Monday, July 21, 2014

Five Reasons Oliver Queen Is Awesome

Despite the popularity of the show Arrow, fans of Oliver Queen still get a lot of guff about our favorite hero being a half-hearted Batman rip-off.  While it may be true that Green Arrow spent a goodly portion of The Silver Age following in Bruce Wayne's footsteps, later comics turned Oliver Queen into his own man.

So what is it that separates Oliver Queen from all of the other billionaire playboy superheroes and all of the other archery-based superheroes?  Besides epic facial hair, of course.  Well, the man said it best himself in JLA #123.

"...I can't leap tall buildings in a single bound and I don't wear any fancy power rings. Hell, I'm not even the world's second greatest detective, whatever THAT means. But I am a guy with a hell of a lot of chatzpah. And that's got to count for something in a crisis, right?"

More than anything, Oliver Queen is defined by that word - chatzpah.  Call it guts, nerve, boldness, balls or just plain audacity if you want to use a ten-dollar word.  Oliver Queen is a man who will say the unthinkable, attempt the impossible and just plain refuse to back down no matter how badly the deck is stacked against him.

To that end, I've put together a list of five deeds that I think exemplify Green Arrow's awesomeness.  And to make it fair, I've eliminated all of the stories where he dies a heroic death in the name of his principals.  Because that is its own Top Five list.

5. Oliver Queen - The One Man Justice League. 

As Seen In: The Dark Knight Returns & The Dark Knight Strikes Back

I'll admit this one is implied more than it is stated.  But the facts are there on the page.  For those who haven't read The Dark Knight Returns, it's a classic Batman story set in an alternate future where superheroes were made illegal in the United States and a middle-aged Bruce Wayne comes out of retirement to become Batman one last time.  The sequel, The Dark Knight Strikes Back, is not as well regarded but it continues the story of DKR and shows what happened to all of the other Justice League members.

Apart from Superman, Green Arrow is the only Justice League member who appears in The Dark Knight Returns.  We don't get the full details of his story but we do get enough to paint a vivid picture.  Oliver Queen was in prison for a while, escaping five years previously.  He spent that time on the run, striking against the corrupt American government as best he could from overseas.  And at some point before Ollie was imprisoned, Superman was responsible for him losing an arm.

The Dark Knight Strikes Back reveals the fates of the other JLA members.  Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel joined Superman in working for the American government, which we find out is secretly being run by Lex Luthor and Brainiac.  The rest of the team either went into hiding in remote locations or were captured and imprisoned by Luthor and Brainiac.

Logically, that means that for a time, both before being imprisoned and afterward, Oliver Queen was The Justice League.  He was the one hero who didn't back down or give up or agree to fade into the shadows in a world that was going to Hell.  And he did that while single-handedly facing two of the world's most dangerous villains and three of the most powerful superheroes on the planet.

And when I say single-handedly, I mean that in the literal sense as well.  Yet despite that disadvantage, he could still use a bow with Olympic-level accuracy.  Even though he had to pull the bow-string back with his teeth!

4. Oliver Queen Holds His Own Against The Forces Of Apokolips.

As Seen In: Final Crisis #4

At the time of this story, Black Canary was the leader of The Justice League.  And as Apokolips once-again tried to invade the Earth in the name of Darkseid, The JLA Watchtower was attacked.  Knowing the importance his wife held in planning a retaliation against the invaders, Oliver Queen stayed behind to hold off the pursuit as the rest of the team teleported to safety.  

One man with a quiver full of arrows against a horde of soldiers with the strength and endurance of Superman, riding giant hunting hounds and a few brainwashed superheroes as well?  Doesn't sound like much of a fight.  And it isn't.  Ollie tears them apart.

He brings down the hounds and the soldiers with them.  And if Ollie hadn't stopped to try and talk some sense into a brainwashed Black Lightning, he might well have won.  But he didn't and one good shock to the system was all it took to bring Oliver Queen down long enough for a mind-control helmet to be slapped down on his head.

This battle would rank higher, but this fight was a loss for Oliver Queen.  And yet it was a victory, because Ollie did accomplish his goal of buying enough time to let the love of his life and the rest of his teammates get to safety.  And while the villains may have technically won the fight,  it was a hard-won victory that shouldn't have been nearly as difficult as Oliver Queen made it.

3. Oliver Queen Overcomes The Black Mercy

As Seen In: Green Lantern (Vol. 4) #8

Created by Alan Moore for his Superman story For The Man Who Has Everything, The Black Mercy is a sentient alien plant with telepathic abilities.  Parasitic in nature, the plant latches on to a host, to whom it broadcasts a hallucination of an ideal life.  The host slowly wastes away, blissfully unaware that its body is being sucked dry by The Black Mercy in the real world as their every fantasy is seemingly brought to life.

So how strong is a Black Mercy plant?  Strong enough that even Superman couldn't break free of its control without Batman pulling it off of him by force.  And then when it latched on to Batman, Robin had to pull the plant off of Batman for him to be freed of its influence.  Even Hal Jordan was unable to resist the lure of the perfect world that The Black Mercy created for him.

And yet... Oliver Queen did.  He resisted.  He saw through the illusion and dragged himself and Hal back to reality after a single Black Mercy plant latched on to them both.

After the fact, Hal Jordan guessed that the plant had chosen to focus on him since his will was stronger and that instead of giving Ollie a vision of what really would be his ideal world, it had given him what Hal thought would be Ollie's perfect world within the context of Hal's perfect life.  Fine and dandy.  Except that does nothing to explain why Hal Jordan thought to set-up Oliver with Connor Hawke's mom (a woman Ollie hadn't seen in decades and whom Hal had never met) and why there was no place for Dinah Lance or Roy Harper in Ollie's "perfect life".

I think Hal is kidding himself.  I think the truth is that The Black Mercy may be strong enough to cloud the mind of Superman, subvert the fortitude of Batman and even overcome the willpower of a Green Lantern.  But that's nothing compared to Oliver Queen's ability to question everything around him.

2. Oliver Queen Resists Poison Ivy

As Seen In: Batman/Green Arrow: The Poison Tomorrow

Dennis O'Neil earned his place in comics as a living legend with his work in the 1970s on both Batman and Green Arrow.  It was he who developed Green Arrow into the modern-day Robin Hood we know and love and turned Batman into a Dark Knight Detective once more.  He teamed the heroes together in The Brave and The Bold and a few more times besides!  And yet, I think O'Neil's 1992 graphic novel The Poison Tomorrow may be the best thing he ever did with both of these heroes together.

The Poison Tomorrow sees Batman and Green Arrow joining forces after they discover they are working the same case from different angles, with Oliver Queen racing time to save Black Canary's life.  The trail leads from a diseased scientist to Poison Ivy and a plot to use toxic baby food to make a fortune selling an antidote.  In the exciting climax of the story, Batman moves to stop the first shipment of the tainted food as Green Arrow retrieves the antidote from Poison Ivy, who is currently hiding out in a housing development that was built on a toxic landfill!

To his credit, Ollie does try to go in protected.  But he didn't count on how hard it was to draw a bow while wearing a Hazmat suit.  Or on Ivy having a muscle-bound henchman who shared her immunity to toxic waste.  Deciding he can risk the poisoned environment for long enough to hand out a beating, Ollie slips out of the suit and beats down the henchman only to be confronted by Ivy herself.

Ivy, being Ivy, pours on the charm along with the pheromones.  The full "oh my brave hero, let me take care of you" act.  And for a moment, Ollie is tempted.  He's taken a few good lumps from the henchman and he's starting to feel the effects of the toxins around him.  And a little voice tells him he's as good as dead anyway - what harm could one kiss do?  But Oliver Queen's love for Dinah Lance is too strong to be overcome by such cheap tricks.  And with one open-handed strike to the face, Green Arrow shuts Poison Ivy down.

A few years ago, I achieved a modicum of fame for taking Judd Winick to task for his depiction of Oliver Queen as an unrepentant womanizer who cheated on Dinah Lance continually.  This story was largely responsible for my attitude.  Because while a lot of stories show how passionate Oliver Queen is in his love of Dinah Lance, I don't think any story has ever quite so well depicted just how strong that love truly is and how love is a more powerful force than lust any day of the week.  That's why I have nothing but contempt for anyone who tries to sum up Oliver Queen as "a horndog who chases skirts and can't stay faithful".

1. Oliver Queen Walks Out Of Heaven.

As Seen In: Green Arrow (Vol. 2) #10

Oliver Queen was dead.  Astonishingly, to him at least, he went to Heaven.  Or some kind of paradise where he had found the peace that was denied him in life.  As such, when his best friend Hal Jordan (who, at the time, possessed the power of all but one of the Guardians of the Universe) breached the boundaries between worlds to offer him a second chance at life, Oliver Queen turned it down.  But he did agree to let Hal bring him back after a fashion, creating a soulless clone that would possess all of Oliver Queen's memories up to a certain point.

This "hollow Ollie" would go on to reestablish the name of Green Arrow in Star City in Kevin Smith's Quiver and become a target for all manner of supernatural evil.  When that evil threatened Connor Hawke - Oliver Queen's illegitimate son - the hollow Ollie was somehow able to breach the boundaries of Space and Time to deliver his older, wiser self a much-needed dressing down.  That and the knowledge that his son needed him was enough to stir Oliver Queen into action and demand to be returned to Earth.

Oliver Queen defied his enemies.  He defied his friends.  He defied his government and alien invaders.  He overcame a mind-controlling parasite and the most powerful seductress on Earth.  And all of that is awesome.  But for sheer awesomeness, I don't think anything can top Oliver Queen finding the strength of will to walk out of paradise.

Agree?  Disagree?  I await your comments.

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