Monday, February 05, 2007

The once and future Queen - Part Three : The brutal ( RELOADED )

If you are an avid reader of my little blog you may have noticed that this is still the third part of the Green Arrow trilogy. I know I hoped to finish this on the next day, which would have been almost two weeks ago. There has been a lot of stuff happening. First of all we had to take down the Leni Riefenstahl exhibition at the museum in Kornwestheim and prepare everything for the new Gert Fabritius exhibition which took a lot of time and some extra hours. We had a really good reception of the vernissage and now I have some free days. Which for a normal person would mean time to relax. And which for me means I caught the flu and I have to prepare for a job interview. Nevertheless I wanted to write something new in my blog which means first wrapping up this thing. Now there were some problems with the computer in the past but thanks to NERO I can, once again, burn some data on discs. So my harddrive will not explode and I can save all the pictures for this blog. So let´s get right to blogging because last time I left you with a kind of cliffhanger. We are coming now to the third part that I named " the brutal " for two reasons.

Reason number 1 : The movie " The good, the bad and the ugly " in it´s original form was called " Il buono, il malo e il bruto " which correctly translated means " The good, the bad and the brutal ". So this is the correct form.

Reason number 2 : The Green Arrow issues I´m writing about are not bad. Quite the opposite because they brought me back to this title. But they could be described as brutal so I took a little artistic liberty and remained true to the original title. Keepin it real, baby !

So first I want to talk about the art ( what a surprise ) which I would say is not for everybody. I mean, I´m a big Scott McDaniel fan and even I have sometimes trouble to understand what is going on in every page. So, like Kirby McDaniel is more of an aquired taste but one you can easily fall into. Because despite the fact that you may like or dislike the sharp and edgy lines or his sometimes minimalistic approach there is one thing you see on every page : this artist is pulling out all the stops. The art just seems to explode on every page sweeping you away in a kinetic tidal wave. His sense for effective layout and design is without question and the bold lines just emphasize the blockbuster action taking place. And the wonderful inks by Andy Owens just add to it all like the icing on a cake. Wonderful !

Sadly the first two issues ( number 60 and 61 ) have paper with a high percentage of wood ( that´s not what I meant. Get your mind out of the gutter, pervert ! ) so the colors are waaay too dark and you often have trouble to see the pictures clearly - a phenomenon every german comic book reader knows and which in Germany is called " the MONSTER effect " named after the Panini comics MONSTER editions. Despite the fact that these editions have been coming out for more than three or four years it seems that nobody except the readers ( and sometimes not even all readers ) have noticed that the printing in these comics is too dark. Back to Green Arrow, beginning with issue 62 DC switched to glossy paper that bring out the brilliance in the coloring and all is good in Sherwood Forrest. Yes, as a guy who worked in a printing company I haven´t stopped commenting on these things because it just bugs me when I see things that could have been avoided with minimal effort. I mean if you can´t be bothered to look at the proofs before giving the O.K. to start printing you´re not even trying. That´s not something that says : I care about my readers. Back to topic.

Despite the brilliant art the real kicker is the story. It all takes place ONE YEAR LATER and since I´m writing about the last 11 ( ! ) issues there is probably not much left to spoil for me. But nevertheless for all who have been living under a rock last year or never heard of Green Arrow here is the obligatory spoiler warning : the following part may or may not contain information you may not be aware of and which could be declared as " spoiler " which may result in ruining a complete stroyline or even worse, a whole series for you. This may lead to depressions, suicidal tendencies, killing sprees and buying issues of YOUNGBLOOD. So if you want to save your life from a future bleaker than the New Warriors you should skip the rest.

Now that we got that out of the way the new storyline opens up with a new status quo : Star City was almost destroyed during INFINITE CRISIS and Green Arrow is trying to rebuild his city. But not as a superhero. To manage this herculean task Ollie enters an arena even more dangerous than superheroics : politics. While in issue 60 it is still unknow where Green Arrow spend the last year one thing is very clear : he´s back and he is the just newly elected mayor of Star City. And that means desaster for everyone else. Because Oliver Queen and politics just go together like white and rice. As a superhero Green Arrow is one of the coolest guys but as a politician he´s so brilliant it´s almost scaring. Always one to complain about " fatcats " and trying to " stick it to the man " Ollie knows all the dirty tricks and uses them very efficiently now that he himself has become " the man ".

And the first thing on his agenda is stopping the STAR CITY WILLOWBEIGH PROJECT which basically is a conglomerate of capitalist fatcats who want to turn an " unmanagable " part of town into their own version of Las Vegas. This part of the town was damaged the worst during INFINITE CRISIS and the only people left there are the poor who couldn´t afford to move anywhere else. And instead of trying to help those people the city decided that everyone was better off if they just built one great wall around it. Well, as a guy living in Germany I know what a wall can do to people - none of it good. Now Ollie is not one who will take this lying down so he tries to save the city he loves in his own way. Meaning refusing the plans of the STAR CITY WILLOWBEIGH PROJECT which results in the bad guys behind this hiring Deathstroke to kill the new mayor of Star City. Now if you read IDENTITY CRISIS, which by the way is one of THE best stories involving the JLA and Green Arrow, you may remember that during the fight of the JLA against Deathstroke Ollie stabbed him in the eye with a broken arrow. Or rather where his eye used to be, which still hurts like hell.

Now Deathstroke is known for two things. Being an unstoppable, relentless killing machine ( hence the nickname " Terminator " long before Arnold took the name to unparalleled heights of badass ) and carrying grudges. So this one he would have taken for free. Which does not mean he does it for free. But the torture is gratis.

In issue 62 the great showdown between Green Arrow and Deathstroke takes place. And what makes the storyline so enjoyable is that the writer Judd Winick does not draw on the Robin Hood parallels so much and turns it more into a western. There is a new sheriff in town ( which is the title of the first issue ) who won´t play by the rules of the black hats so they hire a hitman to take him out. Which leads us to the showdown to see who is the fastes gunslinger in town. It all reminds me of my favorite westerns.

Of course there is more to the whole than a pure western story. It also is a political thriller or comedy depending on the situation. One of the funny aspects of the story is how Oliver Queen tries to build up his city. After the relevation that Oliver Queen is the new mayor on the last page of issue 60 ( which you already have guessed if you have seen the cover of the issue ) the next issue opens up with his first press conference. During which Ollie tells the press that he will hold mass weddings every Friday on the steps of city hall. That in itself is not really newsworthy. But it seems that the new mayor has found that the city carter of Star City states that the mayor can legally marry any two " persons ". And since it does not specify gender this means gay people too. But come on, if you can´t have gay marriagee when your mayor´s name is Queen when can you have them ? The only contingency is that the couple that wants to get married must cohabitate in Star City for two weeks prior to the ceremony. Which in turn means that now a lot of people will spend time and money in Star City. This in turn could put some pressure on the governor which is just what Ollie wants - to get attention, to get people talking and not being ignored anymore. It´s just brilliant.

Now you may think that Green Arrow is no match for Deathstroke, right ? And that´s also what Deathstroke counts on and which eventually is his downfall. Because not only does Ollie manage to outmanouver the hired assasin because he knew he was coming, he manages to outfight him. One of my favorite moments in this issue is when it dawns on Slade Wilson a.k.a. Deathstroke that he is going to loose. " This is not the same man. This is NOT the same fighter. You bastard. That´s where you were for a year. You retrained yourself. You got better. " Eventually Slade tries to flee but being surrounded by dozens of special forces there is just one option left for him : surrender.

By the way, my favorite moment of this issue is when Ollie explodes abomb in his office that Deathstroke overlooked. " Didn´t find that bomb when you swept the room, right ? It´s smaller than a pin head and nearly undetectable ! I got it from Kord Industries ! You remember Ted Kord ? He was a friend of mine that you bastards murdered ! " That moment is just totally Airwolf. Nice to know that a few remember the Blue Beetle.

The next issue centers on the ramifications of Deathstroke giving himself up. Green Arrow knows he´s just planning something but who knows what ? Brick makes an appearance in this issue who as far as I could find out was one of Ollies villains but who now has taken over THE GLADES which is the part of Star City that´s behind the aforementioned wall. Now Ollie is kind of turning a blind eye to the situation as long as Brick keeps up the order and keeps it all clean. Keeping the order in the hood. But a new drug that turns up on the streets of Star City that turns normal citizens into some kind of monsters forces the mayor to take a more hands on approach. Issue 64 shows Green Arrow and Brick side by side fighting against more monsters you can shake a stick at while finding a freaking truck load of the new drug responsible for it. Also, the plot with Deathstroke thickens as he is doing everything in his might to get convicted, even plead guilty.

Now there is something that I have to get off my chest about Slade Wilson a.k.a. the Terminator. There is one big flaw in this character and that is his origin. It is often mentioned that he is faster, stronger and more intelligent because as opposed to the average man who only uses 10 percent of his brain Slade uses 100 percent of his brain. Now this particular origin was written when science thought that we were just able to use 10 percent of our brain capacity and that there was an untapped 90 percent that never got used. Maybe you remember those scientology ads : " You´re just using 10 percent of you brain. " Now a few years ago scientists found out that the different parts of the brain have different functions. Big deal. We already know that. But the real discovery was that for different things the body uses different parts of the brain. So there are parts of the brain that are not used very often but that does not mean they are never used. So it´s not so much that people only use 10 percent of their brain. It´s more like they DO use all 100 percent but only 10 percent at any given time. You have to think of it like a computer. You are not always operating with 100 percent of the capacity. What´s more the theory along those lines is that if anybody would use all 100 percent at once he would probably go insane.....or die...or develop superpowers. Who knows. But I think it´s high time for DC to correct the origin. I hoped they would use the whole ONE YEAR LATER to do that but that did not happen. I know it´s just nitpicking but it still bugs me when I read it. It´s just an outdated scientific fact and should have no place in comic books.

Okay, back to issue 64. At the end of the issue it looks like Green Arrow and Brick are between a rock and a hard place with no way out. Enter Speedy, Green Arrows female sidekick who makes her first appearance since the beginning of the storyline. The next issue while it does not reveal where Speedy has been does have a lot of things taking place : a political discussion of Ollies behaviour as mayor which the writer uses to present the pro and contra with a strong statement at the end. Now I am sure that I do not like all stories by Judd Winnick because I seem to recall at the back of my mind some really bad comics with him as a writer. But like in his just brilliant BARRY WEEN series he´s playing at the top of his game here. The fight against the monsters gets wrapped up and we finally find out why Slade was so keen on getting arrested. Which leads directly into the second part of the stroyline : what happened to Green Arrow during the missing year ? I don´t want to spoil too much about this part of the story because there should be some surprises left in the story. And believe me Judd Winnick throws the reader a lot of curve balls. So let me just say, that at the end of INFINITE CRISIS Ollie came to the realisation, that he is not prepared for what is coming, for what is needed to get Star City back on it´s feet. So he goes back to his roots and retrains himself. And he does it in the most hardcore, grueling and....yes.....brutal way imaginable. Think MORTAL COMBAT but with arrows and weapons.

Issues 66 to 68 chronicle Green Arrow´s journey through hell and back again to emerge as an unstoppable fighting machine. There are many pitfalls and some lines that he has to cross and more than once the reader asks himself if he does not go too far to achieve his goal. But being the thickheaded, stubborn pain in the ass that Oliver is he always goes the full nine yards. And the final test is a real kicker. The next part beginning in issue 69 has Batman guest starring reuniting the old BRAVE AND THE BOLD TEAM right in time for the comeback of the series. Bruce Wayne, playboy millionaire pays Star City a visit doing some charity work while his alter ego the Batman is hot on the trail of the Red Hood. So while Bats and Green Arrow are teaming up Brick and the Red Hood are doing their own version of ACTS OF VENGEANCE. Batman and Green Arrow have a lot of history together and the story pays reference to that as well as the fact that despite that they don´t always see eye to eye tere are some common elements. Ollie knows only too well that having a sidekick can lead to a lot of troubles and can relate to Bruce´s problems with the resurrected Dick Grayson. The last part of this has not come out yet but so far it can uphold the quality of the story that has been published so far.

So what´s the final verdict ? For me, personally, these are by far the best issues of Green Arrow I have read in a looong time. Combining the political topics of Mike Grell´s original series with a more modern visual style and superb dialogue they deliver the best of two worlds. If you never have read Green Arrow or if you haven´t read it in a long time you should give the book a chance. I know that because of my backlog it´s difficult to get the single issues but the first trade of it has been released and I´m sure the rest will follow through.

As we reunite with all readers who skipped the spoilers and bought the comic just based on my recommendation I want to present my personal rating of all the Green Arrow material we discussed so far. First we have what I would call the essential reading : the best, the gold mark, the must have. In this category falls...of course....the GREEN ARROW - LONGBOW HUNTERS miniseries and the following series by Mike Grell. Additionally I would like to include Kevin Smith´s first story QUIVER. Of all the resurrections in comics this is one of the better ones which just proves that it is always better if somebody comes up with a story for a resurrection. As opposed to when a company decides to bring back a character and a writer has to come up with a way to pull it off. Like in GREEN LANTERN - REBORN. And of course I just have to include IDENTITY CRISIS which is not part of the Green Arrow franchise but Oliver is one of the main characters on whom the story centers. He plays a big part and the characterisation by Brad Melzer is just spot on.

The second category is what I would call the booster pack into which fall the comics that while not essential still have a great quality level and are just an entertaining read. This category definitely covers the issues after number 60 of Green Arrow but also the stories after Quiver by Kevin Smith and the first two stories by Brad Meltzer. While they were not my all time favorite stories they still display an intuitive understanding of Green Arrow. And you just have to cut the mastermind behind IDENTITY CRISIS a little slack, right ?

And in the last category we have all the stuff you really don´t need to read and which I try to ignore. All the stories with Connor Hawke, the issues of the series after Mike Grell left till he gets blown up and all that weird crap. Try to avoid these issues unless you like to watch train wrecks. Finally this concludes the Green Arrow trilogy and we can go on to other things in my next post.

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