Green Arrow volume 3: The Trial of Oliver Queen


By Mike Grell, Ed Hannigan, Dan Jurgens, Dick Giordano, Frank McLaughlin & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5523-7 (TPB)

Premiering in More Fun Comics #73 in 1941, Green Arrow is one of very few superheroes to be continuously published (more or less) since the Golden Age of American comicbooks. At first glance this blatant amalgamation of Batman and Robin Hood seems to have very little going for him but has always managed to somehow keep himself in vogue.

Probably his most telling of many makeovers came in 1987, when, hot on the heels of The Dark Knight Returns, writer/artist Mike Grell was tasked with making him the star of DC’s second “Prestige Format Mini-Series”.

Grell was one of comics’ biggest guns at the time. Beginning his rise with a laudable run on Legion of Super-Heroes, he went on to draw the revived Green Lantern/Green Arrow and practically saved the company with his Edgar Rice Burroughs-inspired fantasy epic Warlord. He had also notched up a big fan following illustrating many Aquaman, Batman and Phantom Stranger stories before establishing his independent creator credentials at First Comics with Starslayer and Jon Sable, Freelance

In the grim ‘n’ gritty late Eighties, it was certainly time for another overhaul of the Emerald Archer. Exploding arrows yes, maybe even net or rope arrows, but arrows with boxing gloves or paint brushes on them just wouldn’t wash with a newer, more sophisticated readership. Thus, in an era of corrupt government, drug cartels and serial killers, the evergreen survivor adapted and thrived under the direction of a creator famed for the uncompromising realism of his work.

The Longbow Hunters focused on the superhero’s mid-life crisis as he relocated to Seattle and struggled to come to terms with the fact that since his former sidekick Speedy was now a dad, Oliver Queen had technically become a grandfather. Beside long-time “significant other” Dinah (Black Canary) Lance he began to simplify his life, but the drive to fight injustice never dimmed for either of them.

Dinah went undercover to stamp out a drug ring whilst Ollie became engrossed in the hunt for a psycho-killer dubbed “The Seattle Slasher”. The archer also learned of a second – cross-country – slayer who had been murdering people with arrows…

Eschewing gaudy costume and gimmicks, Queen reinvented himself as an urban hunter to stop such unglamorous, everyday monsters, stumbling into a mystery which led back to World War II involving the Yakuza, CIA, corporate America and even the Viet Nam war, even as it introduced a deadly female counterpart to the beleaguered bowman: an enigmatic, morally ambiguous archer called Shado

The intricate plot, subtly blending three seemingly separate stories which were in fact one, still delivers a shocking punch even now in its disturbingly explicit examination of torture: a treatment which won the series undeserved negative press when it was first published. Although possibly tame to most modern tastes, this was eye-opening stuff in the 1980’s, which is a shame, as it diverted attention from the real issue… and that was a massive surge in quality and maturity.

The intricate, maturely sophisticated plot – interweaving themes of age, diminishing potency, vengeance and family – highlighted another turning point in American comics and led to an ongoing series specifically targeting that nebulous “Mature Readership”. The treatment and tone heavily influenced and flavoured today’s TV adaptation Arrow and has led to the release of Grell’s entire saga of nigh-forgotten urban predator tales in a range of economical, no-nonsense, full-colour trade paperbacks and digital editions.

This third collection, scripted by Grell with superbly efficient, powerfully understated art from Ed Hannigan, Dan Jurgens, Dick Giordano & Frank McLaughlin, re-presents Green Arrow volume 2 #13-20 (eclectically cover-dated “Holiday” and January-July 1989): a succession of two-part tales offering starkly authentic dramas ripped from headlines that have as much impact and relevance today as they did three decades ago…

Sparse, Spartan and startlingly compelling, the action begins – sans any preamble – with

‘Moving Target’ parts 1 & 2 (Jurgens & Giordano) wherein the hero carries on his crusade against street punks, petty thugs, wifebeaters and neo-Nazis, blithely unaware that only sheer dumb luck has prevented his assassination by a hired gun…

Once he’s caught up, Oliver eliminates all the usual suspects including the CIA and mercenary spy Eddie Fyres and almost misses his chance when the real would-be killer finally breaks cover for a final face-to-face confrontation…

‘Seattle & Die’ (Hannigan, Giordano & McLaughlin) then sees the archer on the trail of a mystery shooter who kills a gang of thieves to prevent a bloodbath in a night club. Determined to find the criminal saviour before the cops do, Queen becomes entangled in a devious web of intrigue involving an Australian Secret Service kill-team and suffers a chilling presentiment of how his own life might end…

Veteran fans in the know will enjoy the subtle tweaking of characters that allow Grell’s archer to notionally team up with his aforementioned indie hit John Sable

Jurgens, Giordano & McLaughlin then combine to depict the sordid bloody saga of ‘The Horseman’ who hits Seattle hard, fast and furious in an uncompromising search for a missing stripper. His campaign of destruction sparks a brutal war amongst the drug dealers and flesh peddlers of the city, but by the time the Arrow gets involved, the conflict has escalated and working girls are being murdered in grotesque and obscene manner…

Before long, however, the mysterious Horseman is proven to have hidden motives for his brutal vendetta and another distasteful alliance is formed to find the real killers…

Always challenging and controversial, the themes hit especially hard in the final story as the Longbow Hunter gets it terribly wrong in a dark dingy alley and a young paintballer gets an arrow in the chest after seemingly shooting a cop.

Broken inside, the vigilante meekly submits to ‘The Trial of Oliver Queen’ (Hannigan, Giordano & McLaughlin) and, although completely exonerated in the eyes of the Law, condemns himself to death by dissipation – until an old friend intervenes in a most unconventional manner to restore Green Arrow’s equilibrium and moral compass…

Terse scripts, intelligent, flawed human interactions, stunning action delivered through economical and immensely effective illustration and an unfailing eye for engaging controversy make these epic yarns some of the most powerful sagas American comics ever produced. Compiled here with a cover gallery by Hannigan, Jurgens & Giordano, this compulsive retooling is yet another long-overlooked highpoint of superhero storytelling no lover of the genre will want to miss.
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