Monday, September 28, 2009

The Definitives: Green Arrow

If comic book fandom worked like a dating service where you input the qualities you're looking for in a character whose adventures you'd like to follow and get handed your best match, odds are I would have been a Green Arrow devotee from early on (how 'bout that for a weird opening analogy).

Cocky and outspoken, not to mention swashbuckling and romantic, Oliver Queen is an underdog who shares my real-life love (ok, like) of archery and has all Batman's cool gadgets plus a sense of humor to boot. How could I not have been Green Arrow for every Halloween from 6th grade on?

Well, mainly because Ollie Queen was mostly MIA during my first run as a comics reader.

Not long after I started getting into comics seriously and almost immediately after I began to expand my tastes into the broader DC Universe beyond Superman and Batman, the original Green Arrow took a dirtnap courtesy of terrorists and was replaced by his son, Connor Hawke. Nowadays I have a decent enough appreciation of what Connor brings to the table, and he did have that one really cool Grant Morrison JLA story where he kicked the Key's ass, but a Buddhist martial artist who didn't seem to like girls wasn't really what the doctor ordered for adolescent Ben.

When I got back into comics in college, though, Oliver Queen was re-experiencing a somewhat unlikely resurgence as Kevin Smith had resurrected Ollie and brought him to heights of success he'd never before gotten anywhere near. After getting into Smith's GA, I delved a bit into the past of the character and quickly discoverd I hadn't missed much; the truly great Green Arrow stories of the pre-Smith era were indeed quite good, but in my humble opinion, they were somewhat few and far between (though, to be fair, I haven't read a lot of the Denny O'Neil/Neal Adams stuff). Interestingly enough, for a character so often linked to the 70's liberal movement, I think between his last nine years of comic book appearances and Justin Hartley's standout performance on Smallville, Oliver Queen's best decade ever has been the last one.

Nonetheless, there have been quality yarns of the Emerald Archer sprawled across the past 68 years since his inception; here are the one that made the biggest impression on me...

"A Member No More!"
Like most Golden Age and early Silver Age DC super heroes, Green Arrow had no real unique personality to call his own; just another smiling do-gooder who spoke in exclamations and liked to smile a lot. Then, in the 70's, writer Denny O'Neil stripped Oliver Queen of his fortune, gave him a social conscience, and created the cantakerous windbag with a heart of gold we've all grown to love. In Justice League of America #173, GA pushes for the team to recruit Black Lightning based on the work the new hero is doing cleaning up the streets of Metropolis, but after BL rebukes the team, he chides Ollie for not focusing on that type of crime afflicting the average man himself. So eight issues later in JLoA #181, Gerry Conway pens this beauty, in which Green Arrow lectures Superman, Flash, et al about how busy they are stopping alien invasions while folks go hungry on the street, then quits the team, but not before going on one last mission with them and putting Felix Faust down for the count with a lucky shot after all his more powerful teammates fall; it was a defining moment for Green Arrow (and one tweaked and re-imagined wonderfully years later in JLA: Incarnations #3, an issue of a limited series I really need to cover in Underrated/Overlooked sooner rather than later).
Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters
I just borrowed this mini from TJ within the last couple months, and while it could not possibly be much further from the wisecracking Green Arrow I typically favor, it's such a powerful work and a strong take on the character that still makes sense. Essentially writer/artist Mike Grell had the idea to move Green Arrow out of the super hero realm, where he always seemed redundant or outmatched, and redefine him as an "urban hunter," really just a dude with a bow and arrow who polices Seattle after hours taking down drug dealers and the like. Grell's art is lush and gorgeous, which kind of goes without saying if you've ever seen his work, but his character work is so strong here. He doesn't shy away from the fact that Ollie has always seemed a few years older than his JLA contemporaries, delving into the fact that he may be having a mid-life crisis (personified by his relationship with the far younger Black Canary, who Grell also has a great handle on) and is not able to rely on his physical prowess and gadgets as much as he once could. The story is a dark and often shocking one that sees Black Canary physically abused by drug runners, Ollie reacting in kind, and the morally ambiguous archer assassin Shado entering Green Arrow's world. It's not pretty, but it's intense, masterfully structured and would set off over 80 issues of a Green Arrow renaissance under Grell.
"Zero Hour: Crisis in Time"
Oliver Queen's last hurrah in his initial run as Green Arrow as well as his first real interaction with the wider DC Universe in years came at the conclusion of the 1994 Zero Hour event, and whether writer/artist Dan Jurgens realized it or not, he gave the Emerald Archer a helluva sendoff. GA doesn't appear until the very last issue of the main mini, wherein his old pal Hal Jordan (formerly Green Lantern, now Parallax) has effectively destroyed the universe and is about to remake it "for the better"; Waverider managed to save a few heavy hitters like Superman and Captain Atom, but also snagged Ollie from oblivion in hopes he might be able to talk his fellow hard-travelling hero down from the ledge. Jurgens truly makes Ollie look ragged and worn here, a shell of the one-time Green Arrow who makes no secret he feels his best days are behind him with his pessimism and lack of faith in his own abilities--a far cry from the guy who walked out on the Justice League. But when all of existence is on the line and an innocent life is lost, Green Arrow pulls back his quiver and makes the most difficult shot of his life; Jurgens captures the raw emotion of the seemingly final interaction between Ollie and Hal with such power, poignancy and tragedy that it would bring a tear to a glass eye. The fact that Green Arrow's role in Zero Hour came so out of left field was perfect in a way for a guy who never quite fit in the DCU's hierarchy, and perfectly bookended the first phase of his legend.
In 2001, several years following the "death" of Oliver Queen, famed film director Kevin Smith, who had already given Daredevil new life at Marvel, brought the original Green Arrow back into the DC Universe and clearly had a tremendous time doing it. In a ten-part epic that featured Batman, Aquaman, the JLA, Hal Jordan as the Spectre, Etrigan, Black Canary, Arsenal, Black Manta, both Green Arrows and, last but not least, Stanley and his friggin' Monster, Smith and artist Phil Hester threw everything including the kitchen sink into an incredible journey that featured no shortage of action, mystery and laugh-out-loud moments, but most importantly, Oliver Queen never got lost in the shuffle and never felt more important or better-defined. Smith plays with Ollie as a man "out of time" and has some fun with that, mocks Batman's seriousness, explores heavy issues of spirituality and the afterlife, and writes incredible Etrigan dialogue all in the course of one story. Oh, and there are also absolutely amazing fight scenes, choreographed by Phil Hester, whose moody, angular, yet oh-so-fun art has made him one of the definitive Green Arrow artists of all time. I don't want to get too much heavier into the details lest I spoil it, but few stories about a guy with a bow and arrow feel bigger and more epic than "Quiver"; heck, few stories do period.
"The Archer's Quest"
Novelist Brad Meltzer's first foray into comics and, to this day, my favorite work he has done in the medium. It is very much Brad's love letter to Green Arrow and all the things he loves about Oliver Queen and his world, but to me it never gets self-indulgent, instead drawing you in as if you're reading over the shoulder of an enthusiastic kid who somehow got to write his favorite super hero. The presence of Roy Harper as he and his adopted dad go on a road trip to lock down the stuff Ollie lost while he was presumed dead is a treat as Meltzer really gets that character as well as what makes the relationship between Green Arrow and his former sidekick so unique. There are several great moments throughout this arc, from the surprising role of the Shade to Ollie's first real meeting with rookie Green Lantern Kyle Rayner as well as a neat Wally West moment and a game-changer cameo (though nobody saw it coming) for Catman. I would say my favorite part though remains the completel random and wonderfully crazy Green Arrow-Solomon Grundy fight, as Brad basically got curious what would happen if GA fought the Hulk and then put it on the page like that aforementioned kid talking to his buddies about comics. I've heard plenty of critiques of "Archer's Quest" from a lot of hardcore Green Arrow fans, but for me it was a refreshing breath of nostalgia from a guy who really seemed to be showing the love as well as a neat snapshot of a great character.


TJ said...

I love me some Green Arrow and, for my money, Archer's Quest is Brad Meltzer's best comics work so far.

Devin said...

Arrow's Quest is so good, it kinda boggles the mind that Meltzer's JLA run was so terrible.

Anonymous said...

When are you going to do a definitive checklist of comics for Connor Hawke?

Anonymous said...

Hi - I'm waiting for a reply to my previous comment.