Green Arrow, a borg? Seriously? I’ll explain. But first some background for those who don’t follow him or (gasp!) never heard of the longbow hunter, especially since DC Comics last week announced (as reported here) he is one of the 52 DC picks getting his own series this September. (Not to be confused with the other green JLA member hitting the theaters this weekend).
As a lifelong comic book fan my favorite character in comics is Green Arrow. Like most comic superheroes Green Arrow, the alias of billionaire Oliver Queen, has died or was believed dead and has returned as only comic book superheros can. In the past 7o years you’ll find him featured as a background character and then get his own title comic and then get lost in the background again, with his real renaissance and staying power starting in the 1970s. In disguise Green Arrow dresses somewhat like Robin Hood, is a superb archer (who at times has a quiver of trick arrows) and once was mayor of Star City (and in my favorite incarnation lived in modern day Seattle, Washington). It’s not hard to spot that Green Arrow at first appeared as a Bruce Wayne knockoff, often possessing the same detective skills as the dark knight. Here is a previously unpublished drawing of the classic Green Arrow as seen by renowned comic book artist Howard Chaykin:
Green Arrow was created about the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 by DC artists George Papp and Mort Weisinger, the DC editor who also created Aquaman (and published the book “1001 Valuable Things You Can Get Free”). Green Arrow had a sidekick named Speedy and together they generally seemed to mirror Batman and Robin in general look and action. For his first few decades it was easy to see Green Arrow lost in the large cast of DC characters. He was a clean cut guy with a feather in his Robin Hood cap. Speedy would have passed for Green Arrow, only donning a red outfit instead of green.
In 1969 artist Neal Adams overhauled Green Arrow’s look, giving him a more detailed costume and a goatee, with his new (and largely still current) look first seen in The Brave and the Bold #85. Later that year writer Dennis O’Neil followed up by overhauling Oliver’s back story and attitude in issue 75 of the Justice League of America series. GA had lost his fortune and his response was becoming an outspoken advocate of the underprivileged. No longer just another superhero in tights, Green Arrow actually looked tough and became an advocate for everyman.
Adams and O’Neil came together in 1971 to focus on Green Arrow and in doing so started an entirely new age of comics and comics storytelling. With issue 76 of the regular Green Lantern series, Oliver Queen joined up with Lantern Hal Jordan and Queen’s now girlfriend Dinah Lance, alias Black Canary. The three started a road trip across America over the next year and Oliver and Hal had the feel of a Butch and Sundance partnership, with Dinah rounding out the trio of “Hard Traveling Heroes,” advocating social change and fixing the America’s problems one town and at time. Green Lantern 76 (co-titled “Green Lantern/Green Arrow”) is a highly sought-after issue today, fetching thousands of dollars in mint condition. The short series within a series peaked with issues 85-86, when Oliver learns Speedy was addicted to drugs. In one short series comics changed from the clean-cut comics of the Dennis the Menace era to the beginnings of modern comics that would later bring us a dark brooding Batman in the 1980s “Dark Knight Returns” mini-series. Comic historians universally tag Green Lantern 76 (below) as the first modern “Silver Age” comic book.
In hindsight it is difficult to understand why the Adams/O’Neil run didn’t keep going. But Green Arrow again got relegated to fill-in stories in Flash 217-219, Justice League, Action Comics and World’s Finest Comics with a brief resurgence with Hal in the Green Lantern series where artist Mike Grell first starts drawing as the regular Green Arrow artist. Here is the original comic art of a classic Silver Age Justice League version of Green Arrow and Black Canary by the late Don Heck with Romeo Tanghal inks:
In 1983 for the first time Green Arrow got a solo book. Prior to the late 1980s comic books looked pretty much the same, with prices rising steadily but not much in terms of change of media. Then in 1986 Frank Miller published The Dark Knight Returns series in a thin trade paperback style—what we now think of as graphic novels. Frank Miller’s Batman was a washed-up anti-hero in retirement, pessimistic and angry, drawn in a loud and sprawling style that reminded me of Howard Chaykin. I first took note of the new comic format when my friend had a copy of The Killing Joke sitting on his music stand in school (when the conductor saw it he flung it across the room). The Killing Joke was a gritty look at the Joker’s origin story and garnered its own public responses of the “comics aren’t what they used to be” variety. Most notably The Joker attacks beloved character Barbara Gordon/Batgirl who permanently loses the use of her legs—a story element that we learned last week is now going away with the DC reboot in September. Story-wise, DC raised the stakes for all comics with these two titles. As to incredible color and page quality, the comic book medium had finally arrived.
In 1987 Mike Grell began to write and illustrate Green Arrow in his own limited “prestige format” title: The Longbow Hunters. Grell here again redefined Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance’s/Black Canary’s relationship into its current form. Other than noticing him as an extra in Justice League of America, my fascination with this character came with Grell’s new regular series that debuted soon after Longbow Hunters, with the first ever Green Arrow “annual” a three-part story along with the first Detective Comics annual and the first annual of the short-lived Question series. Displacing the long dead “Comics Code” label with a new “Mature Reader” warning, Green Arrow was a new series any teen would be drawn toward. Grell stripped away most of Queen’s superhero components and he instead became just another guy in Seattle, but using his detective skills to fight crime on the side, while he and Dinah ran a floral shop called the Sherwood Florist as a seemingly normal couple. It may sound a little hokey but the relationship worked. At a time when teens define who they are, you could do a lot worse than being exposed to the stories of Oliver and Dinah. These two acknowledged the troubles and realities of the real world and their real power was in making the decision to reach out and lend a hand to others. Mike Grell’s art and stories cemented for me the quintessential Green Arrow and Black Canary. Below is a previously unpublished Grell sketch of his hooded longbow hunter Oliver and Dinah:
So in the coming weeks I plan to share more information about Green Arrow and Black Canary. But back to the borg question… is Green Arrow really a borg? Strangely enough, in Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, we see the DC universe in the distant future, retired superheroes abound, including Oliver Queen, now missing his left arm from some unexplained encounter with Superman. By the time Miller followed up DKR with the sequel “The Dark Knight Strikes Again,” Oliver Queen returns as feisty as ever, this time using a replacement mechanical arm. For that alone, Green Arrow should fit right in here–not today, but in the future of Miller’s vision of tomorrow, even Green Arrow becomes a borg. Miller’s borgified-armed Green Arrow of the future:
With the new reboot of all the DC universe characters beginning in September, maybe writer JT Krul will fill in some blanks for us about Green Arrow’s future.