Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Off Target: Green Arrow (Vol. 2) #87

Daron Kappauff, who was one of my editors at Comics Nexus, recently asked me if I ever reviewed comics I didn't like anymore.  This comment came on the heels of a run of relatively positive reviews I had just published.  Personally, I think he misses being able to force me to read bad X-Men books and laughing at my torment in having to describe just how bloody awful everything is. :)

Well, let it never be said I don't give the people what they want.  Because this episode of Off-Target focuses on a comic that is so vile you'll be surprised it wasn't a collaboration between Garth Ennis and Mark Millar.  This comic is so morally disgusting, it makes Evil Ernie look like Tiny Toons. In fact, I'd suggest cleaning your bathtub and shower now because by the time we're done with this book you're going to need a lengthy cleansing period.

Hyperbole?  I wish.  Because this issue of Cross Roads was written at a point when the letters of complaint had begun to pour in from the fans.  The readers were upset that Ollie Queen - a hero who had always been defined by his strict morality - had largely been reduced to being The Punisher with a bow, making only token attempts at avoiding killing .  They were also upset that the depth of the character and focus on real-world issues had been reduced from the days when Dennis O'Neil and Mike Grell were writing the character.

How did writer Kevin Dooley respond to these complaints?  Apparently by trying to create a melodramatic villain so unsympathetic that only the most devout pacifist could complain about his being killed by our hero.  He also apparently attempted to ape the styles of both Grell and O'Neil, telling a story that read more like a Men's Adventure pulp magazine than a traditional superhero story.  While there's nothing wrong with that (indeed, one might argue Ollie's roots as a character lay in those same pulps) , it didn't play to Dooley's strengths as a creator and the final product is ham-fisted to say the least.

But I'm getting a little ahead of myself.  So let's take a look at the cover of Green Arrow #87 and - OH MY GOD!

THIS MONTH: Green Arrow - Vampire Lord!

I have no explanation for this.  So let's just press on.

Last time, Ollie was fresh off becoming an accessory to one of Catwoman's thefts and - oh yes - petting the pussy.  Deciding he was bored with Dallas, Ollie decided to head to New Orleans.  Not surprisingly, this issue opens with Ollie on the deck of a New Orleans riverboat casino ship.  Also not surprisingly, Ollie's vacation has been interrupted.  Again.

That's because Mark Twain wrote GOOD stories, Ollie.

So how did Ollie wind up in this mess, being strangled by Mr. Clean?  To the surprise of no one, a woman was involved.  Specifically, a gorgeous blonde who was being harassed by a couple of thugs.  Coincidentally, she's the spitting image of Black Canary, save for her mismatched eyes.

Never one to tolerate a lady being bothered - especially one who looks like his lost love - Ollie decided to take action.  Apparently he didn't feel the need to rush taking action, as we see that he took the time to change into his costume.  Luckily, the thugs hadn't dragged the girl away somewhere during that time.  Or was Ollie actually gambling in costume?  I know he stopped giving a damn about his secret identity long before this point but... gah, so many questions over something so stupid!

Coincidentally, "jerk after jerk after jerk" is also Ollie's coping mechanism since leaving Dinah.

As the fight continues, we see just how horribly out of character Ollie is under Dooley's pen.  Bad enough that Ollie's kick sends Mr. Clean crashing against a rail and onto the water-wheel of the ship.  Worse that Ollie decides to pin the guy to the wheel with arrows, so he has no chance of swimming to safety now that he's out of the fight.  And Ollie justifies it to himself in his monologue, saying that his recent troubles were all "inevitable".

It's not MY fault I keep running into idiot criminals who deserve to die!

Apparently the boat was just coming into dock (it couldn't have been docked, because why would the water wheel be turning if the boat weren't moving?)  and Ollie is quick to chase after the woman for... reasons.  Naturally, Ollie doesn't think that being a masked man and known vigilante fleeing the scene of a crime while chasing after a woman might look bad.  Luckily, the cops don't notice the running woman, the guy dressed like Robin Hood chasing after her or the suicidal behavior of both as they jump in front of trains and knock over a street vendor's cart.

Much as I loathe this comic, I do like the insult "Satan-bearded mounteback".

Ollie finally manages to close the distance on the woman and - being in primal caveman mode - grabs at her hair.  It is then we find out that this woman has one more thing in common with Dinah - she's really a short-haired brunette!  This, coupled with a sudden passing jazz band parade (It's New Orleans - there's ALWAYS a jazz band parading in the streets!), distracts Ollie just long enough to be clubbed across the back of the head by the irate street vendor.  Those of you playing the Green Arrow drinking game at home, do one shot for Ollie sustaining a head injury. 

Into da pot with 'im!  He make a mighty fine gumbo.

Surprisingly, Ollie does not wind up becoming long pork gumbo for the tourists.  When he comes to, he is in a strange cabin being watched over by a strange old woman.  Curiously, he's also been changed out of his costume and into his street clothes, yet is tied up.  The old woman turns out to be the mother of the Black Canary look alike.  Rather than thanking him for saving her daughter, she lays into Ollie about trying to help others with violence, even going so far as to compare him to Mussolini.  I think she's meant to be a proxy for the readers complaining about Ollie's unrestrained blood-lust.  But like Kevin Dooley, Ollie has no good explanation or defense for his behavior.

You'd be angry too if you were starring in this piece of crap book!

The woman's name turns out to be Ceci and she explains that she was able to get Ollie's gear off the boat.  What her relation is to the street chef who brained Ollie is never clearly explained, nor why they felt the need to change Ollie's clothes.  She further explains that she works as a whore for local factory owner/gangster Simon "Daddy" Lamoreaux and that the thugs Ollie took care of work for him.  And - prepare to be sickened - she's 15 years old and apparently one of Daddy Lamoreaux's more experienced girls.

Uh-oh.  This must be really bad for a hardened crime-fighter like Oliver Queen to be tearing up so quickly.  What is it that has so touched the heart of this cynical hero?  Toothless old men crawling in the gutters, begging for change?  Children playing in an open sewer?  The new Taylor Swift single?   

No, it's chilli.  Five alarm Cajun chilli. 

This scene highlights the biggest problem with Dooley's script - the tone changes on the turn of a dime.  You cannot drop a gag involving spicy food just a few panels after a seriously revelation regarding child prostitution.  It just doesn't work!  It also doesn't help matters when we spin back around to total seriousness a few panels later as we get to the part of the story where Dooley decides to emulate Dennis O'Neil. 

For those of you who don't know, Dennis O'Neil was the writer who was largely responsible for transmuting Green Arrow from just another Batman knock-off into the real-world issue tackling, modern-day Robin Hood we all know and love.  O'Neil used his Green Lantern/Green Arrow book to examine serious issues such as urban poverty, overpopulation and drug-use among other things.  Though many of his scripts seem heavy-handed and over-dramatic by today's standards,  they were still groundbreaking for the time and are rightly acknowledged as such today.

I mention this because Dooley's work here is equally heavy-handed but lacks the excuse of being forced to make it abundantly clear how cruel and unusual "Daddy" Lamoreaux is by the CCA guidelines which required any authority figure to be shown as being irredeemably corrupt before the heroes could go after them.  It was not enough for Dennis O'Neil to show the owners of a factory exploiting their workers - the owners also had to be Nazis raising gold for the Fourth Reich!  Writing this in the 1990s, Dooley had no such excuse.

They don't even have a Starbucks, the poor bastards!

The two head back to Ceci's place and Ollie - ever the White Knight - offers to give Ceci and her mother and brother the money they need to escape the swamp.  Ceci corrects Ollie, saying the boy she was holding earlier wasn't her brother - he was her son!  This further enrages Ollie, who swears to put an arrow through "Daddy" for this.  Ceci says she doesn't want anyone risking themselves over her but does offer to "thank" Ollie for his saving her earlier.  Ollie refuses, because contrary to popular belief, Ollie does have standards about who he'll sleep with.  I'll credit Kevin Dooley with at least getting that much right.

This leaves Ollie on the living room couch when Daddy Lamoreaux his goons show up.  Holding Ceci's mom at bay with a threat about arranging a reunion with her husband, Daddy takes Ollie for an up close and personal tour of the local swamp.  And by up-close and personal, I mean they tie him to a tree in waist-deep water out where the gators roam.  And then we get another shocking revelation - "Daddy" Lamoreaux is Ceci's father and shares her unique eyes!   

And now we get into Men's Adventure magazine territory.  As I mentioned earlier, Mike Grell wrote a lot of stories in this vein, with Ollie living off the land in a hostile terrain and pitting himself against wild animals.  The problem is that Grell kept his stories firmly in reality and... oh, just watch.

Okay.  I'll grant that Ollie MIGHT be strong enough to break a rope.  Maybe Daddy and his henchmen used old rope or half-assed the knots, figuring the snakes or gators would get there before Ollie had a chance to escape.  I'm willing to grant this story that much leeway.  However, I'm not willing to believe that Ollie is straight-up capable of killing an alligator with his bare-hands, without sustaining any injuries!

Ruining my shirt, forcing me to kill a rare animal... 

No, Ollie actually has a lot better reasons than that.  He runs through all of them as he wanders through the swamp, biting a snake in half for no reason as he gathers what he needs to make a bow and arrows.  Maybe he needed the snake skin for his bow grip?  Ollie also runs through the reasons why he can't go to the authorities - Daddy has the judges, sheriff and police in his pocket.

At this point, it may have occurred to you all that all of this internal monologuing exists just to silence the critics of the direction this book has taken.  You may believe Ollie is running through a list of all of Daddy Lamoreaux's crimes so we can see that he is irredeemably evil.  You might be thinking that Ollie is running through the list of all the authority figures Daddy Lamoreaux has bought off so we can see there is no solution other than for Ollie to kill Daddy Lamoreaux.

You'd be right.

But lest we had any doubts that Ollie is completely justified in lethal force this time around, after killing one security guard gaining entrance to Daddy's factory, Ollie walks in on Daddy in the midst of raping Ceci.  So not only is he a sleazy, double-dealing factory owner/pimp who lies, cheats and swindles for the sheer love of doing so while condemning his workers to virtual slavery.  He's an incestuous, sleazy, double-dealing factory owner/pimp who lies, cheats and swindles for the sheer love of doing so while condemning his workers to virtual slavery!

But wait - there's more!

Ollie hates incestuous, sleazy, double-dealing factory owner/pimp who lie, cheat and swindle for the sheer love of doing so while condemning his workers to virtual slavery.  But he REALLY hates incestuous, sleazy, double-dealing factory owner/pimp who lie, cheat and swindle for the sheer love of doing so while condemning his workers to virtual slavery who also killed their own brother-in-law, had sex with their widowed sister and have double-incestuous relationships with their own daughter/niece.  And so our comic ends with Ollie putting an arrow through Daddy's big fat gut and walking out of the factory without a word.  That's it.  End comic.

This comic is stupid and ugly.  The only way to justify Ollie's actions in this story are to set up a totally implausible melodramatic situation where there is no solution other than the one the writer has set up to prove his point - i.e. killing the bad guys is awesome because bad guys deserve to die.  What's really confusing to me is that this story was written at a time when they were trying to get Ollie out of the Vertigoesque place his book had been for the better part of a decade and were trying to bring him in-line with the happier, more hopeful mainstream DC Universe.  How does this story do that?

Thankfully, the next issue of Cross Roads will do a far better job of bringing Ollie back into the DC Universe.  Unfortunately, it will be just about as depressing as this issue, though far less icky.  Now if you'll excuse me, I need a shower....

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