Hard Travelin’ Heroes: 50th Anniversary

“Green Lantern & Green Arrow: Hard Travelin’ Heroes” – 50th Anniversary 

“In brightest day, in blackest night,
No evil shall escape my sight
Let those who worship evil’s might,
Beware my power… Green Lantern’s light!”
The Green Lantern Oath

In the 1970’s DC Comics published some of the most unprecedented stories in comic book history. After the 1960’s, comic book sales had begun to slip following the hype from the campy 1967 Batman TV show. The Dark Knight’s image was marred for years until he returned to his darker roots with the help of writer Dennis “Denny” O’Neil and artist Neal Adams, who brought a dynamic realism to the character. Other characters in need of rejuvenation included the original Golden Age Green Lantern (engineer Alan Scott) who came out in 1940 and possessed a magical lantern and ring, which gave him a variety of powers, except over wood. After the end of World War II, superheroes were in decline, until the revival of the Silver Age of comics, when a new Green Lantern (test pilot Hal Jordan) appeared in 1959, and who received his power ring (but vulnerable to yellow) and lantern from a dying alien space-cop.

While Green Lantern, along with his fellow members of the Justice League, including Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter, began their (fun, but rather bland) adventures in 1959, along with his own title as a second volume in 1960. One seemingly-forgotten character from the 1940’s was Green Arrow (Oliver Queen), also beginning in the Golden Age as a Robin Hood-like hero with a trick bow & arrow. He later reemerged in 1969 with an updated visual appearance by artist Neal Adams, complete with a Van Dyke beard, yet still without his own book title, as he appeared in “The Brave and the Bold” #85 and “Justice League of America” #75.

With the success of the new Batman, Editor Julius “Julie” Schwartz paired the creative duo in another title in order to save it from being cancelled: “Green Lantern”. And with issue #76 in April 1970 the series made a stylistic change in an effort to spark new interest in comics by including messages. Green Arrow was added to the title as a co-star (until issue #122) and began a long story arc (known as “Hard Traveling Heroes”), in which Hal and Oliver travel across America and encounter real-world issues. The attitudes and personalities were also altered somewhat as the heroes became less one-dimensional to reflect the times. While Hal Jordan presented a more conservative law-abiding police officer, on the other hand, Green Arrow is depicted as a liberal reformer.

What began was a 14-issue run, in which the characters, later joined by Black Canary as a love interest for Arrow, addressed socially-relevant issues such as religion, hippie cults, corruption, racism, pollution, (but not the controversy of the Vietnam War) as well as poverty, overpopulation and even drug addiction. The latter even affected Arrow’s old sidekick Speedy who became addicted to heroin in issue #85. Although these stories were critically acclaimed, with articles featured in “The New York Times”, “The Wall Street Journal”, and “Newsweek”, the series was cancelled after issue #89 in April 1972 due to poor sales, until its relaunch in September 1976, however with a return to its Sci-Fi/Fantasy themes, written by O’Neil and art by Mike Grell. Later, DC would introduce the first African-American Green Lantern, John Stewart<, in issue #87, December 1971.

As comic books started to “grow up” in the 1970’s, it paved the way for darker and grittier stories in the 1980’s with comics having more mature stories and characters from DC’s “Watchmen” and “Dark Knight Returns” to Marvel’s “Daredevil” and “Punisher”. Proving that comics could have socially-relevant superheroes continues today just as it did through the late 60’s and 70’s. While I don’t like to discuss religion or politics in my writing, it becomes apparent in the popular culture of its time as well as today. As our country struggles with increasingly divisive views between the Right and the Left, so too does art imitate life. It’s no coincidence that the 2016 Presidential Election began a new era of dissension both in politics and in popular culture. It’s no coincidence that movies like “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Captain America: Civil War” came out the same year. And as society struggles over the same issues that we have been dealing with since the 1950’s and 60’s, the old adage that “history repeats itself” becomes even more relevant.

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Written by Dave Whiteman, a Native Texan, Metalhead🤘, Writer, Star Woid, Funatic, and all-around Fanboy/Nerd/Geek! 👓

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