There’s a lot going on on the cover of Green Lantern #86. Besides boasting an outstanding illustration by Neal Adams that would probably be even better remembered than it is if it hadn’t followed right on the heels of its instantly iconic predecessor, the cover also boldly heralds the inclusion within the comic’s pages of “an important message” from no less a personage than the 1966-73 mayor of New York City, John Lindsay — and proudly announces that Green Lantern has won the Academy Award for Best Comic. That’s a lot to take in — but don’t worry, we’ll get to it all, starting with the subject of Adams’ compelling cover image — the concluding installment of the groundbreaking two-part story focused on drug addiction that Adams and writer Denny O’Neil had begun in the previous issue, #85.
Here’s hoping that you read our post about that landmark issue back in June, because we’re going to jump right into #86 sans recap, just like O’Neil and Adams (aided and abetted by returning inker Dick Giordano) did half a century ago. But if you missed that piece — or would simply like to refresh your memory — just click on the link above, and take a few minutes to catch yourself up. Don’t worry, we’ll wait.
All done? All right, then, here we go…
Having reassured himself of his own righteousness, Green Arrow hails a cab to take him to the private airfield where “Speedy’s junkie friends” had led him and Green Lantern into a trap in the last issue. Ironically, no sooner has he left the scene when those same two addicts literally show up on his doorstep…
The storytelling’s a little iffy, here, as the previous installment had given us no reason to believe that Speedy’s buddies (who never receive names, incidentally) have any idea that he lives in GA’s apartment (nor, come to think of it, have we readers been expressly told that he does, up until now). But we’ll let that go. What’s actually more interesting (to your humble blogger, at least) is that the two young addicts know their friend by his superhero moniker Speedy, and not by his actual civilian name of Roy Harper. Granted, “Speedy” is easier to pass off as an ordinary nickname than, say, “Green Arrow”, but presumably it’s still relatively well-known in the two archer-heroes’ home base of Star City. It’s hard to believe that Roy would throw it around casually when he’s out of costume, no matter how strung out he might be at the time.
Discussing these two Green Lantern issues in a 1975 interview for Amazing World of DC Comics #4, Denny O’Neil observed: “We got a lot of negative reaction because we made a long-standing superhero an addict: Speedy. Sorry about the name, but there it was folks — I didn’t make it up. ” Well, maybe not, but O’Neil certainly did utilize the name — which, in the current context, is obviously suggestive of amphetamine use — at every opportunity throughout his story. Every single character consistently refers to Roy as “Speedy” (as does the third-person omniscient narrator), despite the fact that the closest Roy ever gets to suiting up in the ol’ red-and-yellow in either issue is on #85’s cover. I’d actually suspect that O’Neil didn’t even know that Speedy had another name — except that “Roy” does get used a total of two times, both very near the story’s end. As things stand, I think it’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not O’Neil really was intentionally playing up the drug-related associations of Roy Harper’s heroic appellation,.
But, to return to our narrative… Finding Roy’s discarded “works” on the floor, the two addicts decide that they might as well take the opportunity to shoot up right then and there, using the heroin they received in the last chapter as a reward for helping entrap our two Emerald Crusaders. Uncertain exactly how much of the drug should be includes in a single dose (“I’m not used to fixin’ pure stuff! Usually it’s cut!”), the Asian-American youth makes his best guess:
Adams’ use of a psychedelic, “trippy” background for this somber tableau is somewhat curious — is it intended to be ironic? Whatever the artist’s intent, in combination with the high-contrast black and white rendering of the two figures, it makes for an unforgettably dramatic full-page splash.
Unable to put his mind at rest, Hal changes to Green Lantern and charges up his power ring, then flies across town to Oliver (Green Arrow) Queen’s place…
Admittedly, pretty much everything I know about the decomposition of corpses comes from entertainment media, but an hour or two seems too early for a dead body to start to smell of decay, at least enough for it to be detected by us ordinary humans. Maybe GL’s habitual use of his power ring has somehow had the side effect of granting him a preternaturally keen sense of smell, like a crime-sniffing dog? Sure, let’s go with that.
As Green Lantern once again flies off into the night, this time to search for Green Arrow and Speedy, GA himself arrives at the airfield hanger where he and GL were waylaid earlier that evening…
This was hardly the first time that Neal Adams had given us this sort of creative page layout, featuring panels enclosed within a larger image, but it was still rare enough to seem novel, whenever he did it.
We’d heard from Oliver in the opening scene of GL #85 that he and Dinah (Black Canary) Lance had had a big fight and presumably broken up; neither of the characters makes any mention of such problems in this issue, however, so perhaps Ollie was overreacting.
Arriving at the marina pier he was directed to by the hood at the airfield, Green Arrow finds that the only boat docked there is an enormous yacht. He suspects he may have been given a bum lead; but before he can do anything about it, he’s jumped by the same two dope dealers whom he and Green Lantern confronted in #85:
As a rule, Green Arrow tends to take a lot of lumps in this series; but O’Neil and Adams really let him have it in these two issues, perhaps as karmic retribution for his behavior towards Roy.
In the same Amazing World of DC Comics interview we referenced earlier, Denny O’Neil noted:
…there was one point that we were trying to be subtle about, and we were so subtle nobody saw it. In the cocktail party scene we implied a condemnation of alcohol addiction, too, but nobody evidently paid much attention to that.
The boat carrying Saloman and his guests quickly departs from shore, heading for a fun-in-the-sun weekend on the Caribbean which, in reality, is a cover for heroin smuggling — as we learn from some expository dialogue delivered by the two hoods who’ve been left behind on the pier to dispose of Green Arrow. Speaking of which….
This near-wordless sequence is a prime example of another of Neal Adams’ trademark visual storytelling devices; for me, it’s also always been the most memorable scene in the whole issue.
Out in the Caribbean sea, Saloman takes temporary leave of his partying guests; sailing to a nearby shore via a small motorboat, he proceeds from there to the local offices of Hooper Pharmaceuticals, Inc….
Having Green Lantern be the member of the duo who goes a little crazy on the bad guy, and Green Arrow the one who cautions restraint, is an obvious reversal of how things usually work in this series; I believe it’s intended to underscore the impact that the events of this story have had on GL, who was depicted as being painfully naïve about drugs in the beginning.
The story moves forward a week in time for its closing scene, which takes place at the funeral of Roy’s late friend, the young man who overdosed on page 4…
Is a week long enough for Roy to have completely gone cold turkey? Your humble blogger has even less expertise on the subject of opioid addiction and treatment than on the decomposition of human cadavers, but the 2020 update of the American Society of Addiction Medicine’s National Practice Guideline includes this statement: “With short-acting [opioid] drugs, such as morphine or heroin, withdrawal symptoms may appear within 8–12 hours of the last dose of the drug, reach a peak at 48–72 hours, and clear after 7–10 days.” (I should note that the same document cautions: “Given the high rate of relapse, opioid withdrawal management on its own, without ongoing pharmacotherapy, is not an effective treatment for opioid use disorder and is not recommended.” In other words, don’t try this at home, folks — at least not before consulting a qualified health care professional.)
I’m sure you noticed that Speedy finally gets called by his given name on these last two pages — and I believe it’s significant that the two people who use the name are Hal and Dinah, the two adults that Roy calls his friends, and whose behavior he contrasts to that of Oliver, his supposed father figure.
Interestingly, quite a bit of what happens in this final scene — including Roy’s punching Oliver — was evidently not in O’Neil’s original script. In response to a question about the ending in his Amazing World of DC Comics interview, the writer said:
Well… it’s not exactly as I wrote it. Let it charitably go at that. And it was not changed by the editor, or the publisher.
I disapprove of the implied conclusion of that story. What’s implied is that a punch in the mouth solves everything.
Neal Adams gave his side of the story in a 1996 interview for Comic Book Marketplace #40:
The script, as originally written, has Speedy basically telling GA he beat the habit by himself. GA says, “Good boy,” and they walk off together.
I read this and thought, no … what has changed? Somebody had to learn something. GA had to learn some kind of lesson. He had to learn to respect this person that he had beat up at the beginning of the story. I felt the strongest possible climax was necessary, considering how we started the story. I made my feeling perfectly clear to Denny, that I thought his ending was anti-climactic, but he let me know, basically, it was fine as is.
Well, I thought it was important enough to bring it up to the editor, so I wrote two extra pages where Speedy punches GA back, lets him in on his pain, and then splits.* GA, the father figure, knows the kid’s right and realizes that he [GA] was an ass. This ending made all the sense in the world to me. I brought the pages to [editor] Julie [Schwartz] and said, “I honestly think this is how the story ought to end.” He read them and said to go ahead and do it.
I can see both sides, honestly. On the one hand, the original ending, as described by Adams, does sound rather anti-climactic, in that it seems to let Oliver off the hook a little too easily. On the other hand, I sympathize with O’Neil’s objection to the implied message in Adams’ revised version that “a punch in the mouth solves everything” — though I also have to acknowledge the irony of that statement in the context of discussing a comic book story in the superhero genre, where the quoted principle is often literally true. In the end, it’s regrettable that the two creators weren’t able to work out a compromise that satisfied them both before the book went to press — perhaps Roy could have read Oliver the riot act without slugging him? — but the ending we have is the one we have to judge, obviously, and as imperfect as it may be, I believe it holds up pretty well.
One thing that both endings evidently had in common is Roy’s getting clean and walking off — maybe into the sunset, and maybe not, but definitely into the next issue of Teen Titans –which would have been #36, released in September, 1971. Right?
Well, maybe not. In 1971, DC still didn’t evince much concern with line-wide continuity, as a rule; certainly, there was no company policy mandating it. For that reason, I suspect that none of the members of the creative team behind GL #85 and 86 — including editor Julius Schwartz — consulted with either the current writer on Titans, Bob Haney, or the book’s editor, Murray Boltinoff, regarding the plan to put one of that series’ headliners through a drug addiction storyline. And even if they did, Haney and Boltinoff evidently ignored them (just as they tended to ignore other writers’ and editors’ stories in other books they worked on together, such as Brave and the Bold and World’s Finest). From issue #36 on to the end of the original run of Teen Titans — which came with #43, published in November, 1972 — there was no mention whatsoever of Roy Harper’s recent travails.
In 1976, however, DC revived Teen Titans — and at least some members of the title’s new creative team (which included fans-turned-pro writers Paul Levitz and Bob Rozakis) had somewhat more concern for continuity, even if the company as a whole remained noncommittal on the subject. And so we got a scene referencing Speedy’s drug problem, which clearly indicated that the relevant events in Green Lantern had taken place after TT #43, despite having been published a year and a half earlier.
Since then, of course, Roy Harper’s history of addiction has been a fundamental part of his backstory, surviving through DC’s myriad of retcons and reboots. In the hands of skilled writers, it’s added depth to his characterization, and allowed for sensitive treatment of the theme of living in recovery. (Unfortunately, not every writer who’s taken up the topic has been equally skilled in handling it; but that’s a whole ‘nother topic.)
Moving on from GL #86’s lead story to one of the other matters promoted on the cover: DC couldn’t wait to share the news of Green Lantern‘s success at the very first awards ceremony held by the Academy of Comic Book Arts (ACBA) — and while they evidently couldn’t spare the space for the full-page house ad (illustrated by Neal Adams) that ran in some other late-August DC comics, which honored the company’s full slate of winners, a goodly portion of the real estate of this issue’s letters column was devoted to GL‘s triumphs:
We’ll have more to say about these awards next month — for now, I’ll just note that while the ceremony wasn’t a complete sweep for DC, it came pretty damn close.
And now, the Honorable John V. Lindsay, Mayor, New York City:
If the name Marc “Iggy” Iglesias rings a bell, it may be because you read our blog post about Green Lantern #84 a few months back. There, we discussed how Mr. Iglesias, an executive who’d arrived at DC in the wake of the company coming under new corporate ownership in 1967, allowed his likeness to be used for the character “Mayor Dr. Wilbur Palm” (a disguised alias of the villain Black Hand), to the extent that his actual photo was used on the cover.
The only other observation I have to make about Hizzoner’s letter is that despite the way DC frames it here — “An Important Message for YOU!” — none of its content is actually addressed to this comic book’s readers. Rather, the bulk of it is directed to DC’s representative Iglesias, congratulating the company on making this effort. Even the indented section, framed by Lindsay himself as his message to “young people”, discusses those very young people in the third person. It’s almost as though the mayor had no idea what to say to Green Lantern‘s audience beyond “drugs are bad”.
In retrospect, I guess we should be grateful that Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams had a few ideas to convey beyond that simple sentiment.
For the first “bigger & better” 25-cent issue of Green Lantern, Julius Schwartz had reprinted a story from Hal Jordan’s early Silver Age years. For the second, he reached quite a bit further back into the DC archives:
“The Icicle Goes South”, written by Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Alex Toth, was, if I’m not mistaken, the first original Golden Age Green Lantern story I’d ever seen. As such, my fourteen-year-old self probably found it an interesting curiosity, but little more than that, Today, I’m better able to appreciate the tale’s charms, especially the very early art by Toth (uncredited here, and I’m sure unrecognizable to me in 1971 as being by the same guy who’d much more recently drawn a number of horror-mystery stories in House of Mystery, Witching Hour, and Eerie that I’d thoroughly enjoyed) — though, if I’m going to be honest, it still seems at least a little incongruous to me, sitting just a few pages over from “They Say It’ll Kill Me… But They Won’t Say When!” Others, I’m sure, find it a nice palate cleanser after the heavy drama of that story, and that’s just fine. (To each their own, and all that.)
*I just realized that if we take Adams’ statement that he “wrote [the] two extra pages” that end the story literally, it implies that he, rather than O’Neil, was the one who finally used the name “Roy” to refer to Speedy. Hmm…