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Dennis O'Neil & Neal Adams: The Green Lantern/Green Arrow Collection

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"I been readin' about you… How you work for the blue skins, and how on a planet someplace you helped out the orange skins, and you done considerable for the purple skins! Only there's skins you never bother with… the black skins! I want to know how come?! Answer me that, Mr. Green Lantern!" With those lines, writer Dennis O'Neil helped usher in a new era of social relevance for mainstream comics in the '70s, an era that would ultimately prove short-lived, but with far-reaching effects. Brought in to revamp the flagging Green Lantern title, as they had previously done with Batman, O'Neil and artist Neal Adams grounded the hero in real-life grit and paired him with expert archer Green Arrow, reimagined as a born-again hippie do-gooder. O'Neil and Adams' issues are now collected in The Green Lantern/Green Arrow Collection, an attractively packaged and reprinted hardcover edition. O'Neil's stories mixed subtly subversive touches with what now look like painfully obvious messages of social consciousness, forcing Green Lantern to question authority and adhere to the spirit, rather than the letter, of justice while encountering such contemporary ills as slumlords, oppressed Native Americans, and environmental destruction—and, for good measure, the occasional psychic child or evil alien. Adams' artwork lent the series an artful believability closer to police sketchwork than the primary color schemes of most comics of the time. Though much of the O'Neil/Adams run now borders on quaint, it doesn't take a tremendous leap to see how groundbreaking it was at the time. A two-part story in which Green Arrow's ward Speedy becomes a heroin addict (maybe the nickname led him to it?) is remarkable not just for portraying drug users sympathetically, but for portraying them at all. A sequence in which the two heroes flip out after accidentally sniffing heroin borders on kitsch—particularly when it leads Green Lantern's ring to produce a menacing green monster—but the good intentions remain apparent. DC canceled the series after little more than a year, leaving O'Neil to continue along a similar path with Batman, whose various titles he oversees today. But by the time of GL/GA's cancellation, the genie had left the bottle; those looking for the end of comics' mythic age need look no further. In a few years, Superman would send Lois Lane into the ghetto disguised as a black woman for a better look at how the other half lives, and the incursion of real-world grit into comics had nowhere to go but onward. Was it good for comics? By the '80s, the tortured soap-opera-isms remained, though with virtually none of the social commentary. But whatever its influence, Green Lantern/Green Arrow remains a fascinating time capsule from an era in which more than a few people believed that comics might help change the world.