It’s Not Easy Being Green

I’ve recently been reading, in trade paperback form, the classic 70’s Green Arrow/Green Lantern run by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams.  These stories are revered for introducing relevent social issues into the world of superheroes, and rightfully so, but man have they aged poorly!  About as subtle as an after-school-special, this arc finds Oliver Queen (ultra-liberal anarchist man of the people) teaching Hal Jordan (authority-respecting space cop and naive maintainer of the status quo) about real people and their real problems, maaaaaan.  The stories that result were no doubt revolutionary in 1970, but read like ridiculous cornball clichés in 2011.  Let’s take a look at the first issue.

We begin with Hal Jordan flying around for no real reason, as superheroes often do, when he stumbles upon a street tough terrorizing an older man.

Since no evil escapes his sight, Hal immediately beats the shit out of the guy and traps him in a magical green cage.  However, to his surprise, everyone in the neighborhood starts booing and pelting him with tin cans and rotten tomatoes and shit.  But… but he saved the day!!!  How could this be?  Luckily, amongst the peanut gallery is Oliver Queen himself, who takes it upon himself to show Hal how wrong it was to prevent this old man from getting murdered.
Guiding Hal into a shitty tenement, Oliver explains that the old man was the building’s evil landlord, who is planning to evict all his tenants so he can build a parking garage.  The punk, one of the building’s residents, was simply administering some much-deserved street justice.  Hal argues that breaking the law is still a bad thing to do, and Oliver totally loses his shit:

Holy fuck.  Now a staple of message board debates, the “hyperbolic Nazi comparison” tactic was probably a pretty heavy thing to drop on someone back in the early 70’s, and was probably something reserved solely for extreme left-wing radicals like Oliver Queen.  Even today, it’d still be a pretty crazy thing to say to somebody whose only crime was saving an old man from a vicious beating.  While Hal is still reeling from this unexpected turn of events, he is confronted by yet another shocking assault on his long-standing sense of personal ethics:

Yeesh.  For me, this premise is already kind of off the rails.  I mean, yeah, Hal Jordan probably has his head pretty deep in the sand when it comes to social issues, but he’s a fucking Green Lantern!  His job, his role, is to tackle huge galactic threats.  Maybe he doesn’t fully understand how shitty life on the streets can be, or how mean people are to Native Americans, but I don’t think he should be made to feel super guilty about that while he’s busy preventing cosmic world-eaters from raping entire universes.  But, as Hal Jordan is about to learn over and over and over and over again, morality isn’t always black and white.  Sometimes, morality is green.

With everything he ever believed in shattered beyond repair, Hal is ready to do pretty much whatever Green Arrow tells him to do.  First step: Preventing the eviction!  Hal shows up at the swank penthouse of the evil slumlord (whose name is, hilariously, Jubal Slade), and his first play is to appeal to his conscience via the timeless art of debate, an admirable act of diplomacy that is rewarded only with mockery and cruelty.  Slade calls him a bleeding heart, maintains that he is going through with the eviction, and orders his goons to kick Green Lantern out of the penthouse.  Hal beats the shit out of them, and is about to slam his “rock-hard fist” into Slade’s “pastry-soft face” when he is called away by his blue guardian bosses.

The Guardians of Oa (or, if you’re feeling indignant, the “blue-skins”) are angry at Hal for the insubordination he displayed in valuing his own sense of ethics (or, more accurately, Oliver Queen’s sense of ethics) over the laws he is supposed to uphold.  As punishment, they send him off on a busywork mission to divert a meteor shower from colliding with the moon of Saturn (which actually seems like a fairly important task to me, but whatever).  Hal whines the entire time, and eventually decides to go AWOL.

Having abandoned his duties, Hal teams back up with Oliver and together they concoct a scheme whereby they goad Slade into trying to kill Green Arrow and then trick him into confessing.  What I just summed up in that one sentence takes about 7 pages in comic form.  The Star City DA (who looks quite a bit like Barack Obama) is present for the confession, and Slade is off to jail.

Just then, the Guardians show up again and they are fucking pissed.  This is the second time Hal has shirked his duties, and that’s just not the kind of thing the Green Lantern Corp will put up with.  But what the all-powerful Guardians didn’t count on was a rousing speech from Oliver Queen, about how America is rotting from the inside and thousands are going hungry and something something Martin Luther King.  It only takes about three or four panels worth of persuasive ranting, and a couple dozen unnecessary insults, for the Guardians to be completely on board:

According to the narration, “for a week, the Galactic Immortals argue and debate,” and then this happens:

Hal Jordan is minding his own business, and inexplicably playing with puppets, when one of the Guardians appears before him in human form, and proclaims that he will be joining Hal and Oliver on their quest.  What quest, you ask?  Well, much like Superman is currently doing, these three friends are going to travel across America, learning and loving and searching for the meaning of this crazy game we call life.

From this point on, the series focuses on the gang’s travels, as they encounter people who are being victimized by various social injustices and then clobber those injustices with arrows and energyfists.  It’s kind of like The A-Team, but even stupider.  In closing, I will say that I can understand why this series is thought of as being a important milestone in comic storytelling, but it’s kind of painful to read now.  Since 1970, writers have learned to incorporate social issues into superhero stories in ways that are, to put it kindly, a bit more subtle and less heavy-handed.  And honestly, you can call me old-fashioned, but I’d much rather watch Green Lantern fight giant space gorillas with laser guns than watch him convince a greedy lumber baron that trees are beautiful.

One response to “It’s Not Easy Being Green

  1. Pingback: The New 52 as Read by Non-Dorks (Part 6) | The Sense of Right Alliance

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