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I was introduced to Green Arrow through a mutual friend, Jack Kirby. More specifically, The Green Arrow by Jack Kirby, now reprinted in a thin trade DC put out about 9 years ago, which contained an origin story for the emerald archer.
I’d read that story before, much earlier in my life, but I’ll never be able to exactly place when. It’s probably not the first origin for the character, who’s been around since 1941, but it was an origin that was simple, easy, and cemented early Green Arrow in my mind as that slightly goofier Batman – he had an assistant, a car, an arrow signal, and fought crime, but without the darkness that came with Batman‘s alleyway trauma.
This goofiness, the fact that his millionaire playboy personality was represented in his costumed persona as much as out of it, unlike Bruce Wayne, made his shift to social crusader in the Bronze Age all the more interesting. He really grew as a character, hit rock bottom and built his way back into his own type of hero – no longer in Batman’s shadow, but filling a spot in the DC Universe that was entirely his own.
To me, he became a symbol, the first real Modern Age hero. This was what happened when a cookie cutter bad guy basher of the Golden Age opened his eyes and saw the real problems in the world around him.
Now, Green Arrow’s origin gets a retelling courtesy of writer Andy Diggle and artist Mark Simpson (most commonly credited as the monosyllabic “Jock.”) They’re here to bring Green Arrow to a new audience, give a clear modern starting point to this contemporary Robin Hood.
As we’ve mentioned before (in our Teen Titans: Year One review) this is a fairly monumental task, not only to create a work that respects continuity enough to encourage readers to move on to the other existing titles, but also to stand up to the Year One label and the inevitable comparisons it draws to the Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s legendary Batman revitalization. Diggle and Jock are quick to rise to the challenge, both talented and experienced creators coming fresh off a large project together (The Losers.)
What they’ve come up with is sure to draw in new readers and please many Green Arrow fans. Here, Oliver Queen (already sporting a hint of the facial hair that will come to be a bit of a trademark) is taken forcefully from his life of unfulfilling excess and thrust into a battle for his life on an abandoned island.
The island is from the original origin, always a great excuse for him to develop his excellent skills as an archer. But unlike the earlier story, this one is tinted with intrigue and darkness from the start. Instead of simply accidentally falling overboard and having to hunt for survival, the battle here ends up being much more literal, and Queen is exposed early to horrors that plant the seeds for his latter strength of character.
It doesn’t feel rushed, but obviously a castaway story in 160 pages isn’t going to play out at the same pace for the entire book.
The climax and ending are extremely satisfying, and along the way all the pieces fall into place – including some excellent foreshadowing for “future” character development in the Bronze Age series.
Through all of it, Jock lends a vibrant atmosphere to a fairly dark tale.
The closest thing I could compare it to would be Far Cry, a videogame where you find yourself stalking through a jungle. It is, of course, much more beautifully rendered (Far Cry is probably quite dated now), but those who have played the game should get an immediate idea of what I’m referring to – a world that’s brutal and bloody, yet also unyielding beautiful.
Take that and pass it through Jock’s talented hands and you get a stylized rendering of fight sequences that could top any in a five star action movie. His work here isn’t quite as amazing as some of the covers I’ve seen him do for Batman books, but it tells the story clearly at all times – the sometimes vagueness of the backgrounds is contrasted by the perfect amount of detail on the faces to secure appreciation of expression.
It helps that David Baron has done such a spectacular job with this book’s colors. He brings just the exact right tints and shades of oranges, greens, purples and blues. It’s really beautiful work and ties the story together. When the last page is reached, just by the colors, it’s a different world, the start of a new story.
If I have any qualms about the book at all, its that it perhaps does one goal too well – with Oliver Queen built into the character he will later become, suddenly there is a large period in his (publishing history) life that becomes unexplainable. He has seen intense loss and known great debt through this journey, so how does one explain the return to playboy life between his origins and the Green Arrow / Green Lantern series?
If he is already the Modern Age crusader we love, what happens to the fall from grace and opening to a new perspective that made him so interesting? Without his Golden Age career, did he ever really have a change of heart about what a superhero should be?
If anything, the end of this book seems to leave Green Arrow closer to being a clone of Batman (maybe modern Batman this time) than he has been in years – the aforementioned last panel could be a Batman panel, just switch the costume and weapon. This is probably something that would trouble a long time fan much more than a new reader, however – because most new readers will probably skip all the pre-crisis material altogether and go into one of Green Arrow’s modern ongoings.
For them, this condensed version (where his growth as a person is also moved into his origin as a superhero, instead of coming later) may be just what they need.
Hopefully they will come to love the character as much as the rest of us, and then his historical roots will intrigue them.
There’s no wrong way to get into Green Arrow.
4 out of 5. A blockbuster action movie (Die Hard on the beach!) slammed into the origin of a cult favorite hero – and it works. Fantastic art and a very enjoyable story. My only misgivings are based on how this rethinking of the origin effects such a long running character, but for new readers these issues will probably be non-existent.
Let’s say yes: this is Green Arrow’s modern age origin story.
To get the origin I’m personally more familiar with, check out The Green Arrow by Jack Kirby, mentioned earlier. But I actually think it can be read after.
As I said above, the Jack Kirby book can be read after, since it takes place when Green Arrow is already operative as a hero. Also, since you will probably BE a Green Arrow fan after this book, you’ll have more reason to seek it out.
After that, if you’re not already making your way down the entire Green Arrow Reading Order, you should at least pick up Green Lantern / Green Arrow: Volume 1 and Volume 2, which were extremely important Bronze Age publications, before making your way to his modern age ongoing collections.