Thursday, 28 July 2011

DC Retroactive 1970s Green Lantern #1 review


Hal Jordan meets a relative of Abin Sur who arrives on Earth in a parallel to the incident which saw Hal named Green Lantern of Sector 3814.

Green Arrow must track down a mad archer who shoots both Black Canary and a grasping lawyer.

They're the strands which writer Denny O'Neil plays with in this look back to Seventies Green Lantern. So how do they come together? They don't. Not unless you count Hal and Ollie telling one another about their day at the end of the book. Which I don't, meaning that what we have here are two short tales shoved into the one 'story'. 

Of the two, the Green Arrow script is better, being merely weak. Neither Ollie nor Dinah shows any interest in who shot her until Mr Walk-On Part Lawyer is also pierced - they simply wander out of A&E and continue with their day. Detective Ollie eventually tracks down Argy the Archer by dint of Argy leaving a note on a roof revealing his identity to him. This lets Ollie visit Argy at home, and take his bow away from him. Dramatic. 

Argy, you see, is a gibbering loon, talking at his dead father about how he's better than Olly thinks he is. He met Olly at a monastery to which Green Arrow retreated after accidentally killing a man, and felt slighted after misunderstanding something Olly said.

Given the quality of this script, I don't doubt it.

Hal, meanwhile - actually, no, it's 'Fifteen minutes earlier', for no particular reason - must fight off a bunch of unknown attackers in a strand that's nowhere near as good as 'weak'. Defeated, the gunmen 'explain' that their leader told them that 'only by slaying our enemies can we be ennobled'. We don't learn who the leader is, or where exactly these events are occurring, beyond the Southern hemisphere. Abin Sur's lookalike 'Klatch mate', Zu Sur, then, well, see for yourself (click to enlarge image):
Yes, he realises that he's been dead since being shot a few minutes earlier, something we weren't actually shown. What the message is, we'll never know.

O'Neil very nearly got there: the vibe of the narrative isn't so far away from the feel of the Relevance period, with its ultra-earnestness and naive hippy sentiments; Hal is every bit as dumb as he was back then; Black Canary is made to look useless ... even the separate plots isn't unprecedented. But the script lacks polish, with the Hal strand especially making no sense - as with O'Neil's work on last week's DC Retroactive 1970s Wonder Woman #1, the story lacks any sense of a strong editorial hand. I'm guessing that the soldiers killing only because they're told to is some kind of heavy-handed social comment, but who knows? O'Neil is one of the most experienced comic book writers and editors still with us, but that doesn't mean his scripts don't need occasional tweaking (click on image to enlarge).

Am I taking this too seriously, when I shouldn't be 'sweating the outcome'? Should I be happy to see something vaguely evoking the Seventies without wanting a great story in a book that costs $4.99? I don't think so. 

The saving grace of this book is the Mike Grell artwork, moodily coloured by Allan Passalaqua. Grell wasn't actually working with O'Neil in the Relevance period - Neal Adams and Dick Giordano handled the art. The pair got together later for a series of science fiction and superhero stories in which Hal adopted an annoying space starfish named Itty Bitty. Really. But I'm always glad to see Grell, and he's on great form here, showing that he can still evoke Adams with the best of them, while having come a long way since his awkward - yet promising - first steps in the DC Universe. I am surprised, though, that given how Grell went on to become a respected writer himself, he apparently thinks this script is OK.

For our money we also get a reprint of 'No Evil Shall Escape My Sight' from GL #76, the book's first teaming of Hal & Ollie, and O'Neil & Adams, in the story that kicked off the short-lived Relevance period. Hal gets a stupid lecture about not caring for Earth's non-White people, and Ollie and a Guardian of the Universe jump into a truck together. It's a bona fide classic, even if it has been reprinted ad nauseum.

I like Grell's cover, but Hal's cosmic crotch doesn't bear close examination. Look to the light!



13 comments:

  1. Pretty clear that among other things that O'Neil has forgotten about writing comics, crafting an ending is the most glaring...

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  2. I'm three of these retroactive books in and they've all been terrible. When your reviews and mine are similar not just in tone but content, we might safely assume that the comics involved aren't ... aren't very good, shall we say?

    Again, where were the editorial staff? Apart from writing the Flashpoint books, of course. There are grounds for feeling, from where I'm standing, that DC has been ripping off consumers for a good while now, buying itself time for September by pumping out a great deal of pap. Let's hope the reboot is really worth it. If it is, I'll still not feel that they've been playing fair recently. But at least the likes of the above won't be being produced.

    And if the reboot isn't the new millennium? Oh, dear, it doesn't bare thinking about ...

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  3. Of course, just so that I haven't my size 10s in it, I hasten to say it's just the WW and GL books we agree on. I see you've good things to say elsewhere. I'm looking forward to the Batman book today myself.

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  4. Not to nitpick, but the Guardian who went on a road trip with Hal and Ollie was Appa Ali Apsa, aka the Old-Timer. He was the only Guardian to remain behind when the others left for another dimension after the Crisis on Infinite Earths, and he eventually went mad from loneliness, stealing cities from other planets and converting Oa into the Mosaic World before he was killed.

    Ganthet is a different Guardian, introduced in "Ganthet's Tale" by Larry Niven in 1992.

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  5. Steve, it is just weird how off Denny O'Neil seems in these Retroactive tales. I've not liked everything I've read by him over the years (his run on Daredevil was one un-favourite) but he's always come across as a good craftsman. I've heard these issues were turned around very quickly, so perhaps it's a wonder they're not worse.

    Colin, are you telling me the Flash book isn't good? I've not had time to crack that one open yet.

    Bob, my apologies for the error - I'm obsessed with Ganthet, obviously. I've corrected the review, thanks very much for the save.

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  6. So far, I've read the Batman (very good), Wonder Woman (pretty bad), and Flash (in between, but closer to the Wonder Woman) retroactives. I plan to buy them all, but I appreciate the heads-up on the GL. I wish they'd reprinted a story other than GL #76, as I already have the original and at least four reprints... plus countless reprints of the rooftop conversation scene. I'd rather see #81 or #84 again.

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  7. You know, DC really needs someone with experience of ordering up appropriate reprints. Maybe a Britisher ...

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  8. Wait, why is the lecture about non-white folks stupid?

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  9. Sheesh, I see you were determined to dislike this tale...!
    To be fair if you read it quick it definitly doesn't make much sense, certainly not on the first reading as I did. It's especially going to be worse if you haven't any affinity to the era it's set in (GL#90-123).
    But if you look to Zu Sur's story & eveentual fate as a riff to sci-fi pulp like 'The Day the Earth Stood Still' and bear in mind that Abin & Zu's mental abilities are empthasised throughout it does hold together just about. I thought it was a great read, none of these Retrospective books are going to be great classics as they are trying to recapture a style and look that has been long made extinct by the passing of the decades but here in this GL issue we get something that is remarkably faithful to the era it came from. You reaally do have to be able to step outside of modern comics techniques to appreciate these stories.

    My take for what it's worth: http://www.comicboards.com/php/show.php?msg=greenlantern-2011072923512838

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  10. Hi Brainy, that lecture always seemed daft to me me because Hal never specifically helped white folks and snubbed anyone else. He helped everyone on the planet. OK, the GL strip was wall-to-wall whites before the arrival of John Stewart, which is pretty poor - I think that was to do with DC not wishing to risk racist distributors in the South not getting the books to shops.

    The exception, of course, was Hal's pal Thomas Kalmaku, who appeared regularly with the 'affectionate' - name of 'Pieface'. If he'd been giving Hal a lecture about casual racism, yeah, I could see that.

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  11. 'Sheesh, I see you were determined to dislike this tale.'

    Well, cheers for that Dave, I'm surprised to get that comment from a regular (and appreciated) friend of the blog.

    We disagree on the success of the story, which is fine, obviously - I love to swap opinions, that's a big reason I do this. I'm not sure your second-guessing me is helpful, though. No, I don't choose a position, then attempt to justify it. What would be the point? I have no axe to grind on the subject of Denny O'Neil.

    Ah well, I shall live.

    To address your points, do I have an affinity for that period of GL? Well, I've read them all, so I can't have hated them. I thought the pre-cancellation run a tad heavy-handed in its preachiness, but appreciated the earnest sentiments. I liked the Grell/Saviuk-drawn issues more, Itty and all.

    Yes, both Surs sent telepathic calls to Hal, but what of them? If we're meant to believe that Zu kept going after being shot because of his mental strength - as you indicate in your enjoyable review -then Denny O'Neil shouldn't have him say he was 'killed instantly'. That's not a phrase open to interpretation. '... I was as good as dead,' yeah, that would made some sense.

    As for the Day The Earth Stood Still riff/homage/steal, a story being derivative certainly doesn't make it any more acceptable to me.

    'You really do have to be able to step outside of modern comics techniques to appreciate these stories.' And I think my willingness to do that was apparent in the paragraph beginning 'O'Neil very nearly got there ...'

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  12. Well. After that sort of contemptuous response I shall take my leave of this fine Blog, Your attitude has been veering into unlikable territory for some time now and hence my lessening visits.
    I apologise if you felt I was offering any sort of insult above, that definitly wasn't what was on my mind, I simply felt it was an unfair and innacurate review.

    Adios!

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  13. Hm, weird reaction, Dave.

    As for me, I tend to agree. Splitting a short enough story into two prevented both from achieving much of anything. GA was ok, GL was lightly baffling. A disappointing turn for Mr. O'Neil.

    The star is the art. Mike Grell is excellent here.

    And I was again disappointed to see the same old story reprinted in the back. Seems to me this was a chance to reprint something else.

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