Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Longbox Junk Retro Review - Green Lantern #87 (1971)

Welcome back to Longbox Junk, home of comic reviews nobody ever asked for!

Once again, my apologies for summertime Longbox Junk delays. I do these in my spare time at work managing a hotel and summer is the busiest time of year.  The good news is that fall is in the air, schools are starting back up, and things should settle back down into a slow winter's groove soon.


So what we have here is another Longbox Junk Retro Review. . .where I step away from my usual bargain bin fare to take a look at some of the older or more "valuable" comics in my collection.  This time out we're going to take a trip in the paper time machine back to 1971 and check out Green Lantern #87, featuring the first appearance of Green Lantern John Stewart.

I JUST bought this comic last week (the first week of August, 2019 for those readers in the future) at the flea market for what I THOUGHT was a pretty stiff price. . .$15.  I realize that those of you with more knowledge of older comics than I have are sputtering right now, because in great condition, this comic is "worth" over $300!

It's not quite in three hundred buck condition, but it's in pretty good shape. I'd grade it at a respectable 7.0.  AND I bought it just because I liked the cover. . .not even realizing it was a "key" first appearance issue.   In other words, I just sort of accidentally stumbled into a great deal!

BUT. . .

Just because this is a "Key" issue, that doesn't mean it's good.  I've been Longbox Junkin' for quite a while now and have discovered that sometimes the most "valuable" comics are the worst.  Then again. . .there's that "sometimes" to be considered.  Let's consider it, shall we?

We shall!


Okay.  Everyone in that's staying in?  Let's do this!

DC (1971)

COVER: Neal Adams

I bought this comic for the cover.  Let's talk about that cover for a moment before we jump inside.

I'm kind of a sucker for monochromatic backgrounds on comic covers in general, and this is a great example!  I really like how the characters stand out against the stark white background.  The colors pop in a big way that REALLY catches the eye and that's what drew me to this comic in the first place.  It's not my favorite cover in my collection, but the simplicity of composition and stark color contrast are outstanding! A great job by the legendary Neal Adams.

So that's the cover, let's get into the comic. . .


SCRIPT: Denny O'Neil
PENCILS: Neal Adams
INKS: Dick Giordano

Just LOOK at the legendary lineup of talent on this first story! 
Is there any way this can't be good? Let's find out. . .

The story goes like this:

When Earth's "official backup" Green Lantern Guy Gardner (here in his second comic appearance) is severely injured trying to save a busload of school children following an earthquake, the Guardians of The Universe instruct Hal Jordan to train a second backup that they have already chosen. 

The Guardians lead Jordan to "A certain urban ghetto" where he witnesses John Stewart standing up to police officers.  Jordan tells the Guardian with him that he's skeptical, due to Stewart's lack of respect for authority.  The Guardian tells Jordan he doesn't really care what he thinks.  He's got his orders. . . .now follow them.

So Jordan introduces himself and offers Stewart the job of Green Lantern, which he accepts. . .joking that they'll have to call him "The Black Lantern".  And so begins a training montage.  Jordan teaches the new Green Lantern the oath, gives him a power ring, and creates a uniform for Stewart. . .who refuses to wear a mask because "This black man lets it ALL hang out!"

Later, during flight training at the airport, the Lanterns suddenly find themselves on their first actual mission together when they spot a protest against racist senator Jerimiah Clutcher, who is running for President.  The protest starts getting out of hand and the Lanterns have to protect both the protesters and Sen. Clutcher from a runaway fuel truck.  

Stewart saves the Senator, but punctures the oil truck and coats the Senator in oil. . .leading to Stewart mocking his impromptu blackface.  Jordan takes offense at Stewart's disrespect and assigns his new backup to protect the racist Senator in order to teach him a lesson. 

Later, as Senator Clutcher is giving a speech, a black gunman attempts to shoot him.  Stewart refuses to obey Jordan's order to chase the gunman, leaving the job to Jordan instead.  While Jordan is subduing the would-be assassin, Stewart heads out to the parking lot and captures another gunman.

When an angry Hal Jordan returns to demand and explanation from Stewart regarding his refusal to obey orders, Stewart informs him that he'd seen BOTH gunmen earlier and didn't chase the first one because he knew it was a distraction and that the REAL gunman was waiting in the parking lot for when they evacuated the Senator, who knew that the Lanterns would protect him. . .all part of a plot by Clutcher to make it look like blacks wanted to kill him.  Jordan checks the gun of the first shooter and finds it loaded with blanks.

Later, Jordan admits that even though he doesn't like Stewart and his "style" much, he got the job done and that's all that matters.  Stewart takes it in stride and tells Jordan that differences in style aren't any more important than differences in color.

The End.

Well then.  That was. . .70's-Tastic.  This story is definitely a relic of its time.  The dialogue is dated and even a bit cringe-worthy in places to a reader in 2019.   I can't say how it read in 1971. . .this might have been regarded as a powerful and controversial story then.  Now it seems rushed, forced and preachy. 

I'm not a big GL fan but as a former Marine myself John Stewart is actually one of my favorite characters in that particular mythos.  Unfortunately, in this pre-Crisis story, Stewart is an. . .architect? How this qualifies him to be a Green Lantern, I don't know, but I definitely prefer his later retconned Marine Corps origin (Another "What the?" moment is seeing that Guy Gardner is a. . .teacher of disabled children). 

Origin preference aside, Stewart just seems like an overly-sensitive and somewhat hostile racist himself in this story.  DC definitely needed to start adding some diversity to their hero roster in the Bronze Age, but it just seems like they turned it up just a notch or two too far with this portrayal of their first black superhero standing up to "The Man".  

Full disclosure that I'm a white guy and don't have much stake in the racial politics game, but I have the feeling that this would actually read a bit embarrassing even to those who do.  It's pretty awkward and heavy-handed.  It might be a somewhat historic piece of the Civil Rights struggle going on at the time, but it's a pretty poorly-done one.

The good news is that even though the story is borderline bad, at least it looks good, with Neal Adams delivering some excellent artwork, but it's Neal Adams so that's just sort of expected.  There's a reason the man is considered a legend.  This isn't his BEST work, but it's good enough that it keeps the story from being a straight dumpster fire.

Overall. . .this may be a "key" origin story, but it's severely weighed down by dated dialogue and really feels sort of forced.  I KNOW Denny O'Neil can do better work than this.  Not a great introduction for DC's first black superhero.  As a relic of its time, this is interesting. . .but it's not a very good story in general.


SCRIPT: Elliot Maggin (First comic story)
PENCILS: Neal Adams
INKS: Dick Giordano

The second story in this issue (notable as the first writing credit for Elliot Maggin, who went on to a pretty prolific career with DC) explores a pretty interesting topic. . .what good can superheroes REALLY do in the long run?  

The story goes like this:

Oliver Queen has recently suffered a financial disaster and has been spending more and more time as Green Arrow trying to forget about his problems.  One day, he receives a phone call from Mayoral aide Kenin McManus, and is informed that Mayor Jack Major wants to retire and that they have picked Queen as the perfect candidate to run for Mayor of Star City.

Oliver decides to call some of his superhero friends to talk about the offer and receives mixed advice (the best probably coming from Superman about how Queen's secret identity is pretty obvious).  He decides a personal visit to Black Canary is in order for a decision as important as this.

On his way across town to her apartment, Green Arrow finds himself trying to stop a protest gone out of control and turned into a full-on race riot.  As he fights his way through the crowd trying to bring some order to the street, the police open fire and a young black boy is killed right in front of the hero.

Green Arrow rushes the boy to the hospital, but despite the doctor's best efforts, he dies.  Moved to tears by his inability to save the boy, stop the riot, or basically do anything despite being a "super hero", Green Arrow finds consolation with Black Canary and tells her that he's decided to run for Mayor and try to do at least SOME good.

The End.

Truthfully, I liked this story a lot better than the main feature.  Like the main story, it's a bit of a relic of its time when it comes to dialogue and is definitely heavy-handed when it comes to the racial aspects, but it's also actually a thoughtful story that explores the question of what good a super hero is against the problems of society. 

 The synopsis above is a fairly sparse sketch of events. . .what is good here is the constant flow of Green Arrow's inner dialogue as he wrestles with the idea of the usefulness of a super hero when there's not a super villain, alien invasion, or giant creature to battle with.  

It's not a perfect story, but it's surprisingly thoughtful and has a lot of good moments in a pretty short space (it basically takes place during Green Arrow going from one side of town to the other to visit Black Canary).

In addition to the story being better than the main feature, I also found Neal Adam's art to be superior.  Where it was good in the first story, it's outstanding here. . .looking much less rushed.  Every panel is excellent, but the real standout is this fantastic splash page. . .just look at it!

Now THAT'S the sort of thing that made Neal Adams a legend!  
I would love to have a poster of that single page.  

Overall, this second story is superior in almost every way to the main feature.  Sure, it's a little heavy-handed when it comes to the racial aspects and you can definitely tell it was written in the early 70's, but it explores an interesting question in a thoughtful manner and is backed up with some truly outstanding artwork.  Very well done.



SCRIPT: John Broome
INKS: Murphy Anderson

The last story in this issue backtracks to before Hal Jordan became Green Lantern to answer a little question that probably didn't really need to be asked:  If the power ring lets Green Lantern fly through space, then why was Abin Sur in a crashed spaceship when Hal Jordan found him and was given his power ring?

Well. . .that's the question.  Let's get the answer!

The story goes like this:

Hal Jordan's confidante and chronicler of his adventures as Green Lantern, the unfortunately-named Eskimo "Pieface", wants to know how come Abin Sur was flying in a spaceship when he crashed on Earth if the power ring lets people fly through space.  Hal tells Pieface that he just HAPPENED to have asked the power ring itself that VERY same question before, and therein lies a tale!

 Abin Sur was inspecting the planet Athmoora which has been perpetually stuck in a neo-medieval stage instead of being in an atomic age like it should be. Probing one of the inhabitants' minds he learns that the energy beings known as the Larifars have stunted their progress by robbing them of their intelligence.

 Abin Sur then traveled to the Larifar home planet and imprisoned the entire race, except for Balzona, who was on another planet scouting it out and waiting to contact the Larifars and drain the intelligence of that world. When Balzona learns of his race's fate, he goes after Abin Sur and terrorizes his home planet.

 Abin Sur then agreed to free the other Larifars.  While doing so, he also convinces Balzona that his power ring wouldn't have the power to bring them to that location in time. Boarding a spacecraft (the very spacecraft that crashed on Earth), Abin Sur uses the long space flight to trick Balzona, distracting him by flying near Sirus's green radiation belt.  

 Abin Sur is able to recharge his power ring without Balzona noticing. Abin then uses his power ring to imprison Balzona and send him to join his fellow Larifars. During the flight home however, Abin was struck by a yellow radiation belt negating his power ring long enough to be unable to prevent his spacecraft from crashing on Earth. . .leading to his fateful meeting with Hal Jordan.

The End.  

Okay then.  That seems like a pretty long and convoluted way to close a small plot hole.  Basically, Abin Sur was pretending that his power ring was drained, so he was flying in a spaceship.  Not only did this question REALLY not need more than a couple of panels to answer, but did it really have to be reprinted almost 10 years later?

What I'm trying to say here is that this story sticks out like a sore thumb in so many ways.  It feels completely unnecessary and is basically a waste of space that would have been MUCH better suited to fleshing out the other two stories (especially the first one, which felt very rushed).

The writing is simplistic and just feels silly compared to the weighty subjects of the other stories in this issue.  And the art. . .look, I know that there are those who think the world of Gil Kane.  In MY humble opinion, his art is. . .okay.  I'm not going to try to throw a Silver Age legend off the pedestal many have placed him on, but all it takes is a look at the few pages I've scanned here to see that compared to Neal Adams, Kane's work looks. . .basic.  

Overall, the final story feels like filler that would have done much better giving over that page space to the first two stories.  It's an overly-complicated answer to a question that didn't really need more than a few panels of space to explain.  It's not BAD, it's just sort of "meh" and a waste of space.

And that's that!


Overall, I liked this comic quite a bit.  The first story felt a bit forced and rushed, and wasn't a great introduction for John Stewart to the Green Lantern mythos.  DC's first black superhero probably deserved a bit better.  That said, it's an interesting look at the past through a comic book lens and it had some great art, so it's still worth a read.

The second story explored an interesting question in a thoughtful manner and was backed up with some fantastic art.  It's definitely the best part of this comic, in my extremely humble opinion.

The final story is an oddly out of place relic of the Silver Age that just sort of sits there wasting space that could have been better used fleshing out the other two stories.  It's not bad, it's just sort of. . .there.

Even though I wasn't particularly pleased with the story that makes this a "Key" issue, I'm still happy to have this comic in my collection.  I'm not a big fan of Green Lantern in general, but I can see that this title was taking some interesting directions during this time.  Despite its problems, after reading this issue, I'm interested enough to keep my eye out for more of this era's version of Green Lantern/ Green Arrow.  

Up Next. . .

Apologies in advance for continued summertime delays (this entry took me FOUR DAYS for ONE issue!), but I'm going to get my first Longbox Junk Reader Request edition out sometime in the next couple of weeks.  The end of September can't come soon enough.

Be there or be square!

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Longbox Junk Retro Review - Uncanny X-Men #23 (1966)

Once again, apologies for summertime Longbox Junk delays.  I do my comic readin' and reviewin' during my spare time at work managing a hotel.  The extremely busy peak tourist season takes a severe dent out of that spare time.  Good for business. . .bad for Longbox Junk.  The good news is that there's only about a month left until things calm down a bit.

So there's THAT. . .now here's THIS!

Welcome one and all to another Retro Review edition of Longbox Junk, where I take a look at some of the older comics in my collection, and give YOU yet another review you never asked for.  You're welcome!

I've said this before, but let me say it again.  I'm not really a fan of "traditional" capes and tights superheroes, and even less a fan of "team" books.  It's not that I HATE them, it's just that I like my heroes to be a little more down to earth, even if they ARE inhabiting a comic book world. . .characters like Green Hornet, Zorro, Jonah Hex, The Spirit and The Shadow (to name a few examples) are what I REALLY like.


A good story is a good story.  I'm willing to give ANY comic a fair shake.  Part of MY Longbox Junk experience is surprising myself with things I wouldn't normally read . . .especially in the case of these "Retro Reviews".  Most of the older comics in my collection I buy for the covers and never read.  Doing these Retro Reviews gives me an excuse to crack them open and see what's inside for the first time.

The comic at hand has sort of an interesting tale behind it.  I actually bought it by accident at the local flea market when my wife bought a picture for a dollar for the frame.  When I was pulling the existing picture out for her later at home, this comic was behind it as padding.  BONUS!

It's not the most valuable comic in my collection, but it's definitely the most valuable comic I've ever accidentally bought for a single lousy buck.

Enough introduction.  Let's get into this comic!

Marvel (1966)

SCRIPTS: Roy Thomas
PENCILS: Werner Roth
INKS: Dick Ayers
COVER: Werner Roth & Dick Ayers
EDITOR: Stan Lee

Let's start at the beginning and take a look at the cover. . .

It's pretty well-drawn, but seems extremely busy.  The lightning bolt being shot by "The Eel" over on the left side just looks bad.  It's not a terrible cover, but it's certainly not that great either.  This is not a comic I would buy for the cover.

It loudly proclaims that this particular issue is for action lovers, but (as you'll see below) that isn't really true at all.  THIS comic is for lovers of 1960's-style madcap comedy, the likes of which hasn't really been seen for quite a while.  What am I talking about? Read on!

The story goes like this (and it's a doozy):

In the previous issue, the X-Men have been captured by Count Nefaria, who wanted to recruit them to his criminal "Maggia" organization (Silver Age Marvel's hilariously obvious way of dodging code-violating references to the "Mafia").  But he quickly learns that he needs to improve his recruiting methods when the Merry Mutants tell him to sit and spin.  Despite this minor setback, Nefaria decides to go ahead with his plan. . .to take Washington D.C. hostage for (insert best Doctor Evil voice imitation here) One Hundred MILLION dollars. 

To accomplish his. . .er. . .Nefarious. . .plan, Nefaria covers D.C. with a clear dome created by a 1960's super-science ex-machina device, and then, since the X-Men inconveniently decided not to help him, he sends his B-Team of minor Maggia supervillains disguised as the X-Men by way of hologram to deliver the ransom demand, giving the government 3 hours to pony up the cash or all the oxygen gets sucked from the dome.

Of course, the obvious weak point in this plan is thinking the government can do ANYTHING in 3 hours.  I can't even get my address changed at the DMV in less than 3 hours.  But I digress.


Back at Nefaria's base, the X-Men are trying to escape.  Jean Gray tries and fails to contact Professor X, not realizing that he's busy working on a secret project and has pretty much decided to ignore all incoming mental calls.  While the captured X-Men bungle around trying to figure out how to escape, Professor X is finally disturbed by a regular phone call. 

It's the military requesting he get his bald behind to Washington to consult on how best to destroy those evil X-Men holding the city hostage. . .which comes as a bit of a surprise to him.  About that time, the X-Men finally free themselves and Professor X manages to get a "What the hell is going on, guys?" Mental call through to Jean Gray, and a plan of action is formed.


Nefaria is contacted by the government and they've agreed to his terms.  Even better, the X-Men show up and tell him they've changed their mind and will work with him.  He sends the X-Men to pick up the ransom, then tells his fake Maggia X-Men minions (B-Listers Unicorn, Plant Man, Porcupine, Eel, and Scarecrow) to keep an eye on the X-Men for a double cross.  The Maggia quickly decide to double cross Nefaria and steal the ransom for themselves.  

While all that is going on, Professor X arrives on the scene and sends his astral form into Nefaria's base to spy on him, learning the secrets of the ex-machina machine forming the dome over Washington, but unable to do anything because he's pretty much a mental ghost that can't touch anything.


The X-Men collect the ransom and are chased by both the military AND a mob out for the blood of those filthy, unpatriotic muties.  They are rescued by the Maggia, but only so they can steal the ransom.  A brawl ensues, complete with quips galore and expository power explanations shouted during battle in such a way that there can be NO doubt that this is a 1960's comic.  

In the end, the X-Men prevail, but Unicorn double crosses his Maggia partners, grabs the money and runs.  The X-Men give chase and get the money back, but the other Maggia villains regroup and there's a hilarious juggling back and forth of the bag with the ransom in it until Marvel Girl finally manages to escape the battle with it.


Jean returns to Nefaria's hideout and gives him the ransom bag.  However, their discussion about how great the Maggia is going to be with all this new money is interrupted by a mysterious masked man just strolling in and ignoring them while turning off Nefaria's machine forming the dome over D.C. 

The other X-Men finally arrive and are distracted long enough for Nefaria to escape with the ransom bag.  The mysterious masked man is revealed to be Professor X walking around with the aid of his secret project. . .a transistor powered set of leg braces.  Everyone takes a moment to say "Hold on. What?" before realizing Nefaria and the ransom is gone.


On board Nefaria's escape boat, the criminal mastermind THINKS he's gotten away with the money, but Unicorn shows up for a final double cross, only for it to be revealed that the ransom bag is an illusion, created by Professor X using Nefaria's own illusion machine and they are taken into the custody of The Coast Guard.  The real money is returned and the X-Men are cleared of wrongdoing. All's well that ends well, right?  WRONG!

After an extremely brief victory celebration.  Jean Gray reads a letter she got in the mail and tearfully tells the X-Men she has to leave the team.  Wait, What? Nope. . .to be continued.

SPOILER FOR NEXT ISSUE: It's from her parents and they want to transfer her to another school.

The End. . .To be continued.

Okay. So that was the story.  And there was a lot of it for one measly issue of a comic book!

Overall, I really liked it.  But not so much for the superhero action promised on the cover, but for the unintentional (or maybe not) comedy of it all.  It reminded me a lot of those "madcap" or "screwball" comedies of the past, where everyone is running around and the situation just gets crazier and crazier.

There are so many double crosses and inconvenient situations in this issue that I couldn't help but laugh as each new one popped up. By my count, there are 6 double crosses in this story, with "Criminal Mastermind" Nefaria being the victim of 3 of them! 

I'm not really sure that this book was meant as comedy, but there's just a zany feel to it that makes it really enjoyable to read.  In particular, when the X-Men and the Maggia are fighting over the briefcase that has the ransom in it and it keeps getting passed from person to person. . .nobody can keep it for longer than a few moments before someone else grabs it. It's like something straight from an old Monkees episode!  

The art on this book was pretty good.  Nothing really stood out in a big way, but there weren't any really bad parts either.  It was just good workmanlike art, pretty standard for a 60's superhero comic.  The coloring was pretty sloppy throughout the book, though.  Not so much that it made for a bad read, but definitely noticeable enough to distract from time to time.


All in all, I really enjoyed this issue. . .but probably not for the reason the creators originally intended.  I found the multiple double crosses, inconvenient situations, ex-machina problem solutions, and cases of mistaken identity to be some good, funny reading.  

Like I said above, I'm not sure if the creators MEANT for this book to be funny in a madcap comedy way, but that's what I got out of it.  I'd be interested in finding out if anyone else has the same take on this issue.

Overall, this is one of those comics that make me love doing these retro reviews.  I accidentally bought it years ago and never read it beyond a quick flip through before throwing it in plastic and putting it in a box.  When I actually took the time to read it, I found a surprisingly entertaining comic.

Up Next. . .

The first Longbox Junk Reader appreciation entry.  A random draw from a list of reader requests.

Be there or be square!