Showcase Presents: Green Arrow
The third animated short from Warner Entertainment, Showcase Presents: Green Arrow came bundled with the deluxe edition of Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (reviewed here).
A character dating back to the 1930’s, Green Arrow as created by Mort Weisinger and George Papp was essentially a Batman-clone with bows and arrows instead of batarangs. Each was a bored playboy (Green Arrow was secretly Oliver Queen), each had a cavernous hideout, each had a characteristic array of vehicles (Arrow-plane, Arrow-car, Bat-plane, Batmobile) and each had a young ward assistant (Batman has Robin, Green Arrow had Speedy).
The current Brave and the Bold cartoon series remembers this and has no qualms about bringing the gag back again and again.
He was re-introduced in the 60’s by way of Showcase Presents (ironically), an anthology series spotlighting characters without an ongoing monthly book. After a few oddball adventures courtesy of Jack Kirby, he was robbed of his playboy lifestyle given a new costume, a new personality and facial hair (courtesy Neal Adams and Denny O’Neill). The cranky left-wing bowman with an eye for the ladies is how Green Arrow is viewed today, but in actual fact, that is a rather modern take on the hero. It’s the best one, too. Mike Grell furthered this journey with a hard-hitting and gritty comic in the 80’s that was published for mature readers (it was a different time). This iteration ran its course until he was blown up on a plane with his arm stuck in a bomb. Revived in typical convoluted comic book logic via Kevin Smith’s story Quiver in 2003, the beard-twirling bowman has been entertaining a new generation of readers ever since.
I’ve always been partial to Green Arrow (and his plumb-hued counterpart Hawkeye at Marvel), possibly due to the fact that he’s just a man with lots of courage and determination fighting a battle that is often dominated by armor-plated or super-powered men and women. It takes a lot of guts to grow your beard that funky too.
Even with such a long history in comics, the animated short is only his fifth appearance on TV as a cartoon character (a brief walk-on in Super Friends, a costarring role in Justice League Unlimited, a co-starring appearance in The Batman and the afore-mentioned Brave and the Bold team-ups making up the other moments). A cocky and highly charismatic personality, Green Arrow is perfectly captured in this cartoon in ways that make you wonder why he never had his own series. DC Comics is known mainly for its mythology of heroes rather than its depth of characters, but there are exceptions with Oliver Queen being one of them.
The plot is simply that Oliver Queen is late to pick up his girlfriend and fellow superhero Black Canary at the airport. It’s no ordinary meeting, either. He’s packing an engagement ring and is nervous that anything could spoil his big moment. as a lifelong macho bachelor, this is a tense moment. On the way to pick her up he spots an old foe in the crowd, the evil archer Merlyn (voiced by Malcolm McDowell). In some ways, happy for the distraction, Queen takes action. Changing to his superhero duds, he soon finds himself thwarting an attempted kidnapping of a foreign princess on her way to becoming the heir to the throne of her land.
The action is fluid and non-stop, a quality that I admire more and more in these Showcase animated shorts. The physics of the human form and fighting moves are very exciting and really carry the action well.
The voice acting is superb and never distracting (a common problem with animated projects). Neal McDonough captures the smarmy and genuinely sincere persona of Green Arrow perfectly. She doesn’t have much to work with but veteran voice actress Grey DeLisle is a good choice for Black Canary. I do have to admit that I was a bit heads over heels with McDowell as as Merlyn. His smooth yet mad British accent is a magical thing and it fit the villainous bowman to a tee.
There has been some talk of a Green Arrow feature film entitled SuperMax. Set in a maximum security prison for super crooks, it would pit Green Arrow as the only hero stuck inside during a breakout. It’s an unusual pitch, but would really make the strengths of the character evident. It’s still in development limbo but as Warner panics over what to try after Green Lantern, it may come up again.
Even with a feature film appearance in the cards, I have to admit that the more I see these short animated features the more I want to see them rather than big budget versions with overblown CGi effects, bad acting, questionable scripts and studio politics getting in the way of what should be a 1 to 1 adaptation from page to screen. I mean, how good can the live action Green Lantern be compared to the First Flight animated feature? Why bother filming a Wonder Woman live action film when the animated movie suffices?
DC Comics has really hit upon something with these animated films and the Showcase Presents short films is just a steadily building layer of icing on a delicious cake.
If you have missed out on these wonderful shorts, Warner Bros. has released them in extended form as part of a budget-priced volume along with a new feature spotlighting Shazam and Superman against Black Adam. It’s a great set and comes highly recommended.