ring to repair his optic nerve. As soon as he can see again, he notices an odd little wavy ray of pink energy that can interrupt his ring’s power beam, and decides to track it to its source
Meanwhile, our other Green Lantern from Earth, the newly-deputized Charley Vicker, has come across another one of the bad guys. Like Hal, he’s forced to resort to hand-to-hand tactics — though unlike Hal, he’s forced to draw on his experience as an actor, rather than any actual combat training:
Charley’s momentary advantage doesn’t last long, and before long, his alien foe has him on the ropes:
As previously related in GL #55, it was actually Charley who should have been playing Green Lantern on live TV when the alien attacked, rather than his brother. Roger Vicker had only stepped in at the last minute due to Charley’s being “too pooped to go on” (i.e., sleeping it off) after attending one too many Hollywood parties. It’s Charlie’s survivor’s guilt over Roger’s death that’s gotten him involved in this adventure in the first place — and given this one chance to avenge his brother’s murder, the young actor rises to the occasion:
No sooner has he defeated Roger’s assassin than Charley, too, espies the wavy green beam that Hal encountered earlier, and, like his comrade, decides to track it…
Later writers (such as those of the Green Lantern live-action film) might speculate whether the Xudarians (or “Zudarians”, as the name is spelled in this story), whose heads sport fins as well as beaks, have more in common with fish or with birds — but with this sequence, Tomar-Re’s creators Broome and Kane seem to come down pretty solidly on the avian side of that morphological question. The ensuing aerial battle between Tomar and his opposite number, Zoraldo, may be my favorite scene in the whole two-part story, and probably did more than anything else to make Tomar my all-time personal favorite alien Green Lantern.
After winning the fight, Tomar uses his ring to probe the other Xudarian’s mind, and learns that the renegades’ “mini-nucleo” energy weapons are powered from a remote source. Soon afterwards, he rendezvous with his pal Hal, and the two Lanterns compare notes:
Together, the three Lanterns finally arrive at the source of the wavy pink rays, a formidable-looking fortress that completely negates their ring-power as they draw close. Undaunted, our heroes break their way in and, after muscling their way past some underlings, confront the mastermind of the galaxy-wide assault on the Corps:
“Big Al” suddenly pulls a machine-gun out from under his desk — and, unlike the weapons of the Prison Planet’s other would-be escapees, Magone’s gun doesn’t fire mini-nucleo energy:
It looks like the good guys are done for — or are they? “But wait!” exclaims the final narrative caption on page 18. “Is it an illusion or is there the faintest sign of movement in the chest of Green Lantern of Earth?”
Leaving a still-unconscious (but living) Tomar-Re behind, Hal and Charley go after Magone and his bodyguard, Dalbo:
Once again, Charley manages to compensate for his lack of experience as a Green Lantern with his experience as an actor.
Their energy weapons rendered useless, the other denizens of the Prison Planet are no match for the Lanterns’ ring-power, and all of them are soon defeated and captured. The battle is over — though, as Hal grimly notes, it’s been a costly triumph for the Corps. It’s a somber sentiment that is memorably underscored by the following scene:
It’s a dramatic scene, well rendered by Kane (although the number of living Lanterns present seems a little on the paltry side, at least compared to the multitudinous crowd scenes readers would become accustomed to in later stories of the Corps).
But Brrome and Kane aren’t about to end their tale on quite so somber a note:
And there you have it — the official induction of the second Earthling ever to become a member of the Green Lantern Corps. What, you thought that was Guy Gardner? Nope — he wouldn’t make his first appearance until issue #59, a full three issues after this one. John Stewart? He wouldn’t debut until a whole four years later, in issue #87. (And if you were by any chance thinking “Kyle Rayner”, you’re probably too young to be reading this blog.)
No — the distinction of being the second Earth native to suit up in green, white, and black, and recite his oath in front of a power battery, goes to none other than our man Charley Vicker.
But Earth, and its surrounding space sector, already has a Green Lantern — and this story takes place many years before the idea of “doubling up” Corps members in space sectors was conceived. So — where’s Charley going to go?
Ever since re-reading this story a few week ago in preparation for this blog post, I’ve been trying to remember how I felt about Charley’s assuming the full-time duties of Green Lantern for an alien sector of space when I first read it, at age 10. I’m sure that I was happy for the character on one level — he was going to get to fly around in outer space, after all, and wield the awesome powers of a Lantern’s ring. But I also believe that I understood Mr. Vicker’s fate to be, on another level, a lonely one, at least potentially. Leaving the only home he’d ever known, and heading off through a black void towards strange new worlds — leaving all his friends behind, as well as his family (assuming that Roger wasn’t Charley’s only close relative) — indeed, all other human beings — was, I think, a somewhat disquieting prospect to my ten-year-old self.
If such a notion ever occurred to scripter Broome (or editor Schwartz), however, they never brought it up in a story — though later writers, working in an era that encouraged greater psychological realism in the characterization of superheroes, would. In 1982’s “One Among the Stars!”, a two-part “Tales of the Green Lantern” story appearing in Green Lantern #157 and #158, writer Paul Kupperberg and artists Irv Novick, Joe Giella, and Bruce Patterson spotlighted Charley in a story that focused on his cosmic isolation:
By the end of this tale, Charley appeared to come to terms with his situation, having a “we’re all alike under the skin/carapace” epiphany. Some 10 years later, however, in Green Lantern Corps Quarterly #3’s “Whatever Happened to Charley Vicker?”, Gerard Jones (writer), Tim Hamilton, and Romeo Tanghal (artists) again took up the theme of celestial loneliness, as readers learned that Charley was once again having trouble relating to the non-humanoid beings under his protection. Things changed, however, when Charley’s ring lost power while he was aiding the (non-humanoid) natives of Hwagaagaa against the invading (humanoid) Tebans. Needing to inspire the Hwagaagaans in the struggle against their oppressors, but finding that they’d never had (or had lost) any imaginative or theatrical culture of their own, Charley looked back to his earlier days as an actor — and in a nice bit of retroactive continuity, readers discovered that Mr. Vicker had been quite the serious thespian prior to his being “corrupted” by the television medium — serious enough, in fact, that he could remember whole plays (and pretty heavy ones, at that) well enough to recreate them from scratch, and adapt them for performance by and for the Hwagaagaans:
And so, of course, inspired by the power of great dramatic art, the Hwaagaagaans threw off the yoke of their oppressors. It was probably Charley Vicker’s greatest moment.
A little while later, Charley got his ring-power back, only to lose it again — permanently, this time — in the Emerald Twilight event. He responded by joining another intergalactic police force, the Darkstars — and it’s in that capacity that he, like virtually all the other Green Lantern Corps members we’ve discussed in the two blog posts about this two-part story, came to meet a violent end, dying in battle in Green Lantern (1990 series) #75 (Early July, 1996): — in a scene where his on-panel demise doesn’t even get the story’s full attention, being presented as counterpoint to an off-panel conversation between two other characters. But that’s how it goes in comics, sometimes.
Ah, Charles Vicker of Earth, we hardly knew ye. Rest in peace, Green Lantern — along with your departed comrades Tomar-Re of Xudar… Katma Tui of Korugar… Chaselon of Barrio III… Zborra of Python IV… Davo Yull of Pharma… etc…. etc….
When I began work on these posts about Green Lantern #55 and 56, I knew I would have to note the deaths of at least a couple of Green Lanterns — namely, Tomar and Katma, the ones from the Silver and Bronze Ages that I remembered best. I wasn’t expecting, however, that I’d end up discussing the later deaths of every extraterrestrial Lantern named in the pages of these two issues. While I had read the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” tie-in story in which Zborra was shown to have perished, as well as the “Blackest Night” chapter in which Chaselon bought the farm, I didn’t actually remember either of those events. (What can I say? I’ve read a lot of comic books in the last 52 years, and for better or worse, the ones I read the longest ago tend to be the ones I remember the best.) And I missed every one of Charley Vicker’s post-GL #56 appearances — I honestly had no idea what had happened to the guy before beginning my research for this post.
But, in a way, it’s fitting — this is a story, after all, that’s all about the Corps coming together to avenge the deaths of a number of their comrades; a story which has a mass funeral of Corps members as its next-to-last scene. The closest analogues to the Corps in “real life” are, obviously, the military and law enforcement. Death in the line of duty is, unfortunately, not unexpected in either of those contexts, and I think it adds to the versimillitude of the Green Lantern Corps concept that such a fate befalls their members on occasion.
Fifty years on from Green Lantern #56, the roster of fallen Lanterns is a good bit longer now than it was then — but, despite the inevitable lapses of memory in aging fans such as yours truly, I think it’s safe to assume that as long as there’s a Green Lantern comic book, those characters will never be entirely forgotten.