Monday, December 10, 2012

Off Target: Green Arrow (Vol. 2) Annual #7

I had occasion to reread this comic recently while helping my pal Alan Kistler with fact-checking for an article he did recently about the many, many, many retellings of the origins of Green Arrow.  This particular retelling, published in 1995, is primarily notable today for precisely why it was published so shortly after another Green Arrow origin story - Mike Grell's 1993 classic Green Arrow: The Wonder Year.

What happened was that The Powers That Be at DC Comics issued an edict that all of their big name superheroes were to have their origins retold in a way that made their metahuman nature clear.  Metahumans, in the terminology of DC Comics, are those who have the genetic potential to gain superpowers after exposure to some kind of trauma or outside agency.  Whether this edict was made because of the increasing popularity of various "mutant" heroes over the Marvelous competitor about the same time I can't say for certain.  All I can say is that Mike Grell's story of a workaholic young businessman who befriended and trained under real-world master archer Howard Hill, eventually becoming a superhero and the world's greatest archer through hard work and sheer drive didn't fit the narrative DC Comics wanted at the time.

And so it was that writer Chuck Dixon was brought in to write a story which made it clear that Green Arrow's amazing archery skills were the result of genetics.  So let us start by getting a look at our cover and - SWEET MERCIFUL CRAP!

Hawkeye Initative be damned! Green Arrow was posing impossibly before it was cool! 
This cover is freaking ridiculous.  Not as bad as some from the period, but still pretty bad.  Ollie is completely twisted around, somehow managing to push his chest out toward the reader while simultaneously giving them a tasteful look at his tights-clad tight ass.  And that's ignoring that he's on one foot, jumping forward with one leg curled up under him while still being able to fully draw a bow back despite having no leverage at all.  Whoever drew this cover failed anatomy and physics.

Speaking of who drew this, I should note that this book has two different art teams.  One pairing - penciler Rick Burchett and inker Eduardo Barreto - created the framing scenes at the start and end of the comic.  The other team - penciler Chris Rendau and inker Gerry Fernandez - handle the middle origin sequence.  The two teams have completely different styles but as we'll see, this book would have been in trouble even if only one creative team had been involved. 

I'm going to skip the opening frame of the story since it's only three pages long and one of those is a splash page.  Honestly, nothing really happens except to establish the "now" before immediately going into a flashback  Our story really begins as we open on Oliver Queen's private yacht.  It is quickly established that Oliver Queen is a bit of a drinker, a bit of a womanizer and a lot of an asshole.  

You'd think Ollie could afford to buy brand-name liquor!

I'm somewhat conflicted on this sequence in which Dixon establishes Ollie as an Errol Flynn fan.  On the one hand, it makes a little more sense that the jackass Oliver Queen once was would worship an actor who was renowned for his reputation as a playboy rather than the movie stuntman who actually did all of Robin Hood's trick shots.  And given that Hill died back in the 1970s, it was starting to become implausible that a young Oliver Queen could have known the man.  On the other hand, it does a disservice to the man Flynn was, despite his reputation, and I think it goes too far in making Ollie look like a shallow jerk without any of the hidden depths or work ethic that Mike Grell gave the character. 

Incidentally, if you get the chance I highly recommend Errol Flynn's autobiography My Wicked, Wicked Ways.  Flynn was reportedly quite the soldier of fortune before he was discovered as an actor, owing his own boat and sailing the South Pacific.  While much of Flynn's life as depicted is apocryphal if not outright fabricated,  it's still an enjoyable read and quite astonishing even if only a tenth of it is true.  Come to think of it, a story about a young Ollie Queen reading up on his cinematic hero, learning of his life before becoming an actor and setting out to emulate the two-fisted sailor Flynn claimed to be would be an interesting revamp of the classic origin.

Sadly, we're still reading THIS origin, where Oliver Queen is a drunken buffoon.  In short order, Ollie falls overboard, survives long enough to wash up on shore and sets about trying to survive.  Apparently Ollie picked up just enough basic survival knowledge from somewhere to be able to spear some crabs and start a fire.  He's just settling in to enjoy yet another meal of tiny green bananas and crab meat when a more attractive option presents itself, turning Oliver Queen into Wile E. Coyote, Sue-Per JEAN-Yes.

Ollie!  Ollie!  Ollie of the Jungle!  Watch out for that - (Tarzan Yell) CRASH!... treeeeee!

Cue a sudden and unexpected flashback.

Yes, for those of you paying attention, we're having a second flashback in the middle of the first flashback.  Everything goes grey-scale as Ollie has a vision of Christmas Past.  His parents, showing the parenting skills of the sort of people you'd expect to raise a brat-prince like Ollie, allow him to run out into the woods, unattended, with his new bow and arrow set.  It's a good thing Ollie was a Robin Hood fan as a kid - imagine if he'd liked Westerns and his parents bought him a Red Ryder BB gun?!

Kill da wabbit! Kill da wabbit! Kill da wabbit!

Young Ollie kills the rabbit with his very first shot.  This causes him to drop his bow and arrows as the enormity of what he's done hits him (What have I done? I killed da wabbit!) and he runs crying for the house.  And that, dear reader, is how we are supposed to conclude that Oliver Queen has some kind of metagene enhancement that makes him naturally good at shooting arrows. 

This would be the first of many traumatic head injuries for Ollie.

When he awakens, Ollie is inspired by his vision of Christmas Past and sets to work on making a bow and arrows.  You know, it's funny that for all the concern DC Comics had about using the metagene concept to explain away Ollie's talent for archery - because a billionaire playboy just naturally being good with a bow and arrow without superpowers is just unrealistic- there was no such concern for him having a superhuman ability for fletchery. 

For that matter, where did he learn how to field-dress a deer?!

It's at this point Ollie discovers that he is not alone on the island, as a feral man grabs his deer and makes a run for it.  Sorely annoyed at having his breakfast burgled, Ollie sets about training to hunt a more dangerous prey than deer.  So he starts practicing kill-shots on a strawman that he built.

Strawman.  On a desert island. 

Okay, I guess they COULD be native grasses, but the depiction in the artwork sure looks like straw to me.  And again we are reminded of how Ollie has naturally perfect aim that can only be the result of super powers and not practice or hard work. 

Yet he still manages to miss every shot in the chase which follows.

Actually, there's a chance that Ollie was missing on purpose, trying to flush the feral man into a trap.  That would explain why Ollie's perfect aim fails him after practicing killing shots with his strawman.  What it does not explain, however, is if Ollie's metahuman abilities also give him the knowledge of how to make snares.  Or how he fashioned the snazy boots and tunic he's suddenly wearing at the end of the chase.  Or why he suddenly has a neatly trimmed goatee instead of the beard he had when he started the hunt.  Maybe Ollie's metagene controls all of that too!  

Mr. Queen's wardrobe provided by Thorok's of Shadizar

Of course I'm joking.  That's not the result of Ollie's metagene.  That is the result of the artist not keeping track of the continuity from panel to panel  and the editors (for this book had two of them) not noticing that Ollie keeps changing clothes and changing beards before the issue was printed.  This will continue to be a problem throughout this flashback portion of the comic, with Ollie's beard and clothes sometimes changing in the middle of a scene on the same page!  So I'm not going to bother noting it.  It will be painfully obvious when it happens.

After dunking the feral man (who is oddly clean-shaven for a castaway) in a nearby pond, Ollie discovers that the man is capable of speech.  The two exchange histories with the feral man introducing himself as Steven Clothier.  A sailor by trade, he tells a tale of horror involving a sudden storm and shark attacks that left him as the sole survivor. 

The next morning, Steven wakes up to find Ollie standing over him with an axe.  Where did he get the axe from?  This time they DO explain that Ollie found it on the wreckage of one of the ships.  Presumably that's where he got the rope, straw, canvas, knife, fletcher's tools and everything else we logically presume he'd have to possess to do what we've seen him doing so far.

Ollie suggests that they build a raft and try to sail to an island with people on it, figuring Steven should have the know-how to construct and manage a small ship.  Steven suggests they build a catamaran instead, since it will be more stable and easier to steer.  I mention this only because, as we'll see shortly, they wind up building a raft anyway - quite probably because the artist didn't know how to draw a catamaran and couldn't be arsed to find a photo reference of one.

It's also got some of my poetry.  But I'm not ready for anyone to read that yet!

If you're thinking that Steven's behavior is a little strange, even for a guy who has been shipwrecked on his own for a year and you're wondering why an experienced sailor didn't think to try building a boat to escape, you're not alone.  Ollie is similarly suspicious, as Steven becomes more and more withdrawn the closer they get to having their raft complete.  And so it comes to pass that Ollie- seeking out cloth they can use to fashion a sail for the boat - makes a horrifying discovery on board one of the abandoned ships.

I also read your poetry.  It stinks!

Holy crap! He's a wanted criminal AND a werewolf!

No, he isn't really a werewolf.  The colorist just decided to give him red eyes.  Why?  Because shut your pie hole!  That's why!

Thankfully, Ollie is able to get his hands on a large rock while Nicholas is trying to strangle him and uses it to knock him out.  He stops himself from finishing the job there, opting to tie "Nicky" to a tree.  Ollie then gamely waits long enough for Nicky to wake up and lets him know why he's still breathing before setting off in the boat by himself. 

And you don't have the legs to pull off that sack dress!

It's worth noting at this point that from here on out, the rest of the flashback sequence follows Mike Grell's origin story for Green Arrow pretty closely.  Ollie makes it to a second island, which he quickly finds out is used by a group of marijuana farmers for growing their crops.  Donning a mask (no, we don't know where he got it from or how he made it so quickly), Ollie holds the farmers up at arrow-point and demands a ride back to civilization, where he leaves them tied up for the Coast Guard to find.    

He called himself The Green Arrow, even though his arrows were brown. It was confusing, man...

The strangest thing about this sequence is that we find out Ollie was gone for six months, though the entire sequence in the flashback doesn't seem like it could have taken more than a few weeks!  Perhaps that includes the time he was on the yacht, dodging work?  At any rate, newly returned to civilization, Ollie reassures his fastidious family lawyer that all is well and that he's decided to spend more time being active in the community.  And if you think this activity is going to involve a Robin Hood costume - spot on.

What - the swashuckling or the sexual harassment?

And so it is that Ollie gets into the rhythm of slouching about idly by day and saving women being menaced by random ruffians at night.  With one thing and another two months pass.  And then one night, on the eve of a full moon...

I TOLD you it would be the first of many head injuries!

When Ollie comes too, he finds that he's tied up and that Nicholas has been waiting for him to wake up.  Apparently Nick is a big fan of dramatic irony or maybe he just wants to gloat.  He brags about how he's been in Ollie's town for three months and how he switched from preying on women on cruise ships to targeting realtors, boasting that his new kill count is in the double-digits and the cops haven't noticed a pattern yet.  He then reveals that Ollie's date for the evening is dead and that the blood of everyone he's killed since escaping the island is on Ollie's hands because he didn't have the stomach to kill Nicholas.

Yes, to show you it was a mistake not to kill me, I'm going to make the same mistake!  Wait...

Even Ollie's amateur detective skills are enough for him to figure out that Nicholas is hiding out someplace comfortable he'd feel in control - a docked cruise ship with the unlikely name of The Caribbean Queen.  It's at this point that the art style shifts, though we aren't quite to the point where the comic opened.  Whereas Chris Rendau's style had a Neal Adams quality about it, the style of Rick Burchett is more streamlined, being somewhat reminiscent of Bruce Timm... after a couple of drinks.

It's also at this point that Nicholas starts looking like The Penguin's younger, thinner brother.

Eventually we do catch up with where we came in, with Ollie starring down Nicholas as he's standing next to his latest potential victim.  I note that he is standing next to her because while that's clearly what the art depicts, the text says there's ten feet between Nicholas and the kidnapped realtor.  At this point I have to wonder if the two editors on this book just assumed the other one was going to handle the proofreading and rubber stamped this book without reading it.  

Ten feet? You're barely ten inches away from her!

Naturally Ollie is a good enough shot to disable Nicholas without killing him.  And so our comic ends with Ollie carrying the woman to safety after giving a speech about how he'd actually been pondering giving up the vigilante game (this despite telling his date earlier in the evening that he thought he'd finally found his place in life!) and how Nicholas has shown Ollie that there's still a need for heroes in the world.  And yes, there's a grammatical mistake in the speech where Ollie uses the word "this" twice in a row.  Again, I don't think either editor actually read this comic.

I'm not going to ask why this woman was going to an open house in her nightgown.

To paraphrase Linkara and Chuck Dixon, "This This Comic Sucks!"

Chuck Dixon is a good writer and he's written some of my favorite comic series of all time.  And he does meet the editorially-driven goal of establishing the possibility that Ollie is a metahuman well enough.  But that core idea - that Ollie's talent came from genetics rather than training - doesn't explain all the knowledge and abilities that he showcases that are a core part of his origin.  Simply put, being able to shoot a bow well naturally doesn't automatically give you the ability to make a bow or arrows.  And Dixon's attempt to try and add on to Ollie's origin with the never-before-told-tale of the first island Ollie was trapped on and the serial killer he confronted there feels like what is - an unnecessary add-on.

Mind you, Dixon's script might have been tolerable has he worked with a competent artist.  Instead, his script was butchered by two different artists who couldn't manage to remember what style beard Ollie had at any given moment or whether or not he had a shirt or depict the difference between distances or objects mentioned in the text accurately.  And did I mention that this book had two editors and still managed to be filled with visual continuity errors and grammatical mistakes? 

If you want to read a good Green Arrow origin story, I highly recommend grabbing a copy of Andy Diggle and Jock's Green Arrow: Year One.  Or track down all four issues of Mike Grell's Green Arrow: The Wonder Year.  If you want to read some good Chuck Dixon comics, check out his runs on Nightwing or Robin.

Next time?  Back to Cross Roads and a familiar feline felon. 

No comments:

Post a Comment