Wednesday, March 18, 2015

"Green Arrow: Year One" Review

Over the last year or so, I've reviewed three "Green Arrow" comics--#35, #25, #9--had a discussion post on Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino ending their run on "Green Arrow," reviewed every episode of the show Arrow since Season 2 Episode 13 "Heir to the Demon," did a review of all of Arrow Season 2, and had a discussion post regarding where the show could go in the current Season 3. If you haven't noticed, the Emerald Archer runs this blog. And why wouldn't he? He's my favorite super-hero after all.

I've read many "Green Arrow" stories outside of the New 52. I've heard of many "Green Arrow" stories outside of the New 52. For me, there are only two majorly iconic "Green Arrow" stories think about--eventually three when The Outsiders War gets reprinted several years down the line for being an amazing story--and today, we're going to take a look at one of them. This comic, or graphic novel rather, is probably one of the best (super-hero) graphic novels I've ever gotten the pleasure to read. And I've read quite a bit. It kind of sickens me that I probably would never read if I weren't a Green Arrow fan in the first place. 

That in itself is almost an accident. Me and Ollie have a strange history, one that actually fascinates me when I look back on it. Before I knew who any super-heroes were outside of the Trinity (Bats, Supes, Wondie), I had this little stamp-book thing. It featured all of the most popular DC Comics characters, each of them talking about something. I can't remember, it's been ages since I looked at it. I just remember Teddy Roosevelt being stuffed in a room with a bunch of teddy bears and everyone was making fun of Robin. Out of all the characters, though, there was one I never really recognized, one I wasn't sure why they were there. He looked like Robin Hood, and, really, I had no idea who this guy could be. But I wanted to know, the character's mystery fascinated me. 

Time went on, and occasionally I would see that book and wonder "who the heck is that guy?" I never really knew. Then, I watched Justice League Unlimited. One of the break-out stars was this character Green Arrow, some blonde-haired dude who could shoot fists off of the end of a bow, so what? Well, it dawned on me. 

He was the one in the stamp-book. I think.

Instantly, I had to know what this guy was about. And I fell in love with the character. Though Oliver Queen has always been a politically churned guy, I decided to look past that. There are various versions of Ollie where he's all over the spectrum, but, it was the hero inside that interested me. He fought petty criminals one minute and the next he was fighting alongside Superman! That's awesome! He had this invincible charisma, this great athletic ability. He wasn't Batman, he wasn't Robin Hood, he wasn't anybody but the Green Arrow. 

Over time I came to like the character more as he developed and while there are some stories that I'm not particularly fond of, I tend to like most of the material. Today, though, we'll take a look at what is probably the best "Green Arrow" story. Why? Because it's March and things are supposed to be green! Also, the CW's Arrow comes back tonight. 

I suppose I'll bring up why I'm reviewing "Year One" instead of "The Longbow Hunters." Well, to be honest, I couldn't really find much I wanted to talk about within Hunters. It was a fine story and all, but, I just didn't see anything that jumped out at me. Don't get me wrong, it's still a pivotal moment for the character that has inspired many other stories, but I just think that "Year One" has many more things that it inspired and many moments that are worth talking about. Not only that, but, I've always had an interest in reading and reviewing "Year One." When I was trying to learn how to write comic books (you know, rather than ask someone), I looked in the back of "Year One" and saw that it had script excerpts, and so, that's really how I learned. So, I feel I should try to do my mentor (not really, in fact not at all) justice by taking a look at it. 

This probably sounds like this is the "GA reviews of GA reviews" for me, and it's not, are you kidding? There's bound to be a horrendous Green Arrow story coming up in the future that I'll rip apart, don't you worry--in fact, I'm not the biggest fan of the current arc under the Arrow writers. Green Arrow is still going to guide the blog. 

So, without further ado, let's talk about "Green Arrow: Year One" finally!

I'm not going to go through the whole story of the book, since I really feel that everyone should get to reading this. Thus, only mild spoilers will follow from here on out. 

Even if you've never heard of this story, chances are, you already know it. Especially if you're a fan of Arrow. Oliver Queen is a rather dumb, eccentric billionaire who gets trapped on an island and has to fight his way off of it, honing his archery skills and learning what it means to be a hero. Yeah, see, you already knew that.

Though, to be fair, this story really pushes Oliver to his limits. There are two antagonists in the story, and both of which pose powerful threats to Oliver in different ways. One, Hackett, is essentially the personification of Oliver's old life, so whenever they clash, it's a struggle of new Oliver versus old Oliver. Hackett is always quick to bring that up, too. The other is China White, who is just a very powerful businesswoman.

I prefer this version of the island to others, though it's unclear as to how much time has passed. Most iterations make it pretty clear. One year, three years, five years. Here, I mean, I guess it's only one year. But, how much of that was spent training? Like most Green Arrow origin stories, we have a montage of him getting his bow together as well as hunting. Still, this is one is done best, as we see Oliver using all of his previous knowledge with bows and bow-making and applying it here with makeshift items that no one would associate with a typical bow.

This story also focuses heavily on the "hunter" aspect of Green Arrow, almost as if taking notes from "Longbow Hunters." Oliver tends to stay out of direct combat and uses more stealth of the island to attack his foes. It shows strategy on his part as well as showing how his new environment has crafted him.

The central conflict of the story is that Oliver has stumbled across a big drug ring on the island and is looking to take it down, since this company is killing or harming several tribes people on the island, threatening a pregnant woman Oliver comes to befriend.

Andy Diggle, the writer (who John and Andy are named after in Arrow if you haven't noticed), do an excellent job of painting Oliver's struggle against these people. When you think about it, it's just some guy with a weird looking bow in a green hood and some crappy arrows against a big drug company, one that would pay well for security. Sure, it almost seems impossible, but that's also how it reads. The security just keeps getting ramped up and the stakes keep getting higher.

What's good about the story is that Oliver only has the upper-hand in terms of stealth. Besides that, he is outgunned, outnumbered, and if he gets hurt, it's pretty much gameover. This is also shown, where he accidentally gets hooked onto opium for a time and has to fight off its addictive powers in order to further the mission. It's a good character moment for him (a little quick in my opinion) as it shows a weakness we haven't seen for most of the story, as he's become more of a warrior. To see him crack was a good break in all the action to show that he is indeed still human and has human addictions.

Getting through this and hearing his true name from some of the tribes people/ slaves is what elevates Oliver into fulfilling his eventual destiny, and it's a really well-done moment. Plus, I think this is the best way for someone to introduce the name "Green Arrow." Much better than the totem plot from "Outsider's War," which felt a little forced.

A lot of the story contains Oliver's inner thoughts and it really helps us get into his mind and see what the heck would be going through his mind at a time like this. There's a visible development in his thoughts as the story progresses, but there is still the constant Green Arrow-charm of "screw it, I'm going for it" evident in the thoughts.

The book also benefits from a lack of main characters, something most good superhero origin stories have. There are primarily four characters: Hackett, Oliver, China White, and Taiana. The latter is the pregnant woman I mentioned earlier and is a good foil for Oliver as she stands for justice, for hope. Making her pregnant could be a way of showing her as a harbinger of hope for the people of the island, and making the father an unnamed character pushes that even more so.

This lack of characters allows a ton of focus on our main cast. Oliver is, obviously, going to be the most developed. China White is a pretty cut-and-dry villain but she's incredibly ruthless. Hackett doesn't necessarily develop, but like I said, he does serve as the past Oliver is trying to fight and get away from since coming to the island.

For a story about some dude in a green hood going up against a bunch of drug mercenaries, you would also expect there to be some pretty intense moments. And yes. Yes there are. In fact, one of my all-time favorite Green Arrow moments (maybe even the favorite, barring the rooftop fight with Komodo) is here. Here it is:

My name is Oliver Queen. 

I mean. Dude. You can't see it in these panels...but you already know that he takes down the plane with a crappy bow and crappy arrows. An airplane. But, I mean, look at the guy. He's not shaken, he's not scared. We can't see his eyes but you know they are calm. He just points his arrow at the plane and shoots it like he would shoot a fish. How cool is that?!

And now that I've shown you that, I can talk about the artwork of the book. Which I freaking love. I love the color scheme of the book.

Hmm...well, if the script says it's possible...

The book has a wonderful mixture of green and white. Green is the dominant color, duh, but something about the plain backgrounds just makes it really stand out and makes the images stick for me. There are some moments where white is used in an iffy way, like when showing China White, as she can just look like a slender white stick. It's weird.  Orange is another big color, used sparingly but effectively.

Jock, the artist, also did a great job with the backgrounds and characters. Whenever they were in the forest, there are a good amount of detail added to give it that jungle-like environment. There was also good attention to detail in the fields and even out on the shores. As for the characters, he drew their expressions very well and I felt that they were all very humanistic in their design. Nobody looked too wonky (except, as I said, China White in some instances) and their expressions were very well done, as were their movements.

The art also had a gritty feel to it that aided the whole "first year" aspect to it, almost as if this was a gruff recollection for Oliver of his early days on the island, so there would be some dirt rubbed on it as he recalled these events. Normally, I'm not a fan of that, but the book uses it in an advantageous way.

Overall, "Green Arrow: Year One" is a story nobody should skip out on. It's brief but very well-done, highlighting the transformation of a young punk into a young hero. There is a good focus on all of our characters, some new some old, the artwork is great, and there are many fantastic moments you won't soon forget. I'd definitely say it's worth checking out.

Next time, we begin a month-long trek into the heart of the Marvel Universe from 2013 that was...supremely underwhelming. Because I'm cashing in on a movie's release, we'll begin a look at Marvel's "Age of Ultron!'

Don't forget to follow me on Twitter @seanovan13 to stay up to date on when I post! Thanks for reading!

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