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.

Green Arrow – No such thing as a bad character: Part 5 – Dropping the Pilot

Even looking back now, it still seems a strange decision. Yes indeed, Green Arrow had been around for over fifty years, and Ollie Queen had been the DC’s resident hot-head, a bull in perpetual search of a china shop, for the last twenty-five, but he had only become a success, only been elevated to the A list of DC’s characters, those with a proven track record who are expected to be capable of selling their own series, in the last decade.
To put it bluntly, Green Arrow just wasn’t either small enough or big enough for a kill-and-replace. Especially when it meant removing one of the most distinctive personalities in the DC Universe.
But there must have been something in the air at that time in the Nineties. Wally West had, after a decade, demonstrated conclusively that he could succeed to the mantle of the Flash so, when a series of reboots and new directions started to mire Hal Jordan’s story in incomprehensibility, it was decided to make him a villain, and introduce Kyle Rayner as the new Green Lantern, young, hot-headed, unencumbered. And, about six months before Ollie’s death, Diana was ousted as Wonder Woman in favour of the red-headed, aggressive Artemis (although any casual student of comics would know that that particular development was purely temporary).
Improbable or unwise as it was, it had happened. Connor Hawke was now the Green Arrow.
Connor was, of course, inexperienced and learning, a situation that always allows for a different range of stories as he makes mistakes and discoveries, undergoes defeats and narrow squeaks, and generally isn’t as infallible as his predecessor, with the weight of history behind him, has come to be.
And he was a nice enough character, and a complete contrast to his deadbeat Dad, having been brought up a Buddhist, trying to avoid aggression, and utterly foreign to the very idea of trick arrows.
DC tried to establish a niche for their new Green Arrow. Connor applied to join the new, ‘Big 7’ Justice League, appearing in issue 4 in deliberate tribute to the issue in which the original Green Arrow had been invited into membership. In a fast-paced, high-powered and very funny episode, the League’s old foe, The Key, attacks and incapacitates everybody but Connor, whose quiver is destroyed: he still saves the day but only by relying on Ollie’s trick arrows from the Souvenir Room, much to his disgust.
And there was an attempt to establish a friendship, and a kinship, between the three JLA members who had replaced older heroes: a three issue crossover between Green Lantern, The Flash and Green Arrow as a break away for Wally, Kyle and Connor results in them running into an attack on their cruise ship.
But Connor soon resigned from the JLA, feeling more suited to street level crimes (much as his father had done at more than one time), after going undercover as a seeming JLA traitor, at Batman’s behest.
The problem was, though he was no slouch, Connor’s personality and his approach worked within a much narrower compass than the flourishing Ollie. Too much of Connor’s character was formed in opposition to his father’s ‘qualities’ and not enough in things that struck out from Ollie’s penumbra. Sales declined and the Green Arrow series was cancelled after issue 137, three years after Connor took over.
There was an obvious solution, and it was exactly what everybody wanted. All it needed was a writer with the right idea. After all, there’s no such thing as a bad character, remember?

Green Arrow – No such thing as a bad character: Part 4 – To Seattle and Beyond

So, to recap; Green Arrow, created in 1941, spent almost thirty years as a colourless Batman knock-off, appearing in back-up stories and as a part-time, minor Justice League member. He was then taken up by two of DC’s leading creators of the time, visually and dynamically transformed, and installed as co-star on one of DC’s leading character’s series. Within eighteen months, the series is cancelled and Green Arrow returns to back-up stories and more frequent Justice League appearances for almost a decade and a half, alleviated by a one-off four-issue mini-series which spawned, well, nothing.
Not a lot to show for 45 years existence, really, and if it were not for his creator being Superman’s editor (and, knowing Weisinger, possibly having some financial interest in his appearances) he could have vanished into limbo by the start of the 1950s.
But Crisis on Infinite Earths had come and gone in 1985, sweeping away the entire history of the DC Universe, and leaving a level playing field upon which the winds of change could sweep. Great things could happen.
However, Crisis was not the only limited series published by DC in the mid-eighties to have wide-reaching effects, and whilst Crisis only applied to DC itself, the other two series would have a profound effect on the comic industry as a whole.
First of these is Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ justifiably legendary Watchmen but the one that directly pertains to this history is The Dark Knight Returns, written and drawn by Frank Miller.
Miller had come into comics at Marvel, where he had made his name as, first artist, then writer/artist, of a spectacular run on Daredevil, full of lithe, athletic movement, dark shadows, clipped and stream-lined narration. DC had tempted him away with an offer to write and draw a (ninja-influenced) series of his own creation, which had turned out to be far from the success, artistic and commercial, that everyone had expected. Hurriedly, both parties had looked round for something that was more of a commercial sure bet, and agreed on Batman, the character many fans had been longing to see Miller draw for several years.
The Dark Knight Returns was set in the future, with Gotham City transformed into a dystopic nightmare. Bruce Wayne, retired as Batman for over a decade, is forced back into costume by an irresistible urge within, but superheroes are now underground figures, except for the eternally youthful Superman, now serving an ageing President Reagan.
Appearing simultaneously with Watchmen, The Dark Knight was an equally astonishing success. Both were deconstructionist stories, but what people saw, and what they copied immediately, was the superficial aspects of brutality, callousness and graphic ultra-violence. Quickly summarised as ‘grim’n’gritty’, their influence blanketed the comics industry and, despite honourable attempts to rebalance the mainstream, that influence prevails to the present day.
But what, you may justifiably ask, has all this to do with Green Arrow?
Typically of DC, even at their most creator-friendly, the company has never quite absorbed the idea that a series’ success could be because of its creators, not the characters. In their eyes, at least half the success of The Dark Knight was down to its format: a series of four 48 page issues on a higher quality of paper than the industry had seen before, perfect-bound with square backs, a format the company first called ‘Dark Knight’ but then ‘Prestige’. So it was incumbent on them to quickly come out with another ‘Prestige’ format series, to catch that wave. The result was Green Arrow – The Longbow Hunters, written and drawn by Mike Grell.
With all due respect to Green Arrow, who did have his fans, his selection as the follow-up to a massively successful series featuring one of DC’s big guns in a truly ground-breaking story was, frankly, a colossal failure of comprehension. The Dark Knight featured a character known across the world, in a format sold in bookshops, whose audience reached far and beyond the comic book fan. Green Arrow was a nobody, unknown outside that increasingly insular fandom. What better evidence that DC had completely missed the point of The Dark Knight‘s success?
The irony is inescapable, though I doubt that anyone at DC had even the faintest subconscious appreciation of what they were doing: Green Arrow was created as a cheap knock-off of Batman: who more appropriate to star in a story that was a cheap knock-off of the physical format of Batman’s most successful story?
The Longbow Hunters is not, in itself, a bad story, rather a drab, undistinguished plot, but, even taking into account the latter’s flaws, it is in no way comparable to The Dark Knight. Nevertheless, it was to prove the landmark for Green Arrow that the O’Neil Adams efforts of fifteen years earlier had failed to provide.
Grell had moved on considerably from the mid-Seventies period during which he’d illustrated the second GL/GA run. He had had a long-standing and successful run as writer/artist on his own, Edgar Rice Burroughs-influenced series, Warlord for DC and, in the early Eighties, had taken advantage of the burgeoning Direct Market. This concentration on selling direct to fans, rather than an increasingly indifferent public, enabled smaller ‘independent’ companies to set up and publish. Lacking the means to pay page rates comparable to DC and instead offered royalties – and ownership!
Grell had created Jon Sable, Freelance for First Comics, a series that provoked praise and condemnation in equal measures, with very little middle ground, but in 1987 he was a writer/artist with a proven commercial background and a distinct and certain style. He also had ideas for Oliver Queen.
It was not so much the story of The Longbow Hunters that proved to be a success (the series was controversial for having Black Canary captured, assaulted, impliedly raped, and requiring rescue by her boyfriend) but rather its atmosphere. Grell portrayed a much more mature, physically, Green Arrow, reaching his fortieth birthday, in a very rich relationship with Dinah (Black Canary) Lance, at least fifteen years his junior, willing to make babies with Ollie, but not orphans. The pair have recently moved from Star City to Seattle, from a DC city to the real world, and to the Pacific Northwest, then very much in vogue, but more importantly, far removed from the natural East Coast bias of the superhero mainstream.
The action is down to earth and gritty (though not quite yet grim), and Ollie quite clearly kills the guy he finds torturing the captive Dinah. The two avoid using their heroic cognomens and Green Arrow appears in a revised costume, looser, in more sombre shades of green, and incorporating the hood currently used in the Arrow TV series.
Though it didn’t produce sales to match those of The Dark Knight, The Longbow Hunters sold very well, enough in DC’s eyes to support an ongoing Green Arrow series – unlimited – set in Seattle, and continuing the themes established in the Prestige series.
This time, after 46 years, Green Arrow clicked.
At first, the series was marked as ‘For Mature Readers’, a quasi-category introduced on the back of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, allowing the series to follow maturer (i.e., darker) themes, depict more graphic violence and depict situations than a comic submitted for Comics Code Authority approval would dare to feature. In many series, that label was an excuse for violent excess on a level that, from my distance, appears to be the mainstream norm now.
Under Grell, a Conservative Individualist, it meant the broader and deeper application of the milieu of The Longbow Hunters. Ollie’s new costume was more consistent with a woodsman’s outfit, he dropped the mask, used no trick arrows, fought no supervillains. He and Dinah (who’d lost her ‘canary cry’ superpower) eschewed their cognomens, avoided the superhero world – contacts like , say, Green Lantern only appeared as their civilian selves, in streetclothes – and the whole action was set in the Pacific Northwest, a very long way from anywhere else.
And Green Arrow was one of DC’s most successful books.
Grell wrote 80 issues of the series before moving on. A half-decade later, the series may have been cancelled at that point, successful as it was. The advent of Neil Gaiman’s extraordinary and extraordinarily successful Sandman series changed the ground rules of publication again: Sandman was cancelled after issue 75 because, despite being DC’s biggest seller at that time, Gaiman had completed the long story he’d set out to tell, and, instead of diminishing the power of that story by rolling the character on in other hands, DC accepted the ending.
Similar courtesies would be extended into the superhero mainstream with similar endings to James Robinson’s Starman and John Ostrander’s The Spectre, but Grell’s Green Arrow was too early for this natural development.
It had already been deflected away from its loner role after issue 65, back towards a more superheroic approach. Kelley Puckett had taken the series over with issue 81 and accelerated this, whilst veteran artist Jim Aparo restored the Adams costume.
Green Arrow had also played a critical role in the 1994 continuity-shifting crossover series, Zero Hour – Crisis in Time: the big villain was revealed to be Hal Jordan, lately perverted from heroic Green Lantern to ultra-villainous Parallax, who was brought down in the final instance by a heart-breaking arrow to the chest from his best friend, Ollie Queen.
Zero Hour was followed by ‘Zero Month’, every series ‘re-setting’ itself with an Issue 0. For Green Arrow it was the shaving of his beard and a retreat to the ashram Ollie had taken refuge in in that over-looked final O’Neil Adams three-parter, to deal with the pain of shooting his best friend. There he met a young man, twenty years his junior, Connor Hawke, of mixed Asian-Caucasian descent, another proficient archer with a degree of hero-worship towards Ollie, that is fully-explained in the big reveal – Connor is Ollie’s son, from his first visit, thirty years (of real time) ago.
At first, this was known only to the reader. Conner went with Ollie when the latter returned to the outside world, cheered by the hero worship, and was introduced to Ollie’s ‘family’, including Dinah, who’d broken up with Ollie over the fact that he’d been revealed as being unable to keep it in his pants (the fact that he’d fathered a kid when their relationship had barely begun would do nothing to help that). Connor got his own costume and acted as Ollie’s sidekick, until the ghost of Hal Jordan (who hadn’t been killed by Ollie after all but had died anyway, under completely different circumstances) gave Ollie the truth.
Angered at the deception (and thoroughly rattled by being old enough to have an adult son), Ollie stormed off on a government underground mission, infiltrating a group of eco-terrorists. Unfortunately, their plan involved crashing a plane carrying a nuclear device in the centre of Metropolis. Unfortunately, Ollie ended up with his arm in a kind of cuff, holding down a ‘Dead Man’s Handle’ which, if he removes his arm, will detonate the bomb instantly.
Equally, if not more unfortunately, this is all taking place in Green Arrow 100. Superman is on hand, but not even he is fast enough to snatch Ollie from the cuff and exit the plane before the bomb explodes and kills Ollie.
There is only one solution: that Superman use his heat vision to sever Ollie’s arm, leaving it in place whilst he gets a crippled Green Arrow away. It’s a neat nod to The Dark Knight Returns, which features an ageing, still radical, one-armed Ollie, who’s lost his other arm due to Superman.
Ollie refused the option and, typically, found another alternative in the opening pages of issue 101:  he yanks his arm from the cuff, detonating he device harmlessly in mid-air. Metropolis is saved, the invulnerable Superman safe. The only casualty is Oliver Queen, blown to smithereens. Green Arrow was dead.
And there was a ready-made replacement for him, young, fresh, inexperienced, ripe for development. Connor Hawke was the New Green Arrow.