Previously in COMICS 101: In weeks past, we’ve been exploring the publishing history of the Green Arrow, DC Comics’ crimefighting bowman. When we left off, Oliver Queen, the original Green Arrow, had undergone a grim vigilante period in the late 1980s before being blown to smithereens high above Metropolis, clearing the way for his son, the then-newly introduced Connor Hawke, to carry on his father’s legacy as the new Green Arrow, doing so on his own, working with the new Green Lantern and as a member of the Justice League. Connor Hawke had been greeted with critical acclaim and moderate if unremarkable sales success, but that didn’t stop DC from pulling the plug on his series after just 37 issues, with the announcement that director Kevin Smith would be writing an all-new GREEN ARROW series that would feature the return of Oliver Queen. Which is where we shall begin today…
Kevin Smith had his work cut out for him.
After a successful and generally critically acclaimed run on DAREDEVIL, the writer was tackling a re-launch of GREEN ARROW, and had in fact been boasting to the press about wanting to make GREEN ARROW a “top-10” book in the sales rankings. Working against him was the fact that, well, GREEN ARROW had never in its history been anywhere close to a top-10 book. Also, the long delay between the announcement of the project and its eventual premiere, over two years, had robbed the project of some of its excitement and momentum. There was also the small matter of the fact that Smith’s chosen protagonist, Oliver Queen, had been vaporized in an explosion over Metropolis.
For that dilemma, Smith had at least established a foothold to start from. In the 1996 DC summer-event miniseries THE FINAL NIGHT (to be more precise, in the accompanying crossover one-shot PARALLAX: EMERALD NIGHT), just before Hal Jordan, still in his omnipotent supervillain persona as Parallax, sacrifices his life to reignite the sun, a scene is shown of Jordan visiting his friend Oliver Queen’s grave. Three years later, in GREEN ARROW #137 (the final issue of the Connor Hawke run), the series closes out with a flashback, requested by Smith, to Hal Jordan’s earlier graveside visit, and in the final panel of the sequence, not only are Jordan’s feet shown standing over the grave, but suddenly there’s another person standing with him, wearing familiar green boots…
So now most DC fans knew at least the how of Oliver Queen’s eventual resurrection, if not the exact details. The easy route for the writer would be to just pick up from there with a returned Ollie Queen, hale and hearty, and begin telling their GREEN ARROW stories as if nothing ever happened. Instead, Kevin Smith positively wallows in the minutiae of both Green Arrow and the DC Universe as a whole (this being his first opportunity to write for DC characters) and delivers a wholly satisfying supernatural thriller, as Ollie’s friends and family begin to investigate his unexpected return, only to discover that both they and Ollie himself won’t like what they find.
Smith’s 10-issue premiere story arc, “Quiver,” stands as Smith’s best writing in comics, combining his trademark wit with a tense, slowly building mystery, a deft ability to incorporate Ollie back into a changed DC universe, and a keen understanding of Oliver Queen’s character. Not only does “Quiver” show off Smith’s strongest plotting work to date (in comics, that is), it also displays a confidence we hadn’t seen in his previous comics projects, showing restraint with what’s normally his strongest suit, the dialogue, and really letting the narrative move the story forward. In combination with Phil Hester’s outstanding artwork, which combines an almost Bruce Timm-like cartooniness with a moody darkness (ably aided by Ande Parks’ heavy inks), Smith puts out the highlight of his comics career with “Quiver,” for my money the best that Oliver Queen has ever been written.
The story opens with a flashback to the aforementioned scene from THE FINAL NIGHT, now showing more detail, as the full figure of Oliver Queen is seen collapsed over his own grave.
The rest of the premiere issue busies itself with character and backstory, focusing on Ollie’s extended family of Roy “Arsenal” Harper, Dinah “Black Canary” Lance and Ollie’s son Connor Hawke, who has given up his career as Green Arrow and returned to the monastery in search of the meaning he couldn’t find in his fruitless search to get to know his father. These character moments not only provide us with some excellent insight into Roy, Dinah and Ollie, they also serve as an excellent way to catch new readers up to speed on Oliver Queen’s history, just before his dramatic return on the first issue’s final page, foiling a Star City mugging with some makeshift trick arrows.
Soon, the near-victim, Stanley Dover, has taken Ollie in and re-equipped him with a new costume and weapons, and Green Arrow is protecting the streets of Star City once more. However, it slowly becomes clear that this isn’t precisely the same Oliver Queen last seen trapped next to a bomb high above Metropolis. Not only is he back to his trick arrows with a passion, he sounds as if he just stepped out of 1969, railing against the blue fascists and corporate fatcats. More tellingly, when it comes to modern conveniences, Ollie seems a little, shall we say, out of touch:
This, by the way, was one of Smith’s most clever moves in structuring the new series. By initially bringing back the Oliver Queen characterization most well known by the fan base, Smith was able to attract the character’s longtime fans back into the fold. However, by doing so in such a pronounced fashion as part of a larger story involving what seems like Oliver’s memory loss, fans of the more recent years of the character don’t feel like those stories are being cavalierly disregarded. In addition, setting Oliver’s memory back to the “Hard-Traveling Heroes” era allowed Smith to reintroduce Ollie to the DC universe of the 21st century and allow him to react to just how much his world had changed.
In one of Ollie’s first exploits in full costume, he encounters Mia Dearden, a teenage prostitute forced into the life by her manipulative pimp boyfriend, who abandons the lout after Green Arrow saves her from a perverted Star City politician, and winds up coming to help out at the youth center established by Oliver and Stanley (having easily recognized Oliver as Green Arrow, thanks to the trademark blonde goatee). Mia also moves into Stanley and Oliver’s place, and over time settles into a surrogate-child relationship with Ollie. Mia isn’t the only one recognizing Green Arrow, however, as the Star City media soon picks up on what looks like a return of the city’s resident superhero, which in turn attracts the attention of an old friend:
Not long after his return, Ollie encounters Black Manta (with Smith wisely putting him back into the awesome helmet we all remember from CHALLENGE OF THE SUPERFRIENDS), which in turn brings him into contact with another old comrade:
Aquaman wastes no time in taking Green Arrow to the JLA Watchtower to be reunited with the rest of the League, who are pleased but mystified by his return.
Once they realize that Ollie’s memories are about 10 years out of date, Kyle Rayner attempts to bring Ollie up to speed, but the suspicious archer won’t hear it, and attempts to leave the Watchtower at arrowpoint before being clocked from behind by the Dark Knight, who, as usual, is prepared to handle matters himself.
Batman takes Ollie back to the Batcave for a full examination, to find out if he’s the genuine article. (During which Batman takes part in a hilarious conversation with his then-new protege Stephanie “the Spoiler” Brown. If the Spoiler had been written this well in the Batman books, they probably wouldn’t have killed her off.)
Batman’s examinations reveal none of the scars relating to Ollie’s battle wounds suffered during the last 10 years of his life. Ollie awakens but still doesn’t believe any of it, until Batman shows him the video of Ollie and Hal’s final encounter during ZERO HOUR, when Ollie was forced to kill his best friend.
Batman and Ollie head to Queen’s abandoned mansion in an attempt to jog more of Ollie’s memories, where Batman discovers precisely where Ollie’s memory cuts off: just before his accidental killing of a criminal, which led to his first visit to the monastery. Before they can delve further, they’re unexpectedly attacked by, of all people, the Demon Etrigan. (It must be noted that Smith is the only writer since Moore and Gaiman to satisfactorily pull off Etrigan’s trademark rhyming-couplet dialogue with any success.) Thanks to quick use of Ollie’s fire-extinguisher arrow, He and Batman manage to subdue the Demon and force him to return to his human form of Jason Blood, who explains why Etrigan was after Ollie. Before more details can be shed, more unexpected visitors arrive, in the form of Ollie’s adopted son and former sidekick Roy and his longtime girlfriend the Black Canary, who, despite the ugly ending of her relationship with Oliver, is emotionally overcome by his return:
Oliver and company head to Jason Blood’s safe house, where he determines that Etrigan’s suspicions were correct: Oliver is a hollow, a vital human body with no soul. As that leaves Ollie vulnerable to possession by any number of demons, he must be destroyed, says Etrigan, and before Batman, Arsenal and Black Canary can stop him, the Demon blasts Oliver from existence.
Or not. Actually, Ollie is saved from oblivion once more by Hal Jordan, who now wields unknowable divine power in his role as the Spectre, the Spirit of Vengeance. Hal, giving Ollie a walking tour of the afterlife, explains the whole story, how just before he expected to die reigniting the sun in THE FINAL NIGHT, he contacted Ollie’s spirit and wanted to bring him back to life. Ollie refused, having finally found peace, but Hal still desperately wanted to return Oliver to Earth, so they compromised, with Hal reviving Ollie’s body, but Ollie’s soul remaining in the afterlife.
Remembering the last time he was truly happy, Ollie asks Hal to bring his soulless counterpart back to life at the point just before he accidentally killed the criminal, which accounts for the 10 years of memory loss. Hal sends the younger Ollie back, but the real Ollie refuses to return, a decision that Hal wastes no time in condemning.
The resurrected Ollie is returned to Earth, and attempts to explain what’s happened to his new friend Stanley, but Stan doesn’t appear too interested, instead knocking Ollie out from behind with his own bow. Ollie awakes to find both he and Mia held captive in Stanley’s basement, where the now obviously unhinged old man reveals another, previously undiscovered resident.
What’s up with Stanley? How does Ollie’s soul reunite with his body? I’ll leave the details for you to discover, but suffice it to say that QUIVER ends in as satisfying a manner as it begins, and is most highly recommended. The story is currently unavailable collected in either hardcover or softcover, which is insanity. If you’re a fan of Green Arrow or you just want to read some excellent comics by a couple of guys at the top of their game, head to your nearest convention or comic ship and start looking for those back issues.
Smith stayed on the book for five more issues after “Quiver” ended with GREEN ARROW #10, touching on familiar relationships like the Green Arrow/Hawkman rivalry, while reigniting the romance between Ollie and Dinah. In his final story arc, Smith introduced a creepy new villain, an assassin named Onomatopoeia, who manages to get the drop on Connor, shooting him in the head. The assassin tries again later, making an attempt on Connor’s life while the boy is still in surgery, only to be met by Oliver in a tense standoff while surgeons desperately try to save Connor’s life.
After the doctors succeed, Onomatopoeia makes a daring escape, but that’s not really the point. Instead of what I had assumed would be a gratuitous waste of the Connor Hawke character in an attempt to bring some angsty darkness to Ollie’s character, Smith chooses to end his run with the one thing Ollie’s never really had: family.
Smith’s departure from GREEN ARROW was ameliorated somewhat by the fact that artist Phil Hester stayed on the book, but there was still some trepidation when his replacement was named: Brad Meltzer, a mystery novelist who’d never worked in comics before.
As it turned out, Meltzer would hit a home run his first time at bat with “The Archer’s Quest,” which followed Ollie and Roy on a road trip to collect the things that meant the most to Ollie in his life.
Combining a keen sense of characterization with good doses of action, “The Archer’s Quest” pays homage to all the best Green Arrow stories while still telling its own new one. It’s first-rate stuff, and is also available collected in trade paperback. Highly recommended.