Saturday, August 26, 2006

Lanterns on the Loose: Gullivar Jones and Kyle Rayner

In the early 1970's, seeing the success of such publishing franchises as their adaptations of Conan the Barbarian and the revival of the Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan and John Carter of Mars novels, Marvel was seeking properties other than Conan and Kull to turn into what they would hope would be another popular fantasy character. After a search for suitable (and presumably inexpensive) characters to promote, Marvel and Roy Thomas chose the long-forgotten character of of Gullivar Jones, from the 1905 book Lt. Gullivar Jones: His Vacation by Edwin L. Arnold. By most accounts the book, when originally published, did not sell well. It soon was remembered only by science fiction aficionados as having pre-dated the Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars by several years. SF historians still debate if the earlier book influenced the latter due to similarities in the stories. If nothing else, Arnold's book sales probably suffered from poor marketing caused by a title that was far less dynamic and sexy than the Burroughs novel.

Beginning in 1972, Marvel showcased the character of Gullivar Jones, Warrior of Mars in issues #16-21 of the reprint anthology title Creatures on the Loose, which later featured the likewise-forgotten Conan-clone Thongor and Man-Wolf.

The parallels in the work of Arnold and Burroughs are best left to nit-picking literary scholars. I am much more interested in the similarities in the work of Arnold and Green Lantern scribe Ron Marz, who unfortunately gave us the Green Lantern known as Kyle Rayner.

While re-reading some 70's Marvel goodness to re-ignite my love of comic books (the flame of which has been snuffed by months of ho-hum-nicity) I noticed that there are striking parallels to the origins of Gullivar Jones and the Kyle Raynor Green Lantern.

Here is Gullivar Jones' origin as a Warrior of Mars, from Creatures on the Loose #16 (March 1972).



And here is Kyle Rayner's origin as an intergalactic law enforcement agent from Green Lantern #50 (March 1994)



Interesting, yes? Let's go down the checklist...
  • Disaffected protagonist leaves club: Check!
  • Enters spooky alley: Check! (though Gullivar probably entered the alley for different reasons than Kyle).
  • Visited by extraterrestrial: Check!
  • Given gift of Scienti-magic talisman: Check!
  • Charged with mission to save worlds: Check!
  • Alien dies: Check!
  • Reluctantly accepts said mission: Check!
Taking into consideration that Ron Marz is known as a big fan of Burroughs (Green Lantern Annual #6 with its Pulp Heroes theme is very ERB-inspired) the homage to the old story is pretty great.

3 comments:

  1. Note that the wino is staring at Kyle's ass in that last panel...

    Also, note that in the page just before that, the wino was quite a ways from Kyle's ass, and said ass was not in said wino's face.

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  2. Actually, not only does this not bother me, it's the first thing that's made me feel remotely positive about the Raynor character since... well... ever. Having his origin as an homage to an older tradition of pulp sci-fi/fantasy fits right in with John Broome and Gil Kane borrowing heavily from E.E. "Doc" Smith's Lensman stories in creating Hal Jordan and the GLC in the first place. Thanks.

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