Green Arrow 80th Anniversary Special
It's the 80th anniversary celebration of DC's Emerald Archer! The gang's (almost) all here...
Oliver Queen looks pretty darn good for an octogenarian, and DC’s Green Arrow 80th Anniversary Special proves it.
Full transparency – as both a reviewer and a reader, I’ve gotten a little numb to DC’s big-time anniversary blow-out one-shots. We all know the drill by now: ten-ish stories, big name talent both recent and of classic vintage – you read it, feel good, and ultimately forget about it. There have been plenty of good stories sprinkled throughout, but if the cumulative intent has been to make definitive statements on a given DC pantheon character – the misses unfortunately outweigh the hits. (Sidebar: Wonder Woman’s anniversary spectacular was near-flawless, and that’s a hill I’ll die on.) So, when it came to churning out Green Arrow’s turn at the ten-dollar price tagged, squarebound anniversary one-shot, my hopes were… well, I didn’t have all that many hopes. I figured it would be a decent read, but mainly a lot of empty calories.
I was wrong.
(For the most part.)
For a character whose storied legacy was already near the three-decade mark before he truly came into his own (thanks, of course, to O’Neil and Adams, whose contributions I’ll get to shortly), there’s a lot of history to the ol’ cranky liberal he would eventually become. GA 80th acts as a sort of “Oliver Queen, this is your life” retrospective, with each story more or less approximating a particular time and place in Oliver’s publishing history as though it were part of his actual life, though presented in a way consistent (mostly) with the storytelling techniques of the time. I say “approximating” because right out of the gate, this idea stumbles a bit in Mariko Tamaki and Javier Rodriguez’ “The Disappearing Bandit.” The story is full of Golden Age hijinks, right down to the overwrought, deliberately melodramatic narration. And to be sure, “Disappearing Bandit” is a fun little tale, but its intent would have been more effective had Rodriguez designed his pages to read like old six- and nine-panel grid pages of the era. Not a bad read, but, misses the mark just slightly.
Tom Taylor and Nicola Scott more than make up for it, though, with the superbly fun “Punching Evil.” Green Arrow didn’t really have much to do in the ’50s, so Taylor crafts a tale that more or less fits in chronologically with a real-life time when the Justice Society wasn’t around, which frees Wildcat up to teach Ollie how to put up his dukes. The story itself is a fairly standard, routine affair, with Ollie learning a standard lesson in not relying on his arrows to win every fight. What elevates “Punching Evil,” though, is Nicola Scott and Annette Kwok’s jaw-droppingly beautiful artwork. Straight-up, no ifs, ands, or buts – these two amazing talents bring the 10/10 thunder for the most gorgeous story in the whole book.
Bringing GA into the swinging ’70s are Stephanie Phillips – who writes a cranky liberal Oliver like few others – and Chris Mooneyham’s “Who Watches the Watchtower?”. Set during the Justice League’s satellite era, GA finds himself on monitor duty. Resentful that the rest of the League is zipping off for adventures in space punching aliens, Ollie is relieved to have something to do once the satellite is invaded by ne’er-do-wells. What really makes “Watchtower” sing isn’t just Phillips’ uncanny knack for capturing Green Arrow’s voice from this particular era in his history, but also the entire art team – Mooneyham is joined by colorist Mike Spicer and letterer Tom Napolitano – manages to craft a story that flat-out looks and feels like a product of the era it’s evoking. Not in a winking, tongue-in-cheek way, either – “Watchtower” is a deliberate and might I add highly successful attempt at capturing that old-school Bronze Age magic. Miss it not.
Next, legendary writer/artist Mike Grell returns for a quickie yarn wherein Oliver and Shado fight some drug dealers. (It was the ’80s, everyone was fighting drug dealers.) Grell is obviously having the time of his life revisiting the character he breathed new life into. Dispensing with the trick arrows, the vast fortune, and the gimmicks, Grell brought Ollie down to a street-level Robin Hood status, and effectively revised the old-school social justice warrior of the ’60s for the grimmer comics of the late ’80s. “…Just the Usual Sort of Stuff.” shows that Grell still knows how to put together a kinetic, enthusiastic and violent ballet, and even if his pencils are a tad bit less polished than they were back in the day – well, they still look pretty darn good.
“The Arrow and the Song,” from Ram V, Christopher Mitten, Ivan Plascencia, and Aditya Bidikar is a poignant, lyrical archway through Ollie’s life, and breaks the established pattern of the stories thus far by tracing the arc of his life using an arrow’s journey as a metaphor. The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is quoted as well, bringing V’s usual highbrow approach to writing to the fore. I’m not a hundred percent sold that Mitten was the best artistic pairing for the tone of this story, as his linework tends to be a little more cartoony than serious, but thanks to V’s powerful narrative – readers might want to read this story twice to catch all of the subtleties and nuances the writer worked in – it all works fantastically.
“One,” by Brandon Thomas, Jorge Corona, Matheus Lopes, and Steve Wands, is GA 80th‘s weakest entry. Focusing on Ollie’s son Connor Hawke, the story itself is an incredibly two-dimensional affair, and seems to exist for the sole purpose of reminding us that yes, for a time, someone other than Oliver Queen was Green Arrow. Don’t get me wrong, Connor is a wonderful (if underutilized) character, but “One” simply feels out of place with the rest of the stories in this collection. It might have also been nice if Connor Hawke creator Chuck Dixon had been tapped to write this story, but he and DC are persona non grata thanks to Dixon’s loudly-spoken polemics right now, so it’s understandable that they wouldn’t reach out to him. Thomas does the best he can to remind readers why they should care about Connor, but can’t quite muster up enough reasons to adequately pull it off.
If there’s any one story other than the finale that automatically elevates GA 80th, it’s Devin Grayson and Max Fiumara’s “Green-Man and Autumn-Son.” Focusing on Roy Harper’s life as told to and reinterpreted by his young daughter Lian, Grayson’s tale is utterly beautiful and without flaw. She even includes native Navajo language within, and a special note at the end encouraging readers to read and research in order to help keep First American languages alive. “Green-Man and Autumn-Son” is a powerful reminder that Roy Harper is a lot more than just “Speedy who did the drugs,” and is a character with multiple layers and depths that are all too infrequently explored. If any writer from this special were to get my vote to write a new Green Arrow ongoing, it would be Devin Grayson… such an incredibly talented writer who, if nothing else, needs to make a full-time return to comics writing ASAP.
“Star City Star” brings Phil Hester back sans Kevin Smith, though the artist is more than capable of writing, too. I’d have liked it if Smith could have been involved, but he’s busy and not highly reliable as far as meeting deadlines is concerned. The duo’s contributions to Green Arrow’s legacy are huge, resurrecting him from the dead (if you were a hero in the ’90s who didn’t die and/or get a broken back, you were doing something wrong) and giving him new purpose for the new century. Hester’s tale acts as a who’s who of personae dramatis from Ollie’s life, and ends with an open-ended question mark as to what could happen next. Hester, of course, is still a rock star in the art department, and as ever is abetted by Ande Parks on inks – together, they’re still as tight of an artistic duo as they were twenty years ago.
Black Canary – at least through the lens of Oliver Queen – takes center stage in “Happy Anniversary.” It’s impossible to overstate the importance of Dinah Lance to Ollie’s life, and it’s great to see her embrace her power in such a way in “Anniversary” that makes Oliver realize exactly how lucky he is that she chooses his ragged ass to be with. Laura Braga’s art, enhanced beyond measure by Adriano Lucas’ coloring, is a wonderous thing to behold. (Second sidebar, though – Black Canary could easily anchor one of these big anniversary hoo-hahs, and more to the point, deserves one. C’mon, DC!)
Oliver’s Rebirth-era adventures are revisited in “The Sympathy of the Woods” by the particular creators of that era, Benjamin Percy and Otto Schmidt. As ever, this duo crafts a phenomenal story, one that resonates with modern-day craft but also a homey sense of family. Emiko Queen, Henry Fyff, and John Diggle (transplanted from Arrow but never quite fitting comfortably on-page) all jump in, but this is no nostalgia romp – Merlyn is hunting Ollie through the woods, and it will take a village to stop him from winning the day. “Woods” hits the exact right spot by focusing on the familial aspects of Oliver Queen’s ever-growing brood, something that is typically ignored by other writers who typically favor his one-on-one relationships with either Black Canary or Hal Jordan.
The New 52-era superstar team of Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino, hot off their recently-concluded Gideon Falls from Image, bring “The Last Green Arrow Story” and it’s a thing of utter beauty. The ending and meaning are intentionally abstract – don’t look at me for details, because I’ll never tell – but I’m not sure if I could think of a more fitting end for Green Arrow. Jordie Bellaire’s colors are ridiculously spot-on, saturating Sorrentino’s ink-black linework with just enough swatches of color to electrify the dark and tickle the optic nerves.
Lastly, “Tap, Tap, Tap” brings a fitting coda to not only the story but to the life and times of Denny O’Neil, whom the world lost last year and who is ultimately responsible for turning Green Arrow from a one-note bow-slinging Batman knockoff to the cranky man of the people we know him as today. Ollie – and comics – would not be what they are today without Denny’s contributions. “Tap, Tap, Tap” is written by Denny’s son Larry as a tribute to his late father, and has touchingly moving art supplied by Jorge Fornes. “Tap, Tap, Tap” doesn’t have any dialogue, but it doesn’t need it. Bring a tissue, because you’ll be bawling by the time you’re finished reading it. (You can read more extensively on Larry’s tribute to his father Denny in my colleague Cody White’s upcoming commentary piece focusing exclusively on not only this story but on Denny’s legacy as well.)
Then there are all those covers. As with DC’s stable of recent anniversary blowouts, there are themed covers for each decade of the character’s existence. My favorite is Michael Cho’s, representing the ’40s:
The remainder are a mixed bag, mostly good (the ’50s one by Daniel Warren Johnson is cool but baffling), but none particularly stellar. It’s always great to see Neal Adams drawing GL/GA (though his linework is diminished by both age and a lack of Dick Giordano inks). There are a couple of missing names, though, that are head-scratchers: the ’80s cover is by Gary Frank, drawn in a style to approximate Mike Grell – but DC already had Grell for this book, so why not just commission him for the cover? Similar goes for Jen Bartel’s stunning ’00s piece, painted to resemble Matt Wagner’s poster-worthy covers from that era – why get Bartel, when Wagner is presumably a phone call away? Maybe there was something behind the scenes that hindered the obvious from happening, but from a purely superficial level, a couple of the covers seem more like missed opportunities than anything else.
But this is a celebration. An anniversary. Tut-tutting about what might have been isn’t what this is about. 80th birthdays only come along once in a lifetime, so here’s to you, Ollie Queen – may your quiver never run out of arrows, and may your aim always be true.
Now, go take down some fat cats.
Green Arrow 80th Anniversary Special brings together an embarrassing wealth of talent to celebrate the Emerald Archer, and for the most part, succeeds in painting an all-encompassing picture of Ollie Queen's life and times.
Green Arrow 80th Anniversary Special: A Boxing Glove Arrow Full of Love
Writing - 8.5/108.5/10
Storyline - 8.5/108.5/10
Art - 9/109/10
Color - 9.5/109.5/10
Cover Art - 9.5/109.5/10
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