It’s gonna take a while, but eventually I’m gonna talk about a seventeen issue run that includes these comics:

#80. "ALL-NEW! ALL-NOW!"

#84: would the world be a better place without Green Lantern and Green Arrow? This comic kind of thinks so.

#81: "The Population Explosion", where the heroes decide to commit mass genocide

And these are just the covers I’m not talking about later.

“Comic Captions are like headlines, written by a poet” -Denny O’NeilI once got into discussion with someone after repeating this phrase. Why is the “like” necessary, my interrogator inquired? Are they not actual poetry?

a 1983 cover of a mini series reprinting the run

Sensing that the man was trying to get me to respect something more, I quickly retorted: it’s not the poetry that’s missing from the captions, it’s the reality that’s missing from the headlines. As much as comics strive to depict a universe with rules such as “time passing” and “characters getting older” while “emotionally developing” is a very tricky thing to do with a narrative. Television tries to do it with a modicum of success, but imagine running a hundred television shows all set in the same universe, and having each character age in time with each other. It’s no wonder Bruce has remained in his early thirties while Robin has grown from a pre teen into a mid twenties college graduate. As much as these comics try to be real, they are only real so that we ask their ethical questions more urgently. Headlines of an objective world, written by someone who wants you to consider the artistry of your own world as carefully as you are considering the fantasy in front of you.

And here, in the run of comics that Denny O’Neil wrote in an attempt to save Green Lantern in the mid seventies, does one find him writing reality as poetry, into poetry into his reality. His very occasional captions, speaking to the reader from a distanced, but certainly subjective, point of view remind one of an artist, occasionally picking up from his work to describe it when he (very rarely) feels the need for words to intensify his visions, and give the images the lyricism he takes for granted.

After Green Lantern spends a panel unable to answer whether or not one of his mindlessly altruistic actions was genuinely helpful, the artist picks up the silence. “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”.

In what was one of many shocking moves for the run, the first issue has Green Lantern defy his Guardians for the first time, giving doubt to the man without fear. He suddenly questions the value of his actions as we do, seeing the full range of possibilities instead of the quick way top satisfy his “job”. Later in the run, he even conceptualizes his role with the Guardians as far apart from the abstract quality of “justice”.

from Green Lantern Green Arrow 86

“I never pretended to represent justice, Oliver”.

This is a comic that explored the quintessential superhero question: what does one have to do in order to do good, to truly change someone’s life for the better?

Naturally, the three men who ponder that question go on a road trip together. And along the way they meet, well, that would be telling the Odyssey itself. There’s an entire series of social ills previously hidden (Native Americans, green arrow dressing up as a destructive villain to give people confidence and a role model, foreign planets suffocating from overpopulation where the altruistic move is deliberate genocide, a, *GASP* BLACK Green Lantern that replaces the injured and white Guy Gardner who used to be Hal Jordan’s replacement, etc.)

The rest of the comics then continue from that question: what does good mean in this post-vietnam world?

After the road trip happens, and it ends up with Oliver Queen kissing Dinah and Green Lantern with a lot of questions, Oliver comes home to find that in his own month of unexplained absence, his ward has started using drugs. It seems that in searching for good, Oliver committed a greater sin in ignoring the good his static self did.

the "shocking truth" about drugs is that people you know occasionally do them.

Naturally, there’s even a comic where comes up with a half baked attempt to run for mayor! I wish those comics have been reprinted! Come on, DC! There’s only a tease of that Elliot S! Maggin (Yes, he legally changed his name to have an exclamation point after that S in his middle name) run with the only issue drawn by Neil Adams (who, coincidentally, redesigned Green Arrow and gave him a beard to editorial ignorance who let the redesign stand. Soon, his concurrent adventures with the Justice League caught up to Neal.

But back to these comics in particular, which were made possible through something more than Denny O’Neil’s absurd and lyrical journalistic style (which also favors polemical situations to write about: convenient journalism, if I would say so myself). They were edited by Julius Schwartz, the same editor behind Batman’s boyish fifties and sixties adventures. Now no longer feeling that comics no longer need the done in one science fact filled adventures (that admittedly have their moments). Around the same time, he also took away Superman’s weakness to Krypton and started dangling Lois in front of Clark as a legitimate possibility. He was starting to change the characters, and move them forward. He still had the habit of commissioning an absurd cover that the writer then had to make into a plausible story.

#79's cover

This cover drove Denny O’Neil to dress Green Arrow up as the phantom of a Native American reservation, in an attempt to scare off white population and pollution. It was a much deeper interpretation of this joke silver age cover, a methodological relic from the past that these artists spun into a modern marvel. Kind of like their treatment of the superhero genre throughout this run.

#89's cover: the messiah syndrome continues, and the superheroes remain powerless to do actual good in their world: another innocent perishes.

Naturally, a couple years later, corporate pressure drove him from comics for pushing too many envelopes. Changes made under his direction, like Superman’s romance with Lois, became a tame marriage, and Green Lantern And Green Arrow’s partnership became hokey disagreement instead of meaningful conflict. Speedy cleaned up his drug habit and became a blank but popular member of the Teen Titans.

However, these green lantern and green arrow comics are where the real shit happened, where a glimmer of a different way of sueprhero debuted, and they remain notable for being one of the most reprinted comics runs ever. It helps that they are short and incredibly rare, making a cheap reprint seem like more of a bargain when reading copies of the comics fetch as little as thirty dollars each.

If you’re interested in finding these stories, or knowing how they’ve been reprinted, read this:

While the stories are certainly available in a colored paperback reprint, it has sadly gone a little out of print. I would either recommend the incredibly cheap black and white reprints in Showcase Presents Green Lantern vol. 5, simply because it also includes the O’Neil written issues drawn by future Green Arrow revisionist and populist Mike Grell, who could finally wrangle the anarchic unpowered man into a successful solo series. If you want colored reprints, a seven issue mini series by DC in 1983 has plentiful text and introductions by related industry people, as well as a complete lack of ads. They are also cheap and have the original coloring. Do yourself a favor and check out those instead of the incredibly expensive hardcovers.

It is something though that this is one of the runs of comics available in almost every type of format, whether it be deluxe hardcover or cheap, pamphlet-level reprint. Every age of reprint has seen its need to reprint these, indeed, the trend to reprint stories stemmed partially from this, Jack Kirby’s New Gods, the O’Neil and Adams Batman comics, as well as the vertigo Swamp Thing and Sandman comics. Without those precious works published in a hostile marketplace, we may never have felt the need to memorialize these comics.

Or it just would’ve taken longer.

Neal Adams’ influence took a while to influence the mainstream. Initially an infant terrible, a maverick that could be described as a brilliant designer and hyper-reallistic draftsman at first, and then deadline apathetic, and then religiously conservative, and then just plain dave sims level crazy, he never was one to stay somewhere very long.

But he did spend a while rendering large figures on his panels.

look at how menacing that no name, never gonna appear again vilain "JOSHUA!" is!

But splash page doesn’t really do his sense of design justice.

from the green arrow solo story in Green Lantern #88

or the way he just completely changes the borders to change the feel of a page

or, heck, when he just commits a vision to paper that’s breathtakingly indescribable in its brilliance.

from Flash 218, where the story continued for three 8 page backup spots after sales temporarily canceled the title

Honestly, I’m just opening random pages and scanning at this point. That’s part of what makes these comics so special. They run through so much so quickly. From brilliant design ideas other image artists would imitate into the ground with diminishing results much later when Todd Macfarlane would break Spiderman out of panels and eventually out of any background or context.

And Denny O’Neil himself introduced many concepts that would be later revisited. The Guardian who spent his time as a human would return as a diplomat between mortals and Guardians, John Stewart, invented in the run, would go on to become the Green Lantern of the second best run of Green Lantern comics ever (Len Wein and eventually Steve Englehart’s story of Hal Jordan quitting as Green Lantern during Crisis on Infinite Earths), as well as the Green Lantern most children recognize through the cartoons.

Who needs sales for influence? You just need perfection.

It’s like Denny O’Neil says in an introduction in at least the beginning of the pamphlet reprint series. “I’m not sure these stories, or any stories, should be discussed; I think that stories should simply be enjoyed or not enjoyed, absorbed or forgotten. Archibald McLeish said it: ‘A poem should not mean, but be.'”

And here are stories elaborately crafted to be absorbed, stories that perfectly weasel themselves into your brain through a connection of pop image power, the gnawing question of what true goodness is, the infectious and attainable altruism of  the hero’s exploits, as well as imagination unbounded.