May the Light Lead You Westward
Dreaming Up Western-Era Skittle Lanterns
Recently it was announced that DC ComicsOne of the two biggest comic publishing companies in the world (and, depending on what big events are going on, the number one company), DC Comics is the home of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and just about every big superhero introduced in the 1930s and 1940s. was introducing "The Thirteen", a group of previous unknown "Golden Age Heroes" that were going to be brought into DC Comics continuity. Now, these characters didn't actually exist before, this is just a retcon of DC's continuity, but they are a set of pretty interesting characters and ideas. One that specifically called to me was a new, Golden Age Red Lantern to be introduced. As you may recall, I wrote up my own ideas for a whole set of Skittle Lanterns for the Golden Age of comics (plus, a follow-up for the White and Black Lanterns, but DC's announcement got me thinking.
I don't think DC stole my idea, if that's what you think I'm saying. Introducing "classic" versions of modern characters is neat and I'm glad DC is doing their own versions (even if, right now, it's just a Red Lantern to sit alongside Green Lantern Alan Scott). However, DC announcement did also get my brain juices going. "If we can really introduce Golden Age heroes," which I originally just considered a cool creative writing lark, "could we also introduce other heroes?" I mean, there are other eras of DC continuity worth exploring, so why not, say, Western Lanterns of the late 1800s?
As a quick primer for those that haven't read the previous articles: DC comics started their history in the last 1930s with what would eventually be known as the "Golden Age of Superheroes". The brought in BatmanOne of the longest running, consistently in-print superheroes ever (matched only by Superman and Wonder Woman), Batman has been a force in entertainment for nearly as long as there's been an entertainment industry. It only makes sense, then that he is also the most regularly adapted, and consistently successful, superhero to grace the Silver Screen., SupermanThe first big superhero from DC Comics, Superman has survived any number of pretenders to the throne, besting not only other comic titans but even Wolrd War II to remain one of only three comics to continue publishing since the 1940s., Wonder WomanLong considered the third pillar of the DC Comics "Trinity", Wonder Woman was one of the first female superheroes ever created. Running for as long as Batman or Superman (and without breaks despite a comic downturn in the 60s that killed superhero comics for about a decade), Wondie has the honor to be one of the longest serving, and most prolific, superheroes ever. who were then later joined by the likes of The FlashStruck by lightning while working in his lab, Barry Allen became a speedster known as The Flash, launching an entire set of super-fast superheroes., Green LanternMade up of aliens from sectors scross space, the Green Lantern Corp. defends the universe against threats with the power of the Green Light of Willpower., Hawkman, and more. They formed the Justice Society of America together, and eventually went off to the war front in Europe to fight Nazi's and give Hitler a good sock to the jaw.
Once the war was over, though, kids started to turn away from superheroes. Westerns became the genre du jour, and most of the superheroes of the time faded away (leaving basically just Bats, Supes, and Wondie to carry on). When the 1960s rolled around, though, superhero books went on an upswing (and Westerns fell out of grace), allowing DC to introduce new versions of their old heroes for this new "Silver Age of Superheroes". Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman (who were still going at this point) were joined by new, different versions of the Flash, Green Lantern, and others.
As the Green Lantern concept was explored (following the adventures of Hal Jordan and his ring powered by the green light of Will), evil rings were introduced. Sinestro was Lantern who went bad and took on a yellow ring of Fear. Years later more colors and rings were introduced until we ended up with the whole Skittle Lantern concept: Red (Rage), Orange (Avarice), Yellow (Fear), Green (Will), Blue (Hope), Indigo (Compassion), Violet (Love), White (Life), and Black (Death). It's a big, wide world for the Green Lantern concept.
However, while Westerns fell off DC did keep a set of books still going, from time to time, featuring magnificent and wild tales of the west (Jonah Hex is a popular hero that has continued to appear in DC continuity back in the Old West). Thus, why not Western Skittle Lanterns? If DC can continue to produce Western books then we can certainly have all of these lanterns back then, right? Well, that's what we're going to explore today.
Marshal Bertram Summerhill
One of two boys born to Sara Acker and Sioux tribesman Aucaman Summerhill, Bertram grew up in a world that didn't exactly like him. His mother had met his father years before, on a journey across the country to find a new home, and when they fell in love Sara have talked Aucaman into moving back East to Chicago, where her family still lived. Although her relatives accepted having Aucaman in their lives, the residents of the predominantly white city were less accommodating.
Bertram (named for Sara's father) found the children of the city to be especially mean. He was picked on at school, beat up in the streets, and had a rough time during his formative years. This didn't turn him against humanity, though; instead it indicated to him that there was injustice in the world and he had to find a way to fight back against it. He wanted to make the world and right and just place, and he'd do it with both of his own hands if he had to (no matter what obstacles were put in front of him).
Bert went to university, gaining a law degree, before the allure of the Marshal service took a hold of him. He applied soon after graduation, but his application was rejected (due to his father's lineage). He didn't let this stop him, instead enlisting in the U.S. Army to gain experience and prove himself. He worked his way up to the rank of Sergeant before being honorably discharged. His service for his country (a country that didn't always respect or appreciate him) illustrated his abilities and his next application to the Marshal service was accepted.
What followed was a career out in the Great Plains, tracking down criminals and bringing them to justice. The days were active, but Bert especially enjoyed the nights out on the Plains, looking up at the stars and dreaming about a better future. It was on one such night that a mysterious star fell from the sky, causing quite the explosion when his landed not far from where Bertram had camped for the night. Investigating, what the Marshal found was a mysterious rock, one that crumbled as it cooled in the night air.
The hard stone fell apart to reveal a glowing ring within, one that Bert was instantly drawn to. Putting on the ring, Bert found it to be a perfect fit, almost like it was made for him. But more magnificent was the voice that called to him from the heavens. "Bertram Summerhill, your bravery and discipline have illustrated your tremendous willpower. Welcome to the Green Lantern Corp." The ring then suddenly filled his mind with true meaning of the gift he'd been given, the powers he could wield, the duty he had to take on. He was not just a Marshal of the Plains but an officer of the Corps, a policeman for the world, and with this gift he could bring true justice to the land.
Hal Jordan is often called a "space cop" as his job for the Corps is to serve and protect the people of his sector. Taking that idea a Marshal of the West seemed like a good fit for the Green Lantern Corp. I then named the character Bertram, meaning "noble" and "bright", a solid name for a wielder of the green light of will. I also made him one of the First People as I felt that was a cool angle to take, someone that has seen injustice but uses it to try and right the perspective of the world. It would take someone with true willpower to pull that off in the face of stupidity, racism, and adversity.
Alexander Summerhill, The Ghost of the Plains
The second of two boys born to Sara Acker and Sioux tribesman Aucaman Summerhill, Alexander was taken with his brother at a young age to Chicago when his mother and father moved back East to be with her family. Like Bertram, Alexander had a tough time growing up pin the predominantly white, predominantly racist streets of the city. Where Bertram, though, saw the injustice of the situation and decided he wanted to change it, to show the world a better path, Alexander wanted nothing to do with this "civilized" world. As soon as he was done in primary school he packed up and went off on his own to rejoin his First Nation people back west.
Where Alexander found hate among the citizens of Chicago he saw only acceptance among his father's people. He spent his days out in the fields, tending to the small flock of animals that belonged to the tribe and their land while learning about his people and his heritage. This was the life he had wanted, one not filled with hate and anger. It was all he wanted... right up until it as ruined.
Under orders from the U.S. Government a group of soldiers came onto the tribe's land with orders to push them Westward. Though the tribe fought at first, the soldiers were not afraid to get violent, burning their homes and killing their animals. Fearing for their lives, and where things could escalate, the tribe moved on, pushing Westward, but Alexander didn't go with them. He'd felt a great anger come upon him, a need to get some kind of vengeance. He lingered in the lands, watching and waiting, looking for a time he could strike.
He quickly began to run raids on the soldiers, he and a few other young men that had remained behind. They attacked at night, stealing, hunting, and killing the soldiers. Night after night they harried the soldiers, avoiding their patrols and causing my fear among the men. Alexander learned he was quite skilled at this game of stealth, that he could blend into the night, walk up to his targets, and surprise them from just inches away. He was a ghost to them, a specter of fear who couldn't be seen and was never caught.
As Alex and his men chased the soldiers across the Plains back East, he felt a growing power within him. It was like magic, he felt, a connection to the land he's never sensed before. The joy at causing fear grew and grew until, one night, Alexander awoke to find a yellow ring upon his hand. He'd been chosen in his sleep, he realized, a possessor of this Ring of Fear, and with it he could use new powers to fight for his people, to fight injustice across his homeland by scaring all would-be oppressors. He became the ghost the soldiers called him and he went out to cause fear to all who were enemies of the First People.
Considering the connection between Hal Jordan and Sinestro, I thought it interesting to do something similar for the wielders of Green and Yellow in this new continuity. Making them brothers allowed me to flesh out their stories and make them two sides of the same coin. I was careful, though, not to make either of them villains. I thought it more interesting, especially in the case of Alexander, to make him a vigilante, a hero to his people even as others might view him more negatively. It puts an interesting spin on the bearer of the Yellow Ring while still deepening his concept.
And yes, I did give both of them Anglicized first names, while we can blame on their Caucasian mother. Alexander means "defender of man", a good name for our vigilante Yellow user considering what he fights for.
The MacQuoid Gang
Although the Old West is considered a violent time, that's actually just a Hollywood convention. There wasn't that much crime, not that much murder during the time of the frontier, certainly not as much as depicted. With that said, some stories do come from a kernel of truth, such as the real story of the MacQuoid Gang.
Starting their crime spree in the Arizona territories, the MacQuoid Gang cause a reign of terror from Mexico up to Canada, riding roughshod over the laws of the land as they robbed banks, stagecoaches, trains, and everything (and anyone else) they could find. Led by Connor MacQuoid became legends of the West, outlaws across the countries and hunted by every law man active during the era.
The MacQuoids were active for over three years before they hit their biggest haul, a set of armored stagecoaches. These loads, guarded by Pinkertons, were filled not only with money but also jewelry, stock certificates, and even one very pretty gem. It was orange and seemed to glow with its own light. As the leader Connor claimed the prize for himself but he was keenly aware that everyone other member of his crew, from his brothers Duncan, Ian, and Finn, to cousins Donald and Brodie, and even the man other criminals and desperadoes they'd retained along the way, all were lustful for that orange gem.
Things came to a head in a very heated (and very drunken) fight one night as the men made camp out in the wilderness. Duncan tried to take the gem, was fought off by Connor, sent sprawling into Finn, and soon the whole gang of 30 men was brawling and fighting and, soon enough, shooting. Connor was the last one left standing after finishing off his cousin Brodie, the one man with the lovely gem. Standing there, the blood of his family on his hands, Connor felt nothing but longing for his treasure.
He heard a voice then, calling to him, telling him that he could keep the gem, that it was all his. He'd need a gang but the gem could help him, recreating his gang in the form of figures of light. He had his 30 men back, all under his control, and all he had to do was give himself completely to the orange stone. And he did.
What is the Old West without at least one gang of bandits and ruffians It is true that the violence you see in movies and shows about the West was simply not true. The violence of the era was romanticized. Still, we need at least one good villain here and a gang of bandits certainly fit the mold.
In a nod to Larfleeze, the mainline bearer of the Orange light of Avarice, Connor is able to create light-based versions of his gang. This gives him the numbers he feels he needs, and still perfectly fits him in line with other Orange wielders. It works well.
Clara Matilda Brager
The frontier could often be a hard place to scrape together a life. The are many stories of people moving out west to find life in the open territories, only to find that the new life they were expecting was much harder than they desired. Failed crops, bad droughts, and disease could all add up to ruined lives (and possibly many dead) for those unprepared for the hard life ahead of them. It took a certain kind of person to make it out in the western territories.
Clara Matilda Brager and her husband, Archie, had one west on the promise of cheap land and new possibilities. Although life was hard, Clara was the kind of woman you found the challenge exhilarating (even if Archie would ave preferred to stay back home in Missouri). Together they set up their farm, build a house, bought cattle, and were making a proper life for themselves. Over the next few years they welcomed two children: beautiful Phoebe, and little Emmett. They were happy, even if it took a lot of work to keep their place running, and they expected one day to have a proper, grand ranch built on their lands.
But then the MacQuoid Gang rolled through. They'd just robbed a train days earlier and saw an opportunity to hide out on the Brager farm while the heat died down. At gunpoint they took over the homestead, forcing Clara to serve them while they taunted Archie and the kids, using them as hostages. They used up all of the farm's resources, killed the cattle and, before leaving, shot Archie, and the kids, before finally shooting Clara. She watched as her family died, bleeding in the dirt as the bandits rode off.
Coughing blood, she crawled to her family but they were already dead. She watched as the day faded away into dusk, but it wasn't sadness she felt, just cold, bitter rage. An all-consuming rage for the men who had ruined her life and killed those she loved. It was this rage that drew in the light of the Red, summoning a seething, glowing magic from the hills around her. This light coalesced into a ring, a powerful totem that easily slipped onto Clara's finger. In that moment she was no longer Clara Brager but the avatar of Rage, and she swore bloody vengeance against all who had caused her harm (and any of their ilk).
The power of the Red comes from pain and anguish and blood. That's the kind of origin a character needs if they're going to become of the Red Lanterns. Pretty much ever Red Lantern has a story that starts with them losing the ones they love, so that's what I used for Clara: she lost her family and that fueled her rage. As a twist, I let her become the avatar instead of her husband, avoiding that whole pesky "fridging" problem. It also works nicely since I made my Golden Age Red Lantern a man, here we can have a woman as the lead Lantern and invert a lot of tropes.
I also liked tying her story into that of the MacQuoid Gang. You can just imagine the eventually war between the bearers of Red and Orange. That would be epic.
The daughter of a mayor, Marie Morais spent her entire young life in the fronteir town of Granite Gulch. Her father, Everrit Morais, had helped found the town and was voted the town's first, and only, mayor since its founding. This meant there were certain expectations placed upon Marie, that she be a good girl, that she show respect for the town and it's people, and that she not embarrass her father. She grew up proud of him, but she struggled to stand up to these expectations.
When she was sixteen, though, Marie met the son of a family that had recently moved to Granite Gulch. The family were farmers, poor but earnest, and Marie was instantly infatuated with the boy, Edward. He, likewise, found himself attracted to the girl, two young people in love for the first time. Had Marie been anyone other than the daughter of the town's leader, she and Edward probably could have been happy. But expectations such as they were, Marie couldn't just run off with a boy she'd just met, especially one who was poor and didn't have the social status expected.
Instead, Marie's father expected her to eventually marry Alfred Stensworth, the son of a cattle baron. He was rich, had status, and was everything a politically-minded father could want for his daughter. The heart, though, wants what it wants and the two young lovers had eyes only for each other. After repeatedly being told she couldn't be with the one she wanted, Marie arranged to run off in secret with Edward, expecting to flee further West where no one would find them. The escaped late at night, on horse back, making camp hours later in the rising light of dawn.
Unfortunately her father hired some rather rough individuals to track them down. The found the two, asleep in each other's arms, only a couple of hours later. Marie was taken and thrown on horse back while her beau was beaten for "stealing away the innocence of the mayor's daughter." One particularly nasty blow to his head sent Edward spinning and the boy never got back up. He was dead, in front of her eyes, and she was unable to even run to him.
Dragged back to town, there was nothing but hate in her eyes when Marie was deposited in front of her father. he had betrayed her, and ruined the life of love she'd wanted. She was told the wedding to Alfred would happen the next morning, but she promised that event would never take place. Her father had her thrown in the town jail to ensure she didn't run off again, but the power of her love found another way to aid her plans.
That night, as she wept for Edward, locked in a cell, Marie heard a voice call to her. "You have experienced great love. You are worthy," it said, before a band of violet metal flew into the cell. Alighting upon her finger, Marie found herself transformed into a Star Sapphire, a guardian of love. Now powerful and able to fight her way out, Marie broke down the walls of her cell and flew off into the night, ready to fight all who would oppose love.
Seeing as this was a story set in the Old West the temptation was there to make the Star Sapphire into a tavern madam or some kind of prostitute. At my wife's suggestion (and because I absolutely didn't want to take the easy route) she suggested a tragic tale of young love, and that's what inspired this tale. It works, I think, and it much more in line with the actual ways Star Sapphires are picked in the main continuity. I rather like it.
And Then More...
We'll continue our look at these alternate continuity Lanterns, finishing up the run along with some final thoughts, in our next article...