Review by Frank Plowright
When it first saw the light of day in 1970 this teaming of Green Lantern and Green Arrow was remarkable material. The USA was a country divided and in turmoil with the understanding between the generations at an all-time low as hippy culture spread Eastwards across the nation. Several leading lights pressing for social change had been assassinated, further fuelling their causes, opposition to the Vietnam war was ever-increasing, and there was a growing awareness of the problems caused by pollution, socially irresponsible landlords, and drugs.
Denny O’Neil counted himself among the disgruntled younger generation. “I signed petitions, I went on marches”, he notes in his erudite introduction, and realised that the publications printing his work, then primarily comics, could offer a platform. His introduction further notes “It was an opportunity to stop lurking at the edges of social movements I admired and participate by dramatizing their concerns”. This was the result.
O’Neil was blessed by being teamed with artist Neal Adams. In 1970 his graphic realism and instinctive dynamic storytelling pointed the way forward for a generation of artists. Adams drew his inspiration from the wider world, and his approach stunned when compared to the staid and outdated artistic vision applied by most DC artists.
Green Lantern was a comic in danger of cancellation due to poor sales, its previous science-fiction based exploits of a man who could create anything through willpower via the ring on his finger losing their appeal. O’Neil had already transformed Green Arrow from an identikit clean-cut rich playboy superhero into a broke bearded espouser of liberal causes, and it was Oliver Queen who was Green Lantern’s guide to a society of which he was completely ignorant.
Intrigued by the opportunity to study Earth’s culture first hand, the pair are accompanied by a small blue-skinned alien, resembling nothing so much as a nursing home escapee. In fact he’s one of the Guardians of the Universe, beings who protect the source powering the rings worn by thousands of Green Lanterns. Green Arrow’s girlfriend Black Canary also features regularly.
In this first of two volumes the verdant pair encounter the evils of the company town, corrupt landlords, hippy cults, waste dumping and the persecution of native Americans. Either via inclination or editorial instruction, though, O’Neil doesn’t entirely relinquish Green Lantern’s past, and the latter portion of this volume uses science-fiction trappings to focus on miscarriages of justice, over-population and aggressive feminism. While well-intentioned at the time, through 21st century eyes these are ham-fisted and clumsy ways of making the point.
Current comic creators have an awareness that their work may survive the decades, but O’Neil wasn’t writing for a market that would pore over his material forty years later. He was breaking new ground and the immediacy of the message to comic readers likely too young to have a complete understanding of the issues was his priority. That it succeeded at the time was confirmed not only by acclaim and awards, but by further new ground being broken by four of these stories being issued, in black and white, over two proper books by the Paperback Library.
Adams’ work still looks spectacular, but much of O’Neil’s accompaniment has devolved to a landmark curiosity. His best writing here is five pages of informative and insightful introduction, initially written for a 1983 reprint, then updated in 2000 for this edition. It’s shamefully absent from the alleged mastered hardcover version most recently released. Volume two is slightly better.