Review by C.J. Bunce
A slick hardcover version of the 2011 restarted series, Green Arrow, has been published, collecting Issues #1-7. This is not to be confused with the New 52 reboot starting in the Fall of 2011. Called Green Arrow: Into the Woods, it is a “Brightest Day” sequence storyline that conjures some good bits of Oliver Queen’s past, and includes some of the best cover art and interior art of any recent Green Arrow series. The story was written by J.T. Krul, with art by illustrators Diogenes Neves and Mike Mayhew. Some of the best covers ever done featuring Green Arrow are found in this collection, all painted by the great cover artist Mauro Cascioli.
In part 1 (originally Issue #1), Ollie has truly reverted to his roots, inspired by his hero Robin Hood. After the destruction of Star City and Ollie killing Prometheus in Justice League: Cry for Justice, Ollie is living in the mysterious forest that has sprouted in the aftermath of Star City’s destruction. This is the classic Green Arrow of Mike Grell’s influence. His former company, Queen Enterprises is taken over by a mysterious woman referred to only as the Queen. And Hal Jordan aka Green Lantern shows up to find Ollie.
In part 2 (originally Issue #2) we learn more about the secret identity of the Queen. Hal loses his power in the woods, and he and Ollie must defeat some goons sent by the Queen to destroy Ollie. The entire issue consists of battle scenes, but we do learn that the creation of the forest is somehow related to the powerful White Lantern. Krul also introduces a new character, a medieval looking fellow, who has no dialogue, but appears from nowhere. This part ends in a bizarre cliffhanger, with seemingly the death of Ollie for the umpteenth time, via an arrow shot through his forehead.
But there are five more parts to get through, right? So no dead Ollie. Part 3 (originally Issue #3) is a strange, ethereal story, and we cannot be sure what is happening. A medieval dressed fellow claims to be the one and only Galahad, knight of the Round Table. Only viewing this meeting as a dream sequence makes sense, yet it appears the story is moving forward with this odd new partner to Oliver. This is never fully explained in this entire volume. The forest comes alive with the White Lantern’s light, but not before several flashbacks for Ollie, where we meet his father and mother, and Ollie revisits the mistakes of his past. Is this something real or imagined, for Oliver Queen? Impossible to tell.
In part 4 (originally Issue #4) Ollie encounters the Martian Manhunter, J’onn J’onnz, originally thought dead, but re-created out of the White Lantern’s power. Like Green Lantern, the Manhunter’s power is also zapped by the power of the woods. And Mary, a woman he saved from modern day bandits in the woods, manages to keep Ollie busy, as she, too, sees herself as a leader destined to protect the citizens that remain in the aftermath of Star City.
As Ollie begins to believe a murderer of several high ranking citizens could be Mary, he goes to confront her but instead discovers a strange villainess in part 5 (Issue #5). Named Nix, she murders an innocent to escape from Ollie. For those that can keep up with the events of Into the Woods, it is at this point that the story falters. The woods come alive, and (too) quick decision-making by Ollie and Galahad is required to fend off a band of demon-like creatures, summoned by the Black Lantern. Again, we cannot be sure whether this is a reality for Ollie, or whether he is still part of some dream. The low-point of the book is here, where Ollie must face off against an image of his father, which ends up not as his father at all. But you get the odd feeling he is Luke visiting the forbidden tree to confront Vader in Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back.
All of the attacks on Ollie, and on Hal and J’onn in the woods, were caused by the Queen, and so, in part 6 (Issue #6) Oliver attacks Queen Industries to take on the Queen, where he also confronts her minion, the assassin he met earlier in the story. The Queen reveals herself as a character from the family’s distant past. Confused, Oliver (not us) manages to return to the forest. Before that, this part becomes a story of a bitter past for Ollie’s parents, ultimately lacking some necessary emotion and the point of it all… never really comes together.
Although this isn‘t the worst of Green Arrow stories, it is missing something. Oliver is alone, and yet you wonder if we needed a seven issue story arc to illustrate that aloneness. The character Galahad comes with no explanation. Why Galahad? We see pieces of a story and as readers we try to make them fit together, but I’m not sure it is all meant to be coherent.
Out of the chaos comes the high point of Into the Woods. And that is Mike Mayhew’s art in part 7 (Issue #7). It may be that this is one of the best renderings of Green Arrow in years. I have shared emails with Mike in the past, and he explained that he was influenced by Mike Grell in this issue. The look of Oliver was based on a friend of Mayhew, who looks a bit like actor Cary Elwes. I have seen the original pencil work of Issue #7, and the issue is an example of ink work that mutes the power of the underlying spectacular art. Even so, the visuals in this issue surpass the rest of the book, and for this reason Green Arrow fans who missed the original Issue #7 will be wise to check out Into the Woods. As for the story in part 7, it amounts to a vision of Oliver meeting his mother in the woods, and a too-sappy effort at Oliver being forced to revisit his past and forgive himself. If you’re expecting an ending, there is none offered here, as the story is continued and concluded in a to-be released second volume called Green Arrow: Salvation. Look for some good images of alternate covers at the end of the book.
Despite the meandering story, there are bits of good to be found here. But the less-than stellar story is pretty much made up for by the impressive look of the book. Diogenes’s work is well done, if not the best Green Arrow in the history of the character it at least shows a familiar Green Arrow readers can enjoy. However, Mike Mayhew’s work in the last chapter, plus some great covers by Mauro Cascioli, are a pretty stunning collection of images. If the cover is not the best of the Mike Grell inspired Green Arrow covers on record, it comes pretty close. Strangely enough, neither Mayhew nor Cascioli get any cover credit for their work on this book.
Green Arrow: Into the Woods lists for $22.99, but can be found cheaper online.