Green Lama, and the upcoming novel Green Lama: Unbound.
Now, if you don't know who that is, that either means: A. You're under 55, or, B. You didn't grow up in house with a man like my father.
Or, C. You're 98% of the American populace.
The Green Lama, the fancy fellow to our left, was the invention a man named Kendell Foster Crossen, and is, by every measure, the world's first Buddhist superhero--not counting Buddha himself, who was pretty super from what I understand.
First appearing in the pulp magazine Double Detective in 1940, the Green Lama quickly branched out to comic books, first in Prize Comics in late1940 and then his own title in 1944. He eventually made his way to the radio in 1949 and almost made it TV screens in 1950, before falling off the face of the Earth for better part of the 20th Century until he recently fell back to Earth and into the public domain.
Each version of the character is at once similar, yet markedly different, than previous, the only connecting factor being the Green Lama is really Jethro Dumont, a wealthy American who spent a decade in Tibet studying Buddhism. When he returned he witnessed a drive-by shooting that left a young child dead. When justice was denied he used training and powers to fight evil.
In modern day comics, the Green Lama had a brief series from AC Comics, is a frequent feature in Dynamite's Project: Superpowers and will soon appear in Moonstone's Return of the Originals. And just as his original versions varied widely, so do these. AC Comic's version is at once Jethro Dumont's grandson and a reincarnated Jethro, who's powers are closer to the version seen in the solo Green Lama comic series. Dynamite's portrayal is based on the same version of the character but has evolved to character to be more "nature" based, able to control plants and the like. And according to press releases, Moonstone's version will be based on the original pulps.
The Green Lam also recently returned to pulps in 2009 via Airship 27 Productions, in their anthology The Green Lama, Vol. 1, in which my novella "Horror in Clay" was featured. The story followed the Green Lama and his associates' battle against a golem that had destroyed the German consulate in 1938 New York City.
(For some insane reason, "Horror in Clay" was nominated for best short story in the 2009 Pulp Factory Awards, and while it didn't wind the honor of nomination was incomparable.)
For a number of reasons, the Green Lama has always been my father's favorite Golden Age heroes, and was the sole reason I chose to write the character for Airship 27. What I didn't anticipate was how hard I would fall for the character and his supporting cast. There is something incredibly refreshing about a superhero who fights evil because of his faith. It wasn't a tragic childhood, a rocket ship from space, a magical ring or a life changing event, Jethro ultimately fights crime because of what he believes.
My portrayal of the character is something of an amalgam of all his original iterations, while at the same time making him a younger, less-experienced hero so as to allow him room to grow, rather than making him perfect from page 1. (I'll be going into detail on my approach to the lead characters, as well as pulps in general, as time goes on.)
These though leads me to a interesting topic I've been interested in recently, and that is the concept of adaption, specifically dealing with licensed and public domain properties.
A recent conversation I had with some of the fine fellows at the Gotham Pulp Collectors Club dealt with Moonstone's upcoming "Return of the Originals" line of comics, which will feature updated versions of classic pulp characters including the Black Bat--a sort of proto-Batman who debuted around the same time. They collector's bemoaned the fact that the new Black Bat had a bullet-proof vest where in the pulps he always had a suit. In response, one of the younger collectors said: "Yes, but you know that, everybody else doesn't."
I've has a similar conversation with my father before every new comic film came out. "But Tony Stark got wounded in Vietnam..." "Yes, but it's 2008 now, so why would he be in Vietnam?" "But the Phantom always had a 'striped' underwear." "Spider-man made his webbing from scratch." "The Joker was scarred by acid..." And so on and so on.
The debate of which is the right version of licensed/public domain character is something akin to asking someone where to get the best chocolate ice cream. You'll get hundreds of different answers, and people will disagree and even fight over it, but at the end of day, you're all still talking about chocolate ice cream. There are definitely better chocolate ice creams but that doesn't make the bad stuff not chocolate. You just don't like it.
With licensed/public domain characters there is ultimately no real right way to approach the characters, surely there are better takes than others, what matters is if the get the spirit of the character right. Certain elements will work better in specific mediums, other elements just won't translate well from generation to generation.
A recent debate raging in the Pulp Factory community is centered on the upcoming film adaptation of The Green Hornet starring Seth Rogen. Many pulpsters are quite literally in a rage on the casting and more comedic take on the characters. They argue that the Green Hornet is noir character and that the comedic tone and somewhat naive and bumbling Britt Reid is wrong. They demand an apology from the creators for creating such a travesty--even though the film has yet to be released, so this is all based on the two-minute trailer and a variety of stills. While there are certain members whose opinions definitely carry more weight than others--Ron Fortier wrote the Now Comics series for years--I contend that this is one interpretation of the origin of the character, geared more towards a younger crowd with a more tongue-in-cheek feel. There is nothing wrong about it, this is just one version of the character, whether it is successful or not depends solely on the viewer.
There are better versions surely, while Adam West's Batman might not exactly be the hallmark of live-action superheroes, it was not without its merits--hell it was probably truer to comics at the time than Dark Knight is to modern comics. But even then, we've been raised to accept these various changes to character like Batman; not a year has gone by that we haven't seen some variation on the character, so generally speaking we as an audience are much more willing to accept change for a character like him, because we're simply used to it.
(Take a look at Newsarama for a great graphic on Superman's evolution.)
Not so with the Black Bat, or for that matter the Green Lama. While Batman, Superman, Spider-man, Iron Man, Sherlock Holmes, etc. have all evolved over times, many public domain characters by their very nature stopped evolving 60-70 years ago. They never had the grim and gritty '80s version or the campy '60s version, they simply... stopped. Even characters that had a longer life, such as the Green Hornet, weren't given the natural, prolonged evolution like Batman. The last "live action" Green Hornet went off the air in 1967, his comics were off the shelves between 1967 to 1989 and then again from 1993 to 2009. Even characters like Doc Savage, who is the King of Pulps, effectively stopped evolving in the '40s (though the less said about his movie from the 70s the better).
It becomes clear that the argument that these characters were "always this way" doesn't stem from a rigid acceptance of the "rules" but rather due to the fact that these characters never had a chance to change. What's happening now, because these characters have been opened up to the wide world for the first time in a generation, is rapid, parallel evolution. There is no right and wrong, there are successful and unsuccessful versions; it is impossible for every version tobe perfect. Ultimately, it'll be up to the pure personal preference by the audience as to what works and what won't.
The one's that don't, well, they'll just be the chocolate ice cream you don't buy.
The image above is a teaser image by the talented British artist Mike Fyles for my upcoming novel Green Lama: Unbound, which I will tell you more about in upcoming posts.
Let me know you agree or diagree with this in the comments below; or if I'm just a rambling fool -- which is entirely possible.