Thursday, June 21, 2007
Looking To The Stars - My Dad And Green Arrow
The Internet is all abuzz with the news about the upcoming wedding of Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance a.k.a. the super-heroes known as Green Arrow and Black Canary. It cannot be denied that this marriage does have people talking, though opinions about the marriage and its’ potential success are diverse and divided.
Many cite the editorial mandate behind the impending marriage that has left little time for the long-dead romance between the two heroes to be properly rekindled as a cause for concern. Others worry about the independent Black Canary being turned into a submissive sidekick or a doting doormat in the up-coming Green Arrow/Black Canary book that will pair the two up as husband, wife and crime-fighting partners. But what really astonished me is the large number of fans who summed up their reason for being against the marriage in one sentence.
“I don’t like Ollie and I don’t see what Dinah sees in him.”
Given Ollie’s characterization over the past few years in the comics, I can see their point. After all, it is hard to see the good points of a man who – thanks to retroactive continuity - abandoned a woman who bore his child, cheated on his long-time girlfriend with a friend’s niece and generally been depicted as a liar, a cheat and utterly incompetent as a father, a boyfriend and a superhero.
But that is not Green Arrow! Not to me at least.
My Green Arrow is the one penned by Kevin Smith, who walked out of Paradise to do the right thing.
My Green Arrow is the one penned by Denny O’Neil, who became a champion of the little guy and refused to back down from an argument when he felt he was doing the right thing – even with the rest of the Justice League standing against him.
My Green Arrow is the one penned by Dwayne McDuffie on Justice League International, who was a cool uncle to the younger heroes as well as the team conscience.
This shocked some of the people who I explained this to, who only knew of Ollie’s character from off-hand references in books they had read or from the last few years of the Green Arrow comic. Some of them had never even read a single issue of Green Arrow and based what they knew of the character from what they heard on message board postings. But even after I told about some of the great stories that showed Ollie’s heroism, a few still said they didn’t believe there was anything admirable about the character of Oliver Queen.
This led me to ask myself – what do I admire about Oliver Queen? And maybe it was Father’s Day this past weekend that led to the thought but I had something of a revelation.
At his core, Oliver Queen reminds me of my dad.
Like Oliver Queen, my dad was a hippie back in his college days. Like Oliver Queen, he was a deep believer in Civil Rights and Women’s Rights – though he freely confesses that he didn’t mind the benefits of being able to meet a lot of young women who didn’t wear bras at rallies. Like Oliver Queen, my dad has stylish facial hair which I’ve been lucky enough to inherit. Like Oliver Queen, my dad is very political and is outspoken about his opinions. But most of all, like Oliver Queen, my father is an outspoken defender of those who can’t defend themselves.
My favorite story of my father the champion comes from his days as manager of a national chain hardware store, which shall remain nameless. This store had made arrangements with the local high school to allow several special-education students to work in the store for a few hours a week in order to give them real-world job experience and a chance to practice social interaction in a relatively controlled setting.
One of these students was a boy who was very smart but non-verbal. Like many people with communication disorders, he did not respond well to non-specific audio cues. He would turn around at the mention of his name but not to “Hey you!” A woman stumbled upon this boy as he was stocking the shelves. She was, by the accounting I heard, the wife of a city councilman or some other rich hotshot.
The woman asked the young man for help, not knowing of his condition. The young man, unable to speak, walked away from her to find someone to help her. She began to shout at the young man and began berating a store employee who, after returning with the boy, asked how he could help her.
My father was called out of his office, told only that a customer wanted to see him about the student employees. When he got there, the entirety of the class was gathered around to comfort their friend who was distraught from the yelling. Although he couldn't speak, he could certainly understand everything she was saying. The teacher and her aides tried to keep order in the face of one angry woman, six upset students and a growing number of infuriated employees.
“Are you the manager of this store?”
“Yes ma'am, I am. What seems to be the problem?” my father said.
“This employee of yours ignored me. He walked away and sent someone else."
My father explained, patiently, about the arrangement with the local school and how the boy had a condition that made him ill-suited to answering questions.
“You mean he's a retard?”
“He has a communication disorder. That's-“
“You let retards work here?!”
This was shouted, it bears repeating, in front of the children in question. All of whom were already concerned that their friend was upset and rather nervous about this angry shouting woman. It would only get worse.
“Ma'am, that word is –“
“You should put signs around their necks so that decent, normal people don't waste their time talking to them!”
My dad says he remembers smiling as he looked at the kids.
“Exactly what would you like the signs to say, ma’am?”
“I am a retard. Please don't talk to me!”
A pause. And my dad gave her the biggest smile he could.
“Fine. I'll be all too happy to make up those signs and put them around their necks... as soon as you let me put a sign around YOUR neck saying “I am a bigot. Please don’t listen to a word that comes out of my mouth!”
I’m not sure what backlash offending this rich and connected woman might have had against my dad’s business. But he doesn’t doubt for a moment that he did the right thing. And neither do I.
And that same spirit is why Oliver Queen is my favorite fictional hero.
Because no matter what I think of the writer of his book and no matter how boneheaded I feel the storyline of the month is, that core of the character cannot be changed by any amount of bad storytelling. No matter what happens, Oliver Queen will still always be the man who will speak his mind, damn the consequences and say "no" to the rich, the powerful and the complacent who think they can always get their way.
And that’s why out of all the heroes I read and write about on a daily basis, my dad is still my favorite real hero.
This column is respectfully dedicated to John Morrison, who taught me how to pick my battles and speak my mind.