Posted by: Doc Comics | February 6, 2010

GL/GA “Hard Traveling Heroes”

During the 1960s and into the early 70’s, American society was going through numerous upheavals, from the Vietnam War and protests to continuing  struggles for Civil Rights, Feminism, and social reform.  Even before the Watergate scandal rocked Americans’ faith in the American presidency, “Everything from dress codes to draft cards was being challenged. Things that had been taken for granted for generations were being questioned… and whether it was for good or bad was a hotly debated matter of opinion. And in the pages of Green Lantern magazine (“co-starring Green Arrow”), this open disagreement was given form in the characters of Hal Jordan and Oliver Queen.”  Debuting in 1970, GL/GA is an enduring snapshot of Vietnam-era America.

Written by Denny O’Neil and drawn by Neal Adams, the famous “Hard-Traveling Heroes” series was O’Neil’s attempt at bringing a sense of real-world relevance to the comic-book page, as Green Lantern Hal Jordan, Oliver Queen and one of the Hal’s alien bosses from the Guardians of the Universe explore the back roads of United States in a beat-up pickup truck, off to look for America.”

The comic was a surprise hit with its bold social commentary from writer Denny O’Neil and photo-realistic art by Neal Adams. This superhero Odd Couple on an existential roadtrip ushered in the post-60s Bronze Age along with Spider-Man’s “Death of Gwen Stacy” storyline, changing comics storytelling and defying the waning Comics Code Authority.

The work survives the risks of obsolescence by remaining firmly welded to a view of the human condition and the flaws of our character – flaws that transcend ideological preference. As such, the piece in particular segments or in its entirety should endure as a model of an appropriate lens through which to examine current events and one’s own culture. Ideology might have shaped the episodes and the perceptions of the characters, but more than political dogma comes through in this piece; Man, in his brutishness and sublimity, appears, too, and in this the work collectively performs its greatest feat.”

See the ‘comments’ section for discussion questions! Tim’s Soapbox will bring some smacktalk about Speedy’s drug problem and how it made DC suits nervous about tempting the ire of the Comics Code Authority!

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Responses

  1. Comics Monday Funday discussion questions:

    1) Rushing & Frentz’s “Mythic Rhetorical Criticism” posits that our popular entertainments can often tap into archetypal themes, motifs, and meanings when they explore contemporary problems and anxieties. Which social issues does GL/GA tackle? Do you find their post-1960s social commentary dated, or do you think these stories illuminate enduring challenges for the human condition? Are the issues addressed still relevant today?

    2) Does attempting to directly address socio-political problems of the day somehow de-mythologize the universal and enduring motifs? Is there a tension in a superhero mythos functioning as “relevant” social commentary and mythic allegory?

    3) Strikingly in hindsight, GL/GA never directly tackles the very divisive war in Vietnam. Given the superhero’s history as WWII propaganda, why do you think Vietnam is avoided, or is it? Does the fact that comics are a profit-driven mass commodity have any bearing? Are there any conflicts between ‘mythic functions’ and ‘commodity functions’ of comics? Why is wartime particularly difficult for attempts at critical reflection?

  2. READINGS PACKET discussion items:

    1) “The Education of Green Lantern: Culture & Ideology” argues that O’Neil’s GL/GA series espouses numerous “New Left” criticisms and satirizes naïve 1960s Liberalism. What are these countercultural New Left critiques, and how do they complicate superhero liberalism AND conservatism?

    2) “Introducing Comics as Ideology” offers a succinct overview and justification for Comics Studies. What questions and issues does ideological criticism explore? What is an “open” vs closed “polysemic” text? How does Wertham’s critique in SOTI illustrate preferred, oppositional, and negotiated meanings?

    3) Williams’ “Comics: A Tool of Subversion?” examines recurring concerns that comics are subversive in form and content using Gramsci’s concepts of hegemony and counter-hegemony to examine 7 comics titles. What do these terms mean, and what does Williams conclude? Were any differences noted between mainstream and independent comics?

    4) Chabon’s “Secret Skin” contends that superheroes are not about escapism but, rather, transformation. How does Chabon assess the impossible conventions of the superhero costume, and what is being both concealed and revealed by this “superdrag” of ‘secret skin’?

    5) Engle’s “What Makes Superman So Darned American?” argues that: “The shape-shifting between Clark Kent and Superman is the means by which this mid-twentieth century, urban story – like the pastoral, nineteenth century Western before it—addresses in dramatic terms the theme of cultural assimilation.” As an alien immigrant and orphan, Superman dramatizes which distinctly American themes and paradoxes, and how does he “raise the American immigrant experience to the level of religious myth”?

  3. […] ignorant attitudes saturate the world of the Atlanteans, and while Aquaman: Maelstrom is no Hard-Traveling Heroes in terms of social commentary, it’s good to see racism condemned and reaching out to other people […]

  4. […] Wu’s art is hip as hell– the line at her booth at Special Edition was enormous.  Fletcher star is rising fast (see hits like Gotham Academy & Batgirl for starters). This is a creative, modern duo writing for an inclusive audience. The future of super hero comics. So I was pleasantly surprised to read in an interview with Fletcher that some of the legacy of the great Silver Age social issues comics series Green Lantern/Green Arrow is continued in this book. Here’s to a new generation’s “hard traveling heroes“. […]


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