Lantern's Light / Celebrity fans flock to the hip DC Comics superhero, but he still can't get a movie gig

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IT AIN'T EASY bein' green, even if you're a superhero. Just

consider the plight of the Green Lantern.

This week, the DC Comics crimefighter celebrates his 60th birthday as one

of the most popular caped crusaders this side of Gotham City. His legion of

ardent fans includes director Francis Ford Coppola, comedian Jerry Seinfeld,

'60s singer Donovan and sci-fi royalty Harlan Ellison. Green Lantern was even

an answer on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." For decades, critics have praised

his comic book as smart, women-accessible and hip.

But unlike Batman and Superman (his "older brothers" at DC), a slew of

lesser characters, and the X-Men, who hit the big screen Friday, Green Lantern

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has yet to make the leap to movie stardom. Except for a 1960s Filmation

cartoon, the infantile 1970s animated TV series "Superfriends," and a 1996 TV

movie, "Justice League of America" (so atrocious it never aired), he has yet to

become a celluloid hero.

If the emerald warrior is green with envy, his "father" isn't letting on.

@Newsday

Meet artist Mart Nodell, Green Lantern's 84-year-old creator. The former

Huntington resident, who lives in West Palm Beach, Fla., with his wife and

manager, Carrie, is modest about his creation. Unsentimentally, he trashed his

only copies of Green Lantern's 1940 debut. Just 30 are in existence and,

depending on condition, can sell for as much as $72,000. "Not being interested

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in comics in the first place, I misjudged what their value would be," he now

says with regret.

For consolation, Nodell can revel in celebrity praise.

"As a child, Green Lantern was my favorite superhero," said Coppola, who

just launched the Web's first virtual film studio at zoetrope.com. "It caught

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my imagination. Whether it was the notion of coming into possession of a magic

talisman, as in a fairy tale story, or the dashing character that I identified

with, I don't know. Maybe it was the idea that, like Batman, a normal person

like me could come into such powers- without being born to it. I certainly had

an affinity for that character." (Coppola, by the way, describes his next film

as "having the scope of 'Apocalypse Now,' but the intimacy of 'The

Conversation.'")

Seinfeld, a fellow aficionado, often referred to Green Lantern on his

sitcom.

How big a fan is the comedian? Seinfeld was unavailable for comment, but a

spokesman said Jerry's many TV references speak for themselves. Elaine's

character, who never comprehended Jerry's fixation with Superman, was even less

enamored with a hero whose power emanates from a green ring on his finger.

"I'm not much for men who wear jewelry," she once insisted.

Such "jewelry" is the main asset that makes Green Lantern ready for the

cinema, according to Nodell. The ring can conjure anything the hero's willpower

and imagination desires.

"With so many movies now relying on computer animation," said Nodell, "the

abilities of Green Lantern's ring would work incredibly well. I really feel

it's a natural opportunity for someone to do a movie." Ignoring the film

scuttlebutt he often hears, Nodell waits quasipatiently, saying only, "It would

be nice to see it while we're around."

Despite Warner Bros.' successful track record in the comic book genre,

industry insiders say DC's parent company has no imminent film plans for Green

Lantern. A Warner spokesman said the company doesn't comment on upcoming

projects. If only for legal control, however, the company already has locked up

a Web site, the vacant www.greenlanternthemovie. com.

SIXTY YEARS ago, Nodell found an unlikely muse for his tale of the

supernatural, mythological and intergalactic: the bowels of Manhattan's 34th

Street subway station. Although the terminal is not known for its power to

inspire, on a January afternoon in 1940, Nodell looked past the railroad

tracks, down into New York City's cold, dark recesses and saw the light.

Literally.

"I saw a trainman waving a red lantern, which let the train know to not

come in," said Nodell, who was awaiting the subway home to Brooklyn. "Then the

fella waved a green lantern, which meant things were safe and the train could

come in. I thought that sounded like a workable title, so I wrote down 'Green

Lantern.'"

Nodell's epiphany came hours after visiting the office of Sheldon Mayer,

publisher of National Periodicals (later DC Comics), where Superman was two

years old and Batman was one. The infant art form was just emerging from its

newspaper comic strip roots, and New York was becoming its birthplace.

Mayer, hungry to enlarge his stable, challenged Nodell to create a unique

hero.

With a title in hand, Nodell, then 24, added elements he liked-Chinese

folklore, Greek mythology and Wagner's opera "The Ring of the Nibelungen"- and

concocted this saga:

In ancient China, a meteor crashes, revealing an eerie core of green liquid

metal. Its speaking flame foretells the entity's three goals: to bring death,

life and power. Using the hot metal, a sorcerer molds a lantern that, during

the coming centuries, fulfills its first two prophecies. Who becomes the

fortunate recipient of the third prophecy? Alan Scott, a young engineer. And

lucky he is.

Scott designs a railroad bridge that is sabotaged, and he becomes the sole

survivor of the ensuing train crash. Staggering amid the wreckage, he is

beckoned by the green glow of the train's lantern. Taking hold of the lamp, and

using his mental fortitude, he discovers he can fly, materialize through walls

and is nearly omnipotent. Scott ultimately carves a piece of metal from the

lantern and shapes it into a ring.

Nodell then designed a colorful costume and hoped the concept would sell.

"Superman had Krypton and Batman had a lot of mechanical things, so I tried

to think of something a little different," recalls Nodell. "So I thought of

willpower, the ring and the lantern. Days later, I brought some finished art

and storylines to Mayer. I thought he would let me down easy. He said, 'We like

it. Get to work.'"

Nodell did. In July, 1940, the hero debuted in All-American Comics #16, and

soon starred in his own book. In those early issues, Nodell refused to use his

real name, instead crediting "Mart Dellon." Why the secret identity?

"Comic books were a forbidden literature, culturally unacceptable," Nodell

said, explaining his nom de plume. "It wasn't something you were proud of."

Having studied advertising at art school in his native Chicago, comic books

were not Nodell's first career choice. Not even second. He came to New York to

be an actor.

***

Today, some 2,000 issues later, Green Lantern's founder is a popular

attraction at about 10 comic book conventions annually. There, amid the

dweebdom of amiable young teens and baby boomers, Nodell makes his living by

selling original artwork for between $20 and $800. Like most work-for-hire

artists of his era, he receives few residuals. He recently contributed,

however, to the book "The Green Lantern Golden Age Archives" ($49.95, DC

Comics).

Since June, Nodell has been a keynote guest at "cons" in Westchester, N.

C., and San Diego. At conventions, he often is asked about the unique trait

that may explain Green Lantern's endurance... and quirkiness. Whereas Batman

and Superman each have one secret identity - namely Bruce Wayne and Clark

Kent-the Lantern has had three. (Nodell, of course, created the first; other

writers, artists and editors who worked on the books after him created the

other two.)

Which is the best? That remains a raging controversy. If you're a bit green

about alter egos, here's a scouting report:

Alan Scott, Golden Age GL. Purists and older fans love the original

Lantern, a rare blond-haired hero. His ring was powerless against wood.

Hal Jordan, Silver Age GL. Introduced in 1959, this fearless test pilot is

the most popular GL. His ring, which he earned from a dying alien, could not

work on anything yellow. Like Scott, Jordan's ring must touch the lantern every

24 hours to maintain its power.

Kyle Rayner, current GL. Debuting in 1994, the young, hip, handsome graphic

artist came upon his lanternship accidentally. His ring never even needs a

recharge. (See, even Gen-X superheroes have it easy.)

After drawing Green Lantern for seven years, Nodell "had had enough." He

moved on to rival Timely Comics (now Marvel), where he worked on Captain

America, Human Torch and Sub-Mariner.

His 1947 departure from DC, combined with then-sagging sales, explains why

Scott lost his gig as the Lantern's alter ego.

The creators of Batman and Superman "were still working on their

characters, but my dad was no longer working on Green Lantern," said Spencer

Nodell, one of his two sons. "DC brought in new people, who had their own ideas

for the character."

Nodell is unfazed that many have toyed with his concept. "Why shouldn't

things progress?" he asks. "Different people see things differently. Mayer

thought Green Lantern should be powerless against wood. I told him, in a wall,

there's a wooden stud every 18 inches, so how is he gonna fly through a wall?"

Many others contributed to the character's development over the years,

notably '40s Lantern writer Bill Finger, who also helped create Batman, and

editor Julie Schwartz and artist Gil Kane, who in 1959 helped create the Jordan

alter ego. And the evolution continues. Dix Hills native Judd Winick, who

first found fame as a cast member on MTV's "Real World: San Francisco," debuts

next month as head writer. (Current Lantern editor Bob Schreck grew up in

Levittown.) But "it all started with Mart in 1940," said historian Roy Thomas,

former editor in chief of Marvel Comics.

***

The Silver Age Lantern has the largest fan demographic. (Many lesser

Lanterns have appeared briefly, including an African-American, females and

aliens.)

Yet all fans of Green Lantern-a character often confused with Bruce Lee's

Green Hornet-are quick to recite Hal Jordan's famous oath:

In brightest day, in blackest night,

No evil shall escape my sight!

Let those who worship evil's might

Beware my power-Green Lantern's light!

One Silver Age devotee is Donovan, who sang in his psychedelic 1966 hit,

"Sunshine Superman": "Superman or Green Lantern ain't got nothin' on me."

Donovan, a fan since his boyhood in Glasgow, wrote the lyric "to cast a

spell on my muse, Linda Lawrence, to have her return to me. And it worked!" Add

him to those hoping to see a film version. "Green Lantern is my favorite

superhero because his power derives from [an] emerald light-quite esoteric

really," said Donovan, who is developing a Web site about his career. "As a

movie, Green Lantern would be for me an Eco-Hero, a green man for the planet. A

hero for the new millennium."

Fan interest in a film is apparent at www.glcorps. org/glmovie.html#News,

where an Internet casting poll selected Tom Cruise for the lead. A quick

download lets you see Cruise "morph" into Green Lantern.

Ken Gale, the astute co-host of New York's only comic book radio show,

agrees on its cinema potential: "When I saw 'Star Wars' in 1977, my feeling

was, my God, they really could do a Green Lantern movie. Before that, I

thought, don' t you dare touch [that] character and ruin it! You wouldn't have

to worry about the ring's , because morphing technology has gotten pretty

cheap."

Gale's "'Nuff Said!" airs Tuesdays from 10 to 11 p.m. on WBAI/99.5 FM, and

at www.nuffsaid.net.

Gale lauds Silver Age Lantern writer John Broome for being progressive in

an era when feminism was not yet in vogue, and the Batman/Superman stories

skewed a younger crowd.

"In 1959, his concept was quite galactic, but also very human. John Broome

also created Carol Ferris . Back then, you didn't have women characters-you had

girls. And they tended to be rescued, as opposed to being the boss of the

hero. So he was really ahead of his time in a lot of ways."

Praise for such creators happens rarely, laments sci-fi author Harlan

Ellison. "Mart is a pivotal artist of the Golden Age," said the writer, who

collaborated with his friend Nodell on the 1995 publication "Dream Corridor."

"The industry has always treated creators as disposable. Most are long gone

and will never be remembered."

Next year, Mart and Carrie Nodell will celebrate yet another 60th

anniversary-that of their wedding. They met at her native Coney Island in

September, 1940, two months after Green Lantern's debut. "He took me to a

newsstand and showed off his comic book," remembered Carrie, who wears a

custom-made Green Lantern ring, a gift from her husband. "It was a good year

for Marty."

They were wed Dec. 1, 1941, days before Pearl Harbor. That year, they left

Brooklyn and rented a farmhouse in Huntington, where they lived with Mart's

mother and younger brother, Simon, a Republic Aviation engineer.

"I liked Huntington very much," said Mart, whose father escaped the Russian

Revolution. They moved to Flatbush after two years, but are quick to mention

the value of their former home. "Tell me about it!" Carrie replied. "We could

have had it for $4,000. We were never destined to be millionaires."

Joseph Dionisio is writing a book about movies based on comic books.

Ring Power vs. Flour Power

AFTER STINTS with DC and Marvel Comics, Green Lantern creator Mart Nodell

abandoned publishing in favor of advertising in 1950. "That's what I was

trained for," said the artist.

In 1965, as an art director at the Leo Burnett Agency, he was assigned to

create a new character. Nodell's design team had an idea. A poppin' fresh idea,

actually. Thus was born the Pillsbury Doughboy, an icon-if not the icon-of

American advertising.

"They wanted something in 3-D for live stop-motion," said Nodell, whose

giggly imp is celebrating its 35th birthday. "Most commercials don't last more

than a season. He's still going."

Poppin' Fresh has been poked in the belly 57,000 times in 350 commercials

and has appeared on 48.5 billion packages, according to Pillsbury. Movie fans

may recall an homage from the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. "When I saw

'Ghostbusters,' I said, 'I know you!'" recalled Nodell. "I recognized the

character immediately."

So how do Nodell's two famous creations measure up to each other? Here's a

comparison: (not in text database)

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