Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters

Written and drawn by Mike Grell

Published by DC Comics

This book is another glimpse through the mists shrouding my comic reading past. I got hooked on the crack of comic books while reading a massive stack of Mike Grell’s Green Arrow. When written well Green Arrow is more than a Batman rip-off with a bow and a social conscience and this is one of the few books I can use as evidence to support that premise.

This book was part of the attempt by DC to show that comics-‘aren’t for just for kids any more and they can provide good grown up entertainment. The easiest way to do this of course is to rely on those two reliable shortcuts of blood and boobs. Luckily for us, they also added good writing and art to that mix.

Writer/Artist Mike Grell takes Green Arrow (a.k.a. Oliver Queen) out of the Justice League, his trick arrows out of his quiver and turns him into a hunter. One who stalks through the urban jungle preying on those who prey on others. He moves him (and his girl-friend Black Canary)  to Seattle and it’s bleak, rain-soaked locale suits the new direction while proving a great excuse for Green Arrow to start wearing a hood to keep the rain off.

Someone is killing people with a bow and it’s not Green Arrow. This is our introduction to Shado, a mysterious Japanese assassin whose skill with the bow is a match to Oliver’s. The Seattle Slasher is also loose on the streets and Ollie has recently become a Grandfather in all but name. In their efforts to steer the character in adult territory they sometimes turn the wheel too hard but never veer too far off course.

I am a big fan of writer/artists and the work Mike Grell does here is one of the reasons why. His excellent, character driven art uses clear storytelling that is enhanced by interesting panel layouts used throughout. He layers panels over larger background images and uses a flashback technique where panels from the past are left un-inked. This creates a beautiful, pale effect that shows off the skill of Grell’s pencils.

The major negative in this story is the treatment of Dinah Lance (a.k.a. Black Canary) who despite being a long-term member of the Justice League, possessing extensive martial arts skills and a sonic cry that can shatter steel is used as a victim for Oliver to rescue and to drive him to cross a line he hadn’t previously. In the introduction to the book they explain that this was to have been covered in a Black Canary comic that never made it to print.  The result is that of one of comics few great female characters being tortured by a low-level crim and needing a rescue from her man. It’s out of character for her and the story.

But on the upside their relationship is portrayed in a realistic fashion that has rarely been matched in comics. It’s not just the fact they actually have a sex life but more the way that their relationship is shown as having history and depth. They talk about whether superheroes should have children and about needing space to do their own work, all while maintaining an obviously functional, loving relationship. This is a feat that has rarely been matched in comics in the 25 years since.

Green Arrow is character with only a handful of truly great stories to his name,(Year One being the other key for me) and this is on that short list. I always hold out hope for the character and he has undergone a recent reboot but from what I’ve seen the art is busy and confused, the characterisation sloppy and his goatee has regressed to stubble.

At the same time there is new TV show called Arrow that is developing into a guilty pleasure for me. It’s focusing on a young Oliver Queen newly rescued from the island where he spent 5 years becoming Green Arrow. It risks slipping into soap opera, gets many of the other comic characters wrong and again commits the crime of a beardless GA (this could be excused by the characters youth) but…I find enough to keep me interested.

Should I buy it? It’s a dense read with excellent art and is one of the best stories involving a great character who I think could do with some more attention and better writers.

Next Week: The adventures of a Steam-Punk badger in the highly enjoyable Grandville by Bryan Talbot.

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