~ By Patrick Ryan Bauer, the CBU’s Buddy Bradley ~
Hey there, true believers! I’m Patrick Ryan Bauer and welcome to Into the Timestream, where me and my rad-d will go back in time to relive some of the best (and possibly worst) comics I’ve had the pleasure (or displeasure) of reading.
Why older comics? Well, probably because I’m an older guy. Plus, the kids I follow on Twitter do a great job of letting me know about excellent new comics. I’m trying to return the favor by hipping folks to some of the stories that made me a lifelong fan of comic books. (AKA: sequential art, comix, funnybooks, that thing I’ve done at social gatherings instead of socializing.) I sincerely hope anyone who reads my recommendations ends up enjoying them as much as I did. I also hope I can eventually monetize writing about comics so I can get “COMIX LIFE” tattooed across my abdomen like 2Pac.
~ Green Lantern Vol 2 #171 – #186 By Len Wein and Dave Gibbons ~
As a huge fan of indie titles, followed by MARVEL titles, I thought it only fair to start with one of my favorite DC characters: GREEN LANTERN. Specifically, the run that was happening right when my sticky, little five-year-old fingers were starting to grab comics from the newsstand whenever I was lucky enough to be with an adult who had some pocket change on them. That would be LEN WEIN and DAVE GIBBONS’ run from Green Lantern 172-186.
What’s that? You say the header includes GL 171? Right, right. I’ve included that simply because it’s way cool. Cover by GIL KANE, interiors by ALEX TOTH, and backups by Gibbons. That’s a pretty swole lineup. Plus, including it will help me waste a paragraph. This paragraph. Whatever. It’s a sweet issue. Read it. Carve Toth’s name into your arm. Wail in despair at Kane’s grave. Send Gibbons a heart-shaped box of candies.
So, these comics hadn’t entered my mind for quite some time. Most of my childhood possessions were lost to numerous moves and unpaid storage locker fees, growing up. (As an adult, I stand in front of my comics in a pair of overalls with one strap undone, a straw hat, and a musket. I should probably just invest in renter’s insurance.) As such, these glorious GLs had been lost to me for almost thirty years. I got it into my head to replace them at a convention last year. It turned out to be one of my better ideas. (Better than wearing overalls. Not a good look for me.)
If you’ve read more than a few comics, you’ve read Watchmen. If you haven’t, close your browser, shed a single tear, and read it right this second. All done? Great! Watchmen is probably what Gibbons is best known for and with good reason. It’s one of the greatest comics of all time. I’ve never heard of the guy who wrote it* but I’ll be damned if Gibbons didn’t draw the shit out of it. I was delighted to discover that he’d also drawn those GL issues that introduced me to HAL JORDAN and JOHN STEWART.
The hunt was on. I entered the convention with cash that might have otherwise been foolishly blown on food and rent, intent on piecing together this run. As a bona fide cheapskate, I usually check out several vendors before blowing my wad on comics I find for half the price at a different booth. However, some saintly vendor had, apparently, not been informed that it was 2016, as they had almost the entire run I was looking for, properly bagged, for 25¢ a pop. Anticlimactic, I know, but I ended up with all but one issue for under ten bucks. (Take note, kids! Great 80’s comics are dirt cheap!)
While my haul from the con was mighty, I had Green Lantern on the brain. I threw the other comics I’d purchased into a wood chipper and sat down to read the comics I hadn’t read in thirty years. It was an incredible experience. Seeing half-recollected panels from my childhood gave me an insane rush of wonderment and nostalgia. Remembering my first time seeing THE FLASH as he fought…RAINBOW RAIDER? Really, DC?
Written by the terrific and prolific Len Wein, (who gave us Swamp Thing! Later to be written by that afore-unmentioned Watchmen dude.) the story arc involves Hal returning to Earth after an exile imposed by the plot devices of the universe. Er, GUARDIANS OF THE UNIVERSE. My mistake. Hal, after having been missing for a year, waltzes back into his job and his relationship with CAROL FERRIS, heretofore to be known as the most patient person on infinite earths. I get it. Love is love and I know that I’m the type to wait around for a year for someone special. Especially if the other half of the treasure map is tattooed onto them. Everything feels copasetic and Hal, presumably after learning some important cosmic lessons, has even stopped referring to his buddy, TOM KALMAKU, as PIEFACE. (Yes, that was a thing. Thank you, Len Wein, for not even trying to justify that garbage.)
However, being home doesn’t solve Hal’s problems. Wein paints a picture of a man torn between his duty and his dong. His heart. I meant his heart. Hal gets pulled away by the Guardians at an inopportune moment for both him and Carol, in order to save a whole planet, leaving her company at the mercy of THE DEMOLITION TEAM. (They’re cooler than Rainbow Raider, I swear.) This leads to Carol issuing Hal an ultimatum: Leave the GREEN LANTERN CORPS or get outta my life. This makes no sense, of course. If Hal weren’t a GL, he couldn’t very well have helped at all against super baddies. Even if his duties take him away, from time to time, better to have him around with a power ring, right? RIGHT? Whatever. Hal quits the corps, despite just about everyone in the damn universe suggesting he do otherwise. That’s okay, though, because we get the return of John Stewart out of the deal.
As a kid, I loved John Stewart stepping in. Between that and the cool Green Lantern Corps backup stories, it sent the message that being a Green Lantern wasn’t just about stumbling onto some dying red alien, it was about being a good person. I loved the idea that maybe, just maybe, a bunch of ageless, blue motherfuckers might pick me to be a space cop. That the important part of being a hero wasn’t the sweet costume, it was doing the right thing. (Though, Green Lantern’s costumes have always been sweet AF. Except KYLE RAYNOR. Sorry, man. Your butt-ugly, 90’s-ass costume shoulda been what you found in the fridge.)
This run is everything I enjoy about 80’s superhero comics. Interesting stories, subplots, and characters rendered by a master of the craft. Wein does a great job of making each character seem believable. The people feel like folks you might actually know and the stereotypes are kept to a refreshing minimum, for the time. Some of the interpersonal drama feels contrived but I understand that certain plot elements hinged on characters going one way or another and things needed to be moved along, with Crisis looming on the horizon. What’re ya gonna do?
As for Gibbons’ art, I think it’s incredible. It feels like a novelty to read him doing a monthly title. There’s some really great layouts, imaginative visuals, and his style is one of the all-time greats. He partners well with Wein and I think that speaks to Wein’s ability to write for artists as much as it speaks to Gibbons’ ability to translate a great story into the medium of graphic literature.
I hope my synopsis, coupled with the ridiculous name power of Len Wein and Dave Gibbons is enough to get people to give this run a shot. Like I said, it can be found pretty cheap. I wouldn’t call it the definitive Green Lantern run but it holds a great deal of importance to me for being the first GL comics I ever read and for having a human touch that helped my young brain see the heroism that exists in all sorts of different people/ring-wielding humanoids. “It’s why Hal and John remain my favorite Green Lanterns, to this day. Ch’p is my third favorite. Dead serious about that.”
* Yes, I know it was Alan Moore. This was a test to see who reads the whole column.
Patrick has been a touring stand-up comic for over a decade, was the head writer for TV’s Drinking with Ian, has recorded for Stand Up Records, and has nothing to show for it. He loves comic books, Star Wars, Devo, and his cats. He also loves more important things but always leads with that crap. He currently lives in South Minneapolis, two blocks from where Prince went to high school. Also, forgot to mention he loves Prince.