Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters

By Mike Grell, with Lurene Haynes & Julia Lacquement (DC Comics)
ISBN: ‎ 978-1-4012-3862-9 (TPB)

It’s another big year for major comic book anniversaries. Here’s one now…

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. On first look, the combination of Batman and Robin Hood seems to have very little going for him, but he has always managed to keep himself in vogue and in sight.

Probably the most telling of his many, many makeovers came in 1987, when – hot on the heels of The Dark Knight Returns – Mike Grell was given the green light to make the Emerald Archer the star of DC’s second Prestige Format Mini-Series.

Grell was considered 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 Green Lantern/Green Arrow, Action Comics and elsewhere, and was a firm fan-favourite after well-received runs on Legion of Super-Heroes, Aquaman, Phantom Stranger, Batman and others. During the early 1980s, he had worked on the prestigious Tarzan newspaper strip and created successful genre series such as Starslayer and Jon Sable, Freelance for pioneering indie publisher First Comics.

By the middle of the grim ‘n’ gritty Eighties, it was certainly time for an overhaul of the Battling Bowman. 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!). Moreover, for his 1960s makeover, the hero had evolved into a tempestuous, social reformer using his gifts to battle for the little guy. Now, in a new era of corrupt government, drug cartels and serial killers, this emerald survivor adapted again and thrived once more.

Following a trenchant and outrageously entertaining Introduction from Mike Gold, the action unfolds, setting out a new path that would quickly lead to the hero becoming a major player at long last and, ultimately, a TV sensation.

The plot was brilliantly logical and controversial, concerning the superhero’s mid-life crisis. Weary and aging, Oliver Queen relocates to Seattle, struggling 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’ Dinah Lance/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 pervasive drug ring, the Arrow becomes embroiled in the hunt for a psycho-killer dubbed “The Seattle Slasher”. As he tracks a prolific beast slaughtering prostitutes, he becomes aware of a second – cross-country – slayer who has been murdering people with arrows – but only after the “Robin-Hood Killer” murders a grave-digger in his new city…

Eschewing his gaudy costume and gimmicks, Queen reinvents himself as an urban hunter to stop these unglamorous hidden monsters, and stumbles into a complex mystery leading back to World War II which involves the Yakuza, the CIA, corporate America and even Viet Nam war secrets that would eventually change the course of the Archer’s life…

The intricate plot effortlessly weaves around the destabilized champion and his love, while introducing new character Shado: exploring and echoing themes of vengeance and family in a subtle blending of three stories that are in fact one, and still delivers a shocking punch even now, through its disturbingly explicit examination of torture. These issues won the miniseries much undeserved negative press when first published. Although possibly tame to modern eyes this was eye-opening stuff at the time, which is a shame, since it diverted attention from the real achievement. That was narrative quality and sophistication, as this tale is arguably the first truly mature superhero yarn in the DCU.

Grell here produced a gripping, mystery adventure that pushes all the right buttons, conveyed by artwork – in collaboration with Lurene Haynes & Julia Lacquement – that was and remains a revelation. Beautifully demure yet edgily sharp when required, these painterly visuals and watercolour tones perfectly complement a terse, sparse script, and compelling ride any thriller writer would be proud of, and – controversy notwithstanding – this comicbook retooling quickly spawned a monthly series that evolved into one of the best reads of the 1990s.

It all starts here, and so should you.
© 1987, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.