Friday, March 31, 2017

GREEN LANTERN #89 AND THE FLASH #217-219 & 226 (BACKUP SERIAL)

Script: Denny O’Neil | Art: Neal Adams | Editor: Julie Schwartz
Inks: Dick Giordano (backup serial only)

“…AND THROUGH HIM SAVE A WORLD…”

And then GREEN LANTERN was cancelled…!

I always find it bizarre when a series I consider to be perennial is cancelled or even on the verge of cancellation. Around the mid-seventies, DETECTIVE COMICS hovered at the edge of oblivion, and I believe it was only the belief that DC simply couldn't cancel the comic their company was named after which kept it afloat. Over at Marvel, by the eighties, CAPTAIN AMERICA hovered just under the axe, and I believe the same held true for DAREDEVIL in the seventies. And then of course there's X-MEN, which while not outright cancelled, was reduced to being a reprint magazine in the early seventies.

Such would be the fate of GREEN LANTERN as well, as not even the socially relevant stories of Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams could save it (which I believe lends some credence to my belief that kids have no interest in, nor any need to know about, a lot of the stuff covered in this run).

GREEN LANTERN 89 is the series’ final issue, and ugh – it may well be the single preachiest, most ham-handed installment of the entire O'Neill/Adams run, and that title comes with some stiff competition. The story involves out heroes meeting up with a young man named Isaac, who's been vandalizing a Ferris Aircraft plant over the pollution it causes. By our tale’s end, Isaac – who bears a passing resemblance to Jesus Christ – has crucified himself outside the plant in protest and died overnight as Green Arrow and Green Lantern are unable to save him.

I can't help reading this story and visualizing O'Neill and Adams sharing a smug, self-satisfied pat on the back after they finished the thing, believing it to be just oh so important. And I think that's part of my issue with their entire run in a nutshell: these guys were trying to make comics that mattered somehow, that could perhaps make a difference in society, and I tend to believe such a concept is antithetical to what mainstream superhero comics are. They should be fun, lightweight (but not necessarily tonally light) entertainment. If I want an allegory or a social message, I'll read something like LORD OF THE FLIES. In a superhero comic, I just want to see good guys clobber bad guys in a black-and-white world.

At any rate, our fun isn't quite over yet. Though GREEN LANTERN was cancelled with issue 89, he and Green Arrow would continue their adventures for another several months through a backup serial in the pages of THE FLASH…

“THE KILLING OF AN ARCHER!” | “GREEN ARROW IS DEAD!” | “THE FATE OF AN ARCHER”

The O'Neil/Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow run comes to an end with a three-part serial that I actually enjoy. It's the sort of message I can get behind, as our tale features Green Arrow facing a crisis of conscience after he accidentally kills a hoodlum during a fight.

I'm a strong believer in the idea that superheroes – at least the best of them – never kill. It may not be realistic, and I've certainly appreciated a few stories where heroes are forced to break that vow under extreme circumstances (indeed, the fact that they're doing something so antithetical to what they believe helps to make such tales memorable), but for the most part I've always enjoyed that nobility that makes costumed heroes hold all life, even the life of their vilest enemies, sacred.

So if Green Arrow accidentally kills a guy, of course he'll break his bow and shred his costume. Of course he'll leave town and seek solace at a monastery (in California??) And of course it will take Black Canary’s life hanging by a thread after she's injured searching for him to get him back in costume and back in the superhero game.

The story’s not too preachy, it's neither too heavy nor too light, and really it's just what I like to see in an angsty super-saga. I may have had varying issues with a many of these O'Neil/Adams stories, but at least they go out with something I can appreciate.

“THE POWERLESS POWER RING!”

But that's not quite it. Green Lantern has one final solo adventure by O'Neil and Adams; a light-hearted romp in which he goes camping and finds his power ring on the fritz, only to discover on the final page that the problem was not with the ring, but with him — he ate some hallucinatory mushrooms out in the forest and lost the willpower needed to operate the ring!

It's silly and inconsequential, but it's a great way to end this otherwise often dour run.

5 comments:

  1. Except, your theory doesn't explain why DD, Cap, X-Men, or Iron Man were almost canceled at some point along the way...
    In fact, Englehart's more political Captain America run was considered to have saved that book from getting the axe at one time.

    From what I understand, Green Lantern was already seriously under-performing and on the verge of getting canceled.
    The O'Neil/Adams run was allowed to go ahead in this fashion as a last ditch effort to try to save the title.
    Much like Marvel tried in desperation to put different styles of artist on X-Men when its sales were tanking, to try to get that book more attention. Obviously, that idea did not work either.
    It did fail, yes, but the title was already floundering badly beforehand.

    I do agree that comic book fans tended to be more interested in reading superhero fighting supervillain stories.
    I believe that Alan Moore's run on Captain Britain didn't do a lot for sales on that book either, because fans were more interested in the guy in the superhero costume fighting supervillains, rather than the more cerebral stories Moore was writing.
    That was a time before the name of Alan Moore could boost sales due to the "cult status" he eventually attained.

    I'm sure it's why mainstream Marvel and DC books are far outselling all the creator owned and indie comics that have been published through the years.
    Unless the book has a name that is considered "must read" in the comic world (Moore, Gaiman), or the book is about superheroes doing superhero things, comic books tend to not sell very well.

    It doesn't mean that publishers shouldn't try something different once in a while.
    Dark Knight Returns was a comic that was doing something very different with the character of Batman. It sold incredibly well.
    If publishers never took a chance, books like Dark Knight Returns of Watchmen never would have seen the light of day.

    Plus, even if the O'Neil/Adams run on Green Lantern ended up failing, it received enough attention over the years that collections of it have always been in print.
    A large amount of superhero vs. supervillain comics don't have that notoriety.
    So, it ended up making DC money in the long-term.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The interesting thing about the X-MEN cancellation is, as I seem to recall, that sales figures on Neal Adams' run came in and the book actually was performing better -- but by that point the decision had already been made to cancel it and, since Adams had moved over to DC for other assignments, the cancellation went ahead rather than putting a different artist on the series. (Though it's possible I'm misremebering some of that.)

      I suppose what it comes down to is that I don't necessarily mind comics with a message, but I prefer the message to be woven into the story rather than to be the story's reason for being. And a lot of the O'Neil/Adams GL/GA stuff feels like a message first, story second.

      But like you say, this run did gain a cult following and eventually mainstream appreciation. The fact I'm reading a reprint and writing about it more than forty years later certainly speaks to that!

      Delete
  2. As an oldie at this comic reading business, I don't have a problem with comics being, occasionally, deeper and dealing with actual issues. A lot of the comics in the 70s that actually did so were, for the time period, genuinely doing unprecedented things that fed back into just comics in general, making the base level of comic books more mature and more adept at story telling. Taking chances meant you could expand the capabilities of the medium, even in simpler punch them up stories. So I generally cut O'Neill and Adams slack because without them, and the other innovators in the 70s like Steve Gerber, Don McGregor, Chris Claremont, and (begrudgingly, since I find he's got quite the ego about his work) Steve Englehart-we don't have the sort of comics world for a Frank Miller or an Alan Moore to even exist.

    All that being said...good god this story is heavy handed. "Jesus Died For Your Sins Of Carbon Emissions" is what this story is, and I've never been able to read it with a straight face. This run deserves props for trying to push the boundaries, but not this issue. This issue is just silly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, this one is over the top even by O'Neil/Adams standards. Overall, I found this run to be not as preachy as I was dreading, but this issue kind of counterbalances that with previously unseen levels of preachiness.

      Delete

  3. // Isaac – who bears a passing resemblance to Jesus Christ – has crucified himself outside the plant in protest //

    Self-crucifixion is not easy, just from a logistical standpoint, never mind all the stigmata attached to it.

    ReplyDelete