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Comic Complex: Finding Green Arrow’s Happy Medium
Green Arrow is an odd character for DC. Some people consider the Emerald Archer a poor man’s Batman. Others see him as the social conscience of comics, dealing with issues that other heroes normally don’t contend with in their series. Throughout his over 70 years as a heroic figure of the DC Universe, there have been conflicting ideals of what makes Green Arrow Green Arrow. Iconic features and personality traits including facial hair, personality, and even supporting cast have been changed to varying degrees of success by a number of writers and artists over the years.
Often readers contend that Oliver Queen, to differentiate himself from his initial inspiration: Bruce Wayne, cannot afford to go the dark route. The Longbow Hunters story arc, which inspired elements of the television series Arrow, and even current Green Arrow stories penned by Benjamin Percy are compelling examples of what Green Arrow offers as a more serious hero and elements touched upon are darker in nature. These stories mirror reality and hopefully make you examine more of what you see happening in the world around you. If your idea of Green Arrow is more inspired by his appearances in Justice League: Unlimited, this is a big adjustment.
On the flipside, there is another notable side to Green Arrow. The quick-witted joker, that was part of his appeal in Justice League: Unlimited. The hero that plays the playboy in and out of the field, reminiscent of heroes such Spider-Man and Adam West’s version of Batman. This is often cited as the version comic fans want the general public to see when they think of Green Arrow, and for valid reasons. DC Comics is often accused of intentionally trying to make every character as “grim and gritty” as possible. While that may work for some characters it’s not a fix for all of them.
Green Arrow is one of those characters that can flow between a more serious interpretation and a playboy persona seamlessly and DC would be wise to capitalize on that. The extremes of this can be found in the early and latest escapades of Oliver Queen. When written by Ann Nocenti, during the Triple Threat story arc, we saw Oliver fall prey to the machinations of beautiful triplets in a most unheroic fashion. While the humor was there, the hero was…decidedly lacking. Contrast that with the current writer, Benjamin Percy. Percy’s almost quasi-horror take on the character has been a fun read, as he’s tackled tough social issues such as police brutality and soon, outright segregation and governmental neglect. While his Oliver is far more heroic than Nocenti’s he also is about as much fun as an inner ear infection.
However, finding a happy medium for Oliver Queen and his heroic persona isn’t as difficult as some might think it is. In fact, it wasn’t terribly long ago that Jeff Lemire’s writing showed a prime example of how to blend the light and dark into a satisfying story that fans of either interpretation of the character can enjoy. From the Kill Machine, to The Outsiders War, to Broken, Lemire’s stories, while lacking the social commentary managed something no writer since Flashpoint ended had been able to do. He made Green Arrow a fun book to read. All the while, as family and friends are dying, and Oliver’s world was rocked by a series of stunning revelations about his heritage and family, Lemire never let Oliver feel like anyone else but Oliver.
That isn’t to say that other writers can’t capture an engaging and accurate portrayal of Oliver Queen. It’s a deceptively simple formula. It’s one-part Playboy, two-parts Progressive Activist. Add in equal parts history and imagination, and with a dash of outright joy, and you’ve got a Green Arrow for all seasons. That’s what Jeff Lemire brought to the table during his run.
The reintroduction of characters like Shado and Richard Dragon, the creation of the mystical elements to the Green Arrow mythos with the Outsiders and Weapon Clans, and Oliver’s reaction to having his world turned upside down and rearranged all speak to what Oliver Queen and The Green Arrow should be about. Arguably the DC Universe’s most human hero, sometimes outmatched, but never out of a fight.
That’s not to say I’m not enjoying the current Green Arrow run. Percy and Patrick Zircher have delivered a fine take on Oliver Queen. A more intimate hero dealing with more sensitive themes. I’ve enjoyed seeing Emiko and George get worked more into the mythos throughout the run and while I do miss some elements and characters like trick arrows, John Diggle, and Naomi Singh Percy and Zircher are delivering stories worth reading for any Green Arrow fan. I may pine for the Oliver Queen/Green Arrow of old, but I also appreciate the evolution of the character as time progresses in the DC Universe.
Green Arrow has plenty to draw from and comics are a great medium to put your own spin on characters–hopefully for the better. While Green Arrow may be going down the road of the macabre for now, it’s likely that with a new team down the line we’ll see a more cheerful and charming take on the character. At the end of the day, the important thing any writer should take to heart is that Green Arrow isn’t perfect. He’s human and he’s not going to take on any number of foes unscathed. What sets Arrow apart from characters like Batman is that there’s no mask between the two. Green Arrow is Oliver Queen and Oliver Queen is the Green Arrow, and he enjoys what he does. If that translates, then we as readers, can enjoy what he does too.