Covering Comics #11 – Denny O’Neil and Neal Adam’s Green Lantern/Green Arrow

I’ve often said that I miss the comics covers of old. Those covers were designed, unlike many of the ones being produced today which are merely mini-posters spotlighting the titular character without giving any indication of the story contained inside, to draw readers in and make them anxious about actually reading the stories contained therein. Of course, this was also a time when comic books could be found all over the place, from newsstands to the local drug store, as opposed to only in specialty comic-book shops, and they were largely focused on catching the eye of someone just passing by the comics rack instead of depending pretty solely on regular readers who are willing to go every Wednesday to get their weekly fix, but that’s a discussion for another time, I suppose. Anyway, “Covering Comics” is going to be a probably irregular series of posts where I take a look at various covers from the past, highlighting some of my personal favorites, or other covers of note for one reason or another.

Last time we took a look at Frank Miller’s first run on Daredevil, and I thought this time we’d take a look at another classic run relating to a hero with his own television show.

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I’ve really been enjoying what the CW has done with both The Flash and Arrow. They’ve allowed both shows to have their own tone – Arrow is a much more “down to Earth” show while Flash is in general much more upbeat – but at the same time, they’ve done a really good job at integrating the two shows from time to time so that they can have crossovers such as the one coming up in December without making it feel like a collision of styles. And even though much time on both shows this season has been utilized to either set in place or introduce many of the characters that are going to be in the upcoming winter replacement show Legends of Tomorrow, it’s been carried out in such a way that it doesn’t feel forced, and it has also not slowed the forward momentum of each show’s main story line.

gl0Anyway, this time I thought I’d use this column to take a look at what is probably the most famous run of comics involving Arrow’s protagonist The Green Arrow. One thing that makes this run interesting, though is that it didn’t actually take place in the Green Arrow’s own book. If you take a look at the logo above you may notice that what it actually says is Green Lantern co-starring Green Arrow. I noted last time when writing about Frank Miller’s Daredevil run that if it had taken place today, the title very well might have been started over with a new #1 issue signalling the new direction the book was taking. This is even more true with Denny O’Neil and Neal Adam’s Green Lantern/Green Arrow. However, since the prevailing thought at the time was that books with higher numbers sold better because it made casual readers and collectors both feel as though there was a legacy to the characters, and emphasized their longevity. Plus, while this run definitely introduced a change in tone for both of these characters compared to their previous adventures, those changes were built very strongly on what had been previously published and simply built on, rather than ignored, what had come before.

glga2So what was it about these two characters and their integration into one book which made this run a classic? Well, for one thing, while up until this point they had not really clashed in any of their interactions (both had been members of the Justice League of America, so this was far from their first meeting), this run from the very start made it clear that they were coming from different sides of the political spectrum. Green Lantern was actually part of a galactic police force, the Green Lantern Corps, which was charged with upholding both Earthly and galactic law while Green Arrow, while not an anarchist, was definitely seen as much more liberal in his political views and more on the side of the “common man”. And from the very first O’Neil and Adams used these differing viewpoints both as a point of conflict between the two heroes and as a way of motivating the adventures which were to follow.

Another thing that made this run so memorable was that it took both of the heroes out of their usual milieu and sent them on the road together, in order to explore and attempt to discover “the real America”. Of course, this was till a comic book, which meant that there was going to be conflict and wild adventure no matter where they stopped along the way, but the creators attempted to make those adventures more relevant and reflective of the conflicts and situations that were taking place in the real world.

glga4Honestly, this was a tactic which worked quite well at times, and which didn’t at others. The years during which these comics were being published were definitely tumultuous ones for the U.S., and there was certainly a lot of fodder for the creators to draw upon. And though they did, for the most part, do a good job at reflecting what was going on in the country at the time, there were also times when the attempt to constantly make these stories “relevant” went a bit overboard and the result was more than a little ham fisted.

The final drawing point of these issues is quite obvious from the very first cover in the run – appropriate, I suppose, for a column dedicated to comic covers – and that’s the incredibly realistic art of Neal Adams. Though he has often been copied and he has influenced more than a few artists in the years since, there is simply no mistaking Neal Adam’s artwork, especially his character work. There is a look both to Adam’s figures and his layouts that others might have sought to… let’s be generous and say “draw upon” (no pun intended), which makes it stand out no matter what material he is working on even today. In my mind, Adams is among the top tirr of artists, largely because even though his work is quite realistic, at the same time he never forgets that he is working in thee comics medium and therefore doesn’t have to stick to a strict attempt at making his artwork look like photography. but uses the medium to emphasize the emotion and action that is inherent, thus making his art as much a part of the storytelling as O’Neil’s plots and scripts.

glga3This was truly a coming together of writer and artist in a collaborative way that seemed just as natural – and just as effective – as the combining of the two heroes they were writing about.

Unfortunately, like all good things, this run wasn’t one that could go on forever, and memorable though it is, it actually didn’t last all that long. Which may actually be a good thing, since instead of the stories simply running out of steam and either losing its creative spark, or worse turning into self-parody as the creators tried to keep a fading momentum alive, Green Lantern was canceled with issue #89. So we’re actually talking about a series that only ran for thirteen issues. (I’m excluding from the count issue #88, which, while it did have a Neal Adams cover, thus leading me to include it below, was actually an interruption of the ongoing story, something I’ll say a little bit more about when we get to it below,)

glga5Still, this is a run which may be one of the most reprinted in comics history and which has been rightly celebrated as one of the best of all time. Yet since it deals largely with issues that were a part of the political/economic/social landscape of the time, it definitely can come off a seeming date, However, if you really look at it, many of the issues and conflicts that the characters face are ones that are still relevant even today, sad though that may be. They are issues which were never fully settled then, and which may never truly be, making these stories both very much of their time and timeless.

But isn’t that really part of what makes anything – be it a movie, a novel, a television show, or even a run of comics – a true “classic”?

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Okay, from here on out, I’m mostly going to just post the covers with synopses of what happens in each issue taken from the Grand Comics Database. That way you can follow along as the story develops. Of course, that does mean that there will be spoilers, but in a situation like this that’s inevitable. I will add a few notes of my own along the way, and I’ll mark those off through the use of italics.

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Green Arrow shows Green Lantern the plight of the people living in the tenements of slumlord Jubal Slade. But when the Guardians of the Universe observe GL roughing up Slade, they bring him to Oa and reprimand him. Against their orders GL returns to Earth and collects evidence to put Slade away. In response, the Guardians contact Green Lantern, but Green Arrow argues that there are serious problems across America that have escaped the attention of Green Lantern. The Guardians confer, and decide to send a representative to accompany the two heroes as they go on a journey of discovery.

Throughout the rest of these synopses, you’ll see references to the Guardian who accompanies GL and GA on their trip as “the Old-Timer” though he is eventually given a name, I don’t think that actually occurs within this run, since at the time, individualism was discouraged among the Guardian collective.

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Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and the Old-Timer come across the company town of Desolation, where the boss Slapper Soames plans to execute Johnny Walden to silence the songs he sings which have inspired the people of Desolation to think about a better way of life. As Green Lantern joins the townspeople in attacking Soames’ stronghold, the Guardians inform him that since he is on a leave of absence they have reduced the power of his ring. But even weakened, Green Lantern and Green Arrow are able to free Johnny and turn Soames and his men over to the authorities.

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After a group of thugs overpower her and steal her bike, Black Canary is found by mind-controlling cult leader Joshua. When Green Lantern and Green Arrow encounter the thugs later and recognize Canary’s bike, they set off in search of their friend. Though Canary initially refuses to leave the cult, when Joshua orders her to shoot Green Arrow, her mind won’t let her, and she breaks free from Joshua’s control.

At this point, I’d have to go back and look at the actual books to see what their official status was at the time, but the reason for the inclusion of Black Canary at points in this run is that she had been Green Arrow’s long-time on-again-off-again girlfriend/lover.

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Green Lantern and Green Arrow get involved in a dispute over logging rights on Native American land. While GL searches for documentation for the Indians’ claim, GA tries to inspire them with the ghost of their ancestor. Though the heroes are able to prevent all-out conflict between the loggers and the Natives, and the leaders of the loggers are arrested, only time will tell if the Indians’ claim will hold up in a court of law.

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For putting the welfare of Green Lantern ahead of the ecological welfare of the planet Earth, the Guardians of the Universe send Old-Timer, accompanied by Green Lantern and Green Arrow as witnesses, to the planet Gallo to be judged by the Tribune. But when they are all muzzled and the Old-Timer is judged guilty without trial, the heroes realize that something is terribly wrong. They discover that the real Tribune have been replaced by their mechanic and fight to restore the proper process of justice and save the life of the Old-Timer.

The use of muzzles on the heroes during the trial was meant to reflect the real life muzzling of the some of the defendants in the Chicago Eight/Seven trial, especially that of defendant Bobbie Seale who were charged with – among other things – conspiracy and inciting to riot, related to countercultural protests which took place in Chicago, Illinois, during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Yes, this actually happened in an American courtroom.

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Green Lantern and Green Arrow, now joined by Black Canary, travel to Oa and find that Old-Timer has been found guilty by the Tribune. The Guardians strip him of his immortality and sentence him to live out his days on the planet Maltus. The heroes go with him into his exile and discover a planet wildly over-populated due to the efforts of Mother Juna. After they put a stop to her work, the Old-Timer vows to restore balance to Maltus.

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When Green Arrow and Black Canary are confronted by harpies, GA calls Green Lantern for help. GL follows the harpies into a trap laid by The Witch Queen on behalf of her brother Sinestro. Following a lead, GA and BC meet a group of Amazons, who, impressed by Black Canary’s fighting skills, explain how in the distant past they were banished to another plane by a wizard, but have been allowed to return by The Witch Queen to make all men pay. With this information, the duo follows the trail to The Witch Queen and rescue Green Lantern from banishment and the grasp of the legendary Medusa.

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Green Lantern and Green Arrow accompany Dinah as she begins a job at a private school where they are greeted by the cook Grandy, a little girl with psychic powers named Sybil, and the owner Jason Belmore. After Belmore asks the costumed heroes to leave, Dinah is confronted by Grandy, who explains that in Sybil he finally found a way to keep the children of the school in order. Green Lantern and Green Arrow return to the school in time to save Dinah, and when Grandy orders Sybil to attack GL, she refuses and brings down the roof on herself and Grandy.

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While Carol Ferris is in Piper’s Dell, the sea wall protecting the town begins to give way, so Hal responds as Green Lantern. After saving the town, GL is given a tour of the plastic factory. Weakened by gas emitted by the plastic pins produced there, he is unable to fight back, so he sends his ring to Green Arrow. When he revives, he finds that his old enemy Black Hand uses the pins to keep the community under his control. He sends GL and Carol out into the streets to face the wrath of the townspeople, but Green Arrow arrives in time with GL’s ring, and GL traps Black Hand in his own plastic.

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When Oliver is jumped by junkies, he is shocked when one of them shoots him with one of his own arrows. Green Arrow, now teamed with Green Lantern, follows the leads to find the junkies, including the missing Roy Harper, who lets GA assume he has been working undercover. Later, the junkies lead the heroes to an airplane hangar, but help the dealers knock out GL and GA and inject them with drugs. Roy arrives in time to get the messed up duo home. There he tries to explain the attraction of doing drugs, but Green Arrow remains baffled, and is shocked to soon find Roy getting ready to shoot up.

This issue and the next, along with the initial issue of the run are probably the most cited from this run, and though these issues were among the more strained and “preachy” in the run, they were also, even at the time, among the more influential and controversial at the time, as we’ll see further below.

You’ll also note that with this issue there is a rise in both page count and price for this issue. The reason for that is because this and subsequent issues began to contain backup stories that were more in the vein of the Green Lantern stories that had been the staple of the book before O’Neil and Adams took over. In some ways, this really can be taken as an early symbol that DC was perhaps becoming uncomfortable with the direction the book had moved in, and perhaps of flagging sales, as the company began to perhaps attempt to appeal to old-school fans while still maintaining the new audience the new direction had attracted.

As we move along, I’ll include notes on the bacup stories, including the creators involved and the synopses for them as well.

Backup:

Script:John Broome Pencils:Gil Kane Inks:Joe Giella

Sinestro tries to mind control Hal Jordan. Hal’s behavior gets him called before the Green Lantern Corps

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Having discovered that Roy is a junkie, Green Arrow sets out to bring the drug traffickers down. Green Lantern returns to Oliver’s building and finds Roy curled up in the basement. He takes Roy to Dinah’s to straighten out and heads out to find Green Arrow, who has been knocked out by the drug dealers and tossed into the harbor to drown. GA escapes just as GL arrives to take out the goons who threw him into the water. Together the two trace the drugs to pharmaceutical magnate Salomon Hooper and put him out of business. But Roy explains that drugs are not the root problem, just a symptom of it.

Backup:

Script:Robert Kanigher Pencils:Alex Toth Inks:Alex Toth

Green Lantern must stop the Icicle, who is helping a dictator to take over the South American country of Perumbia.

Interestingly, this issue also included a one page typewritten anti-drug message from John V. Lindsay, mayor of New York City (1966-1973), thanking DC Comics for publishing the Green Lantern story in this and the previous issue. I should also note that the repercussions of these issues are still informing the way the character is portrayed today as he is still referred to as an (ex-)addict and still has to often fight his addictive personaltiy.

 

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When Guy Gardner is injured, the Guardians of the Universe instruct Hal Jordan to train another back-up, but John Stewart has different ideas about how to be a Lantern. When an attempt is seemingly made on the life of racist politician Jeremiah Clutcher, John Stewart figures out that the attack was faked and part of a cynical plot to get Clutcher elected president.

This was the first appearance of John Stewart as a Green Lantern, another of the most lasting effects which came from this run. I found it very interesting that since Stewart was the Lantern that was chosen to appear in the Justice League animated series there was actually some consternation and some protests from younger fans who only knew the character from the animated series when the Ryan Reynolds-starring Green Lantern travesty of a movie – seriously, I gave it a try, but found even streaming it on Netflix that I could only make it about 20 minutes in – that the creators of the movie were white-washing the character since he was supposed to be black.

Backup:

Script:Elliot Maggin Pencils:Neal Adams Inks:Dick Giordano

After Green Arrow witnesses the death of a young boy in a riot, he decides that he might be able to do more for his city as its mayor.

Hmm… wonder where the creators of the current season of Arrow might have gotten one of the ideas for the current season?

 

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As noted in the intro, this issue was an interruption of the ongoing story line – note the “Special Surprise Issue” banner at the top of the cover. There could be a number of reasons for this, including giving the creators time to finish work on the main story in the next issue if they had fallen behind, but I suspect that the real reason was that the powers that be at DC had gotten cold feet about the current main story arc, and that issue #89 was simply a chance for Adams and O’Neil to finish a story they already had in the pipeline before the book was cancelled altogether.

Lead Story:

Script:John Broome Pencils:Gil Kane Inks:Joe Giella

Green Lantern travels to Venus to save a blue-skinned caveman-like race from attack by yellow Pterodactyl-like creatures.

Backup One:

Script:? [since Golden Age stories usually didn’t have credits on the actual story pages, it’s often much harder to determine who wrote a story than who did the artwork, and apparently the writer of this one remains unknown to this day] Pencils:Carmine Infantino Inks:Bernard Sachs

GL fights the Tin Soldier, a disgruntled toymaker who has built an army of mechanical toys that steal for him

This Golden Age Green Lantern story was originally intended for Green Lantern (DC, 1941 series) #39 but was never published due to the cancellation of the series with the previous issue.

Backup Two:

The Origin of Green Lantern’s Oath

Script:John Broome Pencils:Gil Kane Inks:Murphy Anderson

Green Lantern tells Pieface the story of his first three cases, on which his oath is based.

 

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Green Arrow goes with Green Lantern and Carol Ferris to the Ferris Aircraft plant in Abraham, which has been the target of ecological prankster Isaac. When Isaac accidentally threatens Carol, GL tries to take him into custody, but GA gases him. Offended at this abuse of the atmosphere, Isaac turns his back on Green Arrow. Ferris security subdues GA and gathers the passed out GL. Finding Isaac has lashed himself to an aircraft engine, Ferris security straps GL and GA to the tail wings of two planes and leaves Isaac where he is to die. GA frees himself, but not in time to save Isaac.

Obviously the Christ imagery on this cover is blatant, and this imagery is carried on throughout the interior story. I suspect, though I don’t really know, that there was a lot of nervousness in the DC offices surrounding it, that possibly being another reason for the fill-in issue before it, and I also would dare say that DC considered this issue to be pretty much the “nail in the coffin” for this run. Still, at least they did go ahead and publish it, something that didn’t happen years later when they were confronted with a very similar issue.

Backup:

Script:John Broome Pencils:Irwin Hase nInks:Irwin Hasen

The cancellation of Clay Chalmers’ program at Station WXYZ leads Alan Scott to believe Chalmers is the new criminal haunting Gotham City, Mr. Paradox, who attempts to defeat Green Lantern by employing illusions based on scientific paradoxes.

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And that brings us to the end of the run, but obviously it wasn’t the end for these characters, as they both endure today. And though there have definitely been notable runs since for both of them, these O’Neil/Adams issues feel very much like the kind of “lightning in a bottle” which is always nearly impossible to recapture.

I’m curious what you thought of these last couple of change-of-format columns. I’m still undecided what the focus of the next column will be, so let me know how you feel about them, and also suggest any other comic runs or types of comics/covers that you’d like to see featured going forward  in the comments section below. Any and all feedback, both positive and negative, is appreciated and invited.

 

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4 comments on “Covering Comics #11 – Denny O’Neil and Neal Adam’s Green Lantern/Green Arrow

  1. Beer Movie says:

    I just recently picked up the collection of this run. A couple of issues in and am so into it. Feels like really revolutionary stuff.

    • Michael Laws says:

      Glad to hear you’re liking the run. As I noted in the article, it can get a bit heavy=handed at times, but overall I do think it deserves the praise that it’s gotten in the years since.

  2. Good stuff again. Totally agree with your high praise for Adams, so great and when I was a kid he and Gil Kane had me wanting to be a comic artist. Just watched the Legends of Tomorrow trailer, can’t wait to check that out.

    • Michael Laws says:

      Yeah, Adams seems to have stumbled some lately (I gave up on his recent Batman: Odyssey after one issue, but that really had more to do with his nearly incomprehensible writing than with the artwork), but back in the day he was truly a force to be reckoned with. And the same goes for Kane, whose unique style brought so much power to the books that he illustrated. And yeah, I’m definitely looking forward to Legends. Looks like the CW has another superhero hit on their hands.

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