Monday, June 29, 2020

Green Lantern and Green Arrow #2

Green Lantern and Green Arrow #2, by Dennis ONeil and Neal Adams
June, 1972  Paperback Library

This slim paperback collects two issues of Green Lantern, reformating the original comic book pages to fit in a mass market paperback format. Also, more importantly, it’s in black and white. It’s interesting that something like this was done so early on; as a kid I had a similar papberback, collecting early issues of The New Teen Titans, but this was in the early ‘80s. For this book it seems that Paperback Library was trying to jump on the “comix” bandwagon, maybe to attract people who wouldn’t normally read comics. This also extends to the material collected here, which wasn’t like most mainstream comic books of the day.

Back in the late ‘90s I got on a brief comic book kick; I’d been obsessed with them as a kid but had moved on. At the time I was really into ones from the Silver Age, especially DC. This was when eBay was first starting and I recall signing up so I could bid on various issues drawn by Neal Adams, the most famous DC artist of that period. I was aware that, with writer Dennis O’Neil (who very recently passed away), Adams had done a series of stories in Green Lantern in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s that followed the vibe of Easy Rider, with Lantern as the square-jawed Peter Fonda and Arrow as the wild and wooly Dennis Hopper. But at the time those particular issues were overpriced, and I’m not sure if there was a trade paperback.

More importantly, one thing I vividly recall from this time, which I guess was around 1998, was that this storyline, which I believe was nicknamed “Hard Travelin’ Heroes,” was considered “dated” by the online comics community. This is because O’Neil and Adams brought politics to the forefront of their storyline. While Superman would be fighting the usual supervillains and Batman versus the Joker and whatnot, Green Lantern and Green Arrow would be encountering “real people” during a trip across the United States, a trip in which they wanted to confront the “moral cancer” of the United States. When I was reading about these comics in the late ‘90s, the sentiment from online geeks was that, while the art was great (though what else could be expected from Neal Adams), the dated politics really sunk the overall storyline…especially given that the majority of the stories dealt with racial issues.

As mentioned O’Neil and Adams were clearly inspired by Easy Rider, and GL and GA fit in the Fonda and Hopper mold, though admittedly Fonda’s Captain America wasn’t as much of a straight tool as Green Lantern is presented. Basically Green Lantern’s function, in his own series, is to act as the whipping boy for all of America’s original sin. Along for the trip is an old alien, one of the Guardians in Lantern’s orbit, but this paperback doesn’t even bother to inform us who he is or why he’s here. His main goal is to pass the occasional condemnation of America. Arrow’s main goal is to harass Lantern for always supporting “the system,” and he’s real eager to show Lantern how various minorities have been mistreated by America – specifically, by white America. But it isn’t all white-people bashing, all the time, as O’Neil and Adams somehow manage to get some action and drama into these stories, not to mention some uninentional humor.

For the irony here is that Lantern and Arrow are themselves white males, and do all the fighting and saving in these two stories. Of course, they’re the heroes of the stories, so they have to. And yet…O’Neil and Adams present the subjugated minorities as incapable of helping themselves in the first place. They need to be saved from those white devils, which sort of undercuts the entire “minority empowerment” subtext. There’s even a laughable bit in the second story where Green Arrow pretends to be an American Indian so as to encourage the real American Indians to stand up to their, uh, white oppressors. All this would be humorous if such topics weren’t treated so dead serious today. (Not to mention that poor old Green Arrow would be disparaged for cultural appropriation…I mean he even goes around in headfeathers and everything.) While these stories were rightly seen as “dated” in the more enlightened ‘90s, they’d probably be eagerly embraced in our current post-America society, in which the race button has been pushed past the breaking point.

As mentioned it seems that Paperback Library was hoping to get in on the underground comic movement of the day; the headline of the series has here been changed to “Comix that give a damn,” “comix” being the “hip” way all the heads referred to comic books in the ‘60s:

I’m betting this wasn’t in the original DC editions! And speaking of which, the two issues here are from 1970: Green Lantern #78 (July, 1970) and Green Lantern #79 (September, 1970). Another thing that set this storyline apart from others is the continuity. In the Silver Age the focus for the most part was standalone stories, with only the grander scene evolving across issues. It’s been decades since I bought a new comic, but I do know at some point this changed, with intricately-plotted storylines taking over, so that if you missed an issue you were SOL. O’Neil and Adams handle things much more professionally; I don’t have any of the earlier (or later) issues, but had no problem getting into the two stories and understanding what the main plot was. What I’m trying to say that the continuity, in the case of these two stories, didn’t detract from the overall pleasure of reading the stories.

The first story’s titled “A Kind Of Loving, A Way Of Death,” and opens with Black Canary – Green Arrow’s blonde-haired girlfriend, who dresses in fishnet stockings and boots – being accosted by some bikers in Mt. Ranier park, in Washington state. In humorously-vague backstory, we learn that Canary’s from another dimension(!), but now lives on the current Earth because she likes Green Arrow. Of course as a veteran comics reader I was aware of the various Earths, destroyed in the mid-‘80s DC retooling, but this must’ve been a mind-blower for the non-comics fan who picked up this paperback. “Heavy, man!” She manages to hold her own against the biker scum, then gets knocked out and her bike stolen – yes, everyone rides a chopper in this post-Easy Rider world.

We meet Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and their never-named alien pal as they’re hanging out in Washington state, and it’s a couple weeks later. They go into a native-run place that only serves beans, which leads to another unintentionally-humorous bit where both heroes thank the American Indian for the food, and he goes off on a tangent about “palefaces walking all over us for 400 years.” “The things I’m ashamed of about my race,” whines GL. This storyline goes away – to be replaced in the next issue – as the focus becomes Black Canary, who stumbles onto the scene, now a brainwashed follower of Manson-esque cult messiah Joshua. A “bargain-basement messiah” is how GA refers to him (he uses “bargain-basement” again in the next story, so he must’ve really liked the phrase). Black Canary says she’s happy with Joshua and “no thanks” to GA when he pleads with her to come back with him. There’s some goofy, pointless hero-fighting when ever-oblivious GL tells GA, “She just doesn’t dig you.”

Joshua is a one-dimensional character at best, but you’ve gotta give him some credit, ‘cause he’s damn determined in the finale, which sees him leading his all-white congregation on a race war. They’re all brainwashed, armed with pistols, and he sets them on the native populace and doesn’t back down for anything. GA’s shot in the main action scene, and GL manages to stop the hordes with his power ring, but the climax has to do with just Joshua, Black Canary, and Green Arrow, with Joshua commanding Black Canary to kill Green Arrow. Total miss on the author-artist part where Joshua orders Black Canary to “use your revolver,” and Adams draws a .45 automatic in Black Canary’s hands! When Black Canary refuses, Joshua ends up offing himself…and Green Arrow gets into a little victim-blaming, wondering how Black Canary could’ve let herself be brainwashed in the first place!

Next up is “Ulysses Star Is Still Alive,” which picks up on the aggrieved Native American subplot of the previous yarn. It’s a couple days later and our heroes are still in Washington, with Black Canary now atoning for her brainwashed sins by providing medical help at the local reservation (“They’ve been under the white man’s heel,” she eagerly informs everyone). Meanwhile the local lumberman’s union, run by a despicable cretin who looks a little too much like Clark Kent, is trying to clear out the “animals,” ie the American Indians who claim to own the trees the union’s trying to wipe out to build Wal-Marts and stuff. GL and GA are too busy having a pseudo-lover’s spat to help out much, even though they are of course both aggrieved by the racial grievances. GA wants to storm in and bust union heads, while GL as ever wants to use “the system” to effect change.

But Green Lantern’s kind of a fool. So basically the story has it that the grandson of the former tribe leader had a deed from the US government which told him these trees belonged to his tribe. But this guy, who is himself now very old, left the tribe ages ago. GL goes off searching for him – and finds the dude while his tenement house is burning up. So GL pulls him to safety…and then the dumbass asks the old guy if he has the paperwork which gave the tribe legal right to the trees. I mean dude, the guy’s house just burned down!! And of course this the old guy tells GL that the deeds of course went up in the fire, and our hero’s thunderstruck by this unexpected turnaround. He’s so damn clueless that not until the end of the story does he even put two and two together and realize that tenement fire was no accident. Frank Drebin was a better investigator.

Here comes the now-frowned-apart bit where Green Arrow goes around posing as the “spirit” of Ulysses Star, mythical warrior of the tribe, ages ago. In full “Native American warrior” regalia he goes around, giving pep talks to the tribe and sowing fear into the hearts of the union jerks. Adams’ art implies that “Ulysses Star” glows, but this is lost in the black and white reprint. At any rate it would be clear to even Green Lantern that this is none other than Green Arrow in costume…I mean “Ulysses Star” even carries around a quiver filled with trick arrows, which is, you now, Green Arrow’s main gimmick, and likely the reason he never showed up in the Superfriends cartoons I loved as a kid. I mean nothing says “safe entertainment for kids” like a guy who fights with bows and arrows. Oh and apropos of nothing, by far my favorite of all those Superfriends series was Challenge Of The Superfriends which ran in ’78, and my parents (this was so long ago they were still married) had one of those cable boxes on the TV at the time, with a switch that would go to either HBO or “the Superstation,” aka TBS – which was how Ted Turner became a bujillionaire (and married Barbarella), because his local station rode HBO’s signal. Anwyay, TBS broadcast Challenge Of The Superfriends, and even though I was so young I knew to switch it over to the Superstation at 4:30PM on weekdays to see it. And also apropos of nothing, I bought the DVD set of the series years ago, and am now watching it with my kid, who seems to love it.

Okay, I’m back on track now. But as you can see the subtext is ruined; these proud native warriors, trampled by “palefaces,” are incapable of stirring themselves to action until a white man poses as the spirt of their famous ancestor. So they’re both cowardly and superstitious. But who cares, because in the final confrontation it’s actually Green Lantern versus…Green Arrow. Yes kids, our two heroes bash each other into oblivion as everyone watches on…O’Neil trying to invest mythic dimensions with the two fighting to purge themselves of the sins of their race.

To make it worse, blind luck saves the Indians in the end; we’re told in a hasty epilogue that “a confessed arsonist” came forward and said he’d been hired to burn down that tenement building…hired of course by the labor union and other assorted white devils. So they’re hauled off to jail, GL’s conviction to go “by the system” somewhat upheld, even though neither he nor Green Arrow did anything to really help in the course of the story. Other than to beat up a couple union toughs and scare a few corporate types. And now that I think of it, the “confessed arsonist” is also white, thus by confessing he has saved the brutalized Indians…so once again it’s white people to the rescue, irony and hypocrisy be damned. But then irony and hypocrisy are generally lost on propagandists.

As mentioned Adams’s art shines, despite the lack of color and the re-jiggering of the page layouts. If anything the editing brings out the drama and motion of Adams’s panels, as seen in these two arbitrary page shots:

Looks like this was the last of the Green Lantern/Green Arrow paperbacks Paperback Library published; there’s an ad in the back for the first one, the cover of which has our heroes being shamed by an old black guy. Man, talk about prescience! Oh and speaking of which, the cover of this one doesn’t illustrate a scene in the actual book…I kept waiting for these two losers to be crucified for the sins of their ancestors, but sadly it never happened. But anyway, it is kind of fun to wonder what it would’ve been like if Fonda and Hopper had actually made a movie out of this, replacing their Easy Rider choppers with spandex. Wait, no – I wouldn’t want to see that at all.


Marty McKee said...

The alien from Oa, one of the Guardians that gave GL his power ring, was just called Old Timer, IIRC, but I would bet he has since been retconned with a name.

BTW, those Adams/O'Neil stories (you probably know O'Neil just passed away this month) have been reprinted in paperback and hardcover form many many times, so if you're interested in reading them (I think they're good stories), they are not difficult to find, either new or used.

Matthew said...

Oddly, I just finished Mike Grell's superior run on Green Arrow yesterday. Grell wrote what is probably the most realistic superhero comics ever. He had Green Arrow move from his fictional city to Seattle, give up the trick arrow for pointy ones, and fight real bad guys like terrorist, yakuza, and (in Grell's world at least) the CIA.

Felicity Walker said...

Green Arrow did appear in exactly one episode of Super Friends, from the original 1973 season with Marvin and Wendy and Wonder Dog.

I have some of the Super Friends seasons on DVD too, ranging from the late seventies ones to the mid-eighties ones. I especially enjoy the commentary tracks from the episodes’ writers plus Mark Waid (“DC Comics writer and historian,” as he introduces himself).

Today’s audiences might dislike that two white superheroes are solving the problems of non-white people for them, but they should remember that this is just the beginning of the consciousness-raising era. It was a big deal just to have those heroes empathising with the suffering of other communities. Similarly, the multi-cultural Super Friends (Apache Chief, Black Vulcan, El Dorado, Samurai) were a bit stereotypical, but it was a good first step to have some representation.