There are a few writer/artist duos, that individually are great, but when together, their work stand above the rest. They represent a pinacle for others to strive for. I’m talking about teams such as Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the 60’s, Marv Wolfman and George Perez, and Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale in the 90’s. For the 70’s it was the guys I’m about to talk about now: Dennis (Denny) O’Neil and Neal Adams. First teaming up for Detective 395 the award winning work would raise the bar for the standards of storytelling readers expected, pushed the envelope for what was permitted in comics by the Comics Code Authority, and made comics a much more realistic world. They also introduced characters such as Ra’s and Talia Al Ghul, and Green Lantern John Stewart.
Today I look at the first issue of their seminal Green Lantern/Greeb Arrow run: Green Lantern #76, entitled No Evil Shall Escape My Sight. The story pits the different views of what justice looks like through the eyes of the law abiding Green Lantern and the socially just Green Arrow against each other.
While passing through Star City, Green Lantern comes across a scene of violence. A larger man in an expensive suit is being harassed by a couple young, skinny dudes in ratty clothing. To HAL Jordan (GL)’s astonishment, the people of the street are doing nothing to stop this. Coming to the larger mans aid, Hal finds himself the target of a barrage of garbage from the people of the street. Getting angry and about to release his rage on the attacking youth Green Arrow steps in and calms him down.
GA explains the reality of the situation to GL. The rich man is the owner of this building, and has been a terrible landlord, allowing the tenants to live in filth and disrepair rather than spend a dime on maintanence. On top of that he is going to have the lot turned into a parking lot to increase revenue and put all these people out onto the streets. A man approaches GL and says “you’ve done things for the Blue Man and the Orange Man and the Purple Man, it’s about time you did something for the Black Man”
When GL goes to confront the building owner he gets interrupted by his “Blue Man” alien bosses, the Guardians of the Universe. They tell him it isn’t his place to interfere with the law and send him on a bogus mission in space and tell him to wait it out there. Hal completes his mission, but does not wait it out.
Hal returns to earth and the Hal and Oliver (GA) trick the Fat Cat Landlord into admitting to dirty business and corruption that he has been up to and have him arrested. The Guardians immediately bring Hal and Oliver to their homeworld Oa. They are displeased with Hal for his insubordination. Oliver delivers and grand speach referencing the deaths of JFK and MLK and says that America is in need of healing. In an attempt to aid the duo, the Guardians send one of their own, posed as a human to accompany them.
And thus the “Hard Travelling Heroes” story begins. A tale of social justice that brings character growth to both Green Lantern and Green Arrow, cementing a lasting connection between the characters and the creative team.
This issue won the Shazam award for Best Individual Story. Sometimes these issues are seen as overrated, but I disagree. This form of social commentary is a formula we have seen time and time again, but this was the first time we had seen it. At least the first time it was done well. I feel this story still stands strong today as an example of compelling story telling, quality art and mature subject matter. This is not just a book for children. One thing I appreciate about stories from the 70s is their ability to tell a full story in one issue. Rarely these days due you get a story of depth in a “one and done”. It takes 4-6 issues and often the point is subtle. Neil and O’Neal waste no time getting to the point and backing it up. You can call it overrated, I will call it great storytelling.
Dennis O’Neal and Neil Adams are two of my favourite creators. The more serious tone of batman taken in the 70’s is due in part to them. My love for both The Question and Deadman, two of my favourite C level characters (who I’ve blogged about here and here ) is also attributed to them. My dream book would be a Batman/Deadman/Question book done by these two. Dennis did great work reinventing the Question in the 80’s as well as The Shadow and continuing his Batman work well into the 90’s. Dennis became an editor at both Marvel and DC. He also did a very underrated story arc of Daredevil. Neil Adams drew and wrote great stories for Deadman in the 60’s taking over the story after the first issue and making him a serious character, as well as establishing elements later used in both the Batman, Arrow and Question mythos including The sensei and the league of assassins. Adams finished his DC work at the top of his game in the late 70’s with the graphic novel Superman vs Muhammed Ali, and did not return until just a few years ago. While I am not really an art guy and have difficulty explaining what I like about artists very well, to me, Adams is THE artist of the 70’s. Adams also went to great lengths to get comic creators the credit, acknowledgment and compensation they deserved for their work including Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster who had gotten very little from DC for creating Superman, the companies most successful character at the time.
Next week I will be delving further into their work as I look at the creation of Ra’s Al Ghul. See you then. Thanks for reading! Tell me what you think of the issue in the comments below.
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