Rating: 3.5/5 – Taken Out of the Story by a Strong Creative Voice.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Pete Drummond.
It’s hard to write a review that’s not 5/5 glowing praise for a story that has been almost universally lauded in the comics community for about 40 years. How dare this guy not give this story unequivocal praise? Hard Traveling Heroes seems strangely topical, especially in light of recent events in the US. The curse of a 24hr news cycle is the way it perverts your sensibilities. If you’re not careful, you stop relating to the world on a personal level. Once that shift happens, once your feet leave the ground, the world becomes a place of conflict and strife on a scale that is hard to fathom.
In these stories we have Hal Jordan, Green Lantern, an uncomplicated space cop, set against a left wing radical like Green Arrow, it asks a question we are still trying to answer forty-plus years later: Why is it so easy for the powerful to ignore social issues, when all around them is inequality? As troubling a proposition as this seems to be, it makes perfect sense that Green Lantern wouldn’t be immune to it. For Hal, it’s not just about humanity’s well-being anymore. Imagine you rose to godhood tomorrow, what’s it to you that a man goes homeless among the untold billions you police?
Enter heavy handed left wing billionaire, sometimes hero, and Denny O’Neil mouthpiece for a more progressive social agenda: Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow. The arrow is the man on the pulse of the problem. He sees the ugliness of the world, and he’s delighted to call Hal a fascist when he puts his belief in the infallibility of the law. The result is equal parts buddy cop movie and heavy-handed sermon (it’s important to note that when this was originally published we had never seen social issues addressed head-on in comics like this before). Walking America’s streets, Ollie pushes Hal to reconnect with mankind during a time of great discord and unrest in this country. Denny shows us how capes and cowls would contend with the faceless villainy of racism, political corruption and exploitation; leading them quickly into situations where willpower and arrows don’t always fly true.
O’Neil was part of a new crop of socially conscious writers in comics, and reading this I couldn’t help but hear his voice behind every page. Not having grown up in or around the time of the book; in the thick of what that sweeping social change meant to the moment, I find myself taken out of the story every now and again which impacted the story for me. The power of comics comes from how an invisible creator carries the creation through time, renewing it for each successive generation. With the writing in this volume it came off the other way around for me; the character struggles seemed locked in time, overshadowed by the views of the creator – especially the sections with the little girl who bears a striking resemblance to Nixon.
Illustrated lavishly by one of the all-time greats of the industry, Neal Adams, the art is brilliant. With its liberal use of close ups and wild expressions set against an urban sprawl, Adams anchors the characters to a very recognizable world. Hal is sleek and constantly flying, giving the readers the sense that he is almost always looking down on things. In contrast, Ollie remains in constant contact with the pavement and generally the foreground, standing close to the reader in a way that subtly accentuates the plot of the book. It’s easy to see why Neil’s art influenced so many generations of artists with its deep rich shadows and form sculpting hatch marks. The result is a cross between cinema and caricature that seems to have provided a huge inspiration for the artists of the Image generation.
It’s hard for me to judge Hard Traveling Heroes as harshly or as kindly as I would like because it’s outside my time. For me the Civil Rights Movement was a blip in a history book and I am more likely to be glib about how little we’ve changed when I view it through the prism of retrospect. The news cycle I’m exposed to today does not show me how much we’ve evolved from the world Denny and Neal were trying to change. The people I see are still confused over how mankind keeps getting itself in this type of predicament regardless of the heroes who protect us. So, maybe the issue isn’t that we’ve changed so much since this story was written, but rather, how little we’ve changed.
Reviewed by: Pete Drummond
(firstname.lastname@example.org) –> Formerly known as ‘Asher Turnaround’
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture