“ONCE UPON A TIME THERE WAS AN ISLAND” – IN BLACKEST NIGHT, PART 5

“It’s good to be alone”, the man who was Green Lantern thought. He was not in his superhero costume, actually a uniform which designated its wearer as a member of the Green Lantern Corps, and as a being born without fear. And since it exemplified all this, like you literally wore your identity not just on your sleeve, but fully on the outside, this man, Hal Jordan had worn his uniform with pride. But that was all in the past, when he was younger, and his world was younger and altogether new. Then, for him, it was a huge deal to be part of this. You’d only be asked to join the ranks of this fabled group of aliens if fear was an unknown quantity to you and you were honest. That you were, an alien, even if you hailed from Earth like Hal did. Everyone in the Green Lantern Corps was an alien. They all came from different walks of life and many worlds. What united them, under the guidance of their little blue bosses, the Guardians of the Universe, was their readiness to patrol the planets and the spaceways, and their individual space sector in particular. Many centuries ago, if not millennia, who could really say with a race of immortals, the Guardians of the Universe had divided the vast regions of space into 3,600 sectors, with one honest and equally courageous lifeform asked to protect one of the sectors. Outfitted with a green power ring made from a special ore, and the power of their own will, their task was a very simple one: they weren’t supposed to let evil escape their sight, not in brightest day nor in blackest night. The ring needed to be charged every twenty-four hours with a power battery which was green, too, but invisible to the prying eyes of mere mortals, and upon performing this ritual, every Green Lantern recited a holy oath. Yet like a deeply religious person, if you were a Green Lantern, you had an open line of communication to your superiors who were like gods onto themselves. Like a saint, you received your calling and your missions, which in essence meant that you went wherever you were told to go, to oppose those who worshipped evil’s might according to the gods. They spoke via a telepathic link, with one of the Guardians projecting his big blue head right in front of you like a ghostly apparition. You listened, and like a good soldier, you kept your head down and followed commands. These ancient deities had been around for forever. Their word was final. It was the law. There’d be no dissenting opinions, no minority report. It was your job to enforce the decisions of the Guardians. Thus, talking to your betters was a bit of a one-way street. That was how it is in any organization. But you got a cool ring out of it, a ring that created physical constructs out of thin air if you willed it so. Seemingly, your imagination was its only limit. You got a uniform and you were part of a team of like-minded soldiers who served the Guardians and their whims and fancies. With so many unique beings from as many different worlds subscribing to a common goal, the message was one of hope, tolerance and inclusivity, as long as you didn’t ask any questions, or you doubted your mission. A betrayal of one of them towards the Guardians and their orders was not without precedent, and thus, fairly or unfairly, going forward, the Guardians had made the decision to clamp down on any criticism. The authority of these self-appointed watch commanders was not to be questioned. A Green Lantern was asked to act and not to think. Our blue planet was part of sector 2814 which fell under the purview of Hal Jordan. Hal had been bestowed a power ring when his predecessor Abin Sur lay dying in the desert next to his spaceship. Sur, a noble, red-skinned alien being, had fallen victim to the bands of yellow light which surrounded our planet. As Hal learned it was not the radiation itself which had swiftly incapacitated the alien visitor in such a manner that he was hardly able to crash land his spacecraft, but surely, the impact had doomed him. In fact, it was the color of the rays which had brought about Abin’s demise. Yellow was the color that the limitless power of a Green Lantern’s ring was unable to best. As he’d vowed, he would, with his last breath, Sur asked his ring to search for his replacement. In this man, this human, he found one who was worthy. It seemed a natural choice and a perfect fit. Hal had served in the war. Like many enlisted men, he was now a test pilot in the civilian sector, but since his employer, the Ferris Aircraft Company, depended on contracts from the military, his work environment was still deeply embedded in what became known as the military-industrial complex. Things weren’t really that complicated at the end of the 1950s. If you were looking for a real-life hero, like Sur’s ring was at the moment when he himself was close to death, you needn’t look further than to a test pilot. Some of the brave men who risked their lives on a daily basis in the name of progress had been selected to become part of a group of men who were going into space, men like Alan Shepard and John Glenn who any kid in a America knew by their names and collectively as astronauts. Even in the world of toys, G.I. Joe, the perennial veteran of as many wars the kids who played with him could conjure up in their play sessions, got a new mission brief. It was his time to go into outer space and here was toy maker Hasbro with his new gear for him to be properly dressed for his bold new adventures. While technically Jordan was not an astronaut, he stood for all what a man and a hero was supposed to be like and look like, with artist Gil Kane modelling his look on All-American actor Paul Newman, a specimen of a hero if there ever was one. With G.I. Joe, kids needed to imagine what an assignment in outer space might be like. In the world of comics, they could simply follow our Green Lantern of Earth from planet to planet as he tackled with many alien threats to the indigenous people of one world that was more fantastical than the one, he’d been to in the previous issue. Life on Earth and on other planets and even in space during the late 1950s and early 1960s seemed easy enough. Though Hal had to navigate his relationship with the woman he was in love with, the daughter of the founder of Ferris Aircraft and his boss in his civilian identity, since her father had put her in charge of his company, his missions were never complicated. He needn’t ever ask any questions since there were none to be asked. He had all the answers. But as children got older and they changed, they realized that the world and the society around them was changing as well. They were looking for a bit more complexity and ambiguity in their reading material and soon they’d find just that, yet less so in the product that was offered by DC Comics, Green Lantern’s publisher. Marvel Comics was slowly becoming a powerhouse under editor Stan Lee, and right from the start, once they did their revival of the superheroes earlier in the decade, their heroes seemed a bit dirtier and they weren’t that sure of themselves. Whereas Hal Jordan had accepted Abin Sur’s ring without any hesitation, Marvel’s heroes hated the burden that was placed upon them when an accident turned them into de facto gods. Or when they drew the short end of the stick, and they belonged to a group of children who were born as mutants, they resented that their genes were thusly cursed. When Marvel’s characters acquired any kind of super abilities, they’d never asked for in the first place, this didn’t automatically make them the shiniest examples mankind had to offer. Their problems didn’t vanish overnight but instead seemed to grow in relation to their new powers which more often than not further cemented their outsider status. After he’d helped to usher in the new age of superheroes at DC, writer John Broome did the unthinkable at the end of 1966. Down here on Earth, the kids from the baby boomer generation, those children that made up the vast majority of comic book readers, were not yet asking the difficult questions they’d be posing in just a few years before the cynicism of the post-Vietnam era set in. These children were about to fall in love with the idea of social justice and imagined it an achievable goal. Like their parents before them, they wanted heroes, not anti-heroes, not just yet, but instinctively they’d begun to crave heroes that better reflected their world. A fearless hero who left for space while his love interest swooned over his superhero alter-ego, now seemed like something that was outdated. Worst of all, while the Vietnam Conflict was slowly heating up, the Tet Offensive, which would shake the confidence of many Americans in their country’s military power, was just a little shy of a year in the future, and student protests getting under way, a hero who was part of a militaristic society, in his civilian identity and as a superhero when he patrolled the spaceways as a representative of an entirely unauthorized galactic police force, wasn’t that cool any longer. And truth be told, Hal Jordan was also a bit of a bore, as a man and as a superhero. That was until Broome and penciler Gil Kane and inker Sid Greene destroyed Jordan’s established world.

 

It was in Green Lantern No. 49 that Hal learned that his boss and girlfriend Carol Ferris had been seeing another guy behind his back. This was no fling or a one-time thing. She intended to marry this man. Hal reacted like any man would. Feeling the bitter sting of rejection and betrayal, he packed his bags. It was time to move on. Like many young men in those days, his calling lay elsewhere, on the road. He didn’t know what he was looking for, but in a way, that was the beauty of it. Leaving Carol and the military-industrial complex she represented behind, Hal became a bit of a drifter. He bounced from job to job. He worked as a pilot who chauffeured tourists around in a small aircraft. A huge step down from a man who risked his life on a daily basis to test new, unsafe jet-planes. Then Hal became an insurance claims adjuster. When he didn’t like that no more, he took up employment with a toy company as a sales rep. Anyway, he stayed on the road, always moving. His girlfriends changed as well. This time, there would be no long-term commitment, because as he’d learned from experience, this way lay trouble and pain. Getting out of the service as Green Lantern was a different matter altogether, though, not that he was yet ready to do so. But Hal felt the increasing need to argue with his bosses, to assert himself, to make his voice heard and his opinion matter. Following commands felt wrong. But he was only fooling himself it seemed. It took another hero, one with an equally color-themed costume, to show him the errors of his way. When writer Denny O’Neil took over the writing duties for the Green Lantern series with Neal Adams on art, the rising star at DC Comics learned that he too, like a Green Lantern, had to closely obey the rules of “the man”. At the behest of his editor Julius Schwartz he combined the two heroes. Green Arrow had once been a rather bland character as well, but he and Adams had re-defined the hero. Neal Adams gave Green Arrow a much more dashing look with a new costume and a Van Dyke beard, O’Neil had taken away his vast fortune. How better to illustrate the conflict that was raging in America at that time than to have the two heroes come to blows over political and social issues. While Hal had made a lot of progress under Broome’s writing, he was still being held back whenever writers like Gardner Fox filled-in for him, who saw Hal as a figure of the establishment. O’Neil used this to cast Green Lantern as the voice of the silent majority. His Hal liked following orders because that was what you were supposed to do. Green Arrow on the other hand closely associated with the viewpoints of the radical left. Now a man who was down on his luck, he became a social justice rebel without a cause. To make matters still more interesting, O’Neil introduced a superheroine to the mix. He had only recently brought a character from the so-called Golden Age of Comics into the world of the then current DC Universe. Black Canary. Since Robert Kanigher had always written the statuesque raven-haired woman who wore a blonde wig as her disguise and an outfit that was reminiscent of the work attire of a cocktail waitress at a nightclub, as a headstrong female crimefighter, O’Neil had no trouble to cast her as modern women in the mold of the women’s liberation movement. Naturally, she would gravitate towards a fellow like Oliver Queen who had gotten wise and with it. Side-stepping the long since established trope in dramatic storytelling that saw the need for a melodramatic love triangle between two guys and the girl caught in the middle, Dinah Drake Lance and Hal Jordan had no use for each other. She was with Oliver and that was it. It was more fun to explore their budding relationship against the backdrop of changing gender roles, which as it turned out was not so different from her relationship with her late husband before they got married, when back in the 1940s Larry wouldn’t take her seriously unless she was in her costume. As for Jordan, he met his old flame Carol again. As a socialite and a businesswoman, she was still part of the system. She was gorgeous and wealthy, and her company worked for the military. Her executives had no qualms about polluting the environment if that meant they’d make a tidy profit. Carol needed to be taken down a few pegs, and this was what O’Neil did when he crippled her. Now wheelchair bound, Carol began to realize that she was on the wrong path. Also, her infatuation with the hero and his uniform, instead of the man, something that had always stood between her and Hal, seemed silly in hindsight when viewed through the lens of a more complex world that was so vastly different to the early days of the 1960s. It was positive sign of how much Hal had grown as a character under Broome and then O’Neil’s pen that he tried to make her see things his way, the new way, by revealing his secret identity to her. Hal put all the trust he had to give into this reveal, something he’d not been able to do previously. Now a changed man, he felt he could place his faith into the woman who’d betrayed him earlier. He could tell that this Carol Ferris was no longer that woman. She freely admitted to her past mistakes, something the former, very controlled Carol had never been able to do. They got together. For real this time. Carol loved him as himself and he loved her. It wouldn’t last. How could it, in this politically charged climate? Hal Jordan didn’t have much of a career left to worry about, if there was one to begin with. She on the other hand was facing a lot of pressure. From her father Willard and the men who helped her run Ferris Aircraft. It made sense to develop an airplane fuel that would lower cost even if the exhaust fumes from the planes using it put a strain on the environment. In Green Lantern No. 89 (April-May 1972) this was exactly what happened, only that there was a nature-loving, long-haired hippie named Isaac who tied himself to one of the airplanes in protest. It was all in vain. Isaac died at dawn at the hands of some of her guards, men who were just doing their jobs and who followed commands. Hal couldn’t believe that the woman who he loved, who he had revealed himself to, would condone such an act. “I suppose progress must always claim victims,” she remarked rather casually. He thrust a shaft of pure energy created by his power ring and his will across the length of the plane Isaac had tied himself to, exploding the jetliner in the process. The damage caused set Carol’s company nine million dollars back, but he didn’t care. It was a statement he needed to make, to demonstrate to her what it meant to be a changed man. Over the course of the last two years, in the issues by O’Neil and Adams, he had fought with Green Arrow, but he’d also slowly begun to get the other man’s viewpoint. His relationship with his bosses from outer space deteriorated to the point that they needed to part ways for a while. Hal Jordan was like an unruly child who couldn’t accept the rules of his or her parents, especially not now when it was time for college. The road became Hal’s education once again. But now Jordan didn’t only crave a leave of absence from the Green Lantern Corps, a wish the Guardians had granted gladly. Now he wanted to be alone altogether, free and freed from the entanglements of other people and their lives and this included Ollie and Dinah as well. As far as the readers were concerned, he’d be free of them, too. Despite their best efforts, O’Neil and Adams weren’t able to save the book from getting canceled. For the time being, issue No. 89 remained the last one. But that was not how the story had ended. The creative duo had already produced another story, and this one signaled a new direction, but it also felt like a coda to their run. Instead of taking on themes that seemed ripped from the headlines, alas from newspapers that were two or three years old, O’Neil and Adams’ last tale came with a much-needed introspective approach. Instead of taking on yet another cause du jour or simply pitting superheroes against bad guys, this tale talked about the heroes’ personal growth. Yet this tale also exposed another aspect that had become apparent during O’Neil’s run. He did not have any idea what to do with a character like Black Canary. In alarming fashion, she had devolved from a strong, independent woman into a damsel in distress, and in this story in particular, she needed to be rescued by Green Lantern but still she almost died when a car crashed into the telephone cell, she was in. They all made it out alive at the other end, but to Hal this was a strong sign that it was time for him to pack his bags once again. He did, in the story. But as a character in a comic book, Hal was forced to do this as well. After the cancellation of his series, the final story by O’Neil and Adams saw print as a backup in another comic book, The Flash. He and the Scarlet Speedster were the first characters to get a new lease on life when editor Julius Schwartz asked his creators to come up with modern versions of old Golden Age superheroes that had fallen out of favor with readers in the 1940s and after the war. It seemed appropriate that the new Flash should offer shelter to his comrade who had just been evicted from his own title. Neal Adams had moved on as well, and though O’Neil stuck around, he understood that there needed to be changes made. With less pages available as his storytelling real estate, he made the decision to leave Green Arrow and Black Canary out of the backup feature. The two of them would find another book, and clearly, they worked best as a duo. Thus, O’Neil made sure that Hal told readers that he was glad those two were gone. They made things complicated and he welcomed the change. It even made sense from a narrative perspective. To make Green Lantern viable again, so he could return to his own book eventually, he needed to be the star. But what to do with Green Lantern? In The Flash No. 220-221 (1973), the two issues that followed the three issues of The Flash which had been used for the final story with Neal Adams on art, readers got a snapshot of one solitary fellow on the road without a map, a direction to go in or a place to belong. Jordan was back at being a drifter, with just two hundred dollars in his pocket to spend and no inkling about what lay ahead. This was basically where O’Neil had found the character when he took over from Broome a few years earlier. But there was something else going on. With Hal driving through the desert all by himself you had to be reminded of his adventures from the old days when he was traveling through the black void of space under the power of his ring. It was a sense of isolation that you got from him, while he was lost in thought and he told himself that he was glad that finally he was on his own again. No Carol, no Ollie and no Dinah. No responsibility. He was not happy, though. Hal wasn’t using his ring to get to Phoenix where he might have a chance to land a job he’d heard about. Like his predecessor Abin Sur he was using a machine, and like Sur, he had ended up in the desert. It was like this Earth was the island he was marooned on, and just looking at him, you saw that he had this vibe going on that you got from one of those forlorn outsiders in the pictures taken by Diane Arbus. Luckily, he didn’t have to wait too long before he could get into the action. Here in the middle of the desert, the place where he’d just been contemplating his loneliness, he encountered two beings from outer space, one to warn him, the other to kill him. Soon, Green Lantern took off for space.

 

Though in the second part of the story readers saw Green Lantern fighting evil aliens on a foreign world, as the hero slowly unraveled a sinister plan to assassinate other members of the Corps, Hal had found his name on a kill list, this was not like the old days. First, there needed to be some house cleaning. Hal had to eat crow. He was forced to ask his bosses to recall him into active duty. This was a menace he’d only be able to defeat once he was a full-fledged member of the Green Lantern Corps again. However, this didn’t do the trick by itself. Once Jordan returned to Earth, he found that his life was still a big mess. Back in the day, whenever the hero returned from a mission in outer space, he’d simply go back to his job, testing yet another experimental aircraft, or he’d knock back a few cold ones with Thomas Kalmaku, his sidekick or he’d take Carol to a fancy restaurant and a bit of dancing. Instead, in issue No. 224 of The Flash, readers saw him collect his unemployment check. Since this put a lot of strain on his ego, in issue No. 226, when he was on a hike in the mountains, here was a chance to reassert his manliness. If push came to shove, he’d always get by without his ring. And if he wanted to, for a good-looking guy like him, there’d also be a girl around the next corner. Carol and he were through. Though Neal Adams did make a comeback, the art during this time was very often handled by Dick Giordano, one of the inkers on the issues O’Neil and Adams had previously worked on. On top of being friends with Neal Adams, and being a great artist in his own right, Dick Giordano was the editor at DC Comics who was responsible for O’Neil coming to DC in the first place. After his tenure at Marvel had turned sour, he’d first landed at Charlton Comics where Giordano was an editor. When DC made him an offer, Dick Giordano brought along many creators he’d been working with as part of the deal. Possibly as a courtesy towards O’Neil, who believed in the Green Lantern character and who wanted to define a new direction for Jordan, Giordano himself took on the art assignments for the backup, though surely, he had to be aware that this wasn’t helping O’Neil’s career or his own. Green Lantern was a cancelled title. The Flash, the book he appeared in, was not getting that many eyeballs either. On average, The Flash was pulling in about 150,000 readers every month. Hal’s former companions now appeared in a book that sold nearly twice as many copies, Action Comics. Though technically it was Superman, the main attraction, who helped to pull in that many fans on a regular basis, nobody was buying the book for Green Arrow, the two superheroes were given the chance to build back up their audience. With the hero alternating between having adventures on Earth, which involved some silly plots by common crocks, or Hal going after some forgettable alien menace in outer space at the behest of his little blue bosses, again not unlike in the old days before John Broome had tried to make the character a bit less one note, and O’Neil still being unsure about the direction he wanted to take him in, something else was noticeable. Whenever Dick Giordano worked on the Green Lantern backup, his art felt less refined. Though Giordano was a gifted storyteller, the contrast between his work on the character and Neal’s clean style that had preceded it, was extremely jarring. Everything felt a bit rushed and unfinished. While one can argue that Giordano was perhaps busy with many of his other commitments, still when he worked on the Green Arrow and Black Canary backup strip in Action Comics, his linework looked rather polished. This was also true for Dick Dillin, the artist who succeeded him on Green Lantern, and who divided his time between this book and Action Comics, on top of doing the art for Justice League of America. The art the artists delivered for Green Lantern clearly wasn’t their best. However, both produced far superior work whenever they provided pencils for Green Arrow and Black Canary. To add insult to injury, Elliot S! Maggin, a writer who was even younger than Denny O’Neil and a rising star at DC, seemed to know exactly what to do with the attractive superhero couple. It was under Maggin that the two characters finally came into their own, on their own and as a couple. Maggin was clearly able to script a believable, adult relationship between two glamorous superheroes, perhaps a first at the publisher, something other writers, including O’Neil, who had brought the couple together, would later build on. Meanwhile, saddled with mediocre art at best, and O’Neil producing scripts which didn’t set the world on fire exactly, O’Neil hung in there, knowing full well that he was lacking something that would enable him to return Green Lantern to past glories. Though the Emerald Knight was regularly featured as a guest star in the stories of The Flash, in the end, he’d always be sent back to the doghouse that was his lonely backup strip. Not for lack of trying, mind you. Case in point, in The Flash No. 233 and 234 (1975), O’Neil told a gripping tale that was an allegory about the ills of waging war, and in this case, the art was surely a sight to behold with Dick Giordano and a young Terry Austin inking Dillin’s pencils. But where the prophetic wish was concerned that he’d uttered in issue No. 220, “It’s good to be alone”, he was just that. Up in space or down on Earth, Hal was all on his own. He was on an island, and perhaps, contrary to John Donne’s most famous quote, “No man is an island”, he was an island to himself. Green Lantern was surely nobody’s favorite superhero, and as far as O’Neil’s scripts were concerned, he never found any room for a supporting cast nor for scenes that showed Hal forming any lasting friendships or bonds of any kind. It almost seemed that his dramatic breakup with Carol after their brief, very intense romance, and him witnessing the complex, violently conflicting emotions on display between his friends had traumatized him into a splendid isolation. As the tales went on, the truth became painfully obvious. Jordan needed to re-train himself as far as human contacts went, or contacts with any species. Had Hal had any friends, as a reader you could well imagine that they got together at this point in time to suggest to him, during an intervention, that maybe he wanted to consider getting a dog. Ironically, it was exactly what his predecessor, the original Green Lantern from the Golden Age did when the publishers thought that the introduction of Streak the Wonder Dog might help with lagging sales. In Hal’s case, a dog might work wonders for his emotional makeup. The hero didn’t get a dog, exactly. Instead Jordan encountered a species of tiny, sentient space creatures, with one of the little beings quickly attaching itself to one of his shoulders. And here it was, on this vast, black island called space, a renewed sense of companionship and connection. In many ways, The Flash No. 237 (cover-dated November 1975) is a remarkable issue. The main story featured the conclusion of a storyline by Cary Bates and Irv Novick in which The Flash’s most menacing villain, The Reverse-Flash, was threatening the hero’s wife, a tale that would have major implications for the course of the series over the next years. Then, in the backup, Green Lantern entered into a new phase of his existence. Though the story didn’t feature the introduction of the Ayries yet and his new friend, or pet, who he would name Itty, it did mark the end of the hero’s time of isolation, from other beings, and from the readers. With “Let There Be… Darkness!”, O’Neil began a work relationship with an artist that would last for several years, a collaboration that would not only return Green Lantern to prominence and tie the artist even closer to the hero’s erstwhile companions Green Arrow and Black Canary, characters he’d already worked on, but as astonishingly as this seems, in the same month which saw the release of this book, the artist in question laid the groundwork for the title that would become DC’s biggest hit in years. As fate had willed it, or perhaps his bosses on far away Oa, going forward, the hero who had lost his own solo title would re-team with Green Arrow and Black Canary, and this team, which had formed years earlier under O’Neil’s stewardship, and the characters on their own, would be handled by one of the biggest superstars of the era, writer-artist Mike Grell. As far as the artistic change that came about with this backup, what was to come was only hinted at. For the time being, Grell would be held back by rather workman-like inks courtesy of Bill Draut and Tex Blaisdell, and the fact that Hal’s world was a world without women. Mike Grell had quickly become a fan favorite after he took over The Legion of Super-Heroes in Superboy, a series Dave Cockrum had vacated when he made the switch over to Marvel Comics. Though Cockrum had re-designed the costumes of the characters, his lineart had the smooth polish that harkened back to the work of Curt Swan and John Forte. When Mike Grell came on the book, which he was still penciling as well as inking at the time when he and O’Neil started working together, he soon gave the teen heroes an edgier look that befitted the nascent disco era as it also took away the last vestiges of sweetness and innocence that had lingered well into Cockrum’s tenure. Grell’s characters didn’t have the sleek glamour model prettiness that artists like Cockrum and Adams favored. Instead they felt more like real people, adolescents and adults alike, who were seriously beautiful and who were pretty much aware of their attractiveness. Like with the other two artists, all his women were impossibly gorgeous, but he gave their faces and their posture a rougher, world-weary expression, and where Adams’ heroes were always handsome like movie stars, Grell gave his men bodies that were lean and showed off their rippling sinews which always seemed tense. Working on this futuristic soap opera, centered around a group of pretty, but rather vapid super-teens from across the galaxy, had taught him how to draw spaceships, an aspect of his craft he quickly put to good use on the Green Lantern backup. Grell’s intergalactic vessels looked like nothing else at DC, but still they betrayed the same lyrical, thin-lined romanticism that is widely associated with Al Williamson. Grell’s rocket ships were thin and sleek. They looked functional but like with his pretty characters, there was a cold, efficient harshness to them. Though there was a cardboard cut-out two-dimensionality to his backgrounds that would remain in his art for years, Grell’s clean lineart made space, machines, and aliens and alien landscape very interesting to look at. And while they never got that from Giordano or Dillin, when Grell came onto the title, his art did send a message to readers. Here was an artist who wanted to work on the character, and even more so once O’Neil made the call to bring the band back together, for Grell to draw the heroes he liked a bit more. But before he could ever hope to again team-up the color-matching heroes like he’d done when Julius Schwartz had asked him to, O’Neil had to complete Hal’s return to the status of a hero space cop, something he and Broome had taken great pains to write him away from. The mid-70s were a different time when compared to the late 1960s and the start of the decade. Readers wanted heroes again, albeit ones with a harder edge, which made Grell such a perfect artist. In The Flash No. 243, O’Neil turned Hal into such a hero and Grell’s and inker Terry Austin’s art meshed with his script perfectly. Green Lantern had originally started as the prototypical hero of the space age. John Broome, who was open to all types of psychedelics to enhance his creative juice, then changed him into a searcher when that was the thing to do. With O’Neil and Adams, readers witnessed Hal getting regressed into a law and order guy, then slowly transformed into the new, sensitive male of the times of flower power, which were actually long in the past when O’Neil got around to it. Now, with Grell as his new collaborator and the post-Vietnam era on the horizon, he was preparing Hal for yet another rebirth, as a tough-talking, non-nonsense cop. When a group of blue-skinned aliens arrived on our world, which was part of his beat anyway, naturally this did not sit well with Hal, especially since this species, who were called the Ravagers, arrived with ill intent. Like a Sheriff in an old Western, Green Lantern rounded them up to tell them loud and clear that they better got out of Dodge but fast: “Listen… listen real good! I’m assigned to protect this space sector and protect it I will! If I catch you in it again, I’ll do more than wreck your equipment.” And just like that, Hal reclaimed his identity as member of the Green Lantern Corps and as a man who followed orders. The vastness of space didn’t change, and his gods remained unimpressed, but this was the first time in many years that he felt right again, as if, for better or worse, this was exactly who’d intended to be. The Flash had a strong lead-in story by Bates and Novick which featured the death of The Top, the unofficial leader of his rogues gallery, called The Rogues. The title was firing on all cylinders now, and while Green Lantern delivered his menacing speech that felt at odds with the somewhat light-hearted Flash, his new comrade and fellow traveler Itty sat comfortably on his shoulder. Just three issues prior, Green Lantern had welcomed the lifeform with the words: “Welcome aboard! I can use a little company.” He’d learned his lesson. Hal didn’t want to be alone on this island after all. It was time for a reunion with his partners.

 

It’s a trope of serialized writing that at a certain point in time there will be a major shake-up. Fans know the cover blurb “Everything you think you know about this character is wrong… nothing will ever be the same.” They also know that this is mostly a promotional tool. To make something old appear new again, there will be a fresh coat of paint, the illusion of change. Barring any line-wide event on the scope of a “Crisis on Infinite Earths”, DC’s major re-boot of the 1980s, what you’ll get is a change that will last for a couple of issues until everything reverts to the status quo. In the end, this is what long-time readers are comfortable with, what they like best. And why not? This is how they fell in love with the characters. There are just a handful of cases that saw the origin of superhero in an ongoing continuity re-tooled in such a dramatic fashion that indeed nothing was the same ever again. Most curious are those character re-boots that not only have become the accepted version of how this particular origin stories goes, but that have superseded the previously established lore to such a complete degree that most readers don’t even suspect that there ever was another version to begin with. To achieve this, to make long-time fans forget and new readers to never suspect, you had to tell a better story, a story only a master storyteller knew how to tell. There is little doubt, next to none really, that writer-artist Jack Kirby was such a unique storyteller who could spin any old yarn into the most memorable tale of the imagination. By the middle of the 1950s, everybody in the industry knew who Jack was. Pushing forty, Jack already had a career in his rearview mirror other artists would consider themselves lucky if this constituted their life’s work. In the 1940s, Jack and his work partner Joe Simon had become the premier creative duo in comics and as they moved from Marvel (then known as Timely Comics) to DC Comics and other publishers, their fans followed them. In 1947, they’d created an entirely new genre, romance comics, which sold gangbusters. Still basking in the glow of what was another crowning achievement, one of many thus far, Jack and Joe founded their own comic book company in 1954. However, publishing comics while also creating them, looked easier than done. Soon, the partners had a falling out which buried their plans. Kirby eventually returned to DC which was now very different from the company he’d encountered fifteen years earlier. Harry Donenfeld, once a co-owner of three comic book publishers, had long since solidified his holdings. After he’d also absorbed All-American Publishing into DC/National, they were the biggest game in town. Jack Liebowitz, Donenfeld’s friend and accountant ran the merged enterprise, but on a day to day basis, several powerful editors held sway. Mort Weisinger, a man who had once operated a literary agency as a mere teenager with his friend Julius Schwartz, was the most powerful and the most feared guy among these custodians of this tapestry of accumulated narratives spun around the greatest superheroes, only that the superheroes were losing readers. One by one, every superhero book was getting cancelled till only a handful of them survived. Of course, there were Batman and Wonder Woman and there was the hero who had started it all, Superman. Then there was Green Arrow. When Weisinger had come to DC, he’d created this character with artist George Papp. They took a lot of inspiration from Robin Hood and a then popular movie serial called “The Green Archer” that was based on a crime novel by writer Edgar Wallace. When the duo premiered their creation in More Fun Comics No. 73 (1941), he was a muscular hero in a green tunic and green slacks and a bycoket on his head that came with a feather that was red like the gloves he wore. He had a bow and arrows, of course, hence his name. His true identity was kept a secret by a tiny domino mask. Initially, there wouldn’t have been much to reveal anyway. In his civilian identity he was Oliver Queen, a guy who looked rather generic and who owned a vast fortune it seemed. Like with The Batman, DC’s second major superhero, technically their first since Superman saw print in a National Comics publication, the company Donenfeld hadn’t founded but stolen from its past owner when he reneged on the credit line he’d extended only to buy the outfit on the cheap once it had fallen into to bankruptcy, Oliver didn’t have to worry about cash. This fact explained how he was able to afford vehicles like the ones used by The Caped Crusader. There was the Arrowplane, which was a misleading name for what was ostensibly Green Arrow’s version of the Batmobile, only that his car came in yellow and that it was shaped like an arrow. Then there was the Arrowcraft, the swiftest boat afloat, well this side of the Batboat, only that Batman got his boat four years later. The two heroes were similar in other aspects as well. Whereas Superman fought mad scientists and their mechanical monsters, and he even took on platoons of enemy troops, The Batman and Green Arrow tussled with street level thugs in what amounted to a cartoony film noir setting. They both had a teenaged sidekick who helped to make their books even more popular, though Batman and his ward Robin had not just one book, but two, and his counterpart and his youthful assistant Speedy were relegated to an anthology title. But still, in no small thanks to Speedy’s popularity with very young readers, the duo often made the cover. Since Oliver and his kid sidekick Roy Harper could never hope to match Batman and Robin’s popularity, their story would have most likely ended when arguably better heroes were left stranded by the wayside in 1946, which was the year More Fun Comics got cancelled. But this was also the year when Weisinger returned from military service. His career had blossomed under the mentorship of legendary editor Whitney Ellsworth who’d long since climbed up the corporate ladder. Sometime before the war, as DC’s editorial director, he’d moved Weisinger’s colleague Jack Schiff from editing Superman to the Batman titles, and he’d put Weisinger in charge of The Man of Steel. Now with Mort back in the halls of his employer, he made sure that his creation to the DC lore, Green Arrow survived the brutal culling which fell many of his brethren. From issue No. 103 (1946) until No. 269 (1960), he and Speedy were featured in the pages of Adventure Comics, the home of the still immensely popular Superboy. Thus, like they were caught in a snow globe that sheltered them from the passing of time and the alternating appetites of a readership that changed every five years or so, Green Arrow and Speedy survived without them having to adapt much. That was until Jack Kirby returned to DC Comics. Again, very similar to The Batman and his first appearance, Mort had not bothered with telling the origin of his hero when he’d introduced him in More Fun Comics. Now with Kirby around, Mort was looking for assignments for this artist who seemed well beyond his prime and who’d been humbled by the loss of both his company and his business partner and long-time friend. To add insult to injury, Jack had just been let go by Timely Comics, the same company he and Joe Simon had gifted with their most popular creation, namely Captain America. Martin Goodman, the owner and publisher of Magazine Management Enterprises, the parent of Timely, had tried his hand at distributing comic books himself. Thus, he had established a shingle he’d named Atlas Comics. When this failed, he switched to a distributer, only for his new partner to go under soon thereafter. Scrambling to come up with an alternative, Goodman entered into distribution deal with Independent News, one of America’s largest distribution outfits for periodicals at that time, a company owned by Harry Donenfeld. With Jack Liebowitz not one to ever feed a competitor, under the new agreement, with he’d been forced to sign under duress, Goodman was barred from putting out more than eight titles a month. Facing a line wide cut of about fifty books down to those eight, editor Stan Lee couldn’t even give his best artists enough pages to support their families. The most veteran, albeit most expensive guys like Kirby got pushed out of the door. DC had plenty of work but Weisinger had no idea what to make of Kirby whose rough-hewn linework didn’t fit to DC’s well established and highly refined house style. On instinct, he let him do his old creation Green Arrow, a hero who now appeared in World’s Finest Comics as well as in Adventure Comics. Weisinger didn’t put Kirby on the backups for him to reinvent the wheel, but the artist couldn’t leave well enough alone. After he’d recontextualized the detective hero as an adventurer whose stories often bordered on science fiction tales, with Adventure Comics No. 256 he turned his attention to telling the hero’s origin. The cover date of January 1959 for the issue told its own story though. Kirby, his wife Roz and possibly writer Ed Herron who offered story input to Jack at that time, worked much earlier on “The Green Arrow’s First Case” than this date suggests. Kirby had long since been ousted from DC when the book hit newsstand which was some months earlier anyway since comic books were usually dated forward to allow for a longer life on the shelves and spinner racks before the retailer would claim credit for any product not sold. Kirby, who had just established a new team of adventurer heroes at DC Comics, The Challengers of the Unknown, a massive hit with readers, had entered into a lawsuit with Jack Schiff, the man who edited Batman. Negotiations for a royalty agreement between Kirby and the powerful DC editor had gone south fast. Months earlier, Schiff had referred Kirby to an agent who was in the market for an artist who could take on a new syndicated science fiction newspaper comic strip, something the editor knew Jack would be ideally suited for. Once the strip became a success, thanks to Jack’s ingenuity and his choice to hire legendary artist Wally Wood to help him with the inks, here was Schiff to collect on his finder’s fee in perpetuum, which was something Jack reluctantly accepted, though eventually he was not willing to sign over some of his profits for no real work done by Schiff. Though the court sided with Schiff, the editor was vindictive and rather petty. He made sure that Jack wouldn’t be able to work at DC ever again. In the long run, Schiff failed. Kirby did return to DC eventually. Meanwhile, the artist’s vast imagination brought about a new age of heroes when Jack Kirby co-created the Marvel Universe.

 

“Once upon a time there was an island.” This is what most readers will recall when they are asked about the origin of Green Arrow. There was an island. This core aspect has long since become a fixture in every subsequent re-telling of the hero’s origin tale, and it was used as a central narrative theme when Green Arrow made the jump to mainstream television. The island is also the setting where most of Jack’s story takes place, a tale that alternates between present day and the past. Told in less than seven pages, it is a masterclass in storytelling efficiency. In just one speech bubble we learn that Starfish Island, later just called Star Island, was the place where “the Green Arrow was born!” But earlier, who was Oliver Queen before he accidentally fell off the ship he was traveling on? One sentence will suffice, one sentence that opens up a world in the readers’ imagination: “Then I was just Oliver Queen, wealthy playboy traveler.” Without anyone on the vessel noticing his absence, since it is already dark, and with the ship undeterred on its chartered course, the shipwrecked wealthy playboy traveler has little choice but swim ashore the unexplored island which was surrounded by pointy rock formations which made it next to impossible for a boat to come near it. Without another soul on this forsaken place which had little to offer but vast vegetation with lush greens and caverns for shelter and very little chance of rescue, Oliver knew he had to find means for his survival. There was fresh water, but he needed sustenance. Once he’d shed most of his expensive clothes and he was bare-chested at the fire he’d built, Oliver knew more primitive ways were called for. He began to fashion a bow and several arrows from the material at his disposal, but he also made his shafts special. He fastened some strong vines around his arrows lest he’d lose them when he practiced his aim. The line on the arrow also came in handy when he impaled a large fish. This gave him the idea to design an arrow that came with a net. And while the smoothness of a charming, spoiled life receded from his formerly soft features and a distinct, angular roughness took hold, his body began to follow suit. His torso molded into a leaner, tenser and more muscular frame as his arms now rippled with sinews that guided his projectiles. In order to survive this barren place, Oliver had willed his aim to be true. But like perhaps a man must or will instinctively do, Oliver blended in perfectly. He had made himself a green suit from the long, shiny leaves he found on the trees. But alas, after a long time on the atoll had passed, time enough to re-make him into more than a playboy, maybe even more than a man, a commercial freighter came near the starfish shaped island. From the distance, he could tell that there was something amiss on large container ship. The crew had started a mutiny and the men threatened the life of the captain and his loyal officers. Oliver immediately understood that his calling lay out there on this boat and beyond. Lest anyone might recognize him from his wilder days as man about town and a celebrity, not measuring what use he’d made of his chance fate had presented him with, he concealed his identity with black grease which he used to approximate an eye mask. Outfitted with the skills Oliver had acquired and his trick arrows, the mutineers proved no match for him, and he soon gained control of the cargo vessel. When asked by the grateful elderly captain who he was, his response came swiftly: “The Green Arrow!”, as Oliver’s mind raced, and he saw himself returning to the urban jungle of modern life that came with certain dangers courtesy of men like those he’d just defeated. And thus, the playboy traveler became a crimefighter and a superhero, and Jack Kirby had just told you the story of his origin. Only this was not how the story went, not originally. Whereas he had a lot in common with The Batman, certain things about Green Arrow were very different. In what perhaps was a bit of wish fulfillment and male fantasy all at once, when Bob Kane and Bill Finger created The Batman, they made his alter-ego a strikingly handsome millionaire who was surrounded by lovely women who adored him. Though Green Arrow eventually faced off against his first female villain, The Cat, in Adventure Comics No. 104 (1946), when Weisinger and Papp introduced the character in 1941, his world was a world without women. It would remain like that for some years to come. Green Arrow wasn’t alone, though. Contrary to Batman, who film noir fan Finger had envisioned as a deeply romanticized lone figure of the night, Green Arrow was never alone, not in his first adventure, and not once readers were a couple of pages into More Fun Comics No. 89 (1943). Whereas Batman found his sidekick Robin almost a year after his own debut, the team of Green Arrow and Speedy began on the cover of More Fun Comics No. 73, or more precisely, it actually pre-dated the introductory story, since in the timeline of their world, they were already a well-established crimefighting duo long before readers learned of their existence. But what about this bond between an older man and this boy? How did they meet and became close acquaintances and friends? Readers were indeed left to wonder, especially since Speedy was very different when compared to Dick Grayson, who was Robin and Bruce Wayne’s ward. While Robin idolized Batman and he always tried to be a good kid, Speedy seemed a bit rougher around the edges, and with readers responding positively to the adolescent who wore a costume that mirrored Green Arrow’s to a tee, only that it came in red, Speedy was less than a sidekick but a crimefighter in his own right and he was almost on par with Green Arrow. He also seemed a bit smarter than the gullible and emotionally high-strung Robin. When in More Fun Comics No. 89 (cover-dated March 1943) readers finally learned the origin of Green Arrow, it came as no shock at all that when this tale was told for the first time, that Oliver’s story was intertwined with the story of a little kid named Roy Harper. “The Birth of the Battling Bowman” by Joe Samachson, Cliff Young and Steve Brodie uses the same technique Kirby would use many years later. After the story kicks off in what was present day, we flash back to an unspecified past. Amazingly, instead of learning about these past events from Oliver’s perspective, it’s Roy who related the first part of the story. He was still a small child back then and Harper was traveling with his father and his father’s Native American servant in a tiny plane. When they experienced complete engine failure, they crashed in a remote area that did have a name, though: “We crashed on Lost Mesa… a mountain of stone, far away from civilization.” He was able to save his son and his servant, but Roy’s father, the pilot of the small craft, died in the crash. Quoag, the man who had been loyal to the older Harper, soon became Roy’s protector, but the boy did show promise early on. Under Quoag’s guidance he quickly learned his way around a bow and arrows, and truth be told, Roy was content: “I put on weight and muscle… I was happy, I never wanted to leave Lost Mesa.” As Roy grew a bit older, and he was a formidable hunter now, he might never have left this place on his own accord if not for that fateful day on which he and Quoag spotted a small plane like the one that had cost his father his life and which had brought Roy and his surrogate father to this lost site. But in the frame story which had served as a launch pad for this glance into the past, now Oliver began to talk about the events which had put him on the course to Lost Mesa. Oliver Queen was not a wealthy man, but over the span of ten years he had put together a vast collection of Native American arts and crafts which were currently on display at the city museum. And since this came part and parcel with his studies into the lives of indigenous tribes long since dead, he’d also mastered archery. He was fleet of foot as well, a skill that aided him well when some unsavory characters attempted a break in at the city museum when he was still working at night. He successfully beat the intruders, but then the place went ablaze in a fire that had started during their scuffle. His priceless collection was destroyed, but he didn’t let these men perish. Distraught from the severe loss he’d suffered, he looked for distraction and maybe solace at his gentlemen’s club. It was there that one of his wealthy pals suggested that he continue with his work by searching for archeological treasures which were believed to have had survived the passing of time at a mystical place called Lost Mesa. Unfortunately, another group of men had overheard their exchange and the word treasure had triggered them into action. It was the plane of these men Roy and his friend Quoag spotted. Hardly had they landed their aircraft, did they demand from Roy that he told them where Oliver was hiding, the man they had pegged as their guide to unimaginable riches. But Roy, who had no idea who this Oliver was, didn’t take too kindly to being manhandled by some sleazy thugs. Well-nigh single-handedly, until Quoag joined the fray, the teenager who had been but a boy when his father’s plane had fallen out of the sky, beat the men almost to a pulp. Roy was this skilled as a fighter by now. Still, Quoag deemed it wise for them to retreat, and when Roy encountered Oliver, his fists did speak loud and clear. If the other men were crooks, why wouldn’t this stranger be as well? But with his attention taken off these treasure hunters, they got the drop on Roy and Oliver. With their guns pulled, they demanded to know where the gold was, that was until Oliver laughed in their faces. There was no gold to be found at Lost Mesa he explained. He was looking for priceless items, yes, but from a historical perspective strictly. They men didn’t believe him. The lure of the vast riches they’d all imagined was too strong. But there was the always loyal Quoag to rescue them and all three of them beat a hasty retreat to some of the caverns the Lost Mesa offered. With Oliver’s white shirt too easily spotted, he used some of the green leaves to give it a new coat of paint that matched his green pants. With Roy already decked out in a completely red attire, unbeknownst to the man and the teen, they’d chosen the colors they’d soon be known for as a crimefighting duo. The criminals wouldn’t let them be, however, and they killed Quoag with their guns. Roy had his bow and arrows and Oliver now took up the same equipment, albeit from the fallen Native American. But instead of bringing the fight to the men who coldly murdered the second father Roy had known, they retreated further into the cave they found themselves in. This was when the discovered what these criminals were so certain could be found on Lost Mesa: unfathomable riches in gold. Oliver was a rich man now and he’d make certain that Roy partook in his newly acquired wealth. In the end, a guy from the city had gained Roy’s trust and perhaps even admiration when Oliver proved to the boy that his aim was as true as his. As for those criminals, they died when a huge Native American idol toppled, the same statue Oliver had hooked with an arrow to which he’d fastened a string in what was the debut of his soon to be famous arrow-line. That the idol was made of pure gold proved to be some poetic justice, at least in Oliver’s mind. What makes this first origin story of Green Arrow so utterly remarkable is not only the way in which scripter Samachson solved an interesting puzzle, namely the near parity of a fully-grown man and boy who had hardly grown past his boyhood years. The answer was that they were both equally skilled and that Roy was wiser and more resourceful and better trained than his youth let on. What is more surprising is what is being told rather causally in the framing device. As they each tell the story from their individual point of view to one another and the readers, the hero and his youthful ward slip out of their costumes to spend some time with grooming in the bathroom. It is Roy who gets into a shower cabin first, then, all the while Roy is getting all soaped up and after Oliver has had some time to glance into a mirror to admire his handsome face we assume, he enters the cabin next. Roy is no longer in the cabin, mind you, he’s now busy with drying up, but like when he was using the shower before, the curtain is pulled aside with Roy looking directly at Oliver’s body. There is a rather sweet innocence to these proceedings, but then again, a reader might take this as a strong endorsement that some men might share a bond that ran deeper than fatherly love or brotherly love. It’s quite telling that both Weisinger and Samachson completely side-stepped the idea that Oliver was yet another dad for the orphaned boy who seemed motherless as well. It is also quite remarkable that the one hero who lived in a world without women seemingly, would be one half of the superhero couple who would share the first significant and serious relationship between a superhero and a superheroine in DC’s universe.

 

Going back to the first adventure of Green Arrow and Speedy in More Fun Comics No. 73, there is one panel that oddly enough seems to possess the ability to foretell the entire history an artist-writer would have with this hero, like a snap-shot of the same image taken across time. It’s seems rather fitting that this simple drawing which concluded Green Arrow’s first story but was completely detached from it at the same time, was intended to announce to the readers that soon more tales with this hero could be located on the spinner racks of the nation. The image shows an arrow passing through the hand of one man who clearly has no good intentions. What the arrow does, other than penetrating the man’s flesh, is to make him drop his weapon. When DC Comics published a mini-series in 1987 in their then original prestige format, a three-parter built around Green Arrow, readers saw nearly the same image in its first issue, an arrow shot through a hand, forcing the bad guy to drop his instrument of death. This time, the image was very much part of the story and this time the image announced something else. As it stands, the beautifully illustrated The Longbow Hunters had the great misfortune that it appeared right around the same time the publisher put out two other series that would change the course of comic books and the entire comic book industry forever, Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, the latter series using the same format. While not as ground-breaking and seminal as the other works, The Longbow Hunters is jaw-dropping in its own right. Though deeply poetic at times, it is one of the most disturbing tales DC has ever published, on a personal and psychological level, and for its inclusion of graphic depictions of violence. What is so striking about this series is not how it yet again seems to redefine the character of Green Arrow and his alter-ego Oliver Queen as many readers understood it at the time the story hit the then nascent direct market i.e. distributing comics not to local supermarkets and some such, but to the dedicated shops located at some strip mall or a shopping plaza and operated by aged comic book fans. Truth be told, The Longbow Hunters does nothing of that sort. What it is, is a continuation of what the character had always been about. Though it does take a huge toll on him, mentally and psychologically, Green Arrow kills his opponents if need be or if they’re especially nasty. He did so in his first origin tale, and he would do the same throughout the course of his career. The Batman also killed, not with intent, but by using excessive force or by leaving a villain to his death, but he made sure he was not seen doing it, and not to kill a villain, became his mantra after his more violent first year. Green Arrow on the other hand, did not murder in the shadows lest the glow from his heroic persona may suffer in consequence, he wanted people to know what he did and why he did it. Batman was content with scaring the living daylight out of the superstitious lot that was the criminal element. When Green Arrow took aim at you and he was about to let loose one of his pointed arrows, you better believed that your life might come to an end in a split second. The Longbow Hunters hailed from artist Mike Grell, by that time also a very accomplished writer and one of the superstars of the comic book industry. In the first issue, Grell retold the origin of Green Arrow once again, the Kirby version which had become accepted canon. It was not the first time Grell went back to Star Island. In DC Super Stars No. 17 (November-December 1977), Grell and his then partner in crime Denny O’Neil recounted Green Arrow’s origin for a period that most comic book historians call “The Bronze Age of Comics”, a much darker time that followed a fun and whimsical era that was a time of wonder. Consequently, this lavishly illustrated story, with inks by Bruce Patterson, starts with Green Arrow pointing an arrow at an armed bad guy who is holding a young woman of color hostage. But rather tellingly, when going back to the beginning, once again told as a story within a story, O’Neil and Grell offer an explanation why Oliver’s world was utterly devoid of women in his earlier days, even when he was ostensibly a wealthy playboy. Apart from Grell’s propensity for showing manly men in violent adventure settings, he was surely an interesting choice for this aspect of the story, since Grell was famous for the way he drew women. Born in 1947, a baby boomer, he was a comic fan of the 1950s. Like many of the artists whose work he saw in those comic books, he received a full training as an artist. Grell studied art at the Chicago Academy of Fine Art and in addition, he took the Famous Artists School’s correspondence course in cartooning to further hone his craft. Though his character work felt a bit stiff, like he was posing poorly articulated action figures, and his backgrounds looked flat, something that is very noticeable during the first years of his career as a comic book artist, there is a sense of romanticism and adventure present in his work early on that is as much influenced by the classic masters, the style of newspaper cartoonists like Milton Caniff and especially Alex Raymond and Hal Foster, and artists like Al Williamson with whom he shared a predisposition for the use of a rather delicate linework. Facing a situation many of his peers were in during their late teens in those years, Grell elected to join the U.S. Air Force instead of waiting around until he was drafted into Army service. His time in the Air Force also helped with expanding his horizon when he was deployed to Saigon where Grell worked as an illustrator for Uncle Sam. After a brief stint as Dale Messick’s assistant on the Brenda Starr comic strip, Grell found that comic book companies were interested in working with him. As a freelancer, Grell made DC Comics his new home. After working for about a year for the publisher, he caught a lucky break. Dave Cockrum was vacating the Legion of Super-Heroes feature in Superboy. While more veteran artists mightn’t have liked to follow Cockrum who not only left the strip but DC altogether when he got an offer from Marvel, Grell had the benefit of being a novice who are often fearless due to their hubris and lack of rejections. But in fact, Cockrum had made an undeniable impact on the series which had been in a moribund state before he came onto the book. Only recently, Cockrum had re-designed all the costumes of the teenage superheroes and he had moved them forward in age. Where they had looked nice and clean in the past, under his pencils and inks these characters became hip and handsome, and especially the girls, who he decked out in barely-there costumes and thigh-high boots, became impossibly gorgeous. Case in point, Superboy No. 193 (February 1973) in which the raven-haired Shrinking Violet presented her new garb. She’d always been a bit of a bore in her 1960s standard issue mini skirted costume that came with knee-high boots, the look of one hundred women if not more in sci-fi fiction. Shrinking Violet’s shiny hair was longer now, and this beauty was attired in a sleek, tight-fitting, green and black bodysuit that came with a pair of high-heeled, green boots that accentuated her thighs which, without warning, appeared a mile long. She seemed to possess a much-changed attitude to go along with her new set of togs which found its expression in the way she moved and posed herself. Though she showed up for only two panels, she knew how to make the most of her limited role. The star of that issue was Duo Damsel, who was decked out in a new, albeit skimpier costume, an outfit that featured high-heeled, yellow over-the-knee-boots which had an interesting eye-catcher in that they came with round cut-outs along the boot legs on each side. Additionally, Duo Damsel sported a new, much shorter hairdo to emphasize how hip and decidedly fashionable she had become overnight, surely a fact that gave some adolescent fans of the Legion much hope since she dated the only nerd on the team, Bouncing Boy. Intended as a backup feature, it really didn’t take long, with the changes Cockrum introduced to the strip, for the Legion to rise to a popularity not seen since their earliest adventures. By issue No. 198 (October 1973), Superboy could only be found in the title if he joined some of the other Legion members on one of their mission in the far-away future. His solo stories had effectively ended. One issue earlier, the series had already been re-titled. The book was now called Superboy Starring The Legion of Super-Heroes, a name to better reflect the new status of the former backup feature thanks to Cockrum’s achievements during his brief tenure. He was indeed a fan favorite, but little did his fans suspect that the two new tales featured in Superboy No. 202 (May-June 1974) would be his swan song. But clearly, he had given notice to the powers that be at DC Comics. This issue was 100 pages spectacular, with editor Murray Boltinoff making the peculiar choice to feature a six-pager as the lead-in, a story that featured just two Legionnaires, not fan-favorites at that, though most of the issue’s real estate was given over to reprints. Ironically, one of these dealt with the fall-out from a Legionnaire having killed his opponent. After much hemming and hawing, the unfortunate fellow got the boot from his teammates. Unceremoniously expelled from the Legion, the tale ended with Star Boy being invited to join a band of outsiders and rejects, The Legion of Substitute Heroes. His girl, Dream Girl had brokered the deal, and she stuck with him. O’Neil and Adams had presented a very similar story as the final tale during their run, only that their story was about Green Arrow and Black Canary. Buried underneath a virtual avalanche of stories from the past, Dave Cockrum’s final story appeared at the end of the issue. Inadvertently, by putting that many reprints into the issue, Boltinoff offered readers plenty of opportunities to compare the art in these tales to the linework and inks the departing artist provided. The verdict could not have been favorable for the former. Though the artwork by Curt Swan and George Klein is attractive, it must have felt rather stilted when looking at Cockrum’s work, especially since Dave chose to open the story not with one, but two splash pages, the second one taking up even more space than just one page. Cockrum’s art is sleek and dynamic and there is no way of knowing to what heights he might have taken the Legion next, but then there was the opportunity the reboot The X-Men. As for the lead-in story, Boltinoff combined the leaving artist with his replacement, most likely to get him up to speed in as little time there’d be left till the training wheels needed to come off. Inking Cockrum on his penultimate tale (written by Cary Bates) was Grell’s first assignment on the title he’d make his home.

 

“Lost: A Million Miles from Home!”, Dave Cockrum’s and Mike Grell’s only collaboration, is an intriguing story about two people who are shipwrecked in the blackness of space. In that, it is a psychological tale of fear and terror. What makes it noteworthy is the degree to which Grell’s contributions are evident, and how well they fit to the narrative, aspects that would become hallmarks of his work going forward. On a purely visual level, what one notices first is how much his version of Shrinking Violet, one of these two unfortunately souls who are marooned for all eternity as it would seem, differs from Cockrum’s a few issues earlier, this is taking into account that not he, but Cockrum provided the linework. Violet is softer in appearance at first. Her eyes are big and her glossy hair has a nice bounce, something that was a staple of women’s hairstyles in the early 1970s. Inking Cockrum, Mike Grell was clearly using fashion magazines as reference as well as the art from European artists like Esteban Maroto who was working for American comic book magazines at that time. There is something extremely fashionable about her, but Grell also gives her a much more pronounced body type. Her bust is fairly small, her waist is as tiny as he can get away with and her legs are impossibly long. She is as much of a male fantasy as she is one of the girls, he must have seen all around himself at that time. Her posture expresses a lot of personality. This makes her feel real, hardened and wise beyond her years. Here was a remarkably gorgeous woman who knew that she lived in a world that was anything but, and it showed, around the edges of her face, it showed. The other thing Grell does very well is to have his characters emote. Violet and Colossal Boy constantly change from hope to fear as they think they have located a solution to their problem, yet all seems lost mere seconds later only for the cycle to start again. For that, Grell gives the two of them one look of sweetness and on the opposite end, one of depressing harshness, and in-between, a theatre of the mortal coil of mankind’s existence in a hostile environment, be it up there in the far reaches of cold space or down here on Earth. Fittingly, in the next issue, the first of many for which he provided pencils and inks, Cary Bates asked him to kill off a Legionnaire. It was also the issue in which he showed Dream Girl, who had long since re-joined the Legion together with Star Boy, in what was clearly not just a highly suggestive pose but one that was sexual and sexualized as well, all the while she was poorly attired. He was well on his way of finding the central motifs for his comic book work for years to come. For better or worse, this issue also offered an insight into the inner workings of the comic book industry, the same industry that let their writers and artists put an exploration of sex and death into a comic strip that was marketed towards young children. But surely, when looking at this drawing of this white-haired beauty as she lay sprawled out on a mattress in a barely-there nightgown, one thigh exposed, bent, and raised up into the air, her eyes and her pink mouth closed, her head and her long hair tilted back, many boys must have hit puberty fast. And if you were a fan, you most certainly read with interest what the editor had to say in a brief message that seemed to have appeared from the same nowhere to which the main part of Dream Girl’s nightie had apparently been banned to. After throwing some shade at Cockrum for abandoning the title that had made him a star, according to Boltinoff at least, going so far as to insinuate that there was a lack of professionalism at play here, lest readers came to think that it might have been the other way around, Dave had made the Legion a fan-favorite series again, the editor praised Grell by even touting his time in Vietnam. Sensing this was bigger than one artist replacing the other, Boltinoff assured fans: “Steps will be taken to ensure that the Legion survives. There’s always someone warming up in the bullpen: the show must go on: there’s always an understudy in the wings waiting to become a star”, before trying to sell Grell to the readers even harder: “So a new star is born. The Legion helped make Dave: it can do likewise for Mike with your continued loyalty!” What it was were sour grapes, real panic setting in, and a word of warning towards Grell to better step up his game. Cockrum’s Legion was a hit with fans, the letters of praise that poured into the office made that unmistakably clear if not the improved sales numbers, least of all the decision to ban Superboy’s solo stories from the title, and here was Boltinoff, unwilling to let go. Should Grell not work out, with his tough gig to pull off after Cockrum, there’d be other artists hungry for the job he was given. As it would turn out, Boltinoff’s worries were well-founded. Grell lasted for only twenty-two issues on the series, which was renamed once again, this time to Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes. Though he’d do the occasional fill-in story, the artist didn’t leave because he was rejected by the readers or because Boltinoff got one of those fabled artists he’d mentioned once, and again right in the next sentence, in case fans weren’t immediately convinced, who were chomping at the bit to do the book instead. Mike Grell left because after less than three years his popularity had long outgrown a series, he had no love for and a team he called “The Legion of Stupid Heroes.” Just two months after he began his rather brief tenure on the book Cockrum’s departure had placed on his drawing table, he fell in love. For that to come to pass, two things had to happen. Adams’ visual redesign, followed just two months later by O’Neil’s reworking of the character on a psychological level, events that began to chart a new course for Green Arrow, and which came prior to their legendary team-up. With what had happened in The Brave and the Bold No. 85 and Justice League of America No. 75 (both published in 1969), unbeknownst to them, the two creators laid the foundation for Grell’s new favorite superhero and by extension, one of DC’s biggest sales hits of the 1970s. His first encounter with Green Arrow came in Action Comics No. 440 (October 1974). With the following issue, Grell made Green Arrow and Black Canary his characters. When Grell revisited them in issue No. 444, he began to assume script duties as well. Early in 1975, DC launched a new try-out comic title in the same vein as their long-running Showcase book. This series was called 1st Issue Special, a name designed to create the illusion that every new issue was like a new No. 1, which of course it wasn’t. Though DC Comics had talent like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko pitch ideas for what was ostensible a launch pad for a new ongoing series, it was an ill-advised attempt that folded quickly.  Except for the last issue which featured the Kirby created New Gods, oddly enough not done by the King of Comics this time around, and DC eventually giving the characters a new lease on life, albeit a brief one, nothing came of it. Well, with one additional exception. Editor Joe Orlando remembered that Grell had pitched an idea for a sword and sorcery comic two years earlier. Now Orlando wondered if Grell wanted to give his Savage Empire a go in 1st Issue Special No. 8 (November 1975). Grell wanted, but much time had passed. The concept now revolved around a pilot of the U.S. Air Force who crashed into a mysterious land that time forgot. Pilot Travis Morgan was about to become The Warlord, and Grell gave him the look and some of the personality traits of Green Arrow, a character he’d just reworked. Orlando was so impressed that he convinced DC’s publisher to greenlit a new series for Grell’s Warlord. In the same month readers were introduced to The Warlord and they were promised that in only two months they’d be able to pick up Warlord No. 1, according to the blurb at the end of 1st Issue Special No. 8, writer Denny O’Neil asked the artist if he wanted to work with him on the Green Lantern backup stories that still appeared in The Flash. Grell wanted. This did cause a gap between Warlord issue No. 2 and No. 3, but once the solo series was going full steam ahead, with Grell writing, penciling and inking for the first six years, it became one of DC’s biggest hits of the 1970s. When the first story opened though, it was 1969, the year Neal Adams and O’Neil had revamped Green Arrow. When O’Neil got the go ahead to relaunch Green Lantern later in 1976, with the numbering continued from where he and Adams had left off, and now with O’Neil as writer and editor, there was no question who would handle the artwork. Grell would work on Warlord and Green Arrow (he’d bring Black Canary along), characters he truly loved. Since The Warlord was at least partially influenced by the archer and Grell’s work on the superhero as artist and co-plotter, it only seemed appropriate that Grell would have a role in the reworking of his origin, which O’Neil was scripting one year later for DC Super Stars No. 17. What is interesting on both, a narrative and a visual level is how O’Neil and Grell sharpen the origin tale that Kirby had reworked, while at the same time they use the rather puzzling choices Weisinger and his peers made to shape Green Arrow into someone who is less an adventurer and a swashbuckler but just the type of hero the late 70s called for. Ten years prior to the ultra-violent The Longbow Hunters, Oliver becomes even more of an archaic man than in Kirby’s version. Grell had him dance around the fire he’s built after he’s killed some wild animals with his new instruments of death and his bare hands. But we learn early on, that the island did not make him such a man, that instead the island simply revealed his darker impulses. Contrary to Kirby’s origin redux, O’Neil’s story within the framing device starts a little earlier and it’s at this point in time when we find out why Oliver Queen’s world was one without women. Like with Kirby, once Oliver is on the island, it is a story of survival. Oliver has to shed his clothes and all the trappings that are the signifiers of a civilized man. But whereas Kirby shows us that in order to stay alive in a hostile environment this man has to build up his body and he has to acquire a lethal skill set, O’Neil and Grell show us that the island finally gives Oliver the license to be himself. He is a dark hunter. And this is the twist that O’Neil and Grell provide, a twist that makes a lot of sense in the context of his own history. It was in DC Super Stars No. 17 that O’Neil and Grell recontextualized who Oliver Queen is before he’s thrown from a cruise ship into the black ocean that would push him towards Star Island. As could be expected from a man of his social standing and his level of physical attractiveness, Oliver tries his luck with a lovely redhead, but she rejects him flat-out as she turns her attention to man who could be a dead ringer for Bruce Wayne: “There’s something rough about you, and I prefer my men polished, like diamonds!” As a dejected Oliver walks away, the script lets us know that this was not the first time this had happened: “Struck out again! The way my luck’s been running… I couldn’t attract a lady fly, if I was a dead horse!” Soon thereafter, when Oliver discovers that modern-day pirates have come aboard, he gets beaten easily up by the men who heave him over the rail of the deck. He is pretty much a wimp who hardly makes it to the island before he drowns. Still, like in the fable of the frog and the scorpion, there’s something deep inside him that not only makes him survive on the island, but which drives him to reshape his body that is lacking behind. When the scorpion does sting the frog after the creature had provided him with safe passage across a river even though he’d promised he wouldn’t and the frog asks why, the answer is as simple as it is truthful: “Because it’s in my nature.” When Oliver comes upon the very same men who nearly murdered him after much times has passed, with the men using the island as place to store some of the merchandise they have stolen, Oliver’s ready. With his bow and an arrow, he’s about let fly from his hands, there’s a glimmer in his eyes that’s equal parts satisfaction and sadism. It’s little wonder that he stays away from women for a while which explains why he forged such a strong bond with Roy who seemed to possess a similar quality and who was equally ready to kill. This also goes a long way to explain why there simply would have been only one romantic partner for him who could accept him as he was and for who he was, his nature and his dark impulses and all. Yet for Black Canary to be his true partner, going back to the original chronology, the character needed work, especially with the state that O’Neil, who’d rescued her from obscurity, had left her in at the end of his run with Adams. It’s ironic that the writer who’d once competed with O’Neil over the direction to best take Black Canary in and who’d nearly broken the character in the process, would save her before Grell got around to her.

 

Sometimes, the good guys lost, even the superheroes. This being comics, if a superhero lost, eventually he would come back stronger. Once the hero had been able to figure out what made this new menace to society tick, what his bag of tricks was and his weakness, all he had to do was to learn how to exploit this flaw in the villain’s armor. Sometimes, he’d have to cook up a brand-new scientific gimmick, or he’d discover a new way to use his awesome superpowers, but in every case, readers knew that even though the chips were down at the mid-point in the story, there’d be a third act in which the hero would finally triumph. If you were a comic book fan in the 1960s, during the Marvel Age of Comics, or you read these stories only on a rainy day or if there was nothing on TV, or if you were new to the game and you’d just picked up a couple of books for the first time, you’d always realize that none of this was new or original. It was as old as the superheroes themselves, going back to the first time Superman lifted a car into the air. For these tales to be exciting, the heroes had to lose a few battles. Only if the situation seemed bad and completely hopeless, could the hero truly prove his mettle. There would have been very little thrill in the battle of Agincourt had Henry commanded an army ten times the number of the French troops. It was the other way around, but with the deck stacked against him, did he not seem much braver and his victory so much sweeter? To make matters more interesting, the hero also needed a weakness, even a supergod like Superman. Thus, early on, once he made the leap to the radio, Kryptonite was invented to give the bad guys a leg up for a change. Now even a common crook could take out Superman. There was an exciting adventure if you wanted one. Other heroes, who were of a more mortal variety, they’d come with an inherent vice as well, the color yellow for example, which rendered their power ring void. But with a guy like Green Arrow, who simply used a bow and a few trick arrows, his weakness might be his hubris, his conviction that he had all the answers. This was how comics went, what they had always been like, and it was also true if you found yourself in the early 1970s. The difference being, that in this world, in our world, the bad guys fought dirtier than ever, that they in fact had long won the war. What you needed to do as a hero, was to accept that sometimes your hands needed to get a bit dirty as well. Now, if you looked outside your window and that window was part of an office building located on 909 Third Avenue in New York, the world which had always influenced comic books had taken a darker turn. Things were less black or white like they had appeared a decade earlier. Criminals might still be common crooks, or they might be terrorists or crooks posing as terrorists. You couldn’t trust anyone, not even a man like the President. The choice was yours. You could keep on writing stories in which the hero would always come up with a solution and he’d have all the right answers, or you and by extension your heroes could face what lay outside this window. Being in his mid-forties, writer Bob Haney had done the former for more than two decades, yet he felt it was time for a change, and he was young enough to make that change happening. Haney had seen what guys like Stan Lee and Roy Thomas were doing, and he’d told his bosses at DC Comics about it, but they’d assured him that it didn’t matter, DC would always be the number one comic book publisher in America. That was the way it had always been. It was unavoidable. DC had the best and most beloved characters. But meanwhile the company had changed hands and as superstar artist Carmine Infantino rose through the ranks, he’d only recently been named publisher, he brought new creators on board that better reflected the zeitgeist, writers like Denny O’Neil. With very little experience when it came to writing comic stories, O’Neil was thirteen years younger than Haney and he’d only briefly worked at Marvel and then Charlton Comics, he was given the keys to the kingdom. O’Neil was writing DC’s top books like Justice League of America, and he also worked on the solo books of DC’s biggest superheroes: Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman. The briefing he got from editors was as a simple one: shake things up! In small steps, Haney had been doing the same. He had begun to move his team-up book The Brave and the Bold away from the cornier stories that had been a staple of the 1960s. His new approach was tremendously helped by the new artist he’d requested: Neal Adams. But Adams had moved on to work with O’Neil. When O’Neil had brought over a more or less forgotten heroine from the 1940s who’d been grouped in with a bunch of old men on what was now designated a different Earth in DC’s continuity, Haney had jumped at the opportunity to tell a romance story about her ill-fated love to a bad boy who was the doppelganger of her late husband, all the while The Batman was carrying a huge torch for her. Robert Kanigher, one from the old guard and her co-creator had liked the idea of a romance between the two superheroes, but O’Neil and his cronies had different plans for her. But when The Brave and the Bold hit No. 100, here was an opportunity to show Infantino and the readers that he’d heard the message as well. It also gave him the chance to re-visit Black Canary as well the other two characters O’Neil and Adams were working on at editor Julius Schwartz’s behest. And if he couldn’t get Adams to do the issue, here was the next best thing, Jim Aparo. In what felt like an ironic twist, the artist was seemingly spoiling for a change of pace as well. Aparo was already a veteran artist at DC Comics, with a handsome style that was heavily influenced by Milt Caniff’s newspaper comic strip work, when Neal Adams hit the scene to much acclaim. While he took on some of the sleekness Adams brought to superhero comics, he’d begun to counterbalance the newly gained fluidity of his characters with much heavier inks, stylistically exactly what Haney had in mind for the story he wanted to tell. This wouldn’t be a story about the lead character Batman fighting some costumed evildoer who was corny as heck. Taking a cue from a couple of stories about drug addiction O’Neil and Adams had put out, and what was known about the then-in-production movie “The French Connection”, the tale he gave Aparo to draw was about a drug lord who was about to have a huge shipment of heroin come into the harbor of Gotham City, with only The Batman standing in his way. Only that The Caped Crusader wouldn’t for long. In what was Haney’s acknowledgement that The Silver Age of Comics was dead, Batman gets shot in the heart, well near the heart. He wasn’t dead yet, but not much hope was left. Still, the hero pulled himself together and while his medical team waited for the one surgeon to arrive who could save him, he became a puppet master, not unlike a writer you might say. From a distance, via radio transmission, he directed his new band of soldiers to prevent the drugs from getting distributed. This was how Haney brought in Green Lantern, Green Arrow and Black Canary as guest stars for the issue. With Batman now forced to steer his war on drugs remotely, Robin became his man on the ground. Haney did his best to infuse the three characters he’d borrowed from Denny O’Neil with the of-the-moment characterization the other writer was known for, as he had them spout relevant sounding dialogue. It was at best a near approximation of what real people actually sounded like. Unsurprisingly, Black Canary fared the worst. Even though he was well aware that the heroine was a faux blonde and that she wore a wig, Haney felt compelled to put a sequence of panels into his tale during which Robin discovers Black Canary at some beauty parlor when she was actually supposed to attend the lecture of a feminist author who might be in league with the bad guy. Of course, Dinah is scolded by the Boy Wonder who is not buying her excuse that “the rain ruined my hair… I had to dry out!” Even though Batman might not have clued him in that this particular heroine was wearing a wig, she knew, but that didn’t stop Haney from making her come off as extremely shallow which might have been simply his understanding of what O’Neil’s take on her was, with O’Neil not being a guy who wrote female characters well, at least not at that point his career. When Haney provides Black Canary with the opportunity to seemingly turn the table on Robin, all this does, is to make her come across as a total airhead, even more as she utters some lingo that is ostensibly written to let readers know that she was a hip and happening modern woman: “No, Robin-Bobbin! This is one place even a Boy Chauvinist can’t go!” Reading dialogue like this, you could be easily forgiven if you forgot that she was a part of the Justice League, their only female member actually. Aparo’s art is also a mixed bag. It feels strikingly film noir and experimental at places. Some of the layout are the best he’d done, and that is already coming from a high level when considering his earlier work on Aquaman. But then there are panels where his inks look muddled and his characters look worse for wear and very indistinct. And either by design or due to the lack of a proper character model, Black Canary alternates between looking rather pretty and not very intelligent. Maybe this was what he thought the script called for. In the end, the heroes were all smiles as the gathered around The Batman’s bed in hospital. He had survived surgery and he himself had prevented the gangster’s plan from achieving fruition. Not only did the hero reassert his manliness, but the heroes did what they always managed to do, they won the day.

 

Though the letters from readers regarding this story offered a lot of praise, this might not tell the whole story. The series’ editor, Murray Boltinoff again, had the habit of not presenting any feedback from fans as full letters on the letters page, but by using short quotes from the letters readers had sent in, thereby taking their words out of the context they were written in, a technique used by film studios who showed quotes from well-respected reviewers on their movie posters that consisted of only a handful of words. As for the story, it reads like Haney thought looking at what a writer like O’Neil did and making his tales a bit darker would do the trick. What Haney did, in essence, was not so different to what O’Neil did, to equally mixed results. O’Neil famously used material “ripped from the headlines” as inspiration for the more realistic stories he and Adams were telling in the Green Lantern series. What this did, with O’Neil’s and also Haney’s storytelling was to make everything comes across as overblown. This was still the way stories had been told during The Silver Age, but with darker subject matters. All this changed when Bob Haney finally took a look outside that window in his office on 909 Third Avenue. Luckily, by the time he wrote “The 3-Million Dollar Sky!”, Jim Aparo had re-defined his style in a manner that fitted the times and the stories Haney wanted to tell, and all of sudden could tell well. Originally published in The Brave and the Bold No. 107 (June-July 1973), this is some of the duo’s best work by far. Aparo had taken over cover art duties as well, and his cover tells you what to expect. We get Batman and Black Canary, the guest star for the issue, as the two land in some barren territory after a parachute jump. With his gear still on, The Batman turns to the heroine with a positive message as she’s all smiles. All looked good so far, especially if you were a fan of these character. But in the foreground, there was a shotgun that was pointed directly at the hero. How could Batman be so careless, you had to wonder. He wasn’t, but this was a new enemy he was about to face, one that came with many faces. The tale starts in Gotham City with a tense cold opening. A passenger plane has been hijacked and now it makes a brief stop in a city that is guarded by a superhero. The men who have taken nearly one hundred lives hostage are aware of this fact. Still they make their demands. They want fuel, three million dollars and the release of Monk Devlin, a notorious criminal currently held in state custody, and they know they’ve the upper hand. A hero can never let all these hostage die, not a single one of them, or “public opinion will bury” him, and if not public opinion, so would the readers. But The Batman isn’t above using some trickery. When the hijackers announce their plan to fly to South America, with the hostages, the money, and a freed Devlin, the pilot gives The World’s Greatest Detective the opening he’d been looking for. He’ll need an engineer for that and a flight attendant who’s not completely exhausted. Pulling a “Mission Impossible”, Batman puts on a rubber mask, ready to go undercover on the hijacked plane. As for the stewardess, she’s Dinah Drake Lance of course, sans her costume and her blonde wig, and now decked out in a red mini-skirted uniform she’ll need to fly the unfriendly skies. Though the story evolves into an adventure tale once we get to the third act, it’s the middle part that makes it so riveting, and of its time. Within the confides of the small cabin, the black-haired women must walk a tightrope as she tries to manipulate the hijackers all the while she must be careful not to reveal her true motives. Meanwhile, Batman can’t do that much as he’s shunted out from the action in the forward cabin with the captain and his men, even when one of the hijackers sees through Dinah’s plan to drug him and his comrades. Now things turn tense. There’s no way of knowing where this is going with Dinah getting punched in the face and then threatened with a machine gun. With Aparo now at the top of his game and his heavy black inks used purposefully, this has become a tense, realistic thriller, and in a way, this is what Haney is not yet seeing, but sensing with one look out of his window. There is nothing cartoony about this story that predates the real events of the hijacking of Lufthansa Flight 181. In October 1977, the German passenger plane Landshut was taken by four hijackers from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. What was so remarkable about this hostage situation was the hijackers’ demand. In what was very likely the first open collaboration of different terrorist organizations across the globe, the hijacking of the plane was designed to secure the release of imprisoned German Red Army Faction leaders, then being held at a maximum prison facility in Germany. A month earlier, Red Army Faction members had abducted a powerful German lobbyist on his way to work, killing his driver and bodyguard on the spot. What followed was a tug of war between the terrorists and the German government, with German police officers handling ordinary traffic stops with machine guns drawn. When the abduction didn’t yield the result, the German terrorists had hoped for, they called upon their brethren from Palestine, which led to the hijacking. With the plane taken for days and tension running at an all-time high, one passenger was almost shot when one of the hijackers spotted his Montblanc pen with its white star on the cap, which he mistook for the Star of David, there was one thing that was pretty clear from the start, though. The German Socialist government, headed by Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, would never negotiate with terrorists. When the hijackers executed the pilot of the Landshut Jürgen Schumann, he and lobbyist Hanns Martin Schleyer and his driver would be the only casualties, Schmidt sent German special commandos to Somalia, where the airplane was being held. In what would seem like something right out of a 1980s action blockbuster, the commandos freed every hostage unharmed while they killed all four terrorists when they raided the plane on foreign soil no less. Ultimately, what made this so complicated was how little black and white all of this was. While Schleyer had the ear of the German industry and top-ranking government officials, he’d once been one of the commanders in Hitler’s elite forces, the SS. For the most part, the Red Army Fraction was a bunch of German students radicalized by the fact that there were Nazi sympathizers in positions of influence. As for men from this PLO offshoot, in Palestine they were celebrated heroes and martyrs. Once the real world began to bleed into the world in which four-colored heroes lived, there was no stopping it. During the war, comic books had served as propaganda tools to tell kids and ground infantry men that violence was justified as long as it was the Americans who did it. Now, who the bad guys were and who the good guys was a matter of perspective. Bruce Wayne wore a mask. Oliver Queen did, too, but then, he didn’t, and when he pointed an arrow at you, his hands became a little dirtier every time he released the shaft. He did mind, at first, a little, but he wouldn’t for long. But if The Brave and the Bold No. 107 told readers one thing, its message was supported by a house ad that appeared on the last page of the story. It was there to promote a new series, released later in the same year and drawn by master artist Mike Kaluta. The new title would feature the one pulp hero who had influenced Bob Kane and Bill Finger when they created The Batman. He was the kind of vigilante the 1930s needed, and so was Batman in his first year. Batman killed in the 1930s, because The Shadow killed. And he would again in the 70s in a book written by Denny O’Neil. It was months into the future, but here was Haney to tell you that The Silver Age dead.

 

After Bob Haney had finally presented Dinah Lance as a smart, resourceful and skilled crimefighter, now it was Elliot S! Maggin’s turn to continue her on this path. In fact, during the tail end of Denny O’Neil’s run on Green Lantern she had devolved from a capable heroine who unleashed feminist rhetoric, in the words of the writer, and her fists with abandon into a victim. Case in point, when Black Canary appeared in his and Adams’ final story together in The Flash No. 218 (October-November 1972), the artist seemed utterly fascinated by her backside in that he presented multiple shots that featured her ample derrière in intimate close-ups, followed by a scene that seemed to suggest that the unconscious heroine, who’d gotten herself into trouble with displaying her own brand of recklessness and overconfidence, was just as easily sexually molested by one of the bad guys who might or might not took advantage of her when she was being held up in midair with her legs spread apart. The following issue opened with her almost getting killed. This was decidedly not how O’Neil had initially written the character after he had brought her to Earth-1 and into the Justice League. Then, back in 1969, Denny O’Neil had put forward an image of her that harkened back to her adventures in the 1940s when these were handled by Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino who had created the character as a tough and highly competent crimefighter. It only seemed logical that O’Neil would continue this version of Black Canary and that’s what he did. But then things changed. To get an idea how far she had fallen in less than three years, one only needed to take a look at the two-parter by O’Neil and artist Alex Toth that appeared in Adventure Comics No. 418-419 (April-May 1972) which preceded the backups in The Flash by just a few months. Interestingly, two years earlier, in Adventure Comics No. 399 (1970), DC Comics had presented a previously unpublished Black Canary story from her original run. This nearly three decades old story, which readers in the 1970s were now able to read for the very first time, lined up perfectly with how O’Neil was writing Dinah back then. She was a fiercely independent, quite capable woman during a period before Dinah even acquired her superpower, her Canary Cry. She made short work of some jewel thieves. Ironically, it was Detective Lance, her soon to be husband, who got punched out by the criminals, while she fearlessly jumped after them into a body of water when they made good on their getaway in a speedboat. Black Canary could do it all it seemed. She even managed to race the boat and she didn’t blink once when one of the crooks pulled a gun on her. Interestingly, by the time this story saw print, the main hero of Adventure Comics was Supergirl who the writers and artists had aged up a bit from a cute teen into a college co-ed. Though she was a successful superheroine in her own right, this did not stop the creators from offering boy and girl readers something to ogle. DC had asked fans to submit costume ideas for the Maid of Steel, and in the previous issue Supergirl herself told readers how she mixed and matched some of these proposals. For better or worse, from now on she’d be wearing a short, mini-skirted costume with thigh-high boots. It wouldn’t last nor would her costume choices improve. In Adventure Comics No. 409 (1971), Supergirl wore a barely-there costume before adapting a top and booty shorts combo for a while. Consequently, the covers for the series often featured her in chains or some other form of bondage, but always posed very suggestively. As far as the two-parter by O’Neil and Toth was concerned, the tale opens with Dinah getting sick and tired of waiting around for Oliver, her new beau. When she spots a job ad in a paper, it is high time for her to change into her heroine outfit to apply for the job as Black Canary. A group called “Women’s Resistance League” is looking for a self-defense teacher. And who’d be better suited for that than an actual superheroine? Well, not so fast. Black Canary has to prove herself first, which gives Toth a sequence in which he can show off how formidable a fighter Dinah is. Knowing O’Neil and with a name like that, there had to be more to this feminist group. Naturally, the “Women’s Resistance League” was a front for female criminals who were intent on freeing their leader from state custody during a prisoner transfer. When Dinah gets hit over the head by the woman who’d originally hired her, she spends most of the second part of the two-parter tied up in the back of the criminals’ van. As O’Neil has her admit, she’d be “hopeless” but for “Green Arrow lecturing me…” And what advice might the archer have given her that she wouldn’t despair in a seemingly hopeless situation like this? He’d told Dinah this: “Beautiful Bird Lady… if you must ever give up… do it ten minutes after you’ve drawn your last breath… and not a second before!” Thus, a heroine who had gone up against alien invaders and armed criminals alike, did find the strength to find a way out of this rather simple trap and Toth gets the chance to draw her again in some action. But then again, without him showing his face other than in a flashback panel, Dinah had Green Arrow to thank for it. Obviously, this didn’t make her a model of a strong, independent woman who was granted some agency of her own, and clearly this version did clash with how Bob Kanigher and O’Neil himself had previously portrayed the character. When Elliot S! Maggin was given the opportunity to write the characters in a new strip in Action Comics since they were without a spot to appear in after the Green Lantern series got cancelled with issue No. 89 (April-May 1972), and only Green Lantern was featured in stories O’Neil wrote for the backup in The Flash, he jumped at the chance. Yet what he really wanted to do was to rework the heroes from the point where O’Neil had left them. A baby boomer like Mike Grell, in fact he was Grell’s junior by three years, Maggin was less interested in drastically changing the superheroes in the way O’Neil and Haney had done it. Their approach didn’t sit right with Maggin from a narrative perspective. What he wanted to do was to develop these characters, their relationship to each other and their world in an organic way. He began his tenure in Action Comics No. 421 (February 1973) with the story “The Headline Maker!” and the decision to focus on Green Arrow for his first couple of tales. This way, he’d have more room in the eight pages allotted to work on his characterization, and for the fact that it was Green Arrow who had gotten him hired at DC Comics. The writer’s first story for DC Comics was a Green Arrow story which had appeared in Green Lantern No. 87 (1971-1972), with art by none other than Neal Adams himself and inks by Adams’ friend Dick Giordano. Whereas it had been Giordano who was instrumental in bringing O’Neil to DC, in his capacity as newly hired editor, Neal did the same for Maggin. Elliot S! Maggin had begun to write short stories about historical events when he was still in his teens which he managed to sell to some of the then popular magazines for boys. He then attended Brandeis University in Massachusetts. When he received a B- on a term paper for which he’d written a short story called “What Can One Man Do?”, Maggin did what every aspiring writer would do who is spoiling with confidence. He vowed to show the world what he was capable of. Maggin reworked the story into a superhero tale featuring a hero who suited the point he wanted to make. He mailed the script to DC where it bounced around the office for a few weeks until Neal Adams got hold of it. Always very opiniated, Adams convinced editor Julius Schwartz to let him draw it. Schwartz was not really open to any more whippersnappers storming the gates of the prestigious institution that was DC during those days when you were expected to wear a shirt and a tie to work, but he was able to tell a talented writer from Adam. More so, Schwartz went on record with his effusive praise for this tale, even comparing the writer to a young Ray Bradbury. Coming from Schwartz, this was a huge accolade indeed, but the editor also had the power to put money where his mouth was. He hired Maggin on the spot and let him write a few Superman stories in Action Comics, a title that had fallen under his purview when Mort Weisinger had retired. With a backup now available on a regular basis, Julius asked Elliot if he was interested and what he wanted to do. What he wanted to do was to move the archer away from the caricature he had turned into under O’Neil, with Oliver spouting one-liners about “the revolution” and “the man”. O’Neil had him lose his fortune, thanks to the dealings of crooked businessman John DeLeon, which in O’Neil’s mind meant that he’d magically become liberal messiah. With Maggin writing, he soon discovered that this didn’t pay for groceries. Oliver needed a job. With Dinah, with whom he was in a stable relationship, about to open a flower shop, something she had experience in, he decided to become an entrepreneur again as a public relations manager under his own shingle. Though Oliver’s transformation was the main draw of the story, Dinah Lance was featured as his partner who was on equal footing with the hero. She didn’t appear in costume, but artists Sal Amendola and Dick Giordano got the point across visually that she was her own woman. Decked out in backless, crop-free tight top and bell bottoms which rode deep on her curved hips while her exposed waist was almost as thin as a stick, she still managed to convey a sense of strength without having to resort to feminist talking points, something which had been absent from the character for a while. Two stories later, in Action Comics No. 426 (August 1973), with art duties handled by Dick Dillion and Giordano, readers learned that their respective business ventures were off to a flying start. They were a power couple who operated together and apart from each other without the need to rehash any platitudes about how unfair the system was. Dinah and Oliver began to feel like real people but with crimefighting alter-egos. Once Maggin had re-established the archer in a way that felt right for the character, with Action Comics No. 428 (October 1973) he re-introduced Black Canary.

 

The story title “The Plot to Kill Black Canary!” sounded a lot like a throwback to how Denny O’Neil had written the character of late, as a victim. The first thing readers noticed though, was how attractive the artwork looked overall. This time, Dick Giordano was handling pencils and inks, and while he was clearly skimping out on his best effort whenever the editor pulled art duties on O’Neil’s Green Lantern backup, which he did before and after this particular tale, this time Giordano brought his A game. His art is very detailed and the action flows nicely from panel to panel and there’s nothing scratchy about the way he renders Black Arrow and especially Black Canary. As the title suggested, there were some criminals who wanted Black Canary dead. When Green Arrow learns about the plot, he swings into action to save the day and his girlfriend. He does, but still Dinah is not satisfied, because he didn’t communicate with her, and he managed to make everything about himself. After she’s got the chance to blow of some steam, which felt like a very normal human reaction to have, Dinah admitted that she was in love with him. At long last, with her committing to the idea that this was more than a fling, Oliver Queen had finally found a female companion for real, perhaps the one partner who fit to his nature. Then, things changed again. After two tales during which Maggin explored the relationship between Dinah and Oliver in more detail, now that their romance had gotten serious, the writer brought back Roy Harper. The last time readers saw Roy was near the end of the O’Neil and Adams run when it was quite shockingly revealed that Roy had become a heroin addict, even though he was still a member of The Teen Titans at the same time in his guise as Speedy. Roy had blamed Oliver for his drug problem, Oliver who had abandoned him when he began palling around with Black Canary. In Action Comics No. 436 (June 1974) Oliver and Roy Harper encountered each other. Though it seemed that Roy was mixed up in some bad company again, maybe he’d even fallen off the wagon after he’d been able to quit his habit back in Green Lantern No. 86 (1971) with much help from Dinah, all was a ruse. Roy was working undercover to help out some kids. Still, at the end of the story Maggin showed readers that there was no going back to their old partnership. Roy wanted to be on his own. With this loose end from O’Neil’s run tied up nicely, Maggin was getting ready to continue his storyline which was now firmly centered around the relationship between his two love birds. Then Mike Grell happened who soon brought two distinct aspects to the mix. Though Dinah Lance would remain a woman with a strong mind and a lot of agency, another feature quickly came into focus, literally, so much so, that Black Canary’s and Dinah’s story became a story about a countertop, only that you wouldn’t know it if you picked up Grell’s first issue on the strip which came with Action Comics No. 440 (October 1974). What he initially brought to the artwork was a much-needed dynamism and kinetic energy. His art had much improved, and now his action figures were highly articulated, and not only did he know how to pose them well, but he gave them the glamour of movie stars. Clearly, he loved working on these superheroes. Green Arrow looked like a swashbuckler in the mold of Errol Flynn, Black Canary had the face and the body of Hollywood screen goddess of the 40s. As for their relationship, with Grell handling the artwork, there was not only a strong chemistry between these two, they were surrounded by a sexual force field that you could almost feel when turning the pages. This seemed exciting enough for a superhero comic series, but when issue No. 441 hit, Grell cranked it up to eleven as he found some good use for a counter. The second part of the story started where the previous issue had left off. Dinah, who was rocking some serious bell bottoms, was facing a huge alien creature in her flower shop which had suddenly been transformed into a bizarre landscape that wasn’t of this world. The beast, which had legs like the god Pan, was holding a weird looking ray gun, and at the cloven feet of this pale green satyr there was a lizard-like beast which thrusted its horned head forward while its meandering tongue was extruded to an impressive length. Avid readers already knew from the first part of the story that these strange, otherworldly monsters were hallucinations brought about by a futuristic device, still this didn’t make them any less frightening. These weren’t the horrors he was really interested in, but for now the artist was content with following Maggin’s script. Then, with the second panel of the second page, Grell brought a raw sexuality to the strip that had been absent, and he did this by sexualizing Dinah. With a dog placed on the counter of her flower shop, this gave Grell the opportunity to depict Dinah with her upper torso leaned forward and her elbows resting on the countertop as she locked eyes with the little white canine. Her legs were very straight as she was bent forward like some action doll. Her bent back, which was nearly horizontally posed, guided the readers’ eyes to where Grell wanted them to be. This was not only an invitation to stare lecherously at her butt, with her round buttcheeks violently straining against the thin fabric of overly tight pants, a battle the latter stood to lose lest Dinah moved out of this position. With this gratuitous butt shot, not the only one in this tale, Grell told readers something about this character. She was quite literally sex on legs. With the way the way he depicted her body language once she was in her outfit, and she moved like a gymnast, fans couldn’t miss the message. She and her beau were getting it on when they were getting it on. To Grell’s credit, it didn’t detract from her image as a skilled martial artist. Instead what the artist seemed to be saying was that she could be both, strong and independent and sexy, which was a very 70s idea, though not a terribly original one. But then again, the idea that superheroes had a sex life was. What this issue also told you was that Grell was ready to move on from a purely visual storyteller who was happy to illustrate other people’s scripts. Not that he intended to push Maggin out, but this was very naturally “Iron Mike” flexing his muscles as a storyteller. It was Mike Grell’s time to add a significant element to the character of the man who was Green Arrow. Like with the idea that a woman could be strong and desirable at the same time, this was not something he had invented. Like with Dinah’s sexiness, which bordered on oversexualization, he made this theme so pronounced that it would immediately become the defining trait of the character and the world he lived in, they both operated in. What the artist added would influence every other writer going forward, and it was apparent with the splash page for the backup in Action Comics No. 444 (February 1975), the second issue in this run that announced Green Arrow and Black Canary as a team on the cover. This was a changed world, as frightening as the one created for the hallucination Dinah Lance had been exposed to in the other story, only this time it were the readers who had to rub their eyes. What had brought it about, this darker, harsher world was the fact that Grell was co-plotting the first two parts of this three-parter, a world as perceived by Grell whenever he looked out of the window in one of the offices in the building DC’s headquarter was located in. However, the building he looked out of was no longer located on 909 Third Avenue. DC’s corporate parent, once known as the Kinney National Company, now Warner Communications Inc., had moved their publishing division under one roof at Rockefeller Plaza. With DC taking up a top floor, this afforded Grell a more expansive view than Haney could have ever hoped for.

 

The dramatic splash page with which Grell chose to open his (and Maggin’s) story, showed Green Arrow as he was listening to a tape recording at a police station. He presented the hero in a medium close-up shot, as it was he who leaned forward over a tabletop. Listening to the tape, his vulnerable face ran the gamut of emotions a man in utter despair might display, which Grell further escalated with little insert panels which depicted a human kaleidoscope of shock, disbelieve, acceptance and anger, till Oliver did what seemed only human, and he lashed out against the machine in a violent burst of final refusal. “It’s a lie!”, he screamed still visibly shaken, but with his face as tense as the tendon of his bow. Not content with shocking him and the readers with the story title “The Black Canary Is Dead!”, the grim words were incorporated in the speech bubble that came forth from the reel-to-reel recorder, thus fully embedded in this message that he received while several police officers looked on with grim acknowledgement. It was indeed shocking: “Tell Green Arrow ‘The Black Canary is dead!’… and tell him we did it… slow!” This was Mike Grell’s world now, the world he saw, and which unfolded on the following pages. In a plot he took over from O’Neil, Grell had the archer go up against some powerful drug traffickers. Still, this was a much-hardened hero whose mind was still on Roy and how heroin had almost ruined his partner, with their former, once unshakable friendship still on the outs. This Green Arrow was willing to use Dinah as bait, with the statuesque girl decked out in an extremely revealing, tight bodysuit and her wig, as she’s tasked with seducing one of the drug cartel’s leaders, while Oliver stirs up trouble as a distraction. But with Black Canary undercover inside the gambling establishment of a crook Green Arrow has pegged as the mysterious fourth member of the cartel, this is when she goes missing in action. Interestingly, Grell would reuse the same exact plot points for a subplot in The Longbow Hunters more than a decade later, where this part of the narrative would conclude with some of the most violent panels ever featured in an American mainstream comic. Meanwhile, a much younger Grell had a very different story resolution planned out, this being a book governed by the Comics Code. As the plot thickened, a desperate Oliver enlisted the help of yet another attractive female to get the inside scope on the bad guy’s casino. When satisfied with the information, Green Arrow became a one-man army, rescuing Dinah from the clutches of her kidnappers. But not so fast, all his and Dinah’s troubles had garnered, led them to reveal a simple middleman. The real fourth member of the cartel was none other than the beautiful redhead he’d asked for assistance. What a twist, or as Maggin, and presumably Grell put it: “And the darkness continues to sweep over Green Arrow and Black Canary…” There was still a third part, the conclusion to this saga. If Grell had a hand in the plot, he didn’t receive any credit. What he did do, tough, was to present readers with a splash page on which Black Canary, still in her undercover attire, had punched a henchman with so much force that now blood was streaming from his mouth. Now she rocked the house with her fierce Canary Cry. Though it would seem that the heroes were on the run, now they were the hunters. Green Arrow took on another army of bad guys who were shipping in a boatload of drugs, while Dinah, finally in her Black Canary threads, took on the female drug lord in a drawn out catfight in the water, that was until some uniformed officers showed up with their rifles at the ready. The story ended with a shot of Green Arrow in the newspaper as he lifted a crate with drugs over his head, ready to smash it to pieces, lest these illegal narcotics ever reached the streets of Star City or the veins of its citizens. The issues in which this story appeared featured Superman as their main hero. Strangely enough, after scripter Cary Bates had turned Lois Lane into complex character two years earlier, under his typewriter she regressed back to an earlier time when all she seemed interested in was finding out who Superman really was. At the same time, you saw house ads that featured a smiling Batman and Robin, and of all people, a smiling Julius Schwartz. With the world a different place, readers demanding that the books reflected some of what was going on, and Marvel Comics poised to outsell the market leader, something had to give, and it wasn’t going to be Mike Grell. With Action Comics No. 450-452 (August-October 1975) he and Maggin continued their successful collaboration with another exciting three-parter that only further cemented Black Canary and Green Arrow as the power couple of DC Comics while they still felt like a real people. The two heroes encountered a global criminal network, and with Grell’s artwork getting groovier by the minute, this fast-paced espionage tale came with a distinct James Bond vibe. It’s interesting to compare this story with what writer Doug Moench and artist Paul Gulacy were doing at Marvel Comics in Master of Kung Fu around the same time. Clearly, a brand-new pulp sensibility had hit the world of fiction and the mainstream. It came with a sweaty polyester sexiness that was the result of the delayed effect the sexual revolution of the late 1960s had on suburbia. The duo created another three-parter, which came in Action Comics No. 456-458 (February-April 1976). Though Grell still gave it his best shot, the writing was on the wall. Maggin’s tale, which was all about a crazy plan cooked up by Lex Luthor, was borderline silly. A creative rift was opening up that was growing into a full-blown chasm. Elliot was a fanboy. Grell was a hardened realist. Issue No. 456 featured a full-page ad for Mattel’s action figure Big Jim, Barbie’s rugged alternative to the effete Ken should she ever desire such. Big Jim had long been a guy who took it easy while he drove around in a cool RV with his like-minded mates. Now Mattel recruited him into a covert action team with team-members who looked like every cliché of an ex-con, tattoos included. Big Jim told his new pals, with whom he operated under the code name P.A.C.K (Professional Agents/Crime Killers): “Pack Members! I can’t promise anyone will come out of this mission alive!” And sure enough, his action figure came with a “a quick draw sidearm” to keep “troubles at bay.” Something had to give, indeed. Grell was getting restless. He was working on the right characters with the wrong writer. Grell knew he was right when early in the same year Black Canary’s co-creator was let go. Carmine Infantino, who had been with the company since the 1940s, had risen through the ranks to become DC’s publisher. Among his many achievements, Infantino had brought Giordano and O’Neil to DC and he had brokered the return of Kirby. Now, Warner’s management felt that he couldn’t hack it anymore in this new world. The same month Infantino left Rockefeller Plaza, Warlord No. 1 was put out, written and drawn by Grell. Then Denny O’Neil asked Grell if he wanted to join him on the relaunch of Green Lantern, a character, he and Grell had redefined in the Flash backups. With Green Arrow included, this time he wouldn’t be the voice of the left, and he wasn’t going to be Maggin’s kind public relations man either. For all intents and purposes, the hero was now what Grell had intended him to be. Oliver was the Dark Hunter. With Green Arrow taking center stage in the relaunched series, Black Canary was going to be right at his side, as his partner and his equal in each and every way. Unlike when O’Neil had last worked on the character, she wouldn’t hold back. Not this new Black Canary. Grell would make certain of it. Then another thing happened.  Thanks to Grell, Black Canary had become too good a character, or depending on your point of view, a character too good-looking, to be simply confined to just one comic book title. Not in the 70s. And to explore her dynamic with Green Arrow, Oliver was along for the ride as well. For better or worse.

 

Throughout the 1970s the evolution of Black Canary as a sex goddess continued with each artist trying to top the one who had worked on the character before. However, as far as Dinah’s earlier appearances were concerned, those that came outside her adventures with The Justice League and the backup strip in Action Comics she shared with Green Arrow, it surely didn’t look like that at first. After Denny O’Neil and Alex Toth had created her first solo story in the then modern continuity of DC, it was Elliot S! Maggin who completely recontextualized the character when he used Dinah Lance, not Black Canary, in an issue for the short-lived Joker series he was putting together with artist José Luis Garcia-López. Rather oddly, especially since he was working with Grell on their second three-parter at that time, in the story, Maggin had her revert back to the damsel in distress trope, in bondage no less, with Oliver having to rescue her from the Clown Prince of Crime and his antics. Not one for the win-column. The relaunch of the Green Lantern / Green Arrow series happened next, in August 1976, after Grell had completed the final three-parter with Maggin, but with that book on a bi-monthly schedule at first, and the first three issues built around a space adventure with the guys, Dinah Lance didn’t appear before the fourth issue, which was published with a cover date of February-March 1977. Meanwhile, Grell got the chance to draw her in a solo story as well which was featured as a backup in Detective Comics No. 464 (October 1976). This was the time when “Charlie’s Angels” was a huge hit on TV, a show centered around three glamorous female private investigators who worked for a mysterious, never to be fully revealed boss called Charlie. While this Charlie was swinging with the jet-set on some expensive yacht, here was a new idea. Feminism did not need to be dour, at least not where the male TV audience between 14 and 49 years was concerned. Not if female detectives looked like Farrah Fawcett-Majors, a bit-part actress in her late twenties, who had just recently posed for a near life-size poster in a red bathing suit, a poster that outsold every other poster up to that point, and who was married to a real life rugged action hero who looked like Big Jim. If women tuned in to see how Farrah and her two colleagues made short work of some seedy criminals, so much the better. It was inevitable that DC would make use of their own version of Farrah Fawcett in Black Canary, though Dinah possessed more personality and intelligence in her world than Fawcett was allowed to express on TV. Her solo adventure was part of an ongoing story by Bob Rozakis during which Batman villain The Calculator went up against different members of the Justice League. After the goofy bad guy had already tussled with The Atom in the previous issue, also with art by Grell, and he’d soon take on The Elongated Man and Hawkman, when it was time to go up against Black Canary, Rozakis did bring in some reinforcements, namely his wife Laurie, making this story the first time that Dinah Lance was actually written by a woman, well, co-written. What this was, was an opportunity to tell fans what an awesome character Black Canary was. Though it’s her Canary Cry that eventually enables her to get the upper hand, she’s also a skilled martial artist and an Olympic level gymnast rolled into one and she’s one hell of a motorbike rider. While Grell and inker Terry Austin surely don’t skimp out on the sexy, the artistic duo makes her look charismatic and human at the same time. As good as she is, The Calculator finds interesting ways to test her mettle, which makes for an exciting and visually arresting story that is easy on the eyes. It’s a bit unfortunate that the story got resolved a couple of issues later when Daddy Batman puts his foot down and he outsmarts the cartoony villain in what is a perfectly fine waste of a bevy of guest stars, including Black Canary and Green Arrow, who get sidelined early on, and the talent of artist Marshall Rogers who’d soon have better scripts to illustrate when he and writer Steve Englehart joined forces to create one of the most revered runs in the history of The Caped Crusader. As for Black Canary and her beau, they’d also get a new scripter, one who was actually perfectly suited for DC’s only superpowered couple as they navigated their romance in the last years of the 1970s, apparently a time when comic book publishers could get away with much more adult leaning, risqué and sexually charged content than ever before since the inception of the Comics Code two decades earlier. These were also the days when DC discovered that if you added considerably more pages to a comic book and you asked for more than three times the regular cover price, kids would still buy the titles as long as they got wall-to-wall action. World’s Finest Comics, a Superman and Batman team-up series, was converted into such a book with issue No. 244, which was cover-dated April-May 1977, the time frame which coincided with Black Canary’s first appearance in the relaunched Green Lantern / Green Arrow title. Now that World’s Finest was what DC called “Dollar Comics”, books that promised “80 pages all new stories”, you needed content, best of all about heroes that were interesting enough that readers got hooked and wanted to follow their adventures across multiple issues since these tales would always run for many installments, and when one story did conclude, another storyline about a different hero was still ongoing in the same series or was just getting started. Except for the rather dull lead-in, in issue No. 244 every story started. Since Green Arrow had already guest starred in World’s Finest, he seemed a natural choice, and so was the idea to bring in Black Canary. What was unique though, was the way their stories were going to be told. They each would get a solo feature, and while the stories sometimes connected and they appeared in each other’s story, each story was told from their respective point of view. Black Canary and her beau were like a regular working couple that sometimes shared the same office space, still each partner was content with going about their own business because they had distinct identities that were not simply defined by their relationship. That these characters were dating each other would also become the one aspect that tied these stories together, just not in this first adventure, which did come in two segments, one reserved for each hero. At the end of the second installment, the part which featured Green Arrow, the story did conclude. This was for a simple reason, both stories were written by two different writers, Jack Harris and Tony Isabella respectively. For both of them it was going to be a one-time engagement, at least where Dinah and Oliver were concerned. To keep the two-parter visually consistent throughout, the art in both segments was handled by Michael Netzer and Terry Austin. With Austin having worked with Grell on Black Canary, he and Netzer were more than ready to apply the visual template that Grell had already created for the superheroine, but with a twist. Netzer had just broken into comics, but he was also working for Continuity Studios, which was an art studio and a business venture. Set up by Neal Adams and Dick Giordano, the studio worked on movie storyboards and handled artwork for its clients from the world of advertising. This was where Netzer did his apprenticeship, with his art taking on a big panel approach and a visual language that relied heavily on model poses and glamour shots. When he and Austin worked on Black Canary, this only meant readers would get even more cheesecake pictures than with Grell, especially since this story, in which first Black Canary and then the archer go up against one of Green Arrow’s foes from the 1950, was nothing to write home about, not that readers minded. Netzer’s Black Canary made Farrah Fawcett look like Little Orphan Annie. With both characters settling in for the long haul, they’d stay in World’s Finest until issue No. 284 (1982), Netzer and Austin were just getting started. The new writer was as well, one who was already well-versed in writing romance plots centered around superheroes and their love life. Though he was even two years younger than Elliot S! Maggin, Gerry Conway had already had a long-running career in comics when he came onto the series. Conway was Marvel Comics’ second golden boy, after Roy Thomas, and like Thomas, he’d made it into the major league fairly quickly. After proving to boss Stan Lee that he could do a perfectly fine imitation of Lee’s idiosyncratic style, which relied on hyperbole and melodrama, Gerry was given the keys to their most valuable character, Spider-Man. Conway had notoriously killed off Gwen Stacy when saw the need to pull a Denny O’Neil and to shake things up. Still, Conway was very good when it came to writing love-infused superhero tales and he’d built up the Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson relationship, the girl who was only Peter’s pal when Stan wrote the book. After a brief and unsatisfactory stint as editor-in-chief at Marvel, Conway was now fully entrenched at DC, and like with Grell, he liked working on Green Arrow and Black Canary, but for different reasons. Conway liked the soap opera elements, but instead of going for the tired trope of creating a romantic triangle to give Oliver or Dinah a reason to be jealous and unsure of their partner’s fidelity, he decided to go for a much more mature approach. There would be organic conflicts that arose from the fact that they were two headstrong alphas. Consequently, when Oliver gets home after doing his hero thing, albeit unsuccessfully in this case since he’s just got the snot kicked out of him by a bear-like creature called the Man Bear, there’s Dinah telling him she is ready for career change. She’d keep her flower shop, which was not doing so hot, but maybe there was something else for her. This causes a rather foreseeable misunderstanding that nevertheless feels real. Oliver gets it into his head that he can solve her problems with money, of which he now has plenty again, since his PR agency was doing just fine, which Dinah views as an attempt to undermine her own ambitions. Doors get slammed pretty fast while Netzer and Austin make the most out of Dinah’s figure by presenting her in a cropped neck-holder top. Frustrated, he seriously needed to blow off steam and put the Man Bear behind the bars of a local prison. This leads into the second story with Dinah in the Black Canary outfit. When she discovers that some shady characters are about to spring the creature from jail, Dinah’s ready for action as well. Though Dinah acquits herself well in hand-to-hand combat in a nicely choreographed fight sequence, she does get taken out in an explosion that thrusts her body, in a full figure shot no less, directly at the reader. But Netzer and Austin were only warming up. On page four, readers saw a rather intimate series of panels in which the heroine, now sans her blonde wig, was seen taking off her boots and stripping down to her waist, revealing that she didn’t bother with wearing a bra, and her now nude breasts barely covered by her long black hair. She then did some legwork, but as a detective under the guise of her alter-ego, only to be captured by the bad guys. When she comes to, she’s back in her outfit, since she didn’t fool nobody really in regard to her secret identity, with one of the evildoers explaining: “I hope you don’t mind that we’ve taken the… ah… liberty of dressing you in your costume!” Well, she did certainly mind, but there was no time since she was pitted against the Man Bear. She actually does win without resorting to any trick arrows, but when Dinah gets a gun pointed at her by the guy who did take some liberties with her earlier, Man Bear comes to her rescue. How could he not? With Netzer and Austin eager to find out what more they could get away with, a lot seemingly with Denny O’Neil editing, once issue No. 246 (August-September 1977) hit the spinner racks, readers were greeted by a gratuitous butt shot of Black Canary thanks to Netzer putting her in what today is known as a brokeback pose. She was soon down on her knees for two panels as well, with ad man Netzer offering plenty of pin-up shots throughout this ten-pager. Still, he also showed her as a fierce and brutal fighter, like a Barbie doll which had acquired the cat-like moves of the late Bruce Lee. But this went where it ultimately had to go, and when it was time for the cliffhanger, here was Dinah getting very naked as she was getting ready to hit the shower. Luckily, the door of her shower cabin was heavily shaded, but lo, the readers were not the only ones staring at her. There was a werewolf. Meanwhile, in his tale, Green Arrow was occupied with following up on some of the plot threads Harris’ departure had left dangling, and yes, he shot an arrow right through the shoulder of the bad guy who had his back turned. When Black Canary’s tale continued in the next issue, readers learned two things. When the huge, furry wolf creature breaks into her motel room, Dinah does know how to fend for herself. Even though the raven-haired beauty was only attired with the tiniest towel imaginable, and just barely so, this superheroine didn’t need her man to bail her out of trouble. Without fear she lunged at the werewolf with her bare fingers and nails in lieu of claws, and she kicked the beast with her bare feet right in its projected nose and mouth. And when that didn’t yield the desired result, Dinah used her Canary Cry to flatten the monster forcefully against a wall. With the time this bought her, she covered herself in a white bed sheet, but then there was the other thing.

 

When the werewolf spoke to her and he told her that he had no sinister motives, that he was the victim of some cruel medical experiment, Dinah was so stunned, that she revealed what the sheet had poorly concealed thus far. With her mouth opened up and her lips formed into a perfect circle, Dinah exposed her firm, round breasts in their entirety, albeit with the most critical details covered up by shading. Sal Amendola, who had kicked off the power duo’s backup series in Action Comics nearly five years earlier, was back for this one issue to become the first artist ever to draw a DC superheroine completely topless. The contrast to the lead-in story by veteran artist Kurt Schaffenberger couldn’t have been more jarring. The kinkiness didn’t end there exactly, though when the new regular art team of Trevor von Eeden and Vince Colletta came onto the book with the next issue, things seemed to settle down a bit. Conway was busy sowing the seeds to further the conflict between the couple, with Dinah spoiling for a fight to get some of their issues out in the open. This poorly prepared readers for what they saw when they picked up World’s Finest No. 250 (April-May 1978). This anniversary issue arrived with only one backup story, by Steve Ditko no less, featuring his latest creation, the weird Creeper. The main story though was a 56-pages long extravaganza by Conway which was built around some of the members of the Justice League. But this story with art by veteran artist George Tuska and Vince Colletta, was really about Black Canary and Green Arrow and their relationship. Picking up from the previous issue, Conway had Dinah boiling over with rage after Oliver had made a flippant remark. There it was, the anger of a woman of the 1970s who had been taught that she had every right to expect more than what her current reality had to offer. More independence, more fulfillment, and most importantly, more of herself in a relationship. Dinah’s recourse to all of her penned-up frustration was to kick Oliver violently in the face. Once she had calmed herself down, Dinah did explain what was bothering her: “Even when I’m with you, I feel… alone. Lately, it seems like I’m being smothered by your love… There’s so much of you… and so little of me.” Still, this led to a scene of them making out. Though this was discreetly hidden from readers, they were privy to their post-coital dialogue, with both of them attired in white bathrobes, though Dinah’s simply wouldn’t stay put over her cleavage as it was revealed that she liked to wear her blonde wig in the bedroom. But since she has this continued sense of emptiness, Dinah gets it into her head to visit some of her former hunting grounds in her old neighborhood, only that her old neighborhood is on a parallel Earth. But she is not a member of the Justice League for nothing. Thus, they teleport to the JLA satellite which is circling the globe 22,300 miles into orbit. Once aboard, their colleague Hawkman tells them that they can’t use the machine needed to cross between parallel worlds since there’s recent battle damage to it. Wanting to give Dinah whatever she desires, Oliver can’t accept no for an answer. He activates the machine with catastrophic results. Aided by the malfunctioning equipment, their love for each other tears a hole into the fabric of time and space. While all superheroes on our Earth simply cease to exist, except for Batman and Superman who’re conveniently on a mission in space, Green Arrow and Black Canary are hurled to the year 1942 but on Earth-2. This is where they encounter the Wonder Woman of this world who likes to fight since her world’s at war. With no knowledge who these people are, since history is out of whack, the powerful Amazon wastes no time to smack the faux blonde heroine in the face. Eventually, they do come to an understanding and they team-up to make things right again. Also, in their relationship. Thus, the story ended with a happy end for now. As far as the artwork is concerned, Tuska seems better suited for Colletta’s thin line and together to duo used the large panel style previously seen from Netzer. What is also quite noticeable is how much the artists glammed up the two heroines to make them looks like impossibly beautiful supermodels with perfect bouncy hair. With Tuska back on the main story with the next issue, von Eeden made his return to handle the artwork for the two love birds, while Gerry Conway continued with his mix of superhero action adventure and human drama. Without any prior experience, Dinah was now a fashion designer, and when her first show was interrupted by a new villain, she swung into action in her trusted superheroine garb which was stylish enough as it was. This new bad guy who operated under the name Count Vertigo would eventually become one of the archer’s main antagonists but first he had to contend with the beautiful superheroine who knew how to handle herself. However, now that they’d patched things up, Dinah wasn’t averse to the idea that Oliver might want to tag along. But Oliver was now hanging with Speedy again, so there was that. Maybe getting kicked in the face did not sit well with him after all. And lo, in his tale, Oliver was heavily reminiscing about the good old days before he had allowed a woman into his and Roy’s little club house. Somehow, there had been way less trouble when it was just the two of them, simpler times, indeed. With issue No. 253 (October-November 1978) nevertheless, he and Black Canary were back at what they did best. Like two sleek predators they were hunting bad guys as a superpowered couple. However, once Dinah took off her wig in the privacy of Oliver’s ghetto apartment, she’s on again about her desire to go back to Earth-2 to find herself. Oliver didn’t take too kindly to her broaching this topic again, not after he’d had such a good time hanging out with his former crimefighting partner. Her self-centered antics were seriously getting on his nerves. He was ready to tell her that to her face: “This Earth-2 deal, going home, finding yourself, all of it’s part of the mood you get in. A few days, you’ll be over it. I went along with the gag once, but twice… that’s up to you.” As was to be expected, Black Canary threw her full coffee mug at his green boots. Then she put on her wig and stormed out of his place, slamming the door behind her. On the other hand, if not always with Oliver, Dinah did certainly know how to grab hold of the attention of the readers. And so, did von Eeden who now got with the program. Black Canary was one powerful superheroine, but she was also there to get young male readers to hand over their dollar, and most certainly Kurt Schaffenberger’s dull art on the lead-in story didn’t do the trick, nor Bob Haney’s writing, with which he harkened back to the days of the long-dead Silver Age. It was time for another sequence of panels to show readers how Black Canary slowly slipped out of her tight-fitting costume, albeit with keeping her fishnet stockings on and with a very strategically placed letter box hiding her bare essentials, though one small enough to entice the imagination of the readers, at least until she’d put on a bathrobe. However, when she got attacked in this poor state of attire by a legion of alien creatures whose faces were but a giant eye, or so it would seem, she was darn close to suffering an embarrassing wardrobe malfunction. Obviously, Dinah needed some assistance from her beau, especially since the king of the alien race wanted to make her his queen. Oliver came through, and not only this, when it came to his career choices, he was no slouch either. He was running for the office of Mayor of Star City, a race he lost, but then he didn’t, only that Dinah didn’t want him to know the true results since she’d seen that politicians might get corrupted by their power, by money or otherwise. Subsequently, Oliver became a columnist for a newspaper. How could he have known that this was an equally dangerous job? In a multi-chapter storyline by new writer Mike W. Barr, Oliver took on organized crime in his articles, and when he got some insider information and he refused to name his source, he was sent to prison after a judge found him in contempt of the court. Before the dawn of his 25th hour, which meant incarceration for his model behavior of integrity, Oliver visited Star Island to rediscover who he was, like Kirby and O’Neil and Grell had once done for him. Meanwhile, Bob Haney had Black Canary team-up with Batman for the last time under his pen, and the result, presented in The Brave and Bold No. 141 (May-June 1978), was a tight little crime thriller that featured the Joker. Aparo’s moody art achieved two things. He made Black Canary look gorgeous in a film noir-esque way, and he turned the Clown Prince of Crime into the terror he truly was. Maggin’s poor attempt from Joker No. 4 was long since in the rearview mirror. The faux blonde returned one more time as a guest star to the Batman vehicle, but the less said about issue No. 166 (September 1980) the better. At least the art by Dick Giordano was very beautiful, but still this story by the otherwise excellent Michael Fleisher was a lesson in misogyny, even by the standards of the early 1980s. The heroine gets capture by The Penguin early on who has her replaced with a doppelganger, dressed in her costume, to lure Batman into a trap. Indeed, the Caped Crusader was fooled until he noticed that the lovely imposter wasn’t wearing a wig, that she was a real blonde, at least as far as he could tell. Apparently, if perhaps only to Fleisher, women looked and sounded all the same. As for the real fake blonde, Black Canary spent most of the issue tied to a chair, stripped down to her black lingerie. Luckily, just this once Dinah was wearing a brassiere, but that piece of garment had mysteriously vanished when it came to the last panel in which she was seen from behind as she leaned in to kiss her brave savior on the mouth, with The Batman’s overly muscular arm and his left hand reaching dangerously low. This tale foreshadowed her drastically reduced capacity going forward. Two issues after World’s Finest had reverted back to a regular comic, there was no room for Green Arrow and Black Canary in the series any longer. In the same year, the archer moved in with the hero who he resembled most closely. From issue No. 521 to No. 567 (1982-1986), Green Arrow was featured with his own backup strip in Detective Comics, with his arrival getting announced on the cover to issue No. 521. As for the other partner in this crimefighting duo, Black Canary, the most curious thing was about to happen. With her role already reduced to a guest star in Green Arrow’s backup, if she was featured at all, during the last two years of the strip, she was a completely changed character. Her past on a world called Earth-2 was not her past any longer since there was no alternative Earth anymore. In the line-wide crossover event, Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC had done away with their multiverse. All the events that had still taken place after this extensive house cleaning, had all happened on one Earth, and with characters whose history dated back to the 40s, the idea was that those were the experiences of a former hero or heroine, in Dinah’s case those of her mother, the original Black Canary. This took away a major part of her rather tragic backstory, let alone a life lived long before Dinah had ever come to the world where she met Green Arrow. And wouldn’t you know it, even though Green Arrow dated back to the Golden Age of Comics, nobody checked his expiration date, and he emerged unscathed once again.

 

When writer and editor Denny O’Neil managed to get the Green Lantern book re-started as of issue No. 90 (August-September 1976), and, like before, under the title Green Lantern Co-Starring Green Arrow, the massive changes to the DC Universe and the lore of its vast menagerie of super-powered characters, were well-nigh a complete decade into the future. But for new regular artist Mike Grell and his personal history, this series had a special significance. A comic book reader in the 1950s, as a boy who was getting older, he’d eventually checked out of reading comics altogether. It’s very like that he might have chosen a slightly different career path. Grell liked drawing and he was good a sequential storytelling, but when he met a famous cartoonist who worked for a syndicated newspaper, and he told Mike that he earned a ton of money for easy work, Grell turned to cartooning. But then a friend showed him a copy of Green Lantern / Green Arrow. This one comic by O’Neil and Neal Adams did not only change his perception of what comics were, what they could be, but his choice of profession. As Mike Grell would later put it: “It knocked my eyes out. While I wasn’t looking, comics had undergone a revolution. Right then and there I knew this was the work I wanted to do.” That was in 1970. Now, six years later, Grell and Denny O’Neil were ready to bring their creative partnership that had begun about a year earlier to entirely new level, though their first issue of the relaunched title kept what was to come well hidden, even if a cover blurb touted this rebirth of sorts as “At last… the return of the greatest comic of them all!” This was the kind of hyperbole DC’s chief competitor Marvel was wont to use, but if there ever was a case in which it was completely misplaced, this was it. First, we check back in with Hal who’s seen among the other members of the Green Lantern Corps while their blue bosses explain to them the benefits of their newly improved power rings, then Hal and Green Arrow reconnect over a bottle of coke. They fight a few aliens and Hal goes into outer space with one of the strange lifeforms who easily fools the brave, but gullible hero. As it turns out, the red-skinned alien underestimated our hero who returns just in time to save his friend. Readers who commented on the issue were quick to point out that something had changed. Comic fan Guy H. Lillian from New Orleans put it like this: “Relevance is no longer at home in comics. We are back to escapism. This is a new book for a new age, new readers, a new public.” But what had really changed was the hero who was at the center of it all and his name wasn’t Green Lantern. Looking back at his run with Adams, it is apparent who of the two heroes O’Neil sided with. Green Arrow was a perfect foil for the commentary the writer wanted to make about where society was at during the early 1970s. Green Arrow was also clearly Grell’s favorite, but for a very different reason. When working with Maggin, Grell had returned the archer to his roots as a swashbuckler and crimefighter. Grell also didn’t shy away from revealing that his modern, civilized manners were but a veneer that poorly concealed his dark instincts. He was the dark hunter, and this was who’d be in this run. Consequently, once Denny O’Neil understood what Grell wanted, what he was especially good at, he quickly tailored his scripts to his artist. With the next two issues the theme of heroism took center stage. While Green Lantern was given some pages in which he could play the hero in outer space, the focus was on the archer. The artist definitely delivered. Grell’s incredibly detailed linework for the next two issues was a testament to how much he had grown as an artist in just a few years, and how far removed his pencils and inks were from his early days when his backgrounds looked like the cardboard backdrops on a 1960s television show. With Green Lantern busy in space, Grell shows us Green Lantern as he’s working on a new arrow which he tests out. Then, since this was the mid-70s, Oliver gets shirtless only to reveal his hairy, manly chest. After his successful ventures in the past, he’s broke again. When he receives an invitation to take part in an archery contest held in an exotic country, the archer gets ready for some action. Soon he meets a gorgeous raven-haired girl who uses too much eyeshadow, and who seems allergic to wearing too much fabric on her perfectly shaped body. Abraxis, Oliver’s rival at the tournament, is as dashingly handsome as they come. Yet even though it seems that he’s a refugee from a paperback romance novel marketed at housewives, Oliver’s beautiful lady friend can easily tell the manliest man from Adam and it ain’t him. Grell’s art is absolutely breathtaking throughout this issue and the next. This is definitely his best art this far by a mile, and with the way he renders the lovely Yolanda and the scenery at the palace of Oliver’s host, a setting that Grell lifted directly from “Arabian Nights”, he gives it his all as he’s again riffing on European artists, especially those illustrating fantasy tales. Esteban Maroto comes to mind once more, but obviously, he was taking some inspiration from fellow comic book penciler Gray Morrow who was working at DC Comics around that time and who also “ghosted” for legendary artist Al Williamson on his adventure newspaper strips. Like Williamson and Grell, Morrow was a master of the thin line with which to create the most delicate artwork, though unlike his two peers, Grell always managed to sneak a sense of darkness into his work. His art promised violence and danger, and an overt sexuality that bordered on animalistic lust. In short, when the French magazine Métal Hurlant got an American counterpart in Heavy Metal in 1977, possibly the only artists working in American mainstream comic books around that time who could have gotten work at that publication without having to adapt their respective styles, were Steranko, Gulacy, Morrow  and Mike Grell. After he’d seen where O’Neil had taken comic books in 1970, here was the artist who’d received the nickname “Iron Mike” after the first, albeit unsuccessful comic series he’d created, willing to take them into a decidedly more adult direction. Reader Guy H. Lillian had called it “escapism” while other fans viewed this story pretty much as a throwback to the zany team-up tales in Haney’s The Brave and the Bold before the writer darkened things up considerably. The thing was, it was all of the above. With his fantasy series Warlord, the writer-artist was about to gain the popularity DC’s chief competitor Marvel Comics was seeing with their Conan the Barbarian title, which was handled art-wise by the uber-talented John Buscema (expertly embellished by Steve Gan) and which they had spun-off into a hugely successful black and white magazine, but this was a mainstream superhero comic. When Denny O’Neil had worked with Neal Adams, he was targeting older readers, those who were in tune with the political messaging he was peddling at that time. It didn’t take. Now with Grell, or Grell with him, this was more of the same, the difference being that Oliver Queen, and to a degree Travis Morgan, were not cardboard cut-outs designed to rehash liberal talking points to make them and these stories and the writer sound relevant. It’s not without irony that the artist whose art would appear rather flat and cardboard-looking during much of his earlier career, would go on to introduce a humanist approach into comics that deeply informed his multi-dimensional, complex characters. Less via the dialogue, but in the way he had them emote, and through their body language, his heroes were as human as the next guy on the street. Grell had experimented with this concept early on in Action Comics No. 444 when he’d showed readers how a man, even a man who was a superhero, would react to the news that his lover was supposedly dead. Now he went all in by letting you know what “escapism” actually was, the desire to escape to a time or a place where things seemed simpler and the good guys and the bad guys were easily identifiable. Why you wanted to escape in the first place was because in this rich fantasy world things would be easier. It was a world where you learned that you were a Jack of all Trades since you brought superior knowledge to this primitive world or, like for example in the soon to be produced television show “Buck Rogers the 25th Century”, a character that dated back to the late 1920s, your primitive ways won the day in a time when knowing how to stand up for yourself and cleverness and cunningness were forgotten arts. Herein lay the twist when it came to Grell. Even though Oliver is a master of his craft, a fact even the handsome Abraxis is quick acknowledge, he is in over his head. When Green Lantern’s old nemesis Sinestro reveals himself as the villain of the piece and it’s up to the Emerald Gladiator to save his friend’s life, we realize who Oliver truly is. He’s one of us. Ultimately, he’s human, a master at none. After the friends beat the fallen angel of the Green Lantern Corps, we see the words, “The end”, however, this was not what this was. It was a beginning. Consequently, the story continued in the same vein in the next issue, when the captured Sinestro hurls the three of them into a land that looked like it existed in a Robin Hood movie, which was clearly the perfect world for a dark adventurer-hero like Oliver who was eager to explore it. With archaic city streets and teeming bazaars, that were  home to evil wizards, dastardly despots, noble warriors and exotic, albeit scantily attired women, this setting fitted perfectly to the worlds Mike Grell was building for his own series Warlord at the same time, though in keeping with the sci-fi tone of the Green Lantern series, here he had alien technology to play with in lieu of sorcery. With him working on these two books, Grell had a foot in each of the two genres that were the most popular ones in the 70s, science fiction and fantasy. Unsurprisingly, in Warlord No. 5 (February-March 1977) he began to blend both genres in the Warlord series, when the writer-artist told readers that what some men called magic was science by different name. While Oliver meets another beautiful, raven-haired woman who seems instantly smitten, O’Neil begins to loosen up quite a bit as he introduces some levity to the proceedings and his writing. Again, we learn from him and Grell that the reason why Oliver is noble is because he is very human. Ultimately, it’s this aspect that makes the character and his legend. The writer lets the tale fall shut with the words with which he had started his and Grell’s third issue on the relaunch: “All heroic legends are different, yet all are the same!” With Oliver’s latest lady friend staring “wistfully at a grass-hued shaft, thinking of a man whose name will be known centuries hence”, readers couldn’t know that this incarnation of the book would run for ten years, but they knew they wanted more. There was more.