If you only know Oliver Queen from TV’s Arrow, wait till you learn what the Emerald Archer’s been up to in his 73 years in comics.
THERE are heroes who wield lightsabres and uru hammers, heroes encased in high-tech armour and even heroes with cybernetic parts from head to toe. Among such beings, how interesting (or logical) is a hero fighting crime in the present day with just his bow and arrows?
Well, we do have such an appealing character in the ongoing TV series Arrow, which has rekindled interest in DC Comics’ 73-year-old Emerald Archer – the Green Arrow.
Created by Mort Weisinger and George Papp in 1941, Oliver Jonas “Ollie” Queen aka Green Arrow made his debut in the pages of More Fun Comics #73. The bow and arrow may give him obvious links to Robin Hood, but the character concept was actually inspired by The Green Archer (and thankfully NOT the Green Hornet), a 1940 movie serial based on an Edgar Wallace novel.
Green Arrow has numerous similarities to Batman. They both have sidekicks (Speedy, Robin), a fetish for gadgets (trick arrows, utility belt), a secret headquarters (Arrow Cave, Bat Cave) and cool wheels (Arrow Car, Batmobile).
Depending on which of the DC Multiverse’s Earths you are observing, there are also many different versions of Oliver’s past. They range from him being a billionaire businessman (again with the Batman parallels) to an Indian historian. The most popular version (as presented in 2007’s Green Arrow: Year One) portrays him as a spoiled rich brat who becomes a castaway on an island used by heroin smugglers.
The harsh environment gives Oliver a new calling in life as he learns to survive with the aid of a makeshift bow and arrows. If you have been watching Arrow, the flashback scenes should have cued you in on Oliver’s transformation from zero to hero.
The comic-book adventures take things a little further by providing more insight into the character’s flawed nature – as his maverick nature constantly raises questions about his role as JLA member, lover (to Black Canary and others), mentor and father.
With the TV show enjoying considerable popularity, we revisit this week the hits and misses of DC’s Emerald Archer.
In comparison with his other Golden Age contemporaries, for example Superman and Batman, Green Arrow has had it a lot tougher breaking into the big leagues. So tough that it took him 42 years to land his own regular series!
Despite having an arsenal of trick arrows (glue, smoke, net, explosive, boomerang, tear gas and even kryptonite), the Golden and Silver Age of the DC Universe were unkind to a maverick archer. This explains his back-up roles in the pages of More Fun Comics, Adventure Comics, World’s Finest Comics and Leading Comics.
These features merely helped to create awareness of Green Arrow’s (and his sidekick-Speedy) existence but did not give him enough opportunity to shine.
Even being inducted into the Justice League of America (issue #4, 1961) did little to boost Green Arrow’s stature among the big names.
His big break only came in 1970 when legendary talents Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams paired Green Arrow with Green Lantern!
The Green Team
“It’s not easy being green”, as Kermit would attest; and this was precisely the scenario in the 1970s when both Green Lantern and Green Arrow faced difficulties in championing their respective causes as individuals. Using the (then) ongoing Green Lantern (Vol 2) series as a platform, issue #76 was renamed Green Lantern/Green Arrow, teaming the two contrasting heroes on a social-commentary-heavy journey across America.
The all-encompassing makeover for both Greenies is best summed up by Adams’ iconic cover for #76, which stands out as a a major cover landmark till today. Content-wise, O’Neil’s No Evil Shall Escape My Sight plot deserves equal recognition as it marks the start of a long and tested friendship.
This sharing of title and adventures lasted for a whole decade and spawned several milestones, such as the Snowbirds Don’t Fly story arc (issues #85 and #86), which showcases Speedy’s struggle with heroin.
While this anti-drug story failed to meet the Comics Code Authority’s approval standards, it succeeded on the social awareness front for its hard-hitting approach to a real-life problem, which earned it a “Best Individual Story” accolade at the 1971 Shazam Awards and a letter of commendation from then New York Mayor John V. Lindsay.
During O’Neil and Adams’ run (issues #76-#89), the premise was not just about saving the world but rather, saving the world from itself. Social ills such as racism, pollution and drug abuse were high on the heroes’ agenda. This approach took a breather when Adams left the team in 1972, and four years later O’Neil and a host of artists (including another Green Arrow legend – Mike Grell) continued the challenge of reviving the emerald pair’s fortunes.
The chemistry in this “Bow-Ring” partnership went well beyond their fondness for the same colour. Opposites truly attracted in this pairing, with Arrow’s above-the-law attitude contrasting with Lantern’s subservience to the Guardians of the Universe. It’s this dichotomy that makes them uniquely entertaining and a departure from the World’s Finest Superman-Batman partnership.
Obviously, you need to be extra special to join the JLA, more so when you are not from Krypton or in possession of a power ring. Here’s where Green Arrow is in a league of his own as the DC Universe’s archer supreme. His ability to shoot 29 arrows per minute (trick arrows included!) may not sound as groovy as constructing a giant bulldozer using sheer willpower, but it did take a single arrow to stop the remodelling of the universe (as seen in the finale of Zero Hour where Green Arrow turned out to be the unlikely hero).
Trick arrows aside, the man is proficient in several martial arts (judo, tae kwon do, kickboxing and karate) but all this is irrelevant when you have “graduated” from the dojo of Natas – the same teacher who trained Deathstroke!
Ability-wise, Green Arrow makes up for any shortcomings in the power and endurance departments – especially next to all the super-powered or augmented beings with whom he hangs out – with cunning and ruthlessness (picture him pushing an arrow into Deathstroke’s eye!).
Archer with attitude
Unlike Superman or Batman, whose alter egos are in complete contrast to their respective superhero personas, both Green Arrow and Oliver Queen share the same consistent attitude on crime, social ills and principles. Oliver’s a “true to label” anti-hero in every sense as he has fought the good fight everywhere from the city streets to the far reaches of the galaxy to the political arena.
It is his outspoken nature that distinguishes him from his other JLA teammates and, having gone through various trials (allegations of corruption and murder) and even death (Green Arrow Vol 2) #101), you can’t blame the man for having such an outlook.
He has no qualms about crossing the line (unlike Batman), because to him there is NO line. This was evident during Zero Hour when he did not hesitate to fire the kill shot at his longtime pal Hal Jordan, who was then Parallax.
Subsequently, he also showed no regret killing Prometheus (in the Cry For Justice miniseries), in retaliation for the latter’s role in destroying Star City.
If there is one event that defines Green Arrow, it has to be Mike Grell’s 1987 Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters miniseries. While O’Neil and Adams’ work made Green Arrow a social advocate, Grell’s Longbow Hunters established the character as a major hero. Grell’s painted artwork also set the benchmark for all future Green Arrow illustrations.
This three-parter holistically revamped Green Arrow by reviewing his relationship with Black Canary, relocating his base of operations from Star City to Seattle, replacing his trick arrows with real, normal arrows and introducing a new ally and love interest in Shado – an Oriental archer.
Longbow Hunters’ success led to the launch of the first regular Green Arrow series, which spanned a decade and lasted 137 issues!
Farewell to the Queen
Green Arrow Vol 1 #101 is a must-have for Green Arrow fans, as it featured Oliver’s death. Infiltrating a group of eco-terrorists (Eden Corps), he discovered that they planned to detonate a bomb in Metropolis. Although Superman eventually showed up to save the day, Oliver sacrificed his life to save Metropolis, being instantly atomised by the blast!
Oliver’s passing is commemorated by a small gathering at Warriors, Guy Gardner’s bar. The absence of a body required something symbolic to mark Oliver’s passing and in Robin Hood fashion, his son Connor Hawke fired an arrow into the air and marked its landing spot as Oliver’s resting place. Connor then went on to continue his father’s legacy for the next three years.
Connor is the illegitimate son of Oliver and Sandra Hawke, from back in their young and reckless teenage years. Being a kid of mixed heritage (1/4 Korean, 1/4 African American, 1/2 Caucasian), Connor was constantly rejected and picked on by his peers, resulting in his decision to live in the same refuge – known as the Monastery – that his father used to frequent whenever he wanted respite from his worldly problems.
Knowing that his dad is Green Arrow, Connor made it an obsession to learn the “family trade”; inevitably, the duo met and even shared a brief stint at the Monastery, but Connor opted to keep their blood ties a secret.
Eventually, the truth was revealed when Hal Jordan (in his Parallax guise) told Oliver the truth about Connor; the revelation was greeted with suspicion and anger, and father and son parted on bad terms.
Perhaps the defining moment of their relationship came in the Archer’s Quest story arc (Green Arrow Vol 2 #16-#21), where Oliver retrieves his prized possessions. Ranked ahead of his JLA Membership, diamond-tipped arrow, Flash costume ring and Green Lantern ring in value is none other than a photograph of him carrying an infant Connor.
With Oliver’s body “atomised”, it took nothing short of a miracle to bring him back to the land of the living. First, Hal Jordan (now the Spectre) recreated his body, but it lacked a soul. Then a black arts practitioner named Stanley Dover tried to occupy that “vessel” to replace his own ageing body. The resulting scramble – which also saw Connor’s life at risk – ended up forcing Oliver’s disembodied soul back into his body.
Confusing as it sounds, this feat of resurrection in the Quiver story arc (Green Arrow Vol 2 #1-#10) welcomed Kevin Smith into the Green Arrow mythos and even earned the accolade as one of 2003’s Best Books for Young Adults by the American Library Association’s Young Adult Library Service
For better or worse
The Green Arrow-Black Canary romance has been a key part of the DC Universe since they both hit it off as JLA teammates. They’ve gone through several breakups (because of Oliver’s womanising ways), a false wedding and a tragic honeymoon.
Through thick and thin, they have remained as one of comics’ most popular couples, but that doesn’t mean that Oliver can’t have “fun” – as evident by his two illegitimate kids with Sandra and Shado respectively.
And you thought TV Oliver’s love-life was all messed up.