Thursday, November 18, 2010

Action Comics Weekly #606: The one where everyone hates on Hal Jordan

My occasional series of posts taking close looks at issues of DC's 1988 weekly anthology version of Action Comics finally reaches issue #606, which is probably the single best issue of them all.

And what's so great about this issue, beyond the awesomeness of the cover, which depicts a throng of crazed Superman-worships praying to the Man of Steel while he awkwardly reads the text framing his head?

(And let's face it, that's a very awesome cover, whether you crop it so that it looks like that one dude is worshiping Superman's crotch or not). Well, there is that.

But there's also the fact this is the issue where Green Lantern Hal Jordan reaches out to all of his friends and allies, and they each tell him that he's stupid and lame and they hate him and they wish he would just slink off and die and let a twentysomething in a Nine Inch Nails t-shirt replace him for a decade or so.

It's true! I'm hardly exaggerating at all!

When we last left Hal Jordan in the pages of Action Comics Weekly #605, he was unshaven, half-naked, and chained on a weird planet of constant lightning strikes, while back on earth Carol "Star Sapphire" had faked her own death and framed John Stewart for it, sending the other Green Lantern to jail.

Hal returned to Earth, finding Carol in a graveyard, where a little orange alien abducted her and zapped Hal unconscious for a while.

In this issue's Green Lantern story, "The List," which is drawn for the first time by Tod Smith instead of Gil Kane, Hal is flying around downtown, surveying the rubble of what used to be Carol's apartment building, until he notices a newspaper blowing around the street, its headline reading "Green Lantern Murders Socialite."

"What's this--?" Hal thinks theatrically to himself, "John00 accused of murdering Carol?!"

Hal places a call to John, recapping the events of the story so far, before reminding Hal that he's still pretty mad at him for those events: "Feels like my life's come completely apart!" Hal thinks to himself. "I need to help JOhn, but first I've got to help myself!...I've got no possessions!...I need to find some balance to my life. And-- --I know just the place to start."

That place, it turns out is Wayne Manor, where Hal goes to reach out to perhaps the smartest, richest guy he knows. Unfortunately, Batman was still going through is Dark Knight, be-an-asshole-to-everyone-constantly phase, and his black mood had apparently infected Alfred as well, since this is how he politely answers the door: Yeesh. Maybe Alfred just didn't recognize Hal without his little green mask and GL uniform on?

After a bit of argument from Hal, Bruce Wayne invites him in by throwing his voice or something, but Alfred continues to be rather prickish to him: Hal extends his hand to Bruce, who ignores it, and asks what he can do for Hal.

"What, can't an old friend drop in for a visit--? No, huh? All right," Hal starts, before shrugging, "Look, Bruce, ever since the Green Lantern Corps disbanded, my lifes been slowly unraveling. I guess I'm looking for an anchor...something to give me a sense of balance."

Bruce Wayne compassionately responds: Sheesh. Batman usually gives hobos directions to homeless shelters are the cards of Wayne Enterprise's HR deparment at least.

After Bruce stalks off, the scene ends with Hal screaming at his back, "Haveny you heard a thing I've said?! Bruce!"

Next, Hal tries the other member of the World's Finest, and gets shot down even more quickly, albeit more politely: (This, by the way, is apparently the starting point for Neil Gaiman's old script which eventually saw publication in 2000 as Green Lantern/Superman: Legend of the Green Flame, illustrated by a who's who of artists in jam fashion. As I recall, the script was originally spiked because it turned out that Hal no longer knew Superman's secret identity after the events of Crisis On Infinite Earths, and thus the story no longer made sense as written. Obviously, the spike hadn't yet dropped on the script of this particular issue, in which Hal knew both Superman and Batman's secret identities.)

Cut to an establishing shot of a phone booth—remember those—and then we see Hal in complete anguish, regarding a list of friends he made and then crossed off friend by friend when he realized they all hate him:That list in the second panel above is just about the saddest thing I've ever seen. (Fun fact that Hakwman, Martian Manhunter and Aquaman weren't "really" Green Lantern's friends; they just worked together, I guess).

This leaves Hal's best friend, Oliver "Green Arrow" Queen. When Hal thinks back to those days, this is what he envisions: For some reason, this panel reminded me of the scenes in Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour where Scott and Gideon remember their relationships with their exes through rose-colored glasses......only in Hal's case, he's standing idly by while Black Canary is all "omigod ur like, such a stud" to Ollie.

(Oh, and just in case Sally is reading, I'd better crop that image and blow it up a bit: You're welcome).

At this point, Green Arrow was living in Seattle with Black Canary, and he was going through his dark, urban hunter phase. Hal finds him busting some drug dealers, and joins the fray, although Arrow's not happy to have a glowing space cop intruding on his gritty realism.

After they finish mopping up the bad guys, they convene on a rooftop, where Hal tries to confide in Ollie.

Let's listen in:As you can tell from Hal's "What?!" there, he wasn't really ready for any hard truth. Green Arrow spends another five seconds telling Hal to get lost, and then he runs off to get out of this anthology series and back to his own comic book: His best friend, and the last person on his short list of friends having told him to fuck off, Hal tragically crumples up his list, and drops the piece of paper containing the first names of the secret identities of the original Justice League of America into a random Seattle alleyway: Aw, here are two words I never thought I'd type in this particular order: Poor Hal.And thus concludes "James Owsley" and Tod Smith's "The List," the best Green Lantern story in Action Comics Weekly, perhaps the greatest Green Lantern story ever told—at least until Frank Miller and Jim Lee got around to that one issue of All-Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder where the leads paint themselves yellow, meet Hal in a yellow room, and enjoy yellow snacks while making fun of him for 22 pages.

What will happen to the friendless, jobless, penniless, homeless superhero in the next issue? Will he become a full-time super-hobo? I'll have to read ACW #607 to let you know for sure.

In the meantime, there was some other neat stuff in this issue.

For example, Mike Baron, Dan Jurgens and Tony DeZuniga's Deadman story. When we last left Boston Brand, he had escaped a ghost-cage at CIA headquarters, but was pulled into an ancient urn by the devil himself. Now he finds himself in Hell.

After a few pages of discussion with Satan about whether or not this was really the real Hell, DM asks why Satan looks so stereotypically satanic, and so the devil turns into Spider-Man's wife and throws herself at our hero: The Devil changes shape a few more times—a couple of scary, hag-like lady harpy creatures, an old Asian dude with no shirt, Richard Nixon—and we get to see that Hell looks a bit like a red-tinted rough neighborhood in pre-Giulani NYC.

It seems like there are quite a few familiar business in Hell too:
Not surprised to see McDonald's and Burger King down there, reall, but Donut World? What's wrong with doughnuts?

Later in the story, we get another long shot, where Deadman and the devil stroll in front of what looks like a bunch of porn shops, X-rated movie theaters and strip clubs, singns reading "Deep Throat XXX," "24 Hr. Strippers," "Girls Girls Girls," Live Sex," "Sex," "Private Video," "Sultry Ladies" (sounds classy!) and, um, "Nazi Chicks." (Well, it is Hell, after all).

I wonder if all of these places are still open in Hell, or if the Internet and its 24 hour, free access to an infinity of pornography has put even the Hell-based brick-and-mortar porn shops out of business...?

Deadman stalks off, until someone calls after him. Someone who looks sorta familiar to our man Deadman:D.B. Cooper! So that's what happened to him!

He tells Deadman he's been planning to escape from Hell for a while, and since Deady hasn't been officially admitted, he should be able to climb back out of the jar, and take D.B. with him. So off they two go on a journey that will continue next issue.

And now let's break for a commercial message from this very comic book: I don't remember so many of the video games of the late '80s having titles that sound like anti-depressants. Even Lunar Pool sounds like a modern medicine, if you squish into a single word, like Lunarpool.

Let's see, what else was there in this issue? Another chapter of the boring Secret Six story I quit reading (I do look at hte pictures to admire all the facial hair in it, though), another two-pages of the Roger Stern, Curt Swan Superman story, in which Superman learns he has some worshipers, another chapter of the Wild Dog strip, in which the terrorist group he's trying to infiltrate attacks a newspaper printing press because that particular newspaper mongers filth and, of course, the Mike Grell, Rick Burchett and Pablow Marcos' Blackahwk strip.

Check out how sharp and elegant this fight sequence is: After Blackhawk punches out The Red Dragon's henchman, wounding his hand in the process, she rewards him by taking him to her room and bedding him.

Here we learn she has terrible taste in art and/or decor: Or maybe she put that dragon statuette there ironically?

And that concludes Action Comics Weekly #606, the best issue ever. So far.


SallyP said...

Oh Caleb, you really know how to treat a girl!

As big a twit as Hal can be, (and oh, can he be!) it was really not very nice of all of his friends to treat him so coldly. Really, they wonder WHY he want all Parallax on their collective behinds?

Jacob T. Levy said...

From the days of O'Neil's GA/GL onward, Hal was *always* in disarray one form or another. The ACW stories were very entertaining, but they did nothing to convince me that Hal was the calm, cool, Greatest Green Lantern In History And Awesome Superhero Geoff Johns imagines him as.

Even after ACW ended and the late-80s volume of Green Lantern lost, he had fistfights with Guy and John, he was petty and petulant and had a perpetual midlife crisis. As I recall, there was one issue right before Coast City blew up in which he reconciled with Ollie and Carol and declared that he was finally happy with himself, crisis over, cue ironic foreshadowing.

But basically he spent the Bronze Age and the late 80s/ early 90s as a mess, even without stupid drunk-driving retcons.

SallyP said...

Oh...and the other stuff was nice too.

Mart said...

Great piece, sir - that Hal story was pretty much the straw the broke the camel's back so far as my buying ACW was concerned.

But dang, that Blackhawk fight scene is good.

Kid Kyoto said...

Well at the time Batman had quit the JLA in a hissyfit because they wouldn't rescue his buddy from some coup, and I think Jason Todd just died. So yeah. He really wasn't up for hearing Hal whine and bitch.

Superman at the time was holding down 3 books and had never been a member of the JLA so yeah. Not sure why Hal thought he was such a good friend, must have been remembering old continuity.

It's a shame DC can't be consistant in how they write their heroes, and tried to make them all perfect. I'd love it if Hal was written as that drunk frat kid from college who never grew up and keeps trying to mooch money. Man I'd read the #$%^ out of that book.

David said...

Jim Owsley was the birth name of Christopher Priest, also known as the only good writer of Black Panther.