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GRAPHIC NOVEL and TRADE
PAPERBACK (TPB) REVIEWS

by The Masked Bookwyrm


Green Lantern / Green Arrow Reviews Page 3 of 4

For a complete list of all GN/TPB reviews, go HERE


The Green Lantern/Green Arrow Collection 2000 (HC) 368 pgs.

These issues were previously collected in two more economical TPBs titled:
Green Lantern/Green Arrow: Hard-Traveling Heroes and
Green Lantern/Green Arrow: More Hard-Traveling Heroes as well as reissued as simply "volume 1" and "volume 2"
As well as a 7 issue deluxe format mini-series in the early 1980s which might be cheaper to track down in back issue bins or on eBay than the HC collection.

Written by Denny O'Neil (with Elliot S! Maggin). Drawn by Neal Adams. Inked by Dick Giordano, and Neal Adams, Frank Giacoia, Berni Wrightson, Dan Adkins.
Colours/Letters: various. Editor: Julius Schwartz.

Reprinting: Green Lantern (2nd series) #76-87, 89, Flash #217-220 (The Green Lantern back-up stories) (1970-1971)

Rating: * * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: a few times over the years

Originally published in the early 1970s, this collaboration between Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams is considered a comic book milestone. O'Neil teamed Green (Hal Jordan) Lantern -- very much the squeaky clean, Silver Age good guy who sees right and wrong as clear cut -- with Green (Oliver Queen) Arrow -- who had evolved by this point into a hot tempered idealist, more familiar with life's inequalities. It was the establishment ring-slinger paired with the urban Robin Hood. Then he did something kind of unusual -- he sent them off into the heart of real world America.

"Relevant" comics weren't unusual at that time. Over at Marvel Comics, Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four had long ago tackled racism, campus unrest and drug abuse, and Marvel had given the world ethnic good guys like the Black Panther, Joe Robertson and Wyatt Wingfoot. But at staid DC Comics, the winds of change blew a little more softly. As well, even Marvel hadn't gone the route of actually doing a run of stories where each adventure would revolve around social problems and moral dilemmas, either as allegories or by literally confronting the issue in a real world context.

Essentially Wojeck with super-powers (or Quincy for the later generation).

The initial story arc has the two Greenies, paired with one of the Guardians of the Universe, setting out to "find" America in a beat-up old pick up truck, confronting urban slums, Native rights and cults. Although the stars of the piece are the two super-heroes, the real impact is on the Guardian who, forced to come down from his lofty intellectual perch, undergoes a spiritual metamorphosis that leads to a bittersweet resolution. Along the way they team up with Green Arrow's on-again/off-again love, the Black Canary. Later stories drop the Jack Kerouac frame work, but continue to jump feet first into social issues. Some issues are what you might expect, disguising the issues in not-so-subtle SF parables and superhero trappings, most, though, are more literal. Though the stories are still, fundamentally, action-adventures, familiar costumed villains like Black Hand and Sinestro only crop up in a couple of stories, and space adventures only feature in three or four. And though the Guardians appear prominently in some stories, the rest of the Green Lantern Corps do not.

So what's the result, viewed all these years later?

Mixed, of course, but surprisingly strong. The stories are unashamedly heavy handed, and the result can be cloying and awkward, as characters break into political soliloquies, and issues are simplified so as to be crammed into twenty-odd pages. But the passion seems real, and the down and dirty willingness to grapple with big issues (most of which are, sadly, still relevant today) is, at times, well...damn intoxicating in its very audacity. At other times, the passion -- the anger -- is a bit disconcerting, suggesting maybe O'Neil was working through some personal issues, with the characters a bit too quick to relish fisticuffs (not that he's the first comic book writer who seems to be working out some pent up anger through his characters).

Sometimes O'Neil and Adams come across as middle-class white guys trying to explore issues they barely understand, writing Native Indian characters in awkward ways (calling white guys "palefaces" -- sure, the character means it to be ironic, but still...) or introducing substitute GL John Stewart as the stereotypical angry black man (at the same time, Stewart is actually a more interesting, dynamic character than he would evolve into years later when he would get his own stories). The infamous "drug" story here came on the heels of Marvel's Spider-Man drug story (reprinted in Spider-Man vs. The Green Goblin, reviewed in my Spider-Man section), but though O'Neil and Adams were supposed to represent the young, hip crowd, their tale seems a little more square, a little too preachy, when compared with middle-aged Stan Lee's Spider-Man story line. Theirs is also the more simplistic and easily resolved.

Other times, it may not be O'Neil and Adams who come across as naive and simple, but my own lack of understanding that may be exposed. In the story "Journey to Desolation" (GL #77), the heroes tackle a one-company town run by the despotic company owner whose goons are Nazi war criminals. When I first read it, I thought throwing in ex-Nazis was a bit overdone -- but years later, I read a news report about North American companies that really had employed ex-Nazis to break-up unions and the like. So maybe O'Neil knew more about these things than I did.

Particularly memorable stories include "No Evil Shall Escape My Sight" (#76), which kicked things off, the eerie "Peril in Plastic" (#84), "And Through Him Save a World" (#89) and others. Also noteworthy in this collection is the 1st appearance of John Stewart in #87 (as mentioned above), the drug story in which a high profile character is revealed to have a habit (#85-86), and a Green Arrow solo story that marked Elliott S! Maggin's first professional sale (possibly from #87 as well).

Surprisingly, what holds these issue-driven tales together is the characters. Green Lantern and Green Arrow seem remarkably real, and the complex dynamics of their relationship brings grounding to the piousness. Ideologically, the reader is expected to be more in sympathy with the Arrow, the passionate, two-fisted hippy (if you'll excuse the paradox) but as a person, the Lantern is more likely to evoke sympathy. Arrow's bull-headed, quick-to-anger temperament, his mercurial nature and his childishness, makes him fun and dynamic to follow, but Lantern is the guy you'd want to hang out with, if only because he's more level-headed. It's a character paradox that, perhaps more than the social issues themselves, gives the stories a richness and level of maturity.

Though O'Neil has gone on to more powerful positions, for a long time being editor of the entire Batman line at DC (a character he has claimed more affinity for than GL), in many respects, this stands as among the best writing of his career, for all of its heavy handedness.

Neal Adams' art is, of course, Neal Adams' art, and with his organic lines, realist faces, sinewy bodies, experimental panel arrangement, and mood, it superbly complements O'Neil's scripts. He had a particularly nice visual feel for both GL and GA.

The complete run of O'Neil/Adams stories is reprinted in the hardcover "Collection", and in the two volume Hard Traveling Heroes TPBs (minus #88, which was a reprint)...I think. One description I came across seemed to imply that #83 was also omitted, but I find that unlikely, particularly as it's a story that explains why GL's girl friend Carol Ferris is in a wheel chair for a couple of the other stories. Which brings up a side point. O'Neil has, on occasion, received some flack over his treatment of women characters. As a writer and/or editor he has been involved in the (temporary) depowerment of Wonder Woman, the death of Batwoman, and the crippling of Barbara (Batgirl II) Gordon. Here, Carol Ferris is crippled...and a character puts it on the level of suggesting it's kind of cosmic retribution for being too proud (GL's "punishment" for the same "crime" is that he has to realize the world is a more complicated place than he had hitherto acknowledged -- not exactly an equal penance, is it?)

The fall out from this run was, well, very little. Poor sales led to Green Lantern going on hiatus (which is why the final story line ended up a back-up feature in The Flash) and this kind of hard-hitting relevancy never really caught on with any other titles -- even when Green Lantern was resumed a few years later. O'Neil has occasionally cranked out an "issue" story over the years, but even his passion seems to have left him. Green Arrow continued as the hot-headed, chilly-eating, anti-establishment character for the next decade and some, but increasingly in an unconvincing way (in the hands of, perhaps, more conservative writers who didn't "get" the character's Leftist P.O.V.) before eventually being remodeled as a less impulsive, more right-wing character in the late '80s. And both Hal and Ollie were killed off in the 1990s (though both have been brought back in recent years).

Perhaps this run of stories reflects, not just an exciting period in comics, but in western culture, when people believed, not necessarily that they could change the world, but at least that they could give it a try.

Earlier in this review I mention anger. An interesting thought is raised examining the evolution of cover art -- though whether it reflects a change in comics, the world, or Neal Adams psyche, that's the question. Presented for your consideration is three exhibits, roughly a decade apart. The first is a black & white reproduction of the original cover from Green Lantern #76, in which the ideological conflict is presented in largely symbolic images. The next is from the 1983 reprint series, in which the conflict becomes more aggressively physical. The third is from the 1992 trade paperback. All are drawn by Neal Adams. 1970 cover - 1983 cover - 1992 cover. Make of it what you will.

This is a review of the stories as they were reprinted in the 1983 deluxe edition mini-series.

HC cover price: $__ CDN./$75.00 USA (Yikes!)

TPB original cover price per book: $15.50 CDN/$12.95 USA


Green Lantern: Legacy - The Last Will and Testament of Hal Jordan 2002 (HC & SC GN) 106 pgs.

coverWritten by Joe Kelly. Pencils by Brent Anderson. Inks by Bill Sienkiewicz.
Colours: Ro & Bleyaert. Letter: Sean M. Konot.

Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings:

Review posted: Mar. 2016

The first thing to mention about Legacy: The Last Will and Testament of Hal Jordan is that it's not actually about Hal Jordan, exactly. Rather the central protagonist is Tom Kalamaku, Hal's long time friend and confidant. Continuity-wise it also takes place in that era after Hal had gone crazy and tuned into a mass murderer, sort of redeemed himself by saving the solar system, and was the "new" Spectre -- all of which might make it seem a bit weird and abstract for modern readers since these days Hal is back being Green Lantern, most of that continuity swept aside (and, indeed, DC has probably re-booted its universe a couple of times as well).

And such continuity issues are kind of important when dealing with "graphic novels" meant to stay in print for years -- because I'm not sure how much relevance, or resonance, it will have for modern readers.

So the premise is that Tom Kalamaku has sunk into alcoholic despair, not simply over the death of Hal -- but more importantly over Hal's betrayal of his principals. Tom, after all, not just Hal's friend -- but his number one fan, to boot. Then a mysterious lawyer shows up with a child that is, apparently, Hal's hitherto unknown son -- Hal's posthumous request being that Tom looks after him. As the child is also in possession of a power ring, this makes matters doubly complex -- triply so when a mysterious energy being keeps showing up trying to kill them. So Tom and the boy, Marty, head off, trying to find answers, having encounters with the JLA and the last remnants of the Green Lantern Corps (bereft of their rings, they're more just a bitter social club). Along the way there are flashbacks to Hal in action (just so we can still feel Green Lantern is involved) while Tom grapples with his feeling of bitterness and despair.

I tend to feel there can be a problem with comics that get too pretentious. Don't get me wrong: I'm the first to say I like super hero comics that have gravitas and grapple with moral and even political issues. What I mean is, there's a problem when the need to seem profound swamps too many other considerations. Legacy is over a hundred pages long, yet can feel more indulgent than illuminating.

It's not really clear how literally we are meant to take the story -- given no one really asks who this boy is or where he came from or who his mother is. The story even acknowledges this by having Tom briefly remark that there was something odd about the lawyer just showing up. But it's a story where the themes and symbolism is clearly meant to take precedence over the literal plot. Maybe that works for you -- maybe it doesn't. I'm reminded of some other extra-long graphic novels like Batman: Fortunate Son, Batman: Absolution, and Wonder Woman: The Hiketha to name just a few in which, likewise, the nuts and bolts of the plotting and "believable" characterization seemed to be sacrificed for the "important" themes and messages -- to varying degrees of effectiveness.

It can also feel a bit repetitive given the length. Tom has been the "sinking into alcohol and self-pity" route before (notably a run of stories in the early 1980s) so it's not necessarily out-of-character. But as the primary arc for this hundred page saga it can out stay its welcome -- not unlike a self-pitying drunk who just grumbles and grouches endlessly. Although I do believe writer Joe Kelly was genuinely interested in writing about Tom, as a character -- perhaps even seeing him as a bit of a surrogate (Tom a Green Lantern "fan" struggling to come to terms with Hal's betrayal of that legacy).

As I mentioned earlier, the whole continuity thing is an issue. For one thing, there seem a lot of comics which seem mired in trying to explain, rationalize, or dig for deep meaning in what were really just a bunch of ad hoc plot ideas and marketing gimmicks. This can result in "serious" stories that one suspects even a lot of the writers don't really feel in their hearts. I mean, the whole idea of Hal going bad and killing off the rest of the Corps was, itself, just an editorially encouraged sales-boosting gimmick (coming around the time of Batman: Knightfall and The Death of Superman). Unfortunately it then puts later writers like Kelly in the awkward position of trying to milk meaningful, philosophically relevant stories out of it and justify it in terms of the character's pre-established personality (when it doesn't necessarily gel with his personality!) and endlessly trying to explain how Hal was a true hero, ultimately, despite lapses into mass murder.

Now maybe that's just my hang up -- but as I suggest, the plot can seem a bit secondary to the themes of Tom's self-pity and coming to terms with the ambiguity of Hal's legacy, even as I don't really think those are strong enough ideas to sustain 100 pages.

As well, for a modern reader a lot of this story might seem untethered from anything relevant to the characters they know, so much narrative water having passed under the bridge, and with the flashbacks to Hal in action as GL minor little vignettes that don't really tell stories. Yet I don't think Kelly has shaped it sufficiently into its own story so that you can come to it fresh, with little knowledge or interest in the era in which it was set. (Indeed, even I'm not sure why Hal seems to appear both as the Spectre and as Parallax seeming concurrently).

The art by Brent Anderson (inked by Bill Sienkiewicz) is certainly decent enough and has an added resonance as Anderson (and Sienkiewicz as well, in his early days) echo a bit of the style of Neal Adams who was a signature Green Lantern artist in the early 1970s. I'm a little mixed on Anderson, I'll admit, liking his stuff a lot in some ways, in others finding it not quite as strong or compelling as, say, Adams at his best. Sometimes the faces and figures are brilliantly realized -- and sometimes a bit rough and hasty looking. Still -- the visuals belong in the plus column.

But as I say: read some years after it was first published, this more feels like a quaint product of its time. Yet it feels too overblown and lengthy for either a story about a supporting character getting back on his feet, or as a rumination on the legacy of a disgraced hero. Themes like that should be undercurrents in an epic, 100-page plot -- not the plot itself.

Cover price: __


Green Lantern: No Fear 2006 (HC & SC TPB) 160 pgs.

Green Lantern: No Fear - cover by Alex Ross

Written by Geoff Johns. Pencils by Carlos Pacheco, Ethan Von Sciver, Simone Bianchi. Inks by Jesus Mernio, Prentis Rollins.
Colours: Moose Baumann. Letters: Rob Leigh. Editor: Peter Tomasi.

Reprinting: Green Lantern (2005 series) #1-6, plus Green Lantern Secret Files #?

Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2

This collects the first six issues -- along with Green Lantern Secret Files -- of the new Green Lantern series, featuring the newly ressurected, rehabilitated, and reinstated, Hal Jordan.

Hal was the alter ego of the character from the 1950s through to the early 1990s (save a period or two where he was replaced by John Stewart). Since Green Lantern wears a ring that gives him tremendous powers, it had been easy enough to shift who wears the ring. In the early 1990s, when DC was keen for "shocking" sales-boostin' gimmick stories, Hal went bad and eventually was killed, being replaced by Kyle Rayner. And though that character did well enough for a while, fandom has a long memory, and old time fans never quite gave up on seeing Hal brought back.

And he was, in the mini-series Green Lantern: Rebirth (which I below), which not only brought Hal back to life but also absolved him of most of the culpability for the things he did while bad (he wasn't himself).

The funny thing is, I gotta admit I'm a bit of a Hal Jordan fan. I never thought of myself as such, but when I look back through my comic collection, I realize I've amassed a fair number of GL comics -- from various Hal eras -- and many stand as some of my favourite runs of comics.

Though I like Hal, I had decidedly mixed feelings about Geoff Johns' Green Lantern: Rebirth, which attempted to reboot Hal for the modern generation. But once all that was over and done with, and Johns could now just focus on a monthly comic, things start out more sure footed. The initial three issue story arc concentrates on Hal trying to re-establish his civilian life in the newly reconstructed Coast City -- although "civilian" life is an odd description for it, as Hal decides to join the US airforce. While all this is going on, and Johns is introducing a new cast of supporting characters, a mysterious, homicidal android starts slaughtering its way across the countryside, heading towards Coast City faster n' you can say "hmmm, I wonder if this has any connection to Green Lantern's old foes, the android Manhunters?"

I had some qualms with the level of the violence in the story, as the android blows up busloads of innocent bystanders, and incinerates people in fairly gory detail, but that was a minor part of the saga. The art by Carlos Pacheco is bright and open, yet dynamic, and tells the scenes with clarity. The story isn't, perhaps, especially complex, but it's paced out well, with a few twists and turns, and appropriate cliff hangers between acts. Above all, Johns keeps the focus on character.

Granted, he tends to rely on exposition in place of demonstration, and his fixation on Hal being a heroic "man without fear" to the exclusion of much else means this isn't, perhaps, as well rounded, and as adult, a take on the character as we've seen in the past. Johns seems to belong to the school of thought that thinks to give a hero doubts or insecurities somehow demeans him.

Johns plays around with themes of courage vs. cowardice. It's not hard to read into discussions about Coast City -- which had been obliterated by an alien invader and is now being rebuilt -- a metaphor for the post-9/11 world. But ironically, the central concept of Hal bravely wanting to resume his life in Coast City contrasted with his brother's fear of moving back to the city, could easily be flipped on its head. Hal's obsession with recreating his old life reflecting a man afraid of change.

Bottom line, though: I liked the opening three-parter. Unfortunately, as much as I liked it...I was unimpressed with the next three-part story.

Here Johns seems to be channeling a few X-Files episodes in a story involving alien experiments -- in fact, I'd swear I've seen the opening scene before! The story involves old foes Hector Hammond, the Shark, and Black Hand. Green Lantern: Rebirth artist Ethan Van Sciver returns, and his style, though detailed in its realism, I find cluttered and overly dark, so that it's hard to quite tell what's going on.

And Johns' brutal excesses just get unleashed full tilt. I read somewhere that Johns' ressurrection of Hal was meant to herald a return to Old School heroism...well, Old School was never like this as Johns and Sciver just wallow in violence. When the key "action" scenes in issue #4 seem to involve Hal getting into a pointless mud wrestling (!) contest with fellow Green Lantern Kilowog, or slugging guys trapped behind bars and beating the crap out of Hammond -- a quadriplegic -- you know Johns' notion of heroism and mine are lightyears apart. I've read a couple of GL vs. Hammond stories from many years ago...and in neither one did the writer feel it appropriate for GL to assault a man who, after all, can't fight back on a physical level.

And it just goes from there as the Shark munches his way through swimmers (and we're treated to bloody limbs and a severed eye ball!) and Black Hand announces Hal'll be his twenty-third kill that day. Johns seems to be a one trick pony when it comes to villains: make them nastier and more sadistic than they ever were before -- though having Hammond go all Hugo Strange (a Batman foe if you don't get the reference) and develop a fixation on Hal was a potentially interesting touch.

The pacing just seemed -- off. I found this story arc just kind of...bland. I didn't really find myself interested in where it was headed, nor why, as it just gets cluttered with fight scenes and arch foes (Johns just shoe horning in villains like they do in Hollywood super hero movies). I found it visually confusing, particularly in the final chapter drawn by Simone Bianchi who has a beautiful, semi-photorealist style...but a weaker eye for storytelling, as where characters were in relation to each other was often confusing.

Another problem is just the familiarity of it all. Although Johns revamps Hal's civilian life, he then proceeds to trot out all the old foes (even if he and Van Sciver have radically altered them in personality and look -- I mean, when did Hammond's head get as a big as a wardrobe?). Personally, I'd have preferred the opposite. Return the familiar cast of Tom Kalmaku (a sympathetic Inuit character in a medium not exactly brimming with Inuit protagonists), Carol Ferris, etc. (particularly as the notion of GL as a de facto agent of the airforce just seems repetative, as he's already an agent of the Guardians of the Universe) -- but with new stories and imaginative threats. For that matter, why bring back old foes...if you're going to so mess with them they aren't really the same characters?

As noted, Johns trucks out a lot of themes -- sometimes seeming to sacrifice the needs of the character and the scene for the sake of symbolism. Of course, the problem with wanting to be taken seriously in some regards, is it kind of opens you up to all sorts of scrutiny. There's also a sexist undercurrent -- the modern take on Hal is as a cocky womanizer who sees every woman as a potential conquest...and instead of an immature character flaw, this is apparently supposed to make him cool (and who says comics are no longer written by, and for, dateless nerds?) And a special focus has now been given to GL's relationship to his dead father, while his late mother is, if anything, portrayed as something that was keeping him from being himself. This is nothing new in many comics, of course -- Batman's motivation is that both his parents were murdered, yet particularly in recent years, his focus often seems to be on the death of his father, with his mother more an abstract side issue.

There's also a curious contradiction in that Johns wants Hal to be the stereotypical rebel, who doesn't respond well to authority...then has it be that he desperately wants to re-enter the military, a profession all about deference to authority! (Not to mention that sort of runs counter to previous takes on the character where, as an agent of the Guardians of the Universe, he was one of the few super heroes who wasn't a rebel/free agent). This military-centric focus is also a bit off-putting, such as a sequence where a navy man and his girlfriend are found mutilated by the Shark...and GL and his military contacts seem to regard the civilian's death as barely an afterthought compared to the sailor's death.

Anyway, those are just random thoughts that came to me. But the bottom line is: I enjoyed the first three-part story...and pretty much didn't like the second three-parter. And as much as I kind of like the idea of seeing Hal Jordan back in action...Johns has left me somewhat on the fence and disinclined to follow the series -- at least while Johns is at the creative helm.

This is a review of the stories as they were first serialized in the monthly comic.

Cover price: __


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