“…AND THROUGH HIM SAVE A WORLD…” – IN BLACKEST NIGHT, PART 4

Much mention has been made that when Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams began their celebrated run on Green Lantern, that they, together with a couple of issues of Spider-Man written by Stan Lee, brought relevance to comic books, or at the very least, to superhero comic books specifically. This is a nice yarn from series called “Revisionist History”. Comic books had always been relevant as they had always been political. Had they not been relevant and had they not been able to make a connection with the readers on a personal level, and deeper still, on a level where dreams, fantasy and anxiety exist, it’s most likely that ten-year-olds, and their older siblings, and especially the G.I.s who read comics, would have turned their backs on them in droves. It’s a comforting idea to say or to think that once there was a time when comics were purely escapist fare, simple stories of good guys punching bad guys for much simpler times, morality tales starring attractive people at best. This of course, completely disregards the times during which the medium was created and when this young medium rose to prominence, with children, adults, journalists and politicians. The latter group championed comic books when they served their purposes, when they carried the right kind of propaganda, and they attacked them once comic books went rogue. Yet alas, the other way around, when Lee was once asked to insert an anti-drug message into their book centered around a teen hero. When Al Feldstein and Joe Orlando did the same, without being prompted in the landmark story “The Monkey” (December 1953), the attacks on comic books that had begun after the war only increased. Like with the pulp magazines of the 1930s, other people, for their own ulterior motives, wanted to make the decision for you, what you should be able to read and what not. They did this, they said, to protect the children. But the kids already knew. The kids knew things weren’t alright. Even though Feldstein was convinced that EC’s readers were older, there were a lot of eight-year-old boys and girls reading and loving comics. This was the baby boomer generation. In their childhood, they didn’t crave superheroes, but something that felt more real and more akin to the world they saw in the neighborhoods of the suburbs, the things they knew were there, but no one spoke about. Feldstein told them, that under all the gleam of a consumerist society, people still felt dissatisfied, if only that. But if you looked deeper, and to the edges of the new middle class and beyond, to the disenfranchised, there was more. Feldstein and his artists showed the kids what they already knew was there, what had always been there. Topics like racism, bigotry, intolerance, antisemitism, mob mentality, even teen pregnancy. And when they spoke about drug addiction, he did the cover himself. And what a shocking cover it was. A young man, who was in pain and agony, was violently clutching his torso in mad convulsions, his nails clawing at bare skin while tears streamed from his hollow, sunken eyes. Next to him, on the nightstand, visible and in the foreground, there was all the paraphernalia he required to shoot up, albeit, there was none of the stuff he used, the stuff he needed, and what you saw, his raw pain, was what you’d be left with should you ever started using at all. This was no hardened criminal, not even a purse snatcher, but a nice enough fella who had a crush on a girl from school. He looked like your average high school nerd, and his name could have been Peter Parker. While he was waiting for this girl Sue at a party, a guy gave him his first “roach”, a marijuana cigarette. Eddie, that was the kid’s name, wanted to be hip, to impress this girl, to have his own superpower of super-confidence. After the reefer no longer did it for him, this was when “his friend” gave him Benzedrine. Then came H. Eddie needed this, Eddie needed his powers, Eddie needed to fly. These were the stories, that members of the church groups, the child psychologists and the politicians didn’t want you to read. When O’Neil and Adams told a similar story in Green Lantern No. 85 and No. 86 (1971), almost two decades later, the cover for issue No. 85 proudly proclaimed that here was “The Shocking Truth about Drugs!” and “DC attacks youth’s greatest problem… drugs!” Then, with the next issue, readers were informed they’d get “An important message from the honorable John V. Lindsay, Mayor of New York City.” The cover also used the same hyperbole you might find on a poster for a B-movie: “More deadly than the atom bomb!”, though you had to wonder if not the Vietnam War was more deadly to America’s youth, a subject Kanigher tackled in the pages of The Flash a year earlier, something O’Neil would not bring up once, not during his run on Green Lantern or ever. For the message itself, the one from Mayor Lindsay, once you turned to the actual letter that was reprinted in No. 86, it wasn’t addressed to the readers themselves, or the creators, or even to Julius Schwartz as the editor of Green Lantern. The letter, which you saw once you’d finished the story, was sent to an executive of the communications firm run by DC’s corporate parent. In it, the Mayor applauded the idea “to impart the horrors of narcotics to our youngster… with this excellent opportunity to reach countless members of young people through the comic book media.” Like they had, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had appointed a propaganda liaison with the comic book industry, comic books indeed were welcomed with open arms as a propaganda tool, that was as long as they stayed on message. This isn’t to say that what O’Neil did is not commendable, it is, or that he didn’t try, he did, but it was hardly groundbreaking. It was not, not as far as the subject matter was concerned. However, still, many comic book historians will argue that Green Lantern (now) Co-Starring Green Arrow No. 76 (cover-dated April 1970), exploded onto newsstands like a Molotov cocktail, that this was a landmark issue. Both is true, but not for reasons that were this obvious. The themes O’Neil and Neal Adams brought up in this comic and during the next twelve issues they collaborate on, Feldstein had already done that more radically twenty years earlier. To have superheroes convey real world problems, well, this was an industry in which Kirby had Captain America punch Hitler in the face many months before America entered into the war. What Denny O’Neil did, however, was that he took comic books off message, and he did this in the most subversive manner. Feldstein had gone there before, but O’Neil used the shiny characters that were well established in the lore of DC Comics, superheroes, editor Schwartz had taken great pains to see adapted and modernized for a then current generation of readers more than ten years earlier. Under Schwartz’s guidance, these superheroes had been turned into something that was akin to the shiny new appliances in the kitchen of your parents’ house in suburbia. Quite literally, Julius Schwartz’s version of the Flash had received a look that made the hero resemble the sleek chrome hood ornament on your father’s new car. Though the issues O’Neil took on in Green Lantern were important and well worth exploring, O’Neil was already doing that through other books. At the same time O’Neil wrote Green Lantern, he addressed the theme of pollution in Justice League, and in the same title, he and Friedrich told readers about corporate greed, that greed, in the writers’ mind, was to blame for the destruction of the environment, hunger and other disasters on a global scale. But these heroes were still Schwartz’s heroes, they were still DC’s heroes. In Green Lantern he let readers know that this was all a ruse. The superhero identity was simply a costume. Underneath it all, sans the bravado and the courage they put on like their domino mask, these men and women were running scared. O’Neil had taken away Wonder Woman’s powers and the leader of Kirby’s Challengers. Now O’Neil set out to destroy the superheroes. The threats they had been facing, and were still facing, be it environmental destruction or drugs or aliens, were not the issue. The world was. At the end of the day, as O’Neil showed readers, superheroes were human, and they didn’t have the answers.

 

Consequently, the writer puts two questions at the heart of his run, which strangely falls into two parts, both halves clearly delineated by what is arguably his and Adams’ most subversive comic story. Green Lantern No. 76, which kicks-off O’Neil and Neal Adams’ run doesn’t seem all that spectacular at first. It came with a story which is mostly devoid of much action. This was nothing new for a comic that featured a superhero. At Marvel, Steve Ditko had done this with a story in The Amazing Spider-Man in the 1960s, and Stan Lee, as it was his wont, played this up mightily and with a big fanfare, while placing the blame firmly on Steve if readers rejected the idea. Whereas that tale was all about Peter’s problems, and how being a superhero made everything only worse, O’Neil had something else in mind. Once readers made it past one of Neal Adams best covers, you saw Green Lantern charging his power ring, but there was a new hero, Green Arrow with whom he almost shared top billing now, and he placed a well-aimed arrow right through the other hero’s power battery, things did look pretty normal. While gliding through the air, Green Arrow detected some commotion on the ground. A group of punks were menacing a regular joe, a business guy. The Emerald Knight made quick work of these juvenile delinquents. Though this guy he’d just saved was surely grateful, empty cans came flying out of the building they happened to stand in front of. Angered, since this was no way to treat a superhero, Green Lantern grabbed one of the kids by the scruff of his t-shirt. And with his fist raised, he was ready to do what heroes did best, namely, to punch somebody in the mouth, anyone really. For superheroes, so it seemed, there was always a target to hit. That was until his colleague Green Arrow told him that he’d have to go through him if he wanted some piece of these gangbangers: “Back off! Go chase a mad scientist or something!” Surely, the hero was puzzled. Here was a fellow member of the Justice League who was defending “anarchists”. Readers had to be equally surprised. Was Green Arrow even making fun of what superheroes did? Fighting mad scientists and some such? What in the world was going on? Instead of the intense battle between two heroes, something the powerful cover suggested was going to happen, and did happen frequently, only to reveal that there was a misunderstanding, and that the heroes were better off joining forces, Green Arrow invited his comrade to tour the dilapidated tenement building with him. Having gained a bolder look while losing his fortune, had turned Oliver Queen into a new man it seemed. An angry joe. But he had reasons. The men and women who were forced to live here were exploited by the same man Green Lantern was protecting. He was slum landlord and a fat cat at that. While the archer was telling Green Lantern that he needed to get his head in the right space, Hal defended his actions. He had a job to do. He was a superhero and literally one of Earth’s protectors. Then a black man shuffled onto the scene in what was to become one of the most famous exchanges in comic book history. The old man wanted to ask The Champion of Light a question that had been on his mind for a while: “I been readin’ about you, how you work for the blue skins… and how on a planet someplace you helped out the orange skins, and you done considerable for the purple skins!… Only there’s a skin you never bothered with… the black skins! I want to know how come?! Answer me that, Mr. Green Lantern!” The Emerald Crusader couldn’t, because he wasn’t written this way. John Broome had created him as a hero who was exclusive to the white middle class. Broome had even provided Green Lantern with an ethnic sidekick who was there to cheer him on and to help him out now and then. When O’Neil has a character ask this question, it’s the writer who is asking, and he wants us, the readers, to reframe this question. What had the comic book industry ever done for the “black skins”? And more specifically, what had DC Comics done for the black community or their black readers? Indeed, it is quite telling that DC Comics had done very little. What’s more, when this issue saw print in 1970, this coincided with Jack Kirby’s return to the publisher. He had grown tired of being underappreciated for the work he put in at Marvel, and of Lee’s antics which often included stories about how he had created the Marvel Universe. Carmine Infantino and Kirby were good friends and with Jack Schiff gone, he brought Kirby back home. While Kirby began work on what would become his magnum opus, a new world which premiered in Jimmy Olsen No. 133 (1970) and continued into a series Kirby created, The Forever People, he and inkers Vince Colletta and Tony DeZuniga started to develop a pitch for a new romance comic called Soul Love. The team even completed the first issue, written and drawn entirely by Kirby. What was unique, at least comparatively speaking, the cast of this book was black. During his time at Marvel, Kirby had introduced several black characters. In 1963, he’d created Gabe Jones who was part of the integrated squad in Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, a first at Marvel. Still, Robert Kanigher beat him to the punch when he and artist Joe Kubert not only put an African-American supporting character into the squad that was featured in DC’s Our Army at War, but in his introductory tale in No. 113 (1961), Gunnery Sergeant Johnson was made the star. Earlier still, you had Chilsom Kid, a western strip centered around an African-American gunslinger, an idea that Dell Comics co-opted for their short-lived Lobo series in 1965. However, in 1966, Kirby introduced the Black Panther in an issue of the Fantastic Four, a title that was moving slowly into the top twenty on the sales charts. Ultimately designed as a power fantasy for black readers, the Panther was unique in that he had the means to rival any white superhero. In fact, Kirby showed how awesome he was when he had Reed and the rest of the team lose to this new hero who was smart, handsome and a king to a technologically highly advanced African nation. After he’d had so much success with romance comics with his partner Joe Simon, it almost seemed natural, that Jack would go back to this genre when he made his comeback at DC Comics, which was still publishing many titles in the genre he had co-created. But that Kirby should take a page from All-Negro Comics, the 1947 comic title created exclusively by African-American writers and artists, was still a bold idea. Back during the days of EC Comics, Al Feldstein, again with Joe Orlando, put together a powerful story that promoted integration. When “Judgment Day” first saw print in Weird Fantasy No. 18 (1953), nobody complained. But when EC wanted to reprint the story as a replacement for a story that had been rejected by the newly created Comics Code Authority in 1956, Judge Murphy, the new Comics Czar, told Feldstein he couldn’t have a “black man” starring in the story, which was the point the writer-editor wanted to make and indeed had made three years earlier. In 1971, things might have changed a bit, and DC allowed Jack to put a black character into The Forever People, and later still into his new series Mister Miracle, a comic book exclusively centered around African-Americans was a bridge too far. At the behest of the powers that be, Infantino included, the pitch was unceremoniously shelved. However, there were other creators waiting in the wings. Alas it would seem that at DC Comics, there was no hero ready to do something for the “black skins”, let alone allow them access to the main stage just yet. Not so at Skywald, a small publisher who saw what success Jim Warren enjoyed with his black and white comic book magazines that side-stepped the Comics Code. When Skywald put together an anthology title called Hell-Rider in 1971, created around a costumed biker who came in the mold of the then popular anti-hero trope, the book featured an ongoing series about a black character. She was Marian Michaels, a Las Vegas cabaret singer. But when she put on her cowl mask, her winged costume, albeit a very skimpy one that came with thigh-high boots, and she strapped a small anti-gravity jetpack to her lovely, rather naked back, Marian became The Butterfly, the first Africa-American superheroine. Since Skywald was founded by entrepreneur Israel Waldman and Sol Brodsky, the former production manager at Marvel Comics, they managed to draw in some name talent, writers and artists who wanted to enjoy some of those liberties in storytelling that were denied them at major publishers who needed to please both, The Comics Code and the bottom line of their new parent companies. Not that Waldman was adverse to the idea of making a quick buck. On the contrary. The Butterfly was clearly created as a cash-grab during the nascent era of blaxploitation in that she was a sassy, sexy black woman who knew how to kick the bad guys where it hurt with her long boots. Still, scripter Gary Friedrich (no relations to Mike) and artists John Celardo and Mike Esposito managed to deliver a very fine first story, albeit one without an origin for their new superheroine, a fate she shared with most of her sisters who rose quickly to prominence during The Second World War. Things got a bit more interesting in her second adventure which arrived in the next issue (albeit their last). This time around, The Butterfly took on a Ku Klux Klan style racist group that called itself “The Brothers of the Crimson Cross” and whose members wore white hoods. During the climax, the black heroine is captured, bound and put on display. Yet lo, with one loud, triumphant one-liner, “Guess you haven’t got the message yet… that black is beautiful”, she breaks free from her shackles to strike fear into the hearts of these racists. And of course, their “head man” was a U.S. Senator. This story also served as a showcase for a young up-and-comer who plotted the tale (with Friedrich scripting again) and who provided the artwork, Rich Buckler. His dynamic artwork, which soon opened the door for him at DC Comics, ran afoul of publisher Waldman, though. According to Buckler, Waldman brought in veteran artist Bill Everett, since he “did not want the black faces to look so black.”

 

Looking back at Green Lantern Co-Starring Green Arrow No. 76 vis-à-vis Buckler’s early career, there is a certain irony to be found. In one of his first assignments at DC, the artist was working on the Rose and Thorne backup series that ran in Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane in the early 1970s. She was another revived character (in name only and in not much else) from the late 40s. The original had even married Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern, who after tragedy struck, eventually married The Harlequin. This new version was created by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru, and what she was, was O’Neil’s Wonder Woman but with psychological twist. Buckler then moved to Marvel where he and writer Don McGregor took on Kirby’s Black Panther who they moved out of the 1960s and into the world of the 70s with their challenges and social upheaval. When Buckler left the series, Billy Graham, one of the very few African-American artists in the business, succeeded him. As for Green Lantern, the superhero had a few lessons to learn it seemed. So had his bosses, the Guardians. When Jordan cast his lot with the archer, such was very much to their dismay. Here was one of their police officers of the space ways who associated with a guy who promoted leftist ideas, and worse even, ideals. Once Hal gets reprimanded, Green Arrow has had it and he gives an impassioned speech (one of many) to let the blue immortals know that they had better walk a few miles in the shoes of a man from Earth first lest they judged him too harshly. This put the heroes on the course O’Neil wants to chart for them for the first half of his run. One of the Guardians takes on the guise of a mere mortal and the three of them go on an Easy Rider style road trip, alas sans any bike riding and with severely reduced powers for our main man since he’s taking a leave of absence. What they encounter is bigotry, greed and corruption and a cult who’d brainwash the only bike rider in the series, Black Canary. Though the cult and his leader seem very much based on Charles Manson and his “Family”, O’Neil has long since denied that this was his intention. Indeed, a lot of the first half of his run feels less like it is “ripped from the headlines”, as many comic book historians would claim, but his take on pre-existing ideas from writers who did look outside their windows. The way O’Neil writes about the theme of overpopulation in Green Lantern No. 81 (December 1970), you can tell that he must have been influenced by the seminal science fiction novel “Make Room! Make Room!” (1966) by writer Harry Harrison, who was one of publisher Bill Gaines’ early recruits at EC Comics when Harrison worked with legendary artist Wally Wood. It’s no coincidence that contrary to his contemporary Robert A. Heinlein, Harrison had a fairly liberal, left-leaning political outlook. Meanwhile, in the series, Green Arrow served as a liberal iconoclast, the voice of the left. And whereas Green Lantern wasn’t quite a right-winger, the writer leaned heavily into what Friedrich had already done in his two issues, with Friedrich ignoring that Broome had turned Hal into a seeker for spiritual growth. Both Friedrich and O’Neil viewed Hal Jordan as a neo-conservative model citizen of the middle class, one of those failed father-figures you might run into in a story about suburbia by Al Feldstein two decades earlier. In short, Hal Jordan was your father, and Oliver Queen was your hip bachelor uncle who showed you cool stuff while he told you about “the man” and what was wrong with society and that left was good. Even in the second half of his run, which seems much looser in tone and satirical at times with rather dark aspects, O’Neil would still lift concepts from other media, like the idea that plastic is a symbol for corporate greed and the loss of humanity, as presented in Green Lantern No. 84 (June-July 1971) and in the story “Peril in Plastic”. The premise feels very much like the superhero nightmare Dustin Hoffman’s character Benjamin Braddock might have in Mike Nichols’ film “The Graduate” (1967). However, Neal Adams art is beyond amazing. Since O’Neil’s story pretty much reads like satire (if intended as such or not is certainly up for debate), Adams’ hyper-stylized superhero hero-shots add another layer of subversiveness. Being a superhero, in O’Neil’s view of the world, and in the early 70s, might mean that you had to fight progress if it came with a degrading cheapness and a soul-crushing superficiality, unless there really was “a great future in plastics.” About the cover for the issue, though. Like Jack Kirby, artist Neal Adams sometimes incorporate real life photos into his artwork to heighten the sense reality, while commenting on the fact that you’re looking at an object that was repurposed to create something new and utterly different. Something that was real but artificial, yet somehow it had been moved into a realm in which this altered, reframed thing was beyond real in its very own fake reality. Adams used the image of a middle-aged, company man looking guy. He put his portrait pic not once on the cover, but three times, each time moved to a slightly modified angle. Like he was some analog to the witches in Macbeth, or a heavily understaffed chorus from one of those tragedies that had spun out from Ancient Greece and still held some relevance even in such challenging, hip and happening times. Then, throughout the tale, he appeared again, as a pencil and ink drawing in a world that was made up of just that, and many words in balloons and some color thrown on it. It was not yet the time in which photo cut-outs interacted with cartoon characters on the same page, and he would have felt conspicuously out of place had Adams not taken the time to ease him into the medium by drawing him by hand. This was clearly the same guy. And, as it turned out, he was twice an actor. He was posing as a cartoon character, this real man whose photos you saw on the cover and whose image Adams had re-created. Still, the character he was posing as, a doctor who was also the mayor of a little town, was only a front for another figure in this comic book tale. This didn’t make the first character or his real-life persona less real. All three existed inside the same narrative, one ever so slightly divergent from the other two, like the three photos from different angles Adams had put on the cover. The mayor was Wilbur Palm, but then he wasn’t. Palm was a mask worn by Black Hand, a two-bit villain from earlier in the series. His masterplan was to create a workforce that was compliant, one who didn’t care if they worked in a town that stank from all the industrial waste they left behind when making more stuff out of plastic. Pollution be damned. You could always put some sweet-smelling perfume on it. But this was not where the villain’s scheme ended. Soon, every company in America could hire workers just like his. Who wouldn’t want that? All you needed was a bit of brainwashing through the wonders of television. Adams turned what was a satire and a send-up of Corporate America and superhero antics, into a biting farce, and he did it with one of the shiny superheroes on which the DC editor who had initially rejected him for Batman had built his fame. And for the villain of the piece, the man who was disguised as a false prophet who polluted your mind, Adams gave him the face of Marc Iglesias, whose portrait pictures the artist used for the cover. Iglesias was an executive of the NPP Communications Group, Inc., a PR shingle that was owned by Kinney National, the company that had bought DC Comics and which had re-branded itself as Warner Communications, Inc. It was Iglesias who had written to Mayor Lindsay to see if he was cool with them using comic books as propaganda tools again like during the war. The Mayor’s response, addressed to Iglesias directly, was the letter Schwartz reprinted in Green Lantern No. 86. Art imitating life, indeed. While “Peril in Plastic” was one for the duo’s success column, this approach didn’t work so well for the tale which had come two issues earlier. What Denny O’Neil presented in Green Lantern No. 82 (February-March 1971), once again with stellar art by Neal Adams, with a little inking assist by Dick Giordano and Bernie Wrightson, was yet another confused attempt of his to put the rise of the women’s liberation movement into a comic book context. If this was his way of trying to endear himself to Gloria Steinem, who had called out the writer over his handling of the Wonder Woman character, today, he’d be blocked on Twitter by her once she’d read the issue. What he presented was a wild mix of faux Greek mythology and modern feminism, with Black Canary cast as a stand-in for Steinem, which was fitting at least, since they kinda dressed alike, albeit in Steinem’s case this was in service of her story about Hugh Hefner and his Playboy Clubs. Though O’Neil did ask a question in the story’s title, “How Do You Fight a Nightmare?”, the real question was, what was he actually saying with a story like this. Or more precisely put, what did he want to say? By the time this story appeared in the run, our heroes weren’t travelling any longer, either, at least not physical, they weren’t, though as far their spiritual quest was concerned, that was a different matter altogether. However, before the hard-travelling heroes returned home, the Guardian, who was posing as a mere mortal, was put on trial by his peers, albeit not judged by them at first. As it turned out, the Guardians had outsourced all legal matters and court proceedings. But what heinous crime did this Guardian commit, the old guy who Hal and Oliver had fondly named “Old-Timer”? In what amounted to a Catch-22, Old-Timer had made the call to save the hero’s life in lieu of using his powers to rescue a vessel at sea that was about explode. There was a salient point to this ship, though. Its freight consisted of many barrels of industrial waste from producing plastic parts (O’Neil again, with the plastic). In an ironic twist, readers saw Green Arrow helping the ship’s crew with dumping the waste into the ocean since the ship was ready to blow up, whilst the Old-Timer made sure Hal was getting the medical attention he needed at a nearby hospital. He’d been badly hurt when the vessel’s engine blew up right in his face. Thus, the Guardians, who were fierce environmentalists all of sudden, accused the Old-Timer of putting one life above others. The industrial waste might affect sea life for generations to come (remember, plastic). The concept of not leaving a man behind kinda eluded them, because these Guardians were “the man”. After the sentencing of the Old-Timer was a bust, the system had long since been corrupted, in Green Lantern No. 81 (December 1970), readers got O’Neil’s latest word on women.

 

For his “crimes”, the Guardians of the Universe exiled their erstwhile brother to an alien planet, but not before they’d stripped him of his immortality. Naturally, the heroes and Black Canary (why not) couldn’t let that stand and they accompanied him. Good they did that, since on this world, prospects for a happy retirement or a decent life for that matter, were rather slim to none. After a natural disaster from outer space had rendered the entire population on this globe infertile, lo, years later their savior had come in form of kind old woman who apparently was a scientific genius. She proposed the creation of clones to repopulate their world, but things got out of hand quickly, and when the original citizens found out that they’d recovered, they could have children of their own again, the world was already at a tipping point. Still Mother Juna gifted them with her synthetic children. And what evil motivation might a woman like that may have? After Black Canary had thrown the old, heavy-set lady into a bank of machines face first, albeit Dinah had intended for her to land a bit more softly, we got the shocking truth. She was from the old generation who had it all wrong: “I was taught that a woman was nothing if she wasn’t a mother…” With Old-Time electing to stay on this planet, O’Neil got cracking with his next attempt to say something meaningful about feminism, which brings us to issue No. 82. Once the heroes had returned home, Oliver and Dinah, who were in a serious relationship now, but who’d decided to let matters cool off a bit until they’d figure out where they stood with each other, got attacked by two mystical creatures, the Harpies. Though they succeeded in driving off their fierce enemies, the archer and the faux blonde bickered like they were a couple that’d been married for a long time. Since they’re both more apt at handling street-level crime (despite the fact that they are members of the JLA), Oliver figures they better involve Green Lantern. And back in the 1970s, when you wanted to reach somebody this urgently, you’ll send them a telegram. Lo, the hero receives the message. Once he’s on his way, the gruesome Harpies can’t escape his ever-watchful eyes. They lead him to a club where he’s greeted by a red-skinned woman in a purple gown who wields a scepter. Surely the individual, who calls herself the Witch Queen, has been expecting him, since this is a trap. Soon, Hal finds himself banished into her magical jewel which acts as a pathway to a netherworld. Since this wouldn’t explain his easy defeat, there is someone else waiting in the wings. Meanwhile, Green Arrow and Dinah Lance get a bit worried that their friend has failed to show up. They naturally fear for the worst, because Hal simply not being available when the telegram arrived, is clearly not an option. Thus, Dinah switches into her combat gear, such as it is, and puts on her blonde wig. This of course enlists whistles from the archer who can hardly contain himself: “As Dinah Drake you’re, well, pretty! But as the Canary you make Raquel Welch look like little Orphan Annie.” Since she was probably used to these kinds of unwanted catcalls, the Black Canary chooses to ignore him while he rides shotgun on her motorbike. For a sensitive liberal, Oliver surely plays it fast and loose where sexism is concerned. Oliver gets his comeuppance when a tall, muscular women kicks the snot out of him. Though, to be fair, he was attacked from behind. Obviously, Dinah cannot let this stand. She makes short work of her much bigger opponent with some judo. Immediately, the two other ladies in the defeated woman’s crew set their eyes on Black Canary, not to battle with her, but to recruit Dinah for their team. They are members of the tribe of the legendary Amazons (not the same Amazons from Wonder Woman, O’Neil had taken care of those three years earlier). Like their sworn foes, the Harpies, the Amazons were freed from exile by the Witch Queen. They were once banished by a sorcerer who had wanted to marry their queen. It hadn’t sat well with such a beauteous one, that an old, ugly guy should have designs on her, and all she managed to do was to laugh right into his face. Now free after many centuries from the world Hal Jordan was trapped in, they naturally hated all men. But they’d gladly help a sister out, and thus they team-up to find Green Lantern. The Amazons get even more motivated once they learn that their benefactor is in league with a man, and as it turns out, he’s not any man, but Green Lantern’s arch-nemesis Sinestro.

 

The Witch Queen, she was Sinestro’s hitherto unmentioned sister. Meanwhile, poor Hal had to contend with the Medusa of Ancient Greek lore, and he was pretty helpless at that. With the evil Witch Queen and Sinestro soundly defeated, the Amazons are willing to take Canary to their world so she can save a man. And wasn’t he glad that Canary came to his rescue to win the day with a speech. That’s right, The Black Canary had a little heart-to-heart with the Medusa, while her new “sisters”, who had learned that not all men were bad, backed her up like they were The Supremes: “You want to free yourselves, regain your dignity! Isn’t that so? Well, mindless slaughter isn’t the way to do it!” Moved by her words, Medusa allows Green Lantern to leave. Hal and Dinah returned safely home where Oliver was waiting for them. When you deconstruct this tale, it’s interesting to see how Denny O’Neil frames the women’s liberation movement. There were the hip feminists, like Black Canary or Ms. Steinem, who didn’t mind presenting themselves as a male fantasy. They got that a bit of the old sexism was intended as a compliment. Then there were the misguided ones who thought of all men as evil, like the Amazons or Susan Brownmiller and Sally Kempton. They’d attack men indiscriminately and sneakily so, even from behind. They needed to get straightened out, lest they’d influence other women. This, or this is a really bad story altogether, but not more questionable than some of the Disney animated movies of later years, vis-à-vis their view on gender identity. Certain things do not age that well. That’s why intertextuality is a tricky proposition. It’s quite telling that once O’Neil left the beaten path of referencing pre-existing material, an approach that led to a wildly varying quality and some stories that seem bewildering to more modern readers, he mostly hit it out of the park. Case in point, Green Lantern No. 83 (April-May 1971). It was finally Denny O’Neil unfiltered, unchained and a bit unhinged, but in a good way. Neal Adams was the perfect partner in crime, and he brought the same subversive humor than when he’d cast a Kinney/WB public relations executive as a front for the villain of the month. Adams was ready to bring it. On the cover he depicted an ugly, middle-aged guy with a receding hairline, a high forehead and a sagging face. He was ostensibly the bad guy since he ordered the real menace of the issue, shown only as a huge, imposing shadow, to “destroy” Green Lantern and his co-star Green Arrow. Unfortunately, some of the subversiveness is lost on modern audiences who discover this run for the first time. People might think that this is a drawing of a slightly pudgier version of actor Vincent Price, and though that would indeed fit the terror vibe the story has, in 1971, most readers would have recognized this man as Spiro T. Agnew, the Vice-President of the United States. Like with Wilbur Palm, this character appears also in the story, and once you took only a brief glance at the opening page, which is when he shows up for the first time, the resemblance to the Vice President is even more striking, maybe because the interior art was inked by the editor who had led the exodus from Charlton Comics to DC, Dick Giordano. It surely had to have been a rather bold move when Adams gave the face of Marc Iglesias to a bad guy, but Iglesias was most certainly less well-known than the VP. But Adams went a step further. While Palm was only a mask Black Hand wore, this was Spiro T. Agnew cast as the cook at a private school. To put this into context, no other politician had more public clashes with the youth of America at that time. But little could they or Adams know that in two years’ time, Agnew would be forced to resign from office over bribes and “kick-backs” he allegedly received and granted, dating back even to his time as governor of Maryland. His boss, President Nixon, didn’t escape Adams and Giordano’s pencils and inks either. There was a student at the school this cook named Grandy worked at, a little girl, who looked a lot like the 37th president who’d be forced to tender his resignation less than a year after Agnew had to step down. Irrespective of these visual provocations, and such they surely were, “… And a Child Shall Destroy Them!” is among O’Neil’s best scripts up to this point in his career. The opening page, which is not a splash page, but serves as a prologue, feels like a tight short feature, a mini horror film. We have Grandy, in a nice suit, his best we suspect, and the girl Sybil who are walking along a street. Grandy bumps into an attractive young woman who has long black hair and who is clad in a fashionable mini dress. Though we only get to see her from behind at first, we understand from her posture that she is confident and of means. Old Grandy feels slighted by her mere presence, and even though he’s bumped into her, in his mind, it’s her fault. Grandy turns Sybil around. And as she’s facing the woman now who is slowly walking away as she’s minding her own business and she’s oblivious to what’s going on, Grandy tells Sybil that “She’s a mean one, Sybil, mean and evil!” He almost points the girl child like a weapon, and in indeed, he seems like a man who sics his guard dog on a burglar, knowing full well that the attacking animal will come out on top while doing the most damage.

 

When Sybil’s eyes are starting to glow, we are reminded of that scene in “The Fury” (1978) when Amy Irving’s character Gillian explodes Ben Childress’ (John Cassavetes) head with her mind. Only that it was 1971 still, and even John Farris’ seminal novel of the same name was published only two years prior to the movie by Brian De Palma. Sure, there is a close resemblance in spirit between Sybil and Bill Mumy’s Anthony in the famous episode “It’s a Good Life” (1961) from “The Twilight Zone”, which itself is based on a short story by Jerome Bixby. But on TV this looked allegorical and in no way as visceral as what we get here, when the woman suddenly crashes to the ground, as her body is shaken by convulsions to the point where it might break. The other example, outside the printed medium that comes to mind, is the movie “The Power” (1968), one of the earliest of only a few films depicting psychic abilities as a weapon. This film, which stars a young George Hamilton and features a remarkable score by Miklós Rózsa, might have also served as an inspiration for the second fill-in issue O’Neil was assigned to by Schwartz back in ‘68. Green Lantern No. 64 (October 1968) began with some light-hearted shenanigans at a charity event held by the father of Eve Doremus, the pretty, but dull girlfriend Gardner Fox had saddled Hal with. But things turned dark rather quickly. Unbeknownst to him, The Emerald Gladiator is dosed with radioactive material by some crooks which made his behavior erratic. Soon, the hero was a hero no longer, not only was he disgraced and crucified in the press, he landed in jail. This was when the big bad was revealed. Green Lantern was locked in a prison cell he shared with one of his most sadistic foes, Hector Hammond. With the superhero completely exhausted, after Hammond’s henchmen had deftly maneuvered Green Lantern into such a pitiful position, he’d reached his breaking point before the formidable villain pitted his powerful mind against his enemy. That hero and villain shared a prison cell, provided a heavy subtext at that. It’s also arguably some of the best work of Mike Sekowsky, the fill-in artist for the tale. The cruel manner in which Hammond psychically attacks the hero with his mental abilities as he toys with him, is reminiscent of the climactic final minutes of “The Power”, when Michael Rennie, the Jesus-like Klaatu from “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951), nearly kills George Hamilton with his mind. When Thomas did phone O’Neil to script an issue for X-Men (with Neal Adams doing the art) in 1970, the writer penned a story in which Professor X stops an alien invasion with the power of his telepathic mind. But this was nothing like Hammond’s psychic attack or what Sybil did to the young woman at Grandy’s behest. What readers saw in X-Men No. 65 (February 1970) seemed distant and clinical and almost like some scientific experiment or a ho-hum nature documentary on how Professor X’s powers worked. Green Lantern No. 64, and especially No. 83 felt more personal, like Hamilton killing the bad guy with his mind by making his heart stop. In the latter tale, we had a child who broke a woman who was of the establishment. This was not without precedent in O’Neil’s work on the series either. When Schwartz had let him do another fill-in issue, before he assigned the series to him for real, with Green Lantern No. 68 (April 1969), O’Neil had his work cut out for him. Knowing full-well that Broome hated Eve Doremus, he made Hal discover that just like Carol Ferris, she was seeing another guy behind his back. This made the character unusable for whatever Fox had planned for her and Hal. Once John Broome returned, he created a new romantic interest for Hal, Olivia Reynolds, who was a hip, happening young woman. Still in issue No. 68, the writer was not done with breaking a rich little daddy’s girl with gusto. After Green Lantern gets beaten by the leader of an alien invasion, and his ring is rendered useless, the aliens attack the estate of the Doremus family, because if you are an alien invasion force, this was what you did, attack the rich. Undeterred by his lack of superpowers, and without his uniform as a signifier of his status as space police officer, Green Lantern reasserts his manliness by saving Eve and her family with his bare hands. To trick the alien boss, he enlists Eve to apply her special talent at deception. And like his girlfriend had managed to play him for a fool, she just as easily tricks the bad guy. Then, after his daddy, one of the Guardians, told him that he didn’t even need a power ring to be a hero, Hal dumps Eve off-panel. Broome was off to a new start with issue No. 69. This woman however, the one that had annoyed Grandy and who he asked little Sybil to hurt, she was a representative of the military-industrial complex, and she was a part of the gleaming menagerie of establishment superheroes Julius had his teams create in the late 1950s. This female, who Sybil had turned into a broken Barbie doll, dated back to the first issue of the Silver Age Green Lantern, Showcase No. 22 (1959). Like Wonder Woman, Larry Lance, Snapper Carr and Professor Haley, she was one of these characters Dennis O’Neil had vowed to break. Like that, in a cruel, callous and misogynistic way, the writer who’d years later sanction the “killing” of the original Batwoman and the second Robin, left a now crippled Carol Ferris on the pavement. “Kill Your Darlings”, indeed. And as far as this tale was concerned, this was only for starters. Once readers got to the second page, due to the magic of comic book storytelling, a whole month has passed, and we quickly gather, the utterly shocking opening page notwithstanding, why this issue serves as a turning point like the issue that had started this run, Green Lantern No. 76. Yet “And a Child Shall Destroy Them” does not only mark the border between the earlier half, their somewhat lackluster effort, and the more personal tales of the later half, it’s groundbreaking by and in itself. As we learn, Dinah has decided to become a teacher, and as bad luck or the plot would have it, she’s picked the same school where Grandy works and Sybil is one of the students. Decked out in their happening 70s civilian clothes, Hal and Oliver accompany the raven-haired beauty to the school which is located in the countryside. Then suddenly, before they even get to the premise, they are under attack from a flock of birds. Yes, O’Neil knows this is right out of Hitchcock, so decides to “hang a lantern on it” (as you were), by letting one of his characters comment “how much like Hitchcock” this is. Since both men are now dressed in their hero gear, this is how they enter the school. This immediately brings them in conflict with the administrator of this institute of learning for the little ones. Jason Belmore has the hate on for superheroes it would seem, and soon he has an out with The Emerald Knight, who does take this very personal, since he was now a much more sensitive guy. We quickly notice that it isn’t the attractive Belmore who’s calling the shots. And sure enough, there is Grandy who whispers to Sybil that the heroes are “bad men.” But there’s somebody else we need to meet first. As the two erstwhile hard-travelling heroes return to their car, they spot an individual who’s crouching at the vehicle. Once Green Lantern moves in to inspect the situation, he is greeted by familiar face. This person is his former flame Carol Ferris. She’s around since Belmore is her fiancé. He’s the same guy she’d been seeing behind Hal’s back and who she’d wanted to marry. Either O’Neil hadn’t read Green Lantern No. 73 (December 1969), the issue in which writer Mike Friedrich had Carol tell Green Lantern that she’d cancelled her wedding plans and that she’d broken off her engagement, or they had patched things up, in any case, Carol Ferris was very worried about Jason, who’d changed since he took over the school. What about Carol herself?

 

Carol was confined to a wheelchair: “About four weeks ago, I had a seizure… and the pain was hideous. I couldn’t walk anymore…” With her father’s wealth at her disposal, she’d “seen the finest specialists in the world! They’re all baffled.” Money wouldn’t heal what Grandy, Sybil and O’Neil had broken. Though she clearly hadn’t put two and two together, since who was this man on the street to her, or a little girl child, these two individuals she had to have seen at her fiancé’s private school, readers got the message. Only if Carol did some growing up and she learned that spirituality mattered, not only things you owned, would she be able to walk again. After their car falls apart, due Sybil’s involvement, the two heroes are all about going back to the school, since Dinah might be in trouble there. That is, until a downpour stops them in their tracks. No self-respecting hero would want to get wet before he arrives to a confrontation. When Hal explains that he wouldn’t want to expend too much of his valuable “energy” by creating what amounted to a simple umbrella, Carol is surprised. She’d always thought of him as a manly hero whose virility knew no limits. Clearly, she needed a bit catching up. Hal had changed since that time when he’d crushed her callously with the revelation that she and the evil Star Sapphire were the same person. He was now a kinder, more attentive person altogether: “Those days are gone… gone forever… the days I was confident, certain… well, Carol, I’ve changed! I’m older now, maybe wiser, too, yeah, maybe wiser, and a lot less happy…!” This was “the O’Neil Hero” in essence. What Schwartz had done to the old guys, those who were now stuck on Earth-2, the resting place for obsolete heroes O’Neil had let Black Canary escape from, was now catching up to heroes in this newer, shinier continuity, only they got it worse. It was all a disguise anyway. Underneath the costume and the mask, a hero had to be human first. He (or she) had to confront the world and be a better person for it. Meanwhile, Dinah Drake Lance had some issues of her own to tussle with. As the new physical ed teacher, she herself being a prime example of a human specimen at the peak of physical perfection, you had to give her that, she quickly noticed that all her young charges were behaving like the children from “The Village of the Damned”. Naturally, she didn’t stick to the rules, and when she dared to dismiss one of her classes a bit too early, here was good ol’ Grandy to scold her for it. There’d be punishment, he promised. Dinah needed to investigate matters as Black Canary. With her getting changed in the privacy of her quarters, this gave Neal Adams a perfect opportunity to tell readers that a bit of voyeuristic behavior was alright, and in a comic, you could sneak into a girl’s room while she got undressed. Also, he and Giordano let readers in on a little secret. Dinah didn’t were a brassiere under her top, but not because Dinah was in league with bra thrashers like Sally Kempton. You just needed to keep staring while she got dressed in an attire that was akin to the disguise Gloria Steinem had donned during her undercover mission at one of Hugh Hefner’s establishments, to know that. In 1971, here was the dawn of the polyester sweatiness of suburban key parties. But being a feminist, the Canary discovered that she had to be careful. Once she’d made short work of the hapless Belmore and the lumbering, overweight Grandy, Dinah did notice that she began to enjoy her “skill at violence.” A bit of punching for a woman was ok, but O’Neil told her and his readers, that most certainly, there was a limit. “I’ve got to watch that…”, Dinah cautions herself. But Grandy has not played his trump card just yet. Once again Grandy turned to Sybil. Once again, we got a close-up of her eyes, “and spasm after horrible spasm of agony racks The Black Canary…” After Sybil had put her to sleep, it was safe for the cook to move in, to rob the heroine of her pride and her identity, O’Neil style. With one harsh yank he pulled the blonde wig from her head to reveal that underneath her simple disguise this feminist icon, this emancipated superheroine, was but one of “these hussies [that] paint and preen.” It was all an act. When Grandy orders four of the little children to take the defeated, unmasked and unconscious woman “to the cellar”, since he had “a special punishment for her”, and they manage to do just that by dragging her limp, yet provocatively dressed body across the floor, with her shapely legs, clad in fishnet stockings, lifted into the air and spread wide, we get an image that is eerie and sexually charged. With Dinah now helpless, since she was seemingly too weak to use her supersonic abilities, Grandy’s punishment for her is likewise fraught with questionable subtext. While pointing to a beehive, he explained: “See my pets? Wasps! Wasps are very orderly and industrious, and they don’t like to have their orderly life disturbed!”

 

Grandy agitates the bees, like in a way, women like Dinah and Carol drove him mad. As with Sybil, again he sics the females of a species on a woman who dared to offend him. The female worker bees and the queen don’t take too kindly to a disruptive presence that tried to undermine their way of life. In effect, Black Canary, who was a modern independent woman with her own mind, a feminist who held her own with the boys, was a threat to men and other women alike. To a man like Grandy, and maybe to O’Neil himself, it would seem fitting that females should punish her. If this seems a bit far-fetched, you only needed to turn your eyes to Justice League of America No. 82 and No. 83 (1970) in which O’Neil floated the idea that the very existence of the heroine on Earth-1, not her home world, was tearing apart the continuum of time and space. With the parallel Earths about to crash into each other, she contemplated suicide with the aid of the teleporter of the League to reverse the sequence of events she had ostensibly set in motion by leaving Earth-2. In the end, it was The Spectre who chivalrously sacrificed his existence, such as it was, so Dinah wouldn’t have to. But still, Dinah Lance, this version of Black Canary the writer had shaped, remained a threat. In a way, she was the little girl who ate her mother in “The Night of the Living Dead” (1968). Black Canary had done the unimaginable, the forbidden. She had transcended an entire generation of older superheroes like she’d once kicked Johnny Thunder out of his backup series. Now the character, who was O’Neil’s and no longer Robert Kanigher’s, came for the newer superheroes. But she didn’t stop just there. Her presence also threatened the livelihood of older creators like Fox or even Kanigher who was like a father who wasn’t able to control his wayward daughter once she’d grown up, something that was very topical in those days, with generations clashing with each other like parallel worlds did in the comics. Yet she also must have felt threatening to O’Neil as she revealed his own fears. She was one of those women who disrupted the order of other women, and thus, O’Neil had old Grandy use a swarm of female bees to penetrate her with their stings. The only thing that made her actions ok, that could serve as justification and shield, was her superheroine identity. In her moment of need, Dinah clung to her wig as a signifier of her role as superhero to protect herself from the onslaught of the bees. But a wig was also a symbol a woman’s duplicity. She had once deceived Larry, who dismissed the black-haired woman who owned a flower shop but who was at awe of the blonde superheroine. Or like Carol or Eve who had fooled Hal while they fooled around with other men. As long as she was a superheroine, O’Neil was seemingly saying, Dinah’s feminist antics were acceptable, but Grandy, a member of the old generation, had seen past that and he’d robbed her of her heroine identity. Accordingly, once she gets saved by two men, this is the last time she herself appears as a superheroine. For the remainder of this run, she would only show up as a supporting actor, and when she does, as Dinah Lance, she’s coded as feminine. Like when she serves as a big sister to Oliver’s ward Roy Harper. There’s irony in the fact that Black Canary eventually made her comeback in a backup strip that ran in the same series that had seen her debut in the 1940s. But this was no longer Flash Comics, but The Flash, and this was the new Flash. Black Canary returns in the second part of a three-part story that ran as backup feature (but which had originally been intended for Green Lantern). It’s very telling that in the first two panels in which she was shown to the readers as Black Canary again, Neal Adams only presented her backside, with her posterior featured prominently with close-up shots. Only in the third panel that we see her face. When she makes her next appearance, she’s fighting some bad guys and gets quickly taken out. Again, she is moved while she is unconscious, the difference being that this time O’Neil and Adams made the sexual subtext more obvious, with one of the evildoers holding her up in mid-air again. While her legs are apart, he’s rubbing his crotch against hers, before he tosses the unconscious heroine off a roof. Canary survives, thanks to Green Lantern, though he graciously tells the heroine that she’d “rescued herself”. In the third part and with the initial panel we see her in, Black Canary is nearly killed by a speeding car. In the aftermath, her body lies broken on the pavement like Carol’s in Green Lantern No. 83. The message is undeniable. The feminist Black Canary was dead so a new, softer Dinah Lance could live but only if Dinah got a life-saving blood transfusion from Oliver. In the last panel to the coda to the original run, Dinah, with her wig, and Oliver are lying next to each other in hospital beds. Shorn off their superhero identities, they were frail and human. Oliver had lost all his vanity as he was bald now. She was allowed her blonde wig with the understanding that she needed to be humble like Oliver. In this single panel there was the quintessence of what Denny O’Neil was saying about superheroes. To exist, superheroes had to be people first. They needed to understand that people are humble because they are mortal. They did know if only you shook them long and hard enough. O’Neil had done exactly that with Hal (though Broome had hand in it), and with Carol. He’d shaken them and he’d broken them. In issue No. 83, O’Neil let the healing begin. Dinah had once helped Green Arrow to become a better man, the man he needed to be. When she needed a transfusion to become whole, as a person and as a woman, Oliver gave gladly. Once Carol had revealed her unfaithfulness to him in issue No. 49 (1966), this shook Hal out of his complacency. It had taken him this long, but finally, in issue No. 83 (1971), he exposed his heart and soul to her, and his secret identity. It was a similar dynamic as with Dinah and Oliver. Carol had triggered Hal’s quest for spiritual renewal. His personal growth in turn, made it possible for him, to give Carol the life-saving transfusion that would allow her to become a new person, if she chose to be, despite the fact that she’d (temporarily) lost the function of her legs: “I was pretty proud myself! I couldn’t admit the man I loved could ever be anything less than splendid, heroic! Can you forgive rich, naughty, silly me?” Right on cue, here was Hal to say it: “We’ve both been dumb, Carol! Maybe we both needed humbling! Miss Carol Ferris… I love you!” And as for Sybil? She went rogue naturally. She didn’t stick to the script ol’ Grandy had intended for her. In one fell swoop, she brought the house down all around him. This was what O’Neil had been doing and what he was still doing, because the story didn’t end just there. And with the last panel of Hal carrying Carol in his arms, while he no longer minded the cleansing rain, there was his discarded mask, the DNA strand of his hero identity, and there were the legs and feet of the child that had destroyed everything. It was Justice League No. 75 all over again. By doing so, she’d prepared the ground for something new.

 

It’s Green Lantern’s turn to ask the question, the second question that is at the center of Denny O’Neil’s run on the series, and after the rather mundane rooftop scene with which he’d started things, this time the circumstances are anything but. This time, Denny O’Neil, one of the young creators who were eating the older ones, or at the very least, those who were taking away their lunch money, told readers that a superhero was the worst kind of role model a kid could ask for. From a purely artistic, storytelling point of view, Green Lantern No. 85 and 86 (1971) represent the highlight of Adams work on the series. With Adams inking himself (and Giordano helping out on the second issue), the art mirrors the achievements of Infantino and Kane in the earliest issues of The Silver Age when viewed through 1970s lens. There is the same glamour and sleekness, while Adams acknowledges that these were different times by adding a moody sense of foreboding heaviness. These heroes weren’t racing through the gleaming street of a modern, almost futuristic, yet always optimistic metropolis, nor were they soaring across the sky under their own power as befitted the Jet Age. Instead, Adams brings us to the street-level, but these weren’t the busy streets of a shopping area. If there was any business at all that was done here, its nature was of the seedier kind, since these were the dirty backstreets, the habitat of the disenfranchised. After the writer had taken him down from his aloof position atop a shiny skyscraper as one of the one-percenters, Oliver Queen walked the mean streets. He didn’t mind so much, since this was his home now. What he did mind though, was being mugged by a gang of hooligans. Especially not, when this leads to him being shot with a crossbow in the shoulder. How well O’Neil and Neal Adams click as a creative duo is perfectly illustrated by the subsequent sequence of nearly wordless panels. As the injured Oliver Queen searches for help, he stumbles instinctively from the back alleys to the brighter parts of the town. Salvation might lie this way. But people with the means to assist him in his medical emergency, a rich, glitzy couple first, then a police officer next, turn away with disgust. They figure that he’s most likely a drunk or worse. A cab driver races past him while he quickly turns on his “off duty” sign. A guy in such a state doesn’t have any cash anyway. Why should anyone care or get involved, what can they gain from this? Delirious with the pain from his wound, he still manages to make it to a hospital. Even the nurse at the reception desk tells him that they’re busy. It’s only when he collapses on the floor, that a doctor will take a look at him. He may be dead. At least they’ll need to make certain. He ain’t dead, but with his shoulder taken out of commission, he figures he can use some assist from his buddy. And there’s something else. The arrow which was used was one of his. This makes Oliver think of his ward Roy Harper briefly, the lad who was his sidekick once, when Roy had donned a costume similar to his, but red, and he was almost his equal with his skills with the bow and arrows. But the times, they have changed. Roy, whose superhero name was Speedy, ran with his own crew, The Teen Titans, and Oliver hadn’t had much time to touch base in a while. He had his own stuff to deal with. But Oliver is also quite the detective, and soon he and Green Lantern track down the gang of hoodlums that had attacked him, obviously to grab any cash off him he might carry, since by now he knows that these kids are “using”. Still, Green Arrow isn’t surprised in the least to encounter Roy at the hideout of these young punks. ABC’s “Mod Squad” was still on, and wasn’t this what you did as a teen superhero? You observed your peers closely and then infiltrated those who were up to no good. But things do not go according to plan. While the two color-themed heroes nearly track down the men at the end of the supply chain of this narcotics ring, they get ambushed and a head guy orders his goons to shoot them up. This sends them on an entirely new trip and what Green Lantern experiences, must come as a harsh reminder of the psychic pain Hector Hammond had once subjected him to. After this bad trip, he wonders “why people want to poison themselves with heroin… pills… the whole sick-bag!” This is when young Roy can’t hold back this much longer and he gives the hero and his surrogate “old man” a piece of his own mind, in lieu of an explanation that required him to spell things out that were already pretty obvious: “Say a young cat has someone he respects… looks up to an older man! And say the older man leaves… chases around the country… gets involved with others and ignores his young friend! Then… the guy might need a substitute for friendship… he might seek it in junk!” Oliver is not buying what Speedy is selling, in fact he goes at great length to mock him for suggesting that. The “blame the parent” excuse didn’t fly with him. But when gets back home, he catches Speedy in the act of shooting up. Indeed, his ward was referring to himself in his little monologue from just a page earlier. But readers already knew this from the shocking cover to the issue on which Neal Adams depicted this scene, but with a twist. On the cover, Oliver Queen wasn’t the only superhero to watch the downfall of the boy who used to be Speedy and who had once briefly helped Green Arrow to increase his readership in the early 1940s. Green Lantern was standing right next to him, and while he pointed toward the boy who was hunched over a table on which he’d spread his drug paraphernalia, now it was his turn to ask him a question: “You always have all the answers, Green Arrow! Well, what’s you answer to that…?” As readers were still be reeling from the realization that this was not a fake cover, the once very optimistic Speedy was really “a junkie”, once the next issue hit newsstands, Green Arrow was ready to deliver his reply to his crimefighting partner’s question, if it was really asked by Green Lantern or not. Meanwhile, you had to wonder, in case you bought Teen Titans No. 34, which was published around the same Green Lantern Co-Starring Green Arrow No. 85 was stacked on the spinner racks, if Speedy was on drugs, too, when an evil spirit tried to possess Wonder Girl, the girl who was Wonder Woman’s teenage ward. As it turned out, the hero did answer the question that Green Lantern might not have directed at him after all, but at the readers, “What did they think of that?”, in the only way a superhero knew how. Right on the splash page for issue No. 86, he punched Roy violently in the face. And why wouldn’t he, O’Neil was asking his readers. Was this not how superheroes solved problems, by punching at them? And here was Roy, telling him he that could hit him again, if he needed it to prove that he was superior, and that Roy was one of the “weaklings”. This was Snapper Carr all over again. Like the Justice League had abandoned their fun sidekick once he was no longer fun, Oliver kicks Roy out of the house. For a second, Oliver did waver in his convictions, maybe he was to blame, but then his sense of self-preservation kicked in: “But he shouldn’t need attention… at his age! No, I’m innocent of blame, I’ve always taught him to be strong, independent… to hang tough!” It’s Green Lantern who finds Roy in alley, and since he was now the new, gentler Green Lantern he used a different approach. He was actually talking to Roy, and soon the former sidekick of the big Green Arrow revealed his true motives. It was “curiosity” that had driven him to try drugs, to experiment. But what about those adults who were warning kids about the dangers of drugs? Since adults were “the man”, and “the man” couldn’t be trusted for the lies he was constantly spouting, Roy hadn’t believed it. But now he was willing to kick the habit. As a wiser man, Hal concluded that this was outside his sector. He wasn’t yet ready to be a father. But he knew somebody who was predisposed to be dealing with stuff like that. As a woman, Dinah could handle this much better, while he and Green Arrow were chasing down those fiends who supplied kids with heroin in the first place. Handle it, Dinah did, by not saying much of anything, by not judging, by being there. And once he had kicked heroin after a few panels, Roy was ready to show Oliver that he had understood the latest lesson his erstwhile father figure had provided. He punched Oliver in the mouth. Roy was ready to help his peers since society was not, society had turned its back to the problems of his generation. And Oliver? He was one proud man.

 

When O’Neil had asked in Green Lantern No. 76 (April 1970): “Only there’s a skin you never bothered with… the black skins! I want to know how come?! Answer me that, Mr. Green Lantern!”, a few months later, another writer at DC tried to give him and readers an answer. In Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane No. 106 (November 1970), which was published in the same month in which he had Batman and Black Canary share a kiss in Justice League No. 84, much to the dismay of O’Neil, Robert Kanigher turned Lois Lane into a woman of color. “I Am Curious (Black)!”, with Werner Roth and Vince Colletta on art, might have started as another attempt of his to show how relevant comics could be by applying what Kanigher perceived as “the Marvel Method”, a high dose of melodrama injected into a standard superhero story. It also reads like he was genuinely striving to reach the same storytelling heights of “Judgment Day” on the subject of integration. Unfortunately, it’s still a misguided effort. The story starts when Lois gets the assignment of a lifetime, namely, to write “the inside story of Metropolis Little Africa!” She immediately muses: “I should get the Pulitzer Prize for telling it like it is! The nitty-gritty no newspaper ever printed before!” Clark senses trouble. Thus, he secretly follows her as Superman, just in case. Who could really say what dangers might lurk in that part of town? The girl reporter learns that nobody wants to talk to her. Perhaps, since the people of “Little Africa” are wise her ulterior motives. Lois’ presence does create quite a commotion. A resident gives a speech how “whitey” was the enemy, because surely this girl had a bleeding heart, but only “if we don’t move next door to her!” The intrepid reporter and future Pulitzer Prize winner feels wrongfully judged. But luckily, she always had Superman to fall back on. Of course, the Man of Tomorrow had a Kryptonian device at the ready with which he could turn her into any other person, even a person of color. Lest some readers might be concerned, he was there to helpfully explain that such a dramatic, while purely superficial change would only last for a day. Still, it was the immersive experience Lois had been hoping for. She witnessed racial prejudices first-hand from white people, and the kindness of strangers from the residents of Little Africa who embraced her as one of their own. And in what seemed like a reversal of Al Feldstein and Wally Wood’s “Blood Brothers”, a powerful tale about race-based discrimination, intolerance and bigotry published almost twenty years earlier, Lois willingly offers a life-saving blood transfusion to a black man without a moment’s hesitation, the same man who had called her a “whitey”. In the end, it was he who’d learned how to overcome his prejudices towards a person who was white. Well, there was that. When Cary Bates succeeded him, a writer from the baby boomer generation who was thirty-three years younger than Kanigher, he did what O’Neil had showed him. In Lois Lane No. 120 (March 1972), co-plotted with Irene Vartanoff, he broke Lois by killing-off her sister who was an enemy spy as it turned out. Lois went on a spiritual quest for rebirth of her own. And when she returned to Metropolis, she began sharing an apartment with three roommates, one of which happened to be a black woman, though the fact that she was a person of color was never an issue. She was just one of these girls who enjoyed each other’s company. When O’Neil answered his own question in Green Lantern No. 87 (1971), he did it less smoothly, and he even had to tweak the continuity of the series a bit. In Green Lantern No. 59 (1968), John Broome had created a character named Guy Gardner. When the previous Lantern of Space Sector 2814 was dying, his ring had found two candidates on Earth who were a worthy successor in that they were equally fearless and honest. Hal had simply been closest to his location. In the end it didn’t matter, as the Guardians demonstrated to the flabbergasted Hal with one of their futuristic machines. In an alternative future, Guy Gardner, named by Broome after Gardner Fox, would have died in the line of duty. Consequently, his ring, Abin Sur’s ring, would have chosen Hal as his successor anyway. Denny O’Neil retconned this bit by claiming that Guy had always been intended by the Guardians as Hal’s substitute in case he should ever become incapacitated. But now Guy Gardner was severely injured in an accident, hence, Hal’s bosses chose a new man as his backup. Naturally, these blue guys chose a black guy, because the plot demanded it. Not that they minded or Hal, but what didn’t sit well with Hal, architect John Stewart had “a chip on his shoulder the size of the rock of Gibraltar!” It would seem that like any self-respecting African-American male in the early 1970s, as seen through the eyes of a white writer, had to be an angry loudmouth, not unlike the guy who had called Lois a “whitey”. Once Stewart gets his own ring and uniform, it would seem that Hal’s worst fears are soon proven true. Stewart immediately goes off script: “Only one thing… I won’t wear any mask! This black man lets it all hang out!” Hal and John Stewart quickly butted heads. Though it would appear that Dennis O’Neil was going for a blaxploitation angle, Jordan’s reaction to Stewart’s attitude still seemed justified. Obviously, the Guardians had made a well-intentioned but ill-informed choice. This became apparent, when during a training exercise, Stewart is tasked with protecting a visiting Senator who’s running for President. The man was a racist who used fearmongering and scare tactics as his platform. But according to Hal, none of that made a difference. But it made a big the difference to John Stewart. When John goes rogue after a failed assassination attempt on the Senator’s life, Hal Jordan finally has had his fill. “You’re a disgrace to your uniform… your ring and yourself”, he charges angrily. It’s then that John reveals to him what he has learned by simply keeping both of eyes wide open. The attack on the Senator was staged, the pistol used by the black shooter was only loaded with blanks. He was a fall guy, to be gunned down by another man with real bullets. All of this was intended to prove that the Senator had been right all along. And it would start a race war which would sweep him into the White House as a consequence. But what all of this really was, was O’Neil going full circle. It would appear that Jordan would always be ready to protect “the man”, no questions asked, like he’d done this with the slumlord in issue No. 76. Clearly, Jordan still wasn’t able to look beyond the skin of his fellow man if that skin happened to be black. When Lois Lane was black, she had asked Superman if he’d still marry her. Superman had sneakily (or cowardly) replied that skin color was not the issue. He couldn’t marry her anyway, because of all his enemies who would come after her. Hal Jordan had to ask himself a simple question. Would his reaction have been the same if the Guardians had picked a white man as his backup? His break with “the man” wasn’t complete yet.

 

Hal needed to be crucified first, to become the Christ-like figure, the creator of the original Golden Age Green Lantern, Martin Nodell, had always intended the character to be. In Green Lantern No. 89 (April-May 1972) this was exactly what happened. When an environmentalist targeted Ferris Aircraft for their endangerment of the environment, this brought him into conflict with Green Lantern, with Green Arrow deciding to stand with the long-haired hippie instead of his friend. Divided as they were, the heroes fell before the security guards and the employees of the plant who saw Isaac’s crusade for the environment as a threat to their jobs. After Isaac had already lashed himself to an engine of one of the airplanes that used the cheap fuel Carol’s company had been testing, the same fuel that was hazardous to the fauna and flora, the guards strap the two heroes with chains to the tail wings of two other jetliners. Since the long-haired man had used a wooden pole to be able to tie himself to the engine, the image Neal Adams is going for is as on the nose as it’s effective. This was Jesus ready to sacrifice himself, and he does. And to his left and his right there were the other two unfortunate souls who were there to perish as well or to bear witness to what was happening. In one panel, with which Adams might have actually invented the wide-screen format artists from the next generation would popularize in comic book storytelling, a man gives his life so others can be saved. Like the equally Christ-like Klaatu, in “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, stopped all the machines around the globe for thirty minutes, except for essential services, Isaac told mankind, or at least the employees of the Ferris Aircraft Company, that they better stop for at least a few seconds to think, to reflect upon how we treated this planet. Naturally, it was Oliver who managed to break free from his chains like he had once been liberated from all his material concerns. Carol could not yet do that. Her company, or her father’s company entrusted into her care, meant more to her, the reason perhaps why she was still confined to a wheelchair. And thus, at the end of his run with Adams on Green Lantern, except for the leftover plot to be later published as a backup in The Flash, O’Neil has Hal make the call O’Neil made for Oliver when he took his company away from him. Was he to become a liberated man, also freed from what being a superhero represented, or would he stay with Carol, who had come a long way, but wasn’t able to make the next step, figuratively and quite literally? Klaatu had stopped technology for thirty minutes to force mankind to think, to reconsider. Isaac had given his life for the very idea. Carol, as it turned out in the end, was the antithesis of all of this when she said to Hal: “I suppose progress must always claim victims!” That, Carol, was the wrong kind of thing to say to a guy who was looking for himself and who hadn’t yet figured out who he was. In a split second, it didn’t need longer to make the decision, and to will his mind to shape it into reality with the aid of his ring, he thrust a shaft of pure energy across the length of the jet airliner Isaac had tied himself to, exploding the plane in the process. There was the executive who worked for Carol who quickly pointed out what he had just done: “What’s the idea…? That was a nine-million-dollar aircraft!” Hal, his back already turned on Carol, simply answered: “Send me a bill!” And a bill was what he got. But it came from Julius who had to make the decision to cancel the book. Somehow, what O’Neil and Adams had been doing didn’t resonate with most of the readers. The creative team had not failed. Schwartz knew that, since he had given his most valuable character to O’Neil. In only a few months hence, in Batman No. 243 and No. 244 (August and September 1972) he and Adams would deliver one of the best and most memorable Batman tales of all time, with the conclusion to their Ra’s Al Ghul Saga, with a story that saw The Batman die, only for him to be reborn into someone else entirely. There was evidence that the O’Neil formula worked, contrary to what Schwartz had once wanted to believe, and what the sales numbers were telling him. What was more, his run on Green Lantern was changing the way DC was going forward. As the first generation of comic book writers was retiring or being shoved out of the door, Denny O’Neil was showing the younger writers that followed him, that sometimes you had to break these characters. They could take it. When the Green Lantern series was re-started four years later in 1976, O’Neil was there to write it. In fact, he had never left, not in spirit and not literally, since there were still Green Lantern stories being produced, and O’Neil was writing them. And though he was now caught in a backup, O’Neil was plotting his return. And when he did return, and Denny O’Neil teamed up with another master artist like Neal Adams, the writer who’d destroyed the DC superheroes, would start to rebuild this superhero from the ground up.