The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Retcon Retrospective #5: Green Lantern/Green Arrow: Snowbirds Don’t Fly

Written by: Gary M. Kenny, CC2K Comics Editor

Image“Some will say the following story should not be told… There will be those who argue that such events have no place in an entertainment magazine – perhaps they are right! But we don’t’ think so – because we’ve seen these noble creatures, human beings, wrecked… made less than animals… plunged into hells of agonies! We’ve seen it – we’re angry… and this is our protest!” – Dennis O’Neil, Neal Adams, and Julius Schwartz (September 1971, Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85)

 In the fall of 2004, I had a privilege to partake in a comic writing workshop taught by Mr. Dennis O’Neil at Rockland Community College. In a small classroom with just a handful of students, Mr. O’Neil taught writing fundamentals and techniques. Most students participated by turning in drafts of their indie comic scripts, while others (such as myself) just listened and wrote down every word Denny uttered. The workshop met once a week for about 8 weeks and every day he would start the class with a story. I vividly remember three stories. One was about when he was an editor at DC Comics and he received the news that they were going to kill off Jason Todd (Robin) based on a telephone voting contest. One was about how he was writing the novelization of the movie Batman Begins, he then decided to surprise us by telling the class the movie’s plot, and this was before anyone in my class even knew they were making a new Batman movie. The last story I can remember is the time Dennis O’Neil talked about his run on Green Lantern/Green Arrow and how one two issue arc effected the comic community and the “Comics Code Authority.” 

In 1971, writer Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams worked on the book. Denny decided to write a story about the drug influence in American teenagers, which was a topic unheard of in the comic community. Such a topic went against the rules of the Comics Code Authority and usually that comic went unpublished. The Comics Code Authority (CCA) is a program from the Comics Magazine Association of America (CMAA) and was used to regulate the content of comic books in the United States of America. The CCA established rules for comic books, such as, no comic can contain any sex, rape, it can’t have use of the word “horror or terror” in a title, etc. When a comic book has the seal of the CCA, it usually tells the reader that the comic is somewhat morally appropriate. Though they thought it wouldn’t be approved, Denny and Neal submitted their GL / GA story entitled “Snowbirds Don’t Fly” to the CCA. The story is about Green Arrow’s ward Speedy and his addiction to heroin. Somehow, it was passed by the CCA and this two-issue story made comic book history.

The plot of these two issues is very gripping. In issue # 85 “Snowbirds Don’t Fly,” Green Arrow gets mugged by a group of young teenagers, one of which shoots GA with a crossbow. Oddly, the crossbow is loaded with GA signature green arrows. This clue makes Green Arrow partner up with Green Lantern in order to track down his attackers. They find out that these teenage attackers are junkies who mug to feed their addiction. Peculiarly, GA and GL also find GA’s sidekick Speedy among them. At first, they think he is working undercover to bust the junkies, but later in the issue, GA catches Speedy trying to shoot up. It then becomes evident that the signature arrow that shot GA is indeed one of his own. Speedy goes on to blame Green Arrow for not being there for him and that is why he turned to drugs, because it was the only thing that helped fight his loneliness.

In issue #86 “They Say It’ll Kill Me… But They Won’t Say When!” A furious, disgusted and ashamed Green Arrow attacks his ward, Speedy. Upset, Speedy runs away in an attempt to withdraw (cold turkey) from the drug. Afterwards, the story shows one of Green Arrow’s teenage muggers dying of an overdose. GA and GL then investigate and with the help of Speedy’s information find the drug ringleader, who turns out to be a pharmaceutics CEO. Speedy then kicks the habit thanks to the concern of Green Lantern and Black Canary, while a proud Green Arrow discovers that Speedy isn’t his young sidekick anymore and has now become a man.

It is amazing to see how a story form 1971 is still relevant to today. Besides some far-out trippy artwork and the 1970’s slang talk (words like young cat, dandy, and cruds), this comic truly withstands the test of time. It’s violent and scary and this story shows a darker side of humanity that most people luckily will never discover. For a comic from that time, this arc was revolutionary. It was commended by the then mayor of New York, John V. Lindsay, who published a letter of acknowledgement in the back of issue # 86. The influence of GL / GA’s story caused the comic community to start pushing more important topics into their story lines. Most importantly were Amazing Spider-Man issues # 96-98 which also had a similar story about heroin. The big difference though is that Amazing Spider-Man wasn’t approved by the CCA. Marvel Comics then decided to run the comic without the seal of approval, which at the time was a big deal. Nowadays, most, if not all comics do not have a CCA seal, but back in the 1970s, almost every comic book did. Marvel pushed the envelope with Amazing but only thanks to the influence of Denny and Neil’s GL / GA story. The comic book industry’s standards now had changed.

During almost every class, Denny kept stating that we should always write about the things we’re passionate about, to never settle for less. If it wasn’t for these two issues, many comic book topics would still be taboo. Imagine a world where superhero comics were still sugar coated. Just think how many of our favorite stories might not have been published thanks to the CCA. Denny, Neal, and their editor Julius Schwartz wanted their voices heard and their story told. To many people they were just comic book entertainers but to others they were drug-fighting humanitarians. You can find these two issues in the trade paperback: Green Lantern/Green Arrow Volume 2. You can buy the originals or find them reprinted in Green Lantern/Green Arrow #5 (volume 2).