Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Aaron Burr in Space

DC Showcase Presents Green Lantern Volume 5: written by Denny O'Neil and Eliot S Maggin; illustrated by Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, Mike Grell, Dick Dillin and others (1970-75; collected 2012): The classic Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories herein, mostly by writer Denny O'Neil and penciller Neal Adams, are available from DC in a variety of formats. I like this one because B&W is a nice way to appreciate Adams' art. Also, Adams doesn't redraw the work in this volume for contemporary publication, making this the real deal as it was when it was published.

By 1970, DC's Green Lantern title was foundering in sales. Along came editor Julius Schwartz, O'Neil, Adams, and a mandate that could really only come in comic books: team Green Lantern up with another character whom he shared a dominant colour with. Thus was born the somewhat oddball pairing of cosmic policeman and non-super-powered bowman.

O'Neil and Schwartz decided to make the series "relevant" by having the characters confront social problems that include racism, over-population, and pollution. These social problems were often rendered melodramatically or even parodically, but they were nonetheless a departure for DC Comics and for Green Lantern, both of which had always been more comfortable in a more complete fantasy world.

The pairing didn't save the title from cancellation (though Green Lantern would be back on his own soon enough, first as a back-up in The Flash and then in his own book again). It certainly made for a historically interesting ride, though. How well do these things stand up now? Well, Adams' hyperrealism still looks terrific 40 years later. O'Neil's scripts creak and groan a lot under the weight of their own hyperrealism (which is not the same as realism) and melodrama, but there remain a number of strong moments of writing.

The social consciousness rapidly vanishes once Green Arrow is gone, while the straight-forward superheroics return. An O'Neil-penned tale about how aliens abducted Aaron Burr after his murder of Alexander Hamilton and made him their leader stands out in the later stories, though perhaps not for the right reasons. It's completely bonkers. All in all, recommended.

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