Green Lantern #85 (Aug.-Sep., 1971)

As we related on this blog back in February, in early 1971 Marvel Comics became the first major American comic-book company to publish a story dealing with drug abuse, when they released three monthly issues of Amazing Spider-Man without the Comics Code Authority’s Seal of Approval.  But DC Comics could easily have been the first to do so, instead, if only they’d had the nerve — or at least that’s how artist Neal Adams tells the story.

That story appears to begin with a project that DC was invited to produce for a government agency (either the City or the State of New York, depending on the version of Adams’ narrative you consult).  Both Adams and his creative collaborator on DC’s famously socially conscious title Green Lantern, writer Denny O’Neil, were asked to submit treatments for a comic book about drug addiction.  This, presumably, would have been some sort of giveaway comic, distributed in such a manner that the Comics Code would have been irrelevant — but the project never came to fruition.  As Adams told interviewer Bryan Stroud in 2007

…Denny did an outline and I did an outline of what kind of book it could be and they didn’t like our outlines (laughter) and we had taken a lot of time.  Both Denny and I had gone to Phoenix Houses and we had talked to the guys and you know the shit that you hear isn’t exactly the shit you hear from the guys who are really junkies.  Very, very different. …the problem with society, both of us, Denny and I, realized was that we were not taking care of our kids and we were not giving them alternate things to do and we’re not rewarding them for their hard work and we weren’t doing much of anything.  We were actually making potential addicts.


…And they wanted us to do something about telling them to say ‘no’.  This is like, “You’re bad.”  No.  We don’t think so.  You’re bad, society, you’re screwed up and you’re making us bad, but we’re not that bad.  So they weren’t happy with what we did, so they abandoned the project.

Both Adams and O’Neil still wanted to do a comic on the subject, however.  And so Adams, on his own initiative, took the next step:

…I think, “We’ve got to do something on drug addiction,” but of course it’s against the Comic Code, so I went home and I did that first cover [which ultimately appeared as the cover of GL #85]…  I penciled it and I inked it and I put the lettering in and I brought it in and I gave it to [GL editor] Julie Schwartz and his hand grabbed it very briefly and then he dropped it on the desk as if it were on fire.  He said, “We can’t do this.”  I said, “Well, we ought to.”  He said, “You know we can’t do this.  It’s against everything.”  I said, “Well, this is where we’re going.  This is what we ought to be doing.”  So he said, “You’re out of your mind.  Once again, you’re being a pain in the ass.”  So I took it into Carmine [Infantino, DC’s Editorial Director].  Carmine didn’t know what to make of it.  I took it into the Kinney people, who were now running DC Comics and were sort of used to this and of course they dropped it like a hot potato.

Meanwhile, Stan Lee was proceeding with Marvel’s own anti-drug abuse project.  When the Comics Magazine Association of America (CMAA) declined to amend the Code in a way that would have allowed Lee’s Spider-Man story to pass muster — a change that DC’s Infantino had joined Marvel in supporting — the Marvel editor opted to send the finished first installment to the printers anyway, and his boss, publisher Martin Goodman, backed him up.  A February 4 story in the New York Times described Infantino’s reaction as one of dismay, quoting him thusly: “You know that I will not in any shape or form put out a comic magazine without the proper authorities scrutinizing it so that it does not do any harm, not only to the industry but also to the children who read it. Until such a time, I will not bring out a drug book.”

Of course, as most of you reading this will already be aware, Lee and Goodman’s gamble paid off.  There was no push-back from distributors or retailers over Marvel releasing a comic minus the Code seal, and no negative public reaction to the book’s contents (at least, none seems to have been reported).

Adams described the reaction in the offices of DC Comics thusly:

Now try to imagine DC, they’ve got this cover, right? Could have scooped Stan… They screwed up. So within a day or two they call a meeting of the Comics Code Authority. Remember the Comics Code Authority is bought for and paid for by the comic book companies. It doesn’t exist independently. It’s a self-regulating organization. So DC Comics calls Marvel, they call Archie [Comics], they go and have this emergency meeting. “We’re going to revise the Comics Code!” Okay, within a week they revised the code and within a week and a half they tell me and Denny to go ahead with the story. (Laughter.)

On April 16, the Times reported that the CMAA’s member publishers had decided to amend the Comics Code to, in the words of reporter Lawrence Van Gelder, “give themselves written permission to deal with the subject of narcotics”.  This time, Infantino was quoted as saying: “I feel it’s a great step forward for the industry. I think this can prove that the medium that was considered junk for one generation will be the jewel for the next. It can explore the social ills for the younger generation and help them decide how to direct their lives.”

Three months later, O’Neil and Adams’ drug addiction story — the first half of it, anyway — finally made it to spinner racks.

I’m pretty certain that my thirteen-year-old self, despite not being plugged into any kind of fannish communications network in June, 1971, was at least generally cognizant of these behind-the-scenes goings-on by the time I ultimately laid eyes on Green Lantern #85.  No, I didn’t read the New York Times (not even on Sundays).  But I did read each and every letters column in every comic book I bought, and the one in Amazing Spider-Man #100, published a couple of weeks earlier, had included a number of excerpted responses to the “drug trilogy” in AS-M #96-98, including these from readers who were obviously better informed than I was:

“I have to commend you for bucking one of the less reasonable aspects of the Code and doing a story on drugs.” — Warren Bluhm, Chester, NJ


“Drug abuse has to be fought. It is terrible that the Comics Code Authority wants you to close your eyes and pretend it’s not there.” — Frank Kobola, Ft. Lee, NJ


“Stan thought that the topic was too important to wait until the Comics Code approves of it.” — Jeff Strell & Robert Greenberger (yes, that one), Jericho, NY


“The sub-plot about drugs is what has been lacking for a long time in the comic world. I can see the Comics Code Authority’s point in refusing to approve this issue, but the superheroes are supposed to live in our world with our problems.” — Becky Clover, Canton, Ohio

As you can see, it wasn’t hard to pick up the gist.

So… I knew that Marvel had beaten DC to the punch.  I knew that it meant something that Marvel had put out three comic books about “the drug problem” without the Code seal, and that DC had waited until that was no longer an issue.

That still didn’t lessen the impact of picking up a copy of Green Lantern #85 and seeing Green Arrow’s ward and partner, the Teen Titan known as Speedy, getting caught by his mentor in the process of shooting up heroin.  Or make me any less eager to buy the book and take it home to find out what the hell was going on.

The caption that opens the tale may seem overwrought, at least by today’s standards; but the strong personal feeling it expresses appears to have been genuine, as, even before they’d done their research with the Phoenix House organization, both O’Neil and Adams had had direct personal experience dealing with the problems caused by drug addiction.  As O’Neil would tell interviewer Guy H. Lillian III a few years later:

That was one we wrote out of genuine concern. I lived in a neighborhood heavily populated by drug addicts at the time. I saw people nodding out from heroin every day on the street. I had friends with drug problems, people coming over at 3 a.m. with the shakes.  Neal was, at the time, involved in a drug rehabilitation program in his neighborhood.  So it was a problem that genuinely concerned us. (Amazing World of DC Comics #4, Jan.-Feb., 1975)

Something else worth noting here at the outset of the story is that Adams has contributed the full artwork, inks as well as pencils; while he generally did both jobs for his covers, it was fairly unusual at this stage of the artist’s career for him to do so for a comic’s interior pages.

“My woman just told me she’s not going to be home when I call anymore…”  Oliver (Green Arrow) Queen’s breakup with Dinah (Black Canary) Lance appears to have occurred off-panel between issues; while they’d had a tiff in GL #84, the scene had been largely played for laughs, and didn’t seem to be all that serious (let alone final).  Similarly, the couple’s relationship appeared to be in good shape in the concurrent issues of the other title they both appeared in regularly, Justice League of America.

On the other hand, Ollie’s behavior towards Dinah had consistently been portrayed in both titles as being so possessive and condescending that many readers (then and now), rather than being surprised at this turn of events, might be more inclined to wonder what had taken her so long.

Is Ollie really so surprised that an arrow fired at him at point-blank range, even from a “relic” of a crossbow, has actually found its mark and hurt him?  Probably not, but we’ll have to wait a couple of pages before we find out the other, more reasonable reason for his obvious shock.

Those couple of pages, incidentally, are a tour de force of (mostly) “silent” graphic storytelling, as well as a sterling example of O’Neil and Adams’ shared satirical sensibility.  But, hey, see for yourself:

When Ollie sees the arrow again, it confirms his suspicion that he’s seen its like before (and lets us in on why he was so shocked at the bottom of page 3).  Deciding he’s going to need help on this one, he rings up his old pal (and co-star) Hal Jordan, in Coast City.

Hanging up, Hal immediately changes to Green Lantern, then flies straight to Ollie’s “pad” (presumably still located in Green Arrow’s traditional home base of Star City)…

Speedy, aka Roy Harper, had been Oliver’s ward and GA’s sidekick for thirty years as the real world reckons time, having made his debut back in More Fun Comics #73 (Nov., 1941).  At this point he had yet to show his face in Green Lantern, in which Green Arrow had been co-starring since issue #76 (Apr., 1970) — though of course he was a mainstay of DC’s Teen Titans, having appeared in every issue of that title since #19 (Jan.-Feb., 1969).

The pleas of “Junior” — whom we readers, as well as Green Arrow, recognize as one of the three muggers from earlier — fall on deaf ears as far as Mr. Browden is concerned; the building superintendent callously kicks the young man in the face and slams the door shut.

O’Neil arguably leans a little too much here into playing up GL’s role as the more straight-laced member of our heroic duo, by making Hal so painfully naive as to actually justify Ollie’s tagging of him as “dumb“.  On the other hand, this plays into helping set the righteous, know-it-all Green Arrow up for what every reader already knows is going to be a very hard fall (assuming the reader looked at the comic’s cover before jumping into the story).

There’s more expert graphic storytelling from Adams at the bottom of page 9, as the artist uses “insert” panels like the successive frames of a film to economically convey GA’s pained reaction to Browden’s punch to his wounded shoulder.

Of course, Browden’s fists are useless against GL’s power ring, and so…

Yes, Green Lantern actually uses the word “lad”, and not in an ironic way.  It won’t be the last time this issue, either.

Say, we haven’t seen that shadowed figure reclining in the window before, have we?  I wonder who that might be?

Here, O’Neil walks a thin line — successfully, in my opinion — as he allows the young addicts to tell the story’s readers what they’re up against in their daily lives, without suggesting that these challenges excuse such actions as their earlier mugging of Oliver Queen.

Yep, that mysterious figure is none other than our boy Roy Harper.  No surprise there, right?

The Asian-American youth explains to our Emerald Crusaders that he hates his habit and wants to see the pushers behind bars; thus, he’s willing to lead the heroes to their location.  GA, noticing that Roy is “looking pretty pale“, tells his ward to remain behind, while he and GL go with the addicts.

As Green Lantern’s ring-power bears them over the city, Green Arrow continues to verbally harass their “guests” (not so unreasonably, in my opinion, considering how they mugged him earlier):

GL may not know a whole lot about drugs, but his space-cop instincts pay off well here…

The Black addict has some qualms about what they’re doing (“Man, I don’t wanna see anybody busted!”), but doesn’t stand in his friend’s way when the latter hits up the pushers for a “reward”:

The pushers and the addicts take off, just before the police arrive on the scene, lights flashing and sirens blaring.  But someone else has arrived, too, and he intercepts the cops, directing them away from the hangar…

This scene of Green Lantern’s victory against the heroin “monster” is, perhaps, a little too on the nose; but it does provide an action-based climax for this first chapter of what most readers will by now have realized is going to be a continued story.

Soon, the trio are back at Oliver’s apartment…

Some readers in 1971 — especially those who’d been keeping up with Speedy in Teen Titans for the last couple of years– might quibble with the notion that Roy should be lacking for “friendship”.  On the other hand, those same readers would likely also be aware of how Speedy and his teammates had been through the mill of late in that series (the death of Dr. Swenson, their work with Mr. Jupiter, etc.), and thus might see how Green Arrow’s chronic absence from his ward’s life could have had a negative impact on the young archer.

One might argue that the story’s final panel — no larger than anything else on the page — undersells the drama of the moment.  But since we’ve already seen this image (or at least a near facsimile) blown up to full-page splash size, via the book’s cover — and thus have been waiting for the moment it represents to arrive for the last 21 pages — I think that the more understated, economical approach used here works.  After all, it’s not like O’Neil and Adams have to give us a hard sell for the next issue.  What reader with the slightest interest in these characters would be able to pass on Green Lantern #86?  Not my younger self in 1971, I assure you.

Without claiming to recall precisely what was going through that younger me’s mind way back then, I feel pretty confident in saying that, only halfway through the tale, it already felt more substantial and “real” than Stan Lee and Gil Kane’s efforts in Amazing Spider-Man #96-98 had — though it still meant something that Marvel had gotten there first (and it always would).  Of course, O’Neil and Adams still had plenty of story left to tell, and thus, plenty of opportunities to screw it up.  Come August, we’ll be taking a look to see if the creators managed to stick the landing; I hope you’ll join us.

As substantial and momentous as “Snowbirds Don’t Fly” indisputably was, it couldn’t fill all of the content pages ordained by DC’s new 25-cent, 48-page, “Bigger & Better” format.  And so, it would share space in Green Lantern #85 with reprinted material.

Like with Batman #234 earlier in the month, editor Julius Schwartz had a wide assortment of appropriate archival content to select from.  Not only did he have twelve years’ worth of Silver Age Green Lantern stories of varying lengths on hand, but the nine years of Golden Age Green Lantern adventures that had preceded them.  And if he wanted, there was also the long stint of Green Arrow (and Speedy!) tales in More Fun, Adventure, and World’s Finest that he could draw on.  Even Black Canary’s late-’40s solo outings from Flash Comics could be tapped.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Schwartz decided to lead off with a “Demand Classic” that was relatively close to home — a tale of the Green Lantern he himself had had a hand in developing, Hal Jordan, from a comic he himself had originally edited, nine years previously: “The Strange Trial of Green Lantern!”, from GL #11 (Mar., 1962):

I can’t honestly claim to remember what I thought of this John Broome-Gil Kane-Joe Giella story on first reading it a half-century ago; nevertheless, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it was probably my favorite of any of the reprints I read in DC’s comics that June, the inaugural month of the “Bigger & Better” era.

That’s because it prominently featured the Green Lantern Corps, of whom I’d been a fan going back at least to GL #55 and #56, back in 1967.  As much as I was enjoying “Green Lantern/Green Arrow”, if there was anything I missed about the “pre-relevance” days, it was seeing the alien members of the Corps on at least an occasional basis.  For my money, you couldn’t go wrong with any story that featured the imaginative, frequently bizarre, but somehow always endearing designs of Gil Kane for these stalwart extraterrestrial law enforcement professionals:

Seriously, just take a good look at these guys:

So, yeah, I was probably pretty happy to have the opportunity to read this one.

Not that that meant that I was suddenly happy about the price hike, mind you.  Or that I no longer believed that reprints (even the really good ones) belonged in their own titles (preferably giant-sized), and shouldn’t be found between the same covers as the brand new stuff.

In the end, even Tomar-Re can only take you so far, y’know?


  1. DontheArtistformerlyknownasfrodo628 · June 26, 2021

    Considering the sheltered, cradled existence I led as a child, growing up in the South in the 1970’s, it’s no surprise really that I knew next to nothing about the drug problem of the time beyond the fact that it was “bad,” and that the people who took and sold drugs were worse. The idea that addicts were ill and not criminal wasn’t one that had been introduced into my worldview and most of what I believed was regurgitated from the beliefs of parents, teachers and clergy who didn’t really know anything about “the drug problem” either. I honestly don’t believe I ever even saw a joint (do the kids still call them that?) before I was in college in the late seventies and other than showing up for a party once in the 80’s that turned out to be a coke party, I don’t think I ever had much real exposure to recreational narcotics use at all. I knew people who engaged in recreational drug use, but never very well and none of the gang I hung out with (which included our humble blogger) seemed all that interested in experimentation. It just wasn’t part of my world in anything more than the most general sense and I had blinders on for a long time as to what it was about.

    What I’m saying, I suppose, is that, as a thirteen year old in 1971, what I knew about drugs beyond the conservative teachings of my community, I got (like so many things) from comics and this particular issue of Green Lantern blew me away. Not only did it introduce me to a whole new way of considering drugs and those affected by them, but the idea that Speedy, a hero who’d been around forever and one whose tales I had regularly followed in the Titans book, could actually be an addict was revolutionary to me. As a budding artist and writer who wanted to get into comics when I was grown, I copied pages of this book and re-wrote the story with my own characters and it made a huge impression on me. Looking back on it, fifty years later, I can see how heavy-handed it was and the lack of subtlety in the story-telling and the jarring attempts at using what O’Neill saw as the slang of the day, but the idea of the story overall and the implications not only in the comics, but in my burgeoning world view was like a punch in the gut. I was affected by this story much more than I had been by the Spider-man story printed earlier and I don’t care which came first, this was the one that made the biggest impact on me.

    As pointed out on the opening page, this was obviously a personal story for O’Neill and Adams and it became an important story for me as well, in terms of my growth as a person and who I wanted to become. The art was gorgeous, the story seemed hard-hitting and real and the impression it left on me has lasted to this day. This was a seminal comic for me (and many of us, I would think) and it’s nice to look back on it and see that, for the most part, it’s held up as well as I remembered it. Thanks, Alan.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. grandpachet · June 26, 2021

    Me? I enjoyed the reprints as much – often more than the newer stories, as so much of the well-intentioned “relevance” stories were incredibly ham-fisted and dull. Even though I’d had, and still had many of the Silver Age originals. A good story is still a good story.

    Few of the various junkies or pushers I saw in the relevance comics resembled my friends – but then, no criminals I knew or worked with wore suits like the Silver Age DC muggers wore.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alan Stewart · June 26, 2021

      As the saying goes, grandpachet — different strokes for different folks! 😉


  3. Chris A. · June 27, 2021

    I know that Dick Giordano was sick with the flu when GL/GA #84 was being pencilled by Neal Adams, so Berni Wrightson filled in. However – and I could be wrong – I thought Denny and Neal had already been working on what became 85 and 86 (which is why Dick G. didn’t ink them) as the special project for New York (state or city). It seems Steranko’s The Block was a similar project which actually *did* see print and national distribution in schools.


    • Alan Stewart · June 27, 2021

      Chris A., I guess it’s possible. However, according to all the interviews with Adams I’ve read (including the one I quoted from), the NY project never went beyond the research and outline stage. The only piece produced prior to DC giving the story the GL go-ahead was the cover for #85, which (again, according to the artist), he drew up on his own.


  4. Chris A. · June 27, 2021

    Otherwise, it boggles my mind that these GL/GA issues were published at the same time as Neal Adams’ run on the Avengers with the Kree-Skrull war. Do you know if Marvel and DC had different amounts of lead time before going to press? How Neal was able to keep character continuity on both series is remarkable.

    He was as productive as Kirby in those days, and maintained spectacular quality on covers and interior pencils.

    I am not a fan of his comics work after the 1970s, except for a handful of early ’80s covers. But his ’60s and ’70s output was and is top notch. Truly one of the greats.


    • Alan Stewart · June 28, 2021

      Chris A., I’m not aware of any significant difference in the production schedules for Marvel and DC (then or now) — but even if there was, Adams’ productivity during this period is remarkable.


  5. frednotfaith2 · June 27, 2021

    I’d gotten ASM # 98, the last segment of Lee’s drug story, when it was new on the stands and I would have been about 9 years old and as far as I can recall that was the first time I’d read or otherwise heard any reference to illicit drugs. The GL/GA story I didn’t read until I got the reprint series in the early ’80s, by which time I was working at a pizza restaurant and several of my co-workers were very much into the drug scene but during the years I knew and sometimes hung out with them, I hadn’t seen any evidence that they were wrecking their lives, although at the same time my mother had serious problems with alcoholism and that nearly wrecked her life — she spent a month in the hospital for it in 1985 and afterwards neve drank again. But she was also a heavy smoker, from age 16 to 60, dying at age 70 from a variety of ailments, many brought on by 44 years of smoking. My dad also drank quite a bit and regularly smoked pipes & cigars, although, as he told me much later, at about age 40 (while he was still in the Navy), after a routine checkup he was told he had early stages of throat cancer, brought on by his smoking. He quit cold turkey that very day, throwing away all his pipes & tobacco. He’s 81 now and drinks much less than he used to, although he still has a full liquor cabinet. Myself, while hanging out with friends, I occasionally smoked pot and very occasionally drank enough to get drunk and sick, the last time while hanging out with my dad & other relatives over 25 years ago. Now, I may have an alcoholic drink about once a month or so, with friends, but never took up smoking or otherwise over-indulged in other drugs. As much as anything, seeing how my parents behaved when they had too much to drink disinclined me to want to drink too much myself, although, as mentioned, I did give in a few times, but usually only when I was at a place I knew I’d be spending the night and so wouldn’t have to worry about driving home impaired (whether hanging out with a good friend, or visiting my dad or other relative). I can’t say for certain that reading ASM #98 at such a young age left a strong impression on me as far as drug use, but still that story was by far the most memorable that Lee collaborated on in his last few years as chief writer and editor at Marvel and although my dad threw out most of my comics circa early 1972, that one I managed to hang on to and still have, although it’s far too battered to of much value if I ever decide to sell it (or if it’s still in my possession whenever I permanently depart this sphere of existence, and whoever executes my estate has to figure out what to do with all my funny — and not-so-funny – books!).
    As to comparing the ASM version to the GL/GA, it strikes me that Lee & his artistic collaborator on ASM were older pros, while O’Neil and Adams were relatively Young Turks on the comics scene, and while Lee admitted to never doing research and likely had no or very limited close first hand experience with drug addicts, O’Neil and Adams actually did do research and had had personal experience with addicts. Still, they took similar approaches to their stories, involving someone who was very close to the hero to be revealed as an addict, although with Harry Osborne, we see him going through the stages of experiencing personal anguish and feeling need of “something’ to quell the pain and at any rate, long-time readers already knew Harry came from a wealthy but very troubled home. With Speedy, I haven’t read too many other comics featuring him, maybe one or two Teen Titans stories I only vaguely remember. Still, seems for any long-time followers of Ollie from the time of his previous series, I suspect this story would have been shocking, for his side-kick of 30 years to turn out to be a junky! Maybe being a teen-ager for three decades became too much for him to bear! Anyhow, personally, I enjoyed both stories for all their differences.
    Also, a bit amusing that both in this issue and in Avengers #92, Adams drew covers that depicted the closing scenes in the stories (despite not drawing the interiors of the Avengers mag). A bit out of the ordinary, although I can figure out the editorial reasoning behind going with those covers, depicting the most dramatic moment in the stories and deciding that giving away the end of this particular chapter of the overall story on the cover wouldn’t derail the suspense too much (unlike the decision on ASM #121 to only give a hint that “someone” close to Spidey would die in that issue but otherwise not even providing the story title until the very last page).

    Liked by 1 person

  6. frednotfaith2 · June 27, 2021

    Oh, and Infantino’s turnabout was rather hilarious to read about. Unfortunately for DC, provided yet another example at the time of how staid and unwilling to take major risks the company was while Marvel’s leadership was more willing to take a big gamble and in this instance won big, getting themselves greater public notice for taking such risk in an effort for the public good and also resulting in the Comics Code Authority changing some of its most ridiculous rules. Along with that significant price hike, DC made some tremendous stumbles in this period.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. JoshuaRascal · June 28, 2021

    There is a real irony to these drug stories in ASM #96 to #98 and Green Lantern #85 and #86. It has been stated in this blog that Stan Lee wrote ASM #96 to #98 having done no research on drug abuse or the 1960’s drug culture nor had any knowledge of the subject.

    It would appear that he came very close to gaining some personal experience from none other than Denny O’Neil, while Denny was working at Marvel. Denny was dared to drop a tab of acid (a sugar cube spiked with LSD) into Stan Lee’s coffee. Denny, obviously, didn’t carry out the dare. I doubt he would ever had gotten another job in comics if he had.

    I bought GL #85 and #86 back in the day. I still have both. Outside of Green Arrow’s harrowing travails on page 4 and 5, I didn’t recall anything of GL #85. At this time, not having looked at GL #86 since my original reading of it some 50 years ago, I do not recall anything of the issue. Frankly, they didn’t leave much of an impression on me.

    What both Stan Lee’s ASM and the Denny O’Neil/Neil Adams GL drug stories missed completely was that illicit drug use was part of the youth “culture” in the 1960’s, or rather, the “counterculture” of the era. These comic book stories wouldn’t have made any impression on the youth of period. Doing these sorts of stories were an attempt to make comic books relevant again, IMHO. Comic books had become irrelevant by the 1970’s. Comic Books were still being published and read, but they no longer had the prominence of place that they had in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Sales had gone south since the end of the 1960’s. Other media became predominant and popular with youth like music, movies and even television. Music and illicit drugs went together. Kids listened to music while under the influence. The Nixon Administration had absolutely no grasp of the problem other than to launch a “War on Drugs”, a variation of LBJ’s “War on Poverty”. Ronald Reagan in the 1980’s declared LBJ’s War on Poverty a failure. Did he ever say the same about Nixon’s War on Drugs? It was during Reagan’s watch that the crack epidemic struck with full force. A bad problem became far worse.

    Back in 1953, E.C. Comics took their own stab at youth drug abuse in Shock Suspenstories #12 with a story titled “The Monkey”. Other that the absence of superheroes, the story was not much different from the ASM version or the GL Version in 1970 and 1971 with illicit drug use being a problem caused by drug pushers. However, the EC Story was surprising in its detailed description of drug use and use of the drug terminology of the period. Unlike Stan Lee, William Gaines and Al Feldstein did their research into the issue. What it showed me was that society’s understanding of the illicit drug use problem had not advanced much if at all in the meantime.

    Liked by 3 people

    • grandpachet · June 28, 2021

      @Joshua – Best and most incisive response to these stories I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s always interesting to read and compare the thoughts of those who were removed from the culture and those who were immersed in the culture. The best efforts of the most proud sort of left me cold – their preachy stories were populated by stick figures who had their personalities changed at the whims and guesswork of creators. For all its ambiguity of junk details, Stan and Gil had real-seeming people in their story and real consequences. Pete’s anger and vengeance are totally useless and extremely cathartic for us readers. And the consequences lasts forever. No overnight recovery with a comforting beauty queen for Harry – or Norman. Even MJ is correct yet callous.
      Gil and Stan’s story still holds up. I’d love to have seen Adam’s passion blended into it, but that’s a story we don’t have. At least the GA/GL story continues to make money for DC.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alan Stewart · June 29, 2021

        grandpachet — I’d argue that what you see as a greater realism in the Spider-Man “drug” issues is due primarily to Marvel’s general approach to serial storytelling, with its emphasis on issue-to-issue continuity and subplots, as compared with DC’s “done-in-one-or-maybe-two” format of the time. In the Marvel context, it made sense for the consequences of Harry’s experiences to play out over months, or even years. O’Neil and Adams, on the other hand, were expected to tell a complete story in two issues, with no major loose ends to speak of. You can make a case for the Marvel approach being inherently more “realistic”, in that real life doesn’t really break down into self-contained “stories”, but I wouldn’t see it as fair to fault the GL creative team for not telling a Marvel story in a DC book.

        For what it’s worth, I’ll reiterate that I liked (and still like) both stories, and admire the talents of all the creators involved in both. 🙂

        Liked by 4 people

  8. Chris A. · June 28, 2021

    There have been many drug-themed comics before GL/GA #85 and ASM #96-98, such as the infamous “Murder, Morphine, and Me” with panels that made it into Frederic Wortham’s Seduction of the Innocent. But the first super-hero addict was Hourman who appeared in Adventure Comics #48 in 1940:

    Perhaps DC had scooped Marvel after all.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Chris A. · June 28, 2021

    Spelling correction: Fredric Wertham

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Chris A. · June 28, 2021

    Here’s a link to the 1948 story mentioned above:

    Liked by 2 people

  11. spencerd · June 30, 2021

    As I was reading this, I couldn’t help but see the parallels with today’s reaction to “critical race theory.” I know, that may seem like a stretch, but the comics code wanting to ignore drug stories kinda reminds me of communities (like mine) being petrified of having their white children being told about history.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Stu Fischer · July 3, 2021

    I remember this issue well. I was shocked that Speedy was an addict because I had been regularly reading him in
    “Teen Titans” and he was OK there. I did think at the time that D.C. made the addict Speedy partly because of his name (speed=Speedy, yes,at the age of ten, I was aware of the drug names from the news and from non-Comics Code reading such as Mad Magazine).

    While both the Marvel and D.C. drug stories in 1971 have their strengths and weaknesses, I like the D.C. version better. Stan Lee, as usual, pretty much winged it as he went along and I agree with Alan’s post on that series pointing out how some of the story was based on generalities that diluted its reality and effectiveness. On the other hand, as Alan points out, Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams had actual first hand experience with the “drug scene” in their daily life, and they were closer to contemporaries of the target audience for the story (plus, unlike Stan, they had done research).

    Looking back on it now, I can see how Harry Osborn and Roy Harper were perfect candidates for drug abuse. Both were tormented by strict, stern, self-righteous, driving fathers or father figures, which probably was a common denominator in a lot of drug abusers in those days (see, e.g., They felt inadequate, pressured to live up to an ideal, not praised for their efforts, taken for granted. I also am very glad that Green Arrow, the Great Self-Righteous Hypocrite (who I really dislike now that I’m reading his early 1970s appearances 50 years later) is getting his comeuppance now.

    On the other hand, GL/GA #85 I find to be somewhat cringe-worthily more unrealistic in spots that the ASM series. The idea of the drug smugglers giving our heroes a dose of the narcotics just so the cops would arrest them is absurd. If the cops found them, what is a more plausible story: that they were knocked out from behind and given narcotics unwillingly or that they decided to stop there on their own to indulge in narcotics of their own free will (instead of, say, their own residences or JLA Headquarters)? Also, I find it hard to believe that given the type of pure narcotics that our heroes were given, that they would recover so quickly and suffer practically no after-effects. Neither GL nor GA have a super-body or metabolism as, for example, Superman has, or an alien metabolism like, say Hawkman, which might deal with the narcotic differently. That segment I thought was the one unrealistic hole in the story and I think that it really hurts the overall credibility of the rest of it. (By the way, in the late 1980s or early 1990s Captain America accidentally ingests a large amount of crack after an explosion in a crack warehouse and he spent several issues dealing with the effects).

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Pingback: Green Lantern #86 (Oct.-Nov., 1971) | Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books

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