31/3 The Green Lantern S2 annotations
LIBRARY artefact #012
The Green Lantern S2 Annotations
I ended part 1 of this tiptoe through the tulips of dismay, by hinting at dire events which were to impact the creation of The Green Lantern Season 2 in 2019.
Cut to the chase on this one where my latest, bestest cat pal, an amazingly smart and affectionate one-in-a-million one-eyed wonder goes missing never to return.
He’d lost his left eye to conjunctivitis as a kitten, but it never slowed him down or dented his exuberant enthusiasm for life. He slept in the crook of my arm every night. He wasn’t even three years old, but we had a remarkable bond.
A relentless poster campaign and search yields nothing. Neighbours bring awful rumours of a road accident involving a cat. Potential sightings are swiftly debunked.
The loss of his high-spirited, affectionate presence felt devastating, and already disoriented by general feelings of uselessness and frustration, my guard was down.
Apologies then for dragging readers into my private hell circa summer 2019 but some scene-setting was called for.
As a result of my preoccupation with the search and the mounting unlikelihood of a positive outcome, work ground to a halt; issue #2, with a deadline looming, was in bits and what was meant to be issue #3 of The Green Lantern Season 2, co-starring the Flash, now drifted face down in a swimming pool of its own piss. That story had been taking forever to assemble, feeling increasingly like some wildly overproduced psychedelic record and, in the blacklight of my despairing mood, ever more trivial.
I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t concentrate long enough on the stories to care about making them work. Every day that passed told me I’d never see my best feline mate again.
Issue #2 had started life, like some others this season, as part homage, part sequel to a John Broome Flash story, in this case ‘Who Haunts the Corridor of Chills?’ as seen in The Flash #162. From 1966, this was one of the first comics I picked up as a kid at my Uncle Billy’s place, and Its unnerving off-kilter atmosphere had left a mark on my developing imagination. The spirit of John Broome loomed large over Season 2, although, as I say, it was Broome’s Flash stories that served as incentive to write rather than his long, definitive run on Green Lantern.
In The Flash #162, Broome told the eerie tale of a bizarre mystery in a theme park owned by the barely-pseudonymous ‘Milt Dempsey’ – human-headed birds in the ghost train, secret subterranean civilizations, bizarre mental states, you know the score…
Broome’s ‘Ornitho-Men’ were crying out to be re-introduced to the world of sanity – and there was a kind of ‘70s Jon Pertwee Doctor Who feel I thought could have been worked into something.
Instead it felt hollow. Too flimsy and glib to express how I was feeling, it said nothing to me about my life.
Nevertheless, it had to be submitted – in the world of periodical publications, there can be no room for illness or tragedy or anything else that might get in the way of the show going on and on. Like radio DJ Tony Blackburn who famously played Thrown It All Away over and over on the occasion of his divorce, I had to do something, even if it was something completely self-indulgent.
In rare situations like these, my go-to strategy is to remind myself that the monthly issue I’m trying to finish will be published regardless. In the future it’s already on the stands, it’s already being reviewed, and all I need to do is play my part in assuring that inevitability. Then I figure out how a last-minute save might go. Usually this leads to me doing something, anything that feels right even if it seems ridiculous. It becomes a case of ‘what would I personally want to read if I’d paid for this thing?’
In this case, the breakthrough came when I decided that attempting to fashion from this broken wounded Frankenstein some semblance of a workmanlike professional superhero comic just wouldn’t cut it.
I chose instead to push the whole thing in the direction of total absurdity, to drop the pretence at serious dialogue as if anything in this feathered farrago of bird-dudes and fucked-up cities of tomorrow could ever hope to be taken seriously - and in this endeavour, this decision to let the language loose to run wild and free in an unedited flow state, my guide out of the labyrinth was provided by the comics work of novelist Steve Aylett.
I was inspired by two of my all-time favourite comics, Aylett’s Johnny Viable and his Terse Friends and The Caterer, to write the story’s dialogue with a similar heightened, ludicrous urgency.
Although I could never claim to approach the perfect poise and relentless originality of his wordplay, nor could I finish my story without providing a pseudo-super-science get-out clause for the elliptical dialogue, lines like ‘CLOWNS FLIRT WITH IRRELEVANCE EVERY DAY. I’LL WRESTLE ANY FOOL TO THE SAND WHO SAYS OTHERWISE.’ are not, as some readers surmised, inspired by Silver Age comics with their clumsy ‘hep cat’ jive talk but owe their genesis to aping vintage Aylett!
Once I’d got into the groove, it didn’t take long to write and, chortling all the way, I delivered issue #2 with a feeling of immense relief – I knew it worked in its own mad way and it was at last fun to read so that was win enough for me.
Next, leaving Scotland in the rear-view mirror for a month, I had to come up with something on the run for issue #3, to replace the still under construction psychedelic issue.
Here’s me on the balcony in West Hollywood November 2019, emotionally hollowed and husked, with the psychedelic Flash team-up still grinding its gears after months of stop motion labour.
We couldn’t afford to skip a month, so I had to think of a new story from scratch to write when I got back home, something simple and direct that wouldn’t require endless tinkering.
I decided to give myself strict parameters and conjure a pinch-hitting 3rd issue literally from thin air – something breezy that could be written effortlessly in a rush.
I committed to building my story using nothing but cues from my immediate surroundings and my feelings in that moment – blue sky over Culver City, jet aircraft contrails, the great clouds I’d seen building across the San Gabriel mountains on a drive to Eagle Rock the previous day, all wrapped up in pangs of sorrow for my gone best cat.
Blue sky. White vapour. Yearning. Slim pickings perhaps but I’d made my decision and pledged myself to something with clouds and weather, the mountains and the mourning.
And planes! Green Lantern Hal Jordan was a test pilot by trade – so how about a pilot story, spotlighting an aspect of Jordan’s life on Earth that we hadn’t dealt with before?
This gave a perfect opportunity to catch up with his ex - Jillian Pearlman AKA Cowgirl – as mentioned, most of the stories in season 2 were based around one of Jordan’s former girlfriends, building up to his one true love and our big Carol Ferris 2-parter.
With a sprinkle of seasoning from another of my favourite Flash stories, issue #111’s ‘Invasion of the Cloud Creatures’ from the components swirling nicely in the cauldron of my brainpan, I found a measured lyrical voice influenced by Ray Bradbury, which seemed to suit this short, spare, missing pet story now entitled ‘Thunder on Wonder Mountain’.
When I got back to Scotland in late December, the inky, all-enveloping cloud of sorrow broke and dispersed leaving a warm ache that never went away. Time to get back in the saddle and get to work.
The whole thing came together in an afternoon as I’d hoped. 22 pages in a pleasingly coherent tumble of notes and thumbnails which Liam elevated by test-driving a whole new style he’d developed. His use of large washes and textures of painterly colour mixed with traditional comic strip linework captured the airy expansive feel of the story and went on to inform Liam’s increasingly experimental work in the latter half of Season 2.
My 60th birthday arrived with a week of parties and shows in Glasgow and London, where I hung out with all of my UK based gang, almost as if suspecting I wouldn’t see them again for some time – then Covid and silence and that empty ringing sky without contrails, that arcing blue bowl of stillness and quiet that feels almost nostalgic now.
Rejuvenated, I dug deep into issue #4, the Flash team-up. When I wrote the relationship between Green Lantern and Green Arrow in Season 1, I saw them as very close friends with a kind of high-school roommates bond forged of shared crazy times, in-jokes, competitive masculinity, and a passionate sense of justice and fairness. You can imagine them getting drunk, arguing and imagining utopias into the early hours.
The Flash and Green Lantern got on for very different reasons – both lawmen, their shared approach to mind-bending reality-warping, was one of no-nonsense professionalism and a cool, level-headed unflappability in a chaos of melting physics and non-Euclidean landscapes. Flash is where Green Lantern gets his DC hero gossip from, I reasoned. Flash has all the time in the world to be super clued-up on everything. His humour is more cerebral, his wild imagination manifests in grandly creative physical feats, just as Jordan’s does via his ring.
Where Green Arrow was groaning and heaving, thrust uneasily into a story of extra-dimensional drug dealers, the Flash would be entirely at home in the kind of colourful, lysergic adventure I had in mind.
Green Arrow has no super-powers and no matter how resourceful his pal is, I think Jordan’s always got one eye on Ollie when they’re working together, making sure the guy with the bow and arrows is protected. Flash can run at the Speed of Light and discovered the Multiverse by retuning his molecules on a Cosmic Treadmill. Green Lantern can relax on a level playing field where Flash is concerned, free to pour all his concentration into the task at hand.
As mentioned, I wanted to do a wild overloaded psychedelic sci-fi thing with toys, (originally entitled Toys of Tomorrow Today, when it was serving double-time as a ‘Pol Manning’ joint showcasing Hal Jordan’s amnesiac alter-ego from 5708 AD – that version of the story, with Flash’s 30th and 64th centuries in there somewhere too, got way too big for its allotted 22 pages), that would spotlight Hal Jordan’s bizarre years as a toy salesman and bring back another of his exes - the abrasive, competitive, and brilliant Olivia Reynolds, unwitting possessor of the ‘Uni-Mind’!
Toys! Psychedelic space toys! How could it go wrong? It was time to follow up on the dropped Zundernell threads and tackle the simmering subplot of the race of Golden Giants – demonstrating their vast power by having two of earth’s greatest superheroes struggle against a mere child of that race and its collection of bizarre playthings.
In The Green Lantern season 1, Liam had already drawn Zundernell restrained by the Lanterns in a pose that quoted the cover of The Flash #120, now we were making the connection explicit.
My take on Broome’s Golden Giants had them as devolved representatives of a mysterious and ancient migratory super-race of unimaginable power and organisation – a nomadic culture known as The Majistry, now returning to our universe following the vast cycles of cosmic seasons –capable of erecting and dismantling the trappings of an entire advanced civilization in a matter of days.
To add to the surreal Alice in Wonderland/Sgt. Pepper effect we were looking for, the dialogue for the super-race would be composed of compound or ‘portmanteau’ words in the Lewis Carroll or John Lennon manner. Based on how I’d experienced contacts with apparent ‘higher’ (both dimensionally and in the specific sense of more organised, condensed and splendid) intelligences during my occult experiments, I imagined an advanced society having a kind of orchestral language where words would be composed of multiple fused concepts expressed at the same time in a harmonious verbal complex – something I referred to back in The Invisibles as ‘ubersprech’. I was also thinking of how Sigur Ros sing in that invented language. It was with colour and rhythm and musicality very much on our minds that Liam and I envisaged a carnival-esque concept album density and detail.
It was this aspect of the story, along with the Gardner Fox-inspired rhyming couplets, that was slowing it down as I strove to create an overpowering sense of disorienting alien information that would be a verbal counterpoint for Liam’s bad trip visuals – suggestive of some bizarre otherworldly activity that somehow combined ideas of playtime and a trial, hence the Quing’s recurring use of the word ‘PLEAY’, suggesting both ‘PLAY’ and ‘PLEA’.
Similarly, the syllable ‘aur’ – the Latin root that means ‘gold’ - recurs throughout, where ‘waur’ combines ‘our’ ‘golden’ and ‘war’ - as does ‘ov’ from Latin ‘ovum’, or French ‘ouef’ meaning ‘egg’.
‘DREAMAND’ covers for ‘DEMAND’ and ‘DREAM’. ‘GRIEVITAE’ combining ‘GRAVITY’ with ‘GRIEF’ and ‘VITAE’ suggesting life and death. ‘GRUILDED GOLIATHANS’ merges ‘GRAIL’, ‘GUILD’, ‘GILDED’, ‘GOLIATH’ and ‘LEVIATHAN’ etc.
Something like ‘STRAKE BACK THE SPLUNDERED LOAND!’ contains ‘TAKE BACK THE SPLENDID LAND’ as well as ‘STRIKE AND TAKE BACK THE SUNDERED PLUNDERED LAND ON LOAN’ and so on throughout.
Many readers found the effort of trying to decipher the Majistry’s gobbledy-bollocks a barrier to their enjoyment of the story and having pecked away at each mangled sentence for months, I can only sympathize.
Having said that, there’s something about the whole package that I feel successfully captures the very bright yellow, red and green 1967 noise we intended to make and the further from its troubled creation I travel, the fonder my re-appraisal of this odd duck!
Perhaps the above attempts to justify my creative choices might motivate some readers to get a little more out of this issue by playing the story at the required speed, on the required drugs, on the understanding that there is, if nothing else, some measure of method in the madness and all that seeming jabber did entertain at least a degree of ambition beyond the mindless keyboard spasms of a cat-lorn loon!
More obscene soul-baring soonest!