Thursday, September 8, 2011

Green Arrow #1 - A Review

I imagine that the biggest challenge in revamping Green Arrow had to have been finding a way to differentiate Oliver Queen from all the other billionaire playboys turned vigilante in the comics world. Even as a Green Arrow fanboy – perhaps the biggest one in the world – I have to admit that isn’t an easy task. While many adjectives can be applied to the character of Oliver Queen, ‘original’ is not one of them.

Right from the start, Green Arrow was Batman with a quiver instead of a utility belt. Despite this, thanks to some innovative storytelling by the likes of Jack Kirby and Mort Weisinger, Green Arrow’s adventures remained in print throughout the 1950s at a time when other superheroes books were failing left and right. A revamp in the late 1960s under the team of Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams saw The Emerald Archer receive a new look and a new attitude, as Oliver Queen lost his fortune, found enlightenment and became a modern-day Robin Hood and champion of the oppressed.

As time passed, the character of Oliver Queen has been revamped again and again. From Mike Grell’s portrait of an aging activist confronting his mid-life crisis to the idealistic outcast abandoned by both his family and community J.T. Krul created last year, there has been little consistency to the character of Oliver Queen. One writer envisions him as a loving family man. Another writes him as an unrepentant horn dog, who will bed anything with breasts and a pulse. One author portrays him as an outspoken but well-meaning champion. Another depicts him as a blustering blowhard who barely has the intelligence to dress himself. This problem has plagued Green Arrow to the point that even the people writing his title were unsure whether or not he had ever actively cheated on long-time girlfriend Black Canary.

Thankfully, the universe-wide revamp has given author J.T. Krul – returned to write Green Arrow after having written the book post-Blackest Night – a chance to start over with a clean slate. Krul is now free to ignore several decades of messy continuity and shoddy characterization and get to the true soul of Oliver Queen, restoring The Green Arrow to his former glory, positioning him once more in a place of honor in the pantheon of DC Comics heroes.

Well, we can hope, right?

At first glance, it seems Krul has done little to set Oliver Queen apart from the other billionaire playboy vigilantes. Indeed, it appears that he may have borrowed heavily from the recent cinematic revamp of another billionaire hero from the Marvelous Competitor. Oliver Queen runs his secret vigilante operation out of a hidden lab in the middle of his own business. There’s an anxious executive trying to slowly take over all of Queen Enterprises. There’s even a red-haired secretary tasked with keeping everyone distracted while Oliver Queen is out playing hero.

Thankfully, most of these trappings are nods to the original Green Arrow series, which pre-dated Iron Man by several decades and they are common enough to every comic book with a Rich Idiot With No Day Job protagonist.

How then does Krul set Oliver Queen apart from the rest of the pack?

First, Krul emphasizes Green Arrow’s status as a hunter. Whatever criteria you may use to compare him to similar heroes, Green Arrow is a tracker first and foremost. The first time we see him, he is following a trail and plotting just how to best go about attacking his quarry -in this case, three wanted super-villains who are living it up in a ritzy nightclub.

Secondly, Krul stresses Green Arrow’s status as an outlaw. This may not be uncommon in the new DCU (consider Batman and Green Lantern’s fight with the police in Justice League #1) but it is made clear from the start that Green Arrow has just as much to fear from the police as he does from the supervillains. That is a broad change from how superheroes have usually been viewed in the DC Universe, though it is nothing new for Green Arrow who has lived the outlaws’ life on three separate occasions before this issue.

Next, Krul highlights Oliver Queen’s conscience. Bruce Wayne became a hero because of a child’s vow affirming the love of his parents. Tony Stark became a hero out of guilt for the lives he inadvertently helped destroy. But Oliver Queen does what he does because it is right. Because it is wrong for the strong to prey upon the weak and because if he does not stand up, who will?

Finally, Krul showcases Oliver Queen’s attitude. More than any other hero, Green Arrow represents the heroic swashbuckler spirit. He goes into battle with a smile on his lips and a witty retort at the ready, no matter what the odds. He is Douglas Fairbanks facing three men at once. He is Errol Flynn, striding into the great hall with a poached deer slung across his shoulders. He is Cary Elwes wrestling a giant. He may fall in the end but he will go down fighting.

Speaking of swashbuckling, I must note that this issue gives us plenty of action. Indeed, it has the most action of any of the DCnU comics I’ve read so far. And all of it is masterfully illustrated by Dan Jurgens and George Perez – two pros whose names are synonymous with quality comics.

Do I have any complaints? Yes, but they are meager ones. Chief among them is that much of Oliver’s new supporting cast has not been given any characterization past “the smart hacker chick” or “the competent secretary”. The most well developed of Ollie’s team at Q-Core is Jax; a pacifist weapons designer who Ollie brought in to design and test all of his trick arrows. Hopefully they will get further development in future issues.

I’m also not pleased by the revelation that Oliver has some secret guilt that has driven him to become Green Arrow and that no indication is given as to what event he is talking about, save that he stood by and did nothing and that people died because of it.

Not only is this disappointing because it adds a level of angst to a comic that had been happily free of it until this point but it likely means that Andy Diggle’s excellent Green Arrow: Year One mini-series is no longer canon. I don’t recall Oliver sitting idle while people died in that story, though a large number were probably killed because of his actions and his best intentions.

All in all, I rather enjoyed this issue and I’m cautiously optimistic about this new take on Green Arrow. A part of me longs for the family man who just happened to be a superhero as written by Kevin Smith. And a part of me is nostalgic for the days when Eddie Fyers and Connor Hawke roamed the highways of America looking for adventure and people to help. But what’s past is past and all the wishing in the world can’t turn back time.

As it is, I’d say that this new Green Arrow is on-target.

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