Green Arrow – No such thing as a bad character: Part 6 – Daddy’s Home


And he’s back…

The theme of this series is, as the title states, that there’s no such thing as a bad character. An offshoot of that, which the book reader won’t necessarily appreciate, is that there is also no such thing as a dead character. If all it takes is a writer with an angle, an idea, a story to use any given character, the fact that such character is, at the moment, mortality challenged, is no bar.
The idea that comics characters never really die has been sneered at often and, frankly, quite rightly so. It’s a major flaw, in an era in which the death of beloved characters has become such an easy and frequent way to generate cheap emotional climaxes, every single one of which are undercut by the knowledge that the dead one can, and eventually, will be back.
It never used to be the case. Thanks to the Comics Code Authority, and before that the codes adopted by companies like National/DC to protect themselves against accusations of disturbing children’s minds with excessive violence, people rarely died in the first place, let alone queued up for resurrection.
As a result, villains like the Joker were forever falling to their doom, only to reappear after a retrospectively Saturday morning serial escape.
The first major death that I can recall, at National at least, was that of Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s faithful butler, in 1964. Alfred’s death was ordained by Julius Schwarz, who took over editorship that year and, mindful of the overwhelmingly masculine cast (a factor in Frederic Wertham’s fifties accusations that Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson’s home set-up was an idealised homosexual relationship), had Alfred crushed under a boulder and brought in Aunt Harriet to add a feminine touch.
When the producers of the Batman TV show, who had a clearer grasp of the Batman mythos than Schwarz, included Alfred as well as Aunt Harriet, Schwarz restored Alfred by attaching him to a series of stories he was running about Batman facing a mystery opponent named the Outsider: the Outsider was actually Alfred, dramatically transformed (it was a helluva transformation, given that it involved recovery from that boulder!)
But it wasn’t until the turn of the Eighties that death and, in its wake, resurrection became a regular thing. DC even did it to world-famous effect in 1992, by killing off Superman in an issue that sold 7.5 million copies, and rescuing him from the land of the dead in an issue released at Easter.
So bringing Oliver Queen back to life and the role of Green Arrow was pretty much a given. All it needed was a writer.
And the writer that did this was Kevin Smith. Yes, the Kevin Smith, film screenplay Writer and Director. And long term comics fan.
Once upon a time, and for a very long time, the young fans of comics had grown up (debatably) to write and draw comics. Those among them who had more talent, or had bigger visions, or were more determined to control and realise their visions in the manner they imagined them and not as was commercially directed, had gone into other fields, film, television and novels. But they retained their fascination for a field whose boundaries were not limited by any budget but the artist’s pencil, and they were established and secure in themselves and heedless of any sense that they were ‘slumming it’ if they wanted to write comics series.
Smith’s story, which ran for the first 10 issues of the new Green Arrow series, was entitled ‘Quiver’ and was released as a Graphic novel under that name. With vigorous art from Phil Hester, it’s an impressive and enjoyable effort, in which Smith’s characteristic offbeat humour and the greater perspective available to a creator not limited to what mainstream comics will allow is used to great effect. But it’s still a comic book story to its very roots.
Ollie’s resurrection came at the hands of his once-verdant verdant buddy, Hal Jordan. The arrow in Hal’s chest at the climax of Zero Hour hadn’t killed the former Green Lantern, but two years later, during the crossover series, The Final Night, Jordan, still as Parallax, sacrificed himself to re-kindle the sun. In his final hours, he used his powers to resurrect Oliver Queen’s body from a microscopic fragment that was still lodged on Superman’s costume (yeurch!).
But in order that Ollie should continue to enjoy his eternal rest, his body was reborn without a soul. What’s more, it (and its memories) were booted back to just prior to The Longbow Hunters, before Ollie first killed a man, with all the effects on his character that had implied, and without all the continuity from Mike Grell onwards.
The discovery of Green Arrow, long-haired, ratty-looking but in the flesh, was the climax to issue 1, and from there the series went on to explore the emotional reaction of Ollie’s ‘family’ – Dinah, Connor, Roy – to his return, and to the ‘changes’ in his character.
However, the resurrection of body without soul was clearly unstable. For one thing, it made Green Arrow’s body vulnerable to being occupied by another’s soul, such as that of an evil and rather aged man with knowledge of black magic, looking for a fresh, young, able body to take over. Like a true comics geek, Smith linked his villain, Stanley Dover Sr., to an old DC humour series of the Sixties, Stanley and his Monster in which (in a precursion of Bill Watterson’s wonderful Calvin and Hobbes) six year old Stanley Dover Jr., who is allergic to dogs but desperately longs for a pet, adopts a giant, purple-pink furred, horned and fanged demon as his ‘dog’. Who he names Spot. His parents worry about Stanley inventing an ‘imaginary pet’ and have no idea that the Monster is real.
Stanley and his Monster was a long-running, silly and charming series, and it had had a zany Nineties mini-series revival, written and drawn by Phil Foglio, which had light-heartedly connected the series to the DC Universe, and confirmed that the Monster was a demon from Hell, albeit one that liked people and didn’t want to torture them.
Now Smith brought the story wholly into the mainstream continuum, by establishing Stanley Sr. as Stanley Jr’s grandfather, the one who had summonsed the Monster in the first place, and showing Stanley as a teenage prisoner of his grandfather.
Obviously, in order to frustrate Dover’s plans, Ollie was going to have to relinquish eternal rest and return to his body, completing his full-scale revival. And, since Dover had already transferred his considerable fortune into Oliver Queen’s name in anticipation of enjoying it, Ollie found himself to be quite rich again.
So Green Arrow was back, and once again he was selling a series. Smith would continue for another, shorter story, before leaving, and New York Times best-selling thriller writer Brad Meltzer wrote a compelling six issue story that further opened up Oliver’s legend, not to mention making Ollie one of the central characters of Identity Crisis, DC’s first summer crossover, things-will-never-be-the-same series for four years.
But we’ll talk about those in the next instalment.

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