Saturday, January 27, 2007

Green Arrow #1

Green Arrow #1, February 1988, DC Comics
writer: Mike Grell
illustrators: Ed Hannigan & Dick Giordano
letterer: John Castanza
colorist: Julia Lacquement
editor: Mike Gold

I could have read and reviewed Green Arrow #1 a week and a half ago, to celebrate Oliver Queen’s pivotal role in the Justice League’s first live action television appearance on Smallville, but honestly, I’ve always been intimidated by Mike Grell’s legendary run with this character. When I began collecting comics and I frequented the Stalking Moon Comics shop in Glendale, Arizona, I thumbed through the back issues of all of my favorite heroes to see what their respective titles were like, and Green Arrow’s books just looked the most complex– the most romantic, in the classic sense. My impression was that Grell’s take on Ollie expounded upon his definitely liberal role in the classic Green Lantern/Green Arrow series, coupled with a healthy dose of mid-life crisis, vigilante edition. I still don’t know if that impression was accurate, but finally reading this first issue, I can see why my younger self was so intimidated. Rape, therapy, the weaknesses of our legal system . . . surely lofty subjects for a kid just getting into comics, yet truly the bitter reality of a life dedicated to fighting crime.

While I was reading this issue, the hubbub about Dakota Fanning’s new movie came to mind – the one that recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and that casts the young actress as a rape victim. In this inaugural arc, Dinah (a.k.a. Black Canary) and Ollie’s couples counselor (coincidentally named Annie Green) is such a victim, and her accused rapist has been released for a retrial eighteen years after the crime. The perpetrator is terrorizing her via mail, having sent her a piece of the dress he tore those years ago, and Green Arrow agrees to protect her. When a masked man tries to break into Dr. Green’s home, Ollie stops him, but finds his fired arrow merely bent and blood-free, as if the attacker were either armored or super-powered. Then . . . to be continued. Like Green Arrow, we readers are left perplexed, which is a surefire way to assure that we’ll return to finish this caper with him.

Reading the letters page, many of Green Arrow’s fans liken Grell’s miniseries The Longbow Hunters, the prequel to this ongoing series, to Miller’s then-recent The Dark Knight Returns as the revitalization of a classic hero, sans the continuity-bending future riff. Secondary characters like Green Arrow have blank slates to work with, unhindered by years’ worth multi-title canon and various artists’ interpretation. In the editor’s much needed and appreciated historical lesson on said letters page, I was reminded that Arrow has been around since the ‘40s, although we’d never know it, as Ollie has often merely ridden shotgun to Green Lantern or Batman in The Brave and the Bold. Grell’s “Suggested for Mature Readers Only” seems to be the best take on the character; Ollie is reestablished as a 43-year-old vigilante in an era of comics when revamping superheroes for a younger audience was the norm (i.e. Byrne’s post-Crisis Superman relaunch), creating a relevance to Arrow’s adventures in addition to the political context already woven into his tapestry. Grell makes Green Arrow more than a gimmick – he makes the guy interesting, and further, Hannigan and Giordano’s art puts a face to this sophistication. The mechanics of each page seem deliberate, as the artists even utilize elements like gutter size to emphasize specific moments of drama and poignancy. I felt more mature just reading this issue . . .

. . . which is, again, a good reason why I shouldn’t have read this series as a kid. Frankly, I think it would have “grown me up” too quickly. Tired crossover stunts like “Knightfall” and “The Clone Saga” were deep enough fare to ease me into how heavy comics could be. Now, after discovering and devouring books like Preacher, I’m ready for anything. Alas, before Vertigo, Marvel’s MAX, and the dozens of indies out there tackle this seemingly rated-R material, DC had a few prestige books like Green Arrow paving the way. Leave it to an archer, with a name that indicates our cue to go no less, to point us in a certain direction. Superheroes like him are created for kids, but they’re worthy of adults.

1 comment:

Aaron said...

Dang, you completel nailed my thoughts regarding Green Arrow... He is probably one of the first characters to receive the "adult retconnning" that became so popular post Dark Knight Reuturns...

Except it happened to him about 25 years before! :)