Thursday, August 1, 2002

The Mount - Green Arrow: The Wonder Year Review

Sorry kiddies. Unca Stars is going to keep things short again this time. Between the new play (which opens this week!) and the 9-6 grind at the comic book store, he hasn't had a moment to himself for a week and a half. But I still have time enough to recant my favorite Year One story for this Year One edition of Fanzing... a little tale called "Green Arrow: The Wonder Year". Written by Mike Grell (of Longbow Hunters fame) with layouts by the same and finished art by Gray Morrow.

Part One "It's a mess. The Vietnam War. Watergate. Kent State. Drugs. Sex. Rock and Roll. The scary thing is it will be 20 years before people look back and realize THESE are the good old days."

Erie words to start the first book considering our current climate of corporate irresponsibility and federal government graft and the realization of how good we had it even a few years ago. But I digress.

We open on a yacht where idle (and drunken) playboy Oliver Queen talks with his boyhood idol, actor and master archer Howard Hill. Hill, for the record, is a real person and did many of the stunt shots for the Erroyl Flynn "Robin Hood" movie. We find out that Oliver studied archery as a child but hasn't held a bow in years. He is also a workaholic and this trip on the yacht is the first real vacation he has had in years. He is trying to walk off some of his drink (and failing that, throwing it up) when a sudden wave forces him overboard and out of the sight and minds of the other idle rich on the party boat.

Flash forward a few months. We see Oliver Queen waking up in a luxirous bedroom. A television news broadcast informs us that the war in Vietnam is still going on and that Richard Nixon is still president. A butler named "Wilson" enters and expresses his shock that Oliver seems ready to do some work that morning, saying that Oliver has barely done anything since his return from his "hiatus". Oliver says he is just having trouble getting back into the swing of things and that after you spend nearly three months eating lizards, it is hard to get excited over money. Oliver tries to put it into perspective how meaningless monetary wealth is in the big picture and tries to knock down the master/servant relationship by getting Wilson to start calling him Ollie and asking him his first name. Wilson responds, (you could call me)... Stan, but then I'd have to kill you." Ollie agrees to the point.

Later, we see Ollie bored in a meeting, using a rubber band to shoot paper-clips across the room. His personal assistant reminds him of a dinner that night for a fund-raiser for Congressman James Renyolds. Ollie says that while he generally agrees with the man's politics and admires his rebellious attitude, he is more interested in a woman who is a great supporter of the politician.

Quick flashbacks show Ollie hunting lizard on a deserted island as we see him drifting off at the dinner. We also see how he escaped from his exile, discovering marijuana farmers who were hiding their crop on the same island and forcing them to give him a ride at arrow-point. As a bored Ollie wanders off onto a balcony and looks up, thinking about the island, he sees a sniper on the rooftops above. Running to his car, he grabs his bow and arrows from the trunk along with a Robin Hood costume with a glue on beard.

He foils the assassination attempt and is hailed by the press as "that Green Arrow guy". He shrugs off the name and tries to suggest another, but is cut off by Jim Renyolds approach. He introduces himself, thanks the heroic archer and also introduces his date for the evening- his personal advisor Kelli Harris. The press then turn on the politician and advisor, asking if this changes his decision about not running for reelection. The Congressman says that if someone wants him dead, he must be doing something right. Kelli one-ups him, suggesting that some are afraid of what Renyolds, a strong reformer, might do as a Democratic presidential candidate

Later, we see Kelli talking with the assassin on the phone as we see Renyolds announce his intent to run for President on the evening news. She yells at him for missing, but he blames the Green Arrow for making him miss the shot. This is all overheard by Oliver, who is waiting on the balcony. Kelli goes for a gun but neither she nor Oliver tries to get off a shot. Instead, the two kiss and Oliver calls "Kelli" by the name Brianna.

Part Two

The issue begins with a quick recap of the events of last issue, with Reynolds announcing his candidacy on the news. We quickly launch into another flashback, with Oliver telling "Kelli" about how he became Green Arrow, after an incident where he stopped a robbery at a high society costume party while dressed as Robin Hood. Missing the adventure of his life on the island, Oliver decide to continue the hero act because "I've got the money, I've got the time... and God knows I've got nothing better to do."

Another flashback shows Oliver and Brianna meeting in college. The two were friends and lovers, despite their many differences: Oliver was a business major and confirmed capitalist while Brianna was majoring in Political Science and a Neo-Marxist. Still, they were both social liberals and got involved in a lot of anti-segregation protests.

The two start out remembering old times but quickly break into an argument about their differing methods in fighting evil. Brianna fell in with a radical group while Oliver went about trying to change the system from within. The two leave on bad terms, with Oliver berating Brianna for her stunt with the assassin to try and bring attention to Congressman Reynolds and to fuel his campaign for President. He reminds her that about half the people in the radical groups were FBI agents looking for evidence of dangerous anti-government activities. He also reminds her of the reason why she had to adopt an alias and in an ominous hint, saying that "there is no statute of limitations on murder".

Part Three

We open on a funny scene with Oliver having his costume returned by his assistant and having to procure another new one at the last minute. The new costume he receives is the Late Silver Age/Neal Adams design.

Reynolds expresses his concerns to Brianna about how everybody is paying attention to him only because they want to be there if he is killed and that his message is getting lost in the hype. Oliver calls Brianna, telling her that he is still unsure what to do about her.

Congressman Reynolds is killed in a car bomb attack. Brianna disappears, but Oliver manages to track her down. Oliver realizes that she wasn't responsible for the bomb- she's afraid for her life and realizes that whoever set the bomb wanted her dead too. Another flashback reveals the reason for her alias- the radical group she was a part of was responsible for blowing up a campus research lab that was developing biological warfare weapons. An innocent janitor was caught in the blast and killed.

Brianna pleads innocence, saying the bomb was configured wrong and was only supposed to rattle some windows and nobody was supposed to be in the building when it went off. She also tells Oliver who the sniper was- Del Zoukas, a poet from their old gang. He also helped her with building the bomb. Oliver is about to leave to search for Del when a LAW rocket flies through the window.

Part Four

Oliver manages to detonate the rocket from a distance with an arrow. The explosion sets the building on fire, but he and Brianna are able to escape. After giving a warning phone call to Del, Brianna and Oliver confesses his love for Brianna and looks at his arrows with a thoughtful expression.

The two later go to a forest cabin to meet Del, only to find several men waiting for them. Using some new trick arrows that he built during their wait, Oliver manages to subdue all the men without having to kill anyone. Searching the bodies, Oliver finds out how much trouble they are in- the men are all FBI Agents. So is, it turns out, Del... who was a special agent who had infiltrated Brianna's group.

Del doctored the bomb back then to make it cause more damage than break a few windows, but the janitor dying was not a part of his plan either. In order to protect his career and the lives of his superiors, Del tried to make up for things by helping Brianna stay in hiding as Kelli Harris. But he knew he had to stop her after she told him of her plan to fake an assassination attempt on a prominent liberal congressman and push him into the White House- if she succeeded, she would have wound up in the spotlight and it would have been a matter of days before someone figured out who she was and who had been helping her.

Del plans to kill them both, using explosives hidden inside the cabin... but Ollie has one surprise left up his archer glove- an army of reporters and policemen hiding in the darkness who get all of Del's confession. Oliver disarms Del as he tries to kill himself and says that he will pay for what he did. He notes to Brianna that she will have to do the same thing, but that with the attention the reporters are giving her now, she finally has the perfect chance to spread her message. She says she has nothing to say and goes into the cabin. One of the police asks Ollie if saw a detonator for the explosives. Before Ollie can respond, the cabin behind him explodes... with Brianna having killed herself.

Final Thoughts:

This story is something of an Elseworlds today, but it still fit the timeline when it was first published ten years ago. But having Ollie as a college student in the 60's and a young businessmen in the days of Nixon is a bit of a stretch today. Not to mention that Howard Hill's presence would be near impossible in a more modern story.

Despite some rather clichéd story elements (Oliver's revealing the army of reporters in particular - what are the odds a trained FBI agent wouldn't have noticed SOME sign of being approached) and some rather questionable time issues (Oliver designed and built his first group of trick arrows in just two hours?) and some just plain conflicting story elements. (Ollie's first costume here is show as being the Silver Age Adams design), this is still a good story.

This story has the honor of having the first detailed description of Oliver Queen's origin Post-Crisis and building upon the rather brief version that we get in Mike Grell's "Longbow Hunters". On that level it succeeds quite well. It is also just a plain good story which shows off Oliver's personality as a hero quite well.

Aside from some rather lucky coincidences in the plot, the story has no major flaws that aren't caused by nit-picky fanboyism, this is a fine mini-series well worth the expense and trouble of any devote Green Arrow fan or collector of Year One origin stories. 7 our of 10 Stars.

Join us next week for more stuff. Until next time, may your clerks be friendly and your comics unbent!