Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Green Lantern #76

Green Lantern #76 (On Sale: February 24, 1970) is an obscure, little-known book of no real importance. Not! Neal Adams provides the cover to this ground-breaking comic with the new Green Lantern Co-Starring Green Arrow logo.

I remember seeing this book on the stands like it was yesterday. Having read the Green Arrow make-over issue of The Brave and the Bold and having been following his exploits in Justice League of America I was hankering for some more Green Arrow, and I was always ready for a new Neal Adams' series. This issue I got both and so, so much more. "No Evil Shall Escape My Sight" is the classic Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams revamping of the ailing Green Lantern franchise that changed the direction of comics for years to come and introduced the word "relevance" to comics.

This landmark issue almost went out with this cover instead, but editor Julius Schwartz passed on this one, perhaps because it looks like Green Arrow is about to shoot Green Lantern in the back. I've seen another version of this cover on-line somewhere which has the Green Lantern figure inked by Adams.

Stop me if you've heard this one before... or not. Green Lantern is in the area of Star City and decides to drop in on Green Arrow to see how he is doing. Once in town he sees a guy in a suit being accosted by "a punk" on the street. Lantern does a little green-ring razzle-dazzle and sends the "punk" off to police headquarters. He then picks the accosted man off the street and dusts him off accepting his gratitude. Then the crowd gives Lantern their opinion of his performance as they begin to pelt him with bottles, cans and other assorted garbage.

Green Lantern grabs the nearest punk and is about to work him over when Green Arrow arrives with the classic lines, "Touch him first, Green Lantern, and you'll have to touch me second...and I'll touch back!--Believe it chum!" "I was almost tempted to throw a can at you myself!" Arrow takes Lantern aside and explains that the accosted guy was Jubal Slade, the fat-cat landlord who owns these tenement slums, and who is now evicting everyone to turn the buildings into parking lots.

Up on the roof of the building, the straight-laced Green Lantern says he was only doing his job and Arrow accuses him of being a Nazi. Then in one of the more powerful moments in comic history an old black man asks Green Lantern a question, "I been readin' about you...How you work for the blue skins.. And how on a planet someplace you helped out the orange skins...And you done considerable for the purple skins! Only there's skins you never bothered with--! The black skins! I want to know... How come?! Answer me that, Mr. Green Lantern!"

This is one of two scenes that everyone seems to remember from this book and regard as its high point, but for me it is the first panel on the next page that makes this scene kill. More precisely, it is the caption of that first panel: " In the time it takes to draw a single breath...the span of a heartbeat--a man looks into his own soul, and his life changes..." What makes this story work and the whole concept of the book work, is that Denny O'Neil is able to give voice to two opposing views through the two main characters, but he is obviously slanted toward Arrow's more liberal views.

In a way, O'Neil turned this book into his own take on Steve Ditko's the Hawk and the Dove, only he is playing the favorite that Ditko never would ever have considered. Arrow gives a powerful voice and presence to the Dove and Lantern finds himself conflicted as the black and white Hawk. The country, certainly the youth of the country, was rejecting Ditko's black and white view of the world and embracing a more humanistic approach. Green Arrow was the perfect tool to bring that view to comics.

Back in our story, Green Lantern goes to Jubal Slade and tries to talk him out of razing the buildings. Slade calls him a "bleeding heart" and has his men attempt to throw him out. Lantern takes out Slade's thugs and is about to open a can of whoop-ass on Slade when the Guardians intervene, telling Lantern to report to Oa immediately. The Guardians are pissed that Hal attacked Slade, who in their eyes, had committed no crime. They send him out to save a moon of Saturn from a swarm of meteors and tell him to wait there for further orders. Tired of doing the work of the "blue skins" and thinking back on the words of the "black skin," Hal disobeys the Guardians and heads back to Earth.

At that moment Arrow is visiting Slade and convincing him that he needs to pay Arrow for "protection." They set up a meeting for later than night for a payoff. We watch the two guns heading for the rendezvous, silencers in place. Seeing a figure in a chair they pump it full of lead, only to find it is a dummy and Green Arrow is upon them! After handling the men, Arrow retrieves his hidden tape recorder, only to find that one of the gunsel's stray bullets has scored a direct hit on the tape and Ollie is back to square one.

When Arrow and Lantern get together, Ollie relates his failure and Hal comes up with a plan. One of the gunmen shows up at Slade's penthouse and Slade erupts, telling him never to come there and wanting to know if the "hit" on Green Arrow was a success, "Green Arrow! Did you finish him? I paid you to kill him...remember?" At which point the gunman turns into Green Lantern and Green Arrow shows up with the District Attorney in hand to arrest Slade.

All that is left is Slade's attempt to get away via a hand grenade he uses as a paperweight, but Green Lantern makes quick work of that and the D. A. takes Slade away. Happy ending, right? Not so fast bucko! There is the Epilogue and the other famous scene from this story.

The Guardians are pissed off at Hall for disobeying their orders and Green Arrow lays into them and Hal in some of the most amazing dialog ever written. For the time it was shocking. "Listen...Forget about chasing around the galaxy!...and remember America...It's a good country...beautiful...fertile...and terribly sick! There are children dying...honest people cowering in fear...disillustioned kids ripping up campuses...On the streets of Memphis a good black man died...and in Los Angeles a good white man fell...Something is wrong! Something is killing us all...! Some hideous moral cancer is rotting our very souls!"

And so Ollie tasks the Guardians to do something about it and after much deliberation they send down one of their own, disguised as a human and together, the three of them take off in a pick-up truck to find America. "Three set out together, moving through cities and villages and the majesty of the wilderness...searching for a special kind of truth...searching for themselves."

This classic tale has been reprinted in Green Lantern/Green Arrow #1, Greatest Team-Up Stories Ever Told HC, Greatest Team-Up Stories Ever Told TPB, DC Silver Age Classics Green Lantern 76 (#6), Green Lantern/Green Arrow Collection Vol. 1 TPB, Millennium Edition: Green Lantern 76 (#5), Green Lantern/Green Arrow Collection HC and Green Lantern/Green Arrow Vol. 1 TPB.

Edited by Julius Schwartz.


vinnie said...

Excellent commentary, Keller--and my sentiments exactly. I clearly remember the day I first heard about this issue from a friend in class. I had never bought a Green Lantern before, had only marginal interest. Same for Green Arrow. That changed overnight and it became my favorite. What a great storyline--it made most other comics seem faintly silly in comparison, and really hooked you into anticipating the following issues. Among many other highlights, I was blown away by the portraits of MLK and Bobby Kennedy--thanks for reprinting that. Fortunately, the whole Adams/O'Neill run on this book is currently available in reprints.

-Keller said...

I've read that this is the most reprinted comic in history, so finding it in print is not too difficult. I even have it in paperback!

I remember that when I would try to prove to people that comics were not just for kids these are the books I would drag out to show them.

Jeff Leiboff said...

I have this original 1970 book, ungraded, in very fine condition. Autographed by Neal Adams himself.