Green Arrow: Year One

It wasn’t until after I finished this trade that I realized it was the first Green Arrow solo comic I had read.  The closest I had come up until this point was the Green Lantern/Green Arrow crossover a few months back.  Having realized that, I recognized that Green Arrow’s origin story was a noticeable gap in my comics knowledge.

I have no basis for comparison since I never read his original origin story, but based on this trade alone I’d say Green Arrow is pretty freaking epic.

Sometimes I’m not too fond of origin stories.  Don’t get me wrong, I love learning a character’s backstory and what drove them to their life choices, but sometimes in comics these details are glossed over.  Especially in the Golden/Silver Age comics, a backstory is one, maybe two pages, with a basic outline of what drives the character without any real substance behind it.

With this Green Arrow trade, I feel like I have an acute understanding of the transformation Oliver Queen made to become Green Arrow.

That is what this trade is about, after all.  A transformation.

With the opening pages, we learn that Oliver Queen is essentially an entitled, spoiled, dangerously reckless rich kid, with no concern for anyone but himself.   He doesn’t care about anyone or anything, and has absolutely no drive in his life.

Due to an unfortunate sequence of events, Oliver ends up on a boat with his trusted friend and employee, Hackett, who has betrayed him in order to steal money.  Hackett’s true feelings about Queen are revealed as he pulls a gun on his former employer:

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Although Hackett’s actions are despicable, his words ring true; Oliver is spoiled, selfish, and the epitome of wealthy ignorance.  Does he deserve what’s happening to him? Absolutely not.  It can’t be denied, though, that he’s a very unlikable character at this point in the story.

Through a momentary spurt of humanity, Hackett can’t bring himself to shoot Queen point blank, and so throws his unconscious body into the ocean.

Oliver miraculously survives and washes ashore a seemingly abandoned island.  Here we see the beginning of his transformation.  Starved and desperate for water, Oliver pulls from some deeply-buried survival instincts to fashion a makeshift bow and arrows.  Likewise he creates a covering for his head to protect him from the sun, creating the first stage of his Green Arrow look:

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This version of Oliver is wild and untamed, but driven by an urge to survive (something he does exceedingly well).

Trapped on this island for months, he grows quite skilled with his bow, hunting to survive and finally feeling at peace.

This peace is broken when, after being attacked by a circling plane, he realizes he’s not alone on the island.

Here the story truly takes off, detailing an elaborate opium ring run by a ruthless leader who uses the local islanders as slave labor.  Outraged, Oliver decides to take action, transforming once again, this time into a skilled, determined hunter with a set mission:

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His overall plan may be short-sighted, but it’s clear and decisive.

A fairly epic battle ensues afterwards, one which writer Andy Diggle and artist Jock depict flawlessly.  The entire comic is so well drawn and narrated, filling even the fairly basic “stranded on a desert island” scenes with action and self-reflection.

Queen wins his battle against the drug cartel and is rescued from the island.  We don’t learn much of his future plans, but the closing image gives the reader a pretty good idea of where his mind’s at:

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Oliver’s path in life seems clear as he completes his transformation from apathetic billionaire to bonafide superhero.  His next move is unknown, but the comic leaves the reader certain it will involve fighting the forces of injustice, however big or small.

I thought this trade was brilliantly done.  Instead of one page or even one issue, we get an entire collection spanning a single character’s origin.  We’re able to peer into his psyche to learn just what changed in his mindset to so completely alter his personality.  This is a very important foundation, especially for such long-running comics.  When the reader can understand the character’s motives and way of thinking, it makes their actions so much more believable and realistic.  Now if Oliver Queen ever responds strongly to slave labor (perhaps more vehemently and angrily opposing it than others) I’ll know why.  I’ll know what exactly happened in his past to drive this intense feeling.  That seems to be a key element to a good comic – allowing you reader into the hero’s head so that they can fully understand all of their motives and opinions.

I still can’t quite believe that this is my first Green Arrow trade.  Still, it’s one hell of a trade to start off with.  Here’s hoping Oliver Queen’s future appearances on “the shelf” are just as acutely written and sharply drawn as this one.

-Jess

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