February 15, 2009

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Green Arrow Year One

Written by Andy Diggle
Illustrated by Jock
DC

I tend to be lukewarm about the idea of "Year One" stories or revised origins, as I'm sure you may have noticed by now. But Green Arrow is one of my favorite characters (and is in fact the only comic link I share with my father--he was a big fan of the Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories in the 1970s), so even if it wasn't by the Losers team of Andy Diggle and Jock, I was going to be reading this one.

It turns out, however, that because this *is* the Losers team, the revamp actually works rather well. And the key to this is that they keep the basic story while updating it a bit to make more sense in modern times. It's like they took John Byrne's adage about the Fantastic Four (i.e. the only thing you need to know is that they got their powers by going up in a rocket ship) and applied it, with good effect, to Ollie's origin.

You see, he's still a brainless billionaire (think Bruce Wayne without a childhood tragedy) who goes out on a boat and had bad things happen to him that leave him to fend for himself. By the end, he learns there's more about life than money, and works to help those who can't help themselves.

Sure, there's plenty more to the story--and I'll get to that momentarily--but the basic gist of what makes Oliver Queen don green tights and right society's wrongs is right up there in the above paragraph. And rather than try to give him some gimmicky reason (his uncle was a street bum or his old college friend is now a junkie who dies by bad drugs or something similarly inane), Diggle just rolls with the actual history of the character (what a concept!) to retell the origin.

There's a bit more Grell in the origin now, as Ollie gets a bit of a social conscience sooner (as well as a way to tie him in to Asia) but that's not really a bad thing. In fact, the fact that Diggle merges the classic origin with touches of the "grim and gritty' Green Arrow of the 80s is part of why I enjoyed this so much--if you're going to do a retro story, there's no reason not to go ahead and make some disparate parts of the character merge together better than they were in the first place, so long as you don't destroy the cahracter in the process.

The story itself, even without the needs of an origin comic, flows nicely. Queen takes a fateful boat trip with his right hand man, finds out there's trouble afoot, and ends up as the sole member of a Survivor cast. Now this boozy braggart must tap into a part of himself he didn't know existed in order to survive.

Of course, survive is one thing we know Ollie will do, so the key to keeping a story like this interesting is the *how*, which Diggle manages pretty well, though the fact that the island he washes up on just so happens to be important to him in a whole other way besides being a way to stay alive does stretch things just a bit to the breaking point. However, since the pacing is good, you're not given a lot of time to think because chuckling over the fact that Diggle manages to sneak in the trick arrows here and there is a lot more fun.

By the end of the mini-series, Green Arrow has (perhaps a bit too conveniently) faced all of his demons and come out on top, complete with acidic wit and a sense of purpose. (I'd argue that Ollie's womanizing gets minimized a bit too much by using a pregnant love interest, but that's a minor quibble.) There's several winks and nods to the camera--including a great line about cheating death--but even those without arcane knowledge of Green Arrow's history (I even own reprints of the Kirby issues, for God's sake) will find this an action thriller with a lot to entain the reader. More "origin" stories could learn from this one.