The Trap of Guilt in Green Arrow 39

by Spencer Irwin

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Spencer: For the first few decades of his existence, Green Arrow was just Batman with a bow and arrows. It wasn’t until the 1970s, when Oliver Queen lost his fortune and gained a social consciousness, that the character became something unique and important. In today’s divisive times, I appreciate Green Arrow’s status as a “social justice warrior” more than ever, but honestly, the fact that Ollie is often pretty bad at this aspect of his job is probably just as important. That Ollie often needs to be educated allows creators to explain unfamiliar concepts to the audience, but it also means confronting the kind of guilt and privilege that often plagues even the most well-meaning of activists.

Oliver Queen has certainly fallen into these traps at the beginning of Jackson Lanzing, Collin Kelly, and Marcio Takara’s Green Arrow 39. His mission to bring aid to war-torn Rhapastan is admirable, of course, but it stems from a place of personal guilt for Ollie.


The issue never makes it totally clear why Ollie feels so personally responsible for Deathstroke’s actions (unless he was involved in the Deathstroke annual referenced by the editor, which I haven’t read), but it makes a handy fill-in for the kind of guilt so many white liberals feel. This guilt often leads to aimless donations or trips to third-world countries that do little to address the underlying problems facing its citizens; I believe that most of these activists mean well, and that every little bit of help is important, but also that many of these activists aren’t doing as much as they could because they’re out to assuage their own guilt more than they are to truly fix things. Sometimes they can even make things worse, which is exactly what Oliver does when he drops into an active war-zone without truly understanding the conflict it faces.

Nothing and his band of child soldiers make compelling villains. They’re not something either Ollie or Green Arrow can just swoop in and fix, which challenges his privilege, but they also challenge the very best parts of his morality as well.

Ollie may be a screw-up who doesn’t always know what he’s doing, but despite Nothing’s taunts, his conscience and moral compass are by far his best qualities. If there’s any way for Ollie to win this battle, he’ll have to stick to that morality while also listening to the people around him, truly understanding the situation they’re in and figuring out how to fix the underlying problems they face. This isn’t a situation Ollie can fix by dropping some food or throwing some money around; if he’s truly going to do good in the world, he needs to learn how to fight complex social problems directly at the source.

The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?

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