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Green Arrow and Black Canary
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Fred Hembeck

Green Arrow and Black Canary
Uploaded January 1, 2002

Here's the quick version of Green Arrow's origin, courtesy of my Way-Back Machine (bought from Ward/Peabody Surplus Inc. at fire sale prices some years back):

Millionaire playboy (which also happened to be my stock answer to the tiresome "What do you want to be when you grow up?" question when I was a kid) Oliver Queen leaves a yacht the hard way, and manages to swim to a nearby island. To survive, he ends up making bows and arrows, and teaches himself archery skills. After being rescued, he uses his new skills to fight crime.

That's basically the core of it. Writers and editors have added to this the years, initially by throwing in all of the usual trappings: cavern headquarters, car, plane, boat, sidekick, Justice League membership, etc. He picked up a girlfriend (Black Canary), lost his fortune, gained a social conscience at the hands of Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams, quit the Justice League, and moved to Seattle to get his own series (just like Frasier!).

And then he died in a big-ass explosion on-board an airplane, ignoring Superman's entreaties to allow him to save GA at the cost of an arm.

End of recap.

Moving ahead a few years, DC hires screenwriter Kevin Smith to write a new ongoing Green Arrow series. In the grand tradition of the best chicken-and-the-egg dilemmas, I'm not sure which came first: DC deciding to bring GA back, or Kevin wanting to be the one to resurrect him. Either way, I have very mixed feelings about the results.

On the surface, it's an enjoyable read, if a little glib. Green Arrow's dialogue consists essentially of smart-ass one-liners, which actually is consistent with the way that O'Neil, Bates, and Maggin (they sound like a law firm, don't they?) wrote him back in the seventies, as opposed to the more angst-ridden Grell version from the Arrow-in-Seattle run. There's some enjoyable interplay with the Justice Leaguers, particularly Batman and Wonder Woman, and in the grand tradition of Alan Moore's 'Down Among the Dead Men' Swamp Thing annual, more guest stars than you can shake a boxing-glove arrow at.

It's the treatment of 'Stanley and His Monster' that bothers the crap out of me on this one. DC published 'Stanley and His Monster' as part of their 1960s humour line-up, running first in The Fox and The Crow before graduating to his own series. It had a very simple premise: Stanley was a young boy who had a large red monster following him around as a pet. Simple boy-and-his-dog stories on an exaggerated scale. No angst, no storm and thunder, just a lot of fun and innocence.

You can't say that anymore, not about how Smith has re-introduced the characters in the pages of Green Arrow. For lack of a better word, he's "vertigo-ized" them, and not in a good way. These new versions of the characters relate back to the originals in only the most superficial way, completely ignoring the tone and intent of the original strip. Come to think of it, maybe "vertigo-ized" isn't the right word to use, given that Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman were both much more respectful of DC characters - and those characters' histories - when re-introducing them into a Vertigo context.

In this case, I've got a pretty good standard of comparison: Phil Foglio's 'Stanley and His Monster' mini-series from a few years ago. Foglio is an eclectic writer/artist, best known perhaps for his adaptations of Bob Asprin's MythAdventures series or his own self-published Buck Godot series, but his work on Stanley and His Monster (on the heels of his earlier DC mini-series, 'Angel and the Ape') was fantastic. He brought the characters back into the DC mainstream, positioning them directly on the middle ground between the DC universe and the Vertigo side of things. The characterization worked, the cameo appearances by other DCU mainstays worked, the continuity was consistent with what had gone before, and - this is really important - it was funny. Laugh-out-loud funny, a real joy to read. It's one of those series that you point to and say, "That's in the other ten percent that Sturgeon's Law talks about."

I can't say the same about the new Green Arrow series. As snappy as the dialogue might be, I just can't help but feel a strong element of distaste over how the 'Stanley and His Monster' has been corrupted into the villain-du-jour as a plot gimmick that facilitates the return of Green Arrow's soul to his already-resurrected body. It's cheap and it's unnecessary.

Thankfully, due to the wonders of compartmentalization, I get to pretend that it was just an aberrant story that never actually happened in any continuity that I care about.

Ain't comics grand that way?

- NP

The copyrights, trademarks and publication rights to Fred's cartoons belong to DC Comics, Marvel Comics, and Fred Hembeck where appropriate. Proud Robot Productions graphics, site design, cartoon re-coloring and commentary copyrights belong to Neil Polowin and Proud Robot Productions.

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