Originally I was going to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of Call of Cthulhu debuting as a roleplaying game but it wouldn’t be sincere. I’ve only played the game a few times and I am trying to get more familiar with it because the Pandemic has made me a little more appreciative of good Horror flicks: Beyond the Black Rainbow, A Quiet Place and Alien. Plus my friends Mark B and Lester have stronger ties to the game and setting established by HP Lovecraft. The objective is to be ready to host an event for ChupacabraCon ’22.
Instead I wanted to celebrate a comic book character who is close to my heart and took many years of development to make him not a weak Batman clone, Green Arrow!
I discovered Green Arrow (secretly millionaire playboy Oliver Queen) as a kid in the Seventies while watching the Super Friends airing on Saturday mornings via ABC. He was a guest star during an episode in which some goofy villain decided to shrink everybody on Earth to about a few inches tall. Green Arrow saved the other superheroes with scalable archery skills. I always remembered the sequence when he’s fighting off ants on the front seat of his jeep by hurling a quarter at them. Thanks to HBO Max, I recently re-watched this horrendous animation from the mid-Seventies. It doesn’t hold up but when you’re seven, it never mattered. Seeing these characters talk and move on our old black and white TV was amazing.
When I got older and comic books were undergoing their commercial transformation in the Eighties (the rise of direct sales, aka dedicated comic-book stores), Green Arrow was a character I grew more interested in thanks to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight. It seems that he and Batman had numerous arguments about…well, everything. While Bruce Wayne became Batman to defend the innocent, root out evil and avenge his parents, his means were too authoritarian to Oliver’s liking. Ergo, they bickered frequently in JLA comics. Bring in Hawkman, an alien cop from a dictatorship, probably watches Faux News and the Justice League quickly becomes a crappy debate show on cable with them.
Anyway, a huge reason for Oliver’s politics being more to the Left of his contemporaries is thanks to the writer/editor Denny O’Neil who joined DC in the late Sixties. Denny passed away last year and as per my obit of him, I mentioned how he had been a journalist covering what was really happening. From his past experiences, he injected more real-world-issue stories into the comics he wrote. The most famous run he had was the brief Green Lantern/Green Arrow book. When it was assigned to him, Green Lantern was on the chopping block at DC. He chose to revamp the title by having Oliver team up with Hal Jordan as they battled poverty, overpopulation, sexism, racism and drug addiction as they hitchhiked across America, resisting the urge to utilize their superhero abilities. In today’s slang, some would say Green Arrow was “woke” and taught his friend Green Lantern to stop defending the status quo.
Despite the great artwork of Neal Adams and more accurate dialog, this stint didn’t do very well when it first hit the newsstands. I think it was ridiculed yet hard to tell. Comic books still had limited distribution compared to today so publishers weren’t sure when they had a hit or a flop for months. When direct-sales started to be the norm in the late Eighties, the O’Neil/Adams stories were reprinted and found their audience. I have a copy. They’re a tad silly and over-the-top by today’s standards. However, they remain a great demonstration of how comics progressed and evolved in storytelling. Most importantly, Denny instilled Oliver Queen with a different personality, separate motivations and an attitude which finally made the Green Arrow a unique character and not Batman with a Robin Hood theme.
To my annoyance, DC couldn’t leave well enough alone and chose to replicate Miller’s success from The Dark Knight Returns by having Mike Grell change practically everything about Green Arrow. He moved to Seattle. He changed his outfit to what resembles the TV show (more later). He got rid of the gadget arrows, went with standard killing ones. He became hellbent on revenge/justice. Grell’s run carried on for the latter Eighties and I think into the early Nineties. I had no interest after I saw how The Longbow Hunters was illustrating this; the miniseries revamping the character in what I just described.
The Nineties also weren’t very good to Green Arrow. DC killed him off. Had his missing son Connor Hawke and/or his former ward Speedy/Roy Harper take his place. I had stopped bothering with comics as my new life in Austin kept me swamped until my return in 1998. Friends who are more knowledgeable can probably confirm what I suspect was DC’s plan as 2000 approached, a new generation of people would take the mantle left behind from the B-list heroes. Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman will never change.
Mediocre mini-series followed, especially Kevin Smith’s boring take. The only thing DC always kept was Green Arrow being the first new member recruited by the Justice League every time it rebooted with yet another core team, the exception being the soft reboot in 1986 when Justice League was a humorous comic. DC did try to make Green Arrow a foundational title when they restarted their whole universe in 2011. This time he was younger. No facial hair. Trying to juggle a Microsoft-like corporation. His real identity acted like a jackass bro. The gadget arrows were back. It just didn’t work. I found him rather unlikeable. I think it ended after a couple years and Green Arrow just appears in other titles or miniseries.
Lastly is the hit TV show Arrow. I like and I hate at the same time. I like it for all the fictional guests (Bronze Tiger, Count Vertigo) and real (John Barrowman). I like it for how its success led to the rise of other successful shows: The Flash, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow. I hate it for how the show reverted everything to what the original comic’s problem was…Green Arrow is a discount Batman. The city is dark, grimy and crime-ridden. The Queen Family has an ugly secret. The beard on the rainbow is Green Arrow getting everybody else’s enemies as arch-nemeses: Ra’s al Ghul (Batman), the League of Assassins (Batman and other Kung-Fa-based) and Deathstroke (Teen Titans). The show’s pacing was painfully slow too. It fueled my ex-wife’s criticism of the show being a soap opera in tights. How right she was. It was a chore to watch and I’ve never made it through the third or fourth season.
Green Arrow isn’t a gloomy, angst-ridden guy. He’s a more happy-go-lucky type. He has blind spots as all Liberals do (myself included). Admittedly, the Errol Flynn look Neal Adams gave him would make the secret identity a sham (point taken). I just am tired of superheroes needing to follow the tired, crappy, Hot Topic-driven Burton-Snyder model. Is it better than no TV show? OK, you got me. I will just hope that one day, Denny’s vision will one day return be it animated or live action.
Happy 80th Birthday Green Arrow/Oliver Queen!