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The Seminal Moment in GREEN LANTERN #76

I wrote the following letter to Captain Comics, aka Andrew Smith, who writes a column in the Comic Buyer's Guide:


There's nothing wrong with Top 10 lists, but I suspect people have already done the top comics by decade, the top Batman or Spider-Man stories, the top single issues, etc. Here's a challenge that might be interesting: What are the top moments in superhero comic-book history? The single scene—a panel or sequence of panels—that was the most profound, influential, or memorable? Again, I'm not talking about whole series, individual comics, or individual story arcs, but rather a single scene within a comic.

Some nominations:

  • The moment in GREEN LANTERN #76 when a poor black man asks Green Lantern what he's done for anyone who isn't orange or purple—i.e., most of humanity. How ironic is it that stopping a bank robbery in a predominantly white city is okay, but not stopping a multinational corporation from using forced child labor in a predominantly non-white country? Both are crimes, but guess where your typical GL concentrates his efforts. Can you say "double standard"?
  • The moment in DARK KNIGHT RETURNS #4 when Batman defeats Superman while telling him, "You gave your power to them, not to us" (paraphrase). [I'd also nominate this as one of the greatest single comics of all time, but that's a separate matter.]
  • Readers respond
    The good Captain published my letter in Comic Buyer's Guide #1493 (6/28/02). A few months later, the Captain published two letters dismissing the importance of GL #76. I then wrote another letter (10/22/02):


    Whoa! I just read your column in CBG #1508. Not one but two people had the temerity to challenge my position on the classic GREEN LANTERN #76?

    I could write a long-winded defense of my stance, but since your correspondents put imaginary words in Green Lantern's mouth, let's continue the dialog. Here's how the black man might respond to GL's hypothetical response:

    Black man: Only there's skins you never bothered with...the black skins! I want to know...how come?! Answer me that, Mr. Green Lantern!

    GL: Hey, buddy, I've saved this planet—this entire galaxy—more times than I can count. If it wasn't for me, you wouldn't even be here now, nor would any other black folks....Get off my back.

    Black man: Big whoop-de-doo. So you spend 20% of your time saving the planet—which not coincidentally helps the rich, white Americans who dominate the planet. What have you done for the rest of us?

    You say your job is to save the world? Well, Mr. Lantern, the world is threatened by dozens of problems you've never touched. Global warming, ozone depletion, air and ocean pollution, deforestation and desertification, food and water shortages, AIDS and other epidemics, nuclear proliferation, biochemical warfare threats, repressive dictatorships, massive unemployment, income disparities between rich and poor, Third World debt, racism and prejudice, religious intolerance, and on and on. Any of these could lead to worldwide war or economic collapse or environmental ruin.

    So why haven't you tackled these problems, Mr. Lantern? Is your job to save the world? Or is it to protect the welfare of rich, white Americans? When have you done anything that didn't benefit your own people?

    And don't give me any jive about handling only the problems that regular people can't handle. That's a total crock. You spend 80% of your time stopping muggings and bank robberies in upper-middle-class neighborhoods. These are exactly the problems regular people can handle—for instance, by hiring more police. The global problems I mentioned are the exactly the ones we can't handle without assistance.

    So when will you and your "Justice" League do something to help the world's poor, huddled masses? I don't see a power-mad scientist or starfish anywhere, but innocent people are dying even as we speak. Why are you standing here when you could be delivering them food or medicine or whatever they need to survive?

    Answer me that, Mr. Lantern. Then we'll talk about everything you've done for us. If they live long enough, I'm sure the people of Rwanda and Bangladesh and Chechnya will be happy to give you a big shiny medal.

    Over to you, Green Lantern. I await "your" next response with bated breath.

    Early years vs. now
    Another comment to the Captain:

    Incidentally, I don't necessarily agree that Green Lantern tackled mundane crimes only in his early years. I think that attitude continues today.

    Look at the latest story arc involving the beating of Kyle Rayner's gay friend. You could say, "Wow, GL is finally tackling an important social issue: homophobia." Or you could say, "What took GL so long? People have been beating and jailing and stoning gays for centuries. It's undoubtedly happening to hundreds of people right now in repressive countries around the world."

    Should we give GL credit for devoting his limited time to helping one gay friend? Who still happens to be a (relatively) rich, white American? Or should we excoriate him for not doing something about the worldwide problem his friend represents? Why is Kyle's pal getting the full benefit of GL's ring and not Abdul in Saudi Arabia, Eliza in Nigeria, and countless others?

    Answer: Because GL isn't saving the world. He's saving the people he deems worth saving. If he happens to save other people along the way, great, but that isn't his primary goal.

    He literally could ask his ring to identify the greatest threat to the greatest number of people. You can bet it wouldn't be two homophobic thugs in a big-city alleyway. Or if you don't believe the ring has that power, he could use it to set up a worldwide system of monitors and informants. But he doesn't do that or anything like it. Instead, he sits on the couch, pops a beer, and watches TV until the media announces a threat to upper-middle-class America.

    And let's not waste time saying that because comic-book readers are rich, white Americans, they want to read about themselves. I already know that. That's my point: that these people live in a cocoon and want to read about others in the same cocoon. In other words, that these people are blind to reality and so are the comics they read.

    The blind leading the blind...that can be the epitaph of superhero comics if they fade into oblivion. These comics could be so much more, as series like WATCHMEN and DARK KNIGHT RETURNS prove. But we're still talking about comics from 15 and 30 years ago because not much has changed. What has the medium done for us lately?

    Related links
    Why doesn't Green Lantern eliminate evil?
    Bruce Wayne vs. Bill Gates:  Who's the hero?
    Giving up PEACE ON EARTH
    Culture and Comics Need Multicultural Perspective 2000
    The future of comics

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    All material © copyright its original owners, except where noted.
    Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.

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