Today, Spencer and Patrick are discussing Green Arrow 34, originally released August 6th, 2014.
Spencer: Eighteen months ago, Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino began their run on Green Arrow, which had been a meandering, mediocre title ever since the New 52 relaunch. Lemire and Sorrentino arrived with a distinct style and a strong, specific vision, quickly transforming the title into one worth paying attention to. Now — with the exception of next month’s Futures End tie-in — their run has drawn to a close, and more than ever it’s apparent how much effort the creative team has put into rehabilitating Green Arrow. Issue 34 gives the conflict between Ollie and Richard Dragon a happy ending, but it also lays bare Lemire and Sorrentino’s strategy for creating a compelling superhero comic.
Acting on instinct Ollie saves Diggle’s life, and working together, the two storm Richard Dragon’s compound and, after a tough, prolonged battle, manage to incapacitate Dragon; Emiko and Naomi likewise take down the last of Dragon’s thugs, saving Fyff’s life in the process. Count Vertigo escapes, but Ollie doesn’t chase after him, deciding that taking care of his city and the people who have been harmed in the attack is more important than yet again chasing after a villain. Ollie realizes that he failed his city, that chasing the Outsiders all over creation left Seattle vulnerable, so he reaffirms his bonds with Diggle, Fyff and Naomi, officially takes on Emiko as his apprentice, and once again dedicates himself fully to being Seattle’s guardian, Green Arrow!
The title of this storyline is “Broken”, but the title of this issue itself is “Fixed”, and while the title accurately represents Ollie’s status at the end of the issue, it’s also an apt metaphor for the trajectory and goal of Lemire and Sorrentino’s run in general. Green Arrow was a title in desperate need of some fixing when this creative team took over with issue 17, and while I’d say they succeeded, what I find most interesting is the way Lemire and Sorrentino went about fixing the book. After spending much of their run building up the mythology behind the Outsiders, Lemire had Ollie reject the group entirely (a development that sparked some controversy here at Retcon Punch).
Take a second to enlarge the above image and actually read Ollie’s internal monologue; I’m struck by how vehemently Ollie rejects his past and his connections to the Outsiders, and I can’t help but to apply that to Lemire’s process of rehabilitating this title. Ollie talks of the folly of chasing ghosts and refers to the Outsiders as a group waiting to tear him apart; it’s easy to say that this represents Lemire rejecting the mediocre (or even awful) Green Arrow runs prior to his, but I’m going to take things a step further and say that it’s an entire philosophy, a rejection of using massive retcons and secret histories to spice things up, a rejection of letting the past (or perhaps even continuity in general) come to define characters.
When Ollie rejected the Outsiders some of us raised the objection that it made much of Lemire’s run feel redundant or extraneous, but after reading this issue I realize that it was all a well-crafted trick. By beginning his run by literally blowing up everything that had thus defined Ollie in the New 52 and introducing the Outsiders, Lemire made it seem like they were what made Ollie special, but by then rejecting the Outsiders and establishing Green Arrow as a traditional hero, Lemire’s championing a very specific type of superhero story.
I mean, look at how the end of the issue leaves Ollie. He’s again a beloved hero, he has a young
sidekick apprentice and a beloved support team, and really that’s about it. There’s no gimmicks and hardly any backstory, just a well-established team ready for any variety of adventures. I take this as Lemire saying gimmicks and slavish adherence to continuity aren’t necessary for a successful title; all it takes are some solid storytelling skills and a willingness to take chances.
It’s almost an old-fashioned approach to comics, but Lemire’s mature storytelling and Sorrentino’s unique style keeps the idea from ever feeling dated. In fact, this issue looks like a highlight reel, featuring many of Sorrentino’s finest techniques:
This spread is the opposite of old-fashioned; if anything, I’d say Lemire and Sorrentino are advocating looking forward when creating a story, focusing on storytelling and character and technique instead of falling back on tired narrative crutches.
Actually, even the choice of Richard Dragon as the antagonist seems to be making a statement about the creative process, even if it’s an entirely different one:
Heroes gaining strength from their friends is a common trope (in fact, Green Arrow’s Marvel counterpart recently reached a similar epiphany), but in an issue so jam-packed with meta-commentary, I can’t help but to read into it. Richard Dragon chose to act alone; as the excellent Trillium proved, Lemire could’ve worked on this book alone as well and still had it come out great, but instead — like Ollie and Diggle — he teamed up with Sorrentino and their combined talents created a book that feels like nothing else on the shelves. This certainly isn’t an argument against creators working on solo projects, but in superhero comics in particular there’s sometimes a feeling that a book is put together by a soulless committee or that a writer is dictating every single facet of a book and leaving their artist no room to contribute; the seemingly effortless rapport between Lemire and Sorrentino, though, shows how a true collaboration can be just as essential to a book’s success as any of the other aspects I’ve brought up.
Despite a few low points I’ve always been a fan of Lemire and Sorrentino’s Green Arrow, but this issue recontextualizes their entire run, and it’s an invigorating change of pace that makes me excited to reread the run as soon as I possibly can. Patrick, what was your experience with the issue?
Patrick: My experience with issue 34 is going to run right alongside my experience with 32 and 33, as I read them all concurrently this evening. Spencer’s right: after Ollie rejected the Outsiders, and all of their mythology, I felt as though the narrative had pulled one of the crueler “made you look” pranks I’d been victim to. I poured over a year of attention and interest into a story that the protagonist himself rejects by the final pages? Oof, that’s a hard sell. All of that was compounded by the fact that Ollie is so damned passive throughout those issues – he’s the object of his own series, rather than the subject. It’s like reading Moby Dick from the whale’s point of view.
Even as we moved into this arc, I was astonished by how many of the crucial storybeats are taken out of Ollie’s hands and put into his compatriots. Try to count the number of times in the last three issues one of the characters is held at gunpoint (or arrow-point or dart-point) only to be rescued by a character we didn’t know was there (or we had maybe half-forgotten about). There are three of them in this issue alone: 1) Emiko rescuing Naomi from Brick, 2) Diggle landing twin headshots when the elevator opened, and 3) Naomi blasting The Moth with that dart gun. These moments aren’t quite deus ex machina, especially if you’re taking Spencer’s read that “the team makes the man,” but it certainly does take the power out of the hands of the characters actually in jeopardy. Furthermore, I feel like the only reason to use this device is to score a few surprise-points, but after the second one, they don’t get to count as surprising. Honestly, in this story, a sure-fire sign that you’re about to be taken down is having your opponent at the end of your weapon.
Spencer makes a pretty compelling argument that this issue suggests that the creative team was always critical of the kind of Secret History storytelling that dominates superhero reinventions. Where that falters somewhat is when Lemire and Sorrentino turn their attention to what and who Green Arrow actually is. Is he a crusader against crime in Seattle? A surrogate father-figure to his half-sister? The leader of army? Even the most obvious piece of Green Arrow’s identity is called into question when he can’t even admit that he made a good shot.
The crew that follows Lemire and Sorrentino (who I can’t even be bothered to look up) is going to have to do 100% of the work at establishing Ollie’s identity. Despite my critical tone, I don’t know that I consider this a bad thing. Most of what I will remember this run by is Sorrentino’s frequently-mind-bending art and his knack for staging impossibly iconic images of his characters. That skill is on-display enormously in this issue. That two-page spread that Spencer posted above — the one that puts the top panel within an arrowhead — is mirrored in the next spread, which inverts the layout (the arrowhead on the bottom). My favorite bit of Sorrentino’s is the largely static scene of Ollie and Diggle in the elevator. It’s so still, but is then punctuated by this absolutely insane explosion of action (that explosion is expertly abstraction my Marcelo Maiolo’s solid green background).
The truth is that Lemire and Sorrentino were never going to be able to “fix” Green Arrow, they could only ever do the comic their way. You can’t teach style, and you can’t add Sorrentino’s stunning artistry to Ollie’s model sheet. When Ollie concludes the issue with “And I’m just getting started,” he’s not lying. Every new creator is going to have to create their own Green Arrow, and at this point, that could be almost anything.
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