It’s the story that changed everything and began a whole new age of comic books… Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Green Lantern #76 awaits!
Writer: Denny O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Neal Adams
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: 15 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $4000.00
Previously in Green Lantern: Launched in 1959, Green Lantern’s comic focused on harder science fiction stories and alien landscapes, with occasional forays into weird psychological stuff (like when Carol Ferris became Star Sapphire or a scientist was transformed into the Invisible Destroyer.) During his tenures with the Justice League, though, Hal Jordan became bland pals with fellow emerald-wearer Green Arrow, which means that when he finds himself in the vicinity of Star City in the line of duty, Green Lantern decides to drop in on his pal, only to find what seems like the beginnings of a riot. The setup here is a common one in comics of the era: An older man in a suit being accosted by a multicultural group (as all gangs in comics were; had this comic taken place in the 80s, there would likely have been a punk rock guy with a green mohawk), with the implicationg that someone was about to get mugged. Green Lantern naturally intervenes, but this familiar comic book premise is actually a red herring…
Green Lantern goggles that his Justice League cohort is defending those who are obviously breaking the law, but Green Arrow informs him that there’s much more to the story, if you’re familiar with the ins and outs of Star City sociopolitics.
I first read this comic when I was eleven or twelve years old, and even then I was aware that what we’re about to read is a very preachy, very obvious polemic about race and class, trying to balance the long-underwear antics of the JLA with the reality of life in 1970. Even so, it is powerful and unusual comic book read back then and even with the overt nature of the themes here, it doesn’t (quite) overpower the message that Denny O’Neil is conveying. Then, we get the scene for which everyone remembers Green Lantern #76…
Green Lantern is absolutely out-of-touch with the common man, especially those who aren’t of his race of economic class. That iconic moment is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that DC historically had essentially zero people of color in their comics as of 1970. Whether that was by accident or by design is difficult to ascertain, but here at the dawn of the Bronze Age, the old man’s piercing question carries extra weight. Most of us have seen that series of panels dozens of times, but what’s not usually seen is the response, as Green Lantern asks what he is expected to do, and the gentleman responds with “If you want to bad enough, you’ll find a way.” Still caught in his traditional mold, Green Lantern takes to the skies to entreat the landlord’s better nature, only to find that corrupt Jubal Earlyh doesn’t have a better nature. But, what slumlord Jubal Slade does have is money, and people willing to take that money to do his dirty work, threatening to unleash his lawyers on the Emerald Gladiator. That’s when things get even more complicated, as the Guardians of The Universe summon their underling back to Oa, where they take him to task for attacking a fellow human being, a person that should be (from their haughty perspective) his brother.
While Green Lantern performs a demeaning task clearly designed as punishement, Green Arrow is already plying a more streetwise attempt to bring Jubal’s corrupt business down. He tries a protection racket, demanding a bribe in return for leaving Slade’s criminal enterprises alone, but the original Fatcat instead sends his gunsels with instructions to wipe out the Ace Archer once and for all. His attempts to record Jubal ordering criminal acts likewise fails, and only when Green Lantern returns from space do the two heroes put all the pieces together.
Green Lantern easily disarms the thuggish landlord, capturing him in a power ring rat-trap, seemingly without an ounce of effort, and the clear indication (whether intended or not) is that the superheroes could easily defeat crime and corruption, if they wanted. What’s more, the mere humans wouldn’t have a chance. (That low-key theme is frightening, and a decade and a half later, it would become part of the narrative thrust of ‘Watchmen.’) I can’t tell if O’Neil and Adams meant for that to be the takeaway or not, but when the Guardians telepathically contact Green Lantern to berate him, Oliver Queen makes an impassioned argument for being more involved in the lives of everyday people. He refers to the then-recent assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, insisting that the remote, clinical approach of the Guardians does no service to the planet that Green Lantern is supposed to be protecting!
“Learn where we’re at… and WHY!” And thus begins the ‘Hard-Traveling Heroes’ arc, and also The Bronze Age of comics, if you ask me. Interestingly, though the cover touts this book as “Green Lantern co-starring Green Arrow’ (as it would well past issue #100) the official title in the indicia never actually changes from ‘Green Lantern’, making this much-vaunted team-up book technically still just Hal Jordan’s comic with a beardo hanging around. Still, Green Lantern #76 features young Neal Adams at the peak of his artistic powers and hasn’t lost its narrative and dramatic power to changing times; even at its most preachy, it still makes relevant points about human nature, earning the book 4 out of 5 stars overall. It’s easy to dismiss this comic as a dated polemic of its times, but frankly, the questions of corruption, poverty, racism, class warfare and real issues are no less meaningful in modern parlance, and a necessary bellwether of change at 70s DC.
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GREEN LANTERN #76
Denny's script is very obvious, but still carries important meaning and power, while the art of young Neal Adams makes it a must-read for casual fans and historians alike.