– This post was originally published on my now-defunct site, New to Comics. –
New to Comics is a segment where I look at various comic-books, explaining their background, reviewing them, and breaking them down for readers unfamiliar to the medium. The title is a reference to a former university project that I carried on as its own site for several years before laying it to rest.
I’ve got a rather busy week coming up so next week may be a bit quiet as I attend to other things and properly decide what property I’ll be looking at, but until then, we’re looking at what may be the most beautiful comic book we’ve covered so far. It’s The Longbow Hunters.
Published by: DC Comics
Written by: Mike Grell
Art by: Mike Grell
Real Name: Oliver Jonas Queen
Affiliation: The Justice League
First Appearance: More Fun Comics #73 (1941)
As a child, Oliver Queen was fascinated by the exploits of the character Robin Hood and practised archery in the hopes of emulating his hero. Growing up to become a rich and reckless playboy, Oliver’s knack for archery came in handy when he found himself lost at sea and subsequently stranded on a desert island, with only his bow at hand. After a few years, Oliver had learnt to become self-reliant and not take things for granted as he used to; honing his archery skills to become a skilled hunter. Eventually returning to the western world, Oliver was a changed man, dabbling in politics, and using his skills to become the masked vigilante known as the Green Arrow. Very conscious of the man he used to be, the Green Arrow reinvented himself as an outspoken champion of social injustice.
WHAT’s THE STORY?
Although Green Arrow has long held steady popularity and even been around longer than his peers, such as The Flash (Barry Allen) and Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), he’s always been a slightly lower tier, and as such, skirted under the radar for a large chunk of his life. Despite being an early member of the Justice League, one could argue that the only reason he’s so popular today is due to his long-running CW show, which reinvented the character with a bit of the Batman mythos thrown in for good measure.
In truth though, Oliver Queen is a very different character to Bruce Wayne. Yes, they are both billionaire vigilantes, but there is much more to Oliver to that. Proving this point to audiences was the job of Mike Grell, back in the eighties. After creating the surprise hit comic The Warlord, Grell was tasked by editor Mike Gold to tackle Green Arrow after the pair worked on a few other projects together and Grell had failed to obtain the position of Batman‘s writer (this is all laid out by Gold in the intro to Longbow Hunters, and is an interesting read in itself).
The Mikes tasks were to give Green Arrow a series that would highlight that he was capable of holding down a series, despite what DC may have thought at the time, and it all started with the story The Longbow Hunters. In this, Grell, a hunter himself, set out to transform Oliver Queen into less of a superhero and more of an urban hunter, relocating the character the Seattle with his partner Dinah Lance (the Black Canary).
WHAT’s THE PLOT?
So, as I just stated, the story starts with Queen and Lance moving to Seattle, where they’re setting up their new home. There have been a string of ‘Robin Hood’ murders across the country, as well as a ‘Seattle Slasher’ who has been gaining prominence in their new hometown.
As Oliver starts to consider his own mortality and the fact that he is getting older (he’s essentially having a mid-life crisis), the pair each set out to investigate each case separately. The two cases soon become intertwined, however, and Oliver soon finds himself playing a game of Cat and Mouse with a fellow archer named Shado, who has links to the Yakuza.
IS IT ACCESSIBLE?
Initially, I was planning to write this weeks spotlight characters as being Green Arrow and Black Canary, but after reading this book, I realised that probably wouldn’t work (I’ll come back to this in more detail later), and as such, for people interested in Black Canary, this book won’t do you much good.
For people interested in Green Arrow, however, this is a very interesting read – it works through his origin, showcases his methods and takes him back to basics. No trick arrows. Now zany adventures. Just an archer on the street, hunting criminals.
His interactions with other characters highlight exactly how he is different from his fellow vigilantes such as Batman, and the emotional aspects of the story give him a unique feel. Furthermore, seeing him in action similarly distances him from the likes of Batman, and definitely cements Oliver Queen as his own man.
WHAT’s THE VERDICT?
So, as I said, I was originally planning to do a Green Arrow/Black Canary week. Then I sat down and read this comic and was rather disappointed to find that not only is Dinah not all that prevalent in the story (she is present for much of the three issues, but rarely in the spotlight) but she’s also rather poorly used. From a story perspective, it makes sense, but if this is your first introduction to the character, she won’t come off looking all that good or interesting.
Conversely, however, Green Arrow comes out of this looking great. The first issue and a half, in particular, are really fun and interesting character studies of Oliver Queen, assessing that aforementioned mortality, his methodology, his outlook, his hopes and wants. It’s all excellently written. And yet, when it comes to the Green Arrow side of things, which takes precedent as the story moves on, the book starts to feel rather slow and drawn out, despite only being three issues long. Because the criminals are pretty sparse in this, and the two main characters are both archers who can effectively end a battle with one shot, the action feels a bit lacking.
This is partly a set-up story, however, so I’m willing to forgive that. And the character work is so much fun in the first few issues that it balances out from a writing point-of-view.
The best thing about this book, however, is Grell’s art. It’s fantastic. We’ve looked at a fair few comics so far, and while I’ve enjoyed the likes of Frank Quietly, Paul Pettelier, Olivier Coipel and Adi Granov, Grell’s might be my new favourite. Those artists are great, no doubt, very stylish in their own ways, but Grell’s is truly beautiful, not unlike something you’d find in an art gallery. His layout style is unconventional, as he isn’t restricted by telling a linear story, so much as by delivering gorgeous pictures that would be just as effective with or without the writing.
To be honest, I’d recommend this comic for the art alone.