As regular readers of this blog may have noticed, we haven’t featured an issue of DC Comics’ Green Lantern title here since #86, way back last August. If you happen to be one of those readers, you might well wonder what’s been up with that, considering that I’ve written about every other issue in the Denny O’Neil-Neal Adams “Green Lantern/Green Arrow” run from the first one I bought (#80) onwards.
The reason’s a pretty simple one; on this blog, I only write about comic books I got new off the stands fifty years ago… and I didn’t get either GL #87 or #88 upon their initial release (in October and December, 1971, respectively). My decision not to purchase #88 is, I think, still essentially supportable; it was an all-“vintage” issue (though not all-reprint, as I’ll explain presently), and technically not part of the O’Neil-Adams “GL/GA” canon at all. (For what it’s worth, at age fourteen I had yet to develop the collector’s mentality that would have me pick up an otherwise undesirable comic book so as not to “break the run”.) But Green Lantern #87? My opting not to pick that one up out of the spinner rack (or, having already picked it up, to put it back without buying it) is one I ruefully kick myself for to this very day.
It’s actually at least possible that I never even saw this particular comic book on the rack — I don’t have crystal-clear memories either way — but I’m pretty sure that I did, and chose to take a pass, mostly for a reason that, however much I may rue it in 2022, made sense to me in 1971: Green Arrow wasn’t featured on the cover. As much as I’d enjoyed a number of issues of Green Lantern in its Gil Kane-drawn heyday (beginning with the classic #40 in August, 1965, back near the dawn of my comics-buying career), I’d largely lost interest in GL as a solo character in the couple of years before O’Neil and Adams showed up… and brought Green Arrow with them. The brash and outspoken — not to mention newly-bearded — GA seemed “cool” to me in a way GL didn’t (of course, that was by design, at least in part); he was a big part of what had me showing up to buy the book every couple of months, and if he wasn’t going to be as prominently featured in #87 as his fellow Emerald Crusader, I wasn’t sure the book was going to be worth my two bits. It didn’t really matter that there was in fact a solo Green Arrow story — drawn by Adams, even (though the script was by frequent DC letterhack Elliot S! Maggin, here making his professional debut) — backing up the lead Green Lantern story by Adams and O’Neil; that simply wasn’t going to be enough Oliver Queen to suit me.
As for this new, Black GL? Well, he was obviously just a one-off character. After all, I knew for sure that he wasn’t going to he replacing Hal Jordan, and since the iron-clad rule was that Earth could have only one Green Lantern assigned to its space sector by the Guardians of the Universe, I couldn’t see that there was any kind of continuing role for a second GL going forward (at least not on Earth-One).
So, in the end, Green Lantern #87 just didn’t seem like an essential purchase; I could pass on this issue, secure in the knowledge that there would surely be many more issues of Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’ award-winning “Green Lantern/Green Arrow” for me to enjoy in the future.
Yeah, I got just about every bit of that wrong. You don’t have to rub it in, OK?
Passing on Green Lantern #88, on the other hand, was virtually a no-brainer. Not only was Green Arrow nowhere to be found in this “Special Surprise Issue” — not in a back-up story, not on the cover, not even in the book’s title logo — but Denny O’Neil was absent as well. And Neal Adams’ contribution was limited to the cover illustration, and to a page reproducing his rough pencil sketch for the cover of the next issue, #89.
In truth, this is a book that t might well have snapped up just a few years earlier, back when I was immersed in editor Julius Schwartz’s Silver Age aesthetic, and buying Flash 80-Page Giants that featured a mix of Silver Age and Golden Age stories. By December, 1971, however, I had become rather more choosy about my reprint purchases. (The fact that DC was at that time requiring me to pay for reprints just to buy anything new they were doing may have had something to do with that).
Of course, as noted earlier, the issue wasn’t all-reprint, technically speaking; its middle feature, found sandwiched between two early Hal Jordan adventures, was a tale of the Golden Age GL, Alan Scott, which had been completely written and drawn and scheduled to appear in the 39th issue of the latter’s series, but had never been published due to the title’s cancellation with #38, way back in 1949. Today, as a (hopefully) more mature comics fan, I can recognize and appreciate the historic significance of such a piece finally making it into print; but at age fourteen, while I didn’t necessarily begrudge the story being published, I wasn’t inclined to go out of my way to support it, either.
As to why DC chose to present that piece now, alongside two reprints, the answer appears to lie with Neal Adams having trouble meeting his deadlines during this period. I’ve already discussed that matter at some length in a previous post, so I won’t rehash the details here; rather, I’ll just note that the artist was undeniably very busy in late 1971, having recently embarked on a new business venture (the commercial art agency Continuity Associates) with his frequent collaborator Dick Giordano, while continuing with his regular freelance comic book work. It’s really not all that surprising that he may have overextended himself a bit.
In any event, as noted earlier, the only new Adams artwork featured in GL #88 was his rough sketch for the cover of #89, presented in the former comic’s closing pages as a “pencil-preview”:
While I didn’t see the sketch at the time of its publication, I’m sure that if I had, it would have startled me every bit as much as the final version of the image did when I finally saw it on the stands, “on or about Feb. 22nd”.
Looking back at the cover of Green Lantern #89 from a half-century’s distance, I find it rather amazing that it ever saw print at all; I can’t imagine DC approving the design even a couple of years earlier, and not for more than a handful of years later, either (at least not until the 1980s, when the company began releasing comics for “mature readers” outside the strictures of the Comics Code Authority). But the early 1970s were a unique period; in addition to there being a relatively more relaxed cultural climate left over from the ’60s, this was also a time when Jesus Christ had a “pop” presence unlike at many other occasions before or since. In the broader culture, this was the era of Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell on New York theater stages, and the “Jesus Revolution” on the cover of Time magazine; in comics, it was the period when Adam Warlock was sent to Counter-Earth to redeem its people from the evil Man-Beast, when the Fourth World’s favorite biker gang the Outsiders found religion on a commune, and when Robin the Teen Wonder fell violently afoul of some overzealous “Jesus freaks”. It was a time when you could even order a “Superstar” stick-on decoration via a full-page ad for Dynamite Patches that ran in most of DC’s comics in late 1971 (see detail from ad at left).
All of which may help explain why, while the devout young Christian that I was in February, 1972 must have been startled by the cover of Green Lantern #89, I wasn’t necessarily offended by it. I’m pretty sure that my younger self had a vague notion at the time that the current cultural vogue for Jesus, while it might not conform to orthodox faith traditions, might still eventually lead people to a more “genuine” religious experience. At the very least, I was ready to give O’Neil and Adams the benefit of the doubt until after I’d actually read the story.
Speaking of which…
Since we’ve mentioned Neal Adams’ deadline problems, we should note here that the additional time he ultimately had to work on “…And Through Him Save a World…” allowed him to ink as well as pencil the story. Of course, this wasn’t the first time he’d been able to do both artistic duties on Green Lantern; he’d done the same for the first of the two “drug issues” (GL #85) as well as for the very first issue of the “GL/GA” run, #76. Nevertheless, a complete art job from Neal Adams (at least on a book’s interiors) was an unusual event at this particular point in the artist’s career.
On the next page, Adams pulls off another of his seemingly effortless creative page designs, as the newspaper Ollie is holding becomes a frame for the flashback sequence detailing the activist Isaac’s recent escapade — with the flashback’s rigid, same-size six-panel grid evoking the orderly columns of a newspaper layout:
It’s an Old Testament reference rather than a New Testament one, of course, but the name of the story’s Christ-like activist, Isaac, comes from the Bible — as does that of the “smallish city” of Abraham (the father of Isaac in the Book of Genesis).
Drawing back on his bow, GA notices a twinge of pain in his triceps (“I have a nasty suspicion the chipped bone didn’t heal properly!”) before he lets his arrow fly. But even as the shaft finds its mark in a tree trunk, the Emerald Archer hears a voice stridently calling, “You there! Don’t move!”
The security guard explains that the dog, Fang, was following the scent of Issac (there’s a crack about how the activist probably “ain’t bathed for a spell” — y’know, your basic “dirty hippie” stuff), a trail which led to this spot. After hoisting the unconscious canine onto his shoulder, the guard then makes his exit with a wave and a “no hard feelin’s [sic]!” Green Arrow doesn’t buy this apology for a minute, and figures that he’d better keep an eye out for further trouble; for now, however, he’s more focused on his shoulder, which after his punching the guard “really hurts!”
I suspect that most readers of this story would “recognize” Isaac as Christ, even if they had somehow gotten this far into the comic without looking at its cover, and even if the character had been given a decidedly less Biblical moniker, like “Bill” or something. The fact that this fair-haired, light-skinned figure bears very little resemblance to what a historical Jesus of Nazareth would have looked like bears witness to just how deeply ingrained the traditions of Western Christian art are in our contemporary culture, as well as to Neal Adams’ skill in invoking same.*
While the project Ferris Aircraft is working on is described simply in terms of “a jet-engine that will burn cheap fuel”, I think it’s fair to assume that the then-recent controversy over the development of the SST (supersonic transport) by American aircraft companies — a controversy largely driven by environmental concerns, which had culminated in a March, 1971 vote by both houses of Congress to cut off federal funds for the project — probably informed writer Denny O’Neil’s thinking as he crafted the fictional conflict at the heart of this story.
GL goes immediately into lawman mode. He ducks out just long enough to recharge his power ring, and then…
The noise pollution generated by the new Ferris engine seems likely to have been derived from the aforementioned SST controversy, in which sonic booms represented one of the two major environmental concerns raised by environmentalists (the other being the potential for the supersonic aircraft’s fuel to damage the Earth’s ozone layer).
Frankly speaking, Isaac’s communing with the birds and the beasts is more evocative of Francis of Assisi than it is of Jesus of Nazareth — though the “holy man of peace’ vibe remains in play either way, obviously.
For all that Isaac is cast in the image of Christ throughout “…And Through Him Save a World…”, O’Neil’s script clearly holds him accountable for what would today be called an act of eco-terrorism. It’s the relatively rare occasion in “Green Lantern/Green Arrow” when the more conservative GL is allowed to have an argument that’s at least as strong as that of his staunchly liberal comrade.
GA may well be ready to rumble, but unfortunately, he makes the mistake of turning his back on the guards to grope in the grass for the bow he tossed away in frustration one page back. This allows one of his opponents to jump on his back and smash his head into a rock (ow), knocking him unconscious…
Among the more dramatic, and immediate, results of the withdrawal of federal funding for the SST in March, 1971 was its impact on the aerospace industry’s workforce, including the layoff of up to 13,000 Boeing employees in the Seattle area alone.
Anybody else out there cut the last panel above out of their copy of Green Lantern #89 so they could use it for a school project about air pollution? No? Just me? OK.
Green Arrow has a point — indeed, it’s the same one that Green Lantern was making back on page 13. Which of course makes it ironic (if not surprising) that GL is the one who recognizes that this really isn’t the best time to bring it up…
I probably don’t need to point this out, but in case anyone missed it, Mr. Tyrone just stepped into the role of Pontius Pilate in the story of Christ’s Passion.
Despite the Crucifixion scene’s already having been featured on the cover, I’m pretty certain that, back in February, 1972, my younger self never expected the comic’s two heroes to take on the roles of the two thieves crucified with Jesus.
It’s interesting to contemplate why this particular tableau wasn’t used as the basic for the cover illustration. Was there a thought that it would make the stars of the book too visually subordinate to the Isaac character? Or was the idea of “crucified” superheroes simply considered a little too provocative?
It’s not too hard to think of a justifiable rejoinder that Carol could have made to GL in this scene — maybe something along the lines of, “Oh, so you think that that guy almost getting me and my foreman killed earlier today showed ‘nobility‘, do you?” But instead, she offers, “I suppose progress must always claim victims!” — which, while it may not be the absolute worst thing she could have said, comes pretty damn close.
The idea to end the story with Green Lantern’s angry destruction of the aircraft evidently came from Neal Adams. As Denny O’Neil recalled for a 1998 interview published in Comic Book Artist #5: “That was Neal’s idea and I agreed to do that. I was a little uncomfortable because it seemed a little gratuitous but it didn’t screw up my story and it did give a strong ending.”
It did that, for sure.
I’m not sure if the late O’Neil was ever asked in an interview why he chose to present this environmentally-themed tale within a framework of religious allegory (there may well be such an interview out there, but if there is, I haven’t turned it up in my research for this post). But it’s something I’ve been wondering about while spending time with this story over the past few days, and I have some thoughts — though mostly in the form of questions, rather than answers.
We’ve already mentioned the high profile that Jesus had in the national zeitgeist during this period. So I should probably begin by acknowledging that, in the same way that DC might not have dared to put out a Crucifixion-themed cover just a couple of years before or after GL #89 came out, this particular theme may well not have occurred to O’Neil or Adams at any other time, either. That said, I think the question of why they “went there” at all, regardless of the timing or other cultural context, remains a valid one.
In some ways, it would be easier to get a handle on Isaac-as-Christ if the character was portrayed as spotlessly pure in deed as well as motive; if that were the case, then our storytellers could be accused of simply loading the deck in favor of the tale’s environment-over-economics message — “God is on our side,” as it were. But O’Neil’s script is careful in establishing that Isaac’s actions are dangerous to the individuals working at the Ferris plant; Carol and her foreman would have been flattened back on page 9, if not for the unlikely intervention of a costumed adventurer wielding a magic ring. And when Green Lantern confronts the activist regarding his culpability on page 13, his stammered answer is really no answer at all — though, just a few moments of story-time later, the guy’s back to his (literally?) holier-than-thou stance, calling Green Arrow “filth” for his one-time use of a gas-arrow in the service of keeping Isaac himself out of jail. Come page 21, where a finally fed-up GA calls the would-be savior “pompous”, is there a single reader out there who’d disagree?
But of course, “pompous” is hardly the story’s last word on Isaac — that, rather, comes on page 24, when GL responds to the nameless Ferris employee’s opinion that the activist was “crazy” with, “Sure he was… mad with a nobility far beyond any you or I can even aspire to!” No, the fact that this is literally the final statement made about Isaac within the story — and delivered by the series’ titular hero, besides — doesn’t necessarily mean that it represents the author’s personal point of view. But it certainly invites that interpretation, if nothing else.
So what’s going on here? Is O’Neil trying to alter, or at least moderate, his readers’ expectations in regard to the supposed infallibility of messianic figures, religious or otherwise? Or is he implying that Isaac’s crusade “to save us all” (as the cover copy puts it) somehow puts him on a different moral playing field than the mass of humanity — that he is indeed, in the words of Green Arrow on page 14, “obeying a higher law than any of man’s?”
As I said earlier, I don’t really have any answers to offer here — just questions. Nevertheless, the fact that I still find myself in dialogue with this particular comic book story, a half century after its original publication, is something of a testament to its lasting impact — or so at least it seems to me.
Following the conclusion of “…And Through Him Save a World…”, GL #89 offers two pages of letters of comment on issue #87; wrapping up with the usual instruction for readers to address their communications to “Green Lantern’s Mail Chute” at National Periodical Publications in New York, there’s absolutely no indication given here that, in fact, there won’t be another installment of Green Lantern’s Mail Chute — at least, not for a very long time.
After the lettercol comes a tale of Hal Jordan’s predecessor as Green Lantern, Alan Scott. Unlike the vintage GL adventure in #88, this one is a reprint — in fact, it’s the last story that could possibly be reprinted from the first volume of Green Lantern, as noted in a text box on the splash page:
The story’s introductory caption refers to its villain, Mr. Paradox, as one of Alan Scott’s “most formidable foes”. While I can’t claim to be an expert on the Golden Age GL’s exploits, I feel pretty certain that’s an overstatement, seeing as how the only thing Mr. P’s got going for him power-wise is a stick with a gem on the end of it that temporarily hypnotizes people. (I mean, let’s hope it’s an overstatement.)
I don’t really recall my response to this story in 1972 — though I imagine that I rather got a kick out of the significant role played in it by Scott’s driver and confidant, Doiby Dickles, whose more recent appearances in GL #40 and #45 I’d quite enjoyed. In 2022, however, it’s pretty hard to get past the tonal dissonance between the light-hearted “The Impossible Mr. Paradox!” and the grim lead story that precedes it. I don’t know if editor Julius Schwartz intentionally positioned the letters column within the issue so that it would act as a buffer between its two wildly disparate features, but if not, it’s fortuitous that it turned out that way.
Finally, at the tail end of Green Lantern #89, we come to this:
Wait, what? But — but “Green Lantern/Green Arrow” had won all those Shazam Awards! And the first two issues had just been reprinted in a black-and-white mass-market paperback edition! (My younger self was well aware of that latter fact as I’d happily bought said edition, glad to finally have the chance to read those early stories I’d missed by coming in late). How could DC possibly cancel Green Lantern?
Interviewed in 1998 for the first issue of Comic Book Artist, Carmine Infantino (who was DC’s publisher in 1972) was blunt when asked why the title got the ax:
Probably for the same reason other books were cancelled — they didn’t sell — in this case, the artist being very late. We had to cobble up the next-to-last issue out of reprints almost overnight. It was a marginal book and the printer’s late fees killed the book.
Infantino’s comment indicates that while Green Lantern‘s sales weren’t great, the book might have gone on for at least a while longer if DC hadn’t also had to worry about incurring extra printing costs due to going to press late. All these many years later, there’s probably no way to independently verify the accuracy of that assertion; but even if it could be proven, I suspect that there would still be those skeptical that the title’s sales were so bad that it couldn’t have remained viable, late fees or no.
Over the last few decades, it’s been suggested by a number of knowledgeable people that several fan-favorite comic books of the late ’60s and early ’70s, Green Lantern among them, may have fallen prey to shady business practices. As Neal Adams himself put it in a 1998 interview in Comic Book Artist #5:
They have a concept in the comic book business called affidavit returns. If you send 50 comic books to your local distributor, and he tells you that he didn’t sell 40 of them, he doesn’t have to rip off the covers or cut the title off and return it to you like he once had to; he has to sign a piece of paper that says he destroyed the 40 copies. It was the beginnings of comic conventions and comics dealers in those days and the question you have to ask is, where did they get the books they sold? The place they got them was out the back door of their local comics distributors who invariably had a table in that backroom that had Playboy magazines, Marvel Comics, DC Comics and other magazines. For 25% of the cover price you could buy those magazines. In light of that, Strange Adventures [which featured Adams’ “Deadman” strip] “didn’t sell well enough,” so they cancelled it. I did the X-Men for 10 issues and they “didn’t sell well enough to continue,” so they cancelled it. Green Lantern/Green Arrow “didn’t sell well enough,” so they cancelled it. On the other hand, I have perhaps signed tens, if not hundreds of thousands of these comic books at conventions…
There may be considerable truth to this scenario; I’ll be the first to admit that I lack the comics industry expertise to either endorse or reject it out of hand. Nevertheless, I find it interesting that so many people seem to have a need to find a complicated (and possibly nefarious) reason why certain comic books that they personally loved failed in the marketplace. Can’t we all think of examples in other media — movies, record albums, books, etc. — where work that’s been critically lauded and/or found a small but devoted fandom hasn’t met with a commensurate amount of commercial success? Don’t we all have at least one favorite TV show that was cancelled out from under us? I’m not sure why some comics fans think that their favored medium should be different from any other in this regard — but for my money, it’s not really such a stretch to believe that a comic book like the O’Neil-Adams Green Lantern, obviously pitched at the more mature segment of the overall audience for superhero comics that existed in early-’70s America, simply failed to find a large enough readership to be economically sustainable over the long haul.
Then again, what do I know? Like I said, I’m no expert.
As the full-page announcement in GL #89 promised readers, while this issue represented the end of Green Lantern as a standalone title (not permanently, as it turned out, but more on that in a bit) it wasn’t the end of Green Lantern as a character — or as a feature, as both he and Green Arrow would be taking up residence in the back pages of Flash. Indeed, it wasn’t even the end of the Denny O’Neil-Neal Adams run of GL/GA adventures (although that wasn’t specifically spelled out on the announcement page).
Joined by Dick Giordano on inks, O’Neil and Adams picked up the reins of “Green Lantern/Green Arrow” in Flash #217 (Aug.-Sep., 1972) essentially as though nothing had changed, save that they were now working in a 10-page rather than a 25-page format. They even brought back frequent guest star Black Canary for a three-part storyline that focused on Green Arrow, who faced a dark night of the soul following his accidental killing of a criminal. It was right up the alley of my younger self — except that, you guessed it, I didn’t buy these issues when they came out. My reason being, I simply didn’t care for the Flash’s solo stories in this era, and thus I couldn’t see forking over 20 cents a month for just 10 pages of comics that I wanted. This was a decision that I would come to consider short-sighted within just a couple of years time, but what can I say? In 1972, I was still the kind of comics reader who cut panels out of their comics to use in school projects. (For the record, I did enjoy this storyline when I finally got to read it over a decade later, via DC’s first reprinting of the complete O-Neil-Adams “GL/GA” in 1984.)
After completing the full art chores for the final chapter of the three-parter in Flash #219, Adams didn’t stick around, and neither did the Arrow. O’Neil, on the other hand, did continue on as the scribe of Green Lantern’s solo exploits, initially joined by Giordano as artist (Adams would return for a single installment, in #226), while Green Arrow moved over to Action Comics to become one of several rotating backup features. Finally, a little more than four years following its “death”, the two heroes reunited, as “the greatest comic of them all!” returned to America’s spinner racks. But despite Green Lantern #90’s getting most of the gang back together — in addition to re-teaming Green Lantern and Green Arrow, Denny O’Neil was on board as writer — things just weren’t the same. That was certainly due at least in part to Neal Adams’ conspicuous absence (though new artist Mike Grell probably did as good a job as anyone could have in following his celebrated predecessor); but certainly a large portion of it was down to the decision to pretty much completely eschew any themes that might be considered topical or “relevant”. Come issue #123 (Dec., 1979), the title finally reverted back to Green Lantern, in its logo as well as its indicia, as the Emerald Crusaders went their separated ways — an amicable split that was probably the best thing for both of them. Seems to me they’ve both done pretty well since then, at any rate.
On May 2, 1971 — a little less than ten months prior to the release of Green Lantern #89 — the New York Times Magazine carried a piece by Saul Braun bearing the title “Shazam! Here Comes Captain Relevant”. Providing an overview of the American comic book industry in a time of what Braun called its “growing sophistication”, the article featured detailed quotes from a number of notable professionals, including Marvel’s Stan Lee, Archie’s John Goldwater, and, of course, DC’s Carmine Infantino.
Having noted that “Infantino is elated at National’s [i.e., DC’s] success with social issues”, Braun went on to report:
“I’d like to say I had a great dream,” says Infantino, “but it didn’t happen that way. Green Lantern was dying. The whole superhero line was dying. Everything was sagging, everything. When your sales don’t work, they’re telling you something. The front office told me, get rid of the book, but I said, let me try something, just for three issues. We started interviewing groups of kids around the country. The one thing they kept repeating: they want to know the truth. Suddenly the light bulb goes on: Wow, we’ve been missing the boat here!”
After a few paragraphs briefly describing some of the “GL/GA” storylines, the article again quotes Infantino:
“… The kids are more sophisticated than anyone imagines, and we feel the doors are so wide open here that we’re going in many directions…” He was so excited during our talk that he stood up. “We’re akin to a young lady pregnant and having her first baby.” He grinned shyly.
To the best of my knowledge, Saul Braun never did a follow-up article on comics for the Times; but I think that if he had talked to Infantino around May of 1972, he’d have been unlikely to have found DC’s publisher nearly as “excited” about DC’s “success with social issues” as he had been one year previously.
Did the cancellation of Green Lantern with issue #89 signify the end of “relevance” in American comics? From a certain, limited perspective, the answer is yes. “Green Lantern/Green Arrow” was unquestionably the poster child for relevance as The Way Forward for the comic industry in the early ’70s, and its commercial failure doubtlessly put paid to the hope that DC had discovered a panacea for the industry’s economic ills. To the extent that relevance was conceived by the major publishers as a marketing strategy, or as a sale gimmick, it’s entirely fair to say that the trend reached its terminus with Green Lantern #89.
But looked at in another way, relevance — in the sense of being concerned with issues and topics that mattered to readers in their real-world lives — was here to stay in comics. How could it be otherwise? In that sense, relevance had always been around, going back at least to Superman’s battles with crooked businessmen and domestic abusers at the start of his career in the late ’30s, and continuing on through EC Comics’ early-’50s “preachies” in Shock SuspenStories and other titles. Relevance might have receded into the background in the aftermath of the adoption of the Comics Code, but it never went away completely; and O’Neil and Adams, riding the late ’60s zeitgeist, brought it back to the forefront of the field in a way that affected everything that would follow in American mainstream comics, showing their fellow creators — both then and in the times to come — that virtually no subject was off limits. In that sense, at least, Captain Relevant has never really left us.
*Adams’ best-known other visualization of a Christ-figure, which appeared in the satirical “Son-O’-God” strips he drew for National Lampoon in the early ’70s, went even further with the idea of a blond-haired, blue-eyed Jesus — though, in that context, the contrast between the nigh-Nordic looks of the superheroic Son-O’-God and his Jewish secret identity, the “little Brooklyn nudnik” Benny David, was obviously part of the point that Adams and his collaborators (who included writers Michel Choquette and Sean Kelly) were trying to make. (Oh, and just in case you’re wondering — unlike GL #89 or the other Jesus-referencing comics I’ve mentioned, this stuff — which I never actually bought, but would come across at the homes of friends — did make my devout young Christian self anxious. Damned anxious, you might even say.)
“…at least not until the 1980s, when the company began releasing comics for “mature readers” outside the strictures of the Comics Code Authority.”
And not even then, really.
Remember when Rick Veitch was doing Swamp Thing circa ’88, ’89, and they killed the story where Swamp Thing was going to become the cross upon which Christ would be crucified? And at that point the book was made for mature readers and only sold in specialty shops! For anyone unfamiliar: https://popcultureuncovered.com/2014/09/25/the-odd-and-true-tale-of-swamp-thing-88/
LikeLiked by 2 people
Excellent point, crustymud!
As I was collecting Swamp Thing in that era, I was familiar with the controversy over the rejection of Veitch’s story but that article in your link was the first time I’d read a more detailed explanation as to the reasoning behind the rejection. I can understand the fear of a fundamentalist backlash, but a shame they weren’t more daring. Ultimately, they are in the business to make money and don’t want to take too many risks, even if some risk-taking is necessary to stay in business in the long run. Staying too safe and inoffensive can ultimately bore readers and lose paying customers.
LikeLiked by 2 people
I can understand why they did it, given the controversy caused by the Scorsese movie at this same time, but had they published it I’m certain there wouldn’t have been any blowback of any kind. Honestly, when have comic books ever gotten in trouble over religious portrayals? Sex, violence, and gore, yes, but not religion. Ghost Rider had Jesus appear in several issues and Satan was a regular villain in both that strip and in Son of Satan, without a syllable of complaint. And it led to some great and deeply philosophical stories! (It still annoys me to this day that they later retconned Satan into Mephisto in GR.)
LikeLiked by 1 person
I read this, along with the other O’Neil & Adams GL/GA run, in that 1984 reprint series. Although my maternal grandfather was a Baptist minister (died 8 years prior to my birth; my middle name, Welton, came from his), my family never went to church regularly and by my late teens I identified as agnostic but as an atheist by the time I was in my late 20s. I’ve read the bible, so the religious allusions in this story were very obvious to me (as well as those in Marvel’s Warlock, both the early ’70s version and Starlin’s re-launch of the series later on, which I consider among the best comics ever). In early 1972, still aged 9 fifty years ago, I was rather oblivious to the Pop Jesus phenomenon, although I recall those old ads for Columbia House records, which included the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack; and Kris Kristofferson’s Jesus Was a Capricorn. Later on, listening to the radio, I became aware of the God-rock songs, mostly from the early ’70s, that continued to get a lot of airplay in the late ’70s, including Spirit in the Sky, My Sweet Lord, Jesus Is Just Alright, One Toke Over the Line (Sweet Jesus), and even the closing lyrics to American Pie (wherein Don McLean attests his admiration for “the father, son and holy ghost”, just to name a few that come to mind just now. Then there was Lennon’s late Beatles’ single, The Ballad of John & Yoko, with the lyrics, “Christ, you know it ain’t easy … the way things are going, they’re going to crucify me!” And Harrison’s first post-Beatles’ lp, All Things Must Pass, was filled with religious themes and at the time, with his narrow face, very long hair and beard, he looked very much like the typical Euro-centric depiction of Jesus. And with the growing environmental movement of the era, for O’Neil & Adams to combine that with aspects of Christian symbolism was very much in tune with that particular era. Likely it was only due to Infantino’s apparent drive to try different things to keep DC relevant, and possibly being aware of what Marvel was doing with Warlock, that led him to allow this mag to see publication, as well as perhaps knowing it would be the last issue.
What else stood clear to me was Denny’s and Neal’s efforts to maintain some sort of balance, although it was clear their sympathies were most with Isaac. And the issues of debate, about keeping the environment that sustains our very lives clean vs good-paying jobs in fields that devastate much of the environment and poison the air, water & soil, are as relevant now as they were 50 years ago, actually even more relevant as we now know the global impact on the environment our collective actions are taking, and it’s not good. That ending was quite dramatic, even a bit shocking even for me reading it as a 22 year old about 38 years ago. One of comicdoms most upstanding old-fashioned superheroes losing his temper and destroying property in such a manner? Not in a fight, but just as an expression of his rage? Wow! Not surprised that it’s another example of Adams going off O’Neil’s more restrained script for another artistic punch in the gut with an emotion-based act of violence, much like Roy punching Oliver. I also thought, there should be repercussions as a consequence of this, some sort of public debate about Isaac’s execution and Green Lantern’s destructive actions. I’d guess there wasn’t, and likely wouldn’t have been even if this wasn’t the last issue of the series. But O’Neil would explore the psychology of a superhero going over the edge more thoroughly during his run on Iron Man in the early ’80s.
BTW, I did get a few of Adams’ Son’O’God strips from old National Lampoon mags I obtained in the ’80s, when I also got quite a few old underground comics, including several issues of Zap Comix. Yep, going much more over the top.
I wonder if it was just coincidence that the last Golden Age era Green Lantern story was included in what would be the last issue of the late Silver Age/early Bronze Age era G.L., or if Schwartz selected that purposely, knowing beforehand that the mag was about to be cancelled again. By my reckoning, GL/GA # 89 is still in the mushy transitory period of ’69 -’73 (if the publication of ASM #121 is taken as the absolute cut-off date between the two ages), but GL/GA #90 is well into the Bronze Age.
LikeLiked by 2 people
My first exposure to these stories was also in the two Green Lantern and Green Arrow Paperback Library books that came out 50 years ago (January and June 1972). I ended up picking all of these issues up within couple of years later (by 1974). I was amazed recently to find out how much they are worth now. I did start buying The Flash with #217, so I did get to witness the end as it unfolded there.
For this issue, it’s interesting to note that Issac’s “Liar!” word balloon on page 15 is obviously lettered differently than the rest of the lettering in that story; implying a last-minute change. I wonder what the original dialog said?
LikeLiked by 2 people
Allen, I noticed that lettering discrepancy as well. Like you, I can only wonder what was up with that!
LikeLiked by 1 person
1972 was the year that Chick tracts really took off as well, and Spire launched a series of Christian book adaptations into comics form – as well as licensed Archie titles – all drawn by Al Hartley.
Though Wikipedia lists Neal Adams as Jewish, he attests to growing up Catholic in 1970s interviews.
By the way, Rembrandt was the first European artist to depict Christ by using Jewish models.
LikeLiked by 2 people
Oh, as an earnest young Baptist kid growing up in the Deep South, I remember the Pop Jesus Movement well. When going to church as cool and everyone was wearing a huge cross or other piece of religious iconography around their necks at school and Yvonne Elliman was explaining to us all on the radio that she “Don’t Know How to Love HIM.”. At that time, I probably thought it was cool that GL/GA put out a comic that reflected this trend, but now, looking back with fifty years of hindsight, not so much. Not nearly so much.
If Denny O’Neill and other writers during this “Relevant” phase of the comics industry, had a consistent flaw in their story-telling, it was in making the same mistake that most episodic TV was making at the same time; you introduce a huge weighty moral issue, set the stage with the players and then wrap it all up in a bow and mark it “problem solved” at the end of twenty-five pages (or for TV, twenty or fifty minutes of broadcast time). The issues that Isaac introduced to the world of GL and GA in this comic had taken years to fester and boil over in the real world and the idea that some messianic figure would appear to save us, only to confine his efforts to one small town in the Midwest was cheesy, poorly thought-out and frankly, anti-climactic. Plus, with the addition of the two-dimensional Ferris aircraft employees, who were not so much people, but bookmarks for various talking points in the overall political argument of environmental conservation, the whole thing feels rushed and poorly thought out. Oh well, at least Adams’ pictures are pretty.
I also remember being highly offended at Adams’ Son O’God comics for Nat Lampoon back in the day as well. While the GL/GA story in question fell under the heading of harmless and well-meaning religious allegory, Son O’God was, I thought, a much angrier take on the subject of seventies Christianity that was more interested in making fun of Christians than in satirizing the foolish inconsistencies of most religious dogma. I fully admit to being a bit thin-skinned back in the day whenever someone directly made fun of Christ himself (I had a problem in more recent years with the TV show Preacher as well in it’s depiction of the Last Scion), but as Alan likes to say (paraphrasing) “we all have mileage…and it may vary.”
LikeLiked by 2 people
TV shows like “The Chosen,” a reverent but fanciful account of Jesus Christ and His disciples in the 1st century, are very popular right now. Other Bible-themed programs in the recent past have been, too. The audience for such is quite large.
It’s ironic that a “relevant” comic aimed at a mature audience would end with an inane image of the Flash and GL shaking hands with such kiddie rhetoric. The GA image and blurb doesn’t help either. I wonder if Denny O’Neil had any knowledge of that?
LikeLiked by 2 people
Seems a bit similar to the old Warner Brothers cartoons wherein the sheepdog and coyote would both be shown greeting one another at the beginning and clocking in, then spend the next several minutes intriguing against and fighting one another — until the whistle blew and it was time to check out. Of course, Flash & Green Lantern were on the same side, but the info ads did have a vibe of the characters being “actors” performing their roles on the stages of their comics with Flash welcoming Green Lantern to a new home on a portion of his stage (“hey, sorry you lost your pad, but I just happen to have some extra space for you to use for your stories”) and Green Arrow telling us he might be there as well or somewhere else solo. A bit odd with the main event clearly aimed at older readers but a more chummy message, more at the kiddy level, informing readers of the future whereabout of the headline performers of the cancelled show. But no mention of whether they’ll fit in Black Canary, as all Dinah fans would have been anxious to know!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Neal may have been right, but being late to the printer was and is not something to discount. I’ve worked for major magazine and book publishers when they had deeper pockets than today, and the fear of ruinous costs associated with missing a press date was omnipresent.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I was looking forward to your review of Green Lantern/Green Arrow #89. I’m glad to see it affected you like it did me. Nothing much, sadly, has changed in 50 years. Corporate greed abounds and our ideals die a little more every day. It took courage for DC to publish that cover, and this story. It has stayed with me all these years as did most of the O’Neill/Adams run. Those two, and Alex Ross, are the reason I still buy comics to this day.
LikeLiked by 2 people
Alan, back in October last year I was looking forward with anticipation to your review of GL/GA 87. Alas the month passed by without a review and I now understand why. As you have mentioned the issue in this post I’m going to take the liberty of making a few comments on it as it was a very memorable comic for me. Growing up in rural north east Scotland in the 1970s I had never met anybody who wasn’t white caucasian so I had no understanding of race or race issues. As you have alluded to, this issue saw the introduction of John Stewart to the DC universe and I think I’m right in saying that he was DC’s first black superhero. His characterisation here was very different to what it would become in later decades. I remember being a bit unsettled at his attitude to authority figures but by the end of the story was happy that he was one of the good guys.
I was more affected by the Green Arrow story in this issue, “What can one man do?” and it remains my favourite ever GA story. Adams surpassed himself with his depictions of GA and Ollie on page 2 of the story and the half page rendition of of Green Arrow on page 12 with the tears streaming down his face. The story, which featured Ollie trying to decide whether or not he should run for mayor of Star City, had very little action but when it comes it is memorable. Ollie accidentally ends up in the middle of a riot where a young black kid ends up being accidentally shot and, despite Ollie’s best attempts to save him, dies.
Both stories featured black characters in prominent roles and it gave me some very limited insight to the condition of black people living in the USA in the 1970’s. I think the stories also shaped the attitudes and beliefs on discrimination and equality that I still hold to this day. It certainly stayed in my memory long after many more recent comics had faded into oblivion. Apologies if this “rubs it in” for you but I’m very glad that I decided to pick this one up from the spinner rack fifty years ago.
LikeLiked by 2 people
No worries, Brian! Thanks for sharing.
LikeLiked by 1 person
“What does it matter?” Very glib response (and a neat bit of dodging by O’Neil)….but just how _did_ Isaac get up there?
LikeLiked by 2 people
I was just about to leave on a Disney World vacation when you first posted this, and I have a lot to say about this issue so please forgive my lateness. I’m Jewish and was going to a Jewish elementary school at the time so this issue didn’t offend me, but I did know enough about the New Testament that it did puzzle me.
This issue, perhaps because O’Neil and Adams knew it would be the last (and that there would be no letters page published with responses) to me seems like an attempt to shoehorn an incongruous and faulty analogy no matter what. In the first place, Isaac might look like the traditional portrayal of Jesus (although so did many other hippies of the time) and he might THINK that he is at the very least copying him, but how can anyone else make that connection? If someone acted like Isaac in real life (which is possible), people would think that he was a mentally disturbed or sociopathic environmentalist using inappropriate methods to raise awareness (also note that environmental solutions were being pursued more then at that point as the EPA had been created two years earlier). Because this is a comic book story, we all immediately look at the way that O’Neil and Adams obviously intended to portray Isaac (and the way our heroes look at him) but that doesn’t mean that it fits.
As others have mentioned, Jesus didn’t act in ways that put other people in danger nor did Jesus behave savagely to those who would be kind to him. Jesus also didn’t (correct me if I’m wrong) violate the law. The crucifixion analogy also doesn’t work because Isaac somehow got himself up there. In fact, that in itself shows that Isaac had a fixation in which he considered himself Jesus. It lets the plant security off the hook because they didn’t put him there (and, while I’m at it, I find it hard to believe that NO ONE there mentioned the connection to the crucifixion one way or the other. One would think that at the very least one of the security guards would be incensed or enraged that Isaac was considering himself to be Jesus). Moreover, the fact that Isaac got himself up there on his own means that the security guards didn’t kill him. It’s actually more a case of suicide. Isaac died because of his own poor health. He put himself up there despite (and in spite of) his health condition and what if the security guards didn’t come to the location until hours later when he was already dead? Yes, they left him up there but why would they think he would die if they left him there overnight? Unlike the Crucifixion, Isaac was not bleeding to death.
As for putting out heroes up there as well, again that should be seen as a hateful and belligerent act, but the guards weren’t trying to kill them. They weren’t even trying to “crucify” them. They just put them up there because Isaac put himself up there. By the way, I DO believe in the portrayal of the security guards as people that would do something like this as well as to sic an attack dog on a trespasser because that’s exactly what security guards hired by union busting companies would do during a strike, lockout, union organizing campaign etc. That would implicitly be part of their job (not stringing people up in crucifixion poses of course, but other acts of violence).
Jesus also probably wouldn’t respond to a disciple in the way Isaac responded to Green Arrow after he used the gas arrow on GL. Jesus (or someone trying to really emulate Jesus) I imagine would explain why what Green Arrow did was wrong and maybe even rebuke him for the action, but I can’t imagine that Jesus in this situation would call Green Arrow “filth” and a “liar” and dismiss him as a follower. Yet somehow Green Arrow feels like he’s in the wrong here. The end of the story is awful. In the first place, what suddenly made Green Lantern, conservative or no, think that Isaac was especially “noble”? That he strung himself up where he died? That’s all that happened since Green Lantern formed his previous opinion of Isaac.
Then, in response to Carol’s insensitive comment (Alan, I think your comment on what Carol probably SHOULD have said is right on the mark), Green Lantern uses his power ring to destroy a nine million dollar airplane. I confess than when I reread this in 2022 my first thought was that the Green Lantern series was cancelled because Green Lantern was rightfully in jail or that the Guardians of the Universe took away his power ring for misuse. At best, it shows why in later decades (in Marvel Comics at least) ordinary people distrust and are scared of even the super-powered heroes because if you got them angry they could use their power in less heroic ways.
I didn’t find the use of the last Golden Age Green Lantern story to be a mismatch. OK, to be honest, I never really read the reprints then or now so I really can’t be completely truthful on this, but it is obvious to me that the choice of story was made to provide the symmetry of running the last Golden Age Green Lantern story along with the last Silver Age Green Lantern story (at least in his own mag). Of course, to me that’s more like rubbing it in, but hey.
As for the rather childish way D.C. announced that Green Lantern and Green Arrow were moving over to the Flash series (at least in the sense that it looked like it was aimed at younger readers who probably weren’t even reading the book), I see this as part of the larger effort of D.C. at this time to scale back its activities to focus more on children again, probably thinking (as comic book sales were declining at this time across the board in the industry) that the popularity of comic books among college students and young adults was a fad that was fading fast. Jack Kirby was about to find this out to his sorrow in the very near future and it would be years before D.C. returned to the interesting books of the early 1970s (which I found more interesting at the time than much of the later books of the 1970s even though I was aged 8 to 11 when I read them originally). I mean just look at what happened to Jimmy Olsen. OK, don’t look, I don’t blame you.
I was excited to see that there was one last GL/GA O’Neil/Adams story that wound up being published in Flash. As difficult as it was, I continued my practice of not reading on about books that were not exactly 50 years old although I could have made an exception in this case. You see, it appears that the three parter ran in the Flash issues that came out from June through August 1972. That is dead in the center of my Great Black Hole of comics. In June 1972, then-Tropical Storm Agnes devastated my hometown of Wilkes-Barre, PA and destroyed my home including almost all of my four-and-a-half years of comic books that I collected since January 1968 (only those several that I had left at my Grandparents’ house outside of the flood plain survived). I couldn’t even get to a place that sold comic books myself for several months and my Dad wasn’t selling them initially as he put his pharmacy business back together. So I never read the last O’Neil/Adams GL/GA story in Flash (or knew it existed until reading your blog post) so I’m very excited to get to it here and at D.C. Universe when the time comes.
LikeLiked by 2 people
It’s never too late to contribute to the discussion, Stu! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
And I’m glad to have clued you in to the existence of the last O’Neil-Adams “GL/GA” story in Flash. I hope you enjoy it.
I needed to post here to pay my respects. Neal Adams was my favorite artist who was a huge reason for why I loved comic books in my youth. It started with Deadman (a character and storyline which I enjoyed very much even though I was only seven when I first read it), made the X-Men my favorite comic book while he was on it, along with Denny O’Neil, turned GL/GA into a timeless comic saga, and made Batman my favorite D.C. character and comic books to follow. And this doesn’t even take into account all of the comic books he sucked me into with his spectacular covers. I really regret that I never got to meet the man (the comic convention he was at near me a few years ago came at an inconvenient time). Now both Neal Adams and Denny O’Neil–my favorite artistic team–are gone. RIP Neal Adams.
LikeLiked by 2 people
Simply for his activism for creators’ rights, Adams was as much a hero as any of the characters he so beautifully brought to life on the page, and was one of the most extraordinary comics artists ever.
LikeLiked by 3 people
So sad to hear about Adams’ passing. I met him eight or nine years ago and actually paid to have a picture of us taken. I’d attach it, but can’t figure out how. Anyway…Neal was a giant. A giant talent…a giant creator…a giant man and we shall all be poorer for his passing. What a shame.
LikeLiked by 3 people
It’s a stunning loss, as well as a very sad one — I think in part because, in contrast to some other comics greats we’ve lost in the last several years, Neal Adams was still so active in the field. Granted, he wasn’t turning out new books every month (or even every year), but that had been true since the mid-Seventies, frankly. And the man wore his years well, at least up until relatively recently; when I saw him sitting at his table in San Diego in 2016, I remember thinking that he didn’t seem to have changed that much since the last con I’d seen him at, in 1980 or thereabouts.
LikeLiked by 2 people
On a site like this in particular, wherein we discuss artifacts created during our childhood of half a century ago by men & women who were middle-aged or young adults at the time, it’s inevitable that grim reminders of the mortality of all of us will come up. Stan Lee was 49 and Neal Adams was 30 fifty years ago. Bill Everett was 54 with less than a year left to live. Then there’s Al Jaffee, who turned 51 in 1972 and is still alive at 101 today and apparently still fairly sound in body and mind — making up all those wonderful fold-in Madsterpieces and coming up with snappy answers to stupid questions didn’t drive him Mad!
LikeLiked by 3 people
This was a great, very layered story.
No one, not Isaac, not GL not GA not Carol Ferris, is completely in the right.
People talk about GL/GA #76 and the drug issues, but they don’t usually talk about this one and it’s the one that really brings it home.
So much that was “relevant” at Marvel and DC was also not great (Kanigher’s 1970-’71 Flash, the Thomas/Adams Inhumans) but some things (like this or Kanigher & Kuberts’s take on Mai Lai in Our Army at War) were industry changing.
Interesting time in comics . . . .
Finally, as Adams, Giordano, O’Neil and Julie Schwartz are all deceased:
Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine
℟. Et lux perpetua luceat eis:
℣. Requiescant in pace.
Each apparently had some level of a Catholic background, including Schwartz whose wife was a devout Catholic And that story, where people try to find a higher good in an imperfect world sort of fits with either a Catholic and a Jewish moral outlook.
LikeLiked by 3 people