As I noted in my post about Green Lantern #81 back in October, that issue had concluded on a note of finality, with Denny O’Neil’s script commemorating the end of the cross-country (and cross-galaxy) journey that the title character and his fellow emerald-hued hero, Green Arrow, had been on since O’Neil and artist Neal Adams had launched the series on a new, “relevant” trajectory, beginning with issue #76. Readers at the time might well have wondered if Green Lantern had been cancelled, especially when an issue of the title, previously published on an eight-times-a-year schedule, didn’t appear on the racks in November, as had been the case since the 10th issue back in 1961.
But, in December, 1970, a new issue of Green Lantern (now being published bi-monthly) did finally show up — and things didn’t seem to have changed much, if at all. As proclaimed by the cover logo, this was still the “all-NEW! all-NOW! Green Lantern co-starring Green Arrow”. Neal Adams’ presence as cover artist indicated continuity with preceding issues as well. If anything seemed off at all, it might have been that after a couple of issues whose covers heralded their socially relevant themes quite overtly — i.e., #80‘s graphic evocation of the Chicago 8 trial, and #81’s direct reference to the “population explosion” in its blurb text — #82’s depiction of our two heroes being besieged by mythological harpies suggested that we’d moved back into the area of pure fantasy.
Or did it? Could it be, perhaps, that those harpies… weren’t just harpies?
Apparently, they weren’t; rather, they were supposed to represent the Women’s Liberation Movement of the era, or at least some aspect of it. I make this statement based not so much on the actual content of Green Lantern #82 as on the fact that Denny O’Neil would, in later years, refer to a “Women’s Lib story” that appeared during his and Adams’ run on the book — and there’s not really another candidate for a “GL/GA” story that can reasonably fit under that label, in my opinion.
In a 1999 interview with Jon B. Cooke for Comic Book Artist #5, O’Neil described the story as “compromised”:
…I remember thinking as a good liberal that that was a story that I ought to be writing and I also now know that emotionally I was at least five years away from being able to accept that. I was basically a shanty Irish kid from north St. Louis and my understanding of what Women’s Lib was all about was woefully inadequate. Basically my paradigm of womanhood was house dress, kitchen, bedroom, take care of the kids and have dinner waiting. Only because I felt that I ought to be espousing it did I do so. I felt that that story just failed all over the place because the writer was just not up to dealing with the material.
In preparation for writing this blog post, I re-read GL #82’s “How Do You Fight a Nightmare?” for the first time in several decades — and having read O’Neil’s CBA interview quoted above much more recently than that, I couldn’t help but have his stated regrets over the story in my mind while doing so. I was thus rather surprised at what I found within its pages; or, rather, what I didn’t find.
But why don’t I let you take a look for yourselves, faithful readers, so that you can arrive at your own conclusions…
As alluded to earlier, this story represented something of a fresh start for the “Green Lantern/Green Arrow” series, as the “search for America” which had occupied the heroes ever since issue #76 — or at least that part of their search that involved them driving around the country in an old pickup truck, accompanied by an incognito Guardian of the Universe — had come to an end with issue #81. That meant that O’Neil would be obliged to contrive a novel way to get the two Justice Leaguers together for this story, since they had no formal partnership to speak of. For that matter, the writer would have to do a bit of work to get Black Canary (who’d guest-starred in issues #78, #79, and #81) into the narrative as well, since — as indicated by the dialogue on the first page, above — she and Green Arrow aren’t quite a couple yet. And if this really is supposed to be a “Women’s Lib story”, then the Canary’s presence would seem to be all but essential.
Joining O’Neil and Adams on creative duties for this issue, as he had for the last two, was inker Dick Giordano, who by this time had become DC’s most frequent embellisher of Adams’ pencils; with a couple of exceptions, he’d remain on the series until it ended, with issue #87.
Green Arrow may be a political liberal, but O’Neil consistently writes him as taking a traditionally male “protective” stance with the woman he calls “pretty bird” — despite the fact that he knows her — or at least should know her — to be an entirely capable superheroine in her own right, i.e., his equal. And in this story, at least, his patronizing attitude is consistently implied to be misguided, at best. On the very next page, for example, the Canary lets GA have it for his poor decision-making during their brief battle with the harpies; to his credit, the bowman doesn’t argue the point:
Who’s the man that Green Arrow and Black Canary both know “who’s used [to] strangeness”?” Why, Green Lantern, who else?
GA and BC reach out to their friend and colleague by telegram (their JLA communication devices are only good for summoning the whole team, I guess?), which GL — in his civilian identity as Hal Jordan — receives a few hours later, in “a drab hotel room” somewhere out West. (Why is Hal there? What’s he doing for a living, these days? The story doesn’t say.) Of course, Hal immediately suits up:
GL follows the “monsters” to a a discotheque called “The Session”; though the club is currently closed, our ring-slinging hero finds someone waiting for him, and it’s not the harpies. Rather, it’s a tall, unusual-looking woman, wielding a scepter and calling herself “the Witch Queen!“:
“Something familiar about her!” Yeah, Hal — the red skin, high forehead, and widow’s-peak hairstyle really ought to tip you off here…
Many if not most long-time GL fans probably guessed the identity of “You?” at this point — assuming they hadn’t already, based on the visual clues mentioned earlier (red skin, high forehead, etc.). But even though I’d bought and read my first Green Lantern comic in 1965, I had yet to read one that featured Sin — er, the Witch Queen’s brother — as the villain, so I wasn’t among them.
Back at Black Canary’s place, she and Green Arrow realize that GL’s tardiness is likely a sign that he’s in trouble. GA then takes a closer look at the box the roses came in, and discovers an odd jewel (one that we readers can see looks a lot like the one in the Witch Queen’s scepter, even if GA and BC can’t). They decide to go and try to talk to the store clerk that sold GA the roses:
While Green Arrow lies unconscious in the broken shop window, Black Canary confronts his assailants, who announce their plans to finish the job by killing “the man” — though she, being their “sister”, will be spared:
OK, so these giant women warriors are evidently on a crusade to “revenge the ageless wrongs” committed by men against women over the centuries. Does that mean that they’re supposed to be the story’s stand-ins for real-world “Women’s Libbers”? Um, I guess.
There’s a brief, but pleasant artistic surprise awaiting readers on the next page (13), which, as the editor’s note in the final panel informs us, bears the inks of Bernie Wrightson — a young artist then (as now) best known for his work in horror comics. Did editor Julius Schwartz think that Wrightson was a better choice than Dick Giordano to embellish this single fantasy-themed page, or did the artist just happen to be hanging around the DC offices the day Adams’ pages came in, and did it as a lark? Frankly, I have no idea — but I’m not complaining.
O’Neil’s script makes no attempt to explain how these “Amazons” and “harpies” square with those presented in other DC books, especially Wonder Woman, and it’s probably just as well. I’m fairly certain that when I first read this story in December, 1970, I simply shrugged and figured, “well, there could have been multiple sources for our myths, right?” That’s probably still the best option for the continuity-conscious reader.
Yeah, I think I’m with the Arrow on this one — at least to the extent that the sisterhood’s only real beef seems to be with the evil wizard who banished them to “another plane of being” ages ago. Prior to that, we’re told, they were happily “dedicated to aiding man in the struggle against hostile elements”; if their words on page 12 are to be believed, their banishment actually predates the dawn of recorded human history. So, while there are certainly things that could be said at this juncture regarding the centuries-long systemic oppression of women in the real world, O’Neil’s little fable doesn’t really address that subject in any meaningful way. Perhaps this is one reason why the writer expressed such dissatisfaction with the story in his Comic Book Artist interview, twenty-nine years later.
When the recovering GA expresses some skepticism regarding the veracity of the Amazons’ tale, the indignant women warriors offer to prove it by taking him and Black Canary directly to the Witch Queen…
Yeah, the story’s surprise villain turns out to be… Sinestro! But you knew that all along, didn’t you?
(Interestingly, for all that Sinestro’s family background has been fleshed out in the years since GL #82 was published [most notably by the addition of a wife and daughter], the sister introduced here — who never even gets a name besides “Witch Queen” over the course of the story — has, to the best of my knowledge, never turned up again.)
Things seem to be getting pretty well straightened out at this point in our tale — with, of course, the obvious exception that the hero whose name appears in the comic’s indicia is still imprisoned in a “nether-plane” somewhere out there. Unfortunately, there’s a hitch involved with rescuing the Lantern from that otherworldly realm; as the Amazons helpfully explain, only one man can exist in their dimension at a time, so Green Arrow can’t make the trip. Black Canary, on the other hand, can — but Green Arrow thinks it’s too risky, and tries to tell her so.
Of course, in the end, it’s not really up to him, is it?
Neal Adams appears to have had a blast on these “nether-world” pages, proving once again that his photorealistic style coild bring verisimilitude to imaginative fantasy scenes just as well as it did to gritty urban ones.
Page 20’s central close-up of Medusa is, for my money, the strongest image in the whole book. I won’t claim that it gave me nightmares as a young reader, but it was certainly unforgettable.
Black Canary’s argument to Medusa for sparing Green Lantern’s life doesn’t directly confront the High Priestess’ stated justification for condemning the ring-slinger: “He is a man — therefore… enemy!” Rather, she appeals to the sisterhood’s sense of their own honor and dignity, judging (correctly) that they will roundly reject the prospect of letting themselves be duped by yet another man to do his own dirty work.
Apparently, the sisterhood are cool with remaining in the alien dimension they were banished to ages ago, as well as calling off their modern-day crusade against the men of Earth. Guess it wasn’t all that big a deal to start with, huh?
There are a couple of nits to pick with the concluding panels of this story. For one, it’s a little jarring that our heroes appear to be cool with handing over two extraterrestrial supervillains to “the local police” to deal with on their own — especially when one of them is Sinestro, who even in 1970 was enough of a heavy-hitter that the whole Green Lantern Corps, as well as their bosses, the Guardians of the Universe, could never manage to keep him locked up for very long. According to Hal’s monologue on page 5, he’s currently not even on duty with the Corps, but here’s hoping he at least power-rings a quick message to Oa to let the Guardians know that the GLC’s Most Wanted, Galactic Enemy No. 1, etc., is presently cooling his heels in the lockup of a small town in the Midwestern U.S..
The second nit relates to Green Arrow’s skepticism regarding the existence of “other dimensions… Medusas… Amazons, for Pete sake!” — which leaves me, well, skeptical. This, after all, is a guy who’s fought with the JLA against the sorcerer Felix Faust and hung out with Dr. Fate and the Spectre, not to mention the fact that he knows an actual Amazon personally. And this is where he draws the line? Sorry, Mr. O’Neil, but I’m not buying it.
Still, these are just quibbles, which in the end do little to alter my basic opinion that this is a pretty solid little fantasy-adventure comic-book story, one that holds up rather well after half a century. Of course, saying it’s a good fantasy-adventure story is quite a bit different than saying it’s a good “Women’s Lib story”; and that’s more or less where we started this discussion, right? So — how should we judge that aspect of the story, when all else is said and done?
Earlier in the post, I said that I’d been surprised by what I expected to find in Green Lantern #82 — but didn’t — upon my re-reading it for the first time in many years. That’s because, based on my vague recollections of the story from previous readings, as well as the assessments of it I’d seen elsewhere (including O’Neil’s own, in his 1999 CBA interview), I went into “How Do You Fight a Nightmare?” this time expecting its harpies and other mythological females to come across as gross caricatures of early ’70s feminists, one-dimensional “man-haters”. And I suppose you can see those characters that way, if you’re so inclined; but, personally, I have a difficult time doing so.
The truth is, O’Neil’s script never really evokes the specific concerns or the rhetoric of the Women’s Liberation Movement — either by honest exploration, or by satirical overstatement, or in any other meaningful way. Certainly, there’s never a moment in this story to compare with the one in Marvel Comics’ Avengers #83 (published two months before GL #82) in which the Valkyrie assaults the titular heroes exclaiming, “Up against the wall, male chauvinist pigs!” In the end, then, it seems that there’s not really anything in O’Neil’s take on feminism here to provoke strong reactions one way or the other; nothing to be outraged by, perhaps, but nothing to get enthused about, either.
Actually, the very last part of that last statement isn’t quite true, at least not for your humble blogger. Because I believe the story can in fact be viewed as conveying a positive feminist message, if approached not by way of the mythological “sisterhood”, but rather in terms of its primary female character: Dinah Drake Lance, the Black Canary.
After all, it’s the independent-minded and extraordinarily competent Canary who takes the lead at almost every significant juncture of the story’s plot; whose instincts and judgements regarding both people and events unfailingly pay off; and who both saves Green Arrow’s life from the murderous Amazons and rescues Green Lantern from Medusa. By contrast, GA gets only a couple of good moments mid-story, while fighting Sinestro — and GL (whose own damn book this is, at the end of the day) pretty much plays dude-in-distress for the whole thing. I’m not saying this story should be considered a feminist landmark, by any means, but I think it has a good deal to commend it, especially in the context of its times.
Perhaps Denny O’Neil did occasionally mishandle feminist themes in the stories he wrote over the course of as long and distinguished career (most comics writers of his generation did); but as far as Green Lantern #82 is concerned, the late author should be able to rest easy. That’s my opinion, anyway.
Ah, comic book logic! The act of hand-waving away any part of the story that prevents it from getting to the right page at the right time for a nicely wrapped-up conclusion. It’s amazing the whoppers some comics writers got away with and the size of the bitter pill we swallowed as readers all in the name of format. Green Arrow has to disbelieve in myths and monsters or the story will go on too long. Medusa has to be able to “tell” Black Canary is being honest or the story would go too long. Don’t get me wrong, O’Neill is a great story-teller, but man, the art of that story-telling has certainly improved in the last forty years. By the way, wasn’t the sight of Medusa’s coiled snakes supposed to petrify whoever saw them? Certainly didn’t work on GL, did it? Probably b/c it would have made the story too long.
I agree with you Alan, that the only character who really positively showed what the Women’s Movement was about was Black Canary. Unfortunately, it also really makes you wonder what she’s doing with Ollie. “Hey babe, I know you asked to me to give you some space, but coming over unannounced is cool so long as I brought flowers, right?” Jesus. None of us is ever perfect, coming from our place of White Male Privilege, but for a character written to be so open-minded and liberal, Ollie certainly was a sexist! And Hal certainly wasn’t any better with his later declaration about not wanting to hit a woman. O’Neill was right; as a piece about Women’s Lib, this story was a mess.
Still, at least O’Neill was trying. I really can’t think of too many other comics writers who even had the Women’s Movement on their radar as this particular time, beyond a few lines of self-serving dialogue or a misguided rant, so let’s give him credit for that. And as we pointed out in the discussion of the last post, there is something to be said for the context and the time in which a story was written.
As for the actual story itself, it was pretty dumb, wasn’t it? Sinestro didn’t want to bore us with the details on how he found the Nightmare Dimension and Hal and Ollie and Dinah couldn’t be bothered to try to save the “Amazons” from it (I mean, come on, how hard would it be to send a telegram (HA!) to Wonder Woman about her fellow tribeswomen?
I guess it would have made the story too long.
LikeLiked by 2 people
Um, well… at least the art sure was purty! Right, Don?
I was hoping that you were going to blog about this issue Alan, even before our discussion the other day on your Fantastic Four #108 post. I reread this issue this past week on D.C. Universe (or whatever it’s called these days), which I don’t usually do with D.C. books, but do for this series on the 50th anniversaries of each issues’ release.
First of all, this issue is a perfect example of why Neal Adams is my all-time favorite artist. I agree with your comments about how Adams’ style also fits comfortably in an extra-dimensional setting (althoug I also agree that it was neat to see the Bernie Wrightson cameo) and about the fearsome Medusa panel (kudos also to Giordano’s inking). I had forgotten about this story and the illustration but boy did I remember it when I saw it again.
I disagree with your point that the guest-women warriors in this story don’t act one-dimensionally. They want to kill all men, won’t let men live with them, and only free Green Lantern because a man has tricked them into attempting to kill him. That’s not every multi-dimensional (pardon the pun) or enlightened. On the other hand, you hit the nail on the head that this Black Canary’s story from beginning to end. She stands up to Green Arrow’s chauvanism. Dinah still has an affection for Green Arrow, but it’s on her own terms–no sighing love-struck dependence here, quite the opposite. As you note, she saves first Green Arrow and then Green Lantern with both her battle skills and her smarts. She is a strong person throughout.
Compare the treatment of Black Canary here to any Marvel treatment of a heroine at this time or during the entire decade of the 1970s and more. Contemporaneously, in addition to the infamous Valkyrie story there is the minimizing treatment of Sue Richards that was discussed in a comment to your Fantastic Four #108 post. I’ll go further than this. The treatment of Black Canary in this issue is even stronger and more realistic than the modern day comic books that make women heroes into testosterone filled Rambos (like the male heros). It’s unique up to this point and to be quite honest it kind of comes out of nowhere. I don’t have time to look now but I seem to recall that the Black Canary’s character just a few issues earlier in GL/GA was more subserivient and ditzy as is usual for women heroes (I’m thinking of the issues in which the group hangs out with Native Americans).
I also agree with your points about the end of the story except that I think that you make fully valid criticisms. It’s not nitpicking to leave an alien super-villain in regular police custody and it’s inexcusable to have Green Arrow say that he doesn’t believe in amazons. By the way, it was in those days (and even today) common for liberals to have a blind spot if their experiences growing up was the traditional paternalistic view towards women. All in all, extremely realistic portrayals of the main characters–except for Green Arrow not believing in Amazons of course.
LikeLiked by 2 people
Point taken about the one-dimensionality of the Amazons, et al, Stu — although I’d still argue that O’Neil portrays them as at least somewhat sympathetic, if not at all justified in their actions.
As ever, a great write-up, thoroughly enjoyable and insightful. One tiny, tiny, tiny nitpick–GL premiered as a bi-monthly and didn’t go to eight issues a year until issue #10.
LikeLiked by 2 people
Whoops! Thanks for the correction, Mark — I’ll fix it in the post — and also for the kind words.
That actually worked out pretty well, since issue #10 came out in November, ’61!
I liked Witch Queen, I was hoping she would be a rouge for Black Canary
LikeLiked by 1 person
It’s also been years since I read this one and, well, it’s actually sort of fun. The artwork by Adams & Giordano (with that assist from Wrightson) is absolutely beautiful.
Something that becomes apparent about Denny O’Neil in interviews is that he could often be his own harshest critic. He seemed to often look at his older work and express the view that he could have done a better job. I always found that introspection and humility to be an esteemable quality.
In regards to Oliver Queen’s chauvinism and authoritative attitude being at odds with his supposed liberalism, well, as Don observed in his comment above, unfortunately sometimes people on the left side of the political spectrum still have glaring blind spots that need to be pointed out to them by others.
Have you read the Green Lantern / Green Arrow story written by O’Neil that appeared in the Green Lantern 80th Anniversary Special? It was one of the last things O’Neil wrote before he passed away. It actually explores the idea that Oliver Queen, for all of his far-left beliefs, is actually the type to eagerly beat criminals to a bloody pulp (so much for those all-important civil liberties) while Hal Jordan, having been forced to re-examine his own beliefs, is now considering how some situations ought to try to be resolved in a non-violent manner. I felt it was a fitting coda to O’Neil’s career.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I haven’t read that one yet, Ben, but I need to! Thanks for cluing me in.
LikeLiked by 2 people
Good write up on a surprising DC story.
In those years, I had a very strong bias against DC Comics, based primarily on the two TV series about the two major DC Comic book superheroes, Superman and Batman. I can’t see Superman, on television or in a comic book, without thinking of George Reeves, the actor that played Superman in the 1950’s TV series,, and what it did to him. I thought he was a great actor, but Superman ruined his career. Even to this day he is solely identified as Superman. And all those stories about how the house he committed suicide in being haunted. Sad. As for the Batman Show, the only thing I ever liked about it was Julie Newmar as Catwoman. The rest of the show, as well as DC Comics in general, I took a pass on. I never took a look inside a DC Comic until Jack Kirby switched comic book publishers.
I think I messed up on Neal Adams and his Green Arrow/Green Lantern stories. If I had been 12 or 13 years old in 1970 instead of 17 years old and had not been exposed to Superman and Batman on Television and was not already fully indoctrinated into the Jack Kirby School of Comic book art, I might have been more receptive to Neal Adams. So it goes.
As for Green Lantern #82–
It is apparent that DC women weren’t like Marvel women back in 1970. They talk back to men for one thing. I cannot imagine Stan Lee writing dialogue for Dinah Drake/Black Canary like Denny O’Neil in this story. In fact, if dialogue like this for a woman was written for a Marvel story during Stan Lee’s tenure as Editor, Stan Lee would have had the dialogue rewritten. Given that a woman is the actual hero that saves the lead superhero in this story, Lee probably would even have ordered the story redone to change this. But that’s all speculation.
This story reminds me of the Wonder Woman stories by William Moulton Marston and Harry Peters during the early 1940’s. With some modification, it could have easily been an early 1940’s Wonder Woman story.
LikeLiked by 2 people
Re: whether or not Stan Lee would have nixed any story like this one for showing a woman as too independent… That’s a pretty strong statement, JoshuaRascal, but I’m not sure you’re wrong. 🙂 Certainly, it’s impossible to imagine him writing such a story himself.
LikeLiked by 1 person