Green Arrow: Year One – The Deluxe Edition

By Andy Diggle & Jock & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-77950-114-1 (HB)

Green Arrow is one of DC’s Golden All-Stars. He’s been a fixture of the company’s landscape – in many instances for no discernible reason – more or less continually since his 1941 debut in More Fun Comics #73. Many Happy Returns, Emerald Archer!

In those distant heady days, origins weren’t as important as image and storytelling, so creators Mort Weisinger and George Papp never bothered. The first inkling of formative motivations came in More Fun Comics # 89 (March 1943) wherein Joe Samachson & Cliff Young detailed ‘The Birth of the Battling Bowman’ (and a tip of the feathered hat to Scott McCullar for bringing the tale to my belated attention). With the secret revealed, it was promptly ignored for years, leaving later workmen France Herron, Jack Kirby and his wife Roz to fill in the blanks again with ‘The Green Arrow’s First Case’ at the start of the Silver Age superhero revival. It appeared in Adventure Comics #256, coved-dated January 1959.

This time the story stuck, becoming – with numerous tweakings over successive years – the basis of the modern Amazing Archer on page and screen.

The most impressive recalibration came in 2006 courtesy of Brit-packers Andy Diggle & Jock (better unknown to all as Mark Simpson, ably assisted by colourist David Baron and letterer Jared K. Fletcher) which massaged with spectacular visuals and jaded, post-modern cynicism the well-worn tale of a wealthy wastrel who finds purpose after being marooned on a desert island. The result was a comfortably modern, unsettlingly bleak, dark and violent contemporary classic.

Adrenaline junkie and trust-fund millionaire Oliver Queen makes a public fool of himself at a society bash and is compelled by shame to join his bodyguard Hackett on a boating trip to the Pacific. On board, Ollie discovers that the man he regularly trusts his life with has stolen all his money and intends to kill him now to get away with it…

When the murder-attempt goes awry, Queen somehow washes up on a desolate volcanic island. His early days of privation and thirst only worsen when he discovers the place is a criminal venture: a vast drug factory complete with slave workers and a sadistic crime queen called China White.

After being wounded by gun-toting thugs, a drug-slave secretly ministers to his wounds, and once Ollie learns Hackett is also involved in these atrocities, long submerged feelings and ethics resurface. He built a bow to catch fish, but now that he has a new reason to live, can he use it to stay alive and save others too?

This modern retelling is sharp and edgy as you’d expect from such extremely talented creators: rocket paced, potently suspenseful and peppered with spectacular action set pieces. This modern spin actually benefits and improves the character of Queen/Green Arrow, elevating a fan favourite to the first rank of Super Heroes. An excellent addition to the legend of one of DC’s most enduring, endearing characters.

This deluxe hardback edition (available in digital formats) also offers an Introduction by Brian K. Vaughn, and a Survival Guide section which includes Script excerpts and a wealth of preliminary artwork.
© 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Aquaman volume 1

By Robert Bernstein, Jack Miller, George Kashdan, Bob Haney, Ramona Fradon, Nick Cardy, Jim Mooney & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1223-0 (TPB)

Big year for comics anniversaries, and we can’t let this guy go unmentioned. Sadly, most of his back catalogue is still unavailable unless you track down aging compendia like this bulky gem. Although unavailable in digital formats, one of the greatest advantages of these monochrome tomes is the opportunity they provide whilst chronologically collecting a character’s adventures to include crossovers and guest spots from other titles. When the star is as long-lived and incredibly peripatetic as DC’s King of the Seven Seas that’s an awful lot of extra appearances for a fan to find…

One of the few superheroes to survive the collapse at the end of the Golden Age was a rather nondescript and generally bland looking chap who solved maritime crimes, rescuing fish and people from sub-sea disaster. Aquaman was created by Mort Weisinger and Paul Norris in the wake of Timely Comics’ Sub-Mariner: debuting in More Fun Comics #73 (November 1941) with fellow born survivor Green Arrow.

Strictly a second stringer for most of his career, Aquaman nevertheless continued on far beyond many stronger features. He was primarily illustrated by Norris, Louis Cazeneuve and Charles Paris, until young Ramona Fradon took over the art chores in 1954, by which time the Sea King had settled into a regular back-up slot in Adventure Comics. Fradon was to draw every single adventure until 1960 and indelibly stamp the hero with her unique blend of charm and sleek competence.

In 1956, Showcase #4 finally rekindled the public’s imagination and zest for costumed crime-fighters. As well as re-imagining Golden Age stalwarts, DC undertook to update and remake its hoary survivors. Records are incomplete, sadly, so often we don’t know who wrote what, but the initial revamp ‘How Aquaman Got His Powers!’ (Adventure Comics #260, May 1959) was the work of Robert Bernstein who wrote the majority of the subsea capers at this time.

From that tale on the hero had a new origin – offspring of a lighthouse keeper and a refugee from the undersea city of Atlantis – and eventually all the trappings of the modern superhero followed: Themed hideout, sidekick and even super-villains! Moreover, greater attention was paid to continuity and the concept of a shared universe.

The 49 adventures gathered here encompass that early period of renewal, taking him from wandering back-up bit-player to stardom and his own comic book. Writers from those years included the aforementioned Bernstein, Jack Miller, George Kashdan, Bob Haney and perhaps other DC regulars, but the art was always by Fradon, whose captivatingly clean economical line always made the pictures something special.

The initial stories are pretty undemanding fare, ranging from simply charming to simply bewildering examples of all-ages action to rank alongside the best the company offered at the time. ‘Aquaman Duels the Animal Master’, ‘The Undersea Hospital’, ‘The Great Ocean Election’, ‘Aquaman and his Sea-Police’ and ‘The Secret of the Super Safe’ kept the hero in soggy isolation, but via an early crossover, Aquaman made his full entrance into the DC universe.

DC supported the popular 1950s Adventures of Superman TV show with a number of successful spin-off titles. Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #12 (October 1959) featured ‘The Mermaid of Metropolis’ wherein the plucky news hen (and isn’t that a term that’s outlived its sell-by date?) suffers crippling injuries in a scuba-diving accident. On hand to save her is Aquaman and a surgeon who turns her into a mermaid so she can live a worthwhile life without legs beneath the waves.

I know, I know: but just accepting the adage “Simpler Times” often helps me at times like this. In all seriousness, this silly story – by Bernstein – is a key moment in the development of one-universe continuity. The fact that it’s drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger – one of the most accomplished artists ever to work in American comics – makes it even more adorable, for all its silliness; and you can’t make me change my mind…

‘Aquaman Meets Aquagirl’ (Adventure Comics #266, by Bernstein & Fradon) gave a little more information about lost Atlantis whilst testing the waters (sorry!) for a possible sidekick. Remember, in those days the Sea King spent most of his time expositorially dialoguing with an octopus so with Adventure Comic #267 the editors tried a novel experiment.

At this time the title starred Superboy and featured two back-up features. Aquaman tale ‘The Manhunt on Land’ saw villainous Shark Norton trade territories with Green Arrow’s foe The Wizard and, in a rare crossover – both parts of which were written by Bernstein – the two heroes worked the same case with Aquaman fighting on dry land whilst the Emerald Archer pursued his enemy beneath the waves in his own strip ‘The Underwater Archers’, illustrated by the great Lee Elias.

In the next issue ‘The Adventures of Aquaboy!’ we got a look at the early years of the Sea King, and following that permanent sidekick Aqualad was introduced in ‘The Kid from Atlantis!’ In quick succession came ‘The Menace of Aqualad’, ‘The Second Deluge!’, ‘The Human Flying Fish!’, ‘Around the World in 80 Hours’, ‘Aqua-Queen’ and intriguing mystery ‘The Interplanetary Mission’.

Originally seen in Adventure Comics #275 – a few months after the debut of the Justice League of America in The Brave and the Bold #28 – this story concerned a plot to secure Kryptonite from the sea-floor. Although Superman did not appear, nets of shared continuity were being gradually interwoven. Heroes would no longer work in assured solitude. It was back to business as usual for ‘The Aqua-thief of the Seven Seas’, ‘The Underwater Olympics’, ‘Aqualad Goes to School’, ‘Silly Sailors of the Sea’ and ‘The Lost Ocean’: a typical mixed bag which served to set the scene for a really Big Event.

In Showcase #30 (January-February 1961) Jack Miller & Fradon expanded the origin of Aquaman in full-length epic ‘The Creatures from Atlantis’, wherein extra-dimensional creatures conquer the sunken civilisation. From this point on fanciful whimsy would be downplayed in favour of character-driven drama. The saga was followed by tense thriller ‘One Hour to Doom’ in Adventure Comics #282. Inked by Charles Paris, this was Fradon’s last art job for nearly a year and a half, whilst a second Showcase issue by Miller saw the first Aquaman job for comics veteran Nick Cardy who would visually make Aquaman his own for the next half-decade.

‘The Sea Beasts from One Million B.C.’ (Showcase #31, March/April 1961) is a wild romp of fabulous creatures, dotty scientists and evolution rays presaging a new path for the King of the Seas. Jim Mooney drew ‘The Charge of Aquaman’s Sea Soldiers’ for Adventure #284, before the series shifted to a new home, replaced by Tales of the Bizarro World.

Before that, however, there was another Showcase spectacular. Miller & Cardy pulled out all the stops for ‘The Creature King of the Sea’: an action-packed duel against a monstrous villain with murder in mind. The hind end of Detective Comics #293 (July 1961) then welcomed Aquaman & Aqualad, who took only six pages to solve the mystery of ‘The Sensational Sea Scoops’. All this time Cardy – who had initially altered his drawing style to mirror Fradon – had been gradually reverting to his natural, humanistic mode. By the time of fourth Showcase outing, ‘Prisoners of the Aqua-Planet’ (#33) appeared, the Sea King was a rugged, burly He-Man, and his world – no matter how fantastic – had an added edge of realism to it.

Detective #294’s ‘The Fantastic Fish that Defeated Aquaman’ coincided with a guest-spot in a second Superman Family title. Drawn by Al Plastino, ‘The Monster that Loved Aqua-Jimmy’ (Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #55) is another child of its time that hasn’t weathered well, but the big kid in me still regards it fondly and I hope that others will afford it the same courtesy. Meanwhile, back at Detective Comics #295, our heroes defied ‘The Curse of the Sea Hermit’ (scripted by George Kashdan), before next month exposed ‘The Mystery of Demon Island!

To accompany the more realistic art, and perhaps in honour of their new home, the stories became – briefly – less fantasy oriented. ‘Aqualad, Stand-In for a Star’ (Miller & Batman stalwart Sheldon Moldoff) was a standard hero-in-Hollywood crime caper, after which Cardy drew both ‘The Secret Sentry of the Sea’ (#298) and ‘Aquaman’s Secret Teacher’ (#299): a brace of yarns encompassing security duty at a secret international treaty signing and the Sea scions teaching an old blowhard a lesson in tall-tale telling…

The next month saw another milestone. After two decades of continuous adventuring the Sea King finally got a comic book of his own. Aquaman #1 (January/February 1962) was a 25-page fantasy thriller introducing one of the most controversial supporting characters in comics lore. Pixie-like Water-Sprite Quisp was part of a strange trend for cute imps and elves who attached themselves to far too many heroes of the time, but his contributions in ‘The Invasion of the Fire-Trolls’ and succeeding issues were numerous and obviously carefully calculated and considered…

‘The Mystery of the Undersea Safari!’ (Detective Comics #300) was the last Aqua caper before he moved again, this time to World’s Finest Comics. However, prior to that residency commencing, his own second issue appeared. ‘Captain Sykes’ Deadly Missions’ is a lovely-looking thriller with fabulous monsters and a flamboyant pirate blackmailing the Sea King into retrieving deadly mystical artefacts.

The World’s Finest run started in fine style with #125’s ‘Aquaman’s Super-Sidekick’ (Miller & Cardy) and Aquaman #3 provided full-length thrills and more exposure for the lost city in ‘The Aquaman from Atlantis’: a tale of traitors and time-travel. WF #126 then saw the heroes foil thieves with ‘Aquaman’s Super Sea Circus’ as – for better or worse – Quisp returned in #4’s ‘Menace of the Alien Island’.

A more welcome returnee was Ramona Fradon who took over the World’s Finest strip with #127’s ‘Aquaman’s Finny Commandos’ before the next issue saw ‘The Trial of Aquaman’ close in his favour just in time to endure ‘The Haunted Sea’ in his own fifth issue, and encountering ‘The Menace of the Alien Fish’ in WF #129.

This bumper volume concludes with Aquaman #6 and ‘Too Many Quisps’: a case of painfully mistaken identity and a sentiment difficult to disagree with… but still beautifully illustrated by Mr. Cardy.

DC has a long and comforting history of gentle, innocuous yarn-spinning with quality artwork. Fradon’s Aquaman is one of the most neglected runs of such universally-accessible material, and it’s a sheer pleasure to discover just how readable they still are. When the opportunity arises to compare her astounding work to the best of a stellar talent like as Nick Cardy, this book becomes a true fan’s must-have item and even more so when the stories are still suitable for kids of all ages. Why not treat the entire family to a seaside spectacle of timelessly inviting adventure?
© 1959-1962, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters

By Mike Grell, with Lurene Haynes & Julia Lacquement (DC Comics)
ISBN: ‎ 978-1-4012-3862-9 (TPB)

It’s another big year for major comic book anniversaries. Here’s one now…

First appearing in More Fun Comics #73 in 1941, Green Arrow is one of the very few superheroes to be continuously published (more or less) since the Golden Age of American comic books. On first look, the combination of Batman and Robin Hood seems to have very little going for him, but he has always managed to keep himself in vogue and in sight.

Probably the most telling of his many, many makeovers came in 1987, when – hot on the heels of The Dark Knight Returns – Mike Grell was given the green light to make the Emerald Archer the star of DC’s second Prestige Format Mini-Series.

Grell was considered a major creator at the time, having practically saved the company with his Edgar Rice Burroughs inspired fantasy series Warlord. He had also been the illustrator of many of GA’s most recent tales (in Green Lantern/Green Arrow, Action Comics and elsewhere, and was a firm fan-favourite after well-received runs on Legion of Super-Heroes, Aquaman, Phantom Stranger, Batman and others. During the early 1980s, he had worked on the prestigious Tarzan newspaper strip and created successful genre series such as Starslayer and Jon Sable, Freelance for pioneering indie publisher First Comics.

By the middle of the grim ‘n’ gritty Eighties, it was certainly time for an overhaul of the Battling Bowman. Exploding arrows yes, maybe even net or rope arrows, but arrows with boxing gloves on them just don’t work (trust me – I know this from experience!). Moreover, for his 1960s makeover, the hero had evolved into a tempestuous, social reformer using his gifts to battle for the little guy. Now, in a new era of corrupt government, drug cartels and serial killers, this emerald survivor adapted again and thrived once more.

Following a trenchant and outrageously entertaining Introduction from Mike Gold, the action unfolds, setting out a new path that would quickly lead to the hero becoming a major player at long last and, ultimately, a TV sensation.

The plot was brilliantly logical and controversial, concerning the superhero’s mid-life crisis. Weary and aging, Oliver Queen relocates to Seattle, struggling to come to terms with the fact that since his former sidekick, Speedy, is now a dad, he is technically a grandfather. With long-time ‘significant other’ Dinah Lance/Black Canary, he begins to simplify his life, but the drive to fight injustice hasn’t dimmed for either of them.

As she goes undercover to stamp out a pervasive drug ring, the Arrow becomes embroiled in the hunt for a psycho-killer dubbed “The Seattle Slasher”. As he tracks a prolific beast slaughtering prostitutes, he becomes aware of a second – cross-country – slayer who has been murdering people with arrows – but only after the “Robin-Hood Killer” murders a grave-digger in his new city…

Eschewing his gaudy costume and gimmicks, Queen reinvents himself as an urban hunter to stop these unglamorous hidden monsters, and stumbles into a complex mystery leading back to World War II which involves the Yakuza, the CIA, corporate America and even Viet Nam war secrets that would eventually change the course of the Archer’s life…

The intricate plot effortlessly weaves around the destabilized champion and his love, while introducing new character Shado: exploring and echoing themes of vengeance and family in a subtle blending of three stories that are in fact one, and still delivers a shocking punch even now, through its disturbingly explicit examination of torture. These issues won the miniseries much undeserved negative press when first published. Although possibly tame to modern eyes this was eye-opening stuff at the time, which is a shame, since it diverted attention from the real achievement. That was narrative quality and sophistication, as this tale is arguably the first truly mature superhero yarn in the DCU.

Grell here produced a gripping, mystery adventure that pushes all the right buttons, conveyed by artwork – in collaboration with Lurene Haynes & Julia Lacquement – that was and remains a revelation. Beautifully demure yet edgily sharp when required, these painterly visuals and watercolour tones perfectly complement a terse, sparse script, and compelling ride any thriller writer would be proud of, and – controversy notwithstanding – this comicbook retooling quickly spawned a monthly series that evolved into one of the best reads of the 1990s.

It all starts here, and so should you.
© 1987, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

World’s Finest: Guardians of Earth

By Denny O’Neil, Mike Friedrich, Steve Skeates, Len Wein, Elliot S! Maggin, Dick Dillin, Joe Giella & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0178-3 (HB)

For decades Superman and Batman were quintessential superhero partners: the “World’s Finest team”. The affable stalwarts were best buddies as well as mutually respectful colleagues, and their pairing made sound financial sense since DC’s top heroes could happily cross-pollinate and cross-sell their combined readerships. This most inevitable of Paladin Pairings first occurred on the Superman radio show in the early 1940s, whilst in comics the pair had only briefly met whilst on a Justice Society of America adventure in All-Star Comics #36 (August-September 1947) – and perhaps even there they missed each other in the gaudy hubbub…

Of course, they had shared covers on World’s Finest Comics from the outset, but never crossed paths inside; sticking firmly to their specified solo adventures within. In fact, they never shared an official comic book case. However, once that Rubicon was crossed in Superman #76 (May 1952), the partnership solidified thanks to spiralling costs and dwindling page-counts. As 52-page titles dwindled to the 32, WFC permanently sealed the new deal and the industry never looked back…

The Cape and Cowl Crusaders were partners and allies from #71 onwards (July 1954), working together until the title was cancelled in the build-up to Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1986. All that is, except for a brief period when the Man of Steel was paired with other stars of DC’s firmament.

This mighty compelling compendium re-presents those cataclysmic collaborations from the turbulent 1970’s (World’s Finest Comics #198-214, spanning November 1970 to October- November 1972), as radical shifts in America’s tastes and cultural landscape fostered a hunger for more mature, socially relevant stories. That drive even affected the Dark Knight and Action Ace – so much so, in fact, that their partnership was temporarily suspended: paused so Superman could guest-star with other DC icons.

After three years, another bold experiment reunited them as parents of The Super-Sons before the regular relationship was revitalised and renewed. With the World’s Finest Heroes fully restored, their bizarrely apt pre-eminence endured another lengthy run until the title’s demise.

Without preamble the action kicks off here by returning to a thorny topic which had bedevilled fans for years…

The comic book experience is littered with eternal, unanswerable questions. The most common and most passionately asked always begin “who would win if…” or “who’s strongest/smartest/fastest…”

Here, crafted by Denny O’Neil, Dick Dillin & Joe Giella, ‘Race to Save the Universe!’ and the concluding ‘Race to Save Time’ (WFC #198-199; November and December 1970) upped the stakes on two previous competitions as the high-speed heroes are conscripted by the Guardians of the Universe to circumnavigate the entire cosmos at their greatest velocities to reverse the rampage of the mysterious Anachronids: faster-than-light creatures whose pell-mell course throughout the galaxies is actually unwinding time itself and unravelling the fabric of creation. Little does anybody suspect that Superman’s oldest enemies were behind the entire appalling scheme…

Anniversary issue #200 was crafted by regular Robin, the Teen Wonder scripter Mike Friedrich, with Dillin & Giella doing the drawing – as they did for this entire book. ‘Prisoners of the Immortal World!’ (February 1971) focusses on college-student brothers on opposite sides of the Vietnam War debate abducted along with youth icon Robin and “Mr. Establishment” Superman to a distant planet where undying vampiric aliens wage eternal war on each other.

Green Lantern pops in for #201, contesting ‘A Prize of Peril!’ (O’Neil, Dillin & Giella) which would grant either Emerald Gladiator or Man of Steel sole jurisdiction of Earth’s skies. Sadly, all is not as it seems…

Batman returned for a limited engagement in #202 as the O’Neil-penned ‘Vengeance of the Tomb-Thing!’ sees archaeologists unearth something horrific in Egypt, just before Superman seemingly goes mad and attacks his greatest friends and allies. A superb ecological scare-story, this tale changed the Man of Tomorrow’s life for decades to come…

Current Aquaman writer Steve Skeates waded in for #203 as ‘Who’s Minding the Earth?’ pits Metropolis Marvel and King of Atlantis against parthenogenetic mutant dolphins attempting to terraform the polluted world into something more welcoming to their kind…

More ecological terror underpins O’Neil’s bleak warning in #204 as ‘Journey to the End of Hope!’ finds powerless former Wonder Woman Diana Prince and Superman summoned to a barren lifeless Earth. Here a dying computer warns that a butterfly effect will inevitably lead to this future unless they prevent a certain person dying in a college campus riot. Only time will tell if they succeed as the clash does indeed cost a life despite all their efforts…

Racism, sexism and the oppression of reactionary conservative values then get a well-deserved pasting in #205’s ‘The Computer that Captured a Town!’

Here Skeates deviously layers a Teen Titans tale with a wealth of eye-opening commentary after the team are locked into a mid-Victorian parochial paradise enforced by a dead man and alien tech, until the Man of Tomorrow wades in to set things straight…

WFC #206 (October-November 1971) was an all-reprint giant, represented here by its rousing Dick Giordano cover, after which #207 again reunites the true World’s Finest team as Batman returns to solve a murder mystery in the making and save the Man of Tomorrow in ‘A Matter of Light and Death!’, after which Earth-2 sorcerer hero Doctor Fate aids the Action Ace in thwarting the extraterrestrial ‘Peril of the Planet-Smashers!’ – both courtesy of Len Wein, Dillin & Giella.

Supernatural menaces were increasingly popular as a global horror boom reshaped readers’ tastes, informing (#209) Friedrich’s ‘Meet the Tempter – and Die!’ wherein Hawkman and Superman are seduced into evil by an eternal demon, whilst Elliot S! Maggin’s ‘World of Faceless Slaves!’ in #210 catapults the Caped Kryptonian and Green Arrow into a primordial magic kingdom to liberate the vassals of diabolical sorcerer supreme Effron

The Darknight Detective returns again in #211, as O’Neil, Dillin & Giella devise a global manhunt for a ‘Fugitive from the Stars!’ Their target is a political refugee whose arrest is demanded by warriors who are a physical match for Superman, but happily, not Batman’s intellectual equals…

‘…And So My World Begins!’ in #212 is O’Neil’s thematic sequel to Justice League of America #71, which saw Mars devasted by race war and its survivors flee to the stars in search of a new homeworld. Here, Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz seeks Superman’s aid to rescue the last survivors from life-leeching mechanoids, unaware that a traitor has sold them all out to predatory aliens…

Maggin drills deep into super science for #213 as ‘Peril in a Very Small Place!’ finds the greater universe endangered by a microscopic and insatiable Genesis molecule, demanding a fantastic voyage into the Microverse inside a phone line for the Atom and Superman before this compilation concludes with wild west weirdness from by Skeates, O’Neil, Dillin & Giella. Here Golden Age troubleshooter The Vigilante delivers the silver bullet necessary to save Superman when ‘A Beast Stalks the Badlands!’

With covers by Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, Nick Cardy and Curt Swan & Murphy Anderson, this book is a gloriously uncomplicated treasure trove of adventures which still have the power and punch to enthral even today’s jaded seen it-all audiences.

The contents of this titanic team-up tome are a veritable feast of witty, pretty thrillers packing as much punch and wonder now as they always have. Utterly entrancing adventure for fans of all ages!
© 1970, 1971, 1972, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Justice League of America: A Celebration of 60 Years

By Gardner Fox, Dennis O’Neil, Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Brad Meltzer, Geoff Johns, Scott Snyder, Mike Sekowsky, Dick Dillin, George Pérez, Pat Broderick, Carmine Infantino, Jim Aparo, Dick Giordano, Gil Kane, Brian Bolland, Joe Kubert, Chuck Patton, Kevin Maguire, Howard Porter, Ed Benes, Jim Lee, Jim Cheung & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9951-4 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Comic Perfection and the ideal Stocking Stuffer… 10/10

A keystone of the DC Universe, the Justice League of America is the reason we have comics industry today. This stunning compilation – part of a series reintroducing and exploiting the comics pedigree of veteran DC icons and concepts – is available in hardback and digital formats and offers a too-brief but astoundingly enticing sequence of snapshots detailing how the World’s Greatest Superheroes came to be, and be and be again…

Collecting material from The Brave and the Bold #28; Justice League of America #29, 30, 77, 140, 144, 200; Justice League of America Annual #2, Justice League #1, 43 and Justice League of America volume 4 #1 (covering July 1960- August 2018), the landmarks selected are all preceded by a brief critical analysis of the significant stages in their development, beginning with Part I – 1960-1964: The Happy Harbor Years

After the actual invention of the comicbook superhero – by which we mean the launch of Superman in June 1938 – the most significant event in the industry’s progress was the combination of individual sales-points into a group. Thus, what seems blindingly obvious to everyone with the benefit of four-colour hindsight was irrefutably proven – a number of popular characters could multiply readership by combining forces. Plus of course, a whole bunch of superheroes is a lot cooler than just one – or even one and a sidekick…

The Justice Society of America is rightly revered as a true landmark in the development of comic books, and – when Julius Schwartz began reviving and revitalising the nigh-defunct superhero genre in 1956 – the true key moment came a few years later with the inevitable teaming of his freshly reconfigured mystery men…

When wedded to the relatively unchanged big guns who had weathered the first fall of the Superhero at the beginning of the 1950s, the result was a new, modern, Space-Age version of the JSA and the birth of a new mythology.

That moment that changed everything for us baby-boomers came with issue #28 of The Brave and the Bold, a classical adventure title that had recently become a try-out magazine like Showcase.

Just in time for Christmas 1959, ads began running…

“Just Imagine! The mightiest heroes of our time… have banded together as the Justice League of America to stamp out the forces of evil wherever and whenever they appear!”

When the Justice League of America was launched in issue #28 of The Brave and the Bold (March 1960) it cemented the growth and validity of the genre, triggering an explosion of new characters at every company producing comics in America and even spread to the rest of the world as the 1960s progressed.

Crafted by Gardner Fox & Mike Sekowsky with inking from Bernard Sachs, Joe Giella & Murphy Anderson, ‘Starro the Conqueror!’ saw Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and J’onn J’onzz – Manhunter from Mars unite to defeat a marauding alien starfish whilst Superman and Batman stood by (in those naive days editors feared that their top characters could be “over-exposed” and consequently lose popularity). The team also picked up an average American kid as a mascot. “Typical teenager” Snapper Carr would prove a focus of fan controversy for decades to come…

The series went from strength to strength and triumph to triumph, peaking early with a classic revival as the team met the Justice Society of America, now sensibly relegated to an alternate Earth rather callously designated Earth-2.

From issues #29-30, ‘Crisis on Earth-Three’ and ‘The Most Dangerous Earth of All!’ reprise the first groundbreaking team-up of the JLA and JSA, after the metahuman marvels of yet another alternate Earth discover the secret of multiversal travel. Unfortunately, Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick and Power Ring are ruthless villains from a world without heroes who see the costumed crusaders of the JLA and JSA as living practice-dummies to sharpen their evil skills upon…

With this cracking 2-part thriller a tradition of annual summer team-ups was solidly entrenched in heroic lore, giving fans endless joys for years to come and making the approaching end of school holidays less gloomy than they could have been.

Although a monster hit riding a global wave of popularity for all things masked and caped, the JLA suffered like all superhero features when tastes changed as the decade closed. Like all the survivors, the team adapted and changed…

A potted history of that interregnum, emphasising the contributions of iconoclastic scripters Denny O’Neil and Steve Englehart follows in Part II – 1969-1977: The Satellite Years after which groundbreaking issue #77 exposes a new kind of America.

America was a bubbling cauldron of social turmoil and experimentation at this time, with established beliefs constantly challenged and many previously cosy comics features were using their pages to confront issues of race, equality, and ecological decline. O’Neil and his young colleagues began to utterly redefine superhero strips with their relevancy-driven stories; transforming complacent establishment masked boy-scouts into uncertain, questioning champions and strident explorers of the revolution.

Here, the team’s mascot suddenly grows up and demands to be taken seriously. The drama commences with the heroes’ collective confidence and worldview shattered as enigmatic political populist Joe Dough suborns and compromises their beloved teen sidekick in ‘Snapper Carr… Super-Traitor!’ Crafted by O’Neil, Dick Dillin & Joe Giella, the coming-of age-yarn changed the comfy, cosy superhero game forever…

By March 1977, the team was back in traditional territory but still shaking up the readership. Issue #140, by Steve Englehart, Dick Dillin & Frank McLaughlin questioned heroism itself in ‘No Man Escapes the Manhunter!’ as the venerable Guardians of the Universe and their beloved Green Lanterns are accused of planetary extinctions – until the JLA expose a hidden ancient foe determined to destroy galactic civilisation…

Sadly, all you get here is the opening chapter, but it’s worth tracking down the entire saga elsewhere…

Closely following is issue #144 ‘The Origin of the Justice League – Minus One!’ (July 1977) by the same team. Here Green Arrow does a little checking and discovers the team have been lying about how and why they first got together: a smart and hugely enjoyable conspiracy thriller guest-starring every late 1950’s star in the DC firmament…

Change is a comic book constant and events described in the essay fill in crucial context before Part III: The Detroit Years 1982-1987 precis’ the first Beginning of the End for the World’s Greatest Superheroes, starting with blockbuster anniversary giant #200.

Here scripter Gerry Conway and artists George Pérez, Pat Broderick, Carmine Infantino, Jim Aparo, Dick Giordano, Gil Kane, Brian Bolland, Joe Kubert, Brett Breeding, Terry Austin & Frank Giacoia reprise, re-evaluate and relive the alien Appellax invasion that brought the heroes together in ‘A League Divided’: a blockbuster saga involving every past member…

Big changes began in Justice League of America Annual #2 1984. ‘The End of the Justice League!’ by Conway, Chuck Patton & Dave Hunt saw the team disband following a too-close-to-call alien attack, leading Aquaman to recruit a squad of full-time agents rather than part-time champions. Relocating to street level in Detroit, his old guard veterans Elongated Man, Martian Manhunter, Zatanna and Vixen also began training a next generation of costumed crusaders…

The biggest innovation came after a couple of publishing events recreated the universe and a new kind of team was instituted. In 1986 DC’s editorial leaders felt their 50-year continuity was stopping them winning new readers. The solution was a colossal braided-mega series to streamline, redefine and even add new characters to the mix.

The worlds-shattering, reality-altering bombast of Crisis on Infinite Earths was such a spectacular commercial success, those movers-&-shakers felt more than justified in revamping a number of their hoariest icons for their next fifty years of publishing. As well as Superman, Flash, and Wonder Woman, the moribund and unhappy Justice League of Americawas earmarked for a radical revision. Editor Andy Helfer assembled plotter Keith Giffen, scripter J.M. DeMatteis and untried penciller Kevin Maguire to produce an utterly new approach to the superhero monolith: they played them for laughs…

The series launched as Justice League with a May 1987 cover-date before retitling itself as Justice League International with #7. The new team was formed from the ashes of the old on the basis of events comprising follow-up crossover-event Legends. The gathering comprised a roster of relative second-stringers as America’s newest champions – Black Canary, Blue Beetle, Captain Marvel (now Shazam!), Dr. Fate, Green Lantern Guy Gardner and Mr. Miraclewith heavyweights Batman and Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz as nominal straight-men.

The first story introduced charismatic filthy-rich manipulator Maxwell Lord – who used wealth and influence to recreate the neophyte and rather shambolic team who started their march to glory by fighting and defeating a bunch of rather inept terrorist bombers in initial outing ‘Born Again’ (Giffen, DeMatteis Maguire & Terry Austin).

An eventful decade passed and the team were rebooted again, as described in Part IV: The Watchtower Years 1986-2003

After the Silver Age’s greatest team-book died a slow, painful, wasting death, not once but twice, DC were taking no chances with their next revival of the Justice League of America, tapping Big Ideas wünderkind Grant Morrison to reconstruct the group and the franchise.

The result was a gleaming paradigm of comic book perfection which again started magnificently before gradually losing the attention and favour of its originally rabid fan-base. Apparently, we’re a really fickle and shallow bunch, us comics fans…

That idea that really clicked? Put everybody’s favourite Big-Name superheroes back in the team.

It worked, but only because as well as name recognition and star quantity, there was a huge input of creative quality. The stories were smart, fast-paced, compelling, challengingly large-scale and drawn with effervescent vitality. With JLA you could see all the work undertaken to make it the best it could be on every page.

The drama begins in ‘Them!’ (January 1997 by Morrison, Howard Porter & John Dell) as a family of alien super-beings called the Hyperclan dramatically land on Earth and declare that they’re going to usher in a new Golden Age – at least by their standards.

Almost simultaneously the current iteration of the Justice League is attacked in their orbital satellite and only narrowly escape utter destruction. Tragically, one of their number does not survive…

Hyperclan’s very public promises to make Earth a paradise and attendant charm offensive does not impress veteran heroes Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter and Aquaman or even the latest incarnations of Flash and Green Lantern.

These legends see their methods and careers questioned and are not impressed by seeming miracles or summary executions of super-criminals in the streets. They know there’s something not right about the overbearing sanctimonious newcomers…

The hits kept coming: a strung of superb adventures that enticed the readership. One of the very best and often cited as one of the best Batman stories ever created, multi-part paean to paranoia Tower of Babel saw immortal eco-terrorist Ra’s Al Ghul’s latest plan to winnow Earth’s human population to manageable levels well underway. Again, only the first instalment is here but you know where else to look…

Issue #43 declared ‘Survival of the Fittest’ (by Mark Waid, Porter & Drew Geraci), as a series of perfectly planned pre-emptive strikes cripple Martian Manhunter, Flash, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Plastic Man and Green Lantern whilst Batman is taken out of the game by the simple expedient of stealing his parents’ remains from their graves…

Comics stars increasingly became multi-media franchises at the beginning of this century, and Part V: The Crisis Years 2006-2011 acknowledges the change as the printed form started a constant stream of ever-escalating blockbuster scenarios to compete. A perfect example is Justice League of America volume 4 #1 (October 2006) as Brad Meltzer, Ed Benes & Sandra Hope examine ‘Life’.

Thanks to the events Infinite Crisis, One Year Later and 52, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman convene as a star-chamber to reform the Justice League of America as a force for good, only to discover that events have escaped them and a new team has already congealed (I really can’t think of a better term) to defeat the imminent menace of Professor Ivo, Felix Faust and the lethal android Amazo, plus a fearsome mystery mastermind and a few classic villains as well.

The tale is told through the heartbreaking personal tragedy of the Red Tornado, who achieves his deepest desire only to have it torn from him: an enjoyable if complex drama that hides its true purpose – that of repositioning the company’s core team in an expanded DCU which encompasses all media, tacitly accepting influences from TV shows, movies and animated cartoons underpinning everything – even the Super Friends and Justice League Unlimited-inspired HQ.

In 2011, DC took a draconian leap: restarting their entire line and continuity with a “New 52”. Justice League volume 2 #1 (November) led from the front as ‘Justice League Part One’ by biggest guns Geoff Johns, Jim Lee & Scott Williams introduced a number of newly debuted heroes acrimoniously pulled together to fight an alien invader called Darkseid

This celebration concludes with Part VI: The Media Era 1986-2018 and Justice League volume 4 #1 (August 2018) wherein Scott Snyder, Jim Cheung & Mark Morales kick off a colossal, years-long company-wide event. ‘The Totality Part 1’ sees the universe fall apart, its creator escape eternal imprisonment and the JLA hard-pressed to prevent the final triumph of Evil as represented by Lex Luthor and his Legion of Doom

Adding immeasurably to the wonderment is a superb gallery of covers by Sekowsky, Anderson, Rich Buckler, Dillin & McLaughlin, Pérez, Patton & Giordano, Maguire & Austin, Porter, Dell & Geraci, Ed & Mariah Benes, Lee & Williams and Jim Cheung.

The Justice League of America has a long, proud history of shaking things up and providing dynamic provocative, drama delivered with quality artwork. This compelling assortment is staggeringly entertaining and a monolithic testament to the inestimable value of a strong core concept matured over decades of innovation.
© 1960, 1964, 1969, 1977, 1982, 1984, 1987, 1997, 2000, 2006, 2005, 2011, 2018, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Legends of the Dark Knight: Jim Aparo volume 3

By Jim Aparo with Bob Haney, Mike W. Barr, Len Wein, Gerry Conway, Denny O’Neil, Cary Burkett, Bill Kelly, Paul Kupperberg, Martin Pasko, Michael Fleisher, Alan Brennert, John Byrne & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7161-9 (HB)

After periods as a historical adventure and try-out vehicle, The Brave and the Bold proceeded to win critical as well as commercial acclaim through team-ups. Pairing regular writer Bob Haney with the best artists available, a succession of DC stars joined forces before the comicbook hit its winning formula.

The winning format – featuring mass-media superstar Batman with other rotating, luminaries of the DC universe in complete stand-alone stories – paid big dividends, especially after the feature finally found a permanent artist to follow a variety of illustrators including Ramona Fradon, Neal Adams, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Irv Novick, Nick Cardy, Bob Brown and others…

At this time editors favoured regular if not permanent creative teams, feeling that a sense of visual and even narrative continuity would avoid confusion amongst younger readers and the slickly versatile Jim Aparo was a perfect match for a drawing brief that could encompass the entire DC pantheon and all of time, space and relative dimensions in any single season…

James N. Aparo (August 24, 1932 – July 19, 2005) was a true quiet giant of comicbooks. Self-taught, he grew up in New Britain Connecticut, and after failing to join EC Comics whilst in his 20s, slipped easily into advertising, newspaper and fashion illustration. Even after finally becoming a comics artist he assiduously maintained his links with his first career.

For most of his career Aparo was a triple-threat, pencilling, inking and lettering his pages. In 1963 he began drawing Ralph Kanna’s newspaper strip Stern Wheeler, and three years later began working on a wide range of features for go-getting visionary editor Dick Giordano at Charlton Comics. Aparo especially shone on the minor company’s licensed big gun The Phantom

When Giordano was lured away to National/DC in 1968 he brought his top stars (primarily Steve Ditko, Steve Skeates and Aparo) with him. Aparo began his lengthy, life-long association with DC illustrating and reinvigorating moribund title Aquaman – although he continued with The Phantom until his duties increased with the addition of numerous short stories for the monolith’s burgeoning horror anthologies and revived 1950s supernatural hero The Phantom Stranger

Aparo went on to become an award-winning mainstay of DC’s artistic arsenal, with stellar runs on The Spectre, The Outsiders and Green Arrow but his star was always linked to Batman’s…

A broadening of Aparo’s brief is celebrated in this third sturdy hardback and/or eBook compilation, which gathers the prestigious lead stories from Detective Comics #444-446, 448, 468-470, 480, 492-499, 501, 502, 508, 509, Batman Family #17, The Brave and the Bold #152, 154-178, 180-182 and Untold Legend of the Batman #1-3 including all pertinent covers – cumulatively spanning January 1975 through January 1982. This fabulous celebration opens sans preamble with the first three chapters of an extended saga from Detective Comics. Written by Len Wein, the ‘Bat-Murderer!’ serial launched in #444, with the “World’s Greatest Detective” perfectly framed for the killing of his occasional lover Talia Al Ghul. Hunted in his own city, Batman’s dilemma worsens in #445 as a ‘Break-in at the Big House!’ draws him deeper into the deadly conspiracy, after incarcerated Ra’s Al Ghul apparently kills himself to further bury the Dark Knight…

Although a desperate fugitive, the Gotham Guardian finds time to solve actual murders and capture another obsessive crazy in #446’s ‘Slaughter in Silver!’ featuring the debut of certified whacko Sterling Silversmith

The Bat-Murderer epic was completed by other artists and is therefore not included here (you can see it in other collections such as Tales of the Batman: Len Wein) but Aparo did limn the last cover – #448 – as well as Detective’s 468, 469 and 470, before his next interior drama surfaced in Batman Family #17 (April/May 1978). Written by Gerry Conway, ‘Scars!’ pits Batman and Robin against a deranged monster literally de-facing beautiful women, before the cover for Detective #480 and B&B #152 refocus attention on Aparo’s team-up triumphs.

Aparo and scripter Bob Haney resumed their epic run of enticing costumed with The Brave and the Bold #152 (July 1979) wherein ‘Death Has a Golden Grab!’ found the Atom helping the Caped Crimecrusher stop a deadly bullion theft. The cover of B&B #153 and 154 follow, as does the contents of the latter, with Element Man Metamorpho treading ‘The Pathway of Doom…’ to save old girlfriend Sapphire Stagg and help Batman disconnect a middle eastern smuggling pipeline…

Mike W. Barr joins Haney in scripting #155’s ‘Fugitive from Two Worlds!’ as Green Lantern clashes with the Dark knight over jurisdiction rights regarding an earth-shaking alien criminal as well as (after the cover to #156) 157’s ‘Time – My Dark Destiny!’ with alternate futurian Kamandi lost in present day Earth and under the sway of ruthless criminals…

Gerry Conway steps in to script a brief reunion with Wonder Woman in #158’s ‘Yesterday Never Dies!’ as memory-warping foe Déjà vu attacks international diplomats whilst Denny O’Neil teams Batman with arch enemy Ra’s Al Ghul to prevent environmental disaster in #159’s ‘The Crystal Armageddon’ Denny O’Neil and Cary Burkett makes ‘The Brimstone Connection’ in #160, working with Supergirl to free kidnap victims and thwart a scheme by devious Colonel Sulphur to steal experimental rocket fuel…

The contents for the next two The Brave and the Bold’s (plus covers for #161-164) depict Conway’s ‘A Tale of Two Heroes!’ – as Batman and star-faring Adam Strange trade locales and murder mysteries and Bill Kelley’s ‘Operation: Time Bomb!’ (with Earth-2’s Batman joining Sgt. Rock to battle Nazi advances and crazed soldier the Iron Major in war-torn France) before a landmark miniseries took up Aparo’s full attention.

Researched and scripted by Len Wein, Untold Legend of the Batman #1-3 originally ran from July-September 1980 and ambitiously rationalised the hero’s entire career into one seamless whole. Interspersed with the covers to Detective #492-494 and B&B #165-167, it begins with ‘In the Beginning’ pencilled by John Byrne with Aparo inking before ‘With Friends Like These…’ and ‘The Man Behind the Mask!’ – with Aparo on full art duties – solves a bizarre mystery that had the Caped Crusader frantically re-examining his past…

Cary Burkett returns in Brave and the Bold #168 (November 1980) to liberate ‘Shackles of the Mind!’ as Green Arrow and Batman unite to save a reformed criminal and skilled escapologist from a maniac’s mind control.

The cover of Detective #496 precedes B&B #169‘Angel of Mercy, Angel of Death!’ (by Barr and cover-dated December 1980) wherein sorceress Zatanna seeks the Dark Knight’s aid for a faith healer who is not what she seems and is followed by the cover for Detective #497 the thrilling cover/contents of B&B #170 wherein Burkett concludes his exceptional thriller series Nemesis with Batman helping the face-shifting superspy to determine ‘If Justice is Blind!’

Covers for Detective #498-499, 501-502 and B&B #171-173 bracket April 1981’s Brave and the Bold #173 and 174 as Conway explains ‘One of Us is not One of Us’ when the almighty Guardians of the Universe recruit Earth’s Dark-knight Detective to determine who is the impostor in their august midst before calling in trusted GL Hal Jordan ‘To Trap an Immortal’

For B&B #175 Paul Kupperbergteams ace reporter Lois Lane with Batman to battle killer cyborg Metallo and determine what drives The Heart of the Monster’, before Martin Pasko steps in for #176, reuniting the Gotham Gangbuster with the terrifying Swamp Thing in convoluted tale of murder and frame-ups ‘The Delta Connection!’

For #177, Barr returns to pose a complex and twisted mystery involving Batman and Elongated Man in ‘The Hangman Club Murders!’, after which rising star Alan Brennert comes aboard for #178. ‘Paperchase’ finds Batman and eerie avenger The Creeper tracking a monstrous shapeshifting killer fuelled by rage and indignation and driving the city into madness.

Michael Fleischer arrived for #180 (November 1980) and took the series into unknown realms as ‘The Scepter of the Dragon God!’ sees Chinese wizard Wa’an-Zen steal enough mystic artefacts to conquer Earth and destroy The Spectre. Foolishly, the mystic has gravely underestimated the skill and bravery of merely mortal Batman…

Bracketed by covers for Detective #508 and 509, B&B #181 features Brennert & Aparo paying tribute to the societally-convulsive Sixties as ‘Time, See What’s Become of Me…’ revisits teen trouble-shooters Hawk and the Dove who have gotten older but no wiser in their passionate defence of the philosophies of robust interventionist action and devout pacifism. When increasingly unstable Hawk accidentally causes the death of a drug-dealers’ son, it triggers an intervention by Batman and a painful reconciliation between the long-divided brothers…

This volume concludes with another moving Brennert bonanza as B&B #182’s ‘Interlude on Earth-2’ finds “our” Batman inexplicably drawn to that parallel world in the aftermath of the death of its own Dark Knight. Confronted by and greatly discomforting grieving Dick GraysonRobin of Earth-2 – and original Batwoman Kathy Kane, the Batman must nevertheless help them defeat resurgent maniac foe Hugo Strange before he can return to his rightful place and time…

These tales are just as fresh and welcoming today, their themes and premises are just as immediate now as then and Jim Aparo’s magnificent art is still as compelling and engrossing as it always was. This is a Bat-book literally everybody can enjoy.

Here are some of the best and most entertainingly varied yarns from a period of magnificent creativity in the American comics industry. Aimed at a general readership, gloriously free of heavy, cloying continuity baggage and brought to stirring action-packed life by one of the greatest artists in the business, this is a Batman for all seasons and reasons with the added bonus of some of the most fabulous and engaging co-stars a fan could imagine. How can anybody resist? More importantly: why should you…?
© 1974, 1975, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1982, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Green Arrow

By EdFrance” Herron, Jack Miller, Dave Wood, Robert Bernstein, Jerry Coleman, Bob Haney, Gardner Fox, John Broome, George Kashdan, Bill Finger, Jack Kirby, George Papp, Lee Elias, George Roussos, Mike Sekowsky, Neal Adams & various (DC Comics)

ISBN: 978-1-4012-0785-4 (TPB)

DC Comics have, over their decades of existence, published an incalculable volume of absolutely wonderful comics tales in a variety of genres and addressing a wide variety of age ranges and tastes.

Sadly, unlike their rival Marvel, these days they seem content to let most of it languish beyond the reach of fans – both devout and vintage or fresh potential new adherents. As a new decade – possibly or last – unfolds I’ll be continuing my one-person campaign to remind them and inform you that – like The Truth – the Fiction is also Out There… even if only still available in older collections…

Green Arrow is one of DC’s Golden All-Stars: a fixture of the company’s landscape (in many instances for no discernible reason) more or less continually since his debut in 1941. He was originally created by Mort Weisinger and George Papp for More Fun Comics # 73 as an attempt to expand the company’s superhero portfolio, and in the early years proved quite successful. The bowman and boy partner Speedy were two of the few costumed heroes to survive the end of the Golden Age.

His blatantly opportunistic recombination of Batman and Robin Hood seemed to have very little going for itself but the Emerald Archer has somehow always managed to keep himself in vogue. He and sidekick Speedy were part of the 1940s Seven Soldiers of Victory, carried on adventuring in the back of other heroes’ comicbooks and joined the Justice League of America at the peak of their fame before evolving into the spokes-hero of the anti-establishment generation during the 1960’s “Relevancy Comics” trend, courtesy of Denny O’Neil & Neal Adams.

Under Mike Grell’s stewardship and thanks to breakthrough miniseries Green Arrow: the Longbow Hunters (DC’s second Prestige Format Limited Series after the groundbreaking success of Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns), the battling bowman at last became a headliner: an urban predator dealing with corporate thugs and serial killers rather than costumed goof-balls.

After his long career and a few venue changes, by the late1950s and Julie Schwartz’s revivification of the Superhero genre, the Emerald Archer was a solid second feature in both Adventure and World’s Finest Comics. As part of the wave of retcons, reworkings and spruce-ups the company administered to all their remaining costumed old soldiers, he enjoyed a fresh start beginning in the summer of 1958…

This splendidly eclectic collection of the peripatetic champion’s perennial second-string exploits gathers pertinent material from Adventure Comics #250-269, World’s Finest Comics #95-140, Justice League of America #4 and his guest-shots in Brave and the Bold #50, 71 and 85; covering the period July 1958 to September 1969.

Part of that revival happily coincided with the first return to National Comics of Jack Kirby after the collapse of Mainline: the comics company he and partner Joe Simon had created as part of the Crestwood/Prize publishing combine (which foundered when the industry was hit by the Comics Code censorship controversy and a sales downturn that hit many creators very, very hard)…

Delivered in stark and  stunning monochrome, the on-target tales start with ‘The Green Arrows of the World’ (by scripter Dave Wood and Jack, with wife Roz Kirby inking) wherein heroic masked archers from many nations attended a conference in Star City, unaware that a fugitive criminal is lurking within their midst, whilst that same month George Papp illustrated the anonymously scripted ‘Green Arrow vs Red Dart’ in World’s Finest Comics #95: a dashing tale of the Ace Archer’s potential criminal counterpart and his inevitable downfall.

Adventure #251 took a welcome turn to fantastic science fiction as Ed Herron & the Kirbys resolved ‘The Case of the Super-Arrows’ wherein GA and Speedy take possession of high-tech trick shafts from 3000AD, whilst WFC #96 (writer unknown) reveals ‘Five Clues to Danger’ – a classic kidnap mystery made even more impressive by Kirby’s lean, raw illustration.

A rare continued case spanned Adventure’s #252 and 253 as Wood, Jack & Roz expose ‘The Mystery of the Giant Arrows’, before the Amazing Archers temporarily become ‘Prisoners of Dimension Zero’ – a spectacular riot of giant aliens and incredible exotic otherworlds. Back to Earth, it’s followed in WF #97 with a grand old-school crime-caper in Herron’s ‘The Mystery of the Mechanical Octopus’.

Kirby was going from strength to strength and Adventure #254’s ‘The Green Arrow’s Last Stand’, written by Wood, is a particularly fine example as the Bold Bowmen crash into a hidden valley where Sioux braves thrive unchanged since the time of Custer, before the next issue sees them battle a battalion of Japanese soldiers who refused to surrender their island bunker in ‘The War That Never Ended’ (also scripted by Wood).

World’s Finest #98 almost ended the heroes’ careers in Herron’s ‘The Unmasked Archers’, wherein a practical joke causes the pair to expose themselves to public scrutiny and deadly danger…

In those heady days, origins weren’t as important as imaginative situations, storytelling and just plain getting on with it, so co-creators Weisinger & Papp never bothered to provide one, leaving later workmen Herron, Jack & Roz (in Kirby’s penultimate tale before devoting all his energies to his fabulous but doomed newspaper strip Sky Masters) to fill in the blanks with ‘The Green Arrow’s First Case’ just as the Silver Age superhero revival hit its stride in Adventure Comics#256 (January 1959).

Here we learned how wealthy wastrel Oliver Queen was cast away on a deserted island and learned to use a hand-made bow simply to survive. When a band of scurvy mutineers fetched up on his desolate shores Queen used his newfound skills to defeat them and returned to civilisation with a new career and secret purpose…

Adventure #257’s ‘The Arrows That Failed’ finds a criminal mastermind tampering with the archer’s equipment in a low-key but intriguing yarn by an unknown scripter, most memorable for being the first artistic outing for Golden Age great Lee Elias. He would become the character’s sole illustrator until its demise following Kirby’s spectacular swan-song in WF #99. ‘Crimes Under Glass’ was written by Robert Bernstein and found GA and Speedy battling cunning criminals with a canny clutch of optical armaments.

Adventure Comics #258 (March 1959) offered a rare cover appearance for the Emerald Archer since he guest-starred in lead feature ‘Superboy Meets the Young Green Arrow’ (by Jerry Coleman & Papp), after which inspiring boyhood on-the-job training the mature bowman then schooled a lost patrol of soldiers in toxophily (that’s posh talk for archery, folks), desert survival and crime-busting in ‘The Arrow Platoon’: another anonymously scripted yarn limned by Elias.

The same month in WF #100 the Emerald Avenger faced light-hearted lampoonery and sinister larcenists in ‘The Case of the Green Error Clown’ by Herron and the now-firmly entrenched Elias, whilst Adventure #259 showed that ‘The Green Arrow’s Mystery Pupil’ had ulterior and sinister motives for his studies whilst #260 revealed ‘Green Arrow’s New Partner’ to be only a passing worry for Speedy in a clever drama by Bernstein.

World’s Finest #101 introduced a crook who bought or stole outlandish ideas for malevolent purposes in ‘The Battle of the Useless Inventions’ (Herron), whereas Adventure #261 and the uncredited fable ‘The Curse of the Wizard’s Arrow!’employs bad luck and spurious sorcery to test the Archers’ ingenuity.

WF #102 provided Herron’s snazzy crime-caper ‘The Case of the Camouflage King!’ whilst in Adventure #262 ‘The World’s Worst Archer!’ (Bernstein) finally gives Boy Bowman Speedy an origin of his own; detailing just how close part-Native American boy Roy Harper came to not being adopted by Oliver Queen. Next month #263 boasted ‘Have Arrow – Will Travel’ (Bernstein) showing the independent lad selling his skills to buy a boat… a solid lesson in enterprise, thrift and good parenting, if not reference-checking….

World’s Finest #103 offered Bob Haney mystery-thriller ‘Challenge of the Phantom Bandit’ after which an anonymous scripter finally bows to the obvious and dispatches the Emerald Archer to feudal Sherwood Forest in ‘The Green Arrow Robin Hood’ (Adventure #264, September 1959) before WF #104 sees GA undercover on a modern Native American Reservation in Herron & Elias’ ‘Alias Chief Magic Bow’.

‘The Amateur Arrows!’ (by Bernstein from Adventure #265) has the Battling Bowmen act as Summer Camp tutors on a perilously perfidious Dude Ranch for kids, #266 again sees their trick-shot kit malfunction in a clever conundrum with a surprise mystery guest-star in Bernstein’s ‘The Case of the Vanished Arrows!’ and WF #105 introduces deceptively deadly toy-making terror ‘The Mighty Mr. Miniature’ (Herron).

In Adventure Comics #267 the editors tried another novel experiment in closer continuity. At this time the title starred Superboy with two back-up features following. The first of these starred equally perennial B-list survivor Aquaman who in ‘The Manhunt on Land’ (not included) discovers villainous Shark Norton has traded territories with Green Arrow’s foe The Wizard. In a rare crossover, both parts of which were written by Bernstein, the heroes worked the same case with Aquaman fighting on dry land whilst the Emerald Archer pursued his enemy beneath the waves in his impressively innovative strip ‘The Underwater Archers’

‘The Crimes of the Pneumatic Man’ (Herron, WF #106) debuts a rather daft balloon-based bandit, whilst Adventure#268 covers another time-trip in ‘The Green Arrow in King Arthur’s Court!’ by Bernstein. He also scripted February 1960’s #269 wherein ‘The Comic Book Archer!’ sees the pair aid a cartoonist in need of inspiration and salvation.

That was the hero’s last appearance in Adventure. From then on the Amazing Archers’ only home was World’s Finest Comics, beginning a lengthy and enthralling run from Herron & Elias spanning #107-112 and  systematically defeating ‘The Menace of the Mole Men’ – who weren’t what they seemed – and ‘The Creature from the Crater’ – which also wasn’t – before becoming ‘Prisoners of the Giant Bubble’: a clever crime caper loaded with action.

WF #110 introduced photonic pillage ‘The Sinister Spectrum Man’ with a far more memorable menace challenging the heroes in ‘The Crimes of the Clock King’ before a lucky felon stumbles upon their hidden lair and becomes ‘The Spy in the Arrow-Cave’: a tale which starts weakly but ends on a powerfully poignant high note…

In WF #113 the painfully parochial and patronising tone of the times seeped into the saga of ‘The Amazing Miss Arrowette’ (scripted by Wood) as a hopeful, ambitious Ladies’ Archery competitor tries her very best to become Green Arrow’s main helpmeet. Moreover, in a series famed for absurd gimmick shafts, nothing ever came close to surpassing the Hair-Pin, Needle-and-Thread, Powder-Puff or Lotion Arrows in Bonnie King’s fetching and stylish little quiver…

The times were changing in other aspects however, and fantasy elements were again popular at the end of 1960, as evidenced by Herron’s teaser in WF #114. ‘Green Arrow’s Alien Ally’ neatly segued into ‘The Mighty Arrow Army’ as the Ace Archers battle a South American dictator and then encounter a sharp-shooting circus chimp in #116’s ‘The Ape Archer’.

A big jump to the majors occurred in Justice League of America #4 (April 1961) when Green Arrow is invited to join the world’s Greatest Super-Heroes just in time to save them all – and the Earth for good measure in Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky & Bernard Sachs’ epic sci fi extravaganza ‘Doom of the Star Diamond’.

The Emerald Bowman returned to quirkiness and mere crime-crushing in WF #117’s‘The Cartoon Archer’ (Wood & Elias) wherein a kidnapped cartoonist uses caricature as a deadly weapon and desperate plea for help…

World’s Finest #118 featured ‘The Return of Miss Arrowette’ (Wood): far less cringeworthy than her debut but still managing to make the Bow Babe both competent and imbecilic at the same time, before Herron penned ‘The Man with the Magic Bow’ in #119, with an actual sorcerous antique falling into the greedy hands of a career criminal, after which Oliver Queen and Roy Harper become victims of ‘The Deadly Trophy Hunt’ in #120 and need a little Arrow action to save the day and their secret identities.

Master scribe John Broome provides a tautly impressive tale of despair and redemption in #121 with ‘The Cop Who Lost his Nerve’ and WF #122 sees ‘The Booby-Trap Bandits’ (Haney) almost destroy our heroes in a tense suspense thriller, whilst Wood wrote one of his very best GA yarns in #123’s ‘The Man Who Foretold Disaster’.

Herron rose to the challenge in WF #124-125 with a brace of bold and grittily terse mini-epics beginning with breathtaking gang-busting yarn ‘The Case of the Crime Specialists’; following up with tense human drama ‘The Man Who Defied Death’ as a doting dad puts his life on the line to pay his son’s medical bills…

‘Dupe of the Decoy Bandits’ by Wood in #126 is another sharp game of cops-&-robbers and George Kashdan reveals the heart-warming identity of ‘Green Arrow’s Secret Partner’ in #127 after which Wood successfully tries his hand at human-scaled melodrama with a retiring cop proving himself ‘The Too-Old Hero’ in #128.

Oddly – perhaps typically – just as the quality of Green Arrow’s adventures steadily improved, his days as a solo star were finally ending. Herron scripted all but one of the remaining year’s World’s Finest exploits, beginning with #129’s robotic renegade ‘The Iron Archer’, after which an author unknown contributed ‘The Human Sharks’ as the heroes returned to battling crime beneath the seas.

A despondent boy is boosted out of a dire depression by joining his idols in #131’s ‘A Cure for Billy Jones’ whilst ‘The Green Arrow Dummy’ is an identity-saver and unexpected crook catcher in its own right.

Subterranean thugs accidentally invade and become ‘The Thing in the Arrowcave’ in #133, before ‘The Mystery of the Missing Inventors’ sees a final appearance and decent treatment of Arrowette, but the writing was on the wall. Green Arrow became an alternating feature and didn’t work again until WF #136 and the exotic mystery of ‘The Magician Boss of the Incas’ (September 1963).

A month later Brave and the Bold #50 saw the Ace Archer team-up in a book-length romp with the Martian Manhunter. ‘Wanted – the Capsule Master!’ pits the newly-minted Green Team in a furious foray against marauding extraterrestrial menace Vulkor; a fast-paced thriller by Haney & George Roussos followed by WF #138’s ‘The Secret Face of Funny-Arrow!’ wherein a formerly positive and good natured spoof-performer takes a sudden turn into darker and nastier “jokes” whilst World’s Finest #140 (March 1964) aptly presents ‘The Land of No Return’ by Bill Finger, with the Battling Bowmen falling into a time-locked limbo where heroes from history perpetually strive against deadly beasts and monsters…

The decades-long careers ended there and they became nothing more than bit-players in JLA and Teen Titans exploits until Brave and the Bold #71 (April-May 1967, by Haney and drawn by his Golden Age co-creator George Papp), wherein Green Arrow helps Batman survive ‘The Wrath of the Thunderbird!’: crushing a criminal entrepreneur determined to take over the wealth and resources of the Kijowa Indian Nation.

This volume ends with the first cathartic and thoroughly modern re-imagining of the character, paving the way for the rebellious, riotous, passionately socially-aware avenger of modern times.

Brave and the Bold #85 is arguably the best of an incredible run of team-ups in that title’s prestigious history and certainly the best yarn in this collection. ‘The Senator’s Been Shot!’ reunites Batman and Green Arrow in a superb multi-layered thriller of politics, corruption and cast-iron integrity, wherein Bruce Wayne becomes a stand-in for a law-maker and the Emerald Archer gets a radical make-over, making him a fiery liberal gadfly champion of the relevancy generation – and every one since.

Ranging from calamitously repetitive and formulaic – but in a very good and entertaining way – to moments of sublime wonder and excitement, this is genuine mixed bag of Fights ‘n’ Tights swashbuckling with something for everyone and certainly bound to annoy as much as delight. All ages superhero action that’s unmissable. Even if you won’t love it all you’ll hate yourself for missing this spot-on selection.
© 1958-1964, 1967, 1969, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Green Lantern: A Celebration of 75 Years

By Martin Nodell, Bill Finger, Alfred Bester, Robert Kanigher, John Broome, Gardner Fox, Dennis O’Neil, Steve Englehart, Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, Ron Marz, Judd Winick, Geoff Johns, Paul Reinman, Alex Toth, Gil Kane, Neal Adams, Mike Grell, Joe Staton, Kevin Maguire, Darryl Banks, Randy Green, Ethan Van Sciver, Darwyn Cooke, Doug Mahnke & various (DC Comics
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5819-1 (HB)

Now a cornerstone of the DC Universe the many heroes called Green Lantern have waxed and waned over the decades and now feels much more Concept than Character.

This stunning compilation – part of a dedicated series introducing and exploiting the comics pedigree of veteran DC icons and concepts – is available in hardback and digital formats and offers an all-too-brief but astoundingly enticing sequence of snapshots detailing how assorted Emerald Gladiators have battled evil and injustice whilst entertaining millions and generations.

Collecting material from All-American Comics #16, Comic Cavalcade #6, Green Lantern volume 1 #30, Showcase #22, Green Lantern volume 2 #7, 11, 16, 40, 59, 76, 87, 188, The Flash #237-238, 240, Justice League #1, Green Lantern volume 3 #50, 51, Green Lantern /Green Lantern #1, Green Lantern: Rebirth #1, Green Lantern Secret Files and Origins 2005, #1 and Green Lantern #0 (cumulatively covering July 1940 to November 2012), the groundbreaking appearances selected are all preceded by a brief critical analysis of the significant stages in his/their development, beginning with Part I: The Green Flame Ignites 1940-1950

The first Emerald Avenger debuted in the 16th issue (July 1940) of the company’s flagship title All-American Comics, just as superheroes started to take hold, supplanting newspaper strip reprints and stock genre characters in the still primarily-anthologised comicbooks.

Crafted by Bill Finger & Martin Nodell ‘Introducing Green Lantern’ reveals how ambitious young engineer Alan Scottonly survives the sabotage and destruction of a passenger-packed train due to the intervention of a battered old railway lantern. Bathed in its eerie emerald light, he is regaled by a mysterious green voice with the legend of how a meteor fell in ancient China and spoke to the people: predicting Death, Life and Power.

The star-stone’s viridian glow brought doom to the savant who reshaped it into a lamp, sanity to a madman centuries later and now promises incredible might to bring justice to the innocent and afflicted…

Instructing Scott to fashion a ring from its metal and draw a charge of power from the lantern every 24 hours, the ancient artefact urges the engineer to use his formidable willpower to end all evil: a mission Scott eagerly takes up by promptly crushing corrupt industrialist Dekker who callously caused wholesale death just to secure a lucrative rail contract.

The ring renders Scott immune to all minerals and metals, enabling him to fly and pass through solid objects but, as he battles Dekker’s thugs, the grim avenger painfully discovers that living – perhaps organic – materials such as wood or rubber can penetrate his jade defences and cause mortal harm…

The saboteurs punished, Scott resolves to carry on the fight and devises a “bizarre costume” to disguise his identity and strike fear and awe into wrongdoers…

The arcane avenger gained his own solo-starring title little more than a year after his premiere and also appeared in anthologies such as Comics Cavalcade, All Star Comics and others for just over a decade. From those hectic heydays (and specifically Comic Cavalcade #6, Spring 1944) ‘They Are Invincible’ sees the hero and his comedy sidekick Doiby Dickles tracking thieves in fog and slip into a metaphorical quandary as their writer Alfred Bester (but not & illustrator Paul Reinman) becomes a reality-warping part of the adventure…

Like most first-generation superheroes, the masked marvel faded away in the early1950s, having first suffered the humiliating fate of being edged out of his own strip and comicbook by his pet Streak the Wonder Dog

Green Lantern volume 1 #30, cover-dated February/March 1948 cover-featured ‘The Saga of Streak’ by Robert Kanigher & Alex Toth as a noble, valiant canine (some very important people call them “Daw-uhgs”) tracks his missing owner/companion to the big city only to be gunned down by criminals. Saved by Green Lantern, they jointly rescue US intelligence agent Captain Sara Dale from deranged Dr. Malgoro and the grateful spy asks him to look after Streak until she returns from her next assignment. Within two issues the mutt was the lead feature, proving beyond doubt that the readers were losing interest in masked mystery men… at least for the moment…

A potted history of that interregnum follows in Part II: The Emerald Crusader 1959-1969 before a flash of green light heralded a bold new venture. After their hugely successful revival and reworking of The Flash, DC (or National Comics as they were) were keen to build on the resurgent superhero trend. Showcase #22 hit the stands at the same time as the fourth issue of the new Flash comicbook – #108 – and once again the guiding lights were Editor Julie Schwartz and writer John Broome. Assigned as illustrator was action ace Gil Kane, generally inked by Joe Giella, and the issue reveals how a Space Age reconfiguration of the Golden-Age superhero with a magic ring replaced mysticism with super-science.

Hal Jordan is a young test pilot in California when an alien policeman crashes his spaceship on Earth. Mortally wounded, Abin Sur commands his ring – a device which can materialise thoughts – to seek out a replacement officer, honest and without fear.

Scanning the planet, it selects Jordan and brings him to the crash-site. The dying alien bequeaths his ring, lantern-shaped Battery of Power and his professional vocation to the astonished Earthman.

In six pages ‘S.O.S Green Lantern’ establishes characters, scenario and narrative thrust of a series that would increasingly become the spine of DC continuity, leaving room for another two adventures in that premiere issue. Unlike the debut of The Flash, the editors were now confident of their ground. The next two issues of Showcase carried the new hero into even greater exploits, and six months later Green Lantern #1 was released.

In this new iteration Emerald gladiators are a universal police force (Jordan’s “beat” is Space Sector 2814), and having shown us other GLs, Broome surpassed himself with ‘The Day 100,000 People Vanished!’ (Green Lantern #7, August 1961) bringing the Guardians of the Universe into the open to warn of their greatest error: a renegade Green Lantern named Sinestro who, in league with evil Qwardians from an antimatter universe, had become a threat to our entire reality. This tense shocker introduced one of the most charismatic and intriguing villains in the DCU

Readers were constantly clamouring for more on the alien Corps Jordan had joined and ‘The Strange Trial of Green Lantern’ (#11, March 1962) introduces another half-dozen or so simply to court-martial Hal for dereliction of duty in a saga of cataclysmic proportions, after which issue #16 of Green Lantern volume 2 (October 1962) takes Jordan’s romantic triangle with his boss Carol Ferris and his own masked alter ego to a new level as ‘The Secret Life of Star Sapphire!’ introduces the star-roving alien women of Zamaron.

Readers of contemporary comics will be aware of their awesome heritage but for the sake of this review and new readers let’s keep that to ourselves. These questing females select Carol as their new queen and give her a gem as versatile and formidable as a power ring, and a brainwash make-over too.

Programmed to destroy the man she loves, Star Sapphire would become another recurring foe, but one with a telling advantage.

As the DCU expanded, the past glories of its Golden Age were cunningly incorporated into the tapestry as another dimensional plane was discovered: a parallel universe where older superheroes existed. Alan Scott and his mystery-men comrades still thrived on the controversially named Earth-2.

Although getting in late to the Counterpart Collaborations game, the inevitable first teaming of Hal Jordan and Alan Scott as Green Lanterns is one of the best and arguably second-most important story of the entire era. ‘Secret Origin of the Guardians!’ by John Broome, Gil Kane & Sid Greene (Green Lantern #40, October 1965) introduces the renegade Guardian Krona, reveals the origin of the multiverse, shows how evil entered our universe and describes how and why the immortal Oans took up their self-appointed task of policing the cosmos. It also shows Gil Kane’s paramount ability to stage a superhero fight like no other. This pure comicbook perfection should be considered a prologue to the landmark Crisis on Infinite Earths

In Green Lantern volume 2 #59 (March 1968) Broome introduced ‘Earth’s Other Green Lantern!’ in a rip-roaring cosmic epic of what-might-have-been. When dying GL Abin Sur had ordered his ring to select a worthy successor Hal Jordan hadn’t been the only candidate, but the closest of two. What if the ring had chosen his alternative Guy Gardnerinstead…?

Following that portentous tragedy-in-the-making, changing times and tastes saw a radical diversion in the hero’s fortunes, as described in the essay and tales comprising Part III: In Brightest Day, In Blackest Night 1970-1985

In 1969, after nearly a decade of earthly crime-busting, interstellar intrigue and spectacular science fiction shenanigans, the Silver Age Green Lantern was swiftly becoming one of the earliest big-name casualties of the downturn in superhero sales. Editor Julie Schwartz knew something extraordinary was needed to save the series and the result was a bold experiment that created a fad for socially relevant, ecologically aware, more mature stories which spread throughout costumed hero comics that totally revolutionised the industry and nigh-radicalised the readers.

Tapping relatively youthful superstars-in-waiting Denny O’Neil & Neal Adams to produce the revolutionary fare, Schwartz watched in fascinated disbelief as 13 groundbreaking tales captured and encapsulated the tone of the times, garnering critical praise and awards within the industry and desperately valuable publicity from the real world outside. Sadly, the stories simultaneously registered such poor sales that the series was finally cancelled anyway, with the heroes unceremoniously packed off to the back of marginally less endangered comic title The Flash.

When these stories first appeared, DC was a company in transition – just like America itself – with new ideas (which, in comic-book terms meant “young writers and artists”) being given much leeway: a veritable wave of fresh, raw talent akin to the very start of the industry, when excitable young creators ran wild with imagination. Their cause wasn’t hurt by the industry’s swingeing commercial decline: costs were up and the kids just weren’t buying funnybooks in the quantities they used to…

O’ Neil, in tight collaboration with hyper-realistic artist Adams, assaulted all the traditional monoliths of contemporary costumed dramas with tightly targeted, protest-driven stories. The comicbook was re-titled Green Lantern/Green Arrowwith the Emerald Archer constantly mouthing off as a hot-headed, liberal sounding-board and platform for a generation-in-crisis, whilst staid, conservative, quasi-reactionary Hal Jordan played the part of the oblivious but well-meaning old guard.

America was a bubbling cauldron of social turmoil and experimentation. Everything was challenged and with issue #76 (April 1970 and the first issue of the new decade), O’Neil and comics iconoclast Adams utterly redefined superhero strips with their relevancy-driven stories; transforming complacent establishment masked boy-scouts into uncertain, questioning champions and strident explorers of the revolution.

‘No Evil Shall Escape My Sight!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia) broke the mould of the medium, utterly re-positioning the very concept of the costumed crusader as newly-minted ardent liberal Emerald Archer Oliver Queen challenges GL’s cosy worldview when the lofty space-cop painfully discovers real villains wear business suits, operate expense accounts, hurt people just because of skin colour and can happily poison their own nests for short-term gain…

Of course, that the story is a magnificently illustrated brilliant crime-thriller with science-fiction overtones doesn’t hurt either…

O’ Neil became sole scripter with this story and, in tight collaboration with ultra-realistic art-genius Adams, instantly overturned contemporary costumed dramas with their societally-targeted protest-stories. Two years later, the creators shattered another shibboleth with ‘Beware My Power’ (Green Lantern/Green Arrow #87, December 1971/January 1972) O’Neil, Adams & Giordano, histrionically introducing a new player to the DCU. John Stewart is an unemployed architect and full-time radical activist. He is the archetypal angry black man always spoiling for a fight and prepared to take guff from no-one.

Jordan is convinced the Guardians had grievously erred when selecting impatient, impetuous Stewart as Sector 2814’s official Green Lantern stand-in, but after seeing how his proposed pinch-hitter handles a white supremacist US presidential candidate trying to foment a race war, the Emerald Gladiator is happy to change his tune…

Although the heroes provided temporary solutions and put away viciously human criminals, these tales were remarkably blunt in exposing bigger ills and issues that couldn’t be fixed with a wave of a Green Ring; invoking an aura of helplessness that was metaphorically emphasised when Hal was summarily stripped of much of his power for no longer being the willing, unquestioning stooge of his officious, high-and-mighty alien masters…

For all the critical acclaim and innovative work done, sales of Green Lantern/Green Arrow were in a critical nosedive and nothing seemed able to stop the rot. Although the groundbreaking series folded, the heroics resumed a few months later in the back of The Flash #217 (August-September 1972), beginning a run of short episodes which eventually led to Green Lantern regaining his own solo series. O’Neil, remained as chief writer but soon Adams & Giordano moved on…

With Flash #237-238 and 240-243 new art sensation Mike Grell came aboard for a 6-part saga that precipitated Green Lantern back into his own title. Beginning with ‘Let There Be Darkness!’ (inked by Bill Draut) the watchword was “cosmic” as the extra-galactic Ravagers of Olys undertook a sextet of destructive, unholy tasks in Sector 2814. Represented here by the first, second and third chapters, the schemes begin by occluding the sun over planet Zerbon to eradicate the photosynthetic inhabitants. Next our hero picks up a semi-sentient starfish sidekick in ‘The Day of the Falling Sky!’(Blaisdell inks) whilst preventing the artificial world of Vivarium from collapsing in upon itself after which ‘The Floods Will Come!’ brings the Olys to planet Archos, where they attempt to submerge all the landmasses and drown the stone-age dwellers thriving there…

The buzz of the O’Neil/Grell epic assured Green Lantern of his own series once more, and with science fiction a popular mass genre in mainstream media, the Emerald Crusader soldiered on for nearly a decade before the next big change…

As that time progressed, John Stewart popped up occasionally even as the Guardians’ motives and ineffability increasingly came into question by many of their once-devoted operatives and peacekeepers. All too frequently, the grunts began seeing their formerly infallible little blue gods exposed as venal, ruthless, doctrinaire and even capricious…

As his reputation grew, headstrong Hal suffered an extremely tempestuous relationship with his bosses which eventually resulted in them accusing him of neglecting his space sector to concentrate on Earth’s problems and criminals. When he can no longer reconcile his love for Carol Ferris and duty to the Corps, Jordan quits and the Guardians offer Stewart the position…

‘Decent Exposure’ (Green Lantern volume 2 #188, May 1985) heralds a changing of the guard as writer Steve Englehart and illustrators Joe Staton & Bruce Patterson sign on, with TV reporter Tawny Young outing Stewart on national TV, and he – after some early anger and frustration – decides “so what?” whilst dealing with genuine problems such as psychotic madman the Predator on the prowl and Modoran ultra-nationalist Sonar intent on to destroying the new Green Lantern to prove the superiority of his postage-stamp principality Modora…

Part IV: Twilight of a Hero 1986-2003

In the mid-1980s, DC’s editorial hierarchy felt their then-vast 50-year continuity was stopping them winning new readers. The solution was a colossal braided-mega series to streamline, redefine and even add new characters to the mix.

The worlds-shattering, reality-altering bombast of Crisis on Infinite Earths resulted in such spectacular commercial success, those movers-&shakers must have felt more than justified in revamping a number of their hoariest icons for their next fifty years of publishing. As well as Superman, Flash, and Wonder Woman, the moribund and unhappy Justice League of America was earmarked for a radical revision.

Editor Andy Helfer assembled plotter Keith Giffen, scripter J.M. DeMatteis and untried penciller Kevin Maguire to produce an utterly new approach to the superhero monolith: playing them for laughs…

The series launched as Justice League with a May 1987 cover-date before retitling itself as Justice League International with #7 (November). The new super-team was formed from the ashes of the old on the basis of events comprising follow-up DC crossover-event Legends. The gathering comprised a roster of relative second-stringers as America’s newest champions – Black Canary, Blue Beetle, Captain Marvel, Dr. Fate, and Mr. Miracle with heavyweights Batman and Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz as nominal straight-men. Added to the mix was the marmite-tinted Guy Gardner Green Lantern: a “hero” who readers loved or hated in equal amounts since his revival in the dying days of The Crisis.

As the frequently-silly saga unfolds the squad is introduced to charismatic, filthy-rich manipulator Maxwell Lord – who uses wealth and influence to recreate the initial super-team in a dangerous stunt that starts their march to glory by defeating a bunch of rather inept terrorist bombers in initial outingBorn Again’ (Justice League #1 1987, by Giffen, DeMatteis, Maguire & Terry Austin)

Ultimately, Jordan regained his ring and became an elder-statesmen of superheroes but his elevated status – and sanity – was shattered after his hometown Coast City was destroyed by alien overlord Mongul.

In an apocalyptic triptych of tales culminating in ‘Emerald Twilight Part Three: The Future’ (Green Lantern volume 3 #50, March 1994) Ron Marz, Darryl Banks & Romeo Tanghal detail how his war against the Guardians who failed him results in Jordan becoming cosmic-level menace Parallax and destroying the entire Green Lantern Corps.

One month later ‘Changing the Guard’ (Green Lantern volume 3 #51 April 1994) saw the introduction of young Kyle Rayner as the universe’s last and only Emerald Crusader, fighting a one-man war against intergalactic evil…

Revived and refreshed, the franchise expanded again as Rayner rebuilt the Corps with new candidates and rescued old favourites. From Green Lantern and Green Lantern #1 (October 2000 by Judd Winnick, Randy Green & Wayne Faucher and part of the ‘Circle of Fire’ event), ‘Against the Dying of the Light’ sees Rayner and new recruit Alexandra DeWitt hunting down apocalyptic terror Oblivion: a task made harder and more distracting as his new ally is the extradimensional doppelganger of his murdered girlfriend…

After descending into madness and evil, Hal Jordan/Parallax sacrificed his life to save Earth and was divinely rewarded, rebuked and chastised by being linked to ghostly force The Spectre. After serving his penance he was revived for a new generation.

Part IV: Rebirths 2004-Present opens as ‘Blackest Night’ (Green Lantern: Rebirth #1, December 2004, by Geoff Johns & Ethan Van Sciver) sees Jordan alive again, no longer merged with the Spectre, and determined to destroy the immortal entity that was responsible for turning him evil and ultimately for his death in the first place. First though, he must convince his old friends in the Justice League and GLC that he’s not still evil…

Next up is a delightful peek into Jordan’s childhood courtesy of Johns & Darwyn Cooke from Green Lantern Secret Files and Origins 2005 #1: an evocative rite-of-passage yarn as Jordan shares with neophyte Kyle Rayner the true meaning of ‘Flight’

Since the 1970s, the Green Lantern concept has been about challenging heroic stereotypes. The Guardians’ stipulations that their agents be honest and without fear has provided plenty of scope to explore prejudice and preconception amongst the readership, and none more so than in the aliens’ selection of latest earthly recruit Muslim Simon Baz as part of the company-wide New 52! reboot of 2011.

‘The New Normal’ (Green Lantern #0, November 2012 by Johns, Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Keith Champagne & Mark Irwin) details the consequences – personal and global – of the dispassionate Power Ring choosing as its wearer a man deemed by his peers to be a thief and potential anti-American terrorist…

Adding immeasurably to the wonder is a superb collection of covers by Sheldon Moldoff, Reinman, Alex Toth, Gil Kane, Murphy Anderson, Neal Adams, Staton & Patterson, Maguire & Austin, Banks & Tanghal, Rodolfo Damaggio & Kevin Nowlan, Ethan Van Sciver, Carlos Pacheco & Jesús Merino and Doug Mahnke & Christian Alamy.

Green Lantern has a long, proud history of shaking things up and providing dynamic provocative, drama delivered with quality artwork. This compelling assortment of snapshots is staggeringly entertaining and a monolithic testament to the inestimable value of a strong core concept matured over decades of innovation.
© 1940, 1944, 1948, 1959, 1961, 1962, 1965, 1968, 1970, 1972, 1976, 1985, 1987, 1994, 1997, 2000, 2004, 2005, 2012, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman in the Brave and the Bold: The Bronze Age volume two

By Bob Haney, Denny O’Neil, Jim Aparo, Nick Cardy, Neal Adams, Bob Brown, Frank McLaughlin & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8582-1 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Perfect Pairings for Festive Fun Seekers… 10/10

The Brave and the Bold began in 1955 as an anthology adventure comic featuring short complete tales about a variety of period heroes: a format that mirrored the contemporary movie fascination with historical dramas.

Written by Bob Kanigher, issue #1 led with Golden Gladiator, the Silent Knight and Joe Kubert’s now legendary Viking Prince. From #5 the Gladiator was increasingly alternated with Robin Hood, but such manly, mainly mainstream romps still carried the title until the end of the decade when the burgeoning costumed character revival saw B&B transform into a try-out vehicle like sister publication Showcase.

Issue #25 (August-September 1959) featured the debut of Task Force X: Suicide Squad, followed by Justice League of America (#28), Cave Carson (#31) and Hawkman (#34). Since only the JLA hit the first time out, there were return engagements for the Squad, Carson and Hawkman.

Something truly different appeared in #45-49 with the science fictional Strange Sports Stories before Brave and the Bold #50 triggered a new concept that once again truly caught the reader’s imagination.

That issue paired two superheroes – Green Arrow and Martian Manhunter – in a one-off team-up, as did succeeding issues: Aquaman and Hawkman in #51, WWII combatants Sgt. Rock, Captain Cloud, Mme. Marie and the Haunted Tank in #52 and Atom and Flash in #53. The next team-up – Robin, Aqualad and Kid Flash – swiftly evolved into the Teen Titans. After Metal Men/the Atom and Flash/Martian Manhunter, new hero Metamorpho, the Element Man debuted in #57-58.

Then it was back to superhero pairings with #59, and although no one realised it at the time this particular conjunction (Batman with Green Lantern) would be particularly significant.

After a return engagement for the Teen Titans in #60, the next two issues highlighted Earth-2 champions Starman and Black Canary, whilst Wonder Woman met Supergirl in #63.

Then, in an indication of things to come, and in anticipation of the TV-induced mania mere months away, Batman duelled hero/villain Eclipso in #64. Within two issues, following Flash/Doom Patrol (#65) and Metamorpho/Metal Men (#66), Brave and the Bold #67 saw the Caped Crusader take de facto control of the title and the lion’s share of the team-ups. With the exception of #72-73 (Spectre/Flash and Aquaman/Atom) the comic was henceforth to be a place where Batman invited the rest of company’s heroic pantheon to come and play…

For the sake of brevity and clarity and according to the wise ones who dictate such arbitrary demarcations, it’s also the point at which Comics’ Silver Age transitioned into the Bronze Age…

This second selection of unalloyed Batman pairings with other luminaries of the DC universe reprints B&B #92-109 (spanning October/November 1970 to October/November 1973) featuring the last vestiges of a continuity-reduced DC where individual story needs were seldom submerged into a cohesive overarching scenario, and where lead writer Bob Haney crafted stories that were meant to be read in isolation, drawn by a profusion of artists with only one goal: entertainment. At this time editors favoured regular if not permanent creative teams, feeling that a sense of visual and even narrative continuity would avoid confusion amongst younger readers.

It thus signalled the advent of the superb Nick Cardy as an innovative illustrator: his short run of beautifully drawn and boldly experimental assignments is still startling to see five decades later.

Haney was always at his best with terse, human scale dramas, especially “straight” crime thrillers, as in the eccentric thriller in #92 wherein Batman travels to England, embroiled in a moody, gothic murder mystery with a trio of British stereotypes fancifully christened “The Bat Squad.” Although the scratch team never reappeared, ‘Night Wears a Scarlet Shroud!’ remains a period delight and a must for those who still remember when “Eng-ga-land Swung”…

At the end of the 1960s the Comics Code Authority ended its ban on crime and horror comics to allow publishers to exploit the global interest in the supernatural. This had instantly affected comics and more and more stories had macabre overtones. It led to the revival of horror and suspense anthologies, such as the venerable House of Mystery and unquestionably the oddest team-up in B&B history.

Scripted by Denny O’Neil and illustrated by Neal Adams, #93’s ‘Red Water, Crimson Death’ is a chilling ghost story with the added advantage of having the Dark Knight’s sombre shtick counterbalanced by the musings of the sardonic laconic Cain, ethereal and hip caretaker of that haunted habitat…

Haney, Cardy and the Teen Titans returned for powerful counter-culture bomb-plot ‘Rebels in the Streets’ after which a forgotten mystery hero (I won’t spoil it for you) helps Batman get the goods on ruthless, fat-cat industrialist Ruby Ryder in ‘C.O.D. – Corpse on Delivery’ in #95 before – somewhat more palatable for continuity bugs – Sgt Rock’s second engagement with the Bat was set in contemporary times rather than in WWII. Here the honourable old soldier becomes a bureaucrat’s patsy in compelling espionage thriller ‘The Striped-Pants War!’

Haney clearly had a fondness for grizzled older heroes as former pugilist Wildcat made another comeback in #97’s South-of-the-Border saga ‘The Smile of Choclotan!’: an epic of exploration inked by Cardy over the husky he-man pencils of the hugely underrated Bob Brown.

The Phantom Stranger guested next in a truly sinister tale of suburban devil worship which found Batman thoroughly out of his depth in ‘The Mansion of the Misbegotten!’, illustrated by the man who would soon become the only B&B artist: Jim Aparo.

Brown & Cardy returned to draw the Flash saving the Gotham Gangbuster from ghostly possession in ‘The Man who Murdered the Past’ and Aparo illustrated the anniversary 100th issue as Green Lantern, Green Arrow and Black Canary had to take over for a Batman on the verge of death and trapped as ‘The Warrior in a Wheel-Chair’.

Aparo stuck around for the outrageous murder-mystery ‘Cold-Blood, Hot Gun’ wherein Metamorpho, the Element Man assists the Caped Crusader in foiling the World’s most deadly hitman, but Brave and the Bold #102 featured a true rarity.

The Teen Titans again featured in an angry tale of the generation gap but ‘Commune of Defiance’ began as an Aparo job, but in a bizarre turnabout Neal Adams – an artist legendary for blowing deadlines – was called in to finish the story, contributing the last nine pages of the tension-packed political thriller, after which Brown and Frank McLaughlin illustrated ‘A Traitor Lurks Inside Earth!’: a doomsday saga of military computers gone awry featuring the multipurpose Metal Men.

Aparo was back in #104 for a poignant story of love from beyond the grave in the enigmatically entitled ‘Second Chance for a Deadman?’ after which a depowered Wonder Woman resurfaced after a long absence in Haney & Aparo’s superb revolutionary epic ‘Play Now… Die Later!’ as Diana Prince and the Darknight Detective become pawns in a bloody South American feud exported to the streets of Gotham.

Newly penniless social reformer Green Arrow is then sucked into a murderous get-rich-quick con in #106’s ‘Double Your Money… and Die’, featuring a surprise star villain, before Black Canary co-stars in a clever take on the headline-grabbing – and still unsolved – D.B. Cooper hijacking of an airliner in ‘The 3-Million Dollar Sky’ from B&B #107 (June-July 1973). Inflation sucks: “Cooper” only got $200,000 when he jumped out of that Boeing 727 in November 1971, never to be see again…

A wonderfully chilling tale of obsession and old soldiers never dying follows as Sgt. Rock tries once more to catch the greatest monster in history on ‘The Night Batman Sold his Soul!’ before this bronze bonanza concludes with superb supernatural thriller ‘Gotham Bay, Be My Grave!’ wherein the Caped Crusader and Jack Kirby’s then newest sensation Etrigan the Demon battle an unquiet spirit determined to avenge his own execution after nearly a century…

These are some of the best and most entertainingly varied yarns from a period of magnificent creativity in the American comics industry. Aimed at a general readership, gloriously free of heavy, cloying continuity baggage and brought to stirring, action-packed life by some of the greatest artists in the business, this is a Batman for all seasons and reasons with the added bonus of some of the most fabulous and engaging co-stars a fan could imagine. How could anybody resist? Can you…?

© 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Green Arrow volume 3: The Trial of Oliver Queen

By Mike Grell, Ed Hannigan, Dan Jurgens, Dick Giordano, Frank McLaughlin & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5523-7 (TPB)

Premiering in More Fun Comics #73 in 1941, Green Arrow is one of very few superheroes to be continuously published (more or less) since the Golden Age of American comicbooks. At first glance this blatant amalgamation of Batman and Robin Hood seems to have very little going for him but has always managed to somehow keep himself in vogue.

Probably his most telling of many makeovers came in 1987, when, hot on the heels of The Dark Knight Returns, writer/artist Mike Grell was tasked with making him the star of DC’s second “Prestige Format Mini-Series”.

Grell was one of comics’ biggest guns at the time. Beginning his rise with a laudable run on Legion of Super-Heroes, he went on to draw the revived Green Lantern/Green Arrow and practically saved the company with his Edgar Rice Burroughs-inspired fantasy epic Warlord. He had also notched up a big fan following illustrating many Aquaman, Batman and Phantom Stranger stories before establishing his independent creator credentials at First Comics with Starslayer and Jon Sable, Freelance

In the grim ‘n’ gritty late Eighties, it was certainly time for another overhaul of the Emerald Archer. Exploding arrows yes, maybe even net or rope arrows, but arrows with boxing gloves or paint brushes on them just wouldn’t wash with a newer, more sophisticated readership. Thus, in an era of corrupt government, drug cartels and serial killers, the evergreen survivor adapted and thrived under the direction of a creator famed for the uncompromising realism of his work.

The Longbow Hunters focused on the superhero’s mid-life crisis as he relocated to Seattle and struggled to come to terms with the fact that since his former sidekick Speedy was now a dad, Oliver Queen had technically become a grandfather. Beside long-time “significant other” Dinah (Black Canary) Lance he began to simplify his life, but the drive to fight injustice never dimmed for either of them.

Dinah went undercover to stamp out a drug ring whilst Ollie became engrossed in the hunt for a psycho-killer dubbed “The Seattle Slasher”. The archer also learned of a second – cross-country – slayer who had been murdering people with arrows…

Eschewing gaudy costume and gimmicks, Queen reinvented himself as an urban hunter to stop such unglamorous, everyday monsters, stumbling into a mystery which led back to World War II involving the Yakuza, CIA, corporate America and even the Viet Nam war, even as it introduced a deadly female counterpart to the beleaguered bowman: an enigmatic, morally ambiguous archer called Shado

The intricate plot, subtly blending three seemingly separate stories which were in fact one, still delivers a shocking punch even now in its disturbingly explicit examination of torture: a treatment which won the series undeserved negative press when it was first published. Although possibly tame to most modern tastes, this was eye-opening stuff in the 1980’s, which is a shame, as it diverted attention from the real issue… and that was a massive surge in quality and maturity.

The intricate, maturely sophisticated plot – interweaving themes of age, diminishing potency, vengeance and family – highlighted another turning point in American comics and led to an ongoing series specifically targeting that nebulous “Mature Readership”. The treatment and tone heavily influenced and flavoured today’s TV adaptation Arrow and has led to the release of Grell’s entire saga of nigh-forgotten urban predator tales in a range of economical, no-nonsense, full-colour trade paperbacks and digital editions.

This third collection, scripted by Grell with superbly efficient, powerfully understated art from Ed Hannigan, Dan Jurgens, Dick Giordano & Frank McLaughlin, re-presents Green Arrow volume 2 #13-20 (eclectically cover-dated “Holiday” and January-July 1989): a succession of two-part tales offering starkly authentic dramas ripped from headlines that have as much impact and relevance today as they did three decades ago…

Sparse, Spartan and startlingly compelling, the action begins – sans any preamble – with

‘Moving Target’ parts 1 & 2 (Jurgens & Giordano) wherein the hero carries on his crusade against street punks, petty thugs, wifebeaters and neo-Nazis, blithely unaware that only sheer dumb luck has prevented his assassination by a hired gun…

Once he’s caught up, Oliver eliminates all the usual suspects including the CIA and mercenary spy Eddie Fyres and almost misses his chance when the real would-be killer finally breaks cover for a final face-to-face confrontation…

‘Seattle & Die’ (Hannigan, Giordano & McLaughlin) then sees the archer on the trail of a mystery shooter who kills a gang of thieves to prevent a bloodbath in a night club. Determined to find the criminal saviour before the cops do, Queen becomes entangled in a devious web of intrigue involving an Australian Secret Service kill-team and suffers a chilling presentiment of how his own life might end…

Veteran fans in the know will enjoy the subtle tweaking of characters that allow Grell’s archer to notionally team up with his aforementioned indie hit John Sable

Jurgens, Giordano & McLaughlin then combine to depict the sordid bloody saga of ‘The Horseman’ who hits Seattle hard, fast and furious in an uncompromising search for a missing stripper. His campaign of destruction sparks a brutal war amongst the drug dealers and flesh peddlers of the city, but by the time the Arrow gets involved, the conflict has escalated and working girls are being murdered in grotesque and obscene manner…

Before long, however, the mysterious Horseman is proven to have hidden motives for his brutal vendetta and another distasteful alliance is formed to find the real killers…

Always challenging and controversial, the themes hit especially hard in the final story as the Longbow Hunter gets it terribly wrong in a dark dingy alley and a young paintballer gets an arrow in the chest after seemingly shooting a cop.

Broken inside, the vigilante meekly submits to ‘The Trial of Oliver Queen’ (Hannigan, Giordano & McLaughlin) and, although completely exonerated in the eyes of the Law, condemns himself to death by dissipation – until an old friend intervenes in a most unconventional manner to restore Green Arrow’s equilibrium and moral compass…

Terse scripts, intelligent, flawed human interactions, stunning action delivered through economical and immensely effective illustration and an unfailing eye for engaging controversy make these epic yarns some of the most powerful sagas American comics ever produced. Compiled here with a cover gallery by Hannigan, Jurgens & Giordano, this compulsive retooling is yet another long-overlooked highpoint of superhero storytelling no lover of the genre will want to miss.
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