Sunday, February 13, 2011

How Green Was My Lama

Between the Green Hornet and the Green Lantern, falls the Green Lama.

The Green Lama was a peculiar crime-fighting Buddhist in a green cloak and hood, first appearing in the April 1940 issue of Double Detective magazine. Like The Shadow, the Green Lama walked a wiggly line between detective fiction and the supernatural. His real name was Jethro Dumont, and he was a New York millionaire who became tragically orphaned when his father and mother were killed in an accident. He decided to dedicate his life to fighting crime, but refused to carry a gun, believing that "this would make me no better than those I fight." If you think this sounds an awful lot like Batman, give that man a cigar. As long as it ain't one of mine.

Where the Batman similarity stops, though, is that the Green Lama deliberately gives himself superhuman radioactive powers via some sort of isotope salts. He also, apparently being a science whiz, whips up a variety of high-tech devices to assist him along the course of his adventures.

The Green Lama didn't waste any time making the jump from the pulps to the comics: his first comic book appearance came in 1940, the same year he debuted in the pulps. He appeared in 27 issues of Crestwood's Prize Comics from 1940 to 1943, then moved to his own title for Spark for 8 issues. I remember having some of these as a teen when I had a huge golden-age collection, and being puzzled by the whole concept.

Although the original pulp series has been lauded for its accuracy in depicting Tibetan buddhism, the comic book series, well.... not so much. And as World War II began, the comics began portraying Asians in general in an increasingly unfavorable manner.

The Green Lama also made it to that noble format known as radio drama, and you can listen to three episodes here.

- - JSH

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