Green Arrow emerges from makeover better armed to attract readers

By Andrew A. Smith
McClatchy Newspapers

When DC Comics rebooted all of its superhero titles in 2011, some of them got better. But some didn’t, like Green Arrow – which just got a lot better.

First, what they did wrong: In Green Arrow #1 in September 2011 we were introduced to the latest version of Green Arrow: Brash, wealthy Oliver Queen whose company (Queen Industries, a family firm) gave him the resources to play superhero with a bow and high-tech trick arrows. Calling himself Green Arrow, with a support team (tech and engineering experts Jax and Naomi) and the requisite authority figure with whom to clash (Queen Industries CEO Emerson), the Emerald Archer fought crime and sought to join the Justice League (who wouldn’t have him).

Interested? No, I wasn’t either. I’ve read enough coming-of-age stories, thank you, and I wasn’t really willing to wait for this kid to grow up and become someone I’d want to read about. I mean, you don’t need The Hero with a Thousand Faces to know what’s going to happen, right? There will be tragedy, the boy will lose his birthright, he will go on a quest to right wrongs, and Become A Man. Along the way, he will learn personal responsibility, join the Justice League and probably hook up with Naomi. (Sorry, Jax.)

Bleah! We’ve all read that a thousand times! And besides, Oliver Queen wasn’t just brash and immature – he was downright obnoxious. I found him unlikeable, and wasn’t interested in following his adventures.

Apparently a lot of people felt that way, because DC decided to give Green Arrow a makeover – for the second time in two years. But this time they did it right.

It helped that in the interim, there was a Green Arrow TV show that was really, really good. On Arrow, young wastrel Oliver Queen was stranded on an island, where he learned many life lessons (and also how to be an expert archer and martial artist). He also learned that his father had been a bad man, so he came home to fix his father’s errors by becoming an urban vigilante. In the course of the show, we grow with Ollie as he learns to be Green Arrow (called “the vigilante” or “the hood” on the show), and understand his growing-up process via flashbacks to The Island. Plus, my wife gets to see ripped star Stephen Arnell take his shirt off a lot.

Now, let me jump in here with my Comics Historian hat on and say that being stranded on an island wasn’t originally part of the Green Arrow mythos. The character appeared full-blown in 1941 as a wealthy playboy who fought crime in disguise, but was finally given a back story two years later, in which we learned that Oliver Queen was originally … an archaeologist!

In “Birth of the Battling Bowmen,” the 1943 version of Queen – who specializes in Native American archaeology – discovers a fortune on a Southwestern U.S. dig, but is attacked by some crooks, who want to hijack his new-found stash. Luckily, Queen is joined by a young man named Roy Harper, who was raised on a reservation, and together the duo capture the crooks with bows and arrows. Becoming an idle playboy as a result of his archaeological discovery, Queen decides to fight crime as “Green Arrow” with Roy at his side as “Speedy” – names bestowed upon them by the criminals they captured.

That wasn’t the most exciting (or plausible) of origins, but then, Green Arrow was little more than a Batman knockoff (made easier because both Green Arrow and Batman were published by the same company). The Emerald Archer was a Bat-wannabe with a Robin Hood motif, complete with Arrowcar, Arrowplane and Arrowcave. (Not to mention his own ward and sidekick, Speedy, who served the same role as Dick “Robin”Grayson for Batman.)

And that’s all there was to Green Arrow and Speedy for decades, as they filled pages with mildly entertaining adventures in the back of magazines like Adventure Comics and World’s Finest.

But, fortunately, comics legend Jack Kirby joined DC Comics in the late ‘50s looking for a character to play with that nobody would miss … and who was more superfluous than Green Arrow? It was Kirby who introduced the idea of Ollie teaching himself archery while stranded on a deserted island, in the new origin story “Green Arrow’s First Case” in 1959. Needless to say, with only a few modifications, this story has stood the test of time.

Oh, but there’s more. One thing Kirby didn’t give Green Arrow that he sorely needed was a personality. That fell to writer Denny O’Neil, who re-invented Oliver Queen once again in 1969. Artist Neal Adams had already given the Battling Bowman a snazzy new costume (and a Van Dyke beard), but it was O’Neil who stripped Ollie of his fortune and had him develop a social conscience. Enter Green Arrow … loudmouth liberal!

That didn’t last, as later (and presumably less liberal) writers like Marty Pasko wrote Green Arrow as a sort of loudmouth goofball. And later writers, like Mike Grell and Chuck Dixon, wrote GA as a loudmouth conservative!

And it was the “loudmouth” part that carried over into the new, rebooted Green Arrow of 2011. Which, as explained, didn’t last.

Because fan favorite writer Jeff Lemire (Sweet Tooth, Animal Man) took over Green Arrow with issue #17 in 2012 – and promptly whipped out that reliable tool of the new writer, the “Everything You Know Is Wrong” story!

Immediately, Lemire took away Green Arrow’s company, his fortune and even Emerson – who was killed, framing Green Arrow in the process. (And, oh yeah, Jax was killed, too, although nobody really cares. Sorry again, Jax.) Further, Green Arrow was almost killed by a mysterious and superior archer named Komodo, only to be saved by an even more mysterious fellow named Magus – who informs Oliver that his own father had arranged for his sojourn on The Island, all part of quest for a sacred totem to the order of The Arrow … which is one of six different ancient orders based on weapons – who are currently at war with each other!

There’s more – a lot more – and it’s all been collected in the first collection after GA’s makeover: Green Arrow Volume 4: The Kill Machine ($16.99). It’s pretty heady stuff, especially as it’s illuminated by the precise and beautiful artwork of Andrea Sorrentino, whose eye for detail and cunning use of color to guide the eye to important plot points is remarkably effective.

All of which means this new Green Arrow, like his TV brother, is really, really interesting. And they’re just different enough to be enjoyed separately.

So check out Green Arrow. It took two tries, but this book’s finally (ahem) right on target.

Contact Captain Comics at capncomics@aol.com.

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I don't know, I still can't work up that much enthusiasm for him. I think the only time his stories were interesting to me was when he and Black Canary teamed up in World's Finest. Some characters just don't click I guess.

...Wasn't Bill Finger the official writer of the Kirby GA stories ?

  BTW , I sort of recall that Roz Kirby , his wife , was the inker of the Kirby ARROWS .

Thinking about it now for some reason I think there was a certain sameness not only with Batman and Green Arrow but between them and Catman.  The only thing that he lacked was a sidekick.

GA once had an Arrow Signal - A flaming arrow fired from downtown , not a bright light , anyway . - too !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  I once had an idea built around " The Last Arrow- Signal(s) " , but with DC's rebootings they probably don't want to refer to that anymore...........

Mark S. Ogilvie said:

Thinking about it now for some reason I think there was a certain sameness not only with Batman and Green Arrow but between them and Catman.  The only thing that he lacked was a sidekick.

I remember Elliot Maggin writing a lot of the Green Arrow stories in the '70s. I think his version of Ollie was a little more even-handed and not as hot-headed as Denny O'Neil's version. Maggin said that he modelled Ollie after himself. That was probably my favourite version of the character.

Does the new 52 allow for retcons and reboots--or do they have to restart the universe every time they want to change a character's history?

I'd think they would want to completely start over again with Green Arrow, so they could use as much as possible from the TV show.

The six ancient orders sounds like an attempt to do the same thing to Green Arrow that was done to Green Lantern with the colour corps (or Swamp Thing et al with the elementals). I hope that idea doesn't bleed over to the TV show. I'm enjoying the TV show as it is and I'm good with the League of Assassins.

Jimmm Kelly said:

The six ancient orders sounds like an attempt to do the same thing to Green Arrow that was done to Green Lantern with the colour corps (or Swamp Thing et al with the elementals). I hope that idea doesn't bleed over to the TV show. I'm enjoying the TV show as it is and I'm good with the League of Assassins.

It reminded me of what Brubaker & Fraction did in their Iron Fist series. Then again it is a well tread story.

I did try this new Green Arrow series. Once when Ann Nocenti took over and again when Lemire did. Sorry to say Jeff Lemire's take didn't really work for me either. It does sound like it got more interesting, as I didn't stick around too long.

Please consider editing the piece to correct the name of the lead actor on Arrow: Stephen Amell: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1854386/

The writer who most pushed the hot-tempered loudmouth portrayal was probably Gerry Conway. O'Neil's GA was a counterculture guy, but his outlook included a rugged, individualist streak, so there was complexity there. He was strongly anti-drugs in the GL/GA drugs issues.

 
Emerkeith Davyjack said:

...Wasn't Bill Finger the official writer of the Kirby GA stories ?

 

The GCD currently attributes the script of the origin story, from Adventure Comics #256, and a number of the others to Ed Herron, with perhaps a plot contribution by Kirby on the origin. It also attributes the scripts of a couple of the stories to Dave Wood. DC also introduced a new origin for Aquaman four issues later; that might be an indication that the impetus for doing a GA origin didn't come from Kirby. #256 was cover-dated for Jan.1959, so the story actually appeared in 1958.

In the period artists were often expected to pencil in the dialogue for the letterer, so they could make script/storytelling/story changes, but I don't know whether the editor, Jack Schiff, would have tolerated Kirby's doing that. Perhaps he would have: Kirby was also doing Challengers of the Unknown, and I have to suppose he had plot input on that. The use of SF in some of Kirby's GA stories could be due to Kirby, but Schiff was also using SF in "Batman", so perhaps not. Kirby was also doing Sky Masters with Dave Wood. Writing this paragraph has made me wonder how he fitted everything in.

Emerkeith Davyjack said:

  BTW , I sort of recall that Roz Kirby , his wife , was the inker of the Kirby ARROWS .

I think I've read somewhere that she likely helped with the inking of the lines part of the inking, as opposed to the filling in the blacks part.

Rich Steeves said:

Please consider editing the piece to correct the name of the lead actor on Arrow: Stephen Amell: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1854386/

Fixed! I actually looked that up when writing, but my old eyes saw Ts where there were obviously Ls. I haven't gotten used to guarding against that kind of mistake, as it's sort of new. Or maybe I should say "old." Thanks for the correction!

Thanks to one and all for the script credits on Kirby's GA. I try to keep things simple for the column -- which is read primarily by non-comics readers -- and DC uses Kirby's name in 100-point type in the reprints, so that's the name I used. But there's no reason not to make the record complete here.

Travis: Iron Fist is the series I thought of first when Lemire introduced the hidden history of the Green Arrow. I hadn't thought of Green Lantern, Jimmm, but you're obviously right as well. And there are similarities in Swamp Thing as well.  But as we often say, execution is what counts, and I think Iron Fist and now Green Arrow have both handled the concept well. I liked it in Green Lantern at first, but it didn't wear well, and I think DC realizes that, too -- the "Lights Out" storyline has at its heart the drive to reduce/eliminate ring-bearers. We'll see how that goes -- I think it's sort of fascist that the GLs have decided that only they have the right to use rings -- but I'm guessing we'll see fewer rings, and eventually fewer Corps.

Jimmm, it was Elliott Maggin that inspired my line about "loud-mouthed goofball." (My original draft read Marty Pasko and Elliott Maggin, but that got changed at some point erroneously.) It was, in fact, Maggin's in-story line about how he patterns GA's speech patterns after his own (in a story where he and Cary Bates visited Earth-1) that I remember specifically. In that admission were included the phrases "great galloping gophers" and "for the love of Kookamonga," which even as a boy the Li'l Capn thought were silly things for an adult to say.

The panel where Maggin and GA stand side-by-side and say the same dialogue at the same time was, to me, the nadir of an already self-indulgent story.

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