From the Bookshelf
by Nicolas Juzda
Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters
Green Arrow is currently enjoying a resurgence of interest thanks to the Kevin Smith revival. But this isn't the first time that a new series has allowed the venerable Oliver Queen to leap from semi-obscurity and into the spotlight of fan and critical acclaim. A bit more than a decade ago, writer Mike Grell wrote a mini-series and then the first several years of an ongoing series about Green Arrow that made him, for a brief time, one of DC's more successful characters.
Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters reprints the mini-series that began the Grell period. It collects the three double-sized issues, with full-sized reproductions of their original wrap-around covers, and includes an introduction by Mike Gold.
My copy has an original cover and retailed for sixteen bucks in Canada, thirteen in the U.S. But a trip to my friendly neighbourhood comic shop has shown me that inflation has driven the price up to twenty-five dollars in Canada, and bumped the American price to fifteen. Inexplicably, the latest version no longer has the original cover, instead using that of the first issue it reprints. They've hiked the price and are giving you less, people! Start writing angry letters.
The story centres around Green Arrow's search for "The Robin Hood Killer", an archer who has been murdering people across the United States. The trail of deaths has lead to Seattle, his new home, so he confronts the assassin, as well as becoming involved in another case, "The Seattle Slasher", and a drug smuggling operation that Black Canary is investigating.
As that summary indicates, there are a lot of plot threads in this story, and while they all do eventually connect, some of those connections seem contrived. Not nearly as contrived as the junkie who bursts through their window and sets Black Canary onto a drug case, but contrived nonetheless. The merging of the Shado and Seattle Slasher cases, in particular, revolves around an unbelievable coincidence of location.
The Seattle Slasher supplies much of the plot for the first issue, which is good because otherwise that issue would have been pretty boring, but it still feels like Grell is killing time as he gets the Shado plotline up to speed. Not much is done to make the reader see the Seattle Slasher as anything more than a target for Ollie to fix upon until the real show begins. He's just a lunatic who likes killing prostitutes. References in the narration to patterns of hunters seem to indicate that he is meant to parallel Green Arrow in some way, but the connection remains unfocussed, unlike the explicit comparisons between Ollie and Shado.
The character of Shado is explored at greater length, but ultimately she has little depth either. Her personality seems comprised of nothing more than an unswerving dedication to her quest for vengeance. The flashbacks that give her backstory focus on events that occurred far from her and before her birth mixed with bits of Oriental philosophies of the bow; they don't explore who she is or how she feels about her situation. Comparisons between her and the hero are made, by her, but their real force lies only in what they tell us about Ollie and how he compares to this abstract figure of death, because Shado herself remains too enigmatic for such a contrast to shed light on her.
The emerald archer's own personality is given far better play, with a unique and engaging take on a potential motivation for a super-hero. In the introduction, reference is made to Ollie's expression of a desire to have children as a result of the recent revelation that his former ward is now a father. That is one element of his mid-life crisis, but it is the overall ambiguity he feels towards his life that seems to be truly motivating that and other choices. The various changes in Green Arrow during this mini-series, from locale to arrows to costume, are not those of a man who has decided on a new course; they are those of a man who has lost faith in the old one. Note his early statement to Dinah that, unlike her, he has yet to find a job. But that hasn't stopped him from abandoning whatever he was doing before and moving to Seattle, a literalization of his metaphorical attempts to find where he belongs. He wants to be a father not simply because time is passing but because it will give him a role and a place in the world. He discards his trick arrows, claiming that he has "lost the edge". But no evidence is given of his ever failing in battle, and instead he makes reference to feeling disconnected from his heroic persona and longing for the early days when he had no such ambiguity. Having killed a man in battle, he finds the role of murderer offered to him by Shado, and the pattern of his answers in that conversation is telling. First comes the automatic denial, then hesitations, then he answers questions with questions, and finally he falls silent. Green Lantern once famously taunted, "You always have all the answers, Green Arrow! Well what's your answer to that?" Ollie has none now. He no longer knows himself.
These changes, both in attitude and arsenal, also reflect an increasing realism of sorts. Grell is obviously trying to do away with the clarity traditionally offered by the world of super-heroes, and so he has eliminated much of that genre's trappings. He recasts Green Arrow as a very down-to-earth character, what Gold calls in the introduction an "urban hunter", just a man with an ordinary bow and arrow. There are no super-powers on display in this story, and the Black Canary would lose hers as a result of things suffered during the course of it. Though such grim reality can be tiring, Grell handles it better than most.
Oliver Queen has been the highest-profile hero to take an overt political stance, in his case that of a left-wing ideologue. Denny O'Neil came perilously close to making Green Arrow an outright parody, and to contemporary eyes his diatribes in O'Neil's Green Lantern / Green Arrow run seem hokey. Grell's method of dealing with this aspect of the character was probably wise; he defines Ollie's ideology not through his rants but through his foes. The involvement of the government in the complex web of events that the emerald archer is investigating allows the story to comment upon politics in a manner that is not exactly subtle, but neither is it melodramatic; this is just the grim reality that Green Arrow must deal with, and no speeches are needed. This too ties in with the down-to-earth attitude of the approach taken throughout The Longbow Hunters.
Since Green Arrow had previously been presented as a man guided by principles, it is somewhat disconcerting that here he profits from dirty money and allows an assassin to go free. Oliver Queen's political awakening during the 1970s may have introduced shades of grey to his character (and arguably the DC Universe as a whole), and made him willing to break the rules if he perceived a greater good. But if anything that only strengthened his uncompromising commitment to his own vision of right and wrong. How he can justify accepting money retrieved from a drug operation is glossed over with a glib joke, and he simply waves silently at Shado on the two final occasions they part. Increasing realism or not, more was needed to make me accept this change in character.
Incidentally, with hindsight one can see that many of these changes, while appropriate for the time, are the very things that fans are enjoying Smith's run for discarding. Star City, the trick arrows, the left wing rants, Dinah's powers (restored in Chuck Dixon's Birds Of Prey) and more are all being eagerly embraced once again. Make of that what you will. The upshot is that the importance of this book to the current Green Arrow series is not that high.
The Longbow Hunters received a Mature Readers label. There is a fair amount of gore, a portion of the plot revolves around prostitution, and there is some nudity. Most disturbing for younger readers would be Black Canary's battered form in the second issue. I think that parents probably should heed the warning and at least look through this before giving the book to children, though certainly anyone in their mid-teens could probably handle this material.
The aforementioned sequence involving Black Canary is actually not as disturbing as I had feared it would be. Certainly seeing the bloody aftermath of Dinah's beating is upsetting, but Grell has skipped over the actual gruesome scenes of whatever was done to her. For that, I am grateful.
The artwork on this book is gorgeous. The linework is nice, but it is the colouring that truly stands out. At times, it is difficult to separate the two; some method was used to avoid heavy black inked lines in many of the panels, an artistic technique that was used to particular effect in order to differentiated flashbacks from the present. There seem to be no heavy lines at all in the flashbacks, just the faded colours of memory. The depth and subtlety achieved throughout by the colourist, Julia Lacquement, looks almost painted (though I don't believe it is). Ironically, in this tale of an "urban hunter", the art reaches its highest points in the final half of the third part, when Green Arrow travels to a beautifully rendered forest.
The layouts, on the other hand, I found problematic. One is frequently expected to read rows of panels from the left hand side of the left page to the right hand side of the right page, then go back to the left page for the next row, etc. It's not consistent, either. Some pages follow the traditional format of the entire left page preceding the start of the right page. It is confusing and I frequently found myself moving to the wrong panel, which pulled me completely out of the story.
It's a well enough written story, and the art is gorgeous, but I don't think that it's worth the current asking price. It's good, but it's not great. The characterization is variable, and the scripting merely fair. It's got its good points, and for the general public I'd recommend it at half the going price. If you want to read the entire Grell run or you really like Green Arrow, then this is a definite needed addition to your collection, but I'd still advise you to try to find it on sale.
Fiction editor Nicolas Juzda
is currently studying law in Saskatchewan. He fills the void that was left in
his soul by contributing to Fanzing. He has twice been among the winners in
the Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest for bad writing.
All characters are DC Comics
This piece is © 2002 by Nicolas Juzda
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