The Brothers Green, Part 4

We’re up to number 79, wherein Green is the Colour (little Floyd reference there). The only color.

The cast:

The three amigos star once again, with a small cameo from a recovering Canary. If you don’t know what they look like by now, shame on you.

The bad guys this time are twofold, and in cahoots; Theodore Pudd (what a great name!), leader of the local logger’s union, and Pierre O’Rourke, who claims to own the rights to the trees on the Indian Reservation (same place as last time). They care for nothing but work and profits, rights be damned.

The Plot:

There’s a lot to cover, so bear with me. Lantern and Arrow come across Pudd and O’Rourke about to kill an Indian trespassing on “their land.” After stopping them from completing their dastardly deed, the Green team splits apart. Lantern wants to work within the system; Arrow knows the system is corrupt, man, and will fight for the Indians, law be damned. Hal returns to Evergreen City, looking for Abe, the long lost son of Indian chief Ulysses Star. According to local history, Abe has a copy of the Government’s promise to the tribe in regards to timber rights. Of course, a fire claims what paperwork may exist, but Lantern is able to save Abe. Arrow is frustrated and saddened by Black Canary’s report that the tribe has lost faith in themselves; hoping to fight off the lumberers (doesn’t that sound more appropriate than bad lumberjacks?) and inspire the tribe, he takes on the role of the ghost of Ulysses Star. When the conflict between the tribe and the timber industry is about to reach a head, Lantern returns and fights Arrow (still in Ulysses garb). Both get knocked out by a log. Evidence comes to light of Pudd and O’Rourke hiring an arsonist to set the fire that destroyed Abe’s home and papers; all’s well that ends well.

As you can see, this issue is very, very plot heavy. I don’t want to give the impression that this isn’t good, but the exposition serves the plot, with little in the way of quips or memorable lines. The art is subordinate as well; gone are the three-panel reveals and other touches that made the last issue memorable. I mentioned the color green earlier, and here’s the reason:

That’s the first four pages of the story. 23 panels. 19 of which feature primarily green or teal backgrounds (or large green swathes therein). If your titular heroes are both “The Green” accessory, you cannot, as a colorist, do this. It crushes the book; though the backgrounds only touch that palate again three or four times, it seems overwhelming. I do like that fourth page though; apparently, a levitating Guardian generates Steranko-style Pop Art effects.

Neal Adams tries hard, and succeeds now and again. These next panels tell us something of Ollie and Dinah. By just tilting his cap back a bit he softens his facade; by crouching, hands down and open, his body language adds meaning. He doesn’t hold anything against her (despite his less than kind speech at the end of the last issue), and isn’t lording it over her, either emotionally or physically. If he says those same words, but with arms crossed and knees locked, hat thrust forward and down, he’s imposing as opposed to reassuring.

I figure I owe you a picture of Green Arrow’s Ulysses Starr disguise, plus it allows me to comment on comic book writing and symbolism. Ulysses? For a long lost hero, returning home, bow in hand, to drive away those who would claim his land and people? Ulysses Starr? U.S.? I can’t believe Denny O’Neil went there.

By the way, no information is given as to how he made the get-up, what makes it luminescent, nothing. He just shows up in full regalia, and even though Scooby and company could figure out who it must be, we don’t get a reveal before the Lantern/Arrow fight. Speaking of which, the simultaneous reveal:

Once again, it is the Guardian who learns of Earth’s ways, and in turn, teaches Hal and Ollie what they should have learned from the whole episode:

It’s a hard issue to discuss or break-down. Last issue was two plots, this one just too much of one. It reads better than I make it out; hopefully, on future issues I’ll find a way to disassemble and engage better than I have here.

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Thursday (Not that Emo Crap)

“Beautiful Way” – Beck (from Midnite Vultures)

Sounds amazingly like the Velvet Undergrounds “Countess of Hong Kong,” which had only surfaced a few years earlier on the Peel Slowly and See box set.  It doesn’t hurt the song – the boozy shuffle both employ should pop up more often – but does raise eyebrows.  I don’t think I noticed it at the time though I knew the VU track by then.  Being at the tail end of the pastiche which is Midnite Vultures might have done it; playing spot the homage can be tiresome (Prince! Kraftwerk! Dr. Dre! Yawn.)

“The Shape I’m In” – The Band (from Paint The Daytime Black bootleg)

I own this boot because Bob Dylan is better here than on the officially released document of this tour, Before The Flood.  I don’t like The Band’s own material, nor how they perform it.  I’ve thought for a long time that they are the best bar band in the world, and can play whatever you throw at them (Id say see The Last Waltz for proof, but I can’t do so with a clear conscious.  Horrible, horrible film).  Their version here has a hint of a groove, but for swinging Americana I’ll take Little Feat each and every time.  Hell, I’ll take Little Feat without Lowell George over The Band.

“Riders On The Heart ” – The Wolfgang Press (from Queer)

I really like Queer.  One reason is the excellent sequencing; the album ebbs and flows and breathes when it needs to, never tiring the ear or the feet (it is hard not to dance around).  This song is a breath catcher.  There is enough going on with its mechanized reggae shuffle to engage with and bob your head if you feel the need, but it is there to let you grab at your knees after “Heaven’s Gate.”

“Soft Mistake” – Lamb (from Fear of Fours)

I love this album.  Some of that is irrational, an emotional attachment from being first exposed to it and the band on my honeymoon in Portugal.  I do think though that the album is very strong; it moves my feet and moves my mind.  This is a slow build instrumental, with beats, washes and synthesized, treble-heavy, squelches wrapped around an upright bass figure akin to the droning, cyclical patterns of ragas and spacier psychedelia (think Ummagumma).  It also brings to mind some of Alice Coltrane’s work, particularly “Journey In Satchidananda.”

“And The Cradle Will Rock…” – Van Halen (from Women and Children First)

This signals the change; opening the album, we know what is coming is heavier and more dangerous than Van Halen II.  The overdubbed yelps, yowls, screams and exclamations of Diamond Dave are perfect here, amongst the best he ever put on tape.  The off-putting descending/ascending guitar that opens is iconic for a reason, but few talk about the menace Michael Anthony brings when that bass joins at the end of the riff.  Van Halen knew how to open an album; “Runnin’ With The Devil,” ” Mean Street,” “1984,” this track.  The scene is set, the tracks are laid, and Van Halen is coming through.

Wednesday Morning, 8AM

In honor of yesterday’s reissues, it is an all Replacements playlist:

“September Gurls” (from Shit, Shower & Shave bootleg)

One of several Big Star covers that they would play live. This is from the second ‘Mats era (without Bob) and is tainted by the whiff of professionalism. Recorded in front of an audience there for Tom Petty, Westerberg sings Alex Chilton’s wistful lyrics with proper aplomb for people who just want him off the stage. The gap between the song’s protagonist and his girl is equal to the gap between band and audience. “December boys got it bad,” and so did the Replacements opening for the wrong Heartbreakers.

“Get Lost (Outtake)” (from Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash reissue)

My first time hearing this; good bratty kiss off – “Get lost! Get lost! Get lost!/before I start to think right at you” right in line with those that made the album. Pretty great Bob Stinson guitar solo. I haven’t had Sorry Ma on anything but cassette for years, and thus to my chagrin I haven’t heard it for a while; didn’t know how much I missed their garage rock days. Hope the rest of the added tracks are this good.

“Heartbeat – It’s A Lovebeat (Outtake – Rough Mix)” (from Let It Be reissue)

Their cover of the Grass Roots track. Was apparently a staple of live shows in ’83 & ’84. Much like their Kiss cover “Black Diamond,” they recast the original in their inimitable style, all big riffs and pounding drums. Paul sounds a bit out of breath at times, but the band barrels on; Bob has one of his outstanding 4-bar solos, and then basically solos in the background as the song careens towards the end. Cleaned up with a few more takes, it would have been a good b-side. Not as good as the other recorded covers of the era; the aforementioned “Black Diamond” or T. Rex’s “20th Century Boy” (also on this reissue).

“Hear You Been To College” (from Simply Unacceptable bootleg)

Opening a show with an unreleased, slow, lounge bar blues; nothing if not typical behavior for these guys. Unsurprisingly, it is also nothing if not good. The ‘Mats aren’t a band you think of for 12-bar blues, but Westerberg’s lyric inventiveness, and the swing both Stinson’s had on their instruments, really make this work. It may not be as good as the version in the middle of The Shit Hits the Fans cassette, but amidst the mumble of the crowd and the occasional clink of glass (bottles, not glasses, I’m guessing), it is an effective and appropriate sounding track to gauge the interest of the hometown crowd.

“Lovelines” (from Putting On The Ritz bootleg)

The band digs out a Hootenanny track for the New York crowd in the summer of ’87. I haven’t heard a lot of shows from the Pleased To Meet Me days, but judging by this one I’m not missing a hell of a lot. Bob Stinson is sorely missed; the guitars of Westerberg and Slim Dunlap fail to excite, to properly contrast with the trite personal ads that form the lyrics. There isn’t any mocking nor any nuance. Though, the photo used for the cover of this bootleg deserves much mocking.

It’s Tuesday Whelps

“Caught In A Dream” – Alice Cooper (from Love It To Death)

Big guitar riffs carry the verses, quiet piano comping rally the chorus, nearly twenty years before the Pixies made LoudquietLoud de rigueur. By 1971, the bones of greatness that would carry the Alice Cooper Band to such amazing heights are in place; all that is missing is the perfect marriage of lyric and sound, which would happen on the very next track, “I’m Eighteen.”

“The Queen Is Dead” – The Smiths (from Shoplifters From Manchester bootleg)

A live recording from August 26, 1986. The Smiths tore through America like they tore through this song; at a breakneck pace with nary a breath. Johnny Marr is scorching here, and, like a true whirling dervish, manages to walk the knife edge while creating a swirling miasma of sound. The pace is 20% faster than on the album of the same name (Not uncommon for most artists; adrenaline is a uppity mistress), but Joyce and Rourke make sure the rhythm section never falls behind. One of, if not the best, performances by Mike Joyce on the bootlegs I’ve heard.

“The Three Shadows Part 1” – Bauhaus (from The Sky’s Gone Out)

IT’s all about mood. The crystalline ringing tones of Daniel Ash’s guitar seem innocent enough, but it is a false sense of security. Once David J slides in underneath, his bass low, slow and brooding, the sound turns from crystal to cracking ice. to fill the spaces between, a recording of Ash running his pick between the strings on the fretboard sounds like a far distant airplane, a hope of rescue that never comes. Instead, Peter Murphy slowly moans his way between your ears and your spine and all is lost.

“Somebody’s Crying” – Chris Isaak (from Forever Blue)

Remove the twang from Randy Travis and put him in LA seems like a formula for success. Isaak is an artist I’ve never felt the need to follow, despite my love for this album, as, apart from the ineffable “Wicked Game,” he seems a formula more than an artist. The math makes one album much like another, and since I own this I’m set. Still surprised this was an MTV hit.

“If You Don’t Want Me To Destroy You” – Super Furry Animals (from Fuzzy Logic)

Every time the SFA pop up in shuffle I wonder two things: first, how did I miss these guys for so long? Second, why don’t I own more, for I’ve yet to hear something I didn’t at least like? The number of artists I can say that about number in the teens at most; so why do I still have only the hits collection? The answer is sadly that as much as I enjoy hearing them, they disappear from my mind rather quickly. But while they’re playing I am happy. This song is like Blur doing a T. Rex ballad, with all of the smiling, nodding joy when would expect from that combination. A sublime pop confection, airy and sweet.

If This Is Monday, This Ain’t Belgium

“Somewhere They Can’t Find Me” – Simon & Garfunkel (From The Sounds of Silence)

I’ve never particularly cared for this electric recasting of “Wednesday Morning, 3 AM,” except for the opening guitar figure and the bass guitar echo of the same; it is kissing cousin to “Stray Cat Strut.” It might even be better when it reappears at the tail end of the chorus, slyly creeping out before the horns blare in hot pursuit. You could have used this as a opening credit song for a Pink Panther rip-off movie.

“Swansong” – Led Zeppelin (from Physical Rarities bootleg)

Named for their record label, this roughly mixed, short instrumental has a great Jimmy Page acoustic guitar riff, some big, upfront Bonham drumming, and a typically understated John Paul Jones bass shuffle. Charming.

“Doom #2” – Yob (from The Illusion of Motion)

As fast as these glacial lumberers ever got. Buckling under its own weight, the band sounds like they are fighting desperately from being crushed by their own monstrous riffs and shotgun drums. The juxtaposition of guttural, throaty growls (they don’t quite reach cookie monster death metal yowling; the dynamics are better) and higher register Mustaine-like whines keep the ear and mind engaged and intrigued. Top notch in every respect, and shorter than most everything they did at a mere six minutes.

“Like A Nightmare” – Motörhead (single from Overkill sessions, now available on said album)

The first three or four years of Motörhead’s career are my favorite, when they were the hardest rock ‘n’ roll band befouling the world, and before they lost groove for metallic speed and heavy bombast. This is the sound of the dankest stripper bar ever. Even the bikers, drug peddlers and genuine scum are afraid. Lemmy just smiles.

“Desire” – The Family (from Family Business bootleg)

I was saddened when these Prince protégés only managed a single album; they were given the material that sounded like the logical progression from Around The World In A Day and it showed some promise. However, they apparently weren’t so solid without his Purple Majesty. This is from a rehearsal tape (they played a few shows both with Prince and alone in clubs) and they take a weird, elliptical mid-tempo funk number and add an island flavor, some half-assed “Kokomo” calypso. The sax also gets two long sections to smear shitty smooth jazz all over the place. The poor sound quality is all that keeps this passable; you can’t discern just how bad it truly is. The one highpoint is the vocals which, though muddy, are in harmony and on key.

The Brothers Green, Part 3

It’s that time again! This week is Green Lantern #78, one of my least favorite of this storied run.

The Cast:

Our heroes are the same, though the Guardian has no real role this time ’round. Added to our Green team this time is Dinah Drake Lance, better known as Black Canary. This version of Black Canary is a judo & jiu-jitsu master, without the sonic powers she has had off-and-on in her comic book history.

The primary bad-guy is a hippie cult leader named Joshua, who has some unexplained hypnotic skill/power and a racist ideology. Though unassociated with this Joshua fellow, the issue also features a motorcycle gang called the Demons who tussle with both Black Canary and Gang Green.

The Plot:

We open with Black Canary fighting with the Demons who want her motorcycle. Though she is beating them hither and yon, one of the guys takes her bike and runs her over with it. That will teach that “frail” her place (yet again, great lingo). In a no horse town on an Indian reservation, our stars have a run-in with these same bikers. Recognizing the motorcycle (it was apparently built for her by noted motorcycle enthusiast Superman), they take off on her trail. They find her amongst Joshua’s flock, but she has been brainwashed and stays with the cult. Not willing to give up, Green Arrow watches the cult’s shooting practice and hears Joshua’s racist diatribe. Alerting Green Lantern, they decide to take these guys down, which they do rather easily, except Ollie finds himself confronted by Joshua and a gun wielding Black Canary. Unwilling to interfere, Lantern hopes Dinah can break the hypnotic hold and not shoot her great love. She prevails, and Joshua accidentally shoots himself after Lantern smacks him with a power ring fist. All’s well that ends with a dead cult leader.

Like I said to start, I don’t think this is one of the better issues. There are two stories shoe-horned awkwardly into one. First, there is the Indian Reservation sequence, which does allow for one of my favorite panels:

The facial expressions of Ollie and the Guardian attest to the sublime perfection of the beans.

The ensuing confrontation between the Demons (that’s one of them yelling for a beer from off-screen) and the restaurant owner leads to a sound effect that reminds me of a classic movie:

Little technical note:the slight over-run of the foreground figure past the panel borders is a nice touch; it amplifies the force and violence without being gratuitous.

I want to move onto Joshua, as does the story, but O’Neil raises an issue that could have been a story in itself; the sad state of affairs we’ve placed the native populations of the Americas.

O’Neil must have known that leaving this at this point was unfair; he returns to it later in the series. But leaving it here doesn’t really give much credit to our heroes, and seems somewhat dismissive of the issue. Note also how difficult it is to refer to a character without a name. Ollie’s “old-timer” makes a simple statement seem somewhat of a crack; you expect the Guardian to break out with a whippersnapper. Awkward.

Neal Adams is an excellent visual storyteller. Without a wordy assist, he captures Joshua in both power and type with one single frame:

The eyes, the hair and shaving-brush beard, the hippie beads and shirt (yes, it has fringe – but you almost know it without seeing it!). He’s bad news.

After Green Arrow confronts Black Canary and she spurns him for Joshua’s group, we get a classic Neal Adams page:

All relevant information about Black Canary is retold; past and present, pain and happiness. Framed by her face and hair, this page is masterful. Her slightly open mouth over the smiling, laughing face of Oliver Queen hints at the longing she has for him. Her eye, the only spot of a third color, sees only the death of her first love, the singularity of both eye and event emphasizing that all else is shaped from that point on. These are the pages that make a legend.

But enough gushing about Neal; we have a racist to out! Joshua neatly encapsulates all there is to know about his color issues as he addresses his followers after some gun practice:

This reminds me of EC Comics panels, particularly Harvey Kurtzman’s work in the war comics of the 50s. Heavily inked, the shadow figure gains focus as we zoom in; the monochromatic backdrop darkens panel by panel, in lock-step with the growing darkness of Joshua’s hateful diatribe. The rainbow coloring of Joshua himself, the inhuman greens, purples and oranges show both the inhumanity of what he espouses and mocks the idea of judging by skintone. It is a well-done sequence, even if Denny O’Neil can seem a little heavy-handed in his scripting.

There is one more group of panels I want to highlight: Black Canary, aiming a gun at Green Arrow.

Again, I think of the Korean War tales of Harvey Kurtzman. I can’t remember the exact tale, but there is a sniper story that is all about the psychology of killing, the effect on the killer, even when he is told what he is doing is right. We see here the terror Dinah is facing; being told to kill the man she loves, believing that it is the right thing. Which will break? Her love or her belief? Obviously, we know what will happen, but without words Adams gives us that struggle.

So the story is a bit weak, a bit scattered, but some of the individual work, particularly by Adams and inker Frank Giacoia, is top notch. Next time, we find out the startling fact “Ulysses Star is Still Alive!”