My Misspent Youth — Green Lantern by Denny O’Neil and Joe Staton

I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.

When I went all in on superhero comics, I immediately set my allegiance with Marvel comics. I eventually saw the benefit of allowing myself to spread my reading between the two major publishers regaling youth with the exploits of costumed do-gooders, but for many years I had only the occasional stray DC Comics offering, usually coming to my by some indiscernible hand-me-down chain. Of those tattered publications, the one that had a story I couldn’t quite shake, that I kept returning to read again, was an issue of Green Lantern written by Denny O’Neil and drawn by Joe Staton. Entitled “Battleground: Oa!,” the story had the sweep of space opera, which was markedly different from the comparable down-to-earth tales I favored from Marvel. That distinction was a major part of its appeal. Although I couldn’t quite identify it at the time, the Green Lantern comic appealed to me because they suggested how much bigger these imaginative epics could get.

Oa is the homeworld of the Guardians of the Universe, the blue-skinned alien race that parcels out emerald power rings to worthy recruits across the galaxy. At the start of the issue, they are being held captive by the villainous Weaponers, a crew bent on domination. Our hero, Hal Jordan, who serves as planet Earth’s Green Lantern, is jailed alongside the Guardians. The lot of them ironically contained within the glowing power source that all Green Lanterns draw from. The Guardians know the only hope is to call upon the legion of Green Lanterns, and they telepathically explain to Hal how to send out the distress call.

“Very, very dangerous” is their not-especially-reassuring reply. They also make it clear that the situation has crossed into the realm of desperate measures. Hal manages to send out the mental beacon, and his fellow Green Lanterns are soon rushing in little an intergalactic calvary. Unfortunately for our men and women in green, having some basic fidelity with the color palette is all that’s required to mount a defense against these ring bearers. Only in a Green Lantern comic is a despicable being’s call to “Prepare the yellow vortex!” a sign that things are about to get dodgy for the good guys.

In general, this battlefield among the stars is a tough test for the Green Lantern Corps. In a manner that feels at odds with what I usually expected from DC stories, there are several major casualties. The first Green Lantern who arrives is immediately killed. There’s not a drop of alien blood to be seen in Staton’s panels, but the comic makes it very clear that several Green Lanterns fall in the lengthy skirmish. It ultimately requires the assistance of Sinestro, usually the arch enemy of Green Lantern, to begin to shift fortunes. Without his intervention, Hal likely would never have gotten the opportunity to spirit up one of his patented big, glowing, green mallets.

By the relatively direct language in O’Neil’s writing and the tendency to clearly spell out what was happening — even when what was happening was soft-sci-fi loopiness — I could tell Green Lantern was directed at a younger reader than the Marvel mags I loved so. (That I was indeed a quite young reader at the time didn’t matter. I flattered myself that Marvel’s verbosity was more my bailiwick.) And yet there was a commitment to treating the material seriously. O’Neil didn’t pander. He told an outer space war story that a kid could grasp. That included the nerve to end of a particular sober moment. I wrote above that this story stuck with me. That’s basically true. More specifically, though, I was haunted by the simple power of the final panels.

Previous entries in this series (and there are a LOT of them) can be found by clicking on the “My Misspent Youth” tag.

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