Green Lama: Man of Strength
Let's start off this review by dispelling what may be the first misconception many encounter when reading the title of this series... The title is describing a Lama, a Buddhist guru, NOT the four legged pack animal spelled with two L's.
Okay, now that that's out of the way...
The Green Lama is steeped in pulp history and tradition dating back to the 1940's. Thank's to the initial creative talent of Ken Crossen (who first imagined the Green Lama), the character has turned up in a host of novels, magazine stories, comic books and radio dramas over the years. From the earliest days, the Green Lama stood out from the pack due in part to the long tradition of presenting a knowledgeable and sympathetic portrayal of Buddhism with the stories.
The classic Green Lama told the story of Jethro Dumont, a costumed crime-fighter of the period in much the same tradition as The Shadow and others. Today's current AC Comics incarnation stars Jethro Dumont II and gives the character in a decidedly Vertigo-esque style edge thanks to the story and writing of James Ritchey. It also works hard to return the character to put it's original narrative roots of the 40's.
Though placed in the AC universe, this story is an Elseworlds version of that world. Through this approach, the series promises to reward fans of both the modern AC Comics (as the tale re-imagines characters such as Femforce and Golden Lad in some unexpected ways) as well as longtime followers of Crossen's 40's Spark Publications Group. Working in consultation with Kendra Crossen Burroughs, daughter of (and executor to the literary estate of ) Ken Crossen, Ritchey is heralding a revival of other costumed characters from that same period within the pages of the Green Lama.
In this new story, World War III has come and gone. Demons freely roam the streets and it is up to the Green Lama to heal the world while still coming to terms with what he is and what he has to become.
At the start of the kickoff issue of Green Lama: Man of Strength, it would seem that everyone except our fated hero knows what lies ahead. He's living his life in a world that seems to already know he is the reincarnation of the Green Lama. In fact, the heroes of his world are working hard to prevent his assassination at ever turn, yet no one has taken the time to tell him what's taking place. It's for his own protection, but that option quickly fades.
Events unfold which lead our hero down a path of self discovery as he's forced to quickly accept the mantel of the hero in an effort to save a woman he loves. So begins his journey toward becoming The Green Lama.
Upon reading this first issue, I was impressed by the narrative depth of the story. This isn't a "read it in five minutes then done" kind of comic. There is thought and content packed into each of the thirty-two pages. It challenges the reader and jumps back and forth giving you that same feeling of digging for the truth that Jethro Dumont must be experiencing as he pieces together the riddle of his life.
The story is strong, entertaining and well paced. Honestly, I found many of the supporting cast of characters to be as important and as interesting as the main hero. In this first issue, that supporting cast drives a lot of the story. For this reader, I wouldn't mind seeing this Elseworlds version of the AC universe expand into a larger collection of stories featuring many of these characters. Here, the universe (though reimagined) feels cohesive and well thought out. There was clearly a lot of planning going into this story and it shows.
The art has a classic retro feel to it that harkens back across the years to when pulp was in it's prime (though many could argue it's making a solid comeback on a host of fronts today). It has a heavy inked style yet maintains a nice level of detail which brings a lot into each page and rewards the reader for taking time exploring the issue.
I found the story, presentation and take on this classic hero to be an exceedingly satisfying read. I look forward to the second issue and even find myself curious to explore some of AC Comics more traditional titles as a result of this issue.
In my opinion, James Ritchey's timing for presenting this story to the world couldn't be better. There seems to be a movement afoot to bring back many of the Golden Age heroes and several series (Mavel's The Twelve and Dynamite's Superpowers being just two examples) are making a strong showing targeting the use of this classic material. Ritchey's Green Lama is in good company and makes a solid bid for moving to the front of this growing pack.