A Tribute to the of
"Past is prologue." My college history teacher wrote that on the board the first day of class and asked if we knew what it meant. She then proceeded to explain that history has a way of repeating itself and that we'd all be well served to learn the lessons of the past in order to avoid mistakes in the future. Human nature, after all, is pretty consistent.
What does all this have to do with my latest review, you may be asking yourself? Well, let's look at what the feature is this time around and perhaps it will begin to make sense to you.
I've reviewed the issue that arguably began the Silver Age when we checked out the return of The Flash in Showcase #4, dated Oct., 1956. You can still read it, by the way, by accessing the Archive link at the end of this review. This time around I'm swinging to the other end of the spectrum. The Silver Age as we understand it came to a close around 1970. The issue I'm looking at was originally published in 1970 and the boys at DC decided to attempt a bold experiment with the Green Lantern title. Here's where the principle of history repeating itself kicks in. Sales of comic books were waning in the mid 50's and so the talents of the brilliant Julius Schwartz were called upon to turn things around. Fast forward 15 years later and sales are plummeting again and "Julie" is in an editorial position and gives the go-ahead for some of the young Turks to take a stab at "relevant comics." Denny O'Neil wrote the story and the fantastic Neal Adams did the brilliant art (see some of Neal's best efforts in the Batman series, too) for Green Lantern No. 76, [April, 1970] newly co-starring Green Arrow.
The cover is, strangely enough. all green. GL is beginning the very familiar oath while recharging his ring at the power battery and Green Arrow is firing a shaft that is smashing the battery to pieces while shouting "Never again!" Uh...yeah. This is another of those famous "misleading" covers that I've talked about before. I know only too well that the cover is used as a hook to grab attention at the rack, but come on. Not only does this little scene not actually happen in the story, but I find it HIGHLY unlikely that a mere arrow could ruin a Guardians-supplied power battery. On to the story.
The splash page shows our hero doing some low-flying through Star City. The page is very heavy on text and shows some foreshadowing as to the tone of the story. "For years he has been a proud man! He has worn the power ring of the Guardians, and used it well, and never doubted the righteousness of his cause...in the next dozen seconds, an event will occur which will signal the end of his grandeur, and the beginning of a long torment...there will be no happy ending for this is not a happy tale...nor a simple one. But what you are about to witness is, perhaps, inevitable--his name, of course, is Green Lantern and often he has vowed that No Evil Shall Escape My Sight! ...he has been fooling himself..."
We learn on the first page of the story that GL is in search of GA because he seemed "bugged" about something the last time he did see him. He then encounters a young kid accosting a respectable looking sort in a suit. The suit is shoved to the sidewalk and Hal Jordan leaps to his defense, employing the power ring to shake up and then transport the kid to the local police precinct. He checks on the would-be victim and then responds to a hail, only to be hit a glancing blow with an empty can. A shower of debris soon follows and the confused hero erects a protective umbrella from his ring to shield both himself and the rescued suit. Just prior to popping one of the perpetrators, a voice calls out, "Touch him first, Green Lantern and you'll have to touch me second, and I'll touch back! Believe it, chum! Back off! Go chase a mad scientist or something!" It is Oliver Queen in his Green Arrow guise, calling Hal Jordan to task. Confused, he follows Green Arrow into the building where he's shown the run-down and deplorable living conditions within. The hot-headed archer explains that the scene that played out moments before had more to it than meets the eye. The suit was the slumlord, who has decided to level this building for a more lucrative parking lot, putting a lot of elderly and other downtrodden into the unforgiving streets. The young man was venting his frustration toward these developments. Green Arrow is obviously sympathetic to the young man's plight, as his 80 year old grandmother, whom he is supporting, is one of the soon-to-be-evicted. Green Lantern explains he was only doing his job when Ollie angrily retorts, "Seems I've heard that line before...at the Nazi War Trials!" A voice from behind him interjects at that rather tense moment and an elderly black man is shown asking Green Lantern, who is in the employ of the blue skins, what he's done for the black skins. A shamed Green Lantern cannot answer. He decides, however, to go to the slumlord, one Jubal Slade, and to try to reason with him over the plights of the tenants. Slade, of course, is the stereotypical fat cat. He lives in opulence in a penthouse and has zero sympathy for the tale told to him by the ring slinger. He dismisses Green Lantern with the help of two goons who don't get much accomplished after being leveled by a white-gloved fist. Jubal is about to get some free dental work when an image of one of the Guardians appears, ordering Hal to cease and desist and report at once to Oa, their planet and headquarters. Jordan leaves immediately and our next scene is in the grand council chambers where he's asked about his behavior when the man he was about to mess up had committed no crime. He is given a stern reprimand and warning and then sent to divert a meteor shower that is threatening one of the moons of Saturn. He is further instructed to stay put until his recall. As he obeys it occurs to Green Lantern that it's a fool's errand. There's no life on the moon called Titan and he's more or less being sent to his room. He doesn't like the notion and heads back for earth, showing a rare streak of rebellion, perhaps inspired by the vitriolic Green Arrow.
Speaking of Mr. Queen, the story segues back to Slade's penthouse, where our other hero is apparently blackmailing him for $25,000.00. (Hey, it's 1970. That was a pretty good pile at the time. It might have bought five good cars instead of being a down payment on an SUV.) They set up a rendezvous point and Slade figures that GA is onto some of his underworld activities.
When the appointed hour of midnight comes, two more hired guns arrive to discuss matters at the abandoned store. After they gun down the mannequin they thought to be Mr. Queen, he makes short work of them. Unfortunately one of the flying slugs had disabled the recording machine that was to be the condemning evidence.
Soon after, dawn finds both our emerald clad heroes on the roof, discussing their options. They strike upon a plan and we're once again at the infamous penthouse. Green Lantern, disguised as one of the henchmen report back to Slade, who asks if he was successful in killing Green Arrow. He loses the disguise then and the District Attorney, along with Green Arrow, emerge from the shadows to show their interest in Jubal's confession. Slade is placed in the D.A.'s good care and the adventure part of the story comes to a close, but the epilogue remains.
The large, blue image of one of the Guardians appears again to chew Hal out for insubordination. Green Arrow blows his stack and begins a lengthy sermon about how Green Lantern's talents and energies are needed on his home planet more than the rest of his sector. He even invokes the recent assassinations of both Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, with their images shown as a backdrop. He further tells the Guardian that they need to come off their perch and experience the difficulties facing humanity. After a week's debate, one of the Guardians decides to do just that and appears on earth in the guise of a human, to join both heroes in their civilian identities in an old pickup truck to head off on their odyssey. The story ends with this tagline: "Three set out together, moving through cities and villages and the majesty of the wilderness...searching for a special kind of truth...searching for themselves..."
Since this is a reprint, (one of the DC Silver Age Classics series released in 1992) there's a pretty good commentary at the end of the book by Kim "Howard" Johnson, describing the bold step taken by the writers and editors with this effort and how they'd decided to address the turbulence of the late 60's/early 70's. Green Arrow is shown as socially conscious now that he's lost his fortune and has time to stop and smell the roses. He was to be a counterpoint to the stodgy Green Lantern, thus the team up and the radical change in storylines. This new series of tales, that took on such topical themes as racism, drug abuse and social injustice, was a major twist in the world of comics and made headlines and won awards. Interestingly enough, though, the title was canceled with issue #89, just over a year later. Johnson discusses the important, ground-breaking nature of this effort and points to it as a progenitor of later titles of the same ilk such as Watchmen and Sandman.
So, time to don my dark robes and pass judgment on another Silver Age effort. While I can understand and even appreciate a little what they were trying to do with this issue and those that followed, I think it's telling that it didn't save the title and in fact it flamed out in less than 15 issues. Sure, maybe it did cause people to think a little and to realize that maybe comics weren't just for kids, but between you and me, I prefer to read stuff like this in a social studies text, not a super-hero comic book. As far as I'm concerned, this is not the forum for social commentary. I read comics for simple, thrilling, escapist entertainment. That's the purpose they serve in my world. So, despite some superior art and a couple of characters I enjoy, this just didn't do much for me at all, so it gets a 4.
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