Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Hard-Traveling Heroes -- the Beginning

Green Lantern #77 (June 1970)
"Journey to Desolation"
Denny O'Neil-Neal Adams/Frank Giacoia

Doug: When last we left Green Lantern and Green Arrow, they'd been joined by one of the Guardians of Oa, who had taken the guise of an Earthman and pledged to travel with our heroes in the name of seeing the plight of downtrodden Americans. These were the days of Vietnam angst, still in the turbulence from the late 1960's and almost on the steps of Watergate. It was an unstable time in the States, to be sure.

Doug: Hmmm... Where to start on this one? I guess my first impression is to say that Denny O'Neil had some sort of fixation with Nazis. Last issue he referenced the Nuremberg Trials, and in this issue we see a bunch of Ratzis who have been busted out of "war criminal prison". Sorry to say, Denny, that by 1970 there probably weren't any war criminals still in prison; in fact, most served no time at all for their deeds. But that's a story for another day. Anyway, this was an OK yarn -- the best thing about it was the twist ending.

Karen: I didn't see the point of making the henchmen ex-Nazis. Was there a point? All we needed was for the villain to twirl his mustache. Geez.

Doug: I could never decide on the setting of this story. Even though we began last issue in "Star City" (Marvel sure had the better notion, in setting their tales in real cities), which I would assume is along the eastern seaboard's megalopolis, this town of "Desolation" didn't fit into the Adirondacks nor the Appalachians site-wise. It seemed to be more of a southwestern motif. Any thoughts, Karen?

Karen: You got me. I was assuming it was the Appalachians, maybe Kentucky? But what do I know, I lived in California almost my entire life!

Doug: The boys, along with their Guardian tagalong (dude hasn't been named yet, although he gets a larger role in this, his first full-time gig) open the tale in a green pick-up truck under fire. The would-be assassins are quickly revealed to be some locals who don't exactly speak the king's English. I started out thinking O'Neil was reaching for some sort of mountain dialect, then southern, and then I just gave up trying to figure it out.

Karen: The bad guy here seems to be a southerner, and I got the impression in the previous issue that the nasty landlord was a southerner. So maybe O'Neill disliked not only Nazis but southerners too?

Doug: O'Neil plants an interesting subplot right off the bat, as our heroes engage the shooters. In the course of handling the bad guys, Green Lantern discovers that his ring is malfunctioning -- a projection doesn't reach its intended target. No matter -- his bacon is saved by Green Arrow. And a note here on the Emerald Archer: as O'Neil and Adams had taken the Batman back to his Golden Age roots a few years earlier, here Ollie often uses regular arrows instead of those of the trick variety. Sure, there are some explosive arrows, etc. employed when needed but more often than not it's just a plain old shaft/arrowhead to get the job done. We really won't see that again until Mike Grell's The Longbow Hunters in the mid-'80's. Adams' art really moves through these pages and O'Neil lets it -- we know exactly what's going on without any words.

Karen: That's another reason I love Adams' art: not only does he have that fantastic, photorealistic style, but the man is a story-teller. He's like a film director, meticulously setting up each shot.

Doug: This story carries a growing-familiar theme in this run of the evil magnate who has made his money off the less-fortunate. In this issue it is not renters writhing under the bootheel, but miners forced to slave away for one Slapper Soames. Soames lives in a fortified mansion on the top of a mountain, and the workers have been plotting to attack and kill him. As their hatred reaches a boiling point (due in large part to the kidnapping and impending execution of a young minstrel), they act. However, inside the fortress, Slapper consults his assistants, Nazi war criminals he's managed to release from jail, and tells them to begin defense. Land mines go off, machine gun fire is unleashed, and snipers roam the mountainside. The miners didn't have much of a chance.

Karen: I have to say, the whole land mine thing seemed ludicrous. We also have the young folk singer here, for no obvious reason. I mean, it's like they threw in everything they could think of: Nazi henchmen -check; evil southern landowner - check; destitute but morally superior town folk - check; young rebellious folk singer -check....

Doug: In the midst of the battle, GL is disciplined by the Guardians for taking on unauthorized missions, and his power ring is, well, depowered. Not good, as it usually casts a forcefield around him and he's under imminent gunfire when the telepathic message ceases. So, he decides to go about his defense the old-fashioned way -- chop-bustin'. It's at this time, too, that he realizes why his power ring had failed him earlier... he had lost his concentration, and his belief in right and wrong. His epiphany that what Ollie is after is what is right and just restores the bravery that had made him Earth's Green Lantern in the first place.

Karen: I'm assuming O'Neill and Adams felt they had to de-power Lantern, or else these stories would all end pretty quickly. But given what a bunch of jerks the Guardians usually are, it works to say that they decided to limit Lantern as a form of punishment.

Doug: As in any good superhero tale, the good guys eventually win out. I guess for spoiler's sake, I won't reveal the twist-ending, but it's not bad. Nice touch by O'Neil. Overall, this was a decent story, although I still find Ollie's moralizing over the top. It's like GL says one thing or has one iota of doubt in direction and Oliver just jumps right down his throat. I thought it was just a bit too much. And again, the fixation on Nazis... So help me, if they show up in the third issue, I think I'll just scream. You'd think it was a Bendis book with ninjas all over the place...


Anonymous said...

OK, despite my big talk-up of #76, I will admit that when I finally saw this story, it was a case of "what the...?" It felt like that, in order to make point after point, Denny had over-egged the pudding, so to speak.

We already had poor townsfolk being controlled by one unsavoury character...did it really need a young folk singer? And Nazis, f'crying out loud?! Not to mention the Guardians pushing their way in a a most inconvenient moment - talk about lousy timing! It was enough material for four stories being crammed it into one.

Than again, when Neal Adams draws something, I'm usually willing to give him plenty of benefit of the doubt (did that "My Dinner With Andre Meets The Expanding Earth" ever see the light of day? I reckon that one could have me going "Nahhhhh"). So despite the overkill, I'm still willing to give this one a big elephant stamp, whatever its faults.

B Smith

Doug said...

A long time ago in the pages of the Comics Buyer's Guide, and again over on the message boards at, there was the argument of which element of comics is more important - writing or art. I've always argued that since comics are a visual medium, the art is more important to me than the writing. However, and given that Adams is one of the true masters of this genre, I am willing to concede that in this run of books O'Neil's writing is diminishing my joy of Adams' pencils.

This has gotta get better...


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