DENNIS O’NEIL: Green Lantern’s Unused Potential
Yes, we’re again riding the Green Lantern hobby horse and noticing that his almighty ring operates a lot like Doctor Strange’s conjuration and Harry Potter’s wand. They operate a lot like guns. They shoot stuff out. Exactly what the stuff is made of isn’t much defined, but it generally does what bullets do: hit and smash and shatter.
Ask yourself: wouldn’t the weaponry of the oldest, wisest, most technologically advanced cadre of blue-skinned savants in the whole, star-spangled universe be better than high-tech battering rams?
Turn, now, to Marvel Comics’ Master of the Mystic Arts, Dr. Stephen Strange, and young Master Potter of Hogwarts. Their eldritch pyrotechnics are pretty impressive, especially on a big screen in 3D, but, really, in essence aren’t they just glorified roman candles? If magic exists (and can you say with absolute certainty that it doesn’t?) isn’t it more subtle?
Might not it…oh, say, cause tiny, undetectable alterations in the invisible rhythms and perturbations of nature? Can’t it achieve its ends gently?
And from here, it’s a short step back to the Guardians and their rings, particularly if you subscribe to Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Magic, technology… at certain levels they look the same and, in the examples we’ve cited, they get their results with methods that, while they’re gussied up, are still pretty damn primitive. If you were a Guardian tasked with ring design, wouldn’t you consider having the ring alter reality just a jot, maybe by changing, ever so slightly, the ratios of the various forces in the hearts of subatomic particles, or branching off into an alternate reality where things aren’t so hairy, or by remixing the chemicals in the bad guy’s brain so that person is not deeply unhappy and therefore is not motivated to act out by destroying downtown Pismo Beach, or wherever? (Okay, admittedly, that last one’s a little creepy.)
Well, the answer’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? We’re wired to react to the tangible, things our senses can respond to, which may be why we tend to put faces on our deities instead of regarding them, as some do, as grounds of being or the like. Comics and movies are dramatic media and, what’s more they’re visual dramatic media and it’s strongly recommended, if not demanded, that visual drama show us as plainly as possible what the good guys are contending with, and how they’re contending with it. I’m afraid that imperceptible perturbations of energies in tiny, tiny whatsises just won’t answer the need.
The uncomfortable next question might be: are our visual dramas teaching us that tangible force – call it violence – is the only possible response to our problems?
Just what are we doing in those foreign nations, anyway?
Recommended Reading: Given the subject of this week’s blather, it seems appropriate that I make you aware of a comic book, first published 50 years ago, titled Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story. You can get it from the Fellowship of Reconciliation, P.O. Box 271, Nyack, NY 10960. Phone: 845 358 4601. Cost is three bucks per copy, and that includes shipping and handling in the U.S.
FRIDAY: Martha Thomases