When I was in high school my favorite comic book character was Green Arrow. This was in 1970, way before the character’s current hit TV series on the CW. Green Arrow (AKA Oliver Queen) was DC Comics’ superhero archer who had been around since 1941 as a cheap Batman copycat, right down to his secret identity as a millionaire, his teenage sidekick Speedy, his Arrow Cave and Arrow-Car, and a quiver full of gadget arrows. Holy Yawn, Batman! How original!
But in the late 1960s, Oliver Queen lost his fortune, was forced to live in the slums of the inner city, and his ward became a drug addict. DC wisely radicalized Green Arrow as a social justice liberal with a sleek new costume, and he became the perfect foil to the more conservative Green Lantern, an intergalactic policeman who patrolled Earth’s sector of the galaxy on behalf of the ancient Guardians of the Universe.
I hope I haven’t lost you. Trust me, this blog will all make sense in a minute. By 1970, Green Arrow was no longer featured in a regular comic book, and Green Lantern was in danger of being cancelled. DC put the two green heroes together by bringing Lantern and a Guardian observer down to Earth so Arrow could educate them on a pickup truck road trip across America, a la John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley. Along the way, our heroes tackled not super-villains but the social ills of the day: slumlords, environmental destruction, racism, Manson-esque hippie cults, drug addiction, and even (gasp) the evils of the Nixon administration! BOOM! The newly renamed Green Lantern-Green Arrow mag became the Number One comic book in America!
I was just a young liberal in 1970, trying to find my way in a bold new decade. Green Arrow became my new role model. He was hot-tempered, got into fights before thinking things through, and argued openly with his buddy Green Lantern. Arrow was not perfect but his heart for social justice was the core of his character. What clinched it for me was when Arrow pleaded for the Guardians to come off their perch and find out for themselves the humanity of the planet their Green Lantern agent was policing on their behalf. This may be the most iconic comic book panel of all-time:
In 1970, my generation was still reeling from the 1968 assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, two shining lights who had been snuffed out violently at the hands of crazed gunmen. To see those tragic deaths cited in my then-favorite form of literature was absolutely inspiring!
Alas, it was only a comic book. If there really were a Green Lantern and a Green Arrow, would they not have prevented those assassinations? Superman would have ended the Vietnam War in ten minutes. And Captain America would have rooted out the corruption in the Nixon White House. You can see the absurdity when comic books and reality collide.
Fast forward to 2019. This summer, crazed gunmen took the lives of innocent men, women and children in Gilroy, California; El Paso, Texas; and Dayton, Ohio. In fact, as of August 5, 2019, there have been 255 mass shootings in America – more than there are days in the year, thus far! I grieve, I mourn, and I tremble in fear for our country. And I think back on something Green Arrow said way back in 1970:
“Something is wrong! Something is killing us all! Some hideous moral cancer is rotting our very souls!”
To paraphrase the famous Pete Seeger song, “When will we ever learn?”
As I said in my previous blog, I do not know why there is such evil in the world. And it seems to be getting worse in this allegedly enlightened 21st century. I don’t pretend to have the answers, but I can’t shake the feeling that our elected officials have failed us. They have the responsibility to build a safer society in America and they have failed us miserably. Instead of legislating stricter gun laws or providing more effective mental health services for the marginalized, all they do is point fingers at each other, argue along party lines, promise “thoughts and prayers,” and then DO NOTHING.
I have never felt so powerless, and I know I’m not the only American who feels this way. But when even the President of the United States is fanning the flames of racism and bigotry, then that “hideous moral cancer” has truly sickened us, almost to the point of no return.
The operative word in that last sentence is “almost.” I still have hope, but that hope is getting slimmer with each passing day. To paraphrase yet another song from my youth:
“How many deaths will it take ‘til we know that too many people have died?”
We need new leadership, America. It’s time for us to exert our moral imperative and vote with our conscience.