The Brown Buffalo Hunt: Traces of Hunter S. Thompson in "Green Lantern #6"
It's a rare treat to see one writer experiment with multiple styles of storytelling. But Geoff Johns pulls it off with aplomb in "The Other Hero".
Green Lantern #6Publisher: DC
Length: 22 pages
Writer: Geoff Johns, Mike Choi
Publication Date: 2012-04
The idea hits somewhere in the third act of my Unyielding Day of Admin. Sometime long enough after lunch so that lunch isn't an accurate enough marker, and yet, still far enough away from there being any end in sight. It wasn't an idea at first. At first it was something half-formed, something I still needed to grapple with to find the exact shape of. But the signal from my unconscious, the signal that sparked the wake-up call was as clear and as clean and as sharp as anything. It was a simple longing. I liked '80s TV shows. Especially that trinity of The A-Team and MacGyver and Airwolf.
I knew going in it would be a hell-day. That it would be paperwork, then waiting, then paperwork, then… I'd brought along HST's The Great Shark Hunt to take the edge off the languor I knew would come. But instead of finding that quiet island to retreat into between bouts with the interminable, I ended up pushing myself into the most sublime kind of torture; trapeze-tossing my caffeine-riddled mind between two states of absorbing agitation. First being absorbed by Hunter's moving prose style, then by the sinister rise of the mundane in the form of red tape.
I'd been reading random essays from the book, and had stumbled into "The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat", when the signal hit. This piece was on Hunter's search for his longtime friend and "co-star" of Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Chicano attorney, Oscar Acosta. And as clear and as clean and as necessary as that signal was, I can't place exactly when it came. Was it when Hunter spoke about Oscar's firebrand personality (literally) that drove him to set a small-minded judge's front lawn on fire then deliver a sermon on judicial misconduct? Was it when Hunter recalled how Oscar began publicly crafting his Brown Buffalo persona to stir Chicano pride in East L.A.? Was it when Hunter compared the strange, unsavory parallels between Oscar's fall from grace, and Richard Nixon's?
It could have been at any of these moments. I'd read "The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat" enough times to maybe have jumped ahead, a few sections of prose, in my memory of when that signal came. I might only have hit Hunter's description of Oscar's arrest during the "high-speed drug bust", but still seem to remember the signal coming much later when Oscar threatens to sue Hunter depicting him as a "300-pound Samoan attorney" in Fear & Loathing. All I know is this. When that signal did come, I put down The Great Shark Hunt and the gray of the office couldn't be more anonymous. I pulled out my rolled up copy of Green Lantern #6 and began to read. And that's when the idea formed.
I can't explain how the idea formed from the single longing of the signal. I'd suddenly realized that I longed for '80s TV shows. But that wasn't the gist of it. In those first few pages of "The Other Hero", this self-contained issue of Green Lantern I held in my hands, I realized it was the "why" of that longing that was the interesting part. Why did I really long for that trinity of 80s shows, Airwolf, MacGyver and The A-Team?
"The Other Hero" is a standalone issue (maybe the only one), between the rebooted series' first major storyarc ("Sinestro") and whatever the next major arc will be. This issue is the story of a small, cheap adventure of Sinestro, formerly an earnest thorn in the side of the Guardians and their Green Lantern Corps, and even more formerly a Green Lantern himself, and now, as the strange karmic wheel turns, a Green Lantern once more. The story sees Sinestro contact Starstorm, "the other hero" who once tormented Sinestro as much as Hal Jordan had as Green Lantern.
It's those opening few pages that give me the "why". Hal Jordan, for those of only just now immersing themselves in Green Lantern has been "unchosen" to be a Lantern. His ring, and the duties of policing his space sector have gone to his erstwhile archnemesis and mentor, Sinestro. But rather than just offer a tale of Sinestro, Green Lantern writer Geoff Johns grounds "The Other Hero" by bookending it with Hal's story.
After the events that played out on the distant planet of Korugar, after a flawless manipulation at the hands of Sinestro, after being "deputized" into being Sinestro's adjunct-Lantern in a reckless adventure, Hal's begun toying with the idea that maybe, just maybe he can build a life for himself outside of being a Lantern.
In the opening scene, wanders off from waiting for his on-again/off-again Best Gal, Carol Ferris, while at an air museum. What he finds, in a repair hangar, is a gang of thieves about to beat up on a longtime employee for giving them up to their bosses. Hal makes Quick Work of the four them.
And that's the "why".
If this had been MacGyver, a friendship would be struck immediately. The incident wouldn't have been reported, because the Old Timer would have let Mac know that those were really good guys, but there was a Sinister Mob Boss pulling their strings. Or, on Airwolf String would have found a clue that could lead to his missing brother on one of the thugs. Dom would have tried harder and harder to convince String it was planted by terrorists trying to steal The Lady (what Dom called the Airwolf helo), and eventually Michael would have needed to step in, the full weight of The Company behind him.
What makes these shows so engrossing, and what Geoff has mastered flawlessly in the pages of Green Lantern, is a kind of "genrelessness". By the '90s already, there was a trend back towards "occupationally-situated" TV dramas. We saw it happen in Homicide: Life on the Streets, we saw it in NYPD Blue, in The X-Files, in Ally McBeal. And by the noughties, this kind of show would really take flight with dramas like House, with Gray's Anatomy, with The West Wing, with Boston Legal.
Not so MacGyver or Airwolf, and to a lesser degree, The A-Team. One episode would see Mac singlehandedly enact regime-change in a South American dictatorship. The next would see him in a human interest story teaching chemistry to inner city kids. The same with Airwolf. Each episode of the show's three seasons would tell a different kind of tale.
This character drama that Geoff weaves in "The Other Hero" is as beautiful as it is absorbing. And it recalls truly one of the best styles of pre-direct-market storytelling, where creative teams would be swapped out after only one or two storyarcs. Each team would bring along its own unique focus and unique storytelling mode. One Batman might be tightly-written character drama. The next, the zany camp of oversized pennies and submarine regattas and outwitting alien expeditionary forces. That infinite creativity seems convincingly to have returned. At least in the pages of Geoff's Green Lantern.
And then there's the issue itself. "The Other Hero", the failed planetary protector who holds up such a dark mirror to Sinestro that Sin himself is forced to rethink the role Hal Jordan will play. There's something about this song of loss and age and experience that speaks vividly to the deep currents of a Hunter S. Thompson struggling with the (possible) loss of his longtime friend, and the shape of the world after his assertion of Gonzo Journalism. Ah, the things we choose to choose… "The Other Hero" is its very own sort of signal, not from any unconscious in particular, but from the collective unconscious of popculture. And who can say what ideas may come from there?