Though I wasn’t out sleuthing at all, I recently solved a mystery. While at a local flea market, I spotted a stack of old comics, super-hero and horror titles from the 1970s, and one of the comics in that stack promised to reveal a secret that touches upon the root of a big super-hero event currently unfolding in the today’s comic-book market.
In short, I know why the Sinestro Corps War is raging through current issues of Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps. Though he claims a goal of bringing order to all worlds and has a longtime grudge against the Guardians of the Universe, I do not believe they are the true causes of his corruption. The reason can be summed up with a single word…
When I was a kid, one of my weekly rituals was to hit one or two of the local used bookstores and thumb through the stacks of used comics. With no comic-book specialty store in my area, it was really the only way I had to find comics other than the new weekly releases on the comic rack at Books ‘n’ Things. Those stacks of old comics (priced mercifully cheap to accommodate my paper-route income) were an absolute delight and served as my introduction to dozens (if not hundreds) of characters. One doesn’t see such selections of dog-eared comics in used bookstores so much anymore, so my back-issue shopping is generally limited to the occasional flea market and sporadic sales at the local direct-market comics outlet.
It was at the local weekly flea market that I happened upon a discolored, ragged copy of Green Lantern v.2 #124, and it immediately jumped out at me. The cover blurb proclaimed that within, one could discover “The Secret of Sinestro!” Well, given the “Sinestro Corps” storyline unfolding today, I figured this comic, published in late 1979, would make for an interesting contrast with the darker, harsher take on the same characters today. To a certain extent, I was right, but I was also surprised by the plot elements I found within this comic book from three decades past.
Written by Denny O’Neil with art by Joe Staton and Frank McLaughlin, the story finds Green Lantern Hal Jordan on the outs with his pal Green Arrow, as GL has opted to strike out on his own again as a hero, tackling cosmic threats to which his archer ally was not suited. One of those threats is Sinestro, who shows up on Earth to cause problems for his arch-nemesis. After causing some chaos, Sinestro streaks back off into deep space. Jordan decides to not only search for his enemy but investigate the cause of his apparent madness and all-consuming hatred. The search leads GL to Sinestro’s home planet of Korugar, where that sector’s current Green Lantern, Katma Tui directs Hal toward a possible lead: Sinestro’s father. But here’s the shocker: the power ring-wielding villain’s dad is a purveyor of Korugarian version of opium: convenient yellow “null rays” that offer a hallucinatory high.
That’s right… Sinestro’s father was a drug dealer.
It all makes sense now, doesn’t it? The crimes, the violence, the hatred… Sinestro is the product of an unfortunate upbringing. He’s lashing out about and against his past. Whereas his father used yellow energy to allow his brethren to chase the dragon, Sinestro uses yellow energy to create dragons that, well, eat people, I guess.
Hal, of course, becomes trapped in the yellow trip and hallucinates that the loves of his life are nearby. He can’t do anything with his ring to the energy in which he is caught (remember, his power didn’t work on the color yellow at all in this period), but he realizes he is able to call for help. The story resolves itself all too conveniently.
Despite the drug-trafficking reference, the story is the polar opposite of its modern counterpart. O’Neil’s script emphasizes accessibility to the point of clumsiness in the script, and the plot — contained to this single issue — is of such a simple nature that it’s amusing rather than at all suspenseful. That’s part of the charm of reading these old comics; they’re aimed at a completely different audience (even in the wake of O’Neil and Neal Adams’s classic “Hard Travelling Heroes” stories). O’Neil’s story also relies on a number of impossible plot devices and bizarre character gaffes (such as the title character’s failure to realize he could have saved himself all along), but again, it’s all part of the kitschy appeal of this fragment of yesteryear.
What’s surprising is the refinement one can find in some of the science-fiction elements that O’Neil includes in his story. We learn that GL travels through space quickly by “entering a singularity — a hole in space;” wormholes are common in sci-fi today, but I don’t know how common they were 30 or so years ago. Sinestro also evades capture when he “seems to fold himself and turn a corner into nothingness.” Though the artists don’t exactly provide the best visual representation of it, the inclusion of theoretical quantum physics in a by-the-numbers super-hero story of the period seems particularly inventive and innovative.
When next you see Sinestro waging war with the Green Lantern Corps, ask yourself: is his trying to impose his own vision of murderous order on the universe, or is he angry because his daddy opted for an acid trip over a game of catch?