Comics

Shadow of the Bat: "Green Arrow #24"

It's Green Arrow vs. Batman in the pages of Green Arrow #24, but not quite. Because it's the past, and Ollie it's quite Green Arrow yet, and it's not quite "versus."


Green Arrow #24

Publisher: DC
Length: 22 pages
Writer: Jeff Lemire, Andrea Sorrentino
Price: $3.99
Publication Date: 2014-01
Amazon

To begin, here's a note on something from the recent past, circa 2001.

The scene plays out in the pages of the Back Then newly-minted Green Arrow (volume three for those keeping count), scribed by the formidable Kevin Smith and beautifully visualized by Phil Hester.

Hester's artistic style is crucial to understanding the scene. But first you need to know what happens. It's Batman and Green Arrow riding in the Batmobile, with Green Arrow just recently back from the dead. And the entire scene is banter about how Ollie Queen, the Green Arrow seems to be a cheap knock-off of the Batman, although Arrow-themed rather than Bat-totemed.

"We could have taken the Arrow-mobile," Ollie suggests as they drive, then "or taken the Arrow-plane" right after Batman suggests needing to get to the Bat-plane. "Arrow-plane, good God man, have you ever had an original thought?" Batman pipes. It's the kind of blow more laced with schoolyard savagery than with any kind of amicable, collegial rivalry. And for a moment you're thinking, has Smith strayed too far into Kerouac Country?

But Kerouac or no, Smith is dealing with a perennial Green Arrow problem. Perennial and appearing so frequently throughout the character's publication history, it almost seems to be the very ground, the character stands upon.

It's the same problem the Smallville showrunners had to deal with in their particular mythology, one they solved by casting Justin Hartley as Green Arrow in a world sans Batman. It's the same problem that the illustrious Jack Kirby dealt with Way Back When. And Kirby dealt with this problem by weaving in strands of internationalism and diplomacy as a secondary through-narrative.

But Smith confronts the problem of Green Arrow being a cheap Batman rip-off differently, although, not entirely satisfactorily. Smith's Batman-vee-Arrow comes in a post-'90s world. It's post-Whedon, post-Buffy the Vampire Slayer's smirky, quirky humor, post Bruce Timm's lavish Art Deco Gothic in the gorgeous Batman: the Animated Series. Post all that retrofitted zaniness we saw on shows like Amblin's Animaniacs and Freakazoid!.

Smith riffs perfectly on that '90s creative sentiment, and that riff loops in beautifully with Hester's updated Bruce-Timm-but-slightly-more-serious-slightly-more-edgy artwork. You can read about it for yourself in Green Arrow: Quiver (and you really should read Quiver, because it achieves what few other books have--it dusts off a somewhat dated thematic, Green Arrow's famous roadtrip from the '70s, and parlays that into a workable metaphor for a look at the entire DCU circa 2001).

Personally, it's hard for me to get through Ollie looking like a little bit of a chump in his own book. I understand that the scene is meant to play like a kind of evolution of Whedonesque '90s humor, a kind of you're-right-now-deal-with-it sarcasm from Ollie to Batman, and I know that Hester does the same for the artwork by evolving the Timm '90s sensibility, but I'm not sure I'm comfortable granting the premise, and I know that back in 2001, there was a pecking order to the DCU and Batman was Top Dog in an exclusionary kind of way. But even knowing these things, I'm not sure I can entirely grant the premise. Must Ollie play second fiddle to Batman in his own book? Am I ok with that? Maybe not so much.

It's really this wrestling with the idea of the Green Arrow in the face of the far more successful idea of the Batman, that takes center stage in "Prodigal," which is a Batman: Zero Year tie-in. It's however far back in time it was (recently, although DC's been mum on exactly how far back), and Oliver Queen has just returned from his ordeal on the island. He hasn't adopted the alter ego of the Green Arrow as yet, but his ordeal has taught him to appreciate the bow as a weapon. Gotham's gone dark and madmen and urban injustice are rampant. To confront the disaster conditions, Moira Queen, Ollie's mom, has entered Gotham. And now she's been taken hostage. Enter Oliver Queen, into the murk of Gotham, before he even donned the Emerald.

What makes "Prodigal" so completely arresting is the same thing that made that scene from Quiver so memorable even more than a decade on--it's the interplay between writer's craft and artist's craft that makes for a psychological vividness.

The scene plays out: Moira is about to be extracted by ex-Marine John Diggle, who heads the Queen Industries security team that accompanied her. Firefly shows up, although he himself hasn't yet decided on his nom de crime, which is hauntingly beautiful because it demonstrates the psychology of disarray that everyone find themselves in, even opportunistic criminals. Batman shows up to rescue the situation. But being novitiate, winds up needing, and ultimately being rescued, by Ollie.

As the two tag each other in and alternate punching out Firefly, a new Green Arrow-Batman dynamic emerges. Ollie is raw and damaged and broken and Batman scans as an over-prepared schoolboy, arrogant and overbearing, borderline pompous. Artist Andrea Sorrentino's beautiful linework offers readers a deep intuition on how jagged and raw and disassembled Ollie must be feeling. And at the same time, the clean precision of Sorrentino's Batman shows how put-together he seems, and how simultaneously eerie and inspiring put-togetherness reads in such a landscape as Gotham in it's Zero Year.

That new dynamic of Batman-as-blowhard from Ollie's perspective, and Arrow-as-disaffected-therefore-ineffectual is beautiful because it allows for an equivalence of perspective, and allows for Batman and Green Arrow to be on a far more equal footing. It is Green Arrow stepping out of the shadow of the Bat for the first time, perhaps in his entire publication history.

But that's not even the best part of the book. The best part is Moira recognizing her own son, despite the paltry hood and the rugged beard and the world knowing, knowing beyond doubt that Oliver Queen must be dead. And even when you get through the raw emotion of that, that last page will still blow you away.

It's hard to keep piling accolade upon accolade on this book. But in the hands of Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino, Green Arrow has become something special again. And it simply deserves to be read by you, whoever you are.

Go Behind the scenes with the Draft source code.

8

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

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7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

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