If forced to describe this collection in one word, it would simply be:
It’s amazing how completely the tones of comics can shift from one trade to another on “the shelf.” The last collection featured Wonder Woman preaching love and peace while fighting for the deities she believes in.
This Green Arrow trade could not be any more different.
Here we see a sharp deviation from the lighthearted tone of more recent comics to a much darker, grittier reality.
Set in Seattle, we see Oliver Queen and his lady love Dinah Lance (aka Black Canary) setting up shop (quite literally) as Oliver deals with the Seattle crime scene.
The first trade in this series, The Longbow Hunters, certainly had a dark tone, but this collection took that darkness to a whole new level.
Child torturing and murder. Gang Wars. Brutal attacks on gays. All of these topics are addressed without a filter in this comic.
Given such sensitive topics, I approached this trade warily, worrying that there would be gruesome, gratuitous images that would detract from the story and turn my stomach more than anything.
Somehow, this series manages to convey serious topics with a healthy dose of respect, without whitewashing the harsh realities.
Perhaps the best example of this delicate balance is shown when a young woman, Annie Green, is forced to relive the traumatic events of her childhood in which she was abducted and tortured repeatedly:
The panels are drawn in such a way to perfectly convey her terror, without resorting to grotesque details of what actually happened. I felt for her character without wanting to turn away from the story. I don’t deny that such things (and in fact, things much worse) happen in real life; that doesn’t mean that they need to be abused and immortalized on the page. I was impressed with the way such a sensitive topic was handled.
The small details are what truly make this comic. The hints and subtle allusions, rather than laying everything out for the reader, are what make the story powerful. As Annie learns that her attacker is being released from prison, rather than have her vocalize her distress, we are instead given a single, very powerful image to convey her emotions:
While her voice remains calm, she is clearly deeply upset by this news, digging her nails so hard into her palm that she draws blood. The inclusion of such a detail was more powerful than I would have expected, and proves that a story doesn’t have to talk down to its readers or vocalize every emotion to get a point across.
What I love about these Green Arrow comics, and what is quickly raising Oliver Queen on my list of awesome heroes, is the focus on small-town crime and corruption. Many of the other superheroes I’ve read about lately have been focusing on large-scale, worldwide threats: angry gods, alien invaders; they’re all threats to the world as a whole. Green Arrow stays closer to home in these issues, fighting crime on a grassroots level. In this way it reminds me of the earliest version of Batman comics, but with a much more skilled hand at the helm of the story.
The focus on more personal stories, as well as the skill with which the stories are told, easily make these Green Arrow comics some of my favorite trades to read. The stories may be darker, presenting a much less positive outlook on life, but they represent a harsh reality that too few people want to acknowledge. These issues are a sharp slap in the face to anyone who believes we live in a perfect society. For that reason these comics are important reads both for DC fans and non-fans alike, and ones I would heartily recommend to anyone looking for a realistic, moving story.