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.
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 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.