Last year’s DC Comics reboot should have positioned Green Arrow to become a major player in the DC Universe. Think of how Iron Man, who was always a mid-level seller at best for Marvel, was masterfully utilized to maximize the character’s film success in 2008. Suddenly, Iron Man was one of Marvel’s best sellers thanks to his exposure in other media. Green Arrow was ripe for this same push. With a new television show on the horizon and the reboot, all of Green Arrow’s baggage could be jettisoned in favor of getting to the core of the character.
Writer Andy Diggle even provided a road map in his awesome Green Arrow: Year One mini-series, a book that the WB show generously has borrowed from. Alas, the rare opportunity for DC to capitalize on the show’s potential success did not come to fruition, as the New 52 version of Ollie Queen arrived stillborn to comic shelves. Good Green Arrow adventures were on television screens and stored in DVRs rather than on the comic page, as they should be. The title was derivative, uninspired, and uneven. The creators obviously were going through the motions and never really hit the target. Green Arrow looked like a golden opportunity for brand enhancement and multi-media synergy had been wasted. Until now.
The biggest problem in the previous Green Arrow runs by J.T. Krul and Ann Nocenti was that Ollie was a total jerk. Think Tony Stark in the first twenty minutes of Iron Man. Now imagine that when Stark leaves the cave, he is still an unlikable prick. The same familiar Green Arrow origin was there: Billionaire’s spoiled son gets stranded on an island and must teach himself archery and humility to survive. Except when this version of Ollie returned, he was still an utter asshat. Only now he was an asshat that’s really good with a bow. His enemies were generic guys in armor, his supporting cast was forgettable, and his mission statement was lost in a cloud of arrogance. Nocenti gave it a try. She tried to challenge Ollie to see the world differently through some tonally daring adventures, but her stories seemed muddled in creative disinterest. Ollie’s book went from uninteresting to nihilistic, leaving the book a pale shadow of the solid storytelling of TV’s Arrow.
It seems DC finally knew there was a problem and handed the reins to one of the New 52’s bright spots. Jeff Lemire has been a critical darling on Animal Man, crafted a critical (f not sales) success in Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE, and continues to impress readers with his independent and Vertigo work. DC was banking that the creative dexterity of Lemire could make Green Arrow the book it needed to be in order to capitalize on Arrow’s TV success. Lemire’s kung-fu is strong, and thankfully, Ollie has returned to his glory days of storytelling as established by Denny O’Neill, Mike Grell, Kevin Smith, Chuck Dixon, and Brad Meltzer.
Lemire wipes the slate clean with Green Arrow #17 by destroying everything Ollie had. There is no more Q-Corp, no more billions, no more supporting cast. They were all destroyed by a mysterious villain named Komodo. Lemire succeeds in doing what other writers could not; create a memorable and daunting threat for Ollie to face. Since the previous creators couldn’t relate the proper motivations for Ollie to continue as a defender of justice, Lemire would have to jump start the character by stripping everything away and leaving Ollie with just his core intact. The impetus for Ollie to be a hero will be established now instead of in the opening issues where this sort of thing truly belonged. There’s a fevered pace to Green Arrow #17, a fresh change from the dialogue heavy Nocenti stories. A spirit of danger and high stakes permeates that narrative, and there’s a feeling that the real Green Arrow is back.
Andrea Sorrentino is the perfect artist for this sort of story. He created a dark and monstrous world in I, Vampire before being moved over to Green Arrow. He is one of the better action oriented artists in recent memory. The idea that Ollie visually interprets two things at once, reality and targets, is impressive. When Ollie zeros in on a target, Sorrentino boxes it with its own mini-panel giving the reader insight into Ollie’s mind. He uses the same technique for Komodo, so when Ollie and Komodo engage in battle, the two are visually interpreting possible areas of attack. This visual language creates a new kind of action experience for the reader, and makes it feel like the action is slowing down. A slow motion comic? Yeah, it’s that impressive.
As good as this issue is, it’s just a taste of what is to come. Lemire needs to delve deeper into the mystery of Komodo and why he wanted to utterly destroy Ollie’s world. Hopefully, Green Arrow will come out of this arc the hero he was always meant to be. Judging from the first issue, this is the goal. Why DC didn’t just make this issue a new #1 is a bit mindboggling, as that would have served as an invitation back to readers who abandoned ship when the book derailed early on. DC needs to learn that they must get their core characters right the first time, especially with those appearing successfully in other media, because a writer with the chops of a Jeff Lemire won’t be there every time to bail them out.