Passing the Bow: The Death and Rebirth of Green Arrow

Previously in COMICS 101: For the last two weeks, we’ve been discussing the life and times of one Oliver Queen, better known as Green Arrow, DC Comics’ archer extraordinaire. Last time, we explored the re-envisioning of the character by Denny O’Neil as a crusading liberal anarchist-type, and took a look at his eventual role as a steady supporting character in books like THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD and JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA.

However, as DC Comics set about redefining itself in the late 1980s, big changes were afoot for Green Arrow, and maybe not for the better…

Following DC’s total continuity reboot in 1985 with CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, the publisher went about the business of re-launching its trademark characters, and did so with considerable success, such as the John Byrne SUPERMAN revamp, Frank Miller’s retelling of Batman’s origin in YEAR ONE, George Perez’s re-creation of WONDER WOMAN, Mike Baron and Jackson Guice’s next-generation FLASH, and Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire’s relaunch of the JUSTICE LEAGUE (which started off as a fairly serious action series with exceptionally witty dialogue –it was only a year or so into the run that the focus changed to primarily comedy). Often forgotten is the fact that not every relaunch was a success. As discussed here previously, Tim Truman’s HAWKWORLD began a slippery slide for the Hawkman character that would eventually doom him to limbo for five years or so, while the rethinking of Hal Jordan as a middle-aged drunk driver with a Reed Richards hairdo began the long road of disrespect for the character that would culminate in his becoming a psychotic mass murderer, an egregious slight only now being properly rectified in the pages of Geoff Johns’ excellent series GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH.

How did Green Arrow fare in this climate of change at DC? Well, nowhere near as badly as Green Lantern or Hawkman, but not as well as Superman or Batman either. Rather than a radical reinvention of the character such as Superman or Hawkman underwent, Green Arrow’s revamp was one which allowed for a recognition of the past, while at the same time ultimately betraying it, a paradoxical approach that took place in the pages of the 1987 miniseries GREEN ARROW: THE LONGBOW HUNTERS, written and drawn by Mike Grell.


Grell had worked on the character briefly in the pages of ACTION COMICS and GREEN LANTERN in the mid-’70s, but was best known for his work on LEGION OF SUPERHEROES and his sword-and sorcery series THE WARLORD for DC, and his series JON SABLE: FREELANCE for the now-defunct First Comics. Grell reinterpreted Oliver Queen as an “urban hunter,” and set about removing everything even remotely superhero-oriented from the character, while stopping short of saying that those stories “never happened,” as was happening in books like SUPERMAN and WONDER WOMAN. Accordingly, Ollie and Dinah moved away from the fictional Star City and set down roots in Seattle, Washington. Grell also aged the character somewhat, putting him in his early forties, a good decade older than most of DC’s characters. Grell’s Green Arrow was also given a new costume, a more romantic, classical suit that evoked more of an Errol Flynn “Robin Hood” feel, with a more traditional shoulder-slung quiver and a darker hood replacing the more jaunty feathered cap.


Most disturbingly, in Grell’s interpretation, Oliver had given up the trick arrows, replacing them with standard steel-tipped hunting arrows, and was using them to actually shoot criminals with. I don’t mean the charmingly unrealistic business of pinning crooks to walls by their jackets or sleeves, either.


In lavish, gory detail, Grell would show panel after panel of arrows bloodily piercing flesh, and quite frankly, it was a character leap I was never able to fully accept.

I just can’t buy the notion that the same man who was so vocal about protecting the rights of the downtrodden and championing every social issue that would cross his path (and who would retreat to a monastery for months of self-reflection after accidentally killing a man in self-defense) would suddenly decide that it was morally okay to shoot people with arrows, even if they are criminals.

Not only that, the overall tone of the series was exceedingly dark, with Green Arrow attempting to track down a slasher who’s murdering Seattle’s prostitutes, and encountering another mysterious archer named Shado, who’s pursuing a bloody quest of her own. The level of blood and violence in the series was unprecedented for DC at the time, and still seems a little harsh even decades later.


Things get even bloodier and more intense in the second issue, in which Dinah, having gone undercover in an attempt to track down the source of Seattle’s cocaine traffickers, is kidnapped, beaten and tortured, in graphic and exploitative detail.


Green Arrow, having tracked her down, catches her torturer in the act and fires directly into his heart, killing him.


In interviews, Grell has said that the purpose of the sequence was to move Oliver Queen’s character forward to a place where he accepts the fact that he is able to kill when necessary. While the rationale is sound and the story is competently told, it was here that I lost interest in the character, as it no longer felt like the Green Arrow I grew up reading. The torture sequence also deprived Dinah Lance of the Black Canary’s “sonic scream,” although Grell has since claimed that that wasn’t his intention, that as far as he was concerned, no one in his series had superpowers, so she never had it to begin with. Okay, Mike, whatever. If you’re gonna play in the company’s sandbox, you might as well accept their rules. Anyway, according to the DC company line, following the events of LONGBOW HUNTERS, Dinah had lost her superpowers. (An aside: the Dinah Lance torture sequence left many readers with the inference that the character had been raped, a fair supposition to make, considering the manner in which Grell tells the story. While Grell insists that was never his intention, anyone looking at the pages would be hard pressed to believe that they weren’t deliberately crafted in such a way as to convey that Dinah had been brutalized in such a manner, assumedly for the sake of grisly sensationalism.)

While the series wasn’t to my taste, it was quite successful, enough so to garner Grell’s GREEN ARROW his own monthly series, which commenced in February 1988.


Under Grell’s watch Green Arrow (who in short order disposes of his mask as well, abandoning the last link to his superhero past) and Black Canary stay strictly within their own corner of the DC universe, venturing out only rarely for the occasional crossover with similar vigilante types, such as Batman or the Question. Picking up on the supporting characters Shado and rogue CIA agent Eddie Fyers introduced in the LONGBOW HUNTERS miniseries, it was here that Oliver’s tendency towards unfaithfulness emerged, as Oliver cheats on Dinah several times over the course of Grell’s run, with one of the dalliances, with the ninja archer Shado, resulting in a child that Oliver didn’t even know existed until some years later (a situation which, it turns out, just might come up again).

It wasn’t until Mike Grell left the series in November 1993 that the Green Arrow really began to be reincorporated into the DC universe, and it happened in a big way in the pages of ZERO HOUR in 1994, in which Oliver’s best friend Hal Jordan, having already gone insane, slaughtered his fellow Green Lanterns and become the cosmic villain known as Parallax, is about to recreate the universe from scratch by his own design. Ollie, who had barely been seen in the background throughout most of the story (such as it is), shows up as soon as Hal Jordan is revealed to be the villain of the piece, in an attempt to add some poignancy to this otherwise empty and somewhat passionless plotline.


Ultimately, it’s left up to Oliver to do what must be done, as he fires an arrow into Hal Jordan’s heart with deadly accuracy.


Back in the pages of his own book, a variety of writers took Ollie in different directions, including his involvement in such radical activities as blowing up gun factories, before writer Kelley Puckett introduced a new character to the series with GREEN ARROW #0, one of a series of “new beginning” one-shots published in the wake of the ZERO HOUR miniseries. Despondent and once more lost after being forced to kill Hal Jordan, Oliver Queen again abandons his life as Green Arrow and returns to the monastery where he’d once found new meaning. While there, Ollie gets to know a young monk named Connor Hawke, who, despite having grown up in the monastery, was a great fan of Green Arrow, and had trained extensively in the martial arts and archery. Connor’s desire for inner peace was in conflict with his thirst for adventure, and after getting to know Oliver over the months they both lived at the monastery, when attempts are made on Oliver’s life, Connor chooses to accompany Oliver to investigate.


While Oliver, Connor and the returning Eddie Fyers search for whoever is after Ollie, it becomes clear that there’s something more going on with Connor than it first appeared, although as usual, Ollie is too thickheaded to see it. It takes a visit from the continually returning-from-the-grave Hal Jordan to point out what Eddie had already deduced:

Before Oliver and Connor can really get to know each other as father and son, Oliver agrees to a request from the government to infiltrate an ecoterrorist group known as the Eden Corps, a deep-cover assignment requiring Ollie let his friends think he’s really joined up. The mission swiftly goes to hell in a handbasket, as before long Oliver is caught on a plane headed for Metropolis with a deadly genetic bomb that will destroy the city and everyone in it. After a furious gun battle aboard the plane, Ollie is caught with his hand stuck to a deadman’s switch that will detonate the bomb if he releases it (and suffering from several bullet wounds to boot), with the plane still headed for Metropolis.


The arrival of Superman raises a momentary gleam of hope, but the Man of Steel soon realizes that his options are limited. Any attempt to disarm the bomb could set it off, killing Ollie instantly, while attempts to fly Ollie out at superspeed would kill him due to the G-forces involved. With the plane getting closer to Metropolis with every moment, Superman suggests the only option remaining:


Attentive readers will recognize the “one-armed Oliver Queen thanks to Superman” scenario from Frank Miller’s THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, a bit clearly being referenced and alluded to here. However, in this version Ollie wants no part of it, and immediately triggers the bomb, blowing up the plane and vaporizing himself instantly, and saving Metropolis in the process. With Ollie’s death, DC had a new Green Arrow, as the series continued after his demise, starring his son Connor as a different kind of Green Arrow: quiet, contemplative and thoughtful, everything Oliver Queen was not.

I’ll say this for the DC of this particular era: when it seemed like they were serious about replacing one of their trademark heroes for the long term, they usually did a good job of it. Connor Hawke, primarily under the pen of writer Chuck Dixon, turned out to be a far more compelling and likable character than anyone could have anticipated.


Dixon settled the book into an appealing “Odd Couple”-like groove as Connor formed an unlikely partnership with mercenary Eddie Fyers, feeling protective of the sheltered, naive Connor, who had taken it upon himself to follow in his father’s footsteps as Green Arrow. Together Connor and Eddie set out on a series of exploits in an attempt to save Connor’s monastery from the wrecking ball, and later undertook a misguided mission to save a man they thought to be Oliver Queen from a Far East prison camp.

Another entertaining facet of the new Green Arrow was that the boy had apparently inherited his father’s magnetism with the opposite sex, as the ladies were constantly throwing themselves at him, yet due to Connor’s principled upbringing and complete lack of experience with women, he was shy practically to the point of paralysis, leading many to mistakenly assume that the young hero was gay.


Not one to miss out on an obvious crossover, DC wasted no time in teaming up Connor with the other new hero on the block, Kyle Rayner, in “Hard-Traveling Heroes; the Next Generation,” a storyline crossing back and forth between GREEN ARROW and GREEN LANTERN, in which Connor helps Kyle search for his father, who had abandoned Kyle’s mother just after Kyle was born.


The Kyle/Connor team was a good fit thematically, as both Kyle and Connor found themselves struggling to live up to the legacy of their predecessors, and the two characters were frequent guest stars in each other’s series. They’d get even more chances to work together as of August 1997, when Connor was inducted into the Justice League in what I think is one of the best Connor Hawke stories published.


In “Imaginary Stories,” by Grant Morrison and Oscar Jimenez, published in JLA #8 and #9, Connor Hawke is returning to the JLA Watchtower on the moon for what seems to be a second interview for membership, only to find the JLA captive and unconscious at the hands of the Key, a old-school JLA villain who has increased his abilities considerably, and is subjecting the Leaguers to vivid hallucinations in order to harness their brain power, to allow him to open a doorway to a newly discovered dimension known as “negative space,” which he believes will grant him unlimited power.

While the Justice League struggles through naggingly familiar dreamlives, Connor is alone, fighting for his life against the Key and his troop of robot bodyguards. Even worse, early on in the battle Connor is grazed by a blast from the Key’s energy rifle, destroying his quiver and all his arrows, leaving him weaponless.


Desperate, Connor makes his way to the Justice League’s Trophy Room and smashes open the case containing Oliver Queen’s famous array of trick arrows, the prospect of which don’t exactly fill Connor with confidence:

arrows1.jpg arrows2.jpg

Connor struggles with his father’s ridiculous gimmicked arrows against the Key’s robot soldiers, succeeding as much through instinct as ability.


Overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy, Connor bails out on the final confrontation with the Key, leaving the Flash to face him alone, or so it seems.


With that, Connor’s place in the League is assured.


Connor’s stint on the team was a brief one, however, not really feeling comfortable in such high-stakes situations.

While the Connor Hawke incarnation of GREEN ARROW never really set the world on fire from a sales perspective, the series was selling steadily and saw moderate critical acclaim, and acceptance of Connor as the new Green Arrow among the fans was surprisingly high (a much smoother transition than DC saw when they introduced Kyle as the new Green Lantern. I chalk up the difference to the fact that Oliver Queen’s death, while surprising and somewhat controversial, wasn’t an utter betrayal of the character like the Hal Jordan storyline was), all of which made the news of its cancellation in October 1998 so surprising. Why the cancellation? Good news, it seemed, for old-school Oliver Queen fans, with the revelation that the book was ending to make way for the return of the original Green Arrow, somehow returned from beyond the grave, as written by director and avowed comics fan Kevin Smith, fresh from a well-regarded run on Marvel’s DAREDEVIL. Excited GREEN ARROW fans waited for the new series.

Then they waited some more.

As the succeeding months gave way to years, with the book’s premiere date being continually delayed, many fans of the book expressed a certain degree of bitterness. After all, why cancel a healthy and entertaining book if the replacement was never going to arrive? By 2001, the wait was finally over, with the premiere of GREEN ARROW #1, by Kevin Smith and artist Phil Hester. Was it worth the wait?

Absolutely. Come on back next week to hear all about it.

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