So, you think the Green Lantern Corps is an original concept? Think again.
An intergalactic police force featuring multiple species wielding thought-powered jewelry showed up decades before the first appearance of the Corps during the Silver Age. I’m talking about the legendary Lensman series, from science fiction author E. E. “Doc” Smith.
These tales even predate Alan Scott: the first Lensman novel, Triplanetary, was published in 1934 in the pages of Amazing Stories magazine, whereas All American Comics #16 showed up six years later. More Lensman stories appeared in Amazing Stories and Astounding Stories as time went on. There were six original Lensman novels, plus mentions in other works by Smith, and three official novels written by David Kyle after Smith’s death.
While the head honchos at DC have steadfastly claimed that the Green Lantern Corps was not influenced by Lensman, instead calling it mere coincidence, that’s clearly bullshit. Fortunately, some Green Lantern writers have placed Lensman tributes in their work, as evidenced by Mike Barr’s Tales of the Green Lantern Corps #1; Arisia and Eddore are planets and races in Lensman, and Barr named two Green Lanterns after them. Arisia in particular has proven to be a fan favorite Green Lantern for many years, so the connection to Lensman couldn’t be more solid.
So who are the titular Lensmen, anyway? Put simply, they’re intergalactic peacekeepers, sworn to protect Civilization (yes, with a capital C) from dire threats. Each member is chosen by the immortal Arisians to wield a Lens, a psionic weapon seemingly disguised as a bracelet. In the Lensman series, the Arisians are analogous to the Guardians, but exponentially more powerful. Their opposite number are the Eddorians, malevolent entities from another part of the universe who want nothing short of total domination. Like the Arisians, they also use agents to do their bidding, such as the criminal empire of Boskone.
The Lens itself is naturally the focal point of the series. There are two notable differences between a Lens and a power ring, however.
First off, anyone can use a power ring: if you can feel the proper emotion, then you can wield its respective ring. That’s pretty simple, right? Okay, I’ll be fair and go back to the old days, where you generally had to be selected as a sterling example of willpower and courage in order to wield a power ring. In that case, if some average Joe tried to use one, the ring would simply go dead. Not so with a Lens: if you try to wear one without being chosen, then you go dead. That’s right, trying on a Lens will instantly kill anyone whom it was not specifically crafted for. Tough break!
The other difference is that power rings create hard light constructs, while Lenses operate solely in the psionic realm. This may seem wimpy, but bear in mind that the power of a Lens far dwarfs the psionic stuff seen in most comics or other science fiction properties. A contest between a Green Lantern and a Lensman would end before it even began, as even a rookie Lensman could shut down (and even control!) a Lantern’s thought processes before they knew what hit them. Lensmen have used their abilities to influence bugs to shut down military forcefields, control armies all at once, perfectly disguise themselves to infiltrate enemy ranks, and other impressive mental feats. Kimball Kinnison, the main hero of many Lensman books, could kick Hal Jordan’s ass from here to the next galaxy. In fact, he could mop the floor with the Guardians. Yes, all of them. At once.
Green Lantern comics are famous for showcasing incredible space battles. If that’s your thing, then you’ve got even more reason to read Lensman. Those books feature space battles that make the destruction of Xanshi look like a firecracker. For example, the Lensman series has interstellar conflicts that regularly use planets…as ammunition. I’m not just talking about strip mining a planet to build ordnance, either. I mean literally firing a planet at a target.
Many Green Lantern fans are also fans of the so-called “Rainbow Corps.” Well, there were other colors in Lensman, as well. There were Gray, Red, and even Black Lensmen. Gray Lensmen were essentially free agents, the Red Lensman was a warrior of a very different type (read the books, and you’ll understand why), and the Black Lensmen were of course the Eddorians’ answer to the heroic Lens-wielders. (Thankfully, these colors had nothing to do emotions.)
Beyond that, we had Second Stage Lensmen. These were Lensmen given special advanced training by the Arisians in order to develop even greater powers. Finally, there were the Children of the Lens. The offspring of Lensmen have a natural connection the Lens’ power, which makes them even more formidable warriors. The power levels these folks have are off the scale; in fact, they prove to be even more powerful than the Arisians!
Also like Green Lantern, there have also been animated adaptations of the Lensman saga. Nearly all of them are exclusive to Japan, however; Harmony Gold (and later Streamline Pictures_ dubbed the Lensman animated film in the late 1980s, but we never got a professionally translated version of the full Lensman series or other animated works. The film we did get is heavily influenced by Star Wars and takes a lot of liberties with the source material, but it’s still a fun flick to watch.
As for a live-action Lensman film, that’s been bandied about for years. Rights are sold back and forth, this writer or that writer is said to be working on it, but I’ll stick with my usual stance on issues like this: I’ll believe it when I see it.
So there you have it. The Lensman influence on Green Lantern cannot be denied, and the two properties have given us many years of great science fiction entertainment. If you haven’t read any of the Lensman stuff, it’s well worth checking out.
First Lensman, artwork by Nico Illustration