Friday, March 17, 2017


Script: Denny O’Neil | Art: Neal Adams | Inks: Dick Giordano (#86)
Editor: Julie Schwartz

I think I said this up front when I began this review series, but it bears repeating as we begin a look at this, the best-known story from the O'Neil/Adams GREEN LANTERN/GREEN ARROW run: I don't, as a rule, object entirely to social messages in superhero comics. My objection tends to be more on a case-by-case basis. Look at it this way: when these stories were originally published in 1970-71, comics’ target market was still ostensibly children. And while I do believe children are more complex than we often give them credit for, with their own fears and issues, I don't believe it's the purview of a mainstream superhero comic to introduce them to the concepts of white guilt, overpopulation, or, errm… plastic cities.

But by the same token, I do believe that superhero comics should teach appreciation for all races and creeds, and they should certainly tackle problems which the children reading them might actually encounter. No child will give a second thought to overpopulation. It means nothing to them. But do a story about, say, bullying or drugs, and then you're sending a message which your target audience can comprehend and appreciate, and which may actually resonate with them.

Which brings us to GREEN LANTERN issues 85 and 86. The story follows our heroes as they chase down the junkies who mugged Green Arrow using a crossbow that fired one of his own shafts at him. This quest leads them to Arrow’s ward, Speedy, among the junkies. As the cover to part one implies, this story hinges largely on GA actually being a little ignorant — or at least blind — as he initially assumes Speedy is undercover and never once guesses the awful truth revealed on the final page (and totally spoiled by the cover): Speedy is a junkie himself!

Green Lantern is essentially a supporting character in this tale, serving as Green Arrow’s sidekick as they search the mean streets for Speedy, and functioning as the squarest of straight men — he practically reaches the point of full-blown parody with his “Drugs? What are these drugs of which you speak?” routine as Green Arrow opens his eyes, per usual, to the awful societal truth he's never before recognized.

That said, though O’Neil overplays GL’s naïveté, I don't necessarily mind him serving as a “square” here. Someone needs to be the POV character to learn about drugs on behalf of the audience, and as GL isn't exactly connected to the youth of today, unlike GA, the role suits him in theory. O'Neil just goes a bit overboard with it.

He also comes across well in part two, as Green Arrow abandons Speedy upon learning he's an addict. It's Green Lantern who searches for the boy and brings him to Black Canary for some help while he goes looking for Green Arrow. For perhaps the first time in this run, O'Neil presents Green Arrow as the more unsympathetic of the co-headliners. He may be socially progressive and liberal, but he's no bleeding heart. He has absolutely no patience for addicts and seems to believe they're beneath contempt, viewing them as weak-willed failures rather than victims of circumstance. It's a curious direction to take the character, given what we've seen on him so far, but I appreciate O'Neil giving him a bit of a failing at last.

Green Lantern, on the other hand, is shown throughout both chapters as genuinely concerned for the various junkies, always looking to go easy on them, understanding they need help. He's also interested in how someone could spiral down the path to addiction in the first place. I think (though it's possible I'm mistaken) that later writers would reveal Hal Jordan’s father was an alcoholic, which I suppose retroactively gives some reason for his interest in addiction.

Basically, at this point in the run, O'Neil has found a Green Lantern I like. He's not the black-and-white, blind authoritarian O'Neil tried to present him as early on, but he's still a pretty square, forthright guy tempered by some degree of compassion. It really works. And, as a bonus, part one features a great GL bit in which both our heroes are hopped up on junk by dealers after stumbling into a trap, but the Lantern quickly shakes off the drugs’ effect with some goading by Speedy. It makes sense since Hal Jordan is renowned for his courage and willpower, and it's an exceptionally grand, heroic moment in a series which has had very, very few of them thus far.


  1. You don't believe that children understand the concept of racism or environmentalism? I guess it depends on what you mean by a target demographic.
    If you're referring to elementary school children, I'd still argue they can comprehend racism. I'd also argue that the concept of illegal drug use might be classed in the same range as issues they may not comprehend.
    I'm pretty sure I would have been quite disturbed in elementary school to read a comic book about a teenager "shooting up".
    Meanwhile, the environment was something that I cared about at that young age.

    You also have to remember that this was the early-1970s.
    If you're talking young people who are around high school age, you need to remember that people in that age group were involved with civil rights activism and protesting the Vietnam War.
    So, in that sense, many of those stories would resonate with that age group.

    There's nothing wrong with diversifying your product either.
    Marvel Comics always made sure to point out that a large share of their readership were high school kids and college students starting in the 1960s. So, the demographics for comic readers had grown older by this point.

    1. I can only speak for myself, but I genuinely don't think kids understand racism (unless, of course, they're exposed to it through the behavior of adults). When I was a child, people were just people, regardless of color. It was only when I was in my teens that I began to realize those colors made certain people see others differently.

      I certainly think kids can understand the concept of environmentalism, though. I remember learning very young to recycle. But I never really thought about it beyond that. I never asked why we should do it, and while I had a vague understanding that it was for "the environment", I had more important things to worry about -- like playing with toys and reading comics -- than to think about the concept.

      Though to be fair, I guess I'm still kind of like that. I'm probably projecting some of my adult self onto kids, because I generally don't think much about societal issues in my everyday life now either, unless they're pushed on me via the news or something. From childhood to adulthood, none of that stuff has ever really interested or concerned me. Maybe that makes me a poor citizen; I dunno, but it's always been my mindset.

      (I love psycho-analyzing myself in blog comments.)

  2. He may be socially progressive and liberal, but he's no bleeding heart. He has absolutely no patience for addicts and seems to believe they're beneath contempt, viewing them as weak-willed failures rather than victims of circumstance.

    Which would hint he maybe has an amount of admiration towards the successful strong-willed rich CEO guys (of whom he used to be one himself). The likes of the one that is then revealed to ultimately be the actual drug pusher and the one benefiting the most from the existence of the drug problem.

    That on-his-knees pose by the teen boy begging to do anything to get his dose from the dealer certainly was no accident though a subtle enough thing for a code book.

    1. Yeah, that "on the knees" moment read pretty much exactly as I'm sure O'Neil and Adams intended, but it was something that would likely only be caught by someone old enough to get it. A nice bit of Code-maneuvering by the creators.

  3. "I think (though it's possible I'm mistaken) that later writers would reveal Hal Jordan’s father was an alcoholic, which I suppose retroactively gives some reason for his interest in addiction."

    Also, in the Emerald Dawn miniseries which retold Hal's origin, he is busted for having a DUI accident and the sequel took place during his 90 day jail sentence for the crime. So, at least in some versions of Hal's origins, he's had his own substance abuse issues. Although, these have probably been wiped from continuity by now.

    1. Thanks Derek! Now that you mention it, I remember seeing a cover from "Emerald Dawn II" showing Hal in prison. I always wondered what that was about.


  4. I had a couple of Amazing Spider-Man’s famously Code-less “drug issues” from 1971 in second grade — via trade or flea-market acquisition or hand-me-down; they were just slightly before my time — and I understood enough to get that Harry Osborn was strung out on something that made this other kid want to walk off of a roof, etc..

    Then again, I’ve become aware since childhood of how unusually laissez-faire my mother was in terms of pop culture my sister and I got exposed to. I watched Saturday Night Live from early days, which had its share of drug references, and plenty of adult movies (not in that sense). For years I had to balance my gratitude for that against my frustration that I really had nothing to rebel against as a teenager.

    I do feel like a fair amount of my friends were familiar with drugs, though, just in the broad sense of what they were and what they did even if not from actual first-hand knowledge.

    1. I've always thought those AMAZING issues handled the topic very well. Plus -- Gil Kane, so it'd be hard to dislike them even if the story was awful.

      I think I was the opposite of you as a child; I was pretty well sheltered. I don't think I saw an R-rated movie until I was a high school junior or maybe even a senior! But I had friends who were more worldly and so I did learn about things like drugs -- not that any of my friends ever did them as far as I know, but they were just more aware than I was, and shared that knowledge.