Deck Log Entry # 206 Death in the Silver Age: Abin Sur, R. I. P

“No use . . . fooling yourself, Abin Sur . . . you are dying!  You have only a short time left to live . . . .

 

Not the best way to début as a character in the Silver Age, but that’s the way it goes when you have to die to start the real hero of the series on his career.  Just ask Professor Erdel or Ben Parker.  At least Abin Sur got more face time than either of those poor souls.

 

It took four issues of DC’s new try-out magazine, Showcase, to be sure, but editor Julius Schwartz’s revival of the Flash proved itself a success.  Schwartz realised that super-heroes in general---not just cash-cows Superman and Batman---were popular, again.  As long as they were given a more sophisticated treatment.  That was the television generation, for you.  So when Schwartz turned his attention to his next revival, Green Lantern, a simple gimmick like having the hero find a magic lamp wouldn’t do.

 

The modern Green Lantern, like his Golden-Age predecessor, would wield a ring capable of giving form to anything conceived by its wearer, and every twenty-four hours, he had to recharge it from an emerald lantern.  But that’s where the similarities stopped.  This Green Lantern would be a member of an intergalactic police force, responsible for patrolling space sector 2814, which included the Earth.  He would answer to a convocation of little blue-skinned guys called the Guardians of the Universe.

 

And he gets the job by accident---when it’s passed to him by the man properly assigned to space sector 2814 . . . a man we barely get a chance to know.

 

 

 

When we meet Abin Sur in the first few panels of Showcase # 22 (Sep.-Oct., 1959), he’s already in a bad way.  While piloting a spaceship through our solar system, he had inadvertently navigated into the Van Allen belt encircling the Earth.  A burst of yellow radiation caused him to lose control of the ship and crash-land in the desert of the American southwest.

 

Now, mortally injured, Abin Sur thinks only of his duty.

 

“. . . To pass on the battery of power to . . . a deserving one!  It is . . . what you would have been obliged to do had you met . . . disaster on your own world!”

 

Using his ring to locate an Earthman who is honest and born without fear, Abin Sur transports test pilot Hal Jordan to the wreckage of the spaceship.

 

In laboured gasps, the dying alien tells Jordan about the intergalactic police force of Green Lanterns.  He describes the powers and limitations of the power ring and the purpose of the power battery.  Then, with his last breath, Abin Sur slips his ring onto the stunned test pilot’s finger.

 

Thus begins the career of the Silver-Age Green Lantern---Hal Jordan of Earth!

 

 

 

Over the Silver-Age run of the Green Lantern title, we wouldn’t learn much more about Abin Sur, but what we did was interesting.

 

For one thing, his career as a Green Lantern had been a lengthy one---at least forty years.  Judging by Green Lantern # 55 (Sep., 1967), anyway.  This issue contains a flashback showing Abin Sur arriving on Earth and apprehending Prohibition-era gang boss Al Magone.  (Eliot Ness must have been busy that week.)  And going by Abin Sur’s thoughts on the matter, he’d already been Green Lanterning for some time.

Characters such as Abin Sur are defined by their deaths.  They’re created simply to be killed off and give the hero his reason to be.  So later on, when we’re shown details about their lives, it’s fulfilling.  We get to know them better as the people they were.

For example, in another flashback sequence, in “World Within the Power Ring”, from Green Lantern # 26 (Jan., 1964), Abin Sur defeats the evil magician Myrwhydden in just two pages (it took Hal Jordan twice as many to do the same thing), and we see just how skilled a Green Lantern he was.

 

 

 

The best look at Abin Sur, though, comes in “Earth’s First Green Lantern”, from G.L. # 16 (Oct., 1962), which provides the account of his last fateful mission.

 

While patrolling his space sector, Abin Sur discovers that a colony of energy-beings called the Larifars is robbing planetary races of their I-factor---the ability to conceive of new ideas.  The loss of their I-factors stalls these peoples’ development and causes their societies to stagnate.

 

Abin Sur tracks down the Larifars and, after a pitched battle, defeats them.  All but one, that is.  A Larifar named Balzona, away on a scouting mission, avoided capture by Green Lantern.

 

After restoring the Larifars’ victims to normal, Abin Sur returns to his home planet of Ungara and resumes his civilian identity as a professor of history.  But Balzona, bent on rescuing his fellow creatures, arrives on Ungara and, a few nights later, finds Abin Sur asleep in his home.  The Larifar takes the Green Lantern of space sector 2814 unawares and occupies his mind as a second, dominant consciousness.

 

Even while being compelled to free the imprisoned Larifars, Abin Sur concocts a plan.  He deliberately misinforms Balzona that the journey to the distant star-system where the other Larifars are held will exhaust his power ring.  As anticipated, Balzona commands him to steal a spaceship for the trip.  Once in space, the energy-being feels confident that Abin Sur cannot escape and separates from his body.  His mind free, the Green Lantern of Ungara seizes an opportunity to strike back.

 

He overcomes Balzona.  But he barely has time to teleport the brain-parasite to the prison holding his fellow Larifars before the spaceship hurtles through the radiation bands of Earth . . . .

 

And this is where we came in.

 

This tale explains why Abin Sur was using a ship at the time of the disaster, when Green Lanterns can travel through space with the aid of their power rings.  (It doesn’t explain why Abin Sur was fatally injured, when Green Lantern # 7 [Jul.-Aug., 1961] established that the power ring protected its wearer from all mortal harm.  I guess Gardner Fox never got around to explaining that one away.)

 

 

 

Notably, if a different villain had had his way, Abin Sur would not have perished.

 

In “Earth---Without a Justice League”, from JLA # 37 (Aug., 1965), the criminal Johnny Thunder of Earth-One takes control of the Thunderbolt belonging to the Earth-Two Johnny.  Realising that the Justice League of America will, sooner or later, stop his illegal efforts, the evil Johnny orders the T-bolt to go back in time and prevent the super-heroes from coming into existence.

 

As part of his assignment, the Bahdnesian hex-genie zips to the rim of space over the Earth six years previous and blocks the deadly Van Allen radiation from striking Abin Sur’s spacecraft.  Rather than crashing on Earth, Abin Sur continues on his way to Ungara, and Hal Jordan misses his chance to become Green Lantern.

 

In the next issue, the Justice Society of America overturns the evil Johnny’s machinations.  Earth-One’s original history is restored, and Abin Sur returns to his dirt nap.

 

 

 

As the Silver Age drew to a close, the Green Lantern of Ungara made one final appearance, in the aptly named “Earth’s Other Green Lantern”, from G.L. # 59 (Mar., 1968).

 

While attending an in-service orientation on Oa, Hal Jordan is introduced to one of the Guardians’ more intriguing pieces of hardware:  a device that stores knowledge taken from the brain---after death!

 

The Little Blue Guys are awfully proud of this one.  They tell Jordan how they teleported the body of Abin Sur back to Oa, from where Hal had buried it beneath a desert mountain, and used the machine to perform the mental post-mortem.  Much like a VCR, a slim cartridge is popped into a slot, and Abin Sur’s face appears on the viewscreen,

 

They witness Abin Sur’s last minutes through his eyes---and they learn something which takes Hal Jordan aback.  When the dying Abin Sur ordered his power ring to locate an Earthman born without fear, it located two qualified candidates!.  One was Jordan; the other was Guy Gardner, a physical-education instructor in a city on the east coast of the United States.  Hal was chosen by the ring because he was geographically closer.

 

Out loud, Jordan ponders what would have happened if Guy Gardner had gotten the nod to become Green Lantern, instead.  Easy enough to find out, the Guardians tell him, and they show him another of their gizmos, a computer that composes alternate histories by extrapolating events based upon a hypothetical situation (i.e., Superman’s super-univac, patent pending).

 

With the necessary data programmed, Hal and the Guardians watch as the device displays a visual narrative of the projected history of Guy Gardner as Green Lantern.  They see his first case and his victories over Sinestro, Doctor Polaris, and other super-villains who were G.L.-foes in the actual continuity, as well.  However, a minor difference---the Guy Gardner-G.L. takes, or would have taken, a flight path from Oa to Earth that Hal Jordan never used---proves to be a fateful one.  It involves him in a war on the planet Ghera, inhabited only by children, after the adults were killed by the Yellow Plague.

 

After setting things aright on Ghera, the Guy-G.L. returns to Earth, only to be stricken himself by the deadly Yellow Plague.  In his last moments, Guy Gardner passes on the ring and power battery of Green Lantern to the other qualified Earthman---Hal Jordan!

 

Since 1971, there has been the mistaken belief that Guy Gardner was the first back-up Green Lantern for space sector 2814.  That’s because writer Denny O’Neil told them this, in Green Lantern # 87 (Dec., 1971-Jan., 1972).  Obviously, Mr. O’Neil never actually read the story in G.L. # 59.

 

In the final pages of “Earth’s Other Green Lantern”, Hal Jordan, curious about his “counterpart”, makes the acquaintance of the real Guy Gardner.  Although the two men hit it off, the story specifically mentions that Jordan never tells Gardner anything about Guy’s almost-career as Green Lantern, or that Hal, himself, is G.L.  He leaves Guy no more a Green Lantern than I am.

 

Nevertheless, it’s now fact in the DC universe that Guy Gardner was the second-string G.L., and he went on to be a major player.  I have to admit, in one sense, that’s satisfying.  I kind of like the idea of Abin Sur leaving the Silver Age the same way he entered it: 

Being responsible for the making of a Green Lantern!

 

 

Abin Sur of Ungara,  Resquiescat in Pace.     

     

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Oh, how I loved that Justice League story. Seeing them in action in an adventure of their own, without the JLA (not that I didn't love the JLA)? That was sooooo cool. And the jokes with the dimwit Earth One Johnny worked great for a seven-year-old's taste.

Good overview of Abin, especially considering how little material you have to work with.

Here are two pages from the "Tales of the Green Lantern Corps" backup from Green Lantern #149 (F'82) where in 1873 Montana, Abin Sur crashed yet again for the first time on Earth in a rocket ship. Of course, he's not dead, just seriously wounded. While he heals, he loans his ring to Sheriff Daniel Young so he can stop an outlaw gang.

The story in Green Lantern #149 further hammers the point brought up by Green Lantern #55 that Abin Sur knew about Earth and presumably its radiation belts from these previous visits. Also that his people must have very long lifespans or he used his ring to extend his life.

But now it raises more questions:

1) Abin Sur was worried by a mob boss but not Hitler? Or Stalin? Or even in a comic book context, Ra's Al Ghul?

2) Superman's rocket went from Tomer-Re's sector to Abin Sur's with the Guardians knowing full well what Earth's yellow sun would do to Baby Kal-El. Apparently that didn't require any sort of observation.

3) What about the Martian Civil War? Brainiac shrinking cities? All those alien invasions that Superboy/man, Batman and Wonder Woman fought off practically monthly?

Abin Sur knew about Earth but seldom turned his attention there!

Blame the Guardians — they decided Maggone was an omega-level threat because his evil would infect other worlds. Admittedly an odd thing to worry about with a common gang boss — possibly someone was planning to recruit him to run a cosmic crime syndicate?

Of course, you're right about all the stuff Abin didn't stop, but that's the eternal problem of super-hero comics ("Why didn't they ask Superman/Thor/Flash for help?").

One thing I did hate about the Tales of the GLC was that over time they added so many Earther GLs. They had no other good planets in this sector?

Philip Portelli said:

The story in Green Lantern #149 further hammers the point brought up by Green Lantern #55 that Abin Sur knew about Earth and presumably its radiation belts from these previous visits. Also that his people must have very long lifespans or he used his ring to extend his life.

But now it raises more questions:

1) Abin Sur was worried by a mob boss but not Hitler? Or Stalin? Or even in a comic book context, Ra's Al Ghul?

2) Superman's rocket went from Tomer-Re's sector to Abin Sur's with the Guardians knowing full well what Earth's yellow sun would do to Baby Kal-El. Apparently that didn't require any sort of observation.

3) What about the Martian Civil War? Brainiac shrinking cities? All those alien invasions that Superboy/man, Batman and Wonder Woman fought off practically monthly?

Abin Sur knew about Earth but seldom turned his attention there!

Also bear in mind that even before Bronze-Age DC came up with the "3,600 Green Lanterns assigned to 3,600 space sectors radiating from Oa" business, each G.L.'s sector was a pretty huge place.  It would be possible for a G.L. to patrol regularly and never come across planets in his sector.  (Not to mention the fact that Hal Jordan didn't seem to patrol out in space all that often.)

I agree with Mr. Sherman that the "Tales of the Green Lantern Corps" back-up series put far too many Earthmen in green-and-black.  In a way, it diluted the notion that Hal Jordan's selection as a Green Lantern was a random cosmic circumstance.  Instead of concentrating on Earth, I wish the GLC series had spent more time presenting more of Abin Sur's adventures and revisiting the other-world G.L.'s whose origins we had already been told about.

Each story about a previous Earth GL may have been fun, but collectively they diminish the whole concept.

And are 3,600 GLs enough?  A quick internet search of “number of stars in the universe” produced an estimate of 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, and there are much higher estimates.  Comics have long established that life is everywhere—it wouldn’t take long to put together a list of stories establishing life on all of the planets (and many of the moons) in our solar system, so for comic books every one of those stars may have multiple inhabited planets.  Divide that huge number by 3,600 and it’s still a huge number.  Just how effective could any GL ever be?  He/she/it could never patrol his/her/its whole sector.  Can GLs travel faster than light?  Just getting from one end of the sector to the other could take a lifetime, especially a human lifetime.

Commander Benson said:

Also bear in mind that even before Bronze-Age DC came up with the "3,600 Green Lanterns assigned to 3,600 space sectors radiating from Oa" business, each G.L.'s sector was a pretty huge place.  It would be possible for a G.L. to patrol regularly and never come across planets in his sector.  (Not to mention the fact that Hal Jordan didn't seem to patrol out in space all that often.)

I agree with Mr. Sherman that the "Tales of the Green Lantern Corps" back-up series put far too many Earthmen in green-and-black.  In a way, it diluted the notion that Hal Jordan's selection as a Green Lantern was a random cosmic circumstance.  Instead of concentrating on Earth, I wish the GLC series had spent more time presenting more of Abin Sur's adventures and revisiting the other-world G.L.'s whose origins we had already been told about.

They probably should have called the Guardians "of the Galaxy" instead of the "Universe." Then Marvel would have had to come up with a different name years later.

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