Every few years, established superhero comic characters go through one of two events: they’re either revamped or killed. Some are left with the ultimate indignity . . . being killed off and then revamped. Often, what’s left is a character that has little relation to the original and manages both to alienate older readers and leave new ones uninterested. The many and varied versions of DC’s Hawkman is a perfect example of this. However, occasionally a character is brought back with a “back-to-basics” concept or, to be truthful, “back-to-the-last-time-the-character-was-popular-and/or-successful.” Such has happened to the original Green Arrow.
The venerable DC character has been around longer than many of the other characters in the DC publishing universe but suffered badly in the past decade. Like so many other characters, Green Arrow was a victim of creator interruptus. That is, creators who had either no idea what to do with the character or wildly conflicting visions of what the character should be. When Oliver Queen, the original Green Arrow, was killed off a few years ago, there was little outcry. Of course, death is merely a transitory state in comics (unlike reality), and many figured it was only a matter of time before Queen returned and took back his mantle as Green Arrow. For the past two years or so, filmmaker and auteur Kevin Smith has been making noise about reviving the character and returning Queen to his former glory. So the fans waited . . . and waited . . . and waited. But finally, the character returned. However, the verdict is still out on whether this revival was worth waiting for. In some ways he has done right by his labor of love, but, in other ways, this revival misses the mark.
The first issue began promisingly with the sudden reappearance of a Green Arrow in Star City and the populace wondering whom this new Emerald Archer could be. The final page revealed a literally ragtag Green Arrow who owed more to homeless ingenuity than sophisticated weaponry. It was a promising start that would not be followed up in the next two issues. At the start of the second issue, Ollie has cleaned himself up with the help of an altruistic civilian and is once again waging war against “fat-cats” an uninteresting way to follow up the promise of the premiere issue. Smith begins a few side stories, and readers learn that Ollie thinks that it is only just after the events of the celebrated Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories of well over a decade ago. And by the third issue, Green Arrow shows even more effects of this memory loss. The last page shows a shocked Aquaman reacting to the reappearance of his formerly “dead” teammate. It is only with issue four’s integration of the prime DC heroes, such as the Justice League’s Superman and Wonder Woman, that Smith finally shows that he’s running the story.
The mystery remains: how has Ollie been revived? But, of equal interest, is the way he interacts with his former comrades. After defeating the villainous Black Manta, Ollie and Aquaman look at each other and simultaneously ask, “What the hell happened to you?” For Ollie, it’s a question with far deeper meaning. By placing the revived Green Arrow at the end of the classic Dennis O’Neil/Neil Adams run, Smith has returned the character to a simpler, more heroic time before the advent of the “grim and gritty,” angst-ridden hero. He remembers the Aquaman of old with the nerdy orange shirt and short hair. Smith has bystepped a slew of publishing potholes (including the violent Green Arrow series, The Longbow Hunters by Mike Grell) and made the character enjoyable again. A sense of fun comes through to the reader. Ollie is himself enjoying being back in action, but, by contrast, he is out of sync with the newer versions of his old comrades. Green Lantern and the Flash are new people, Aquaman has hardened, the Martian Manhunter has become more and more alien, and Batman is well, he’s more extreme than Ollie remembers. It’s little wonder that he panics and lashes out because everyone is so different that he cannot identify with them anymore. This is the past looking at the present and wondering what has gone wrong. Why all the anger? Why all the pain and suffering? Someone took the fun out of comics, and Ollie is reacting to this in the same way that many readers have with stunned amazement.
As with the previous issues, Smith manages to convey the different personalities of the Justice League in only a few panels: Aquaman’s sense of humor as he makes everyone wait for the mystery guest, Wonder Woman’s royal nature by being annoyed at having to wait, etc. The young Flash shows a measure of fearful respect for Ollie that has never been seen before, and Batman, after displaying a dislike of having to go to the moon (a wonderful bit of characterization), is the one who handles the situation and does what no one else was willing to do. Still, none of the essential questions are answered here. We still do not know what happened to Ollie or how he was brought back but it is enjoyable watching him rattle his former teammates.
With many superhero comics, it is senseless to look for any depth or meaning beneath the blood and thunder because it’s usually not there. With some books, there is an exploration of what it means to be a superhero in today’s world and our own search for the lost meaning of heroes. Kevin Smith’s Green Arrow is not a magnum opus, but it does do something that is very difficult these days: entertain while making the reader think at the same time. Which of these heroes is truly out of place? The memory-deficient Green Arrow? Or, the harder, harsher heroes of today? Oliver Queen may be the “fish out of water” character, but this is the most entertaining he’s been in years. It’s enough to make the reader curious about what happens next. Which, in the end, is the true job of the storyteller.