Welcome back to Longbox Junk, home of comic reviews nobody ever asked for!
Once again, my apologies for summertime Longbox Junk delays. I do these in my spare time at work managing a hotel and summer is the busiest time of year. The good news is that fall is in the air, schools are starting back up, and things should settle back down into a slow winter’s groove soon.
ENOUGH OF THAT!
So what we have here is another Longbox Junk Retro Review. . .where I step away from my usual bargain bin fare to take a look at some of the older or more “valuable” comics in my collection. This time out we’re going to take a trip in the paper time machine back to 1971 and check out Green Lantern #87, featuring the first appearance of Green Lantern John Stewart.
I JUST bought this comic last week (the first week of August, 2019 for those readers in the future) at the flea market for what I THOUGHT was a pretty stiff price. . .$15. I realize that those of you with more knowledge of older comics than I have are sputtering right now, because in great condition, this comic is “worth” over $300!
It’s not quite in three hundred buck condition, but it’s in pretty good shape. I’d grade it at a respectable 7.0. AND I bought it just because I liked the cover. . .not even realizing it was a “key” first appearance issue. In other words, I just sort of accidentally stumbled into a great deal!
BUT. . .
Just because this is a “Key” issue, that doesn’t mean it’s good. I’ve been Longbox Junkin’ for quite a while now and have discovered that sometimes the most “valuable” comics are the worst. Then again. . .there’s that “sometimes” to be considered. Let’s consider it, shall we?
WAIT! DISCLAIMER! IF YOU MIGHT GET OFFENDED BY HONEST AND POSSIBLY POLITICALLY-INCORRECT CRITICISM OF WHAT COULD BE SEEN AS AN IMPORTANT COMIC BOOK RACIAL “MILESTONE” THEN DO NOT READ THIS REVIEW.
Okay. Everyone in that’s staying in? Let’s do this!
COVER: Neal Adams
I bought this comic for the cover. Let’s talk about that cover for a moment before we jump inside.
I’m kind of a sucker for monochromatic backgrounds on comic covers in general, and this is a great example! I really like how the characters stand out against the stark white background. The colors pop in a big way that REALLY catches the eye and that’s what drew me to this comic in the first place. It’s not my favorite cover in my collection, but the simplicity of composition and stark color contrast are outstanding! A great job by the legendary Neal Adams.
So that’s the cover, let’s get into the comic. . .
BEWARE MY POWER
SCRIPT: Denny O’Neil
PENCILS: Neal Adams
INKS: Dick Giordano
Just LOOK at the legendary lineup of talent on this first story!
Is there any way this can’t be good? Let’s find out. . .
The story goes like this:
When Earth’s “official backup” Green Lantern Guy Gardner (here in his second comic appearance) is severely injured trying to save a busload of school children following an earthquake, the Guardians of The Universe instruct Hal Jordan to train a second backup that they have already chosen.
The Guardians lead Jordan to “A certain urban ghetto” where he witnesses John Stewart standing up to police officers. Jordan tells the Guardian with him that he’s skeptical, due to Stewart’s lack of respect for authority. The Guardian tells Jordan he doesn’t really care what he thinks. He’s got his orders. . . .now follow them.
So Jordan introduces himself and offers Stewart the job of Green Lantern, which he accepts. . .joking that they’ll have to call him “The Black Lantern”. And so begins a training montage. Jordan teaches the new Green Lantern the oath, gives him a power ring, and creates a uniform for Stewart. . .who refuses to wear a mask because “This black man lets it ALL hang out!”
Later, during flight training at the airport, the Lanterns suddenly find themselves on their first actual mission together when they spot a protest against racist senator Jerimiah Clutcher, who is running for President. The protest starts getting out of hand and the Lanterns have to protect both the protesters and Sen. Clutcher from a runaway fuel truck.
Stewart saves the Senator, but punctures the oil truck and coats the Senator in oil. . .leading to Stewart mocking his impromptu blackface. Jordan takes offense at Stewart’s disrespect and assigns his new backup to protect the racist Senator in order to teach him a lesson.
Later, as Senator Clutcher is giving a speech, a black gunman attempts to shoot him. Stewart refuses to obey Jordan’s order to chase the gunman, leaving the job to Jordan instead. While Jordan is subduing the would-be assassin, Stewart heads out to the parking lot and captures another gunman.
When an angry Hal Jordan returns to demand and explanation from Stewart regarding his refusal to obey orders, Stewart informs him that he’d seen BOTH gunmen earlier and didn’t chase the first one because he knew it was a distraction and that the REAL gunman was waiting in the parking lot for when they evacuated the Senator, who knew that the Lanterns would protect him. . .all part of a plot by Clutcher to make it look like blacks wanted to kill him. Jordan checks the gun of the first shooter and finds it loaded with blanks.
Later, Jordan admits that even though he doesn’t like Stewart and his “style” much, he got the job done and that’s all that matters. Stewart takes it in stride and tells Jordan that differences in style aren’t any more important than differences in color.
Well then. That was. . .70’s-Tastic. This story is definitely a relic of its time. The dialogue is dated and even a bit cringe-worthy in places to a reader in 2019. I can’t say how it read in 1971. . .this might have been regarded as a powerful and controversial story then. Now it seems rushed, forced and preachy.
I’m not a big GL fan but as a former Marine myself John Stewart is actually one of my favorite characters in that particular mythos. Unfortunately, in this pre-Crisis story, Stewart is an. . .architect? How this qualifies him to be a Green Lantern, I don’t know, but I definitely prefer his later retconned Marine Corps origin (Another “What the?” moment is seeing that Guy Gardner is a. . .teacher of disabled children).
Origin preference aside, Stewart just seems like an overly-sensitive and somewhat hostile racist himself in this story. DC definitely needed to start adding some diversity to their hero roster in the Bronze Age, but it just seems like they turned it up just a notch or two too far with this portrayal of their first black superhero standing up to “The Man”.
Full disclosure that I’m a white guy and don’t have much stake in the racial politics game, but I have the feeling that this would actually read a bit embarrassing even to those who do. It’s pretty awkward and heavy-handed. It might be a somewhat historic comics piece of the Civil Rights struggle going on at the time, but it’s a pretty poorly-done one.
The good news is that even though the story is borderline bad, at least it looks good, with Neal Adams delivering some excellent artwork, but it’s Neal Adams so that’s just sort of expected. There’s a reason the man is considered a legend. This isn’t his BEST work, but it’s good enough that it keeps the story from being a straight dumpster fire.
Overall. . .this may be a “key” origin story, but it’s severely weighed down by dated dialogue and really feels sort of forced. I KNOW Denny O’Neil can do better work than this. Not a great introduction for DC’s first black superhero. As a relic of its time, this is interesting. . .but it’s not a very good story in general.
WHAT CAN ONE MAN DO?
SCRIPT: Elliot Maggin (First comic story)
PENCILS: Neal Adams
INKS: Dick Giordano
The second story in this issue (notable as the first writing credit for Elliot Maggin, who went on to a pretty prolific career with DC) explores a pretty interesting topic. . .what good can superheroes REALLY do in the long run?
The story goes like this:
Oliver Queen has recently suffered a financial disaster and has been spending more and more time as Green Arrow trying to forget about his problems. One day, he receives a phone call from Mayoral aide Kenin McManus, and is informed that Mayor Jack Major wants to retire and that they have picked Queen as the perfect candidate to run for Mayor of Star City.
Oliver decides to call some of his superhero friends to talk about the offer and receives mixed advice (the best probably coming from Superman about how Queen’s secret identity is pretty obvious). He decides a personal visit to Black Canary is in order for a decision as important as this.
On his way across town to her apartment, Green Arrow finds himself trying to stop a protest gone out of control and turned into a full-on race riot. As he fights his way through the crowd trying to bring some order to the street, the police open fire and a young black boy is killed right in front of the hero.
Green Arrow rushes the boy to the hospital, but despite the doctor’s best efforts, he dies. Moved to tears by his inability to save the boy, stop the riot, or basically do anything despite being a “super hero”, Green Arrow finds consolation with Black Canary and tells her that he’s decided to run for Mayor and try to do at least SOME good.
Truthfully, I liked this story a lot better than the main feature. Like the main story, it’s a bit of a relic of its time when it comes to dialogue and is definitely heavy-handed when it comes to the racial aspects, but it’s also actually a thoughtful story that explores the question of what good a super hero is against the problems of society.
The synopsis above is a fairly sparse sketch of events. . .what is good here is the constant flow of Green Arrow’s inner dialogue as he wrestles with the idea of the usefulness of a super hero when there’s not a super villain, alien invasion, or giant creature to battle with.
It’s not a perfect story, but it’s surprisingly thoughtful and has a lot of good moments in a pretty short space (it basically takes place during Green Arrow going from one side of town to the other to visit Black Canary).
In addition to the story being better than the main feature, I also found Neal Adam’s art to be superior. Where it was good in the first story, it’s outstanding here. . .looking much less rushed. Every panel is excellent, but the real standout is this fantastic splash page. . .just look at it!
Now THAT’S the sort of thing that made Neal Adams a legend!
I would love to have a poster of that single page.
Overall, this second story is superior in almost every way to the main feature. Sure, it’s a little heavy-handed when it comes to the racial aspects and you can definitely tell it was written in the early 70’s, but it explores an interesting question in a thoughtful manner and is backed up with some truly outstanding artwork. Very well done.
EARTH’S FIRST GREEN LANTERN!
RE-PRINTED FROM GREEN LANTERN #16 (1962)
SCRIPT: John Broome
PENCILS: Gil Kane
INKS: Murphy Anderson
The last story in this issue backtracks to before Hal Jordan became Green Lantern to answer a little question that probably didn’t really need to be asked: If the power ring lets Green Lantern fly through space, then why was Abin Sur in a crashed spaceship when Hal Jordan found him and was given his power ring?
Well. . .that’s the question. Let’s get the answer!
The story goes like this:
Hal Jordan’s confidante and chronicler of his adventures as Green Lantern, the unfortunately-named Eskimo “Pieface”, wants to know how come Abin Sur was flying in a spaceship when he crashed on Earth if the power ring lets people fly through space. Hal tells Pieface that he just HAPPENED to have asked the power ring itself that VERY same question before, and therein lies a tale!
Abin Sur was inspecting the planet Athmoora which has been perpetually stuck in a neo-medieval stage instead of being in an atomic age like it should be. Probing one of the inhabitants’ minds he learns that the energy beings known as the Larifars have stunted their progress by robbing them of their intelligence.
Overall, the final story feels like filler that would have done much better giving over that page space to the first two stories. It’s an overly-complicated answer to a question that didn’t really need more than a few panels of space to explain. It’s not BAD, it’s just sort of “meh” and a waste of space.
And that’s that!
Overall, I liked this comic quite a bit. It’s not perfect, though.
The first story felt a bit forced and rushed, and wasn’t a great introduction for John Stewart to the Green Lantern mythos. DC’s first black superhero probably deserved a bit better. That said, it’s an interesting look at the past through a comic book lens and it had some great art, so it’s still worth a read.
The second story explored an interesting question in a thoughtful manner and was backed up with some fantastic art. It’s definitely the best part of this comic, in my extremely humble opinion.
The final story is an oddly out of place relic of the Silver Age that just sort of sits there wasting space that could have been better used fleshing out the other two stories. It’s not bad, it’s just sort of. . .there.
Even though I wasn’t particularly pleased with the story that makes this a “Key” issue, I’m still happy to have this comic in my collection. I’m not a big fan of Green Lantern in general, but I can see that this title was taking some interesting directions during this time. Despite its problems, after reading this issue, I’m interested enough to keep my eye out for more of this era’s version of Green Lantern/ Green Arrow.
Up Next. . .
Apologies in advance for continued summertime delays (this entry took me FOUR DAYS for ONE issue!), but I’m going to get my first Longbox Junk Reader Request edition out sometime in the next couple of weeks. The end of September can’t come soon enough.
Be there or be square!