Few superhero franchises echo the spirit of American ambition like the Green Lantern. In each incantation, the Green Lantern characteristically looks at emotion in a primitively simple fashion, centering its understanding of the universe around the nature of will power. Each era of the Green Lantern reflects changes in the American understanding of Will Power as a component of national identity. In the Golden Age, Alan Scott answers to no Green Lantern Corps. He is a rugged individualist who vigorously pursues his own happiness, much like popular contemporary protagonists Casablanca’s Rick Blaine and Citizen Kane’s Charles Foster Kane. In the Silver Age, Hal Jordan embodies the spirit of the U.S.-Soviet Space Race as a cocky test pilot who flies for the sake of the flight, not the destination- the Chuck Yeager-era ring-slinger that inspired disdain and camaraderie in the Megaphone Mark Green Arrow. John Stewart is a black Howard Roark. Like Luke Cage or Jason Todd, Guy Gardner is the reformed delinquent with a chip on his shoulder; unlike Cage and Todd, Guy also has a shiny green chip on his finger that derives its power from that chip on his shoulder. Kyle Rayner and his limp Will speak to a certain American impotence.  Parallax? The excesses of the over-Will.

When Martin Lodell and Bill Finger created the original Green Lantern in 1940, the American literary imagination enjoyed an infatuation with the concept of the individual.  Western literature of the 1940s featured some of history’s greatest intellectual champions of the nature of the individual, such as Ernest Hemingway, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Herman Hesse, Richard Wright, F. Scott Fitzgerald, George Orwell, and Ayn Rand. The struggle of the individual against the shackles of society has been fundamental to the Green Lantern since Alan Scott took the ring in All-American Comics #16. The Green Lantern continues a stubborn American tradition of associating a strong will power with bravery, a tradition with roots in pioneerism, Protestantism, and an irrational suspicion of education.

While suicides, car crashes, and possible murders claimed the likes of Hemingway, Camus, and Wright, the Green Lantern soldiers on. Unlike most stories, the collected Green Lantern is longer than Ayn Rand’s collected works.  The staying power of the Green Lantern narrative lies in its organic nature and how it responds to the monthly shifts in the zeitgeist. Alan Scott appealed to an absurd Objectivism in vogue during the Second World War. Alan Scott appealed to the sense that an individual could change the world whether that individual was Hitler, Gandhi, or Mao. Alan Scott appealed to a 1940s understanding of the American Dream- a dream as green as the Emerald City and Gatsy’s green light.

Below you can see an article that found its way in to the back of several Green Lantern comics. It’s written by Dr. William Moulton Marston, one of comic history’s greatest characters. Marston believed passionately that comic books could sculpt the collective consciousness as to avoid the catastrophes of groupthink such as war. With the credentials of a Harvard-trained psychologists, he gained a following, allowing him to experiment with the messages he believed would improve the world. In addition to writing this strange article, Marston invented the lie detector, created Wonder Woman, and successfully navigated a polyamorous relationship. The article below invokes the tone and language of political propaganda. As nationalism became more sophisticated in the outburst of hostilities that was WWII, the human psyche enthusiastically pursued more meaningful ways to understand their national identity. Americans began to picture themselves as distinct from the rest of the world not simply because of geography or race, but because of their way of life. Will Power emerged as a totem of the New Capitalism and the indoctrination stated early. On the first page of the article, Marston advocates exercises in Will Power, so that one’s Will may enjoy endless growth and the ability to overcome any adversity, including physical handicap. Much of this discussion plays as a precursor to Scientology. L. Ron Hubbard, of course, came from a science fiction background, thus we can conclude that a quasi-school of thought existed in the science fiction community that considered Will Power somewhat magical or holy.  On the second page of the article, Marston depicts George Washington and Ulysses Grant as superheroes of U.S. history. Washington and Grant represent the two most important military victories of the U.S. government, one against the British and one against itself. Marston is asserting that Will Power created and saved the country. The student becomes the master as the article urges kids to share the article’s wisdom with their ignorant parents.