Green Arrow: Year One

A character in a long line of playboy-by-day pulp heroes, Green Arrow (like many obscure comic book characters) has become something of a hot property of late. This is largely in part to the character appearing in Smallville, a TV series that is an ingenious experiment in the marketing of DC Comics‘ many properties. The very fact that my mom not only knows who Green Arrow is but is excited about him is a testament to the success of the program in making super heroes household names.

Green Arrow started more humbly as a creation of Mort Weisinger and George Papp. A colorful character with an array of trick arrows, GA‘s origin story is more or less a simple one. A rich businessman stranded on a tropical island, Oliver Queen develops a unique method of self-preservation using a simple bow an arrow at first, but his keen mind soon comes up with unique trick arrows that allow him rule the very land that was once so foreign and threatening to him. These skills are put to the test when he encounters a gang of criminals using the island as a safe house. Queen soon realizes that the selfsame skills he had acquired in hunting for survival can be turned on the crooks, turning him into a hero.

As can be expected, the comic is dated, quirky, and of course full of many plot contrivances. Nevertheless, the character has survived these many years and proven to be a fan favorite character, earning him his own series… many times, despite numerous cancellations.

More recently, it was decided to grant the character a ‘Year One’ event mini-series more fitting with modern audiences. Former 2000 AD Editor and writer of the revamp of Jack Kirby’s Losers, Andy Diggle and compatriot artist Jock were announced as the creators of the series and fans slavered with anticipation.

While working on his research for this series, Andy Diggle commented on fellow screenwriter John August’s blog on the subject of ‘old things’ sucking. To clarify, John August was working on a screenplay for a Captain Marvel (alias ‘Shazam’) movie and had stated on his blog that the original comics were poorly constructed so he had chosen to discount them as valid research entirely. In the flurry of comments on this statement, Diggle weighed in.

Not to ‘out’ Diggle but just to be precise on his words, I re-present them here:

“But what you quickly realize is that old-time comic books were awkwardly written, crudely drawn, and bewilderingly inconsistent with their rules.”

Having recently had to wade through a bunch of awful, ancient B/W reprints before writing GREEN ARROW: YEAR ONE, I can confirm this 100%.

Doesn’t mean you won’t still draw hell from the nostalgia-nerds for saying it out loud, though…

The only reason that I mention Diggle‘s words at all is because of the comic’s good and bad points. After the introduction Brian K. Vaughn expounds on how comic writers have only one page to grab a reader, I was surprised to learn that the entire first issue was unnecessary. Queen is re-presented as a rich playboy as before, but this time a mysterious friend (an English life companion named Hackett) is introduced to provide exposition.

Without Hackett‘s dialog, I’m not sure how the comic would have progressed. He starts out telling his traveling companion Oliver Queen what he has been doing with his life and that there is something missing from it in an incredibly ham-fisted style and returns now and again to remind readers what is going on like a one-man Greek chorus. Bearing this in mind, I’m confused by Diggle comment shooting down the old comics as being poorly done by his estimation.

Here is an excerpt from ‘Mr. Exposition’ Hackett:

You told me nobody knew about this little fun factory of yours.

You told me the Yanks took it off the map when they used it for bomb tests back in the Fifties.

So either the natives are getting restless, or someone’s stumbled in from the outside.

Either way, it’s messing with my peace of mind.

After all, I’m s’posed to be dead, ain’t I?

Thanks Hackett, but we covered all of that last month.

The second issue fares better and is also where artist Jock gets to stretch his muscles a bit more at showing Oliver Queen find the hero in himself. In truth, the bits of Year One that essentially retell Weisinger and Papp’s comic are the best parts of the entire 6 issue series. The inclusion of Hackett, an opium drug czarina ‘China White ‘and pregnant freedom fighter/surgeon Taiana are such obvious plot devices to keep the story moving hardly keeping with the sophisticated direction of the mini series.

The Green Arrow Year One comic in its entirety is a good way to reintroduce readers to the character and may be more approachable than the source material, but it is hardly worthy of rubbing shoulders with Miller and Mazzuchelli’s Batman Year One as Vaughn‘s introduction suggests. It’s pretty to look at and cinematic in its feel, but all of its innovations are just awkward add-ons that should have been cast aside to make the comic tighter. Seeing as how Diggle is a former editor, I’m confused as to how these simple problems got past him.

If you are an avid collector or casual fan of ‘graphic novels’ and looking for the best-looking Green Arrow book to rest on your shelves, this is a good candidate. Since Mike Grell’s ‘The Longbow Hunters’ is not in print, ‘Year One’ is a good second-best ‘definitive GA story.’

Recommended:

Green Arrow/Black Canary VOL 01: The Wedding Album
Green Arrow: Year One
Green Lantern/Green Arrow Collection – Volume 1
Green Arrow/Black Canary: For Better or Worse
Showcase Presents: Green Arrow, Vol. 1
Green Arrow: The Archer’s Quest (Vol. 4)

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