Forces Of Will
Tripwire continues its 100 Graphic Novels You Should Read While Stuck Inside with its sixty-fifth choice, Green Lantern Green Arrow Hard Traveling Heroes Deluxe Edition by Dennis O’Neill, Neal Adams & dick Giordano, published by DC and reviewed by Tripwire’s senior editor Andrew Colman…
Green Lantern Green Arrow Hard Traveling Heroes Deluxe Edition
Writer: Dennis O’Neill
Artist: Neal Adams & Dick Giordano
It’s hard to believe that this venerated, almost sacrosanct series started fifty years ago. Both dated and timely, this thirteen issue run has generally been touted by most dedicated fans as the title that brought “relevance” to comics, (despite E.C.’s “preachies” tales from Shock Suspenstories doing more or less that fifteen years earlier). The series is also considered to be the lodestar that ushered in the Bronze Age of comics, with darker, more developed themes and characters that publishers were keen to bring on board to generate credibility and depth while moving away from the naive certainties of the Silver Age.
And that is primarily what the series’ remit was about – a wholesale rejection of the redundant mores of before, while also providing nuance, firebrand rhetoric and real-world drama. Writer Denny O’Neill obviously had a great deal to get off his chest when he assumed the mantle of a book that had languished in the second tier of DC’s roster for some time, and he certainly didn’t shy away from telling the reader. From the outset, Green Lantern’s character was repositioned as the inflexible, by-the-book martinet (O’Neill called him a “crypto-fascist” in his 1983 foreword) while former playboy and bland nonentity Green Arrow was suddenly a maverick individualist who exuded hair trigger idealism and a nifty goatee beard.
For all that, Green Lantern 76 was a touching and necessary milestone in comic history – a pivotal moment which saw a super-hero cut down by reality and self-doubt, as he is forced to accept that his Manichean (Ditko-esque?) view of things is outmoded and built on false values. Confronted with who he is and his neglect or ignorance of social inequities, Green Lantern goes against the Guardians’ strictures and begins his journey with Green Arrow to enlightenment. Accompanied by one of the Guardians, the two heroes opt to travel incognito across country in search of America, which turns out to be a fairly hostile and desperate place.
The stories run the gamut of societal ills, from indentured labourers, death-cults, the plight of native Americans, overpopulation, environmental corrosion, corporate repression, and of course drug-abuse and racism. Some of the plotting is clunky and contrived, it has to be said, such as when arch-villain Sinestro summons harpies from another dimension to attack our heroes, or when another old foe (Black Hand) creates an ersatz town made out of plastic to entrap Green Lantern. Plus there’s the canard of brainwashing or the passivity of ordinary people that is somewhat overused throughout. Yet despite the lack of tonal range, and consistent, weapons-grade earnestness, some of the episodes are genuinely effective and affecting – apart from issue 76, there’s the classic two parter in issues 85 and 86 featuring Speedy, Green Arrow’s ward, becoming a junkie. On this occasion, it is Green Arrow who is forced to acknowledge his insensitivity and failure as a father figure. Issue 87 features the first appearance of John Stewart, DC’s first African-American super-hero – another historical moment starring a hugely important character, although the story was too brief. While the last issue of the run, about a man martyred on the cross of progress, sees Green Lantern coming full circle as the reactive character unable to contain his anger.
It would be churlish, although correct, to mention that the series is more of a document of an era rather than a straightforward entertainment, even though at times it is both. By trying to dispense with convention while focusing on non-sub textual messages, the series (despite its best efforts) occasionally drifts into polemic, although to O’Neill’s credit he is not there to issue solutions, or happy endings, for that matter. What was even stranger about the series was how much media attention it garnered at the time, nearly all of which was overwhelmingly positive – and yet it was hurriedly cancelled. To be fair the run couldn’t continue for much longer given its objective, but its immediate legacy (which seemed to be more about Marvel’s output than DCs) is unquestionable – thanks to O’Neill, Marvel was galvanised into bringing in left-field writers such as Marv Wolfman, Steve Englehart, Doug Moench, Don McGregor, Jim Starlin and of course Steve Gerber. While Neal Adams’ virtuoso, dynamic, photo real pencils would be a major influence on a certain Frank Miller by the end of the decade.
If ever there was a graphic novel collection from yesteryear that reflected current events, it has to be this one. Despite being half a century old, the topics it spotlights are all more relevant than ever, with the world, five decades further down the road, seemingly none the wiser since the highly conscientious O’Neill wrote those stories. It is jarring of course to see how things have deteriorated since the turbulent period that informed these tales, and fascinating to witness how modern the stories sometimes feel, regardless of their old-school cadences. This is partly due to Neal Adams’ career-defining artwork, which almost provides a reportage-style canvas for O’Neill to use. Even at that time, at least according to the young writer, the world seemed to be teetering on the brink. And with comics being so radically different now from then, it’s worth revisiting or discovering a series untrammelled by cynicism or knowing irony. An essential purchase.
Here’s links to the other graphic novels reviewed so far