Monday 23 July 2018

Green Lantern/Green Arrow

Green Titans

Green Lantern/Green Arrow -
Hard-Travelling Heroes

By Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams
DC ISBN: 9781401280420

“In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight.
Let those who worship evil’s might, beware my power… Green Lantern’s light.”
Green Lantern

One of those fragmented, early childhood memories I have is from the very early seventies. I would have been maybe two or three years old but I was already into comics, especially the American superhero stuff which was a lot more intriguing than some of the British comics at the time (unless you were really into Disney). Note to parents: if you want to start your kids reading early so they are way more advanced than the other readers in class, give them comics like Superman and Batman and they’ll soon want to know what’s being said when these characters take on monsters from space and such like in the colourful drawings.

I remember I used to regularly stay with my nan and uncle for a few hours one evening a week in the early 1970s and my uncle would always be reading at least three science fiction novels at any one time plus there would be one or two comics laying around. These were mostly DC comics (although I remember those non-coded drug issues of Spider-Man turning up) which he would either pick up with the novels from a cornucopia of sci-fi, crime and sleazy novels called Comyn’s Books* in Tottenham (if I remember the name correctly... now sadly long gone) or from one of the nearby news stands or possibly the only other news stand I knew that sold American comics at The Angel, Edmonton (that news stand is also now, alas, long deceased).

Anyway, I remember one of the titles he used to read was definitely this Green Lantern/Green Arrow run of comics from 1970 and I can just about remember flicking through the first issue, number 76, and taking in the pictures. Of course, I didn’t know how important this run would become in the history of comics at the time, nor how influential but, I did love the artwork by Neal Adams (who didn’t) and I kinda knew it was very different to a lot of the other DC comics at the time because the two heroes featured on that classic cover of Green Arrow destroying Green Lantern’s power charger (yeah, like a lot of comic covers in the day, that didn't actually happen in the issue itself) were to be found inside constantly at loggerheads with each other in this and later issues. I knew something was going down here but I was too young to know what.

Of course I’ve caught up with the odd back issue of this relatively small run of about 13 issues (and short story appearances in The Flash) in the intervening decades but, somehow, not most of them and this beautiful deluxe edition hardback from DC (also available now in paperback) finally allowed me to catch up with these guys in a complete reprint of this important run of comics. Why is it important? Well… at the time it was…

The Silver Age Green Lantern, despite being mentioned in Donovan’s groovy hit song Sunshine Superman, was a failing character by this time in that sales had really hit a dip and cancellation was looming. So editor Julius Schwartz gave the character to comic book writer extraordinaire (as he would certainly be known by some after this take on the character) Dennis O’Neil, who writes not one but two introductions to this collected edition, to see if he could do something to turn around the fortunes of this ailing character. And he certainly did… taking on the political and social issues of the day and giving Hal Jordan (Green Lantern) a counter balance in the form of Oliver Queen (Green Arrow… who somehow seems to be known as just Arrow these days in TV land). The whole point was to keep away from the cosmic adventures (that didn’t quite happen but even the stories set on other worlds were metaphors for what was going on in the then and now, such as overpopulation) and to send the two emerald avengers on a road trip around America to argue out and find compromise on the issues of the day. This was no longer going to be a world of black and white problems with easy solutions… this was going to be a world of barely discernible greys when one or the other of the two title characters, sometimes both, would end up being shown that they were making bad judgements and, sometimes, they would fail to get the happy resolution they might be expected to get in any other DC superhero title at the time.

So the banner with the distinctive masthead I loved as a toddler came into being on the first issue of this legendary run, Issue 76, for the first story No Evil Shall Escape My Sight. This one starts off with an absolutely beautiful Neal Adams splash page of Green Lantern flying towards the reader over the top of some traffic in a busy New York City street while various credits are rendered in funky lettering and integrated onto the side and back of a truck. This is gorgeous stuff and demonstrated why Neal Adams was so highly regarded as an artist in his day and is still considered as very influential with his mix of realistic drawing style combined with dynamic layout design.

O’Neil’s story quickly sets the tone for what was to come as, instead of a super villain, we have Green Lantern rescuing a villainous slum landlord who is being ‘attacked’ by some kids. After he tries to do what’s right in the eyes of the law the people in the street throw cans and bricks at him to suggest their displeasure at Green Lantern’s intervention and neighbour Green Arrow gives Hal Jordan a quick lesson in the issue of Law Vs Justice. After dealing with the strips villain under circumstances written to ensure the two are still seen by readers as the ‘heroes’ of the strip, it’s proposed that Green Lantern and Green Arrow (accompanied by one of the Galactic Guardians, for a while) go on a road trip of America to explore the dark underbelly of a nation still labouring under the horrors of the war in Vietnam and turning their hand at trying, not always successfully, to find some kind of a solution or compromise to the social injustices of the day.

And that’s more or less what this run of issues did… until it finally got cancelled but, not after it got itself noticed by the rest of the comics world, for sure. This handsome tome faithfully reproduces (sadly, sans the adverts of the day) the entire run and, even now, I found myself surprised at the direction some of these issues go as the two heroes take on pollution, racial intolerance, drug dealers, political corruption and even handle religious imagery in what must have been a very risky way for the day.

In their adventures, they are often accompanied by Oliver’s on/off girlfriend Black Canary, who is very much a feminist icon, I reckon (even at three years old I was a big fan of her costume incorporating fishnet stockings). I love the way that she’s described and drawn in action here as a total powerhouse who hates violence but is forced to use it to keep the bad guys at bay. Love the pained expression on her face as she is obliged to make short work of her adversaries.

Another impressive thing is the running continuity between issues, which take place in the same real time as the issues were published (so after a few issues the guys have been on the road for six months, for instance). As the characters get injured during their various confrontations, their wounds (not to mention their emotional scars such as when Green Arrow discovers that his perpetually young sidekick Speedy has turned into a junkie), stay with them over a number of issues. Another example is when Green Arrow gets shot in the arm, for instance. He’s still complaining about that bad arm and it becomes a major plot point even in the last story in the series. This is good stuff.

I also appreciated some of the pop cultural references in the strip too. Such as when the characters are attacked by birds under the influence of a mind controlling child and Black Canary compares the incident to the Alfred Hitchcock movie version of Daphne Du Maurier’s The Birds. Sure enough, there’s a wordless cameo of Hitchcock himself in the left foreground of the panel. Wonderful stuff.

This was a great and important comic and, comparing the social issues described within the pages, you’ll soon realise that many, possibly all, of these problems are still with us today… some in an even more magnified form. So, yeah, great comic and a truly lovely and respectful reprint of them can be yours to read now. Green Lantern/Green Arrow - Hard-Travelling Heroes is an absolutely excellent book and a must read for anyone who considers themselves interested in the history of the form. Grab this one while it’s still relatively easy to get hold of. You really won’t want to miss it.

*If anyone remembers this bookshop or has photos of it, please share with me on Twitter.

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