Thoughts and observations on Green Arrow, classical liberalism, freedom, comic books and matters of social justice.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Faith based "ring slinging"

In 1969 Green Arrow received a significant make over, in look and demeanor. Gone was the bland Batman knock off with the endless arsenal of umbrella and boxing glove arrows. Now, more closely resembling its Robin Hood theme, the character was introduced as an angry, socially conscious rebel. Oliver Queen, now sporting a Vandyke beard, was a reflection of the progressive social activist both Neal Adams (who sported the same look) and Denny O’ Neil identified with at the time.

And while this transformation actually occurred in #85 of the Brave and the Bold, it was in the pages of Green Lantern that Oliver Queen made his mark. In a run consisting of barely thirteen issues Green Lantern and Green Arrow faced evils mostly ignored in comic books in the previous forty years; corruption, poverty, bigotry, and a hero’s misplaced values. It is interesting to note however that these more “social” troubles were often the focus in comic books’ earliest issues, most notably in the pages of Superman where he faced wife beaters and corrupt business men on the street level.

It is usually Green Arrow that gets the attention in those books as it was his character that served as the voice for activism and change; but it was Green Lantern’s book where all this change was occurring. Other than the similar predisposition for wearing green, Hal Jordan proved an inspired foil for Oliver Queen because of his role as galactic policeman. Thus, GL was DC Comics’ version of “the man,” the institution (here being the superhero community) that required challenging. O’ Neil cast Green Arrow as challenger and advocate for change and Green Lantern as the barometer for that change. To see if Oliver was being successful you could examine Hal’s response to the argument.

Of course Ollie’s words did not fall on deaf ears. His cause was portrayed as humanitarian and uniquely American, having occurred after the murders of both Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy (which are directly referred to in the duo’s initial confrontation). Dennis O’ Neil has since admitted to being heavy handed in his writing, giving Queen a sizable axe to grind against his friend Jordan. But current sensibilities aside, it was an important work for comics and its readership, which was becoming more adult than in previous years. Comic books were looked down upon by the mass culture so it was natural for a “counter” culture to gravitate to them.

And what about poor Green Lantern? There he was getting disrespect in his own title. But it was in his book that these landmark stories occurred. His character is as much a part of this “awakening of conscience” as Oliver Queen’s. I find parallels here with my own recent discernment of principles.

As I’ve written previously I had fallen under the beguilement of a vocal section of American religiosity that promoted a spiritual discussion of gay marriage and school prayer. In doing so the more religious issues of poverty and a consistent ethic of life went unheralded. It took a book entitled “God’s Politics” to help open my eyes to the poor and the “widow and orphan,” and to realize they weren’t in my world. This was in disagreement to Christ’s supposition that the “poor will always be with you;” meaning shoulder to shoulder.

The apostles were given a mandate to preach to the poor and always befriend them, an idea uncomfortable to a middle class, American sensibility. And while I do not adhere to the vast, left leaning political views espoused in that book, it did help me to prioritize my focus in the public square. As a Catholic I must always seek and support efforts of peace and work to aid the poor. As a “classical liberal” I define aid as I believe Rudy Giuliani does, as “ladders” out of poverty; i.e. workfare and instilling a work ethic. The poor deserve a chance to be like everyone else wants to be, self sufficient and sustaining.

So, while Green Arrow’s pursuit for social change and acts of relevant heroism is the focus of this blog, I still identify with Green Lantern. When the voice of truth calls we must be willing and open to answer. Catholic speaker Matthew Kelly has said to accomplish His will God does not use those who are rich and powerful, he uses those who make themselves available. Like the Green Lantern character, we as Christians are guardians of a great and powerful light, but one only as strong as our faith. Not only are we called to recognize God’s will through the eyes of faith, we must act on that call with works of justice and mercy.

That is the proof we got the message at all.

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