Monday, August 5, 2013
The story is interesting, too, and Grell gets a lot right. He establishes Oliver Queen (he's never really called Green Arrow in Grell's comics except on the covers) as a character outside of his superhero identity, an aging radical who still holds on to some of his idealism, as he wonders what he should be doing as he gets older. Grell also does a great job of setting up the romance between Ollie and his longtime girlfriend Dinah Lance, AKA Black Canary. The love and tenderness and emotional connection between this pair are richly developed in their scenes together. Probably the high point of the series is the moment when Ollie, feeling old and wanting to start a family, asks Dinah to have a child with him — her devastating response is framed by Grell in one of his hyper-realistic panels, her sad face highlighted by the bold, photo-like styling of this panel.
That emotional richness is one reason why it's such a shame that Grell ultimately can't think of anything better to do besides falling back on the clichéd old trope of having the hero's girlfriend kidnapped, tortured and sexually assaulted, causing him to go on a revenge quest. The fact that the damsel-in-distress here is herself a hero with a long history in the DC universe only makes it worse; Dinah, of all people, shouldn't be relegated to woman-in-refrigerator status, a mere victim to spur on her man's violence, especially since elsewhere Grell does so much more with these characters and their relationship. There's something shallowly "dark" about all this implied rape and sexualized violence, a sense that the series is just trying to respond to the era's imperative to make every hero grittier and more violent. Moreover, such excess isn't necessary: the series is most "mature" when it candidly deals with the main characters' feelings for one another and their conflict over starting a family, not when it resorts to shock-value violence and sexual torture. There's a lot to like here, in the gorgeous art and the compelling characterization — of Ollie, Dinah and also the new character Shado, who would become very important to Grell's GA — but the more violent and sexualized moments too often feel forced and unnecessary.
Moreover, the first 34 issues or so provide a nice arc and a nice resolution to some of the issues raised by Longbow Hunters — notably, a sequence that mirrors the one where Ollie rescues Dinah, except with her taking the active role this time, thereby neatly calling back to the earlier scene and this time letting Ollie know how it might have felt for Dinah to be the helpless victim being rescued by him. There's also the heartbreaking scenes that follow this rescue, when Ollie and Dinah decide they might want to start a family after all. And then, well, it all goes off-track.
The subsequent "Black Arrow Saga" is promising but doesn't live up to its potential, sacrificing drama and action to introduce the annoying new character of Marianne and her especially annoying accompanying narrative boxes. Then Ollie goes off on his own for a year, wandering the world through a series of dismally boring and predictable adventures. When he gets back, it's not much better, and except for the inevitable appearances by Shado, who shows up about once a year for a four-part arc, the series trods through one forgettable two-parter after another. There are especially abysmal stories that riff on various pop culture touchstones, like clumsy takes on Shane and Cat People. There's a very odd story about the death penalty that ties itself into moral knots trying to deal with this issue in the context of a vigilante hero who has at times killed those he felt deserved it.
The series reaches its nadir in issue #75, which throws in a ton of guest spots and tries to stir up some cringeworthy drama out of nothing. It's all over not long after that. The run has its moments, mostly early on, but it never really rises to the level of greatness, and Grell keeps sabotaging the best attributes of the series, neglecting the great Ollie/Dinah romance in favor of disposable and rushed "issue" stories, while Dinah too often disappears into the background for long stretches. The big action arcs, often focusing on Shado or the morally ambiguous assassin Eddie Fyres, are better, with Grell spacing out just enough emotional beats to keep the series from ever becoming completely brainless. It's an important and often interesting run, and it contains the seeds of a truly great and revolutionary take on these characters, but Grell is never able to bring it all together into a satisfying whole for any sustained period.
Brave and the Bold: Green Arrow/The Butcher/The Question (Mike Grell, Mike Baron & Shea Anton Pensa) - A lousy six-issue spin-off miniseries that teams up these three fringe characters. The story is a mess, involving a conspiracy between the IRA and various Native American tribes, with weapons deals and rebellions and terrorist attacks, but rather than seeming like a twisty action plot, it's just a confusing jumble that never makes much sense or really deals with its underlying issues in an interesting way. It winds up just being an excuse for some lame action. But the worst aspect of the series is definitely Pensa's art, which just doesn't work at all on any level. It's sketchy and cartoony and stylized, which is fine, and there are panels here and there where I can sort of see what he's going for — a garish, cartoonish style reminiscent of Moebius' more humorous moments. For the most part, though, it's just hideous and unclear. Pensa's terrible at character definition, so the large cast is impossible to keep track of, the Question just looks like Green Arrow without a beard, and at one point there's a villain who looks exactly like Ollie. Dinah, meanwhile, looks like Mick Jagger. This isn't a good story to begin with but the ugly art just makes it intolerable, easily the worst thing to come out of Grell's entire Green Arrow run.
Green Arrow: The Wonder Year (Mike Grell & Gray Morrow) - Late in Grell's run on Green Arrow, he offered up this miniseries detailing Ollie's origin. It's his attempt to do a Year One-style take on the character, but like a lot of Grell's work on this character, it falls short of its aspirations and its promise. On the plus side, it's a great-looking comic, a worthy successor to Longbow Hunters in that respect at least. Morrow is mostly inking and finishing over Grell's layouts and pencils, and the art is sumptuous and richly varied. The regular Green Arrow series often looked very good, but Grell really trotted out the big guns, artistically, for these Prestige miniseries, and the amount of work that went into making this look so good is very apparent. It's a shame the story isn't worthy of such effort. Grell, during his run, disposed of all of Ollie's trick arrows and gimmicks and attempted to make him a realistic, street-level hero. This origin story fits awkwardly with that approach, constantly calling attention to how ridiculous it is to run around with a bow-and-arrow and a Robin Hood costume fighting crime. There's a level of suspension of disbelief that Grell has to overcome here, to sell the idea that this idle rich guy, changed by his experience of being stranded on an island, dresses up as Robin Hood and runs around fighting bad guys, and he can never quite get this across. The story is nothing much, either, riffing on the 60s and 70s radical student groups as a figure from Ollie's past gets tangled up in a conspiracy stretching back to a decades-old terrorist attack by one of those groups.