ORLANDO-- I've heard a lot of suggestions on ways the Green Lantern movie could've been improved. I thought I had heard them all. Then, an email from former Congressman Alan Grayson suggested the film could've been improved by including an exchange from Green Lantern #76. A (poor) African-American man approaches Green Lantern and Green Arrow and asks them why, if they spend so much time fighting for people with orange, purple, and blue skins why he doesn't do anything for people like him.
This exchange obviously rubbed off on the young Alan Grayson, who told us he wrote this particular email blast himself. "That particular issue was a real breakthrough. . . connecting what teenagers like me were experiencing in the world." Grayson also has taste. Green Lantern #76 was awarded the comics equivalent of an Oscar or Emmy for the best story that year.
Grayson admitted he read this run on Green Lantern for several years, one which included Green Lantern and the Robin-Hood-esque Green Arrow fighting slumlords, drug dealers, and your typical aliens and Nazis. In fact, writers Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams are credited with bringing a new social conscience to comics, and saving a title (Green Lantern) from cancellation due to lackluster sales, revitalizing it with new, fresh storylines and relevance.
When I contacted Denny O'Neil about whether he expected his story to inspire so many, or even a future Congressman, he was completely modest. "No, I wasn't anticipating anyone being inspired. I might have hoped for that, but it seemed a lot to really expect. I mean...it was just a comic book, As to how I feel...A little amazed." Adding to Congressman Grayson specifically, "I hope our stuff does you some good."
Grayson as a Congressman was know for his terse and bombastic rhetoric, a quality he may have learned from comics. His social conscience, obviously, was also impacted by this. "It’s important enough for me to remember it in 2011 and write about it."
This clash of populism and superheroism that is depicted in the issue is so iconic, I would agree with the Congressman that it was what was missing from the recent film, though O'Neil gracefully reminds us about the Ryan Reynolds vehicle, "there's nothing wrong with turning out a good popcorn movie."
I asked O'Neil about what issues someone today could confront Green Lantern with, and he had several ideas:
"A legislative process that seems to be hopelessly broken.
Exploitation of kids.
Abuse of power."
I could not agree more. And this is exactly the message Grayson picked up on and used in his plea for help: that those in power, if confronted about the lack of jobs or health care or the numerous other problems in our country would be forced, when asked to account for their selfish actions by We the People, would have to answer. . "I. . . can't. . ."
Grayson joins a select cadre of political comic book fans, such as Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, a huge Batman fan who both made a cameo in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight and wrote the preface for Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Strikes Back. Both Leahy and Grayson embrace their heroes' ethics and their propensity for heroic words. There must also be something in the zeitgeist about superheroes intersecting with politics, as evidenced by Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell's State of the City Address where he compared Austin to the Green Lantern.
Grayson also outed himself not only as having excellent taste in comics but an understanding of the important historical context. He correctly pointed out that it was this run on Green Lantern that challenged the authority of the comics code. By dealing with heroin addiction by Green Arrow's sidekick Speedy in the Snowbirds Don't Fly arc, it forced a total rewrite of the previously restrictive comic code created in the 1950s. Grayson even characterized the code by saying "There may have have been a particular degree of censorship" in it. That would be an understatement.
While this collection from childhood has become "a bunch of stuff in storage," adding that if they ever get valuable enough he may consider pulling them out or selling them. Well, Congressman Grayson, it may be time to pull out your old copy of Green Lantern #76 - ones in good condition go for $150 - $300 on Ebay and one copy sold for five figures last year at auction. No matter the dollar value of a particular book, this social awareness is priceless. Please read the Congressman's unedited email below and feel free to contribute to him.
Also, special thanks to GraphicPolicy, a great DC-based comics and politics blog who also covered this story. Cross-posted at BigShinyRobot.
The movie Green Lantern opened on Friday, to mixed reviews. Maybe the reviews would have been better if the movie had included this powerful exchange, from Green Lantern #76:
African-American Man: I’ve been readin’ about you . . . How you work for the blue skins . . . and how on a planet someplace you helped out the orange skins . . . and you done considerable for the purple skins! Only there’s skins you never bother with – the black skins! I want to know . . . how come?! Answer me that, Mr. Green Lantern!
Green Lantern: I . . . can’t . . . .
I may never have the chance to talk to George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, or any of the other Masters of the Universe who led and misled our country for eight long years. Nor may I ever have the chance to speak to Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, or any of the other savage right-wing loons who want to finish the job that Bush et al. started. But if I could, I might say:
Me: I’ve been readin’ about you . . . How you work for multinational corporations like Big Oil. . . . And how you say you built all those roads and schools and bridges in some country in Asia. And in some other country in the Middle East someplace you got rid of some dictator. Only there’s one country you never bother with – America! I want to know . . . how come?! Answer me that, Mr. Flag-Waiving Patriot!
Them: I . . . can’t . . . .
Well, I can answer that. For a generation now, we have seen the heartless, callous erosion and destruction of all the things that make you a member of the middle class in America:
The chance to see a doctor when you are sick.
A pension or retirement account.
Social Security and Medicare.
And we’ve seen them replaced by endless war, falling home values, no pensions, lower wages, and now what Karl Marx called a “reserve army of the unemployed” – to keep wages down forever.
Even after only two years in office, as one out of 435 in the House, I can point to a lot of things that I did to preserve, protect and expand the middle class in America, and to help those of us who were falling through the cracks.
I look at our so-called leaders on the other side of the aisle, and I see nothing like that. Only a perverse delight in eliminating programs that help my fellow Americans in need. They’ll lead us, all right – they’ll lead us straight to ruin.
The next time you see one of them — at a town hall meeting, in their plush offices, or just on the street – ask them this: “What have you done to help the people? Answer me that!”
If they’re honest, they’ll say what Green Lantern said: “I can’t.”
In brightest day,
In blackest night,
No evil shall escape my sight.
Let those who worship evil’s might,
Beware my power: Green Lantern’s Light.
Paid for and Authorized by the Committee to Elect Alan Grayson