Into the Bronze Age: April 1970 (Part 2)

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Howdy readers!  I apologize for the long delay in posts, but the last two weeks have proven to be crazy busy.  I had hoped to get this post up by this weekend, but there was a pile of student papers that disagreed with me rather stringently.  Nonetheless, we are back on track now, and I hope to get back into the swing of things.

Time for another stride Into the Bronze Age!

Roll Call (You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #387
  • Aquaman #50
  • Detective Comics #398
  • Green Lantern #76 (First issue of Green Lantern/Green Arrow)
  • Superman #225
  • Teen Titans #26

Bonus!: The Space Museum (Rolled over into the next post)

Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.

Green Lantern #76

Green_Lantern_Vol_2_76.jpgExecutive Editor: Carmine Infantino
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Colourist: Cory Adams
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Well, here we are at last.  This story, more than any other single issue, defines the thematic beginning of the Bronze Age proper.  With this issue, Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams begin their famous run on this book, uniting DC’s two vermilion clad heroes to “discover America.”  This was a huge sea-change in comics.  We’ve already been observing the creeping turn towards social relevance and more serious stories, but that has been a fairly minor undercurrent in our readings.  It is the O’Neil/Adams tenure on Green Lantern/Green Arrow that brings those minor eddies into the mainstream in full force.

I’m afraid I’m probably not going to add too much that is really new to the discussion of these books, so be warned.  Their importance really shouldn’t be undersold, as this was the series that taught the industry that comics were a medium capable of tackling important social issues like poverty, racism, and drug use.  Of course, we’ll see the infamous issue where Green Arrow’s former sidekick gets addicted to heroin before too long in this title.  There is no doubt that this is an influential run, but my goodness, I really, really dislike it.  I understand its cultural importance and its status as a milestone for comics, but the problem is that these stories are all message and no subtlety, or perhaps more importantly, no joy.

O’Neil, as we’ve already observed, has a tendency to be a bit preachy, but in this book, that tendency is given full reign.  The result is an unbearably sanctimonious and mirthless series.  Reading about poverty, racism, and drugs sounds like a ton of furn, right?  Well, that’s part of the problem.  The joy and excitement of superhero tales gets left behind in the race to brow-beat the audience with this month’s message.  Now, this is not to say that comics shouldn’t deal with such issues, and I’m sure that there are a lot of folks running around today who had their eyes opened to some of our world’s problems by reading about them in Green Lantern.  Still, I think such tactics, much like the trends in modern comics, tend to miss the purpose of a world with superheroes.  Such a setting should really show us something to aspire to, something to hope for.  It can and should be a better world, though not a perfect world.

Of course, the main characters in this book suffer a similar fate to the stories themselves, quickly becoming entirely unlikeable.  Green Lantern loses all common sense so that he can repeatedly be taught lessons, while Green Arrow becomes O’Neil’s mouthpiece, and thus, intolerably self-righteous, with a certainty of his own sainthood magnified beyond all reason by the fact that the stories constantly bear him out as right.  The end result is a fascinating study of the time, but also a real chore to read these days.

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All of a sudden, Green Lantern’s world takes a turn for the ugly, and it happens so quickly, it must have given long-time readers whiplash!  This issue famously opens with the Emerald Gladiator flying above Star City, when he sees a businessman being attacked by some street punks.  He swoops down to the rescue, sending the young aggressor flying off to the police station and helping the older citizen to his feet.  Having completed his good deed, Hal turns to accept the accolades that he knows will be forthcoming from the crowd, only to receive a shower of cans, bottles, and verbal abuse.

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It’s a funny, surprising scene, and it certainly accomplishes its purpose, which is to knock readers off of their preconceptions.  It’s also a neat and unusual move, and it addresses a big problem with the standard practice of superheroes.  How much of the nuance of a situation can you absorb when you’re jumping down from rooftops and skulking in alleyways?  It isn’t easy to tell exactly what’s going on in every situation, and things like this would, in reality, probably happen quite a bit.  On the other hand, I don’t read books about invulnerable sun gods that can fly or men who fight crime by shrinking because I’m obsessed with realism.

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Well, the Emerald Crusader turns to lash out at the crowd (!), but he is stopped by Green Arrow, who has observed all of this.  Already, Hal is coming off quite badly.  Ollie gives Hal a quick tour of the particular slum he’s blundered into and explains that the fellow he saved is actually the local slumlord.

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That’s right, Arrow invoked Godwin’s Law way before the Internet

This is where we get one of the most famous, and infamous, moments from this book.  As the two heroes are taking in the squalor of their surroundings, an old black man approaches and asks Hal a question.  “I heard about how you work for the blue skins…”

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Well, this leaves our hero utterly stunned.  He can think of nothing to say in response to this shattering critique of his career as a hero.  This is, of course, where most of us reading this book throw our hands up and say “COME ON!”  The obvious answer to this is, ‘Oh, you want to know what I did for the black skins?  How about the time I saved the entire planet, your skin included, from the Qwardians, or how about when I kept Sinestro from enslaving all of humanity?  Or how about any of the other hundred times that I have rescued every last man, woman, or child of every last race that is or ever will be on this spinning rock?’

Green Lantern is, quite literally, above such complaints.  His job isn’t just to catch bank robbers or to stop muggers, he patrols the freaking cosmos.  Ohh, I’m sorry that life is unfair, but let me ask YOU a question.  Is it better to live in a slum and be ALIVE, or is it better to be space dust because I was chasing around after a slum lord instead of stopping the latest plot by a world-destroying menace?

Gah.  It galls me every time I read this story.  Of course, the guy does have a point, and just about any other hero who ISN’T saving the entire freaking planet every day should probably be pretty convicted by this.  But Green Lantern doesn’t fit the bill.  I realize that this is part of what O’Neil is doing.  He wants this contrast of powers and perspectives, and he especially wants to play with the concept of the Guardians of the Universe.  It would have been a bit more palatable if Hal had kicked, at least a little, at this, because he has every right to turn this back on his interlocutor.

But no, he hangs his head as if he’s the worst man in the world, and he begins his guilt-ridden journey with Green Arrow.  The issue follows the Lantern as he attempts to make up for his mistake by persuading the slum lord to have a change of heart and spare the poor folks who he is about to force out on the streets, but, being a slum lord, the fat-cat has no heart.  Thus, the Emerald Crusader’s words fall on deaf ears, and for the second time this issue, we see our supposed hero display a deplorable lack of self-control.  I thought the whole ring thing was all about willpower, but oh well, O’Neil has a sermon he wants to preach…err…a story he wants to tell.

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The Lantern prepares to lay this slimeball out, only to be stopped mid swing by non other than the Guardians of the Universe!  They tell him that the slumlord has committed no crime and order their ring-bearer to Oa, in no uncertain terms!  They refuse to listen to Hal when he arrives, and then they assign him a seemingly menial cosmic task, diverting meteors and then just hanging about in space.  Of course, this nicely illustrates why that earlier scene is so silly, as Green Lantern diverts massive chunks of space debris with a thought.

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Meanwhile, the Emerald Archer tries a different tactic with our resident scumbag.  He takes a page out of fellow vermilion hero, Green Hornet’s, playbook, and Ollie pretends to shake down the slumlord, who promises, in turn, to meet with him later with a payoff.

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Here we get a particularly nice sequence that displays Arrow’s skill, as well as Adams’ excellence, as two of the slumlord’s errand boys try to take out the hero, only to incriminate their boss by falling for a dummy in a darkened room while being far too talkative.  Unfortunately, the tape recorder Ollie hid next to the dummy, the target at which, we remember, he wanted the thugs to shoot, surprisingly got shot.  That part isn’t exactly the Archer’s finest moment.

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Meanwhile, Hal gets feed up with sitting around in space and heads back, teaming up with Ollie to trick the slimeball into incriminating himself by impersonating one of his gunsels with the help of his power ring.  This time the ruse works, and despite some last minute hysterics involving a grenade (!), the slumlord is arrested.

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It seems as if things will end happily ever after until The giant floating head of a Guardian crashes the party and starts chewing Hal out for abandoning his space-floating duties.  This prompts a ridiculously impassioned speech from Green Arrow, drawn with incredibly impassioned panels by Adams.  It really does look fantastic, but the melodrama of the moment just really drives home how goofy the exchange is.  Ollie demands that the practically omniscient alien come down off of his emerald tower and learn what it is really like on Earth.  The emotions of the scene are so visually exaggerated that the Archer looks like a Shakespearean actor in the midst of trodding the boards during the climax of “Macbeth” or “Othello.”

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“Come off your perch!  Touch…taste…laugh!  And cry!  Learn where we’re at…and why!”  Ouch Ollie, just ouch.

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Astonishingly, the Guardians don’t just vaporize this goateed goofball; instead, they take him seriously and send one of their number to join the two earthmen in a roadtrip across America, “searching for a special kind of truth…searching for themselves…”

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Yikes.  Now, in general, I’m all in favor of earnestness in comics and in general, and I don’t like folks who react to all such honesty with a sneering, ironic disregard, but I have to say, there’s plenty to mock here, and justifiably so.  The silliness of these stories was apparent even to readers in the 70s, and it is perhaps even more so now.  I can imagine this story being appealing to an angry, angsty young man, as I was at 16, someone who is learning about how complicated the world is, and yet whose perceptions are still very simplistic.  I’m afraid I’m at least a decade too late in life for this story.

Nonetheless, it is an important issue, and it does help catapult comics truly into the Bronze Age.  Adams’ art is beautiful, and there is definite value in comics wrestling with cultural problems.  Green Arrow as the champion of the downtrodden is one of those great concepts that remain, sticking with the character forever more, even after the rough edges that attract criticism have been worn away.  We’ve seen his brash, self-righteous personality developing just in the few months we’ve been following him under O’Neil’s pen.  Even though this incarnation is too extreme to be truly likable, there is something good in that concept.  In the end, this is a story more valuable for its cultural weight than its literary value or even its enjoyability.  It is a flawed but fascinating beginning, and I give it 2.5 Minutemen, having taken points away for the glaring, galling ludicrousness of that exchange in the tenement building, as well as for Ollie playing the ‘Nazi’ card in his argument with Hal.

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Superman #225

Superman_v.1_225.jpgCover Artist: Curt Swan
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Roussos

Well, this is quite the weird story, and, honestly, I’m rather astonished that it got published.  It’s strangely, inconsistently, and thoughtlessly dark.  I can only assume that someone at the Comics Code Authority was asleep at the switch…or rock stupid.  You’d never guess from the fairly conventional beginning that this issue of Superman would end with a straight-up suicide, but it does.  You read that right, this Superman tale ends with a thinking, feeling being intentionally taking its own life, but I suppose I’m getting ahead of myself.  Follow along, and see if you’re as amazed as I was.

In fairly typical fashion, the issue opens with a set of aliens plotting against Superman for no particular reason.  Interestingly enough, their plot entails creating a clone by scanning the Man of Steel as he passes by their world on his way home from a space mission.  In a funny little sequence that really marks the bipolar nature of this story, the clone figures out he doesn’t have any powers by attempting to fly and landing square on his head, knocking himself out.  The Super-copy believes himself to be Superman, and the aliens encourage this, telling him that the real Superman is an impostor that has stolen his powers, planning to use them for evil.  They assure their creation that he must destroy the “false” hero in order to reclaim his rightful powers and place, and they give him devices to aid him in this quest.

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On the plus side, the aliens kind of remind me of This Island Earth

 

Now, let’s get something straight.  This is not a robot, not an unliving or mindless contraption.  This is a living being they have created, with a mind and will of its own, and even though it is easily talked into attempting murder, it is not simple.  Keep that in mind.

After being sent to Earth, the clone encounters several situations during which it is affected by its environment as Superman never could be.  Because of an alien device implanted in its head, it transfers these effects, sniffling, sneezing, and other human reactions to Clark, causing him to feel everything the clone does.  This plays a role in the small secret identity farce subplot that seems to be a contractual obligation of every Superman book.

Superman v1 225-08.jpg

The real action of the story picks up when the imposter attempts to assassinate his rival with a kryptonite pitchfork at a costume parade, but because of the intervention of random partygoers, who apparently are quite willing to bodily drag a stranger around, just because they like his costume, the Metropolis Marvel escapes.  Thank heavens that Meteropolites are apparently the definition of ugly Americans…

Superman v1 225-17.jpg

Having lost his weapons, the clone heads to the Fortress of Solitude to retrieve new devices powerful enough to do the deed.  His counterpart, experiencing the intense cold of the arctic vicariously, makes an incredible leap in logic and deduces that it must, of course, be coming from his double, who he doesn’t really know about, and from the Fortress, which he has no real reason to think endangered.

Plot contrivances aside, The Man of Tomorrow manages to capture his double, and attempts to break his conditioning and figure out his story.

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However, nothing works, so Superman turns him over to authorities, sends him home, or puts him in the Phantom Zone, right?  Nope, none of those relatively reasonable solutions are even considered.  Instead, our “hero” decides the the only viable solution, because his double transmits all sensations back to the original, is to keep him locked in a small cage, too tiny for him even to lie down in, for all of eternity.  ‘Cruel and unusual’ is for chumps!  That doesn’t apply to superpowered sun gods from space!

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To make matters even worse, Superman seriously considers straight-up murdering the imposter in order to solve the problem, and the only reason he doesn’t is that he has “conditioned [himself] against killing for too many years.  It’s a good thing The Man of Steel’s moral code is so famously flexible, otherwise that might strike me as a bit off.

Superman v1 225-24.jpg


That’s right, Superman seriously considers flat-out murdering his double.

After what must be weeks of imprisonment, judging from the impostor’s super-beard, he realizes that his rival is, in fact, the real Superman, a shattering revelation.  The clone has a moment of clarity, and he figures out who and what he is, and he refuses to let the aliens use him to endanger the true Man of Steel.  So, how does he get out of this predicament?  How does Dorfman tidy up the Superman mythos and dispose of this duplicate?  Well, he has him commit suicide, of course, with a pistol-looking device, no less!  The double gets a Superman robot to give him a metal-melting ray, which is no threat to the cage or the bot, but the clone turns it upon himself, destroying the device implanted in his brain and killing himself.  He even wrote a suicide note for Superman!

Superman v1 225-29.jpg

How did this get published?!

That is freaking dark, and it is an incredibly incongruous end to this goofy story.  Superman’s tears at the end are poor recompense for the clone that gave its life to protect his.

Superman v1 225-30.jpg

Ugh.  I truly don’t care for this story.  This was way too heavy of an ending to be treated so cavalierly, and it threw the tone of the entire issue wildly off.  Unfortunately, this isn’t even the type of ham-handed attempt at depth that we just saw from Green Lantern.  No, this is just a tone-deaf train-wreck of a tale that seems completely oblivious about what it is doing.  I’ll give it a clumsy 1 Minuteman.

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Teen Titans #26

Teen_Titans_Vol_1_26.jpgCover Artist: Nick Cardy
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: John Costanza

Our vague and confusing adventure continues!  We have this lovely Nick Cardy cover with Titans abandoning their costumes and running towards a bold new direction!  Except, no-one really seems to know just what that direction is.  One thing is certain; it is just plain strange.  Inside, we pick up where we left off, with the robotic ‘man Friday,’ Angel, leads the Titans into danger.  To make his point, the robot obligingly gets its armed blown off by a laser.  This catapults the Titans into a series of death traps that they navigate without using their powers…for reasons.

teen titans 26-02.jpg

When they manage to escape, they find mysterious Mr. Jupiter waiting for them, drink in hand, like he’s watching whatever happens to be the rich guy equivalent of a ball game.  There’s something off about this guy, seeing as he casually watches teenagers fight for their lives.  Having survived the obstacle course, which Jupiter unconvincingly claims was never really deadly, he orders the Titans to go into the inner-city neighborhood “Hell’s Corner,” not to be confused with Hell’s Kitchen, get jobs and blend in.  Their funds for this effort?  A single penny and another super helpful and super vague prophecy by Lilith.  Yes, thank you, that is just great.  You are a super valuable part of this team.

teen titans 26-04.jpg

In Hell’s Corner, the Titans, in mufti, encounter a little girl selling lemonade, as well as rejects from every 60s biker movie ever.  The head biker punk, complete with scarf, goggles, and jodhpurs, wreck the kid’s stand, just to sufficiently illustrate how bad he and his friends are.

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Not quite kicking the dog, but close enough

The Titans restrain themselves from delivering a richly deserved beating to the resident loud-mouth and his cronies, remembering the terrible tragedy caused by their last violent efforts, when the esteemed Nobel Prize winner died in a crossfire last issue.  A young man with no such hang-ups, piles into the punk.  He turns out to be the youthful Mal Duncan, the girl’s big brother, and he’s decided to put the overdressed bully, “Storm,” in his place.

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As the gang prepare to “flatten” the fiery Mal, the Titans finally take action, whipping the biker-types in short order.  The young man is not terribly grateful for the help, and he tells the Titans that they are in the wrong neighborhood.

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Nevertheless, the teenage heroes are determined to fulfill their mission…for more reasons, so they find various jobs around the area.  In a corny but funny montage, we see Hawk getting work as a boxing instructor at the neighborhood boys club while Don becomes the next Bob Ross, encouraging his students to “paint what you feel,” whether that be orange skinned people or happy trees.  It’s a simple but effective distillation of the personalities, though, I admit, peaceful ubernerd that I am, even I sort of want to dump Don’s metaphorical books, just for being such a touchy-feely wuss.

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The club puts on monthly boxing matches to help kids work off steam in a controlled environment, something that I imagine schools these days might benefit from, but I digress.  Mal and the fashionable punk Storm square off, but the bully proves to be a sore loser after the young champion manages to knock him out.  The local gang decide to work Mal over after the fight, but the Titans intercede, putting the biker-flick rejects down for the second time.

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Mal goes out with the team, and while dancing, they decide to recruit him.  That’s right, they decide to have this slightly above average kid who is a moderately competent boxer without any powers, training, or special skills, join their superhero team.  Once again, this is absolutely necessary…for reasons.  They put Mal through the totally-not-really-death-traps-I-promise, and he survives, rather amazingly, though by the skin of his teeth.  ‘Are you guys sure I don’t need any training or anything before I start dodging laser beams and blazing floors?’  ‘Nah, you’ll be fine.  You’re can box!’

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Feeling understandably a bit outclassed and undeserving of a spot on a FREAKING SUPERHERO TEAM, Average Boy faces sleepless nights and self doubt, so he decides he must prove himself.  How will he do so?  Will he fight a villain, stop a crime, or maybe just overcome a training challenge?  No, don’t be silly, those obstacles are far too insignificant for mighty Average Boy!

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No, instead, Mal decides to hitch a ride on a space rocket not designed to actually have a human pilot, because apparently it is super vital that NASA get human reactions from this space flight, and it isn’t like they have any trained astronauts whose job that is or anything.  The team is stunned to discover that Average Boy has done something so colossally stupid and so utterly necessary…for reasons once again, but Mal is happy.  He declares, in what would actually be a sort of cool moment if the story warranted it in even the tiniest fraction, “I’m in my own groove at last!  Doing MY thing!  And I’m a first!  A cat from Hell’s Corner reaching for a star!”  While the 60s slang is painful as always, the thought of a black astronaut, especially one from an impoverished background, breaking down barriers is actually really cool.

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And that’s the problem with this issue, and this arc, in general.  There are some cool elements here, most notably Mal and the racial undercurrent he represents.  I like the character, especially as I’ve gotten to know him in other mediums, like Young Justice.  I think he’s got great potential, but this story makes no freaking sense.  There is not one thing about this plot that works logically.  Everything is happening because the plot requires it to do so.  I can’t stand that kind of silliness.  I’ll be quite happy when Aqualad shows up in a few issues to knock some sense into the Titans…at least, I hope that is what is going to happen, judging from the cover.  So, I give this irrational issue 1 Minutemen.

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Final Thoughts:

Sheesh, this was an extremely dichotomous month.  We had three fairly enjoyable stories in the first half and three mediocre to detestable stories in the second.  I admit, part of the reason this post took so long to put together, aside from my being insanely busy, was that it was such a poor lot of stories that I had a hard time working up the energy to discuss them.  Still, we stand at an important moment, with the Bronze Age taking a big step forward with the start of the Green Lantern / Green Arrow run.  As much as that book gets on my nerves, I do believe it is going to lead us to bigger and better things…eventually.  One thing is certain, this month, short on books as it was through the vagaries of publication schedules, was certainly long on innovation!  We have the brilliant SAG team doing fascinating things in Aquaman with both story and art, we have Adams’ setting the comic world on fire with his beautiful, realistic pencils, and we had several plot elements that, however lacking they may be in logic or enjoyability, are certainly creative.  I suppose I can endure three bad books for three entertaining ones.  That still beats the proportions on student papers!

Well, that does it for this month!  I hope the next month has some better stories in store for us!  In an attempt to go ahead and get this post up, I’m going to cut out the bonus feature for this month and add it on to the coverage of the next.

The Head-Blow Headcount:

Aquamanhead.jpgBatmanhead.jpgshowcase-88-fnvf-jasons-quest0robin2 - Copy.jpgPhantom_Stranger_05.jpg

I somehow missed two new head-blows, but I’ve added them in.  Welcome Robin and the Phantom Stranger to the wall of shame!

 

 

 

One comment on “Into the Bronze Age: April 1970 (Part 2)

  1. […] Back at the Daily Planet, Sir Noel’s efforts to warn the journalist are intercepted by an invisible presence.  It apparently possesses Jimmy to lure Lois out of her office, then poses as her on the phone to Tate.  Next, for some reason, it draws Lois into the slums of the city, where she observes an interesting scene.  A desperate young man holds a slum-lord at gunpoint, and despite the fat-cat’s pleas for mercy, the gunman insists that he’s preyed on his tenants too long and too viciously to be spared.  It’s a scene somewhat reminiscent of the infamous Green Lantern/Green Arrow #76. […]

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