Green Arrow Triple Feature: Year One, The Wonder Year & Longbow Hunters

Green Arrow Year One Green Arrow: Year One (DC)
Written by Andy Diggle, drawn by Jock
Collects Green Arrow: Year One 1-6

Earlier this month, after watching that week’s episode of Arrow, I finally got off my butt and decided to give Andy Diggle and Jock’s Green Arrow: Year One trade a re-read. The fact that tonight marks the second season finale made today the perfect day to write about three different Green Arrow comics I read and enjoyed lately.

I got on the GA train back when Kevin Smith restarted the book in 2001. I was onboard throughout Brad Meltzer’s run and Judd Winick’s, but after the latter left, I thought it lost most of what made the book special. I even gave the first volume of the New 52 incarnation a read, but was pretty disappointed.

In 2007, DC tried to make Year One a thing by doing minis starring Green Arrow, Metamorpho, the Teen Titans and Black Lightning. For the most part, they weren’t particularly interesting, but Green Arrow had the one that not only sticks out as being pretty rad, but also works as a bit of source material for The CW show. The series really gets into what turned Oliver Queen from careless billionaire playboy into avenging arrow-slinger.

In Diggle’s re-telling of the origin, Queen essentially forces his way onto the boat that inadvertently puts him on the island. This time, though, it’s betrayal that directly leads to his life changing ordeal. A bow and arrow enthusiast thanks to knowing Howard Hill the stuntman who did the trick shots in Errol Flynn’s The Adventures Of Robin Hood (an element found in all three of these books), Ollie creates a make shift arsenal that he uses to hunt and keep himself alive long enough to discover that the island he’s on is also the major source of poppies for heroin dealers lead by China White.

The great thing about this mini is that it not only shows how Ollie  grew into the physical character who could run around a city shooting arrows at bad guys, but also the mental transformation he had to go through because the former doesn’t necessarily correlate with the latter. Ollie sees that human kindness can exist even in a hellhole where natives are enslaved and tortured which goes a long way to turn him from a self obsessed rich kid into an empathetic hero whose eyes are now open to the horrors of the world he previously didn’t see or ignored. Jock’s able to convey all of this as well as the more action packed scenes with his very specific style in a setting that allows him to draw scenes in broad daylight which really show off his skills.

Green_Arrow_the_Wonder_Year_Vol_1_1 Green Arrow: The Wonder Year (DC)
Written by Mike Grell, drawn by Gray Morrow
Green Arrow: The Wonder Year #1-4

After reading Year One, I started going through some of the longboxes I’ve got sitting in our closet in an effort to make space, read some books that have been sitting around for a long time and generally clean up. While doing that, I came across the huge number of pre-Kevin Smith Green Arrow comics I started collecting back in college. At that point, I started just buying up back issue lots on ebay so I’ve got a lot of random stuff including this Mike Grell-written, Gray Morrow-drawn miniseries called The Wonder Year. In fact it was Morrow’s name that made me want to read this right away because I just discovered his amazing art in the pages of the first Creepy collection and was blown away.

Chronologically speaking, this 1993 mini takes place right after Ollie got back from the island. It’s funny, in this version, Grell made the island a place for pot farmers, a note that Diggle obviously took, morphed and ran with in Year One. Anyway, we get to see Ollie stopping bad guys while wearing a Robin Hood costume, hating the name Green Arrow as bestowed upon him by the press and scoring that first, real GA costume.

But the real thrust of the story here is a more personal one for Ollie as he comes to discover that an old college girlfriend of his has popped back into his life with some mysterious political affiliations that turn out to be a lot more nefarious than expected. In these issues, Grell paints young Ollie as a more politically oriented and complicated character than he was in something like Year One, going so far as to get into level-headed economic discussions with his hippy pals.

When I first read these issues, I wasn’t super impressed, but after thinking about them for a while, I actually like the book a lot more. For one thing, it’s great reading a Green Arrow book without many of the aspects that became common place later on like his extended hero family (Connor, Roy, Mia, etc.) or even Black Canary. Also, for longtime Green Arrow and Ollie fans, it’s interesting to see this older romantic relationship for our hero, especially how it ended the first time and more dramatically at the very end. It’s not necessarily the kind of book that will be referenced much, but it does reveal one of the many bricks in Ollie’s wall that got put up between himself and womankind for so long.

As far as Morrow’s art goes, it’s very hit or miss in these issues. You do get to see some of that amazing shading, page composition and collage skills on display in the pages of Creepy. But, other times, the figures look very weak or half-baked and occasionally, it’s not easy to figure out what’s going on. Still, I give all that a pass because we’re talking about 30 years between Creepy and Green Arrow: The Wonder Year.

Green Arrow: The Longbow HuntersGreen Arrow: The Longbow Hunters (DC)
Written & drawn by Mike Grell
Collects Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters #1-3

Before Mike Grell launched what is still the longest running Green Arrow book of all time, he laid down the basics of his take in a three issue prestige format miniseries called The Longbow Hunters. This 1987 story took a character previously associated with big time superheroes in the Justice League and put him squarely in the real world city of Seattle, a corner of the DCU that ignored the big guns like Superman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern in favor of focusing on more street level, human dramas. Ollie wasn’t alone in this descent into more seemingly mundane madness, though, he did have Dinah “Black Canary” Lance along for the ride as the two moved in together above Sherwood Florist, the best possible name for a flower shop in the history of clever flower shop names.

But, this isn’t the story of two people settling down to a simple life of vigilantism. Instead, Ollie tries to track down someone who’s using his archery MO to kill people while Dinah investigates a drug ring. The two wind up connected and Oliver must team up with the murderer known as Shado to save Dinah and also bring the bad guys to justice while dealing with some incredibly tough moral questions about the superhero code.

I feel like I should note that, up until this time, Green Arrow not only never had his own ongoing, but wasn’t much of a character. Denny O’Neil laid a lot of the Ollie groundwork in “Hard Traveling Heroes,” comics I’ve never been able to get through because not only are they well-mined by those who came after, but also pretty heavy handed. Grell took those ideas and ran with them, adding plenty of new layers as he went. If you want to get an idea of those early days, check out Showcase Presents: Green Arrow, Vol. 1 or The Jack Kirby Omnibus Vol. 1: Starring Green Arrow to see what I mean.

Anyway, I’m a big fan of this story which, along with enjoying the then-current run on the book, lead me to start collecting the issues from this volume which eventually lead to Ollie’s death and his son Connor taking over. You hear a lot about the 80s being too dark, grim and gritty in the wake of Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns, but I think there were a lot of quality comics being put out at that time that might have dealt with more real world issues and been darker in tone, but didn’t wallow in it. In this case, Green Arrow still shines as the hero even as terrible things are going on around him.

I absolutely love Grell’s art in this book. It’s beautiful, like paintings composed in pencil, sometimes on paper that looks rough, almost like brown grocery bags. He really took advantage of not only the nicer paper quality of these prestige format books, but also the freedom to break away from the traditional grid system to do something unique. My only complaint about the composition is that, occasionally, they can be difficult to read when he goes into double page layouts where you’re supposed to read the panels straight across the spread. After reading comics for a while, I’ve realized the best way to do this is to make sure that a panel from the right hand page starts on the left hand page, so the eye naturally carries over. In many cases in this book, the second page of the spread starts in the gutter or on the second page, so your eyes go down instead of over which can be problematic. Because of all that, I don’t know if I’d recommend this book to a new comic reader or someone who wants to check out some GA comics because they like Arrow. I mean, I’ve been reading comics for 22 years and I was confused.

Even so, it’s not a terrible thing to work a little to properly enjoy a great story like this one. If you’re at all interested in the history of Green Arrow as a character this is a pretty important piece to absorb at some point, but maybe give the collection Grell’s first six issues on the book (aka Green Arrow Vol. 1: Hunters Moon that came out in 1988 to see if it’s something you’d dig. For me, it’s all thumbs up and aces. Now I want to finish up my GA collection, but also want to get my hands on the trades I’m missing from the next volume.

PS – I’m trying something a little new lately by throwing in links to Amazon pages for the books and movies I review. If you’re interested in getting your own copies of these trades, just click on the main title next to the image and that’ll take you to Amazon. If you do buy it, I get a little cut and it doesn’t cost you anything extra.

Not-So-Quick Movie Review: 54 (1998)

54 movie poster They say that pop culture has a tendency to roll back over on itself every 20 years or so. What’s old becomes new again not only because the people who were kids 20 years prior have now grown up, earned money and got nostalgic, but also because those same people have worked their way into the various creative worlds. It’s the reason why I’m seeing so many shows with references to movies I loved as a kid as well as reboots of the same, but also the reason we saw such a big uptick in 70s-based projects in the late 90s, specifically ones centered on disco and the world that grew up and died around it.

I would have been 15 when 54 came out, so I don’t have any personal connection to the heyday of disco in the late 70s. Hell, it was dead and buried by the time I was born in 1983. And yet, I have a strange second hand nostalgia for that era because of the disco era’s resurrection and examination in the late 90s. I became a huge fan of That 70s Show, which is one of the all-time best coming of age sitcoms around in my book. But there were also films like 54, The Last Days Of Disco and even The Summer of Sam that all came out around 1998 and 1999. At that same time there were a ton of TV specials about what really went on behind the velvet ropes of Studio 54, a legendary nightclub in Manhattan run by a guy named Steve Rubell who was an incredibly shrewd club owner, but not very good at hiding his less-than-honest business practices. Studio 54 was the place to do just about anything and everything, assuming you could get in.

That’s the backdrop for the 1998 film by Mark Christopher that focuses on young Shane O’Shea (Ryan Phillippe), a Jersey kid who pines to be in the big city where he just knows he’ll become rich and famous like his hero Julie Black (Neve Campbell), a fellow New Jersian who stars on a soap opera. Eventually he makes his way to Studio 54 where he literally has to leave his old life behind (they don’t let his friends in) and winds up getting a job. From there he makes a whole new group of friends including coat check girl/wannabe singer Anita (Salma Hayek) and her busboy husband Greg (Breckin Meyer) and does his best to enjoy his new social status when it doesn’t go against a moral code with roots back to his home life in Jersey.

At the end of the day, 54’s story isn’t all that mind-blowing. It’s your basic “lower-middle class kid gets a look at the world of the rich and famous and discovers its not as genuine as he though” story. But, the gilding of the time period is very engrossing if that’s something you’re interested in. All the actors really dove into the characters and seemed to dig deep into some emotional places that all get left on the screen like so many empty bottles after a big party. I wasn’t overly familiar with Phillippe outside of his standard horror appearances in the 90s, but I thought he did a quality job of actually going through the emotions instead of just the motions.I especially enjoyed his various interactions with Ellen Albertini Dow’s Disco Dottie. And, man, Mike Meyers did a killer job of bringing the off-kilter Rubell to life on the big screen.

I read that Chistopher’s intended cut of the film had about 30-40 extra minutes and a variety of extra subplots that were completely cut by Miramax, something that wasn’t uncommon back then. He got his hands on the extra footage and put together a longer version that I would like to see some day, if possible.

Casting Internets

You might have noticed a lack of Casting Internets posts lately. That’s less because I kept forgetting to do them and more because I haven’t been going through my Pocket app for ,well, most of this year. Anyway, here’s a bunch of stories from the past few months that tickled my fancy. manziel browns draft

I’m pretty excited about Johnny Manziel heading to the Browns. They’re not my main team, but I have a special place in my heart for them because my mom’s from there and my grandma was a fan her whole life. (via ESPN)

Rivers Cuomo called Rolling Stone to talk about his love of Nirvana and how the band changed his brain. Fun read for Weezer fans, especially the ones who’ve been hearing for years that he converted Kurt Cobain’s songs into an equation and then wrote his own songs with that formula.

I’m not much of a Buzz Feed fan, but I really dug Kate Aurthur’s interview with Real World San Francisco‘s Rachel about her time on the show.

08-MosEisley

I don’t know if I’ll ever have time to go through this entire post of on StarWars.com about Ralph McQuarrie’s Star Wars art, but maybe you will!schleprock america's dirty little secret

My buddy Jesse sent me this link to Jason Heller’s AV Club piece on punk in the 90s because he talks about that band Schleprock I reviewed a while back. Even without that, it’s a really solid read on a subgenera of music I still love.

Esquire‘s Jennifer M. Wood talked to director Walter Hill about his classic The Warriors. As you might expect, this is a thing I love.

I’m a big fan of Michael Ruhlman and Anthony Bourdain, so when the former interviewed the latter about modern chefs on his blog, I was interested. Personally, I like how conflicted Bourdain is about things like authenticity. It points to the fact that these issues are trickier than some might otherwise present.

Jimmy Page told Rolling Stone that he’s going to start working on his second-ever solo album. Also, I fully support the idea of a Jimmy Page/Jeff Beck tour. Yardbirds Revisited?

Riding Wth The King: The Dead Zone By Stephen King (1979)

The Dead Zone book In the past few years, I’ve developed a new respect for Stephen King and his body of work. When I was a kid I read The Shining and part of It, but soon moved on to other authors. Lately, though, I’ve found myself on the hunt for King’s books wherever I can find them which has resulted in a pretty substantial number of them hiding out under my side of the bed in unkempt to-read piles. Even though I’m partway through about four books at the moment, I decided to start something new when our boy Jack was born 7 weeks early. After looking under the bed for a while, I came out with The Dead Zone and just dove right in without knowing much about the story.

King’s fifth novel, Dead Zone follows the misadventures of Johnny Smith, a young man in a budding relationship with a woman named Sarah who gets in a car accident that puts him in a coma for four and a half years. Once he wakes up, Johnny finds that he has a strange power that allows him to experience a person’s past, present or future with a single touch. While much of the book is spent with Johnny dealing with these new abilities and trying to help out when and where he can (even if that results in media scrutiny and more public attention than he’d like) the actual thrust of the book comes in the last quarter when Johnny touches the book’s other main character Greg Stillson and discovers that he will be responsible for some kind of terrible, potentially apocalyptic disaster after getting elected president in the not too distant future. How Johnny deals with that eventually seals his fate.

The great trick of this book that I only realized towards the end is that King took an assassin who claims to have some kind of extra-sensory skills and put the reader on his side. King puts you so much in Johnny’s corner that you come to think of him as the hero of the book, which he is, but to many people on the outside, he was a looney tune nut case who tried to kill a low level politician in a very public place. We just happen to know that his powers were real and we’re involved in all the scenes of him doing good works for people that of course we’re on his side. It reminded me of that great line about villains where they never think they’re doing anything bad because they have good intentions.

Since we’re already on Johnny’s side, that leaves Stillson in the villain role and, let’s be honest, he doesn’t really fit in the above description. You get the impression that he knows he’s bad and just doesn’t care. He wants to grab for power and will do whatever it takes — from enlisting bikers for protection to threatening the press — to hold on to it. He’s a ruthless snake that reminded me a lot of “Big Jim” Rennie, the bad guy from Under The Dome. These are the kind of villains that actually scare me because they can and do exist in the real world. People who crave power often shouldn’t have it, but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to get it and wield it however they can, usually in a weapon-like manner. Stillson’s as ruthless as they come and steamrolls over just about everyone while putting on whatever exterior he needs to to keep on rolling.

My only real problem with the book is that Johnny’s powers aren’t very well defined. This is part of my longtime superhero fandom, but it seems like King plays a bit fast and loose with exactly what Johnny can do. I get that this adds to the mystery of what’s going on with him, but it seemed a little too loose. He touches a photo of someone from WWII and knows her entire history leading up to the present. He touches a woman and knows her house is on fire. He touches a kid and knows that the restaurant he and his friends want to go to will catch on fire. That’s a whole lot of power that doesn’t seem very consistent, especially the first one. Still, this isn’t a story about powers, it’s about a person with powers and how they respond to them.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book. I even felt some chills during the last time we see Sarah even though I don’t believe in such things. I think I reacted that way because of the tragic romance between Johnny and Sarah. Had one thing in life changed, they would have probably been together, gotten married and lived a love-filled life. Sure, they would have had their problems, like everyone, but the accident separated the two and eventually pushed Sarah into the arms of another man who she married and had kids with. The scene where Sarah and her son come and visit Johnny and his dad really hit me because, as King points out, this was basically a day where they all got to experience what could have been. Still, it wasn’t built to last and they all went on with their own lives and that’s how the world works.

If you’re curious to read my reviews of other King books (aside from The Shining and Under The Dome, linked above) check out my thoughts on  Misery and  The Running Man.

Grant Morrison Trade Post: Aztek The Ultimate Man

aztek JLA Presents: Aztek The Ultimate Man (DC)
Written by Grant Morrison & Mark Millar, drawn by N. Steven Harris
Collects Aztek #1-10

After reading Grant Morrison’s full run on Animal Man and the first Doom Patrol volume, I should have moved on to Arkham Asylum and then Batman: Gothic, but I don’t have the former or the latter (anymore). But, looking at his DC work, Aztek: The Ultimate Man, his 1996-1997 comic with Mark Millar, marks the next books he did. Since I had it on hand, it was easy to pull off and read through. I will say that, while I read this book fairly quickly, it was a while ago and quite a bit has happened in the meantime, but I did want to get this review up to keep the flowing going a bit.

Aztek was a completely new hero with no connections to the rest of the DCU and even a new city to protect, Vanity. Powered by a mix of sci-fi tech and fantasy elements, Aztek has been training forever to become a protector and journeyed to Vanity because that’s where something big and bad is supposed to happen. While there, he foils a crime and eventually gets the name Aztek from the local newsfolks. He also takes the identity of a doctor named Curt Falconer and is somehow able to do his job at the hospital, Pretender-style.

In addition to going through some traditional secret identity stuff (juggling the job and being a hero, romance, etc.) Aztek runs into some familiar and brand new villains as well as a few heroes like Green Lantern, Batman and Superman. We also eventually find out a bit more about the organization that trained him and the shadowy folks behind it all.

But, the whole thing felt a bit rushed and maybe even a little sloppy to me. I never felt like it was properly explained how this guy could just become a doctor with no medical training. Crazier yet, he turns out to be the best doctor in the hospital! This also wound up feeling like a 24 issues series crammed into 10 issues and then shifted over into Morrison’s run on JLA which doesn’t do it too many favors. I also don’t dig Harris’ artwork that much. It’s very angular and everything felt too extended, like the whole book was a David Lynch dream sequence. That matches the off-kilter tone of the book, but it’s not my bag.

I just realized that one of the big problems with the book is that the lead is just so bland and boring when not fighting bad guys or finding out about his past. What is there to this guy aside from what he’s done? Not much. He’s your basic good guy hero, one who happens to fall into a pretty great job and a seemingly even better situation towards the end of the run when his mysterious benefactor comes along. He lacks the swagger or charisma of a Tony Stark or Bruce Wayne and seems to out-Clark Kent Clark Kent when it comes to just being a good person trying to stop bad guys.

I also think it’s crazy that, for a few years there, Morrison and Mark Millar were writing comics together. To me it’s like finding out that Neill Blomkamp and Michael Bay had a series of films together. One creator is pretty cerebral, but still does great things in the big-time superhero space while the other goes for popcorn spectacle or “shock” tactics. Anyway, it’s always hard to figure out who wrote what in team-ups like this, but there were definitely moments in this book where I found myself guessing at who added which bit of the tale.

Anyway, I think Aztek is probably the least Morrison-y book of his I’ve ever read. There are some of his signature wild ideas, but overall, it’s a fairly standard superhero story with the problems I already mentioned above. In fact, aside from a few appearances, the book even feels like an independent comic. And, aside from the eventual JLA inclusion that was actually pretty great, Aztek might have been better suited as an Image book if it was, in fact, planned as a much larger story than presented in this trade.

Even with the complaints levied against Aztek, I will be keeping this book in my collection. I’ve still got a bit of that completist vibe, so it feels pretty necessary for my JLA collection. Plus, like most of Morrison’s comics, I think that fairly regular re-readings help fully absorb the material. I’ve since interrupted my chronological Morrison read-through, but I should be getting to the Morrison/Millar Flash run fairly soon. In the meantime, you can check out my older reviews of JLA Volume 1, JLA Volume 2 and Flash: The Human Race.

We Want Action: Escape Plan (2013)

escape plan poster[As you’ll be able to tell shortly, this was originally written back in March.] It’s kind of funny that I happened to watch Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone in Escape Plan the same weekend as the former’s Sabotage also debuted. I didn’t plan on being relatively timely, I just wanted to watch a movie with two of my favorite action stars. Sure, it would have been cool to see these guys team up on the big screen in the 80s, but I don’t know if that would have made for a better movie.

In Mikael Håfström’s Escape Plan, Stallone plays Ray Breslin, a guy who goes to jail in order to test the prison’s ability to keep criminals inside. He works with a team that includes Abigail (Amy Ryan), Hush (50 Cent) and his business partner Lester (Vincent D’Onofrio). Breslin gets hired to test a top secret prison that holds the worst of the worst. He agrees and wakes up inside the Tomb, a state of the art prison run by Hobbes (Jim Caviezel). It becomes clear to Breslin pretty quickly that he got tricked into going to this particular lock-up. He soon teams up with Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger) to break out of the craziest prison around. 

I’m sure a lot of people aren’t interested in watching a couple of dudes in their late 60s play action roles and that’s fine. I’d be a little uncomfortable with it myself if it wasn’t these two guys. Much like Schwarzenegger’s The Last Stand, this movie doesn’t pretend that these are two guys in their prime like some of the latter day Chuck Norris films did. Sure, there are a fair amount of fist fights and more running around than even I do on a normal basis, but the action itself didn’t seem forced upon characters or actors unable to handle it.

With echoes of  my beloved Prison Break and even that Gerard Butler movie Law Abiding Citizen, I had as much fun watching Escape Plan as I hoped I would. But, what really boosted this film in my mind was Caviezel’s portrayal of Hobbes. He really just goes for the craziness of it all and fully embraces it. He’s a ruthless man who wants to keep his ship sailing as smoothly as possible, so seeing that and him break down is a treat. You don’t get to see much of that these days because it can so easily veer into the kind over-the-top territory Stallone and Schwarzenegger movies of yore lived in, but Caviezel walks that line pretty damn well in my book. For what it’s worth, I also really enjoyed 50 Cent in what might be his most understated role to date (or at least in my experience).

At the end of the day, I don’t think Escape Plan is the kind of movie that will change anyone’s opinion of Stallone or Schwarzenegger like Cop Land did for the former back in the late 90s, but it is a fun, well put together action film that looks great and has a super-game cast that seemed to have fun with the material.

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Mutagen Ooze

I don’t know anything about the current Ninja Turtles cartoon, but after re-watching the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie I started searching around YouTube for TMNT toy commercials and stumbled upon this one for the Playmates Mutagen Ooze figures. I gotta say, I know the 6 year old version of me would have thought this goop-tossing action feature would be fantastic, but the 31 year old dad version of me is all like, “Man, that would make for a lot of clean-up.” Dag, you guys, that is a lot of ooze all over the place.