Sunday, December 2, 2012

Off Target: Green Arrow (Vol. 2) #81

Let me take you back, dear reader. Back to a darker time. A time of strife and uncertainty.  A time of conflict when friend fought against friend.  A time of big guns, small ankles and many, many pouches.

I speak, of course, of The Dark Age of Comics.

The year is 1993 and Mike Grell, who had written Green Arrow for 80 straight issues, has stepped down.  During his time on the title, Mike Grell revitalized the Emerald Archer, keeping his adventures completely separate from the DC Universe at-large while telling more realistic down-to-earth stories.  And lo did The Powers That Be at DC Comics decide that it was time for this state of affairs to end.  Yea, it was time for Green Arrow to come back into the fold and begin fighting alongside his fellow superheroes once again!

To accomplish this task and maintain the high standards of quality forged by Mike Grell and editor Mike Gold would require an equally skilled creative team.  A writer who appreciated the nuance of the character of Oliver Queen and what made him conflicted yet also likeable.  An editor who knew all there was to know about the character, his morals, his mannerisms and everything that made him more than "Batman with a bow".  Sadly, that wasn't what we got and the next year's worth of Green Arrow suffered for it as an inexperienced editor balanced a team of one inexperienced writer and whatever Batman writers weren't too busy that month to create a mini-series largely forgotten today, save by those who like to tear apart terrible comics. 

Welcome to Cross Roads.

Not a bad cover, really but the person shooting at Ollie can't aim worth crap.

With all due respect to those involved, Green Arrow's new writer/editor team was - pardon the pun - green.  The editor, Scott Peterson, was head Batman editor Dennis O'Neil's assistant and had only been with the company for two years. The writer, Kevin Dooley, was an assistant editor under Andy Helfer but had little writing experience at that time.  Indeed, Dooley's Wikipedia page says that he "dabbled" in writing and his scripts for Green Arrow certainly come across as the work of an inexperienced writer.   

Ironically both would later go on to better things, but in the opposite roles.  Not one year later, Dooley took over the editing duties on Green Lantern as Emerald Twilight was beginning and Aquaman just as Peter David began his acclaimed run.  Peterson would later become renowned as the co-writer of the Cassandra Cain Batgirl comic and the Batman: Gotham Adventures comics based on Batman: The Animated Series.  But that was later.  Now, we are in for a world of pain...

There's a "heavy metal vs. grunge" joke in here somewhere, but I can't be arsed to make it.

We open on a picture of this ugly fellow.  He is Shrapnel.  He's a super-villain.  He is, if the narrative can be believed, the first super-villain who has ever shown up in Seattle.  As the name suggests, he is a living pile of scrap metal that can blow himself up and then reconstitute.  If you'd like to know more about the character, I'm sorry but that's all the background anyone has given him.  Really!  I checked three different websites and they all say his background is largely unknown.

Not that this currently matters to Oliver Queen, who is currently Sir Not Appearing In This Fight Scene.  At that moment, while the SPD is trying (and failing) to keep Shrapnel under control, Ollie is giving a young hoodlum a stern talking to about his use of CFCs - i.e. spray-painting his and his special lady's initials on to the side of a dark alley.  The hoodlum's response - despite recognizing Ollie as Green Arrow - is to defend his actions of those of a man in love and to insult Ollie as an outsider after Ollie does the "Not in my town" routine.The words do strike a chord with Ollie and after sending the hoodlum running off with a warning and a face-full of paint, Ollie does what so many goatee-sporting men in Seattle back in 1993 did - angst!

Mercifully, he does not pull out a guitar and start to sing about it.  Instead, we're treated to a 2/3 page recap of the high-points of the Mike Grell run.  I've decided not to include the scan here because it spoils a lot of good comics I'd like to encourage everyone to track down and read.  All you really need to know for our purposes is that things got complicated between Ollie and his long-time girlfriend Dinah Lance (a.k.a. Black Canary) and that he's been kicked out of their house and left wondering if he should continue as a crime fighter in Seattle or go someplace else.

Meanwhile, in the more action-packed subplot...

If you didn't know this comic was from 1993 before...

The gent with the pink mohawk/ponytail and matching pants is Albert Rothstein a.k.a. Nuklon - grandson of the Golden Age villain Cyclotron, godson of the Golden Age hero The Atom, founding member of Infinity Inc. and Worst Dressed Sentient Being for three years running at the time of this issue's publication. He later went on to much better things - a better costume, size-control powers and membership in the JSA - but at the time of this comic he was just super-strong, super-durable and apparently color blind.

"God, this sucks."  Ollie's actual internal monologue - not my critique of this issue.

Eventually, all of the ruckus makes enough noise to get Ollie's attention from the alleyway he's moping in. Arriving on the scene, he starts trying to piece together who the heck these two yahoos are and what they're doing in his town.  And in case you're wondering if we ever get an explanation for what either of these two was doing in Seattle, don't worry - we don't.

That lady on the front row looks a LITTLE too into this...

I have to take the art-team to task a little bit for this sequence of pages.  Generally, this fight is paced well, but there are several odd bits in the art besides the oddly smiling on-lookers.  For one thing, the sign Nuklon is using to hit Shrapnel changes in how it is bent between panels.  Nuklon himself is inconsistently drawn, with his mohawk becoming oddly wide in some panels and a yellow triangle patch with a black G or C (it's hard to say what letter it is, but it's definitely not an 'N'!) disappearing from the back of his jacket and reappearing throughout.  Even the coloring is weird, with Nuklon starting out in pink but shifting to dark red at various points through the comic.  If they're trying to shade his outfit, it isn't very effective.

Again - the actual internal monologue from the comic. NOT my commentary!

For his part, Ollie isn't very effective in dealing with this situation and he knows it.  His arrows can't hurt either super-human so his actions are limited to keeping the fight away from the crowd and breaking the fight up verbally.  And yet, despite all the destruction, Ollie still can't stop thinking about Dinah as everything tonight keeps reminding him of her  Because of ANGST!

The guy with the spray-paint was committing vandalism over a woman in the first alley he and Dinah beat up criminals in together when they first came to Seattle.  The fight between Nuklon and Shrapnel is over a woman.  And then the espresso cart Ollie and Dinah used to go to all the time gets trashed!  Thankfully, Ollie does have one thing on his side - the love of the people of Seattle!

"Well, gee thanks.... say, shouldn't you people be fleeing in terror or at least taking cover?"

It's at this point that Ollie gets an idea, though he reflects that if he does it, he'll probably have to leave Seattle forever.  What happens next doesn't make a lick of sense to me.  I suspect Ollie's internal monologue here is really Kevin Dooley's excuse for forcing the goal of The Powers That Be (i.e. bring Ollie back into the main DCU) and trying to give Ollie one more reason for hitting the road other than "Get away from my ex and everything that reminds me of her."

The conflict, I think, is that Ollie can't operate in a city where he's caused massive property damage and Seattle won't want him around because they're so peaceful and unused to this sort of thing.  The problem is that - the DCU being what it is - it's patently unrealistic for a major city to not have some kind of accommodation for supervillains and the collateral damage that they cause.  They'd have to have a higher-than-average Act Of God insurance policy, at the very least! 

Adam Savage be damned! I reject your reality and substitute my own!

So what is Ollie's plan?  In defiance of common sense, the laws of physics and Myth Busters, Ollie is able to use the spark from an arrow hitting blacktop to ignite a trail of gasoline.  This instantly causes the nearby gas station to explode, knocking down Shrapnel and Nuklon without causing any other property damage whatsoever or injuring any of the civilians!  Enter a grateful Barbie look-alike, who it turns out was the target of Shrapnel's misplaced affections.  Yes, she's been standing there watching these two yahoos fight over her all this time and it seems she's eager to reward the hero of the hour.  Unfortunately for her, Ollie has another woman on his mind.  And unfortunately for Ollie, that woman was in the crowd... watching Barbie trying to kiss him.

And in front of Dinah, Kevin McAllister's grandfather expresses his shock.

So here's a question - why the hell wasn't Dinah doing something in all of this?  She's just as much a superhero as Ollie and it wouldn't be the first time she's fought someone outside her weight-class.  Did she just now get there?  If so, why is she walking away from what could still be a volatile situation where lives are in danger?  Because I think that saving lives is more important than your avoiding the drama caused by running into your ex in public.  Just saying...

Naturally, the impossible explosion barely slowed Nuklon and Shrapnel down.  Faced with the love of his life turning her back on him again and his last bit of patience for what had already been a terrible, awful, no-good, very bad day exhausted, Ollie loses it.  He then proceeds to tell everyone in the immediate area why they suck in no uncertain terms.  This goes about as well as everything else Ollie has tried to do today.

Shrapnel, seems to fly away through a controlled explosion.  Nuklon peacefully lets the cops arrest him, knowing that the Justice League will probably have him sprung in 24 hours.  And Barbie stomps off after telling Ollie he isn't really that attractive and she is SO worth having men fight over.

Enter Lt. James Cameron - the closest thing Ollie has to a Commissioner Gordon in the Seattle Police Department.  The two are far from friends but over the years they've built up something of a partnership of convenience.  In brief, Ollie was allowed the freedom to operate provided he kept the police informed of his activities and in return they would bring him in as a consultant to deal with certain cases.  This makes it completely out of character when Cameron decides to dust off the '"vigilantes cause trouble" speech he gave Ollie when they first met back in The Longbow Hunters.

I'm going to angst in an alleyway!  Or maybe on a rooftop!  I haven't decided.  ANNNNNNNGST!

By this point, Ollie has had more than enough.  So he steals Lt. Cameron's thunder, basically saying that they can't kick him out because he's leaving.  This announcement stuns Lt. Cameron so greatly that he drops his coffee... wait a second.  Where did he get that coffee from?!  I know this is Seattle and there's a coffee shop on every corner but... did he just come from the coffee shop?  Did the cops just give up on trying to contain the fight and decide to take a break?  I'm not sure if that's the smartest thing they could have done or the most neglectful!  

*sighs* Anyway, the issue ends with Ollie saying goodbye to Seattle, goodbye to Dinah and deciding he's going to San Francisco.  No word on if he'll be wearing flowers in his hair.

This comic isn't quite as bad as I remembered it but it's still pretty bad.   The fight scenes hold up pretty well if you ignore the blatant violations of the laws of physics and Ollie's written like the smartass we all know and love.  But the continual angsting in the middle of the action gets really old, really quick.  And Ollie comes off as an incredibly ineffective hero, with none of his actions doing anything positive and the central conflict of the issue resolving itself after everyone involved collectively says "Screw you guys.  I'm going home."

This issue set the trend for the biggest problems with Cross Roads as a whole.  First, since the entire goal of this storyline was to bring Ollie into stories involving other DC Comics characters, every single one of these stories feels like an issue of someone else's comic where Ollie is a guest star rather than the focus of the action.  Next, because Ollie is so frequently out of his element, he doesn't come across as the competent, experienced hero that he is.  Finally, because the creators involved are unfamiliar with Ollie as a character and his level of experience, there's a lot of moments where Ollie is horribly out of character in terms of what he will do and what he's capable of.

This issue was not too bad in that regard.  Next time will be much, MUCH worse.

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