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"The Mystery of the Mocker"

(Green Lantern (co-starring Green Arrow), 1st Silver Age series, #96-99 - 1978)

Writer: Denny O'Neil. Pencils: Mike Grell. Inks: Vince Colletta.

In my "Honourable Mention" category of my They Ain't TPBs (but should be) section -- basically stories good enough to mention, but flawed enough to not quite get an unreserved recommendation -- comes ...The Mystery of the Mocker. At four issues it stands as probably the longest-ever GL saga up to that point (though totalling only 68 pages) -- and certainly the longest story from the period where the comic teamed Green Lantern and Green Arrow (with Black Canary around as well).

I've mentioned before that even I'm surprised at the number of Green (Hal Jordan) Lantern stories I've highlighted. Perhaps one of the reasons is that GL has an unusual mix of elements that allows him to be a little more fresh and original than many super heroes. His adventures can veer from earth-based super-villains to outer space sci-fi; with his ring he's supremely powerful (for those as like their super heroes "super") even as, with its yellow weakness, he's sufficiently vulnerable (for those who prefer heroes to have to struggle for victory). Plus because his ring can conjure anything, you can have spectacular action scenes...that aren't just mindless violence of a guy with muscles hitting another guy with muscles.

This story is all over the map, the action going from earth to space to earth and back again, involving other GLs (and The Guardians of the Universe at one point) plus street-based action for Green Arrow and Black Canary. And with fellow Green Lantern Katma Tui in on the story (perhaps her first major appearance since being introduced many years before, though writer O'Neil fails to give her any personality).

It's this mix that keeps the saga intriguing, and the pages turning, as you can't anticipate where it's headed next. It's arguably an atypically convoluted saga for O'Neil (off the top of my head, I can't think of another story by him that is similar, O'Neil prone to more focused and less protracted plotting).

The story begins with Katma Tui crashing to earth, unconscious, sending Hal (GL) Jordan off to the planet Oa to figure out why -- only to find the inhabitants of the planet (GLs and Guardians both) mind-controlled. But instead of that being the plot, it's actually only the first act, opening the door to further mysteries -- namely, who or what is behind it all, the mysterious ghostly presence called The Mocker?

And that's part of the saga's strength: it's oddly eerie at times. I say "oddly" because even I'm not really sure why. But it does generate a genuine aspect of spooky tension. Maybe it's because we readers have no more idea who or what The Mocker is than the heroes -- when so many comics (especially in later years) seem to rely so heavily on recurring villains. The heroes are unsettled -- and so we, the reader, are to. And the plot doesn't exactly follow a linear progression. GL passes a mysterious derelict space ship in the first chapter -- but we don't get back to it until the climax.

It's illustrated by Mike Grell -- an artist I was a fan of when younger but, I'll admit, I'm more mixed on looking back. And his art often varied depending on the inker -- Colletta not being an ideal pairing. With that said, Grell was certainly the best GL/GA artist of the time, following in the green boot prints of Gil Kane and Neal Adams. Grell was more stylish and dynamic than those that immediately followed him (the next great GL artist being, arguably, Joe Staton). There is something compelling about Grell's lanky, sinewy figures and he had a good eye for the space and otherworldly scenes (he was also a popular Legion of Super-Heroes artist). And there's some nice use of shadow on faces (so, I guess, give some credit to Colletta as well). But his figures could also be stiff and oddly proportioned. Still, my childhood affection wins out.

But the reason this is an honourable mention, as opposed to something less reserved, is because there is a sense you could probably drive a truck (or at least a power ring construction) through some of the plot gaps. The very fact that the story is twisting and turning, and not just sticking with one story idea for the four issues, means ideas can seem to get lost a bit. At one point GL thinks how Katma Tui seems immune to the mind-control, as though a clue -- but it doesn't lead to anything. While after the stuff on Oa, the plot continues on without the Guardians, leading one to think they'd probably be standing around on Oa going: "Huh? What the hell...?"

A bit of diversionary violence (with some so-called terrorists attacking Green Arrow and Black Canary) seems a little to typically just thrown in to add some action. Although to be fair, it does end up adding a plot complication, so I suppose it did serve a narrative purpose. Though I can't decide if the villains were meant to be satirical or not, involving multi-generational would-be revolutionaries.

But just on the basic level of being a page-turner, of keeping the story interesting, fast-paced, but not easy to pigeon-hole, it works. For its era it was arguably the GL/GA "epic." As with some of my favourite sagas, it's interesting precisely because it doesn't just stick with one thread and hammer away at it for the whole arc.

If we were to stick with my theme of imagining a TPB collection -- 68 pages isn't enough to justify a TPB. Maybe the whole O'Neil/Grell period warrants a collection (their Bronze Age corniness accepted). Or it could be paired with one of the other shorter arcs I've previously mentioned (maybe Power War) or simply a few shorter tales from the mid/late 1970s GL/GA era (I've always had a certain affection for the two-parter from #102-103).

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