Friday, April 18, 2014

Pretty Bird: GREEN LANTERN #78

Not long after writer Denny O'Neill brought Black Canary to Earth 1 and made her part of the Justice League, he partnered Green Lantern with Green Arrow for a road trip across not just America's terrain but its social consciousness.  Oliver Queen had recently lost his fortune, turning from fat cat capitalist to bleeding heart liberal.  Hal Jordan had recently, um, discovered racism, turning from daredevil of the skies to... lame guy.  Their bromance kicked off in Green Lantern #76, wherein the book was unofficially retitled Green Lantern/Green Arrow.  By this time, O'Neill had also established a flirtatious but hesitant romance between Ollie and Black Canary in the pages of Justice League of America.

Green Lantern #78: "A Kind of Loving, A Way of Death" comes from the legendary team of writer Dennis O'Neill and artist Neal Adams.  It was published in July, 1970, right around the time Charles Manson was going to trial for the murders he and his "family" perpetrated in the '60s.  That's not an irrelevant historical fact, as we'll see in this story.

Other than one or two JLA covers,  Adams hadn't really drawn Black Canary until this issue, but the opening sequence cemented his place as one of the greatest Black Canary artists of all time.  "A Kind of Loving..." begins with Black Canary riding her motorcycle through the Pacific Northwest when she's stopped by a violent biker gang.

One of the bikers demands that Dinah surrender her bike, the custom bike that Superman made just for her.  When she refuses, the biker attacks.  Naturally, puts the guy on his ass.  His gang respond and angrily close in on her whilst calling her a frail, because, y'know, that's how women were referred to back in the day.

The leader, though, makes it clear that they're only going to beat and rob Dinah as a matter of pride.  Because she embarrassed one of them and they have a responsibility to stick together and show unity.  Even though their plan is to rob and possibly rape and murder Black Canary, it's just an unfortunate cost of doing business; this is how they demonstrate that they aren't victims.

Then Adams delivers one of the most recognizable pages in his storied career, as Black Canary systematically takes down the gang.

The first biker she put down, who goes by the name of Snake Eyes (though definitely not that Snake Eyes), crawls over to his motorcycle, enraged that his gang's reputation will be ruined because a woman kicked their butts.

The gang rides off with Canary's bike, leaving her on the side of the road.  As the sun goes down, a stranger comes around and picks up her unconscious body, carrying her away.

Two weeks later, Hal Jordan and Oliver Queen drive their pickup truck through an Indian Reservation near where Black Canary was attacked.  With Hal and Ollie is one of the immortal Guardians of Oa, though he has taken on the guise of an elderly human so that he can learn more about life on Earth.  The heroes stop for food and have talk with a young Native American who uses words like "paleface" and "redskins".  The dialogue is a little cringe-worthy in a modern context and makes it hard to root for Washington, D.C.'s football team without rolling your eyes a little.

Soon after the guys eat their beans, the familiar Demon biker gang barges into the restaurant.  They beat on the proprietor and threaten Hal and Ollie... which is when Hal speaks the Oath of the Green Lantern Corps and he and Ollie change into their costumed alternate identities.

Green Lantern and Green Arrow disarm the gang without breaking a sweat.  One of the bikers makes a run for it and jumps on a motorcycle.  He doesn't get far, though, as Green Arrow fires a net arrow that wraps up the punk and his bike, causing them to crash and roll over.  But as the heroes approach their captive prey, Ollie and Hal recognize the motorcycle the punk was riding.

After another awkward encounter with the Native American, Green Arrow and Green Lantern set out to search the surrounding area for Black Canary.  And conveniently, it seems, they find her right away just wandering around the mountainside.

I'm sure O'Neill and Adams had this dramatic effect in mind when Joshua introduces himself, but bereft of any other context it just seems a little weird.  I think you need to understand or at least be cognizant of the biblical context of the name Joshua to get the full force and effect of this encounter.  Knowing that Jesus Christ's real name translates into English as Joshua, combined with the character's somewhat ambiguous ethnicity, help emphasize the spiritual, almost supernatural power Joshua conveys.

Ollie cares little for Joshua or his followers, except for Dinah.

Black Canary has clearly been brainwashed, but for the moment, there's nothing the emerald-clad heroes can do about it.  Hal leads a reluctant Ollie away, but as they walk off, Dinah's memories begin to come back.

Joshua snaps Dinah out of her daydreams with a special gift.  Opening the present, she sees that Joshua has brought her a gun, which he claims will help them fulfill their mission.  She instinctually resists, not wanting to use a weapon such as this, but Joshua has a great and terrible power over her.  She looks into his amber-colored eyes and becomes transfixed, hypnotized, completely enthralled by Joshua's power.

Elsewhere, Green Arrow and Green Lantern argue about what to do with Black Canary.  Hal elects to leave her be.  She's a free woman; she can make her own life choices.  Ollie doesn't think she's so free, though; he suspects she's being manipulated by Joshua.  When Hal suggests that maybe Dinah simply doesn't share Ollie's feelings, the archer punches his friend and storms off into the woods.

Ollie hasn't gone far when a series of gunshots ring out through the wilderness.  He rushes in the direction of the sound where he finds Black Canary and the rest of Joshua's "enlightened" followers practicing with their firearms.  And then the leader makes his impassioned speech.

It's clear that Denny O'Neill had been following the news coverage of the Manson Family Murders and Charles Manson's trial, because Joshua is a obviously depicted as a cult leader bent on starting a race war.  But where Manson used drugs and other forms of psychological manipulation to control and direct his followers on his bloody agenda, O'Neill gives Joshua a more comic-booky ability to control people's minds.

Green Arrow fires off a signal flare arrow to bring reinforcements in the form of Green Lantern, but the light from the flare gives away Ollie's position and Joshua orders his family to open fire on the intruder.  Green Arrow dashes through the woods, but a bullet grazes his head, knocking him out.

Joshua's followers rush out of the woods to attack the Indian Reservation town nearby, but Green Lantern stand in their way.  Using the awesome power of his ring, he deflects their bullets, removes their guns, and leaves them trapped in a ditch, unable to cause any more damage or harm.  But he didn't capture everybody.  Joshua and Black Canary managed to escape and backtrack through the woods to Green Arrow's position.

Dinah still holds her gun.  Joshua makes her aim the weapon at Green Arrow and orders her to pull the trigger.

In a last, desperate act of resistance, Black Canary drops the gun, unwilling to shoot Green Arrow.  Enraged, Joshua picks up the revolver and takes aim, but Green Arrow smacks him with a projected fist.  Joshua falls to the ground, rolling over and accidentally discharging the gun.  The bullet hits his heart and kills him almost instantly.  For their part, none of the heroes seem to care that much.

A problem I've always had with this sequence is we don't know why Black Canary refuses to shoot.  Is it because she loved Green Arrow and couldn't murder him?  Or is it because she was resisting Joshua's control and she knew that killing an innocent was wrong?  Adams expertly shows the agony and struggle on her face, but O'Neill doesn't let us inside her mind.  What if it were Green Lantern on the other side of the barrel, or some random person from the town, would she still have dropped the gun?

Dinah asks Ollie to help her remember herself, who she was and who she is.

Well, that was a bit of a depressing twist at the end of an already dark story.  I mentioned how Joshua manipulated Black Canary and his other followers through the supernatural means of his crazy eyes, but Ollie robs them of that excuse.  He tells Dinah there must have been some part of her that was weak enough and hateful enough to respond to a psycho like Joshua.  That's nice, Ollie, way to go.  She'll definitely love you now.

"A Kind of Loving, A Way of Death" is from an era when comics publishers like DC and Marvel experimented with telling "important stories", stories about real world problems and events.  Green Lantern/Green Arrow was the primary vehicle for this exploration of hyper-reality in a fantasy medium, which is why it was so successful at the time and continues to be referenced as one of the most influential runs in comic books.

Unfortunately, these types of stories that take a focused look at part of society are instantly dated because society changes.  This type of story couldn't have been told in any other era, so while it is most certainly historic, it fails to be timeless.  But I don't want to dwell anymore on relations between "palefaces" and "redskins" or Charles Manson's cult.  I want to talk about Green Arrow and Black Canary.

The Emerald Archer and the Blonde Bombshell had exchanged long, meaningful glances up to this point, but this was probably the first serious confirmation that they were a couple, or at least that they were going to be.  O'Neill states in Dinah's memory montage that she fell in love with Ollie and took off on her motorcycle to join his road trip.  And given Green Arrow's willingness to deck his best friend for insinuating that Dinah's heart might belong to a creep like Joshua, it's pretty clear that Ollie loves her as much as she loves him.

Black Canary would spend a couple issues recovering from the psychological trauma of this issue, but from here on she was a fairly constant supporting character in Green Lantern/Green Arrow.  Their relationship was more-or-less official within the pages of Justice League of America, but this is where it began.

Between bringing her aboard the Justice League and then making her part of the Hard Travelin' Heroes and pairing her up with Green Arrow, Denny O'Neill is one of the most influential writers on Black Canary's history.  And Neal Adams draws a better looking Black Canary than maybe any other artist in the field.

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