Green Lantern/Superman: Legend of the Green Flame (2000)
“Chapter One: 1989”
“Strange Interlude 1”
“Strange Interlude 2”
Writer – Neil Gaiman
Pencils – Eddie Campbell, Mike Allred, Mark Buckingham, John Totleben, Matt Wagner, Eric Shanower, Jim Aparo, Kevin Nowlan & Jason Little
Inks – Terry Austin & Arthur Adams
Letters – Todd Klein
Colors – Matt Hollingsworth & Kevin Nowlan
Assistant Editor – Frank Berrios
Group Editor – Bob Schreck
Executive Editor – Mike Carlin
Cover Price: $5.95
So, this is it! The final compilation post for the Action Comics Daily Project… a project that has become one of the things I’m most proud of doing in the blogging arena. A nearly-three hundred day deep-dive on an underappreciated era of one of the longest running comic books of all time!
This is up there with my previous deep-dives on relative obscurities in DC Comics history… #VartoxWeek, 1st Issue Special, Angel Love… I mean, we’ve covered our share of eyebrow-raisers here. The thing about Action Comics Weekly, however, is that people seem to be familiar with it as a concept. But, something I’ve learned over this past year of talking to comics fans and readers to the humble blog: many people are familiar with (and have memories of) ACW… but not all of it.
If we look at editor, Mike Gold’s letters page “capper” from Action Comics Weekly #642, he wrote: “If you didn’t like everything we ran in ACTION COMICS WEEKLY, well, join the crowd: the beauty of an anthology is its diversity, and ACW certainly was diverse. We didn’t try to be all things to all people, and we’re proud of that, too.”
His point is well-taken. Over this past year, I’ve spoken to people who have only read, the Blackhawk feature… or the Green Lantern feature… of the Bat-Family features. One was a Will Payton Starman completionist, who only ever read his one-shot. ACW wasn’t “all things to all people”… all it could hope to have was “something for everyone”. Some of the visitors to the blog were very likely experiencing a handful of these stories for the first time. Heck… I was experiencing a handful of them for the first time!
Sticking with Mr. Gold’s point… it even makes me feel a bit better about my own readership. In covering something as diverse as Action Comics Weekly, I couldn’t possibly hope to be all things to all people. Clearly, if a reader has zero interest in, say, Deadman, or Secret Six… they’re probably not going to care one way or another what my thoughts on them are!
Speaking of the features people care about… preliminary results for our Best ACW Feature… Ever! Poll are in. And it’s no surprise (to me) that Blackhawk has taken an early lead.
Polls will stay open for another week or so… if you haven’t voted (or know someone who might wanna chime in!) here’s the link:
While I’m begging for votes… here’s a poll, that I feel might be a tad bit unfair. Having read both Action Comics Weekly #642’s… which was your favorite?
Shareable Poll Link: https://linkto.run/p/K32ATJ53
One last bit of housekeeping before the story. Tomorrow will be my FOURTEEN-HUNDREDTH Daily Discussion Post. In it, rather than covering a single comic/story… we’re going to do a little post-mortem on the overall Action Comics Daily Project.
Oh! One last thing. This week’s cover comes to us from none other than Frank Miller… and, uh… it’s just okay.
Prologue: 1949 opens in… well, 1949… Berlin. Janos Prohaska and our main man, Weng Chan venture down a flight of stairs. At the bottom, they discover a bunch of Justice Society paraphernalia… including Wesley Dodd’s Sandman costume. As they keep sifting through the wreckage, they happen across some feathers… and a certain old Lantern.
Chop-chop experiences something not unlike deja vu… he feels like he should recognize the Lantern… but, for whatever reason, he can’t. Jan razzes him a bit before they head back up the stairs… passing by an hourglass as they go.
We shift into the “present”… which is to say, 1989… I guess, and we’re at The Daily Planet. Hal Jordan pays a visit to Clark Kent, who he will refer to as “Big Fella” like a dozen times throughout this issue. So, here’s the thing… in this version of 1989, Hal Jordan knows that Superman and Clark Kent are one and the same… which is why this story didn’t see print until 2000! We’ll talk more about that in the “down below”. Anyhoo, Hal’s just seeing if Clark’s got any plans that evening… and besides “the usual” (ya know, patrols and such), he’s free. They decide to grill some burgers and just hang out. Before the ink dries on their hang-out contract, however, Lois Lane pops in… and she wants a favor!
Ya see, she’s supposed to go to a Museum Preview that evening for a Lifestyle Feature… but, she’s otherwise engaged. If Clark could do this little thing for her, she would be most appreciative. Lucky for our heroes, the invitation to this event is for two! Hal looks to Clark, and is all “sounds good to me, Big Fella”, and so… Clark agrees to the fill-in gig.
As they leave the Planet, Clark… get this… apologizes for how their last conversation went. Ya know, that scene from Action Comics Weekly #606 that I’ve referred to a whole bunch of times lately? Ya know… this one:
So yeah, ya see Gaiman did the research and read through ACW! Too bad Editorial changed their minds about the continuity without letting him know! Clark feels bad about how that all went down… and Hal gets it, he knows everyone has their bad days. Heck, he might know better than anybody. Clark asks how Arisia is doing… and learns that Hal and her had split by this point.
They cut through the Park on their way toward the Museum… and continue with the small-talk. Clark asks how Ollie’s doing… because the two of them never really gelled that well. Hal says he misses the guy, but is willing to take a step-back as to not ruin the good thing he’s got going with the “Bird Lady”, which is to say, another ACW Alum, Black Canary.
They stop and chat a bit more… Hal appears to be having a bit of an existential crisis. He goes down his laundry list of loss… the Guardians are gone, the Corps is basically done-for, his love-life sucks… Mogo won’t return his calls, ya know, the usual. Clark hates to interrupt, but he does… because, get this: they’re in the process of getting mugged!
This doesn’t work out so well for the would-be muggers.
We finally arrive at the Museum, where our heroes join the media tour. Among the group is a certain Selina, who was hoping to get a peek at the Catkin Pearl. Heyyy, it’s another ACW Alum in Catwoman! Gaiman did a great job getting as many Action Comics Weekly characters a bit of panel-time (or at least a mention) here!
Clark and Hal break away from the tour group, and sneak down a little hallway to, I dunno, continue their chat from before perhaps? Whatever the case, they stroll down an aisle of the joint that kind of looks like it’s comprised of flea market display cases. In one of those cases is… a certain Lantern that was recovered in Berlin in 1949. Hmm…
Hal stops in his tracks to get a better look at the thing. Clark even engages his x-ray vision to scan the Lantern… and it appears to give him rather a headache! Hal finds this curious… and even wonders aloud if this might have anything to do with Alan Scott. He continues along that line of thought, and wonders how it managed to survive the Main Power Battery going boom.
Hal wills up a “mental block” to stop the other Museum patrons from venturing down that particular hallway. Didn’t know he could “will up” such a thing, but who am I to argue with Neil Gaiman? He gets into costume and decides to… recite his Oath, and attempt to charge his ring via this found-Lantern!
Then, everything goes a bit ca-ca…
Pretty good stuff here, right? I mean, it’s Neil Gaiman, and I don’t think I’m even allowed to criticize it even if I wanted to, am I? I’ll have to check with the rest of the community, I guess. I kid, I kid… this is already so much better than the (for all intents and purposes) fill-in story we got instead back in 1989.
So you might be asking, what’s the deal with this one? Why is it a thing… and why wasn’t it a thing back in the long ago? Well… I’ve tiptoed around that scene in ACW #606. Heck, feels like I’ve posted that scene like a half-dozen times over the past couple weeks. Ya see, when Gaiman was approached with writing the final weekly issue of Action Comics, he did what all great writers ought to do when writing serialized fiction: he familiarized himself with what came before.
From his Introduction piece in this very Green Lantern/Superman: Legend of the Green Flame, he writes: “I even prided myself on using plot threads from ACTION COMICS WEEKLY – like the one where Green Lantern – who was then the Man Without Fear, Hal Jordan – undergoing an emotional crisis, telephones his oldest friends, and none of them want to speak with him – not even Superman, whom he phones at work at the Daily Planet.”
All well and good, right? Here’s a fella who did his due-diligence… something I wish more writers would actually do, especially today. What could possibly go wrong, right?
Well, that’s the question, ain’t it? From Neil’s Intro: “There had been a continuity miscommunication discovered regarding DC’s earlier reboot of Superman, in the week between my writing the story and its arriving on [Superman Editor] Mike Carlin’s desk. The change-winds had blown, and the nature of reality had shifted.”
Okay… so, what’s the problem?
“It had been decided that too many people knew Superman’s secret identity. It wasn’t special anymore. So from now on, the only people who would know it would be Mr. and Mrs. Kent and Pete Ross, and maybe Mr. Mxyzptlk. Nobody else. Certainly not Green Lantern.”
Neil was offered the opportunity to rewrite his story… but, let’s be honest, by this point in time Gaiman was already ignoring his Miracleman scripting duties… there’s no way he’s going to rewrite something for Action Comics Weekly.
Now, the most surreal part of this is… just the fact that a Neil Gaiman superhero script was ever rejected… and for all things, continuity issues! This was most definitely a pre-Sandman world.
So, where do I stand on all this? Well, I’m of two minds. First, Editorial never should have been in such a state of disarray that the original scene in ACW #606 ever took place at all! They really should have had a firmer grasp on the new-look Superman… his trappings, and most importantly (at this juncture) who knew the secret!
On the other hand, I’ll give it to DC for holding firm (once they figured out what it was they’d be “holding firm” to). It would have been easy to waver, and just run the story… not that any of the readers would have noticed anything “wrong” with it. Had this happened today, I’m sure the story would have run… and any fan who might’ve raised issue with it would’ve been mocked. I think that’s what editors “these days” do, right? It sure isn’t curating continuity!
But I digress.
We open at the entrance to the afterlife… I think, where our heroes are met by another ACW Alum, Deadman! He informs the big fellas that at the moment they are, in fact, dead. Hal ain’t buyin’ none of it… and so, Boston decides not to belabor or argue the point. Instead, he bids them both adieu…
… well, he tries to, anyway. Superman calls him back in hopes of getting some better answers. I suppose the quality of answers you receive is subjective, even if you’re Superman. Boston then suggests the heroes that they’re “probably dead”… so, ya know, all hope ain’t quite lost. He tells them about a bright light they can head toward… that same bright light he has been unable to cross into all these years. Hal has another idea, he can just use his ring to send their spirits back to their bodies. It’s as good a plan as any, so he gives it a go!
We then arrive at the first of our “Strange Interludes”. Our favorite Stranger walks around a room, admiring the knick-knacks and tchotchkes… he knows his time here is coming to an end. There’s another place he needs to be. The Lords of Order require an explanation for his “vacation”…
… even threatening to deprive him of his powers should he act outside their interests, but still… he ain’t about to stick around.
The Lords of Order assure him that if he does decide to leave this room… or whatever this room symbolizes, he will face their wrath. He leaves anyway.
Kind of a transitional chapter, wunnit?
Well, before we get into it, I wanted to share a little bit more from Neil’s introduction piece that kicked this Prestige Format special off. Regarding Action Comics Weekly as a concept, “ACTION COMICS WEEKLY had been an experimental anthology comic. It asked the question ‘Would readers want an anthology series of individual serialized stories featuring Green Lantern, Catwoman, Deadman, the Phantom Stranger, the Demon, Blackhawks and, of course, Superman?’.”
He continues, “The answer was, ‘No.’ They didn’t want it. At DC it was felt that ACTION COMICS WEEKLY was much more trouble than it was worth.” Well, there ya have it! I wish I had sales figures to corroborate that… but I don’t! All we have at this juncture is the (mostly) overwhelmingly positive feedback featuring in the letters pages. You’d never know this was as unpopular an endeavor as Neil’s making it out to be. Then again, my own numbers here at this silly blog nosedived when I took on this direction, so there might just be something to it!
Anyhoo, onto the story! In a way, it’s not all that different from the Maggin fill-in that would actually wrap up Action Comics Weekly back in 1989. In both stories, Hal Jordan “dies”… runs into Deadman… and is faced with a decision. I wonder if Maggin wrote from Neil’s plot/script, or if this was just a cosmic-level coincidence? Perhaps the Ross Andru ACW #642 cover had already been completed, and necessitated Hal’s “death” in both stories? I dunno.
So far though… I’d have to say the Neil Gaiman story is better. We aren’t wasting pages (upon pages) introducing the New-New Guardians, so that’s a definite point in the favor of this take. Really, the primary difference is… and stop me if you heard this one before… Hal Jordan and Clark Kent are close pals in this story, where they weren’t in the other. Stands to reason, as that’s the entire reason why we have two endings for this run… but still, that’s the only thing that stands out.
I’m liking the cameos from the ACW Alumnus… however, as the “all or nothing” sorta goofball that I am, I wish there were a way to include every character from the original run. Get the Hero Hotline in there! Give us an aside with Human Target! I mean, we’re playing fast and loose with the timeline as it is… just cram everyone in there!
On that line of thought, something that might be lost on folks discovering this story in more recent years is… Hal Jordan appearing at all and what a novelty that was at the time! Ya see, this was published back in the year 2000. Hal Jordan wasn’t Green Lantern at that point in time… and we were often told, in no uncertain terms that… Hal Jordan will never be coming back as Green Lantern! Kyle Rayner was our guy… and that was the end of the discussion! So, to get a “brand new” story featuring Hal in the togs was a pretty big deal. I guess that speaks to the power and influence of post-Sandman Neil Gaiman. More on that next chapter!
Chapter Three opens with Superman waking up to the sound of pained and horrible screams. Tears well up in his eyes as he comes to realize that the place Green Lantern managed to send them to with his Power Ring was… Hell (or at the very least, some incredibly unpleasant region of the Underworld). It almost seems as though he’s not even struggling with the situation. Hal, on the other hand, is pretty much panicked… and is trying to pull his fellow hero out of his daze, while desperately holding on to his floating pal as to not fall into whatever fiery end lays below.
Suddenly a large bird flies overhead… curious as to the identities and motivations of this pair of virtuous visitors. It informs Hal that they are at the Stygean Pits… and assures Hal that he will eventually eat his soul. Hal ain’t buyin’ it… he’s sure he’s just having some sort of delusion.
Suddenly, a ship full’a souls enters the scene. Superman is still kayoed… well, catatonic might be more accurate… he can still hear the cries of the damned and whatnot.
Then, Big Bird swoops back around and goes to take a big ol’ bite out of Superman’s leg… which manages to finally wake the Big Fella up! He freaks out so much, however, that Hal loses his grip… and proceeds to plummet toward the lava pits!
Lucky (?) for Hal, he happens to get impaled on a sort of meat hook before hitting the drink. He engages his ring, and the pair’a heroes blink out once more. Once they’re gone, the Big Bad Bird dines on the ship of souls.
From here, we enter our second “Strange Interlude” wherein the Phantom Stranger arrives at the Metropolis Museum. He, unlike the mere mortals in presence, is able to see past Hal’s “mental block” construct… and so, he wanders right into that hallway.
Not too long a chapter today… but, before we get into it, let’s hop back into the behind-the-scenes stuff for just a minute. Why, in the year 2000… over a decade after this story was intended to run… was this finally green-lit?
Well, duh… probably because Sandman happened, right?
From Neil’s Introduction, “Years passed, SANDMAN was written and one day it was finished. Karen Berger [Vertigo Editor] asked me if she could publish the tryout story I had written for her in the planned MIDNIGHT DAYS collection, if I still had a copy of the script. I did, and I sent it off to her. And then I had an idea for something else we could put into MIDNIGHT DAYS.”
Now, Neil Gaiman’s Midnight Days (1999) was a collection of new-to-us Neil Gaiman stories published through Vertigo. Stories that were previously unpublished… and some new stuff. It included features starring John Constantine, Swamp Thing, Floronic Man, and the Golden-Age Sandman. Ya know, Vertigo-y type characters.
Neil continues, “I phoned Mike Carlin.”
He asked Mike if he remembered the Action Comics Weekly script he had written… and asked if “that continuity stuff was still a problem.” Naturally, being as though this is a Neil Gaiman request, post-Sandman… “that continuity stuff” was no longer quite the sticking point it was back in ye old 1989 (you’ll notice there’s no Elseworlds branding on this… so, this is “the real life”). The project was shifted over to Bob Schreck’s purview… and once Neil was finally able to track down the original script (which had been given to a pal of Neil’s) everything was good to go!
So, with that out of the way… what’d we think about Chapter III?
Ehh. It was alright. The dialogue was perhaps a tad too purple for me… but, whattayagonnado? I can’t believe I’m asking this, but… we’re in Hell right? Or, at the very least a Hell-adjacent realm… Where was Etrigan? I mean, even just a quick cameo from yet another ACW Alum in the Demon would’ve been appreciated. Not that I’m a big Etrigan fan, and in fact thought his ACW feature was all sorts of bad… but, c’mon… his showing up would’a been a no-brainer!
Not much more to say about this one. It served its purpose in shifting the pieces across the board… and, with them “in position”, we’ll be able to put this bugger to bed!
Chapter Four opens with Superman and Green Lantern waking up… this time, it looks like they’ve arrived inside a Power Battery! Hal helps his pal to his feet, and the Big and Small Fellas find themselves stood before… the Green Flame!
The Flame proceeds to speak to them… retelling some Oan history to explain its origin… and its reason for nabbing the heroes at this juncture. Ya see, some forty-million years ago the Guardians created the power battery… and in so doing, chose science over magic, banishing the latter from the structure. The Flame then achieved sentience… and in the time of Kai Lung, a lamp-maker named Chang created the ring and lantern. Hal recognizes the lamp as once belonging to Alan Scott… the Flame, however, doesn’t take kindly to the inference that it was ever “owned” by anyone. Instead, it refers to Alan Scott as having been a “slave” to the Flame.
It then offers Hal a similar “slavedom”… If he is willing to cast aside his current (science-y) ring and embrace magic, it will endow upon him the greatest power. Hal ain’t diggin’ the idea so much, but the Flame continues it’s sales pitch… well, actually, the Flame makes it clear that this wasn’t so much an “offer”, but a “demand”. Just then, the Phantom Stranger arrives on the scene.
The Stranger reminds Hal that the Flame can be controlled… and, in fact, was controlled by Alan Scott before. The Flame pleads with Hal to ignore that trenchcoated interloper…
… but, he doesn’t! Hal then recites Alan Scott’s old Green Lantern Oath… which, uh, doesn’t so much roll off the tongue like Hal’s.
Bada-bing, bada-boom… the Green Flame has vacated the room, and the heroes find themselves back down that hallway in the Museum… looking right at their physical bodies! The Phantom Stranger proceeds to take Alan Scott’s Lantern… and tells the Fellas that they’ll be returned to their bodies (and to the normal flow of time) pretty quickly.
We shift ahead a little bit, and rejoin Hal and Superman sitting atop the Museum continuing their chat from before. This recent situation helped Hal put all of his woes into perspective… and he realizes there’s more to life than complaining about everything. He decides he’s going to drop in on Mogo just to say hi. Since this is Hal, and wherever he goes… tragedy follows, I suppose we should say a little preemptive prayer for Mogo’s health and happiness now.
The heroes drop to the street level where… heyyy, there’s a theater marquee getting its sign swapped out! Looks like Fatal Attraction is about ready to head to VHS. Now, where have we seen this before? Waitasec, a “Fatal Attraction Retrospective”? I thought this was supposed to be happening in the late-80’s? Oh well, whatever the case…
… you likely already know where this scene is headed. “ACTION” is left on the marquee as Hal symbolically hands Action Comics back to the “big guy”… he then delivers a Kentian wink in our direction.
Welp, that’s a wrap… in more ways than one. All of the stories of Action Comics Weekly have now been told. We’ll save the comparison between the Maggin and Gaiman stories for the compilation post, and just look at this one as a chapter… and a complete story.
As a chapter it’s… I dunno, kinda rushed. Maybe that’s telling of my tolerance for magic-based stories… maybe that’s why I’ve never really able to glom onto stories featuring the Phantom Stranger or the Spectre… they always seem so “with one snap of my fingers, the bad stuff goes away” for my liking. That’s kind of what we get here. The Phantom Stranger shows up… tells Hal to control the Flame, and so… he does. Bingo-bango, all’s good in the hood.
Resolutions like that make me feel sort of like I’ve wasted a whole bunch of time reading the story up to that point, ya know? It’s like… why bother building tension and conflict, when some cosmically-powered side character can just show up and fix the problem without any actual effort? What I’m trying to say is, it’s hard for me to truly invest in stuff like this.
Now, as a whole story… Green Lantern/Superman: Legend of the Green Flame was… okay. Nothing really socks-rocking, but a decent little buddy-story between Kal ‘n Hal. It’s cool as a novelty and an oddity, but… I feel like if you go into this expecting NEIL GAIMAN’S Superman and Green Lantern epic, you might come out of it a bit disappointed. It’s not a bad story… it’s just a story.
I enjoyed seeing Kal ‘n Hal chatting… though, it was mostly Hal kvetching and Clark kinda just trying to get a word in edgewise. That’s the kind of dynamic I see them having though, so it worked for me. In a lot of my personal interactions, I kinda feel like the “Hal” of the conversation… just muddling through whatever’s going on in my head, while a calmer other-person kinda just absorbs it all… while probably repeatedly asking themselves why they’re still hanging around me!
The ending here, just like in the Maggin script, was pretty clever. Makes me wonder who came up with it first. In the Afterword of this book, DC Editor from back in the long ago, Mark Waid confirms that DC did buy Gaiman’s script: “We paid Neil for the script and then, with deep regret, simply filed it away.” I gotta wonder: Did Neil’s original script included the Fatal Attraction bit? Did Maggin come up with it first? Did an editor just think it was clever and ask each writer to use it? I tells ya what, we axe the important questions here at Chris is on Infinite Earths!
Whatever the case, it feels more “right” with Hal being the one to symbolically “hand” Action Comics back to “the Big Guy”. For all intents and purposes (and for better or worse), Action Comics Weekly was Hal Jordan’s book. He was the headliner, and probably the main draw for the casual comics fan. I understand why they made it Deadman in the Maggin script… but, it works so much better (on so many levels) with Hal being the guy.
Overall… a good enough story, which kinda jives with my feelings on Action Comics Weekly as a whole. It was “Good Enough”. Not going to blow anybody away… and there will be bits and pieces you won’t care about… but, there’s enough about it to like that I can say it was good enough.
Introduction by Neil Gaiman:
Afterword by Mark Waid: