6/5 The Green Lantern S2 Annotations
LIBRARY artefact #016
The Green Lantern S2 Annotations
Before digging into our last round of The Green Lantern Season 2 annotations, this seems an appropriate place to note the passing last week at the age of 80 of artist extraordinaire Neal Adams who revitalized Green Lantern – along with Batman, the X-Men, the Inhumans, the Avengers, Green Arrow, Deadman and every other character he enlivened with his pencil.
Not only the greatest and most innovative artist of his generation, he was a tireless campaigner for the rights of creators.
I plan to write a longer appreciation of Adams and what he and his work meant to me but in the meantime condolences to Neal’s wife, Marilyn and to his family.
As I always say in these sad circumstances, artists live on in their work, their influence, and their inspiration to others. Death will not stop Neal Adams from forever being one of the all-time great comic book artists.
Our final issue of The Green Lantern took Liam and I back to my first experimental work with DC and drew some of its inspiration from my Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth book with Dave McKean - made immediately obvious by the use of tall upright panels, which, in Arkham, I likened to church windows and test tubes.
I mentioned in a previous episode how I wanted to casually hint at Hal Jordan’s pansexual nature but I was a little surprised to hear reports of a sudden flurry of raised voices, all, in spite of showing absolutely zero interest in anything else I’ve ever had to say, suddenly finding the energy and motivation to express what can only be described as stern disapproval regarding my wholly innocuous proposition.
Has it come to this? - ran the general tone of enquiries. How much deeper must our innocent childhood companions be dragged into the cesspool of immorality by depraved liberal writers before the stains just won’t wash out?
Where will it all end? Dogs mating with chickens? Ant/seahorse orgies? Sex with actual pans and pots!
The tabloid headlines write themselves:
Sick ‘Woke Lantern’ prefers ET to Earth nookie!
It was as if I’d exposed the hitherto unrevealed truth behind the passionate physical affair that tore apart the Hal Jordan/’Itty’ partnership in the ‘70s!
I sympathize with those who feel the crumbling walls of past certainties threatened by implacable tides of modernity and I understand as well as any other the appeal of distracting trivia at a time of global instability and existential hazard but it was never my intention to cause outrage; the Hal Jordan Liam and I inherited had, in the ‘80s, been depicted in a relationship with Arisia Rrab, a teenager from the planet Graxos IV who used her Power Ring to age herself physically so that she could enjoy a healthy relationship with Jordan that wouldn’t put him on the sex offenders register of Sector 2814. It was later revealed that her biology was so unlike that of humans she was said to be over 250 years old while still resembling jailbait and could also regenerate herself via hibernation after her apparent death.
The words ‘girl next door’ seem invented just for her by practitioners of the lowest form of wit…
As long ago as 1965, during Jordan’s ‘silver age’, writer John Broome had him romancing Onu Murtu, an alien from the planet Garon who disguised herself as Earthwoman Dorine Clay.
Even Green Lantern: The Animated Series has Jordan hooked up with Ghia’ta, an alien Star Sapphire - and these are a few that spring immediately to mind.
To advance the suggestion that spacefaring Lothario Hal Jordan might be every bit as pansexual as, say, Captain Kirk, when the in-canon evidence of his liaisons with non-human creatures over decades is irrefutable would seem to be less provocation, more simple observation!
These are characters who have been around since before many of us were born. I didn’t create them or their backstories. I only draw attention to what was always there, as if to inadvertently point out that many of the same so-called progressive ideas, complete with predictable reactionary responses, have been with us on repeat since the dawn of human history and here’s John Broome talking about loving the alien way back in 1965.
Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern – romancing xenomorphs since the Beatles were working on Help!!!
The upside-down hourglass suggesting Athmoora’s cultural stagnation appears for the first time as a mysterious, seemingly random detail at the conclusion of season 1 issue #9 and here at last receives its narrative arc conclusion!
Stung by the bewildered response to the Majistry’s compound language in issue #4, I decided to include rough translations here but wish I hadn’t –
I’d talked to him about how I wanted us to go out in a blaze of pure light and comic book poetry, so Liam was only keeping up his side of the compact but I was caught a little off guard by his wholehearted embrace of his new approach which brought with it new levels of abstraction and expressionism and a tendency to omit scripted panels in favour of inventive layouts which sometimes left me with the problem of two panels worth of seemingly important dialogue or more to cram into one.
Having wrestled what should have been a year of subplot and show-not-tell into the finale, I found myself over-explaining much of the set-up for the Majistry, who in the end disappeared as mysteriously and vaguely as they’d come into the story and didn’t need to be anything other than unfathomable.
Some of Liam’s more open plan compositions resulted in a few pages where huge linked cascades of bubbles erupt from top to bottom like a drowner’s last lungful of air escaping to the surface of the millpond!
With a tight-assed unwillingness to leave it to Liam’s impressionistic washes to create a sense of mystery and barely comprehensible alien-ness, I struggled to make everything squeaky clear to the casual reader by explaining as much as I was able in bolted-down laborious detail.
I compensated wildly, readers, and pages 20-24 especially paid the price - balloons so bloated with expositional precipitation they seemed to gather like fat clouds obscuring the art with an impending blizzard of words –
In short; while Liam outdid himself, I overdid myself!
When the hoped-for Absolute Edition comes to pass, I’ll get into some ruthless editing…
Having said that, I’m usually inclined to forgive my own efforts in retrospect – the intent was ever pure and even the ungainly pile up of balloons and captions had its own Brutalist glamour that led me to more considered possibilities and fresh ideas about how to achieve the effect I was hoping for while still covering the art with graffiti!
As we wrap up here and I sweep my head clear at last of all things Green Lantern, one reader (hi, Colin McKenzie!) talked about feeling understandably uncomfortable with the ‘cop’ aspect, the stated ‘police procedural’ nature of the book, particularly at a time when in both the USA and the UK way too many policemen were being caught overstepping their bounds in horrific ways.
I grew up with a deep distrust of the police; the police dragged my dad from sit-ins and demonstrations, the police threw him in jail, the police turned up at the door to threaten him. I was raised with a working-class distrust of authority that is generations thick. It took a while to cure myself of instinctively flinching at the sight of a squad car and feeling immediately guilty in the presence of the Boys in Blue.
As I grew older, as I made more effort to take people as they come and give them the benefit of the doubt without prejudice, I met a few police who seemed okay sorts, decent types. Fuck only knows what it took to retain their humanity in a culture that has been exposed again and again of late as a cesspit of wrong but I was able to relate to them, have a laugh, and get on as with normal people. They do exist among the ranks.
Nevertheless, it’s hardly controversial to point out that police on Earth are often corrupt, often on the take, often as happy to enforce unjust laws as they are to ignore the law altogether. In short, my last inclination would be to valorize the police in my work.
Were I to write a story about policing in our real world, I would of necessity be compelled to examine some fairly grimy corners of the human experience, it’s true.
The Green Lantern Corps, being fictional, can comprise a finer caliber of polisman! The rules of the DC Universe allow for the existence of a genuinely trustworthy, honorable, courageous and selfless form of cosmic law enforcement and those were the rules Liam and I chose to play by.
When I decided to approach The Green Lantern as a police procedural in the style of a weekly TV show then, I was borrowing the format and translating it into a science fiction context, rather than attempting to make any meaningful comment about the real life nature of policing on planet Earth which, as is the case with so much human activity tends to exemplify what happens when stupidity, brutality and prejudice are given free license and dangerous weaponry.
Nor was I using the opportunity to comment on the way cop shows romanticize or fetishize law enforcement. I was trying to use cop show tropes to demonstrate what might be the same and what was very, very different about regular policemen compared to Green Lanterns.
Our ‘re-imagining’ of police procedural began with the Guardians of the Universe, the council of blue-skinned immortals overseeing the activities of the Green Lantern Corps. In the past, the Guardians had often been portrayed as geriatric, out of touch, bureaucratic or authoritarian but Liam and I chose to take a different track and to portray them as wise sci-fi monks with an ancient profound understanding of how the universe really works.
Our Guardians are supremely attuned masters born of an unimaginably ancient race of sages. The ‘laws’ they administer correspond to the Hindu concept of Dharma or the Chinese ‘Tao’, ‘the Way’ or ‘Road’ of Zen.
It takes Olympian suspension of disbelief to imagine an authority that is entirely benign, selfless and still effective - such a chimera does not exist on our planet except in our stories – but the attempt to put aside the constraints of the human condition and actually think about how a cosmic law and order enforcement agency might function without falling prey to the problems of earthly policing can be, if nothing else, instructive and gave us our context for the Green Lantern Corps.
Jordan’s twisty character bio saw him begin life as a glamorous test pilot before deciding to chuck it all in and sell insurance. The insurance gig lasted only until Jordan decided that the wandering life of a toy salesman was the natural next step.
Jordan’s writer, my hero John Broome, gave Hal the soul of the Beat Generation, imprinting a rootless, searching-for-America restlessness that became the foundation for various takes, including our examination of the character. Considering Hal Jordan in the round, it was easy for Liam and I to emphasize his Beat nature and amplify his cosmic Kerouac, Dharma Bum dimensions!
To call the Green Lanterns ‘cops’ is simply to translate into comprehensible terms what they really are which is some combination of knight errant/sheriff/Beat cop/area manager and more…
There is always another story to be told using these characters, of course, one that more closely comments on or reflects events in the real world but that wasn’t our story in this case and the general OTT extravagance of our approach would, I suspect, have been more inclined to trivialize serious contemporary issues.
Thankfully, my job no longer depends on pondering these and other such imponderables on a daily basis!
As peers and admirers alike stood in line to congratulate Hal Jordan on his achievements, he quietly slipped away in a blaze of emerald into the shadows of space without any great fanfare and so too I made my exit into the aether, the either and the other.
Liam switched to illustrating Batman: Reptilian from Garth Ennis scripts, while writing and drawing his own spectacular graphic novel series Starhenge, (the first remarkable volume The Dragon and the Boar will be available from Image Comics on July 6 - if you liked where Liam was going in the latter issues of The Green Lantern, this is the fabulous flowering of those experiments – Arthurian Celtic Futurism barely covers its scope).
As for Hal Jordan, he flashed that wry grin, thumbed another ride and took to the Road once more, passing out of our stewardship as he’d passed in turn through the hands of John Broome, Denny O’Neill and Geoff Johns among many others. Forever young, self-assured and iron-willed, he lives on, reinterpreted through the personal filters of future creative teams for as long as his IP delivers on the balance sheet!
Reading through it all again for this retrospective, I’m proud of our work on The Green Lantern and look back on it fondly. I think the whole thing – including Season 1, the Annual, Blackstars and Season 2 – hangs together as a tight and complete portrait of a complex, contradictory veteran character who’s seen and done it all.
Despite the intrusion of doubt and loss, the entire enterprise was driven by a spirit of relaxed imaginative play and a desire on the parts of Liam and I to goad one another to new heights of invention.
My own work on The Green Lantern Season 2 – especially the somewhat scrappy experiments on my part in the final two issues - encouraged me to go deeper into those seeming flaws and mistakes in search of inspiration and new energy, which then gave rise to the Xanaduum project with its focus on fragmentation, collage, compressed information, charged symbolic imagery and textual overload.
Season 2’s nimble response to bad times and painful feelings, its willingness to adapt and try different things, its privileging of art over commerce showed me where to go next with my comics.
Liam and I had creative freedom and a joyful working relationship on a book where anything could happen and very often did, and the result, we hope, is a thematically tight collection of interlocking short stories that add up to a timeless portrayal of Hal Jordan as we saw him after his decades of character development.
Although my last extended run on a monthly superhero comic sometimes felt like one of Jordan’s test flights – a full throttle take-off and climb to altitude, wing flex, pulling Gs, busting through harsh turbulence up there on the edge of the sky, followed by a steep white-knuckle landing that called for a bit of improvisation and imagination to bring the bird home – in the end, The Green Lantern worked thanks to the absolute trust Liam and I had in one another’s divine madness!
Muttonbirds - Green Lantern