Joe Harris’s Great Pacific–A great use of the comic book medium

By C.J. Bunce

The TV series Arrow has done some surprisingly good things with the classic DC Comics character Green Arrow.  Many elements of Green Arrow’s more than 70 years as a popular superhero at least get touched on in the series, and if you ask around, comic book fans and more mainstream TV viewers are watching, enjoying, and talking about the show.  It blends the best of the superhero genre, a good adventure series, and yes, a bit of the CW Network’s prime time “soap” formula.   Oliver Queen gets his billionaire status, he even has a potential sidekick in a sister with substance abuse issues he calls Speedy, he has his bow and arrows, and one thing that has helped define him for the past 50 years–his love interest, Dinah, now Laurel, Lance.  Without his Black Canary, you don’t really have Green Arrow.  Just look back to the best of Green Arrow’s past via writers Denny O’Neil and Mike Grell.  But if there is one thing missing in the TV series Arrow, it is the most obvious thing of all: the “Green”.  It’s not just a word describing the guy’s supersuit.  At least it doesn’t have to be.  In a time when the green movement should be at its strongest, it’s ironic that the creators of the show have shied away from the concept.  Sure, the new Oliver Queen is all about saving his city.  But the Oliver Queen we have all loved since 1971 is an activist–ever since he first chastised Green Lantern for not watching out for everyman, not just every alien.  Oliver is outspoken.  He is political.  He is progressive.  He’d probably be considered a social liberal today. This defines Green Arrow and it has for years.  Arrow–the series–is getting far closer to the core of Oliver Queen than the writers of the New 52 over the past year.

Granted it is difficult to make a mainstream TV lead be political like Green Arrow has been in decades of the comic books.  But even the New 52 writers have stayed away from the core beliefs behind Oliver Queen in favor of a more safe, merely anti-corporate, frustrated figure, who just happens to wield a bow and arrow (and to be fair the creators are pretty much adapting the modern comic book mini-series Year One, itself a reboot). And Jim Lee even had his artists nix the goatee–a physical element that has come back into style in recent years more than ever.   Why eliminate such elements when they could only help Green Arrow’s mystique–why take away the very traits that can make him modern?

So what does Green Arrow have to do with Great Pacific, a new series this month from Image Comics?

The lead character Chas Worthington could be renamed Oliver Queen and you’d have the guts here of a classic Green Arrow story, including the billionaire status, the loyal friends.  The first issue may seem preachy to some in the way of the famous early seventies, anti-drug, Green Arrow story arc featuring sidekick Speedy.  But then again there is a lot to learn and think about with Great Pacific and readers can only hope the writer, Joe Harris, takes off his gloves and really doubles down on this environmentalism stuff.  Heck, it even got shafted as a subject in the last presidential election, so someone needs to bring the topic back to the fore.  It is exciting to see a new comic book series like Great Pacific do what it is doing.

A preview of Great Pacific Issue #2.

Like the real-life Christopher McCandless from Jon Krakauer’s superb account Into the Wild, well-to-do 23-year-old Chas Worthington, drops everything, even fakes his own death to take on the accumulation of plastic grocery bags across the world, piled up in islands or gyres in the Earth’s oceans, including the real-life “Great Pacific garbage patch.”  That’s right–you have a comic book protaganist trying to solve real-world problems–huge seemingly unsolvable problems.  Great Pacific Issue #1 begins with statistics about plastics in landfills and in our oceans.  Much can be learned here, and maybe even prompt readers to focus more on ecology and conservation.  Things like swapping plastic bags for reusable canvas bags, which not only prevents accumulation at landfills but protects birds and other animals from getting caught and strangled to death from bags in those mounds.  It’s a unique idea to put forth as a topic in the medium and a great concept.  And Harris’s characters are interesting and likeable.  Where there is risk of coming off as a morality tale, Harris avoids that and instead delivers a good story that happens to be about environmentalism.  If only DC Comics’ writers for Green Arrow could check out this story and bring back some of Oliver Queen’s core values for future issues of the monthly comic book, and maybe even add a bit of Oliver’s passion to flesh out his character in the successful and nicely done TV series.

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