Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Mighty Return of the Green Lama

Briefly in the 40’s, the Green Lama was a multi-media star. Starting out as a pulp hero, he branched out briefly with a radio show and two distinct comicbook runs. Since then, he’s languished in relative obscurity. Mention his name in a comic book store, and people are liable to think he’s a parody hero by the name of the Green Llama.

While the upcoming SUPERPOWERS is supposed to use the Green Lama in a big way, for awhile now, AC Comics has made some minor use of the Green Lama in the past as part of their vault of heroes (various public domain golden-age heroes that had been kept in suspended animation) and has also reprinted a few of his adventures. Like SUPERPOWERS, their version of the character in the present day is as a magician type hero when that's not really true to any of his past incarnations. Some time back they had put into the works a mini-series and it has been done for about a year I believe but only now just being solicited as well as a "0" issue. As I provided the writer with background info on the villain Stopwach (from GL's last appearance in PRIZE COMICS, the cover to which is ironically the image of the Black Owl and Yank & Doodle used here in my Hero Goggles logo), I have a little vested interest in it. The solicitation for it is as follows (with some minor editing for length):

"Title: Green Lama, Man of Strength. Writer is James Ritchey, artists are James Ritchey and Loki Dolza Intended Audience: All-ages fans of thoughtful, character-driven modern style superheroics and Golden Age character revivals. Format: Standard comic book size, 40 pages, b&w with color covers; saddle-stitched. Retail Price: $6.95 (maximum discount 50%) Ship Date: March 5, 2008

“Synopsis: An unsuspecting college student falls heir to the powers of The GREEN LAMA, in a darkly contemporary version of the AC Universe. World War III has come and gone, demons run free in the streets- and only The GREEN LAMA can restore order. Guest-starring The FEMFORCE and GOLDEN LAD.”

“Special Notes: Almost seven years in the making, this "Elseworlds" - style take on the classic Golden Age hero created by Ken Crossen is the product of hot new writer/artist James Ritchey. Refined in consultation with Kendra Crossen Burroughs, daughter of (and executor to the literary estate of ) Ken Crossen, this intro to the smart new series gives a darker, edgier, more modern take on superheroics, and should appeal much more easily to current comics readers. Unlike AC's normal "classic" approach to heroes & storytelling, these characters are more ambiguous, with unknown agendas hidden around every corner. In addition to guest-appearances by Mr. Ritchey's versions of mainstream AC heroes, see the revival of other costumed characters from Crossen's Spark Publications group of the mid-1940's; each with it's own unique spin.”

I give them big props to working with the creator’s heir though the character has apparently fallen into public domain. Although, I’m not a big fan of the reincarnation/legacy angle, I prefer to just see a story with the original characters. And, I find it interesting that the term “Elseworlds” has apparently entered the public lexicon enough to be used in advertising. The term originally was a type of story that DC published, familiar characters and archetypes in non-continuity stories. Another slipping trademark is the term DC uses for their hardback reprint line, “Archives”. I use it for my online reprints of the Fighting Yank, and Dark Horse not only uses the term but the whole look & package for their hardback reprint line they’ve done of classic characters such Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom and Magnus. And they are using it again for a 2 volume reprinting of golden-age Green Lama tales: “THE COMPLETE GREEN LAMA FEATURING THE ART OF MAC RABOY
On sale Apr 30 FC, 208 pages $49.95 HC, 6 1/4" x 10 1/4"

"Chanting 'Om Mani Padme Hum,' the wealthy Jethro Dumont transformed into the Green Lama--a flying freedom fighter made famous in comics by the distinguished and imaginative artist Mac Raboy (Captain Marvel Jr., Flash Gordon). A unique 1940s Buddhist superhero, the Green Lama used special powers gained in a pilgrimage to Tibet to fight master criminals, monstrous dictators, and inequality across the globe. He made his debut in April 1940 in the pulp fiction anthology Double Detective, but he is most well known in his comic book incarnation--especially the stories drawn by Raboy in the eight-issue Green Lama series. Dark Horse Archives presents the entire Green Lama run in two high-quality hardcovers, starting with these first four issues. In addition to Raboy's classic covers and stories, these issues contain entertaining and adventurous bonus stories following the adventures of Lieutenant Hercules, Rick Masters, Angus McErc, and others!
• Our first volume also features an introduction by free speech activist and patron saint of comics collecting Chuck Rozanski!
• Long-deserving archival treatment, these enchanting, historic Golden Age tales are now available to fans who can't spend thousands of dollars on original issues!”

BE WARNED and read that solicitation carefully. See, while it’s titled “The Complete Green Lama”, even if you ignore his pulp series and radio show, the Green Lama ran from issues 7 to 34 in PRIZE COMICS before he was re-invisioned by Raboy for Spark which aren't part of this set. Also, they are only doing 4 issues of his comic each in the archives. If the GCDB is correct, there is only one story, 12 pages, in each issue. So, out of the 200+ pages in each archive, only 48 pages in each is Raboy's Green Lama. 3/4 of the $50 book is actually non-Green Lama material. Raboy's beautiful stuff, and one of the other strips contains work by Mort Meskin but, still, their advertising is more than a little misleading. They could have easily added about 60 pages, and done one volume with all of the Green Lama’s PRIZE COMICS appearances as well as Raboy’s work. Also missing, is the story that takes Magga, a supporting character from his pulp appearances, and turns her into a distaff version of Raboy’s take on GL. Wait and get it cheap on Ebay is my advice. If you don't want to spend thousands or even $50 bucks, here's a sample of Raboy's take for free:

And to sample his radio show:

The Green Lama's original pulp adventures have been getting reprinted by Adventure House over the past year. They are interesting. A bit pedestrian in some ways but still have a charm of their own. Stories aren't static either, the aides he starts off with aren't the same as he ends with as romantic subplots unfold.

So, just who is the Green Lama?

Green Lama: 1940, Double Detective pulp (created by Kenneth Crossen). After graduating Harvard, Jethro Dumont went abroad and studied in Tibet. In the pulps and early comic appearances, he had ventriloquism, various mesmeric abilities, disguise skills, able to generate electrical shocks due to radioactive salts he digested, and above average but not super strength as well as some scientific knowledge in addition to his philosophies. His adventures in the pulps, he was aided by a few assistants that were unaware of his true identity. He seemed to go through some pains to keep his identity a secret. While Jethro Dumont was known to be a lama, he did most of his investigating as a Dr. Charles Pali and was usually disguised as him when operating as the Green Lama, so if anyone did suspect the Lama’s identity, it would be as Pali. In fact, his first two aides Gary Brown and Evangl thought just that, despite being well aquainted with Jethro Dumont, who served as best man at their wedding after which they shortly retired in September of 1940. However, his true identity was uncovered by a mystery woman who also was a student of Buddhism, who would slip him clues and information, giving as her name Magga. Possibly, his servant Tsarong knew his secrets as well. Magga seems to have been a woman by the name of Pat Dell, though it’s a bit unsure if Dumont figured that out.

His adventures were also chronicled in PRIZE COMICS #7, Dec. 1940 – 34, 1943, though one didn’t see his aides. It had been a few months, so one can assume that Gary and Evangl retired from adventuring to lead a respectable life as farmers. Along the way he had attracted the friendships and aid of Ken Clayton and adventuress Jean Ferrell as well as the mystery woman Magga, but they seem to have moved off scene as well. Maybe there were other unrecorded cases somewhere that explains their absence from this period of adventures. Likewise, Dumont seems to have shedded the Dr. Pali identity. These cases were covered apparently by the same man who did his pulp adventures. His foes were getting more powerful such as Stopwach, the man who was also a master of Tibetan hypnotism and helping the heroes Black Owl, Yank & Doodle, and Dr. Frost take down the Frankenstein Monster.

In 1944, another publisher would take on publishing the Green Lama’s adventures, starting off with a slight retelling of the origin. Though this too is supposed to be from Ken Crossen, the Lama had undergone some mighty big changes. He still wore a green hood, but instead of the green robes, his costume was green tights complete with cape and his meditative phrase (Om! Ma-ni pad-me Hum! “Hail! The Jewel in the Lotus Flower!”) now gave him super-strength and flight as it telepathically linked him to monks in Tibet who echoed the phrase. It all looked very good as done by Mac Raboy. By this point, Tsarong definitely knew his identity.

Around this time, Magga would re-appear, only in a solo adventure sporting the powers and Raboy designed costume of the Green Lama and called Magga the Magnificent {April, 1946, Atoman Comics #2 (Spark)}

A few of his adventures got reprinted, but he wouldn’t be seen again fighting crime for several decades until he was brought out to help FemForce and a bunch of other golden-age heroes to fight the Black Shroud in the mid ‘80s. Strangely enough, he had undergone yet another transformation. Still wearing the tights version of his costume, he now displayed not the physical superpowers, but mystical abilities to cast various spells and such (though still able to fly), something he hadn’t shown any talent in before. He’d hang around a while lending mystical aide when Nightveil or Dr. Weir aka the Purple Claw were unavailable. The Green Lama of SUPERPOWERS seems to also follow this vein as he’s being talked up as being akin to Dr. Fate. There’s also the AC mini-series that will look at a modern day Green Lama in a different reality, a descendent and possibly reincarnation of the earlier hero who had fallen in battle with Magga and other allies.


James said...

Howdy, Cash_! Jim Ritchey here. While I know you aren't a big fan of the reincarnation reboot (really the only way to reboot a Tibetan Buddhist superhero-IMO), I was wondering if you'd actually read it-

-it's been online in raw form since February, and i hope you'll give it a shot--at least, hate it for what it is, rather than what you thing it will be. I like to call the type of Comics I do 'Punk Pulp', and I hope you won't let nostalgia get in the way of what may or may not be a good story--especially since every original main character IS there, just some are in different bodies. :D There are pages added in the print version, however. You are thanked in the credits on my editorial page, btw, with the help on Stopwach. Again, I extend my second personal thank-you for that.

Peace, Jim

cash_gorman said...

James, I do plan on getting it. I read the online version, liked spotting some of the other Spark Publications characters and was curios to see where the story was going, so I'm glad to see it will finally be published.

Something I meant to say and didn't was I also really like the costume design. I daresay it improves the Raboy version by making it a little more in line with a monk's robes.

James said...

Thanks! After talking to Kendra Burroughs about he disdain for the 'floppy booties (her words--can't say I disagree--not Raboy's finest moment--esp. if you look at his 'apocryphal' Flash Gordon designs)', I decided to opt for going for broke, and merge the robe and the Raboy version. Ironically, an authentic Tibetan Sherpa tunic and boots, with an added cape with holes for the arms fit the bill of still making it 'Flash Gordon'-y.
It would appear Alex Ross had a similar idea, albeit with different execution. What can I say? Ross is one of my favorite artists. I'm a writer and 'idea guy' who draws. :D While Doug Klauba, the interior artist for Superpowers befriended me over at Comicspace, seems a terrific guy, and very talented artist, I'm a little miffed with Jim Krueger--who, I have it on unimpeachable authority, saw my version--at Heroes Convention 2004.

While I doubt drawing Miracleman and a dozen Eclipse characters over Bo Hampton's layouts for a few pages in the late 'eighties gives me very much clout or credibility, it's the kind of thing that made me give up trying to do comics for 12 years...