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Politics In Comic Books
Green Lantern/Green Arrow
What do you think about politically driven comic books?
Politics and superhero comics go way back. Even before the US entered World War II, Timely (now Marvel) Comics depicted Captain America punching out Adolf Hitler on the cover of Captain America Comics #1. Superman and Batman did their part to support the Allies during the second World War as well. And, for the most part, these were things that all the readers could cheer for. The stories inside generally had very little to do with the war. Superman couldn't fly over to Germany and take Hitler out because, 1.) when the story is over Hitler would still be there in real life and 2.) it would have been very disrespectful to the honest effort being made by our men and women in uniform who were in country at the time, trying to stomp out the very real evil that existed in German and Japan at the time. This was actually explored a little bit in the first Captain America movie when Steve Rogers (Captain America) was in Germany putting on his USO show, which was so popular and made him a household name stateside, was met with very little enthusiasm, and more than a little resentment, when he tried to perform for our men on the front lines. And for the first quarter century or so of comics, this was about how politics was handled. Then the 60s happened.
In the late 1960s, the hippie movement was blowing up and many social liberals began getting jobs writing comic books. At the forefront of this new wave of comic book writers was Dennis O'Neil, considered by many to have been the father of the modern, Dark Knight version of Batman. O'Neil also injected a lot of liberal commentary into his comics. He was the one that first introduced the idea of Green Arrow being a liberal activist, which has become so much a part of his character. And it was a good development for that character because it gave Green Arrow a personality that he never had before. Pre-Dennis O'Neil, Green Arrow was little more than a Batman knock-off, with his Arrow-Car, Arrow-Cave and even his own kid sidekick, Speedy. O'Neil made Green Arrow a character of his own, and it is a character that endures even today. But for all the good that Dennis O'Neil did with Batman and Green Arrow, there were a lot of missteps that he injecting his personal politics into his comics has caused.
One of, for me, the most offensive lines in comics at that time happened in Green Lantern #76. This was the first story in what became known as Green Lantern/Green Arrow, and it cemented on of comics most beloved partnerships into the lexicon. The emerald archer and the cosmic ring bearer have been BFFs ever since then, even when the men wearing the masks have changed throughout the years. But one of the first things Dennis O'Neil tried to say in that first issue, I think, fell very flat of making any sense at all, and as I said, was very offensive to the intelligence of the characters as well as the readership. I'm getting very tired of the racial narrative of the left, but that's in 2014. Back in the late 1960s, this was the height of the Civil Rights movement, and racism was way more rampant back then and it was only recently becoming de-institutionalized. I don't think there is anyone that will disagree with that. But Mr. O'Neil demonstrated his ignorance in much the same way that liberals today still do. You see, it is apparent from just one line in this story that Dennis O'Neil suffers from white guilt, and as such, he expects everyone else to suffer from it as well.
In the page in question, Green Lantern is being chastised by Green Arrow, who feels that GL is too busy chasing aliens and playing galactic policeman (which is his job, by the way) to care about the "little guy" back on Earth. While they are having this discourse, they are approached by an aged black man who asks GL, pretty matter-of-factly, that while he's busy working for the blue skins, and doing stuff for the purple skins on some distant planet, why hasn't he done anything for the "black skins." Here's why I find this offensive: where did this man live the last time Green Lantern saved the entire world from Sinestro or some alien attack? Does he (or Dennis O'Neil, for that matter) believe Green Lantern saved the Earth because old, rich white men lived here? Preposterous! He saves the world because HUMANS live here. Is this man asking that Green Lantern give him special treatment because of the color of his skin? I don't see stories about GL patrolling white neighborhoods and preventing people in the Hollywood Hills from having their mansions broken into by wayward thugs. That isn't his job. It's Green Arrow's job, so why is he chastising GL for not doing it instead of getting off of his butt and doing it himself? And what exactly does this elderly black man expect superheroes to do for him? Pay his rent or his light bill? Now, the two emerald warriors do go on in the issue to take down a pretty despicable slumlord, which is good. They should be doing things like that. But they shouldn't just be doing it in black neighborhoods because Mr. O'Neil seems to think that white people should feel guilty for the atrocities committed against the black people of the past. And we have treated them atrociously. Make no mistake about that. But we don't fix that by giving them special treatment, we fix it by treating them equally, because we are all human beings and we all deserve the same respect we would ask others to give to us. And that means when Green Lantern and the Justice League save the Earth from Darkseid, the black people as well as the white people and the Britons and the Russians and the Somalis need to say thank you. Because they didn't just save the rich, white Americans, they saved the world.
There are plenty of other examples of political comics going wrong, especially those written by Dennis O'Neil. He almost ruined Wonder Woman and Lois Lane by trying to turn them into femenist man-haters, and he will even admit that those were missteps. But this Green Lantern/Green Arrow story has always been a thorn in my side. It's just insulting to the characters and the readers. What were some of the things that you felt went right or were some missteps when writers tried to inject their own personal politics into comic book characters or stories? Let us know!