A Spot of Adventure: The Silver Age – Part 1

It’s February 1958, though the cover date says April, standard comic book practice then and for decades to come to try to fool newstands, drugstores and Mom-and-Pop stores to leave the comic out on display for longer and longer, before tearing the strip with the title off the cover and returning it for credit. The new Flash had appeared in two issues of Showcase, both big sellers, but the management at National Periodical Publications (you didn’t shout the word ‘Comics’ too loudly in the Fifties) would require two more, this year, before trusting him to a series of his own. The Silver Age was struggling to be born but Adventure Comics and its editor, Whitney Ellsworth, was about to make their greatest contribution to the new era. He, writer Otto Binder and artist Al Plastino were about to introduce the Legion of Super-Heroes.
Appropriately for the time, it’s a bit of a jerky story. Three kids from the future, Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl, the latter two of which looking nothing like the incarnations we would become familiar with in the future, and all of which boast artificial super-powers that, at this stage, are not the inherent abilities stemming from their respective home planets, ‘tease’ (i.e., horrify) Superboy by knowing his dual identity, invite him 1,000 years into the future to join their superhero club, put his through competency tests in which they deliberately sabotage him, and all for fun. Remind me again, why did he join this bunch of creeps?
We only get to meet these three Legionnaires, although the group includes at least four other identified members, one of which is green-skinned and could possibly have been Brainiac 5. We also learn that, ten centuries on, feminism hasn’t arrived, since Saturn Girl is ‘only a girl’ (curl lip in contempt). Of such acorns do oak trees grow, however implausible, but if superheroes are on the way back, the idea’s a doozy.
There are still our hapless D-listers, The Green Arrow and Aquaman, to go through, and it was back to Superboy solo next month, But the Silver Age had visited and left its calling card on the table. The In-Between Age was doomed..
As this is a new run, I actually started reading the back-up stories, or enough of them to finally pick up on the patterns. Green Arrow’s stories are always about the arrows, and how the crime-fighting archers have to keep using different ones, whilst Aquaman is about him acting out of character for some secret purpose that gets revealed on page 5. And it was interesting to see that, when Adventure hit issue 250, one of a very small number of titles to do so, absolutely nothing was done to mark it.
Or did it? For that and the next six issues, Green Arrow gained a new artist, the King, Jack Kirby. No, it’s not particularly memorable art, or that distinctly Kirby, and apparently it was being inked by his wife, Roz, but it’s Kirby. And in issue 252, not only did Superboy encounter Red Kryptonite for the first time (but not its more antic aspects), but Green Arrow’s story was continued into a second part!
A major change arrived in that second issue. It was not Superboy teaming up with a time-travelling Robin the Boy Wonder but rather the introduction of the Silver Age staple, the letters page.
I was also pleased to see the occasional resumption of house ads, particularly the full-pagers devoted to new characters in Showcase, such as Space Ranger and Adam Strange, under the rubric ‘Adventures on Other Worlds’. But on the debit side, Aquaman’s series was now adorned with his own sidekick, his pet octopus, Topo. Don’t anyone tell Jason Mamoa about this.

Don’t believe it…

But we are really getting into some deep and, frankly, scary psychological terrirtory, especially with the Superboy story in issue 255, which sees some Martian Red Kryptonite split Superboy in two, one of them the Boy of Steel and the other a merely human Clark Kent. Clark goes criminally batty and Superboy ends up killing him in an explosion. That’s right, killing him, or rather himself, without qualm or regret. That’s seriously disturbing shit.
Kirby’s last Green Arrow, featuring the most identifiably Kirby art of his run, was a re-telling of his origin in it’s pre-Speedy form. In fact, the letters page, and several requests for who, what and why, seems to have inspired a sweep of origin recaps across the Superman titles generally, not to mention another ludicrous team-up in issue 258, this time with Superboy trying to inspire new-kid-in-town Oliver Queen to take an interest in archery… In time, practically half of DC’s characters would pass through Smallville during Superboy’s youth.
When I mentioned that Whitney Ellsworth was editing Adventure, I was surprised to see his name in the indicia, as I’d always assumed Mort Weisinger’s legendary possessiveness about Superman would not allow anyone else to be in charge. Weisinger replaces Ellsworth as of issue 259, reminding me that when Ellsworth was editor of All-Star, it was Julius Schwartz doing the work. I think Ellsworth was editor in the same way Stan Lee et al were editor-in-chief at Marvel: the overall boss but not the hands-on man. I think Weisinger’s hand was on the real controls all along. Now, it just became official.
One of those origin stories appeared in issue 260, as Aquaman’s origin was retold for the first time in eighteen years, or rather retconned, for now Arthur Curry was named for the first time, and he was revealed as being Atlantean, though not yet as the rightful king of that undersea world. Next issue, the Boy of Steel met a teenage Lois Lane at camp, sharing a cabin with Lana Lang and deploring the latter’s constant efforts to discover Superboy’s identity: Lois would never do that. All-in-all, it was a chance for the Boy of Steel to anticipate his adult self’s trait of acting like a dick to two women who love him.
By now, it was clear that the Legion hadn’t caught the imagination of Superboy’s readers first off. In fact, it took twenty issues for the teenagers of tomorrow to reappear, in issue 267, and they were still dicks, humiliating the Boy of Steel, driving him off Earth, imprisoning him. It was the same trio but this time all in the uniforms with which we would be familiar in the Sixties, except that Saturn Girl was brunette, not blonde.
Two issues later, Aquaman met Aqualad, an Atlantean expelled from Atlantis for being afraid of fish, cured his fear and ending up with the kid imprinting himself on the King of the Sea and adopting him as a surrogate father with no legal proceedings whatsoever.

For issue 270, the first of 1960, there was a sudden change as Green Arrow’s series was replaced by Congorilla, big game hunter Congo Bill who, by rubbing a magic ring, could transfer his mind into the body of a golden gorilla for an hour. Remember too that 1960 was the year the Justice League of America debuted, consisting of seven of DC’s eight adult superheroes. The only one to miss out was… Green Arrow. Is there a connection?
Next issue, Superboy met the young Lex Luthor, farm boy in Smallville, Superboy hero-worshipper and would-be scientific genius, and we see that Luthor becomes a Superman-hater after Superboy causes all his hair to fall out. Don’t laugh so much, there are sound psychological underpinnings to this rationale, I merely looks goofy. And increasingly the letters page is becoming a source of inspiration, with the kids raising questions that prompt stories being written to explain the answers. Weisinger certainly knew his audience.
After Robin, Lois and Luthor, it was inevitable that Superboy would meet a young Bruce Wayne when his parents, the great philanthropists and benefactors of Gotham City, decided to move to Smallville; well, wouldn’t you? Who wants to live in a plush mansion when you could live in a hick town? Bruce gets the hots for Lana who agrees to let him take her to the Prom if he finds out Superboy’s identity, which he does, being smart, only Superboy shows him film of the future where he’s Batman and they’re best friends, so he doesn’t. Funny how the Boy of Steel omits the bit about why young Bruce becomes Batman…
Both back-up series had a change of title is issue 277, to introduce their kid partners: Aquaman and Aqualad, Congorilla and Janu, with National announcing that, in response to many such requests, they were giving the first pair a two-issue run in Showcase to see if they could carry their own title.
Issue 280 saw the Mermaid Lori Lemaris become the latest Superman character to pre-empt her first meeting with Supes by turning up in Smallville years early. As usual, the story was 90% silly, the exceptions being the provision of an entirely sensible explanation for Lori’s Atlanteans having fishtails whilst Aquaman’s have two legs, and the instinctive effort of the jealous Lana to save the life of the ‘girl’ she fears as a rival. It was also announced that, from the next issue, the first of 1961, Congorilla and Aquaman would alternate as back-up, their combined pages giving the opportunity for thirteen page adventures.
This time, it took only fifteen issues for the Legion of Superheroes to return, in issue 282, with a new member, Star Boy (albeit one with super-strength, electrical vision and supercool breath, instead of mass controlling powers), as well as a cameo from the previously unseen Chameleon Boy. Unfortunately, the story was an excuse for Lana to cook up one of her least reputable plots to discover Superboy’s identity. Not even the sight of Lana in a most un-1961 short skirt and her frank admission that she loved the Boy of Steel kept him from acting like just as much as a dick to her. Just fly her off and snog her, you fool!
Congorilla’s brief run came to an end in issue 283, with the announcement that he was being replaced by the more Superman-oriented Tales of the Bizarro World. It was supposed to be just him but, come the day, Aquaman was sent swimming too. But three issues later I was hoping for one or both of them to return, as the Bizarro stories were stupid beyond belief. And they’re getting all the covers, too! The time between Legion stories was rapidly diminishing, with Sun Boy, the “Seventh Legionnaire” being introduced in issue 290.
And the big three of Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl were back after only three issues, this time introducing, wait for it, the Legion of Super-Pets. Yes, that’s right: Super-Pets. These were Krypto, plus Beppo the Super-Monkey, Streaky the Super-Cat and even the as-yet unnamed Comet the Super-Horse, pet and occasional lover of Supergirl (don’t go there, just don’t) who hadn’t even been introduced in Supergirl’s series yet (hey, every young girl is into horses, right?)

There was a letter of protest about the Bizarros in issue 296 which brought forth a stinging rebuke from Weisinger, about how Adventure‘s sales figures had rocketed to their highest ever since the feature began, and that every month they got 5,000 postcards with suggestions from ‘Bizarro business’. Yeah, but that still doesn’t mean the series isn’t crap.
Finally, the suggestion came up of a regular Legion series, alternating with the Bizarros. So, with issue 300, the day finally came when the Legion, 53 issues after their debut, took a permanent role in Adventure.
And I’ll be back in two weeks for the next instalment.

The Great DC Crossover – Part 3 – Arrow

At least the two on the right appeared...
At least the two on the right appeared…

As crossovers go in general, this episode was pretty much of a bust, the last five minutes excepted, when the Dominators and their plans to invade Earth and give it some serious welly with ‘the weapon’ became more than a MacGuffin for the real intent of Arrow‘s 100th episode.

On the other hand, as episodes of Arrow go, this was bloody brilliant and better than anything we’ve seen in the last two series, if not more.

So: where we left off last night, Team Arrow (aka Ollie, Dig, Thea, Sarah and Ray) vanished. Back in Star City, Felicity and Cisco, with the respective aids of Rene/Wild Dog, Curtis/Mr Terrific and Rory/Ragman, tracked down where they were being held captive. This required a brief altercation with some real throwaway enhanced woman, for which Flash and Supergirl turned up to turn her over. Our missing quintet were found to be on the Dominator spaceship, which they exited in some kind of mini-ship, pursued by a whole swarm of mini-ships intent on death and destruction, until rescued by the Waverider and Nate Heywood (who’s been left out so far).

All of which was the mainly thin gristle around the meat of episode 100, which featured Ollie’s own version of Flashpoint, the life he could have had, which perhaps he should have had, if one thing hadn’t happened. That signifying point was The Queen’s Gambit cruise.

Ollie didn’t die. His Dad didn’t die. Deathstroke had no reason to kill his mother. Sarah never joined the League of Assassins. Without one Black Canary there was never a need for a second, so Laurel didn’t die, in fact tomorrow is her wedding day. To Ollie. His Dad wants him to take over Queen Consolidated as CEO, without which the board will accept Ray Palmer’s buy-out. Detective Lance isn’t an alcoholic. Thea doesn’t know who her real father is. Tommy Merlin’s alive, and of all things he’s a doctor in Chicago (on Chicago Hope?). There is an arrow-wielding vigilante, nicknamed the Hood, and assisted by Ray’s fiancee, Felicity, but it’s Diggle.

It’s wrong, all wrong, every bad thing undone. I’ve seen it before in comics, it”s not original, it’s the idea that underpins The Last Temptation of Christ and I don’t expect it was new then. The hero’s real enemy is not defeat, or death, it is happiness. It’s been the underpinning of Arrow since episode 1 and it’s been the dire ruination of the series for these last two miserable seasons, and here it is, overthrown. What it could have been, what has been sacrificed.

It’s unreal, and at every turn things are thrown up, things that trigger all five victim’s memories, although mostly Ollie’s. The story is always the same and the end is always the same: the hero rejects peace, rejects fulfillment, the dirty and desperate reality is restored. But it’s so hard. Thea refuses at first, the little girl who has her parents back, her mother and her father, who can’t bear to repeat the loss. Who among us doesn’t respond to that? You know what I would give to havve my father come back, to have had that life instead. But she comes out to fight with the rest, for no reason given, overcomes her obstacles, awakens with the rest.

It’s The Flash 300, Cary Bates’ greatest story. It’s that episode of Red Dwarf where they discover it’s been a virtual reality game all along. It’s every story that’s ever ended ‘and they she woke up, and it had all been a dream’, except that the dream is the thing you want to carry on forever.

It’s a fine and memorable episode, but in terms of the crossover, they’re dumping one hell of a lot on Legends of Tomorrow‘s shoulders for the final part, and assuming all for get renewed for another season each (and there’s a very good case for denying Arrow the chance to get any more turgid), and they decide to do another crossover, they need to do something a lot better next time.

Tune in tomorrow for the final part.

The Fall Season 2016: Arrow season 5

Ok, things are a bit clearer here.

I’m well aware that Arrow is the progenitor of the array of DC-based shows I’m enjoying watching (excluding Gotham, which I gave up on in a heartbeat two episodes into last season and, by all accounts, have not suffered from since), and I’m even more aware that in Oliver Queen and Green Arrow it features one of my long-term favourite characters. And I also know that Echo Kellum, now promoted to cast, is shortly going to emerge as one of my all-time faves, Mr Terrific (even if it’s not the Terry Sloane version).

But I’ve been defending the series to myself for some time now, and it’s been on probation since the point in season 4 that I realised that the showrunners will go to any specious length to fuck about with the one clear point about that that was likeable and enjoyable and a counterpart to the endless agonising, and given that the flashbacks should, by the end of the season have wound round to episode 1 of season 1, I am going to dig in my heels and try to grind long, but it took less than three minutes of the season 1 opener before Arrow got put on double-secret probation. My gorge could rise at any moment.

Nothing’s changed. Oliver’s still a wanker of the first water, a boring, obsessed, righteous ostrich with his head still so firmly buried simultaneously in the sand and up his own backside. He’s making a serious fuck-up of being the Mayor of Star City because, guess what, his only interest is using it as a magic source of intel for Green Arrow.

And he still thinks the Team will come back. I mean, Diggle’s in the Army in the Balkans, Thea is his Chief of Staff at the Mayor’s office, relishing the chance to wear extremely short skirts again, Laurel’s dead (but Katie Cassidy still has a contract for at least three different series), Quentin’s a lush again (I doubt we’ll be seeing Charlotte Ross again, but then why would we? She was sweet, and nice, and funny). And whilst Felicity’s still providing chirpy Tech support and reality dumps, she’s shacked up with some other bloke.

Meanwhile, there are these other vigilantes running round, like Wild Dog, and Green Arrow is busy chasing them off the streets and shooting arrows into them (mind you, if you’re going to start introducing Wild Dog, one of the stupidest and badly-conceived characters DC used thirty-plus years ago, the arrow should be in the head not the leg, gah!), and there’s a new Big Bad in town, and Oliver -5 is in Russia to join the Bratva and kill Kovar, oh, and just to tie things off at the end there’s another new archer in town, looking like GA only in bronze-red with a full-face mask.

Oh, and Ollie’s gone back to being homicidal again, which put paid to Speedy ever playing along since she’s not going to be a vigilante EVER again if that’s what they’re doing.

I am going to watch season 5, just for a sense of closure in respect of the flashbacks, at least until the show reaches a threshold too low for me to stomach. But it’s deja vu all over again. It’s the same thing every season. Ollie is nothing like the Ollie that I really enjoyed reading about in the comics. He’s a stubborn idiot, the one-eyed, one-note man. He’s learned nothing, he won’t ever learn anything, and the same trials keep cropping up and he keeps doing the same thing, over and again, and I’m getting very weary about it.

No, make that triple-secret probation.

The Fall Season: Arrow

The new look

Of all the returning shows, Arrow was the one with the most to do to re-establish itself. Season 3 was a mess and came close to busting the show apart. And with The Flash outdoing its parent by presenting a much more upbeat tone, changes were going to be needed. Happily, season 4 got off to a good start in resetting things.

Needless to say things haven’t changed all that much. This is still going to be a grim series, with grim themes: there are limits to how much a show can seriously change its spots, especially overnight, as Gotham demonstrated last week. Oliver and Felicity may have ridden off into the sunrise to Ivy Town (a nod to Ray Palmer’s comic book base) where the only running through woods in a green hood that Oliver’s doing is his morning jog, and they’re so happy Ollie can actually joke “Felicity Smoak, you have failed this omelette,” but back home, Team Arrow is up against it, and you know it’s not going to last.

In fact, overall the episode was like yesterday’s season-opener on The Flash: five months have passed and the status quo needs resetting.

Team Arrow, consisting of Laurel (Black Canary) Lance, Thea (Red Arrow but everyone still calls her Speedy) Queen and John (no code name but now wearing a very dubious black helmet) Diggle, is up against it. Star City, now officially rebranded in memory of Ray Palmer, is dying. It hasn’t got a Mayor, people and businesses are leaving in droves and it’s afflicted with Ghosts, aka armed bands that appear and disappear at will, leaving neither the Police nor Team Arrow with the slightest clue.

Except for the tall, burly, blond guy who walks into a meeting of the four officials who are running Star City, claiming responsibility for the Ghosts and promising to kill Star City. This is season 4’s bad guy, Damian Darhk, and Neal McDonough is already killing it in the role.

Three of the Committee subsequently die quickly, whilst the fourth, our old friend Captain Quentin Lance, is merely shot in the shoulder, thanks to Black Canary’s intervention. Though, in a neat twist at episode’s end, it turns out that Lance is working for Dhark. That’s going to be very interesting.

Needless to say, in all of this, Team Arrow turns to their exiled leader and begs him to return. Or two-thirds of them do, since Diggle can’t forgive, or trust, Ollie, not after Ollie had his wife and baby kidnapped last season. You can see his point.

Ollie’s unwilling, but Felicity (who’s been helping Team Arrow out all along) is all for it. She loves him, she loves their life, but she’s getting bored without the adrenaline and the do-gooding. So too is Ollie, once he admits it, and he’s eager to try to build a more positive role for himself, in the face of both Captain Lance and Diggle accusing him to his face of being a monster with nothing but darkness in him.

So, in a neat counterpart to the opening with its Welcome to Star City, Ollie takes to the airwaves to promise the citizens hope. The Arrow is dead, but a new figure has arisen to inherit his mantle. And his name is… Green Arrow. Yaaaayyy!!

Two other things remain to be mentioned. We have another year of flashbacks, covering year 4 of Ollie’s exile prior to his appearance as The Hood in season 1. His arrival in Coast City, home of Hal (Green Lantern) Jordan turns out to be either a massive fake-out or a drastic change of plan as, after a complete balls-up of a debut as The Hood, Ollie is drugged by Amanda Waller in a bar (camera pan across the chest of an airman whose name-tag reads ‘Jordan’ and, the next thing you know, he’s being kicked out of an aircraft, with parachute, to carry out a mystery mission on, guess where, Lian Yu.

The other is a flash-forward. All episode, we have Ollie planning to propose to Felicity, and leaving his mother’s engagement ring in all sorts of cutesy-pie places for her to discover (but not yet). Then we jump to six months later, to Ollie with black-tie in a graveyard, kneeling by a freshly-dug plot. Barry Allen appears, apologising that he couldn’t make the funeral, due to Zoom. Ollie swears he will kill the man who has done this.

We don’t see the headstone but the inference is very strong that it is Felicity that they are both mourning. It may be that such a bold, striking step is being planned, but right here, right now, I am willing to bet it’s a fake-out, and that it’s not Felicity who is going to be killed (and I’m also guessing that, whilst we’re equally being tipped to expecting Darhk to be the murderer, there’s at least a 50% chance it’ll be Captain Lance, in which case the body is likely to turn out to be Laurel’s…).

Then again, since we viewers are such sophisticated creatures these days, maybe it really is going to be Felicity, and the joke’s on me for being so clever-clever. I think finding out exactly what’s going to happen is going to be much more enjoyable than season 3.

Uncollected Thoughts: The Flash

DC may be trailing Marvel irrecoverably in establishing a Cinematic Universe, but they’re in better health when it comes to bringing theit characters to TV. Arrow, which has been steadily entertaining and far more reliable than the erratic Agents of Shield, has started its third season with the confidence to kill a very popular leadng character in its first episode, whilst also sparing time for a mini-crossover with DC’s second attempt to create a series centred upon The Flash. And, unlike its predecessor, twenty-five years ago, and like but unlike Arrow, this Flash works and works wonderfully well.

You see, the thing about the Flash in the comics, the Barry Allen version that ran from 1956 to 1985 and was revived in 2008, was that it was Fun! with a capital F. When your superpower is the utterly primal one of Speed, of being able to run *fast!*, how could it be otherwise? Blessed with one of the best origins ever – a lightning bolt on a stormy night shatters a rack of chemicals, spilling an unpredictable, incalculable mix of electrified chemicals over Barry Allen and granting his Superspeed – Barry was not driven by trauma, guilt, revenge or anything. He had this wow power, he’d worshipped the comic book Flash as a kid, he could do what he almost wanted to do and help people.

That’s what this new series gets right, immediately and gloriously. Barry’s speed is fun, and he loves running. That’s why it’s going to work.

Of course, there’s one more vitally important aspect to this. One of the major reasons the 1990 Flash didn’t work was the special effects. And the budget, but mainly the special effects. Speed is incredibly difficult to make convincing onscreen: wasn’t the only part of the SFX in Christopher Reeve’s first Superman that looked ludicrous the bit where young Clerk outraces a speeding locomotive?

The 1990 Flash was a victim of effects too ineffective that nevertheless swallowed up too much of the show’s budget, giving it no chance to compete on other levels. Though the two episodes starring Mark Hamill having a whale of a time going OTT as The Trickster (complete with costumed sidekick Prank, in the extremely nice shape of Corinne Bohrer in the second) showed what could be done, the series stood little chance of convincing.

Twenty four years later, CGI is much more effective, though the close-ups on Grant Gustin when he’s actually running do still mar the illusion. Still and all, on the first episode alone, this looks like it can cut it.

It’s a good pilot. Central City is less a character in this than Arrow‘s Starling City, but much more of the action takes place in daylight. There’s an essential lightness overall that contrasts very well with Arrow‘s tension, and whilst the latter started with Oliver Queen alone in on the secret of the Hood, The Flash goes to the opposite extreme with a whole team of scientists knowing Barry Allen’s secret identity, not to mention his surrogate father, Detective Joe West. That’s the direction the series looks to be taking: The Flash is an out in the open hero, welcomed by his city.

As for Flash mythology, there’s plenty of it to see. We have the Weather Wizard in the pilot, a torn apart cage with the nameplate Grodd, Iris West as Barry’s virtual sister, and Detective Eddie Thawne as the guy she loves. And we’ve the promise that the EMP that created Barry’s powers also did lots of supery things to lots of metahumans, offering the promise of fun to c0me!

My only reservation about the series is that as Geoff Johns – a very influential writer at DC, with whose work I do not entirely get along – involved, we have to have Barry’s reboot 2008 origin in which Barry is driven by the trauma of his mother being killed and his father convited and imprisoned for her murder: Barry is convinced hie Dad is innocent and determined to one day prove it.

On the one hand, it’s a nice way to involve John Wesley Shipp, the 1990 Flash, as Henry Allen, but on the other the story’s crap, and the flashback we were shown of it makes far too little effort to conceal the inevitability of it being the Reverse-Flash (aka Eobard – or maybe Eddie? – Thawne…) having travelled back in time. If we’re going to have to suffer with this, could we at least have this washed out in the first season, please?

What intrigues me more is the ending to the pilot. During the pisode, Barry spends nine months in a coma, as established in season 2 of Arrow. He wakes to find himself being studied in the remnants of Star Labs, where the particle accelerator malfunctioned, causing the lightning. The small team studying him is led by genius scientist Harrison Wells, who life has been ruined by the particle accelerator incident. He has lost his company, his friends, his reputation, and is confined to a wheelchair for life. Aiding the Flash is an obvious way to repay and rehabilitate.

Except that, in the closing seconds, he manouevres his electric wheelchair into a concealed room, stands up and walks towards a lone console.

I am seriously looking forward to finding more out about this.

Green Arrow: another take

For those of you who enjoyed my recent series of articles on Green Arrow, you might like to know that Comics columnist and writer Scott Tipton is running his own series of articles recounting the history of the Emerald Archer.

Tipton’s column, Comics 101, appears every Wednesday and you can read his first instalment at http://www.comics101.com/?page=C101

Green Arrow – No such thing as a bad character: Part 7 – Two Stories

I’ll declare an interest here because the two stories I plan to discuss now are my two favourite stories involving Green Arrow. One of them is a very controversial series, with many detractors, whose charges cannot be easily dismissed or disregarded, but which had a massive impact on the DC Universe.
The writer of both was best-selling thriller writer Brad Meltzer, known for high-powered, tightly-plotted, fast-moving thrillers with a background in Law, power and Washington. And a closet Green Arrow fan, as evidenced by the Easter Egg in one of his early novels, when the lead character went into a meeting with four aides named Oliver, Dinah, Roy and Connor.
Kevin Smith had continued Green Arrow after ‘Quiver’, but, coming from a film background, he had no concept of, or feel for the monthly deadline, so it was not unwelcome to DC when he left. I am assuming that the approach to Meltzer, who had also never written for comics before, was made with a view to extending the ‘prestige’ aspect of the series coming from an established writer from a field with less public contempt than comics.
Meltzer agreed to write what was originally a four part series, subsequently expanded to six, but only once he had come up with something that he believed impacted on Green Arrow, and added something Oliver Queen’s history. What finally inspired him was a conversation with a close friend who introduced him to the concept of ‘porn-buddie’, that is, a trusted friend who, if anything happens to you, will go straight to your home and remove your porn stash before anyone else gets there.
It seems an improbable inspiration, but Meltzer immediately saw the relation to superheroes, and especially to one who had died and been restored.
‘The Archer’s Quest’ begins at Ollie’s gravestone, with a meeting with Clark (Superman) Kent. Ollie wants to know who came to his funeral. Clark, having gone through this himself, tries to dissuade him but eventually produces the paparazzi pictures that the Daily Planet bought up and kept from publication. Ollie checks off family and friends one by one, until he finds a face he doesn’t recognise: a stranger at his funeral, who has seen all his ‘family’s real faces.
He asks Roy (formerly Speedy, now Arsenal) Harper to trace the stranger through his CIA connections, but Roy deals himself in to accompany Ollie – a nostalgic Green Arrow and Speedy outing. The stranger is Thomas Blake, aka Catman, a prominent and recurring Batman villain from the Fifties, virtually ignored since then. Meltzer plays Blake as over the hill and pathetic: overweight, an abuser of woman, a clown.
(Within two years, Gail Simone would transform Catman into a charismatic and complex character in Secret Six , which reminds us that there is no such thing as a bad character.)
But Blake is a McGuffin. He has been sent to the funeral by The Shade, a former Golden Age Flash villain, taken up in the mid-Nineties in James Robinson’s Starman series, and transformed from a villainous cypher into a charismatic and complex character, which reminds us that there is no such thing as a bad character. The Shade is Ollie’s ‘porn-buddie’: that is to say, that after the deaths of Barry (The Flash) Allen, Superman and Hal Jordan, Ollie realised the need for someone who, if anything happened to him, would get in there, collect all Green Arrow’s artefacts and destroy them, leaving nothing to connect Queen’s name to his secret identity, and nothing to expose his loved ones to reprisals.
But the Shade sent Blake, who is apparently trustworthy, to the funeral because he was not prepared to get that close to the Justice League. Similarly, there have been a handful of things, important things, that he has not been able to access. This sets up the spine of the story, where Ollie and Roy take to the road to retrieve theses.
It’s partly a history lesson, partly an interesting exercise in what Ollie truly values from his former life. At least one item is a new addition: a hitherto unrevealed gift from Barry Allen, a replica of his signet ring, in which he stored his costume, and one of a set given to his JLA friends, each containing their own costumes.
Like the ‘porn-buddie’ notion, it’s the kind of idea that only a novelist would come up with, who’s used to regarding the world of his characters in a wider context than just the relevance to the actual plot.
It takes most of the journey for Roy to accept why Ollie had not entrusted this ‘executorship’ to him, though Ollie’s logic is impeccable: everyone dies, they’re in a job where death is an ever present risk, but the Shade is immortal.
The story ends as far as the plot demands, with Ollie repackaging his recovered assets and writing another ‘will’ to the Shade, but at the last crossing out the ex-villain’s name and substituting that of Roy. But its real revelation, and the core of what Meltzer wanted to bring to the story, to Ollie, precedes that. The first object recovered was, supposedly, the easiest, the Certificate presented to Ollie to commemorate his membership of the Justice League, reproduced faithfully from the original by Mike Sekowsky, over forty years earlier. But Ollie lied to Roy: you don’t get the easiest first, you get the most important first. Behind the Certificate is a photo: for years, Ollie has told everyone that he knew nothing of his son Connor until meeting him at the ashram when Connor was an adult, but the photo is of Ollie holding the baby Connor. He has lied to everyone: he knew of Connor all along, knew that he’d run away, unable to take responsibility for his own child. And he’s lying still, because the photo remains a secret. It’s a moment of illumination, into Ollie, and into his own knowledge of himself.
‘The Archer’s Quest’ was a Green Arrow story: Meltzer’s other series, Identity Crisis, was a company-wide crossover that was not about Green Arrow, but featured him prominently throughout.
Identity Crisis was the first of DC’s summer crossover events for four years, after an unbroken run of events from 1985 to 2000. It was not originally planned as such, but rather as a small, intimate story, which at heart it was: the story was of the death of a superhero’s wife and the investigation of her death, revealing a very personal and intimate motive. But this small, intimate story opened doors into parts of the DC Universe that had long been closed, and whose opening shed something other than light on corners many people would have preferred to keep dark.
And though the world was neither threatened nor remade, Identity Crisis had a more profound effect on DC, becoming the springboard for several years of controlled and organised stories and developments, than any story since Crisis on Infinite Earths had literally remade reality.
Green Arrow’s prominence in the story, though its principal effects did not personally touch on him, was an expansion of Meltzer’s ‘porn-buddie’ concept. Since Superman’s death, and Ollie’s, the superhero world has become more organised, so that when death comes, there is a set procedure, for contact, clean-up and investigation. The case is Ollie’s: though the detection is carried out by others (notably a superbly offstage Batman in the first half of the story), Green Arrow is case manager, and it’s a mark of the long transition the character has undergone that the guy who shoots arrows, who is far outweighed on the scale of sheer power by the vast majority of those others involved, is not only accepted, but also credible in that role.
The opening of the story is a smoothly controlled, bravura display of shifting viewpoints, revolving around an initially mysterious Now. Ralph (Elongated Man) Dibny is teamed up with a younger hero investigating a situation: their conversation whilst on stakeout slides forward from the past, alternating with a series of flashforwards to different heroes, at different times after Now, each receiving unpleasant news. At least one veteran reader saw Now coming and approached it with little pleas of ‘no, not her’. But now was the moment a fearful Ralph, racing against disaster, gets back to his apartment – an apartment protected by the most serious and scary security the Justice League in its various human and alien technologies and genius individuals can supply – to find his wife Sue dead, her body burned almost beyond recognition.
It was a shock in itself for the older reader. Ralph and Sue had been around since 1960, a loving, cheerful, lightweight and sunny couple, without any enemies: it was a serious step in the direction of cruelty to kill off Sue Dearborn Dibny, especially in the face of the loving build-up in Ralph’s conversation with Firehawk, and the one piece of information his brilliant deductive skills could not anticipate: that Sue was, at long last, pregnant.
Sue’s death rippled out across the entire superhero, and supervillain, community. Everyone looked to their loved ones and feared someone who could get so thoroughly behind their guard, exploit their worst fear. Ray (The Atom) Palmer saved his divorced wife Jean Loring from a hanging, but Tim (Robin) Drake’s father Jack was killed by the broken-down, stumblebum Captain Boomerang, who was also killed.
The villain, unexpected as it was, and clumsily as it was revealed, turned out to be Jean Loring, who had wanted to cause some kind of crisis affecting everybody’s loved ones, in the hope of luring Ray back to her. She’d used one of his spare costumes and size and weight controls to enter Sue’s apartment, shrink and get into her brain, intending just to ‘rough her up’, but miscalculated and set off a brain seizure. But that Loring did have a history of mental issues, it would have been an unsuitable, stitched on ending, but even with the addition of continuity, it still felt strained, unrealised.
But Sue’s death and Jean’s guilt were just the thread to lead us from beginning to end. What mattered in Identity Crisis, what sparked all the controversy about its contents, which provided the basis for the years of interconnected stories to follow, was the worms that crawled out of the cans opened in pursuit of the truth.
Meltzer was bold enough to throw in his biggest revelation as early as issue 2. Issue 1 ends after Sue’s funeral, with superheroes splitting off in all sorts of directions, to hunt down possible culprits. Silently, secretively, five current and former JLAers slip away to meet a Ralph transformed from grief to vengeance, to hunt Dr Light.
Dr Light was a Sixties-created villain, who could manipulate light and lasers, but he had been treated as a joke, an incompetent for two decades. On the surface, he was an unlikely prospect as villain, but the sextet were certain. And when the new Flash and Green Lantern, Wally West and Kyle Rayner, suspicious of that certainty, add themselves to the party, an explanation becomes necessary and it all starts to get nasty.
Light wasn’t always an idiot. Once he was a nasty piece of work, and never more so than when he found Sue Dibny alone in the Justice League satellite. Light attached Sue. More than that, he raped her. He was caught in the act by the returning Justice League and was beaten down, but not without realising how he could hurt them in future: how he’d give light-shows of his actions in prison, how he’d hunt out Sue again when free, and other people’s wives and girlfriends.
So, in an echo of Watchmen‘s insistence upon a rigid reality and truth, the heroes voted, by a margin of 4 v 3, to not merely take all Light’s memories of the scene, but to try to change what was in him that spurred him to be this violent, this hurtful. The change was made by Zatanna, the magician girl, and it went wrong, robbing Light of his brilliant mind and turning him into a buffoon.
It destroyed, at a stroke, everything that DC’s superheroes were or had been supposed to be from the Silver Age on, but it did so with a hard-eyed realism that said, in effect, if you want the fantasy of beings with amazing powers clashing against each other, you have to accept the reality of this.
And with the reader reeling from that revelation, suddenly the heroes had to swing into action, with only enough time to indicate that the incident with Light was not the first time they had wiped villains minds.
In fact, this referred to an actual JLA case of the late Seventies, where a band of villains had exchanged minds with the JLA, taking their bodies over: Meltzer applied the remorseless logic that the first thing they would have done would have been to remove their masks, necessitating the wiping of their memories after their eventual defeat.
This last came out after a furious knock-down fight in issue 3 with Deathstroke, a mercenary hired by Light to protect him. Ollie’s description of the scene of Light’s rape had included a vivid panel depicting Light fighting off seven heroes simultaneously: by a fluke chance, in the battle against Deathstroke, a tableau occurred that replicated that scene, hero for hero. The sight breaks Light’s conditioning, restores his memories, restores his full and very dangerous mind, and raises his levels of hatred to the stratosphere. It also changes fundamentally the relationship between hero and villain, the ground rules. But in Light’s moment of realisation he generates a powerful hologram, that only The Flash seems fast enough to see. It’s of Light under attack, but this time by eight heroes, not seven: Batman is there as well.
It takes until almost the end of the story for West to go to Ollie with that vision and ask him openly about it, and it’s Ollie’s refusal to answer that opens us up to the ultimate game changer: they took Batman’s mind as well.
Batman had been there for Dr Light’s take-down before rushing to the next emergency. But, because it was Sue, this time he came back, in the middle of Light’s magical lobotomy. And he went bananas. A horrified Zatanna froze him physically, and then the Justice League took the decision to delete ten minutes of their friend and ally, Bruce Wayne’s memories as well.
What would flow from that, forward and backward, practically sustained DC for the next year and a half, and rumbled on for much longer.
Many people hated Identity Crisis, for what it was, what it did. In a single series, it tainted everyone’s youth and innocence, by destroying the sweetness and the naivete of the Silver Age and, at a stroke, reducing the heroes to the same moral level as the villains. People hated Sue Dibny’s rape, especially when it was used against such a likeable, nice woman (not that rape ever distinguishes between its victims). If you want to be picky, it was never explicitly stated that the rape actually happened: the crucial panel is a close-up of Sue’s clenched hands, and it is for the reader to decide how much time elapses before the next panel, when the JLA teleport back into the satellite. But, let’s be honest, to reject actual rape on a technicality would be to undermine the story.
So, not a Green Arrow story, but one in which Green Arrow played a significant role, a confirmation of his place among the circle of the DC Universe’s.
It was, for me, Green Arrow’s peak.

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.