Green Arrow Rebirth: A return to form

green ArrowIn order to prepare for my review of Green Arrow ReBirth, I felt it necessary to read the New 52 run. When it came out, I made it to issue 10, and then only with the desperation of an Andes plane survivor gnawing off his own leg.  Out of a sense of responsibility, though, I knuckled down and tried to read it again.

In my Wonder Woman review I described how Brian Azzarello’s 35-issue story arc only got better with the re-reading. Well, I can say with the upmost confidence Green Arrow got worse. I only made it into the mid-20s. I gave up when the strange and mysterious (and of course eyeless) Magnus reveals to Ollie the Big Secret.

Rebirth can only take Ollie up, when he’s starting in the sub-basement.

Of all the characters mishandled by the New 52, none have a greater claim to a malpractice lawsuit then Oliver Queen. They took a strong, richly textured creation and reduced him to a one-dimensional caricature.

Oliver Queen was originally the pale imitation of Batman and  not even the great Jack Kirby could rescue the Arrow from second-class status. From the Arrow Plane to the gimmicky arrows, the he was clearly a second banana.

Then Denny O’Neil came along, one of the famed “long hairs” who jumped to DC from Charlton Comics in the early 1970s just as Green Lantern was about to be canceled. With no one watching the store,  O’Neil  with Neal Adams  created a revolution, the reverberations of which are still felt today by placing the heroes in the real world.

O’Neil explained that Queen was really a character with no character and as a tabula rasa, he could be remade. Boy did he.

As told in Justice League of America , Volume 1, #75, Queen’s business was taken from him by unscrupulous business associates, bringing him down to the level of the people. No longer was he flying above them in the Arrow Plane, but living among them on the streets and in the ghettoes. This new Green Arrow was forced to see the costs of unbridled capitalism and confronted with a system that rewards the ruthless and casts aside the losers.

O’Neil brought Green Arrow to co-billing in Green Lantern #76, and the comic world was never the same. “No Evil Shall Escape My Sight” started the justly famed “Hard Traveling Heroes” series, where Hal Jordan and Oliver Queen tour America showing a nameless guardian of the galaxy the beauty and ugliness of America. They tackled poverty, Native American rights and hunger Then the Green Arrow discovers the costs of the nation’s drug problem when it is revealed that Roy Harper is a junkie. Neal Adams’ cover for issue #86 is perhaps the greatest of all time. Against a backdrop of lost souls, a syringe superimposed, a distraught Green Arrow is holding a comatose Harper, with Green Lantern crying in anguish.

After the end of this run, Green Arrow was once again relegated to the back pages, but the stamp that O’Neil placed remained.

Then in 1987 another comic book legend, Mike Grell, did for Green Arrow what Frank Miller did for the Dark Knight. The Longbow Hunters from August 1987 to October 1987 was simply fantastic. Ollie and Dinah Lance have relocated to Seattle. The trick arrows are gone, replaced by a darker and grittier mood. Grell’s Arrow was an older man, somewhere in his early forties. The reckless confidence was gone, replaced by a vague yearning.

Let’s jump ahead 24 years to the New 52. Queen is rich again, but constantly hectored by the one-dimensional head of Queen Corp. He has the pacifist who creates his trick Arrows and the token Indian handling his IT. One “adventure” had him being sexed by triplets, simultaneously. I could go on, but I won’t.

This Green Arrow feels like it was designed by a group of suits. Rich? Check. Stupid corporate foil? Check. Long-suffering secretary who doesn’t know the secret identity? Check. Plucky minority/female assistant in his crime fighting? Check.

What was missing was a strong, realistic character, good stories, the goatee and of course Black Canary. From JLA #75 the character of Ollie was balanced by the steadying presence of Dinah Lance. This relationship was one of the core features not only of these two characters but of the whole DCU.

This brings us to Rebirth.  Benjamin Percy has been given the writing reins and Otto Schmidt provides the visuals. Ollie is still rich, but it O’Neil’s Ollie is surfacing. It starts off with his date, a Republican senator’s daughter, walking out muttering “Liberal Pig.” An amusing scene, and one which lets us know that Oliver Queen is back.

The story deals with the invisible people disappearing. Nobody notices except Ollie and Dinah. Yes, Black Canary is back, fishnets and all. A case of mistaken identity leads to a short fight, which ends with Percy giving us the tongue in cheek line to Ollie “But apparently you don’t recognize Black Canary.”  Percy lets us know that omission of Dinah was a mistake.

The heroes bond and then we’re off to Green Arrow #1.

Percy is making a valiant effort to reach back to the O’Neil/Grell Green Arrow and so far he’s doing a credible job. And while no one can top Neal Adams’s or Mike Grell’s art, Schmidt does a fine job capturing their echoes.  DC clearly realized the New 52 remake of Ollie was a disaster right up there with Marvel’s replacing Peter Parker with Ben Reilly. With Percy and Schmidt as the creative team I think that for the first time in five years the Green Arrow has a fighting chance.