Thursday, 13 October 2011

On Green Lantern Corps # 1:- Of The People, By The People, For The People, Screw The People ...



I don't know how to write about this, and I'm extremely nervous about trying to do so. Truthfully, I can't deny that I'm tempted not to try. For one thing, I feel so strongly about this that I can't help but believe that I'll inevitably fail to do the issue any kind of justice at all; if it matters this much, so one persistent internal monologue keeps insisting, then I'm not going to be up to the job. For another, I'm frightened that I'll let my emotions get in the way of both my argument and the fairness that's owed to those who I've been so - shall we say? - thrown by. Regardless of the fact that whatever I write here is of no importance to anyone else at all, I'd still rather try to be as even-handed and reasonable as I can, and yet, that's unlikely to be an easy thing to achieve. For whatever the politics of the creators and editors responsible for the unfortunately named, if admittedly ironically intended, Triumph Of The Will, they surely never set out to produce a text which is as disturbingly apathetic, selfish and irresponsible as they have. Once again, it just seems that everybody at DC who's been given the chance to steer the ship has had better things to do than to watch out for that lighthouse, and those people, and them rocks.



I don't suppose that too many of the folks who bought the new Green Lantern Corps title can recall experiencing the first appearance of John Stewart on the newstands. To a nine year Scots boy growing up in an affluent London suburb in 1972, where the faux pas of not having being been born English was at best a sign of carelessness and at worst an excuse for a beating, the very idea of a Black Green Lantern who refused to accept the racism of his self-regarding betters was as exciting as it was inspiring. The three panel sequence above, by Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams, seemed to me to contain an act which was every bit as heroic as any set of frames describing alien invasions being thwarted or robot armies being destroyed. In Stewart's refusal to accept power masquerading as authority lay, to a far younger version of your blogger, a challenge to all those tyrannies of which children are so keenly if obtusely aware; teachers and parents, peers and strangers, uniforms and regulations.

Appropriated with thanks from http://dc.wikia.com/wiki/File:John_Stewart_racist_candidate.jpg
        
And all those later critiques of the portrayal of the man who became known for a while as Black Lantern never in their revisionism took away my gratitude to John Stewart and his creators. For he, and of course they, helped me as I began to grasp that racism was nothing more than a despicable and pathetic form of bullying. Not the will of the majority and the blessed, not an expression of what God wants or of how things have to be, and certainly not the natural and just consequences of my own unfortunate if relatively privileged circumstances. Because at the heart of the liberal humanism of the superhero book of the time was a conviction that - of course - with great power comes great responsibility, and that the abuse of power brought with it the responsibility for its victims to fight back as best they could, because resistance was always to a lesser or greater degree possible. This even extended, it seemed, to the private life of a young Black American architect who, seeing the petty and vicious bullying of two of his fellow citizens, stepped up and said, with no little style and dignity and bravery,  "no".

      
A great many years later, I came across Camus's famous words; What is a rebel? A man who says no. And it still strikes me that for all their unintended sexism and racism, conservatism and carelessness, a great many of the superhero books of the Sixties and Seventies were in their own way teaching their readers to say "no". John Stewart may have only been Earth's second reserve as Green Lantern, and both of those in the queue before him were as white and whitebread as they could be. But as is the way of these texts, Stewart was all the more admirable because of that. Even a child could see that the Guardians of the Green Lanterns were for some reason racist, even as they provided the Earth with such valuable protection. Why they should favour white Americans above all other humans was something which the franchise never satisfactorily explained, and it still hasn't. But for this boy, John Stewart was the man. He was educated and confrontational, able but never conformist, angry and yet as sharp and as smart as could be, individual and yet deeply committed to his community, and to all those beyond it too. When he reappeared in an X-Mas issue of the Wein/Dillin Justice League, and then took the lead in the Wein/Gibbons and Englehart/Staton Green Lantern issues, I just knew that the Earth was in especially good hands.

I felt inspired. Me. I knew nothing but the vaguest facts about the Black American experience, but I knew what bullying was. I was a Scots boy who'd long learned to bury his homeland's accent, and who could never stop aching to go home even as he wished he could be just like all the English around him. And faced with John Stewart refusing to bow down before power, I felt inspired.


Nothing marks the partial and depressing retreat of the superhero book from the inclusive and inspiring humanist agenda of the Sixties and the Seventies as the first issue of the new Green Lantern Corp. (That wasn't the sentence which I originally wrote to express that point, but I suppose that a calm and nuetral tone really is for the best here.) In it, we see the triumph over all other issues of the fanboy superhero narrative, of the I'm-Special-Me values of the entitlement generation. Damn race, damn sacrifice, damn responsibility, damn any consideration of anything that's not concerned with how awe-some it is to be a superhero. For here we have a John Stewart who is so unengaged from anything beyond his own self-regarding interests that, as you can see in the scan above, he can't even bring himself to lift a finger to help his fellow women and men in any way beyond the excitement of wearing the skintight jammies and pointing the magical ring. As unbelievable as it seems, as entirely immoral as it undoubtedly is, this John Stewart responds to the corruption of a group of businessmen and politicians by leaving them alone to get on with financing substandard buildings. In short, the same Green Lantern who finished his first starring appearance in the Justice League by rebuilding a mass of previously-life threatening slum houses is now a man who couldn't really care less about who builds what and who gets hurt therein. He's so sickened by the whole despicable business of American government, you see, that he can't bear to get involved with the protection of innocent citizens.

John Stewart findis a way to rebuild the homes of the poor regardless of the rules against doing so. (From J.L.A. # 110, 1974)
         
For in Green Lantern Corps # 1, we discover that Stewart has inadvertently been designing buildings for a group of shady characters who are happy to finance unsafe skyscrapers in order to make a considerable profit. Stewart's response is to terrify them by putting them through the ordeal of what it would be like to experience a lift falling from hundreds of stories up, and then, having effectively tortured them, the Green Lantern turns away, appalled at the civic corruption which he assumes has cooperated in this scam, while declaring;

"Thanks for helping me learn a valuable lesson today. Even a GL can't fight city hall."



It seems that Stewart has taken the word of those who he already believes to be entirely depraved where the probity and irresponsibility of the "city's engineer" and "Mayor's Office" are concerned. Having been told that "City Hall" approved the plans for inadequately constructed skyscrapers, Stewart immediately jumps to the conclusion that everyone involved must have been bribed. And then, astonishingly, he gives up. He flies away. He simply abandons all responsibility for the situation. And there's no ambiguity about this in the text. Stewart has, we're told, learned that power can't be challenged. The character who once risked a savage beating and subsequent trumped-up charges by a bull-necked racist policeman in 1972 has now become in 2011 so impossibly self-involved and irresponsible that he believes that the response to such evil is to walk away. Apparently, he's done all he needs to. He's made a few folks rather scared, he's vented his anger, and the whole business has left John Stewart feeling rather alienated and disillusioned. After all, if this "City Hall" wants people to be put at life-threatening risk in a landscape-dominating skyscraper, then what can a world-famous, fantastically powerfully, highly-educated intergalactic policeman with a keen sense of politics and civic duty do but fly away in a huff, and without preventing any injustice occurring at all.
      

         
In a time when the myths of those who'd love to see democracy partially or even entirely discredited are continuing to spread with a terrifying speed and to a pernicious effect, comic books really do need to decide which side they're on. Not in the terms of any left/right divide, of the endless squabbling between liberals and conservatives, but in the sense of whether they're going to stand with the powerful or the powerless. Because here, John Stewart wipes his hands of everybody who will enter that skyscraper when it's built. His own feelings, his own immediate emotional welfare, his own prejudices, are so important to him that his sense of responsibility and duty has been completely wiped. And because he believes that the political system is entirely corrupt, he feels absolutely justified in flying away and letting everyone else go hang. Where once he stood against corruption, now he effectively bows before it because, let's face, nothing will ever change and the powerful can't ever be challenged. He has, as he tells Guy Gardner in just a few pages time, more satisfying things that he needs to do. He doesn't, it appears, consider himself be part of the unsuper-heroic community anymore, for he never wanted "to blend in ... (but rather) ... to stand out". And a "normal life" is something which he finds it impossible to "unplug" or "relax" into. It seems that he's "always waiting for the next mission or something to go wrong so (he) can power up."

Or to put it another way: me, me, me, me, me, me and me.
        
                  
What astonishing and despicable self-obsession,. What a loathsome egoist. Because that "something" which he's been longing will happen has already "gone wrong" before his very eyes, and his response was to fly away with an adolesecent's haughty disdain. Well, why not? That unimportant matter of professional gangsterism and public safety is concerned with nothing more thrilling than everyday human suffering, and John's far more interested in the kind of universal crises which his space-side obligtions involve him in. And in leaving the concerns of his fellow Americans so far behind, he isn't just turning his back on a few crooked capitalists and apparatchiks. He's turning his back on all of us. Because you can fight city hall. City hall only gets away with it if people don't fight. All human endeavours are marked by weakness, corruption and dubious compromise. That's what human beings do when they join together in any organisation. If we're incredibly fortunate, we inherit and maintain a system which contains the possibility of challenging power, of standing with the powerless and using the rule of law and the freedoms it brings with it in order to shift the balance back for awhile towards the good. Now, how is it that a massively powerful and influential individual such as John Stewart "can't fight city hall"? Compared to the likes of you and I, he's in a position of incredible advantage. He can't be physically threatened. he can't loose his economic resources, he can't have his freedoms taken from him, In truth, he's astonishingly well-positioned to fight.

        
And as a private individual, as a highly educated graduate and professional, he must be aware of the law and of his responsibility not to walk away from those everyday and entirely innocent folks who will suffer if he does. (The character always used to be.) For this isn't a question of whether the ethics of the GLC will allow him to use the ring to combat such malfeasance. As shocking a thought as it may be to the Rump and those who serve them with these ill-thought-through confections, a superhero can be a responsible citizen too, and a ringless John Stewart could achieve a great deal even if he's not playing at being a hyper-person. Why, he could even take his concerns to this city hall itself, and do so without blasting open its walls and making a fists-on-hips appearance. Are we really supposed to believe that all the local, state and federal institutions relevant to this matter are entirely corrupt? Are we supposed to buy into this ignorant populism that says all of those working for the state as well as all of those who are engaged in making money are worthless and entirely untrustworthy? Are we intended to imagine that none of the media, new or old, would be interested in such a story, or that the courts wouldn't respond to the issue if the slightest relevant evidence was passed their way?

1972's John Stewart, Green Lantern
     
But then, it's worth remembering that John Stewart is a superhero of considerable standing in the DCU's Earth, and we shouldn't forget that such a position would bring with significant and obvious political advantages. If he was concerned that he wasn't going to be on Earth for long enough to deal with this only-human problem, then he could at least use his fame and the respect he's earned to engage various campaigning organizations concerned with unearthing and combating corruption. He could even - shockingly - organise his own campaigns and speak out against the kind of abuses of privilege which we're shown in GLC # 1. And given that he knows a whole host of costumed detectives, he could even seek out his friends in the cape'n'chest-insignia brigade and ask for their help in tracking down the proofs of wrongdoing that'd result in both financiers and civil servants doing time at the nation's convenience. A few phonecalls, a couple of public appearances, and that building's construction becomes the hottest of scathingly-hot political potatoes. If the worst came to the worst, he could simply picket that site himself, for the word would soon get around, and there'd be no danger of a future in which a skyscraper collapses and thousands die because John Stewart couldn't be bothered to ensure that the public will be protected.

      
Certainly, such a programme of action would have been immediately embarked upon by the first incarnation of Stewart, who knew his Martin Luther King and his James Brown, who was delighted to say it loud that he was Black and he was proud, and whose every action was informed by a sense of civic responsibility matched with a knowledge of the civil rights movement. It is simply inconceivable that that John Stewart would fly away and leave everyone to their fate simply simply because he felt disgusted at the state even in the absence of proof of any wrongdoing on the part of its employees. No, the original John Stewart fought City Hall and he did so despite having a lifetime of proofs that the state was corrupt at its core. That's why he fought.

Of course, this scene allows writer Peter J. Tomasi to portray America as such a rat-hole that Stewart's justified in abandoning it and its people for the stars. But aren't superheroes supposed to stay where folks need help rather than running away because they don't think they can win, because they believe that, sigh, city hall can't be fought?

1972's John Stewart, Green Lantern

No, I don't believe that John Stewart would turn his back on his fellow human beings in this way. Indeed, I don't believe that he'd do so under any circumstances. If he believed that this corruption really existed, then he'd fight it. If the law was framed so poorly that these cowboy builders could do whatever they wanted to, then he'd challenge it in the public arena. If he felt unsafe properties were being built because of back-handers and other favours given, then he'd work within the law to expose it. And the fact that he's shown giving up and running away in the context of an argument about the safety of a building, of a skyscraper in a nation in which those terribly raw and painful memories of 9/11 still haunt its citizens, just makes the whole matter more ignorant, more stupidly careless. Did nobody realise that John Stewart wasn't just a man who sometimes designed buildings, but that he was an architect? That his identity was absolutely and indivisibly associated with his creative and professional life, and that his job expressed his ethics every bit as much as his skintight copper's costume does?

Appropriated with thanks from http://dc.wikia.com/wiki/File:John_Stewart_No_Mask.jpg
     
Similarly, did nobody recognise the unfortunate irony of having a former representative of civil rights issues in the DCU suddenly assuming the politics of the know-nothings and the don't-cares? Even in a DC where the editorial staff can't catch Aquaman being petty to the police or disdainful to a waitress, this John Stewart stands out as a self-righteous narcissist of the highest order whose presence shames a careless company and its staff. For here's a character who was once designed to speak for the people, and who's now become a symbol of callousness, of ignorance, of selfishness, of apathy, and a representative of all those who choose to believe that you can't fight city hall, when of course, you can. After all, the Freedom Riders did. It was unbelievably tough, and the costs were impossibly high, and the battles have, in truth, hardly begun. Yet not fighting city hall could never have been the option. Never.

And John Stewart would know that.  
    

   
For any superhero beyond the dregs of the breed to behave as Stewart does in Green Lantern Corps # 1 is a surely wretched business. But for it to be John Stewart that's being shown doing the threatening and the torturing, and then the flying away in a snit while declaring that there's nothing he can do, is a thoroughly depressing business. It really is. And that scene marks yet another triumph of the belief that whatever moves a superhero from point A to point B in the plot is of no true importance at all. What counts, it seems, is the sentimental meaning of the story rather than the facts of what's actually shown on the page. And so, a writer who wants to show how John Stewart's quite justified in not engaging in everyday affairs on Earth simply has to present a scene stating effectively that (1) America's so corrupt that (2) protecting her citizens is a worthless business.

Oh well. It's just a comic book, isn't it? And who could possibly have their thoughts and feelings, their ethics and ideals, influenced and even actively inspired by the contents of a comic book?

(I was.)

(I still hope to be.)


.

45 comments:

  1. You know that thing people do when they see something they love and respond by writing, "THIS."

    I'm totally going to do that now.

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  2. Wow. I was really bowled over by this post Colin.

    I confess that I've never been a Green Lantern fan and even less a John Stewart fan - but this was based off his portrayal in the Justice League cartoon where he seemed blander than bland.

    I am interested in the guy you describe here though - the educated architect wth awareness of the world and people beyond himself. Do you know if the ONeil issues you refer to are in tpb? I'd really like to give them a read.

    As for recent DC stuff, I just sigh. Almost all the comics I've either read or read about seem to be idiotically written. I really do wonder if there is any editing at all going on there. I'm also still amazed that Didio still has a job after so many years of screwing up DC comics (or at the very least allowing them to be screwed up) over and over. Just based on JMS' Superman, Cry for Justice and Rise of Arsenal he should have been fired in my opinion. He has effectively lead DC comics into the sorry state of deperately needing an emergency reboot for goodness sake!

    If you feel ANY trepidation over writing about racial issues I have some advice - DON'T feel any. I have no doubt that any point you make is going to be thoughtful and well argued. You actually think about the comics you read, which can be a breath of fresh air among comic fans (especially on the internet) in my humble opinion, who seem willing to swallow any old swill sometimes.

    On a side note, I can understand some of the alienation you felt as a kid - I went through similar feelings as a mixed-race kid. The way you speak about being helped by comics I found to be quite powerful:)

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  3. Hello Art:- thank you for popping in :) I must admit, following your link back has reminded that there are Fourth Wall podcasts to be listened to. Anyone browsing by chance in an idle moment through these comments is to be encouraged to check out the experience for themselves.

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  4. Wonderful if long-winded post. But then long winded is your house style. Do trust your readers more. Remove the feelings. Narrate the events. Your readers ARE likely to get what you are feeling. :)
    My only experience of GL were the issues where Hal gives up the ring and John takes over. THOSE issues were just as blah! as the only Flash I read - the one where he is on trial for killing Reverse Flash.
    Interesting to see that GL, unlike every other super hero actually had a socially conscious run! People sneer at comics (with exceptions of course) precisely because they have nothing to do with real life. :) What was the issue nos of the Neil Adams run?

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  5. While not an excuse for the changes in John Stewart's portrayal, it is interesting to note how it connects with some of the most prominent Green Lantern comics from the past 25 years.

    Both Sinestro and Hal Jordan have been used as the examples of what happens when a Lantern becomes too obsessed with righting all of the wrongs of their homeworld.

    That's not to say that fighting City Hall means John Stewart will become a global dictator or worse, but his inaction seems to suggest that fear.

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  6. That said, this panel http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-HRBJKyawkXk/TpbSDnPF06I/AAAAAAAAHUQ/GS7DmTZtvxs/s1600/scan0054.jpg doesn't seem too objectional - you can even fill in the blanks as to why John wanted to stand out. :)

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  7. Good points all round. Commercially I can't really see the benifit of removing any sembelence of relevence or relatability, but in terms of politics/human decency it's such a waste. Why bother fighting a problem you can't punch?

    And then I got to the end...

    "Oh well. It's just a comic book, isn't it? And who could possibly have their thoughts and feelings, their ethics and ideals, influenced and even actively inspired by the contents of a comic book?

    (I was.)"

    ...I think I've got something in my eye.

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  8. Hello Ejaz:- I was quite taken by the GL in the JLU cartoon, but much of that was that he wasn't the figure he'd by that time become in certain quarters of the DCU. In particular, the late 80s saw a Jim Starlin prestige series where John ended up destroying a inhabited planet. A step too far in the direction of extra portions of angst, I fear, and I felt the same when Hal went on his Guardian-killing spree a few years later. Still, my favourite version of John was indeed the radical of the early Seventies and the smart urban professional of the Eighties. Times change, characters change, but at each point, he seemed to me to stand for something that was admirable and relevant.

    "I am interested in the guy you describe here though - the educated architect wth awareness of the world and people beyond himself. Do you know if the ONeil issues you refer to are in tpb? I'd really like to give them a read."

    Shockingly, Amazon suggests that they're not! Well, the second of the two collections, which include John's first appearance, is still fairly affordable at https://www.amazon.co.uk/Green-Lantern-Arrow-Collection-Vol/dp/1401202306/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1318534983&sr=8-1 The stories are marked by a stiffness in places, and they're undoubtedly left-liberal polemics. But they're also wonderful, even if I can't always stick the way the politics are expressed.

    "If you feel ANY trepidation over writing about racial issues I have some advice - DON'T feel any. I have no doubt that any point you make is going to be thoughtful and well argued. You actually think about the comics you read, which can be a breath of fresh air among comic fans (especially on the internet) in my humble opinion, who seem willing to swallow any old swill sometimes."

    Thank you, Ejaz. It's very much appreciated, as is the way you discuss, here and before, your own experiences where all these minefields of race and ethnicity are concerned. I think it's probably good to be terrified about discussing such things, to be honest, or at least it is for me. It helps me make the work just a little more careful!

    "On a side note, I can understand some of the alienation you felt as a kid - I went through similar feelings as a mixed-race kid. The way you speak about being helped by comics I found to be quite powerful:)"

    Thank you! It is the nature of human beings to define themselves in terms of stories, of course, and it always has been. I've always been fascinated by folks, by proper writers, who discuss how fiction has helped them, or even hurt them, as they came to understand themselves. In fact, just about all my favourite critical writers do that. I've just been reading Out Of The Vinyl Depths by Ellen Willis, and it was just inspiring to see how music feed into her sense of self in the 60s and 70s. I can't ever match her brilliance, just in case it looks like I'm pretending I can, but I can't help but be inspired by her work.

    I must say, Mr Didio's tenure at DC doesn't seem from the perspective of this consumer doesn't seem to have been a success. But if the New 52 pays off in a substantial rise in audience share, he'll have helped keep the whole shebang up and running. Because of that, and despite my substantial doubts, I'm holding off until that fat lady hollers :)

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  9. Hello Anonymous:- “Wonderful if long-winded post. But then long winded is your house style. Do trust your readers more. Remove the feelings. Narrate the events. Your readers ARE likely to get what you are feeling. :)”

    I do understand and sympathize with what you’re saying. And when I write for elsewhere, I really do haul in the ‘the feeling’ and work to the word limit and so on that I’ve been given. If I’m asked to write a play that lasts for 90 minutes in 3 acts, then I promise you, that’s what I deliver.

    But this blog is concerned with those feelings as well as with the facts. I’ve some pieces coming up elsewhere which are pithy, but here, well; it’s my blog, I guess, and I investigate the issues I want to. I’m sorry that folks might feel excluded and frustrated. I always knew that following this format would be anything other commercial, and I’m as shocked as I’m pleased that the visitor figures here are as good as they are. All I can do is assure you that the long-windedness is a choice, not an accident. Mind you, the Sunday posts will be from now on far shorter and sharper as a matter of policy, and I can’t deny that I’m interested in finding ways of editing without losing the material I like :)

    ”My only experience of GL were the issues where Hal gives up the ring and John takes over. THOSE issues were just as blah! as the only Flash I read - the one where he is on trial for killing Reverse Flash.”

    That would be the mid-eighties, no? The Trial of Flash wasn’t very much fun for me, though there are fans, such as Martin at the TooDangerousForAGirl blog, who enjoyed them. The GL issues you referred to weren’t initially brilliant, I’ll agree, but as Crisis appeared on the horizon, the book really started to flourish. Let’s hope for some affordable collections.

    ”Interesting to see that GL, unlike every other super hero actually had a socially conscious run! People sneer at comics (with exceptions of course) precisely because they have nothing to do with real life. :) What was the issue nos of the Neil Adams run?”

    The Adams/O’Neil run was in Green Lantern/Green Arrow 76 to 89, although one of those was a 100 page reprint. There was also a three-part back-up feature in the Flash a little while later, which is often collected with the main run. They are all of their time, but all well-worth reading. It’s not always hip to say so, but there you go …

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  10. Hello Hisham:- Fair point, and thank you for making it. It sounds as if it could be a fascinating arc for the character, although I personally hope not. It is, as you say, a familiar plot, and I'd rather that John was cast as the defender of civil liberties rather than a menace of them. Horses for courses, I guess.

    But if this is the beginning of such a plot, then the problem is that there's nothing to show any doubt about John's behaviour at all. The story expects us to side to him, and there's no ironic distance or dissenting content to add perspective to John's behaviour. To the reader who experiences nothing but this issue, John really is representing such antisocial and apathetic ideals. In the current climate, I think that's a message it's worth being careful with.

    Of course, now you've made that point,I'm going to have to keep checking out the book ...

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  11. Interesting, meanwhile in the pages of GL #02, Sinestro say to Hall Jordan:
    "And despite the ring's capabilities of creating anything you can imagine... ... you never imagined a better world did you?"

    and

    "the corps din't simply give you a ring that could let you fly and create green airplanes. The corps offered you a chance to improve the universe."

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  12. Hello Anonymous:- I agree with you, but what worries me is what John isn't saying. He's not upset because he's assualted a bunch of folks, or because he ran away from a fight, or even because of the lives that might be lost of it. He's not even upset about the loss of his social conscience.

    He's just complaining that real life's too hard.

    Not as hard as it's going to be for the folks who find themselves in skyscrapers which are falling, or for the developers he put through a trauma-inspiring fall, I'd suspect!

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  13. 1. I love "The Trial of the Flash" very much, and I want to say so for the record.

    2. Keep the emotion, Colin. It shows that these issues do affect people. That comics have and do speak to real-world problems (oh, how that's so out of fashion!). And those problems aren't only climate change or repressive dictators but also the alienation felt by a child, who understood that it was possible to say "no" and that, indeed, this was often a heroic act. So many of us (myself included) perceived ourselves as outsiders or as different, whether racially or culturally or in other ways, and super-heroes taught us that this was not only okay but that it could be a source of strength. Because, self-evidently, defending those without power is the very definition of a hero.

    I warn writers away from personal statements all the time, and 99% of the time, the correct response is "why should anyone care?" And yet here, as in other cases when the personal is employed to good effect, it informs rather than intrudes. It allows the reader to feel, not merely to understand abstractly, that there is an alternative to the presentation of a "hero" under discussion. An alternative that can mean something, not only as a narrative, but to that narrative's readers. Even more, that can help point us to greater understanding, if not a finer world.

    And of course, using that personal experience in this way is itself an expression of the heroism you call for. A way of yourself saying "no."

    That's a very sophisticated move, and it's so obvious that you've crafted the piece consciously and with care, rather than tossing in the personal in any cavalier way.

    3. Thank you for the piece, which helped me see a comic in a way I hadn't. I don't come here to agree with you, though I happen to do so more often than not. I come here to think in new ways, to see things I hadn't -- meaningful things, no less. You've done that again, and it's a service.

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  14. Hello Mark:- Thanks for mentioning the eye business. You're an egg, sir.

    And anyone who makes believe that these wonderful little works of art don't have the capacity to inspire the odd sniffle, and even the occasional charge of enthusiasm, must be dead in the heart.

    I too see no point in gutting the real world from the superheroic one. Of course, party political rants are rarely ever fun. But there are more ways to haul that barrel over the falls ...

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  15. Hello Cedric:- There's another set of good points from the better seats in the hall.

    If this all connects to a new GL-franchise crossover, then it does seem interesting. All the same, I'd stand by my point above the lack of context in this particular issue.

    I suppose I can't help but feel that if I could feel so inspired by John Stewart when I was boy, then a JS who expressed the opposite views could be anything other than an inspiration to anyone who only reads this issue.

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  16. Hello Julian:-. “I love "The Trial of the Flash" very much, and I want to say so for the record.”

    OK, if Martin and you both say so, then I’ll pre-order the coming Showcase Presents of the whole run. (True-life pause.) I’ve ordered it, which means I’ve staked a Showcase against your Demon Knights # 2 !

    ”Keep the emotion, Colin. It shows that these issues do affect people. That comics have and do speak to real-world problems (oh, how that's so out of fashion!). And those problems aren't only climate change or repressive dictators but also the alienation felt by a child, who understood that it was possible to say "no" and that, indeed, this was often a heroic act.”

    Thank you, Julian. I’d not write it all if it wasn’t true. And yet those GL/GA issues were very influential on me. I think the very first I ever got a comment on here was about a GL/GA issue, and they did help me start to think. And there were certain characters and creators who were tremendously influential on me, and writing this reminded me of that. Something of that has always lurked in my belief that these comics should carry a sense of responsibility with them. I’d not censor, I’d not have standards or anything of the sort; I’d just hope …

    “So many of us (myself included) perceived ourselves as outsiders or as different, whether racially or culturally or in other ways, and super-heroes taught us that this was not only okay but that it could be a source of strength. Because, self-evidently, defending those without power is the very definition of a hero.”

    Strangely enough, that wouldn’t describe a great deal of today’s comics. It doesn’t seem to be an issue which informs a debate in a great many of today’s comics. How strange.

    ”I warn writers away from personal statements all the time, and 99% of the time, the correct response is "why should anyone care?"”

    And anywhere except for this blog, I’d keep it far away from the work unless the terms of the work asked for it.

    “And yet here, as in other cases when the personal is employed to good effect, it informs rather than intrudes.”

    Again, thank you. I do hope so. One of the things I still want to learn a great deal more about in this blog is learning how to try to do that.

    On heroes: I do think that anybody who says ‘no’ with a just cause is not just a rebel, but a hero too. It’s so much more difficult than our fictions tend to own up to, isn’t it?

    ”… and it's so obvious that you've crafted the piece consciously and with care, rather than tossing in the personal in any cavalier way.”

    I guess I thought that it was important to state my own bias here. Why was it that the way in which JS was represented hit a nerve? I worry, as you know, that in our culture’s rush towards freedom of expression, we’ve forgotten how powerfully influential stories can be.

    ” Thank you for the piece, which helped me see a comic in a way I hadn't.”

    I visit Sequart for exactly the same purpose, Mr J., and I intend to check that everyone else does too. (Sadly once a teacher …)

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  17. Mr. S--

    I'm afraid this is tangential at best, but I was wondering if you'd looked at any of the more recent issues of Moon Knight? I was amused to see Bendis had introduced a black supporting protagonist and made Echo a full cast member, which suggests an awareness of at least some of the concerns you raised in your earlier writings.

    (Which makes the whole thing even weirder, if you think about it.)

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  18. The heroes of the DC don't seem to take being challenged very well. Oh, sure, they fight off alien invasions and come through other life-threatening situations pretty well, but when confronted with a problem they can't punch, their first option is to just run off in a huff.
    "Aquaman, no one likes you! Would you like a glass of water?"
    *Aquaman goes off to mope somewhere*
    "John Stewart, city hall is corrupt!"
    *Stewart flies to space to mope*
    When the going gets tough, the superheroes go somewhere to punch something else.

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  19. The attitude displayed by the modern John Stewart is what one would expect from the Common Comics Culture of 2011, American Version.

    It begins with cynicism, a child's idea of a grown-up attitude, worn as though it were the fruits of experience, the world-weariness of the accomplished and wise. Never mind that it gives one an excuse never to try or to hope, reflects a poor understanding of how the world actually works, and is fundamentally cowardly. As history proves over and over, change is possible. But hope takes courage.

    It continues with a rejection of politics as inherently corrupt. A common attitude wrought by both the fact that yes, politics are corrupt, and decades of well-funded rhetoric blared throughout the republic insisting that politics are corrupt and we can't do anything about it. One can convince oneself that this attitude is wise and knowing. Which, of course, suits those in power quite nicely, thank you. "Don't touch those dirty politics, they'll soil you and you'll fail anyway" is an awfully suspicious message, hm?

    And, of course, it reflects decades of consumerism, wherein the idea of "celebrating one's independence and uniqueness" bombards us from every avenue all day long because it's so effective at getting people to buy things. Because of that, American culture is thoroughly saturated with the fear of being played for a sucker or being a sheep or simply not being a fully independent and unique individual. Collective action or a concern for the well-being of others clashes with this fear. (That one is supposed to assuage this fear by signifying uniqueness through the purchase of mass-produced consumer goods, yeah, well, no one said fear made sense.)

    See, the problem with helping others is that they may be playing you for a sucker and mock you for your efforts. And the people you're fighting against may also mock you for being a sucker. And everybody might mock you for failing to change things. And you will fail, because that's how government is, and everyone will mock you for that. Better to step away clean and proud than befoul yourself for no purpose but humiliation.

    These attitudes, prevalent in the Common Comics Culture, are also common throughout America. (Elsewhere in the world too, I'm sure, but alas, I'm provincial and can't speak to that.) Which makes politics more sophisticated or far-seeing than "up yours, got mine" very tough to sell around here. -sigh-

    And hey, let's not forget we're dealing with comic book mentality here. Quick fixes and flashy outcomes are everything. These heroes of four-color land and many of the fans who follow them would be willing to die gloriously for cherished causes; but asking them to instead live and grind for decades in service to those same causes will lead to a shortage of volunteers. Instead of one giant sacrifice, it's thousands of medium-level sacrifices stretched out over many years. Orders of magnitude harder.

    (And I keep wanting to call the GL "Jon Stewart," because the host of "The Daily Show" would make one hell of a superhero.)

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  20. I would like to give this post a standing ovation.

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  21. Once again Colin, I'm trying to add something relevant to the conversation, but all I can think is "bravo". Oh, and "amen."
    Dina.

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  22. I must confess that while I wasn't blown away by sheer awesomeness when it came to that scene (or the issue as a whole) I fear I must beg to differ on your assertion that GLC #1 was at all out of line. John is very relatable in his throwing up his hands in disgust. And relatable too in his weariness of dealing with that brand of insidious government/business corner cutting.

    My father works for an environmental activist group, and has been fighting the good fight consistently for over a quarter century (and that's not counting the time I wasn't around.) Lately, off and on, he has expressed a similar weariness. Even the best of us falter from time to time, in the face of a never ending battle. I'll grant you that I don't often care for Superman stories that dwell too long on this, but that's Superman. John is far less of an ideal, far more human a character. Many of the sixties and seventies would be revolutionaries and social crusaders have had similar changes in attitude thanks to the ever looming military industrial complex.

    Still, thank you for an interesting read, and highlighting John's place as a socially conscious superhero. If you haven't read it, I recommend Gerard Jones's "Mosaic." It is an interesting, cerebral take on the character.

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  23. Hello J:- How strange that you should ask! I picked up a copy of # 6 last week. I thought, having given the book such a stinker of a review, or two, that I ought to go back and re-assess it.

    I've given it the once over and I'm still concerned by the thin, static storytelling. But I know I have to go back over it this weekend, because there's something about it which is absolutely baffling me, and I don't know what it is :) It certainly is, as you suggest, a weird book, and I don't think that's 'weird' as in 'splendidly-out-there'. Yet I know I'm missing something, and I have a horrible feeling that I'm going to have go back and read 3 to 5 to work out what it is.

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  24. Hello Joe:- I wonder if this phenomena appears anywhere else in the New DC? My personal feeling is that both books you refer to are dubious things, with their meanings apparently founded in entitlement and the self-pity & self-importance which accompanies that. It's something which we might expect in Damien, for example, but surely not in grown adults UNLESS the point of the story is to discuss such dysfunctional POVs. After all, surely no-one's going to defend to this degree of self-absorption is in any way a marker of heroic behaviour?

    "When the going gets tough, the superheroes go somewhere to punch something else."

    Terrifyingly, John Stewart actually declares a preference for life in the Corp because its easier. The old takes on the character insisted on his having lived a full and politically engaged life before he signed up for a ring. Now we're told that he never wanted to be typical at all. Strange days, Joe, strange days ...

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  25. Hello Harvey:- "And I keep wanting to call the GL "Jon Stewart," because the host of "The Daily Show" would make one hell of a superhero."

    I really did have problems with writing "John Stewart". There was a sense of cognitive dissonance which kept tripping me. The differences between the two world-views - me/me/me/line of New Dc books & the Daily Show - was disturbing, and especially because of John Stewart's previous standing as a radical.

    “The attitude displayed by the modern John Stewart is what one would expect from the Common Comics Culture of 2011, American Version. It begins with cynicism, a child's idea of a grown-up attitude, worn as though it were the fruits of experience, the world-weariness of the accomplished and wise. Never mind that it gives one an excuse never to try or to hope, reflects a poor understanding of how the world actually works, and is fundamentally cowardly. As history proves over and over, change is possible."

    It's a genuinely disturbing thought that folks may not grasp the nature of democracy and how impossibly difficult a form of government it is to maintain.

    "But hope takes courage.”

    And, of course, the acceptance that a constant and consistently ill-rewarding struggle is still better than the death of politics and the rise of whatever tyranny would occupy that space.

    "It continues with a rejection of politics as inherently corrupt... One can convince oneself that this attitude is wise and knowing. Which, of course, suits those in power quite nicely, thank you. "Don't touch those dirty politics, they'll soil you and you'll fail anyway" is an awfully suspicious message, hm?"

    Again, how terrifying is that? In order for democracy to fall, all that's necessary is for good people to believe that it isn't worth fighting to preserve. And who does it suit if the polis collapses? I always think of Lenin arriving in Finland Station and savaging his fellow Bolsheviks for engaging in compromise and discussion with the Provisional Government. Lenin knew that the Government couldn't be overthrown if it were permitted to seem in any way productive. All prospective tyrannies want to ensure that governments are internally compromised while they externally create the myth of political futility.

    cont;

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  26. Cont;

    "Because of that, American culture is thoroughly saturated with the fear of being played for a sucker or being a sheep or simply not being a fully independent and unique individual. Collective action or a concern for the well-being of others clashes with this fear."

    ! Now that's an insight which it would be impossible for an outsider such as myself to intuit. Now you express the idea, it makes perfect, and disturbing, sense. Yet I wonder how those who are currently so keen to destroy the state think they'll manage without it. I guess they have a faith, and one which runs contrary to every single historical example of what happens when the mass lack any means of representing themselves against the powerful of whatever stripe.

    "Better to step away clean and proud than befoul yourself for no purpose but humiliation."

    It's a totally understandable response. And if I were somebody of power who wanted to do as I pleased, I'd work as hard as I could to increase that humiliation and promote the myth of noble disengagement.

    "These attitudes, prevalent in the Common Comics Culture, are also common throughout America. (Elsewhere in the world too, I'm sure, but alas, I'm provincial and can't speak to that.)"

    It's too big a world not to be provincial, isn't it? America does appear to be currently suffering an almost Weimarian mixture of disengagement and polarisation, and although Britain is a quite a way behind you there, the same forces can be seen combining together to create the same effect; poor education, a cadre of self-interested and ignorant politicians, propaganda passing as news reporting and so on. May I be blindingly obvious? This is not a good thing.

    "These heroes of four-color land and many of the fans who follow them would be willing to die gloriously for cherished causes; but asking them to instead live and grind for decades in service to those same causes will lead to a shortage of volunteers."

    I think you've nailed the issue here, Harvey. And yet some of the greatest books in the genre carried a sense of an endless struggle marked by little return and a great deal of sacrifice; the Amazing Spider-Man right up until # 151, the X-Men, Captain America under Englehart, GL/GA, Suicide Squad, Daredevil under Miller, and so on.

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  27. Hello Anonymous:- thank you! I very much appreciate you dropping by and saying so :)

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  28. Hello Dina:- You're very welcome! Thank you for visiting the blog, and for being so kind too :)

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  29. Hello mathematicscore:- I must admit, your words have made me wish that I could add even more material to make my points more precise. Now, I know that no-one needs even more words being slammed down in this blog, but you have me think about how I clarify my argument further.

    Anyway, let me see if I can square the apparent circle of difference between us, because I don’t think that our positions are as different as I might have made them seem.

    Firstly, I’m not suggesting that the disillusionment with politics isn’t understandable. My objection is that it’s presented as the only option in this story. In fact, it’s simply taken for granted that the reader will accept that such apathy is simply the ONLY option. It’s not an issue which is discussed, debated or qualified. It’s just the meaning of the text; politics is broken, I’m off. I find that a disturbing thing to be arguing as the sole meaning of a text.

    Secondly, as I’ve already said too much about, this is such a radical reversal of John’s ethics that it shocks me. If PT wants to make such a point, then there must be more appropriate figures to co-opt to his agenda. Doing this to John is as great a change in his original character as the Red Son Superman is.

    Thirdly, John’s argument is nonsensical. He isn’t helpless. He’s anything but. I can buy and respect such an attitude if Guy was so helpless. But as I explained above, he isn’t. It’s one thing for the powerless to be smashed down. But John’s an Intergalatic Super-Cop. To imply that he’s so hard done by is to create a pathetic version of Stewart, because he simply is not unable to fight.

    Fourthy, this Stewart is a different character to such a degree that we find that he was selfish from the off. The new DC is 5 years old, we hear. OK. This Stewart says he wanted to stand out from the crowd, and that he prefers the ease of being directed in the Corps rather than taking part in real life. This leaves this “new” John not as an example of an at-times disillusioned adult such as your father, with a lifetimes experience of serving the good behind him. This John apparently never saw himself as part of his community. When the Wein Stewart dropped his mask in the GL’s of the mid-Eighties, he did so because he didn’t want to distance himself from the people and his own identity. Today’s John is a egoist who can have had little experience of social engagement as an adult. And so, although he SEEMS to represent someone who has done his best, the facts that we’re given here leave him seeming to be a shallow bloke who was never that bothered in the first place. The text wants us to feel that he’s a wounded hero, but his heroism isn’t any that I can recognise.

    cont;

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  30. Cont;

    BUT! I would LOVE to see this very pressing and real issue of disillusionment and thwarted service being discussed in a respectful, logical and entertaining fashion. It’s interesting to note that one of the constructions of the ‘heroes journey’ is that of the hero who has isolated himself from the people learning to return to those who need their help. The very definition of hero right back to Gilgamesh is concerned with those who accept their limitations, the inevitability of their ultimate failure, and who fight on regardless.

    I shared your father’s feelings as I came close to 20 years service as a teacher. All I ever saw in education was one stupid, venal, self-serving political gesture after another. The workload went up year after year as students arrived in Sixth Form with more and more fundamental problems with the absolute basics; English, organisation, basic maths, and so on. Yet the system covered this up, awarded higher and higher grades, and so. In the year I was forced to retire, one of the Boards awarded a ‘C’ for Maths GCSE to students with 25% of the mark. Insanity ruled, fools rose through the system, and generations of students suffered terribly. No, I promise you, I understand faltering. I was faltering by the hour, I truly was.

    But John isn’t simply faltering. He’s left people to die. It’s not just the points above which mean that I find the whole business so …. disappointing. No, it’s that John Stewart justifies letting the construction of people-killing buildings continue because he can’t be bothered in the face of the very threats he life which he’s just decsribed! That’s not faltering. That’s a depraved lack of concern for others. A criminal lack of concern. And yet, the following scene with JS and GG makes no reference to it at all. That scenes all about two grown men feeling sorry for themselves. Leaving people to die is therefore cast as understandable, and that’s a fundamentally immoral act in itself, I’d argue.

    So, if John IS going to be re-cast as someone who can’t bear to help folks in need because it’s too much like hard work, then I’d like to have the issue truly investigated. But as it is, this comic seems to me that it actually insults those folks who’ve worked so hard for the good and who find themselves faltering. But it seems to argue that being disillusioned justifies not just opting out, but leaving others to suffer EVEN WHEN IT WOULDN’T COST STEWART ANY GREAT EFFORT AT ALL.

    I hope you don’t mind me trying to respond to your quite legitimate concerns. I haven’t meant to seem to be brow-beating you, but just taking the opportunity to see how I might have added to my argument in the like of your comments. Thank you for your points, and for being so kind as to say the piece was of some interest even as you disagreed with considerable aspects of it. That is much appreciated.

    Finally, “Mosaic”. You are SO right! I really do STILL miss that comic. A collection is long overdue. (And, regardless of how we might differ – and why not? - can you imagine what that John would say to today’s Mr Stewart?) In fact, I’m smiling here just thinking of how much I loved Mosaic ….

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  31. Wonderful post, Colin. Your thoughts, and Julian's reply, have crystallized exactly why I loved comics as a child, and why I am so disappointed in them now:

    1. Comic books should celebrate diversity. They speak to anyone who has ever felt like an outsider (which is almost all of us, isn't it?) and they tell us that it's OK not to fit in. As Julian says, "super-heroes taught us that this was not only okay but that it could be a source of strength." Now, this sentiment could easily become mere cliche (everyone is a special snowflake!) if not paired with point #2.

    2. "Not fitting in" does not mean that you are not part of a community. In fact, your unique voice makes it all the more important that you participate in the community.

    Current comics seem to have forgotten these two points. Heroes (and especially heroines) look more and more alike, as individualism is slowly drained from the texts. (DC's current push for "diversity" is deeply and truly ironic.) They all look the same, act the same, have the same motivations (at least one dead parent), wallow in the same angst. Far from inspiring their readers, current comic books seem to at times openly mock them--quite a role reversal. And then these homogenized heroes turn around and embrace a narcissistic (and ironic!) sense of entitlement, rejecting the community from which they should participate.

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  32. Great post, and great comments. I find it slightly astounding that in reviews I've read elsewhere of this comic, the problem you highlight wasn't touched on at all.

    And it's also pretty surprising that having trumpeted a '30s-style activist Superman in Morrison's Action Comics, DC is leaving that direction entirely alone in its other comics. It's rather depressing that explicit engagement with social/political issues seems to be walled off in a little corner (also counting any other creators who are putting a bit of social relevance into their DC work; I'm sure there are some out there).

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  33. Hello Ralph:- Thank you. And Julian's points are thoroughly fines ones. (His columns on matters great and greater can be found at http://www.sequart.org/author/julian-darius/ )

    I've always thought that the superhero can be put to best use to describe how we cope with being outsiders, and the degree to which we are. Obviously, some capes are more part of society than others, and that's one of the things which helps to - or should help to - make them all different and vital. And yet with everyone in the superhero world, with few exceptions, as you say, becoming more and more the same, stories are becoming both so incredibly repetitive that it's hard to care. As daft as I know it might sound, I really think that the relationship which a superhero has to the powers that be is one of the most important aspects of their identity.

    From that, those twin issues which you discuss - not fitting in and yet still belonging to a community to one degree or another - can be used to power any number of discussions of absolutely key matters; not who's stronger, Thor or the Hulk, but what does each character tell us about those key matters of great responsibility and great power.

    You're absolutely right about the ongoing homogenisation of the superhero book. I thought the problem was an overwhelmingly worrying one in the 80s, but things are far, far worse now. How can this possibly be?

    "And then these homogenized heroes turn around and embrace a narcissistic (and ironic!) sense of entitlement, rejecting the community from which they should participate."

    I must start hunting out all those books which don't do these things, because there are far too many comics which are concerned with exactly the self-obsession you describe. Oh, dear ....

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  34. Hello Jim:- "Great post, and great comments. I find it slightly astounding that in reviews I've read elsewhere of this comic, the problem you highlight wasn't touched on at all."

    Thank you. And I'm tremendously grateful to the folks who comment on this blog, because, as you intimate, the comments are fine ones.

    The silence about John Stewart here is one which I've noted too, though I can't say I've read too many pieces on the issue. I've no doubt that there's a significant degree of debate out there, just as I know that there'll be folks who saw the problem and weren't particularly interested in discussing it. Yet I spent hours - literally - going backwards and forwards through the book looking for something which would explain Stewart's behaviour. A line saying the character would return, or regretted his behaviour. A mention of the police pressing charges against Stewart for assault, a lawyer pressing suit for damages. Nothing that I could see. I have a morbid fear that there's a word balloon standing right in front of me which I can't see, but I've discussed things here and elsewhere with folks who've read the book too, and regardless of whether they agree with me or not, they can't see an informing context either.

    "It's rather depressing that explicit engagement with social/political issues seems to be walled off in a little corner (also counting any other creators who are putting a bit of social relevance into their DC work; I'm sure there are some out there)."

    Hear, hear. And it's especially so because so many of these issues are hardly radical, unless you belong to one of the wackier political POVs. Matters such as kindness, responsibility, society, inclusiveness, mutual respect, duty, service; they're not aspects of some extreme political ideology out to destabilize the state.

    They're just common decencies. Why aren't we more concerned with them?

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  35. I would just like to add my agreement that Green Lantern: Mosaic is a series long overdue for a complete reprinting.

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  36. Hello Hisham:- Absolutely! A Showcase collection of all 18 stories would do me fine! A colour collection that didn't follow the Secret Society Of Supervillains rip-off model would be greatly appreciated too.

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  37. Hello Bob:- thank you for reminding me so kindly that the GL/GA stories are indeed in the Showcase line of B & W reprints.

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  38. Very interesting. Superheroes are supposed to fight even if the battle looks like it can't be won. That's the point of them! That's the hero part!

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  39. Hello Steve:- Absolutely! And of course heroes with different ethics, from different political and religious perspectives, fight for different causes and in different ways.

    But I've never come across one who flies off in a sulk, effectively saying "Go ahead and build your building which will kill folks. I can't stop you. You're all corrupt."

    If it's a long term plot-point, there's nothing in the issue to indicate that we're supposed to see it as that. It's all straight-down-the-line, isn't-he-admirable where the text is concerned.

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  40. What a fantastic post. What a great reading of a character, and a great demonstration of just why continuity obsession fails to recognize true continuity: that which stays true to who characters are and what they mean, not the plot points they embody on the way from fight A to surprise reveal B.

    Thanks.

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  41. Hello Justin:- Thank you for leaving such a heartening and generous comment. It really is much appreciated.

    And thank you for leaving a comment which caused me to come across your blog "babble comics". I genuingly thought - as of course you'll know! - it was an inspiringly interesting site to visit. And I'll do so again. Should anyone make it to the end of these comments, please do take the opportunity of clicking on Justin's name above and popping over to babble comics. It's a journey I'd recommend, for whatever that's worth.

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  42. That was brilliant - and suddenly I wish, more than before, Stewart was the post-Flashpoint (and film) Lantern because damn he looks interesting in those early panels. And with the growth of new, disgruntled protest movements and youths, that sounds like the sort of GL that could find a new market.

    Except not, since he's buggering off.

    re Harvey: yes, that is a belief that seems to benefit some people more than others, isn't it? And isn't it strange that we get politicians who claim "This whole body is corrupt! Vote ME to that body!", and how they always turn out to be more corrupt than the norm? (Our British National Party turned out to be pinching EU funds for party purposes, IIRC you had the Contract With America in the 90s and most of the politicians on that ticket were dirty in some way...)



    - Charles RB

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  43. Hello Charles:- Thank you for your kind words. You're an old friend of this blog. Your opinion is always valued here :)

    John Stewart does look glorious in that Neal Adams art, doesn't he? He was a much calmer figure by the time of the Wein/Gibbons and Engelhart/Staton issues. Here he was smart and angry, but angry in a focused and productive way. I like the John of the JLU too, I must say, but that professional officer routine has less appeal than the urban radical. I can understand why DC might not have wanted to associate one of its few Black characters with out and out radicalism, because that carries the taint of stereotyping too. A Black middle class hero was a radical representation in the context of its time and it broke with the stereotypes. Yet JS in his original form was highly educated as well as a street activist. That made him very different. Marvel had a chemist in Black Goliath and the Black Panther. But they didn't have a sharp, sexy member of the Black intelligentsia who was specifically politically engaged.

    I saw the BBC documentary last week about the BNP economic woes, shall we say? What a depressing business. Yet at least they remain largely known for what they are. Lethal and yet not hidden in plain sight. It's the vipers who pass as good citizens who scare me most ....

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