Wednesday, February 15, 2012

52 Catch-Up: Green Arrow #1-6

I don't think any book in the New 52 line-up has disappointed me more than Green Arrow. Not because of anything in the book itself but more because of the promise that wasn't fulfilled.

As regular readers know, Green Arrow is one of my favorite characters and I was of the opinion that most of the people writing him in the last decade had no idea what they were doing. So when it was announced that Oliver Queen would be getting a fresh start under the pen of J.T. Krul - whose work with the character during Brightest Day I liked - well, I was cautiously optimistic.

As I noted in my review of the first issue, J.T. Krul gave us a good set-up. The basic concept of Oliver Queen being this universe's version of Steve Jobs was a solid start and a nice modernization of the character's classic origins as a billionaire playboy. We were given a brief look at Ollie's support team at both his day and night jobs. Krul also managed to establish what sets Green Arrow apart from similar heroes, apart from his archery gimmick - his skills as a tracker, his hatred of people who abuse their power and his motivations for being a hero - with surprising subtlety.

Sadly, the potential of the first issue went largely untapped and Krul never expanded upon the one hint he gave as to how Oliver Queen's past may have differed from the old Green Arrow before leaving the book with Issue #3. Krul's three issues are, for the most part, standard superhero action fare. Do not misunderstand me - it's good superhero action fare. But this isn't what the opening issues of a new series should be like.

To my mind, an opening arc should firmly establish the main character's past and character for new readers. But these opening issues don't really do that. Apart from the aforementioned hint we aren't given any information at all about Oliver Queen's past or motivations for having become a crime-fighter. Was he washed up on an island and forced to fight a drug cartel for the freedom of an enslaved tribe? Did he discover a secret marijuana farm and force the hippies running it to take him back to civilization at arrow point? Was he abducted by Chinese slavers and forced to think up lucky numbers in a fortune cookie factory? We don't know!

Oddly, this lack of a back-story is more of a hindrance to long-time fans rather than new readers. I know I was anxious to see how the relationships between Green Arrow and his extended family would be different in the New DCU. Heck, I was anxious to see if there would even be an extended family. It turns out there isn't. This book is firmly set in the new Year One, before Roy Harper was adopted and apparently before Green Arrow met Black Canary, despite a promise at the end of Issue #2 that she would appear in Issue #3. She did not.

Another problem is that none of the supporting characters are developed past a one-sentence summary. Naomi is a sassy hacker grrrl. Jax is a pacifist weapon designer. Nobody seems to have any life outside of helping Ollie do what he does or - in the case of Queen Enterprises CEO Emerson - being an annoyance. Yet Emerson gets a scene suggesting that his motivation for riding Ollie so hard is because of his friendship with Ollie's father and his worries that Ollie is wasting his potential. It's a nice touch, making Emerson a much more complex character with a few simple panels and these opening issues could have used more brief scenes like this.

I mentioned before that Krul did a good job of establishing Ollie's basic character in the first issue. One way he did this was by giving Green Arrow the perfect villainous foil in a gang of publicity-hungry supervillains. No matter what the incarnation, there's nothing Green Arrow should hate more than people who abuse their power and hurt others like it is nothing.

Though I disagree strongly with the equation Naomi makes between supervillains posting their crimes on-line and being cheered for it and people who play violent video games. Wouldn't a comparison to the people who watch Jersey Shore, cheering the antics of a group of morally reprehensible publicity whores be more apt? Just saying.

While I can quibble with the characterization and the metaphors, I cannot quibble with the action nor with how well it is illustrated. Dan Jurgens or George Perez would be a fine artist to put on any book. Put the two of them together though, with Jurgens doing layouts and Perez doing finishes and you have something unique that captures the best of both artists. The characters all have a classic Perez feel to them but the form and flow of the panels is more structured, with just as much detail to the setting as there is to the characters. Most importantly, all of the characters have unique designs that make them easily identifiable even in the long shots.

Issues 4-6, co-plotted by artist Dan Jurgens and writer Keith Giffen, suffer from similar problems to those I described in the first three issues. There's a lot of well-designed and well-drawn action sequences but the characterization is still shallow, at best. What is worse, someone is stealing jokes from the a movie about another billionaire playboy superhero, which leaves me questioning just how coincidental it is that Oliver's executive assistant is a hyper-competent redhead.

Does this seem familiar to anyone else, somehow? Anyone?

All issues of parody or plagiarism aside, the plot of this trio of books doesn't have as much punch as the first three. The focus here is upon two new villains - Blood Rose and Midas. Blood Rose is a standard issue gun-totting femme fatale with super-strength. Midas, a slightly more original creation, was a scientist whose injuries at the hands of a group of eco-terrorists turned him into an avatar of pollution. Think Swamp Thing mixed with The Toxic Avenger... but evil! Heck, Alec Holland even gets name dropped!

Blood Rose wants to see Oliver Queen suffer slowly before she eventually kills him. Why? Good question - one Oliver actually asks her point blank and one she refuses to answer. There is a hint in the artwork that she may have known Oliver at one point in the past but nothing is ever explained.

Midas, for his part, has a much simpler motivation - he's a nerd who never had any luck with women before his accident and his relationship with Blood Rose is the closest thing he's ever had to real intimacy. He does what she wants to make her happy and appreciate him more. Which only serves to make the ending of this arc and the lack of explanation as to how these two ever hooked up even more nonsensical.

However, the confusing plot and lack of back-story for the characters is not the least of this arc's problems. The art is full of continuity errors and one great big whopping WTF moment, when Oliver Queen is apparently shot in the head and survives! I suppose the bullet is meant to have just grazed the front of his forehead but given that the gun was aimed at the back of his head before he tried to move, Ollie shouldn't have had a chance to dodge. ESPECIALLY considering the twist ending which... well... pretty much confirms there's no way Ollie could be faster than Blood Rose and certainly not fast enough to dodge bullets.

Ollie doesn't even have a bandage or signs of a wound when he goes after Midas and Blood Rose afterward! The blame for this can probably be laid on artist Ignacio Calero, who took over pencil finishes on the final issue. George Perez, he ain't.

In the end, all my grousing is completely meaningless given that Issue #7 will bring a new creative team to this book - Writer Ann Nocenti (most famous for her work on Daredevil and creation of Typhoid Mary) and artist Harvey Talibao (Most recently seen working on a Silver Surfer mini-series for Marvel). With any luck, they'll be sticking around for a while and we can finally get a look at Oliver Queen's past. Either way, you can be sure I'll be covering it!

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