And through them help a world…

September 5, 2004

Green Lantern/Green Arrow Dennis O’Neil/Neal Adams 2004 TPB compilations Volumes 1 & 2

Writer: Dennis O’Neil (with one story by Elliot S! Maggin)
Artist: Neal Adams

By Avi Green

The time were a-changing back in the late 60’s, early 70’s, when Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams were assigned full time to writing and drawing Green Lantern’s own series. Though they didn’t manage to save it from cancellation at the time (or from going on hiatus, if you prefer, as it did for about three and a half years), O’Neil and Adams certainly did manage to come up with some of the best of human interest stories and social statements that reflected the times, and still has relevance in some of its topics to today’s world.

O’Neil had already come on board the DC bandwagon in 1967, following a short tenure at Charlton Comics with famous inker Dick Giordano, who also made the move that same year, and worked as inker on many of O’Neil’s stories with Green Lantern and Green Arrow during the 1970’s too. His first assignments had mostly been on the Justice League of America at the time, and he was most famous for returning Batman to the dark atmosphere it began and works best in. And one of his most notable talents was that he steered clear of the campy approach to storytelling that had been a staple many times at DC during the Silver Age (there were plenty of campy elements used during the Golden Age too, but the Silver Age may have been more so in that respect), which DC began to move away from as the Bronze Age approached.

These two volumes in review here were specially prepared following the sad death of longtime editor Julius Schwartz, who was the main title editor during his long tenure as EIC of DC Comics during the 1970’s. (Later on, Jack C. Harris took over as the title’s main editor.) And they are simply amazing in their focus on some of the most notable issues that took place during the early 70’s in America, a time also when Nixon was president, and the Vietnam war still raged on without being won. Racism was as much of a problem then as it is even now, and drugs likewise posed a danger to youngsters in the poor, crime-endangered neighborhoods. And who should mainly champion the cause of the poor, the oppressed, and those whose lives were being made miserable at the time, than Green Arrow, alias Oliver Queen, the former millionaire who’d lost his fortune and had to move to the poor neighborhoods of his hometown, Star City, but continued his career as the Emerald Archer, which he first learned in and began after being stranded once on an island, and put together his own form of arrows, both real and trick shape.

O’Neil had reinvented Green Arrow as a left-wing hothead during 1969 when writing the Justice League of America, and turned him into a character who was arrogant, self-determined, and overall a very enjoyable character in spite of himself. The Green Lantern/Green Arrow run of the time, while not without its flaws, was still a very absorbing read, even now, and had even the Black Canary in several issues to add some much needed feminine touch to the proceedings. She had been his girlfriend for many years, and proved to be very helpful to these two “hard travelin’ heroes” during their trip around the northwestern United States at the time too.

O’Neil had also written some of the Green Lantern title itself during the late 60’s, but it was only during mid-1970 when he became a full time writer on it, for at least ten years. And here is my take on his award-winning accomplishment of then.

Hal Jordan, Green Lantern of earth, had been working mostly as a sales agent for insurance and toy companies then, having left Coast City following girlfriend Carol Ferris’ engagement to school principal Jason Belmore in late 1966, and had undergone some pretty lousy developments as a result. O’Neil did a pretty good job in steering clear of that botch, and here took to simply focusing on how Hal gets to learn about the things he hadn’t noticed while busy fighting menaces from outer space and gangsters in the open on the homefront. He comes to a slum neighborhood where he finds a slum kid knocking down a man in a suit and sends him to police headquarters, not realizing, until Green Arrow appears to explain everything, that the man he’d just defended from a possible assault, Jubal Slade, was the crooked landlord of the rundown apartment block, who’d been on the scene, apparently to gloat at how his tenants were living in misery thanks to his unwillingness to make any real improvements in their living conditions there. And, while having a discussion on the roof of the building, a black tenant comes up to ask the Emerald Gladiator why, while he most certainly had helped out various alien races in space, he hadn’t ever thought to help out the minority groups here on earth. GL can’t think of an answer, but realizes that he certainly overlooked something important right here on earth, and that he’s certainly got some more learning to do. The black tenant assures him that he can do it, and has confidence in him to be able to study deeper into the heart of American society.

It’s no easy feat bringing down the callous crook at first. For one thing, when the Guardians of Oa see Hal about to beat up on Jubal Slade, they think he’s taking an unjust slam against somebody who has supposedly “done no wrong”, and try to penalize him by having him go and deal with a trivial job in redirecting some asteroids coming at Saturn, just so that he’ll cool off. He decides to defy this command, and returns to earth some time later to continue the good fight before the Guardians' council lets him know if he should, as Ollie makes a likewise abortive attempt at getting the goods on Slade. But, while comparing notes on their tryouts, they realize that there’s still a chance in defeating him, and the next morning manage to bring him down and get more than enough goods on him, with the help of the city’s district attorney. And when the Guardians appear once again to argue, Green Arrow steps in to counter, delivering a bold, heartfelt speech about the injustices in society that are being ignored by the media at large and such, and this persuades the Guardians to rethink their positions, and a diplomat is dispatched to accompany the Emerald Duo on a trip around the country as well.

And so began an interesting adventure into the heart of America to learn about the things that we may not see in the media, what could be hidden from our eyesight and that the media themselves may be unsympathetic to or show no interest in dealing with. There’s the “Journey to Desolation!” in which the Emerald Duo comes upon a town that’s being held hostage by a gangland leader who’s even hired nazi thugs to guard and enslave, and who’s planning on murdering a singer to prevent him from drawing attention to the town. There’s the part where Black Canary falls under the influence of a cult leader who’s planning a race war with the local Indian community in Washington State, and Green Arrow and Green Lantern need to figure out how to rescue and deprogram her. Then, in the same area, they find a battle brewing between the Indian community and the local lumberjack business, over the rights to the county and its valuble forest reserve, which belonged in its time to the tribal chief Ulysses Star. And when the Guardian representative who’s travelling with them is charged with allowing the sea in which Green Arrow’s truck fell after an accident on the bridge to be polluted with chemicals, which the crew of the cargo ship that rescued them from the water had to throw off in order to prevent a possible explosion, following an accident of their own, so they find themselves on a journey to a trial hearing on one of the Guardians’ neighboring planets, where the crazy maintenance serviceman has taken over with his staff of robots, and is trying to run things in a Kafka-like manner of trial against the Guardian. After defeating that criminal in space, Green Lantern, Green Arrow and Black Canary accompany the Guardian to a proper trial at the Guardians’ own council, but fail to convince them not to expel him from their ranks and strip him of his immortality. This leads to their accompanying him back to the planet where the Guardians themselves originated from, where they find that the planet is startlingly overcrowded, poverty reigns supreme, as does hunger, violence, and hostility towards women, especially pregnant ones, because thanks to the work of Mother Juna, who had earlier taken up the task of saving the world from lack of fertility by cloning, now it’s gotten so far out of hand that the cloned lifeforms on the planet have led to its becoming overcrowded in the extreme. This I take to be both a statement on the effects of overcrowdedness, and also something like an attack on Communist China, which suffered from only so much of a problem of overcrowdedness and poverty, yet at the same time was oppresive of women in such ways as to impose limits on reproduction.

The last story in the first volume is a story which involves Hal Jordan’s archnemesis, Sinestro, who, along with his sister, plots a scheme in which the Emerald Gladiator will be trapped inside a kind of alternate world accessed through a magical ruby, where he will be put to death by Amazons who were wronged by an evil wizard centuries ago, and Black Canary helps to rescue him.

There are some shortcomings to some of the stories here (and the line spoken by Canary when besting Sinestro’s sister was a clunker), but overall, it’s very absorbing stuff overall, giving readers the chance to see Black Canary in action as well, displaying her judo/jiujitsu talents, and she too does a good job in besting some of the crooks here.

That’s all in the first volume, and now for the second, we have stories in which the Emerald Duo and the Blonde Bombshell encounter the supernatural, such as in a case where a crazy cook for a school run by Carol’s fioncee, Jason Belmore, is using a little girl with psychokinetic powers to help run the school by causing pain to anyone whom the cook, Grandy, feels is doing something that he doesn’t like. It was in this story, “…and a Child Shall Destroy Them!” that Hal Jordan revealed his identity to Carol Ferris, an excellent step following the missteps that were taken with Hal in during 1967, when he just ran away from her, since he just couldn’t stand to live without Carol, or couldn’t take it when he found out that some of the women whom he’d had an affair with loved his secret ID as Green Lantern more than himself. Hal and Carol renewed their affair wonderfully then, in a most beautifully illustrated page, and this was also the lead in to the next story “Peril in Plastic”, wherein Hal ends up at the mercy of Black Hand, who’s been running a brainwashing scheme Most Dangerous Game style on an island where he’s pretended to be the local mayor and doctor, in a scheme that involves fleecing people of their money for supposedly good services, and attempts to hold Carol hostage there too.

And then of course, there’s the famous story in which Oliver Queen’s ward Roy Harper, then Speedy and now Arsenal, became a drug addict, and ran afoul of some other junkies who’d also been in league with a gang of local dealers led by pharmaceutical enterprise owner, who made extra cash off of drug trade in the underworld. Published just a couple months after the groundbreaking drug story in Amazing Spider-Man #96-98, it’s very well done and poignant, detaling Ollie’s horror and outrage at how Roy careened off the rails, and he’s lucky he didn’t end up dying from an overdose of the LSD substance, as one of the guys he’d been hanging out with did, and this was on the very same containers that Roy was keeping around, and left in Ollie’s apartment following their fallout. Roy it seems, felt that Ollie had been snubbing him, and in his feeling ignored, he ended up descending into addiction. He’s lucky to have overcome it, after Green Lantern deposited him at Dinah Lance’s apartment, where she helped him to recover.

The next story is the one that introduced Afro-American Corps member John Stewart, an architect for airplane companies from California, who had a very unorthodox – and sometimes very risky – approach to crimefighting, when dealing with a racist senator’s attempt to ascend the White House on the backs of the minority community, and here atttempted to pull off a smear trick on the black community, by having a would-be assassin with a pistol filled with blanks target him, while another assassin with actual bullets would target a security guard outside. John, who worked at the same airport and stadium complex where the senator was giving a speech, identified the minions and knew what to do to stop them, much to Hal’s flatterment, since at first, he’d thought that John was being reckless, but then realized that he was much keener than he’d thought.

And in the same issue compiled here, there’s a stand-alone story with Green Arrow, which may have been the very first story that Elliot S! Maggin wrote when he first made the comics scene in the early 1970’s. The current mayor of Star City is retiring, despite arguments by colleagues that the alternatives don’t have a chance of beating his rival in the municipal elections, and Oliver Queen is asked to run in the outgoing mayor’s stead. But when calling up his fellow crimefighters and Justice Leaguers to ask if he should, they feel it’s just too out of the question in regards to keeping his secret identity safe. He then decides to go across town to visit Dinah, and runs headlong into a riot in the one of the black neighborhoods in the downtown, tragedy occurs when a young teenage boy is shot in the back, and dies in the hospital. He decides the next day to run for mayor.

I don’t know if he ever actually did (and if so, then he probably lost the election), but in any event, it’s a very good urban drama story, and Maggin, who continued to write a lot of Green Arrow’s stories up until the mid-1980’s, does an excellent job in writing the Emerald Archer in an approach similar to O’Neil’s, depicting him as a liberal crimefighter who fought for the cause of minorities and the youth movements in America during the Nixon administration.

The last few stories are those involving an environmentalist who’s against Ferris Aircraft’s use of polluting chemicals in their mechanisms at the airplane factory, and also the 3-part backup feature from Flash #217-219 in which Ollie accidentally killed a sniper on a fire stairwell who was targeting him in a planned attack on Green Arrow. This unintentional mistake, caused by Ollie’s injury in the 85th issue, which ended up causing his aim to falter, made Ollie feel so guilty that he decided to flee to a monestary in the mountains of the northwest, to seek forgiveness for what he had done. Green Lantern and Black Canary would soon be looking for him, and would encounter plenty of problems along the way, such as a trio of punks who planted a bomb in Ollie’s apartment, and the sister of the hatemonging cult leader whom Canary ran afoul of in issue #78 of volume 2 the series, and even a crazy hunter/scavenger who was angry at GL for roughing him up when he tried to steal parts of GA’s now wrecked Arrowplane, the last part of Ollie’s career when he was still a millionaire, and which he used to reach the monestary when he fled there. It was Canary’s being struck in a car accident that persuaded him to return and help provide blood for her so that she could be saved. This story ended the O’Neil/Adams run featuring GL and GA for that time.

The last part is a solo Green Lantern story from issue #226 of the Flash, in which Hal is camping in the woods of the western states, and his eating some mushrooms that doctors have warned could have bad health effects complicates his ability to use it properly for a brief period of time, leading to his having to take careful steps when rescuing another hiker from a mountainside with a landslide occuring. My mother once told me that during the mid-70’s, there were indeed some reports on cases of mushrooms that were proving bad for people’s health, and this story is a pretty good reflection of that concern.

Overall, this is all very magnificient stuff, including the protest against drug abuse, a very sad problem among kids of the time, and which, sadly, is still a problem even today. An amusing thing about two or three of the parts here is how Adams drew both the crazy cook, Grandy, and even a drug dealer living on the ground floor of Oliver Queen’s apartment to look almost like Nixon, whom nobody at DC and Marvel liked at the time.

And it was such a joy to read all about Hal’s revealing his identity to Carol, and by doing so, Hal more or less proved himself a hero.

And if to be referred to as an adult book, one of the best things about it is how it deals with its subjects in a really grown up manner, whether it be the violence or the love affair between Hal Jordan and Carol Ferris, and doesn’t resort to the kind of forced elements found in some of today’s comic books since the 1990’s. Plus, good did not always triumph, and sometimes, even sad endings could occur, or just half of a happy ending.

Neal Adams artwork here is some of the most magnificient “quasi-realistic” artwork to be seen in comics of the times, and the Black Canary and Carol Ferris are both rendered splendidly hot by Adams’ artwork here, ditto Dick Giordano’s inking job. The last story, while also drawn by him, looks more traditional in its style, but is also just as marvelous.

Following this collaboration, GL and GA went seperately in their stories, with Green Lantern continuing his backup features in the Flash, while Green Arrow (and Black Canary) appeared in backup stories in Action Comics, with Elliot Maggin doing the writing, and whether or not he did any stories with serious social/political connections, he certainly did continue with the liberal personality that O’Neil had first come up with for Oliver Queen. Then, when returning to co-starring in the series when revived in 1976, O’Neil chose to stick more with traditional action/adventure themes this time, since, as even he once said, there was no telling if he could re-ignite the same energy that made the earlier stories work so well.

It was probably for the best of course, but in any case, what was done in the early 70’s was some of the best of its time in terms of social statements. And years later, Green Arrow would get his own solo book, that would run ten years at first, the latter half starring his illegitimate son, Connor Hawke, and now has a new volume that’s been around since 2001, with Ollie back in the saddle.

Meanwhile, these compilations are some of the best stuff of the early 1970’s, and are highly recommended for reading. Best thing about them is that, they can make you think, something you just don’t see enough of in comics today.

Copyright 2004 Avi Green. All rights reserved.

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