By Mike Grell with Lurene Haynes & Julia Lacquement (DC Comics)
First appearing in More Fun Comics #73 in 1941, Green Arrow is one of the very few superheroes to be continuously published (more or less) since the Golden Age of American comic books. This combination of Batman and Robin Hood seems to have very little going for him but has always managed to keep himself in vogue.
Probably his most telling of many makeovers came in 1987, when, hot on the heels of The Dark Knight Returns, Mike Grell was given the green light to make him the star of the second ‘Prestige Format Mini-Series’. Grell was a major creator at the time, having practically saved the company with his Edgar Rice Burroughs inspired fantasy series Warlord. He had also been the illustrator of many of GA’s most recent tales.
In the grim ‘n’ gritty late Eighties, it was certainly time for an overhaul. Exploding arrows yes, maybe even net or rope arrows, but arrows with boxing gloves on them just don’t work (trust me – I know this from experience!). Thus, in an era of corrupt government, drug cartels and serial killers, this emerald survivor adapted and thrived.
The plot concerns the super-hero’s mid-life crisis as he relocates to Seattle and struggles to come to terms with the fact that since his former sidekick, Speedy, is now a dad, he is technically a grandfather. With long-time ‘significant other’ Black Canary he begins to simplify his life, but the drive to fight injustice hasn’t dimmed for either of them.
As she goes undercover to stamp out a drug ring, he becomes embroiled in the hunt for a psycho-killer dubbed “The Seattle Slasher” who is slaughtering prostitutes. He also becomes aware of a second – cross-country – slayer who has been murdering people with arrows when the “Robin-Hood Killer” murders a grave-digger in the city.
Eschewing his gaudy costume and gimmicks he reinvents himself as an urban hunter to stop these unglamorous monsters, stumbling into a mystery that leads back to World War II involving the Yakuza, the CIA, corporate America and even the Viet Nam war.
This intricate plot effortlessly weaves echoing themes of vengeance and family into its subtle blending of three stories that are in fact one, and still delivers a shocking punch even now in its disturbingly explicit examination of torture, which won the series undeserved negative press when it was first published. Although possibly tame in many modern eyes this was eye-opening stuff in the 1980’s, which is a shame, as it diverted attention from the real issue. And that was quality.
Grell has produced a gripping, mystery adventure that pushes all the buttons and artwork – in conjunction with Lurene Haynes and Julia Lacquement – that was and is a revelation. The beautiful, painterly visuals perfectly complement the terse, sparse script, and controversy notwithstanding, this retooling quickly spawned a monthly series that was one of the best reads of the 1990s.
In fact I should be favourably reviewing collections of that series too. How about it, DC?
© 1987, 1989 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.