I was excited to read the announcement that DC is creating another oversize book to challenge the stamina of bookcases everywhere. The Green Arrow by Mike Grell Omnibus Volume #1 will be published next year. This collects a series that was a real favorite of mine.
It was the late ’80s, which somehow quickly turned into the early ’90s, and this series was such a breath of fresh air. The ever-brilliant Mike Gold (You are most certainly reading his columns here on Pop Culture Squad) was the editor who famously teased writer/artist Mike Grell with a pitch consisting of two words: “Urban Hunter”. Gold knew that a more modern approach to the character would appeal to Grell. For many years, the Green Arrow had been strange sort of a hero that mixed the best parts of Batman with Robin Hood. But those silly days were long gone. Grell signed onboard, intrigued by Mike Gold’s vision, and the rest is history.
This series started with Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters, a mini-series with story and art by Grell. Fans barely had time to catch their collective breath when Oliver (Green Arrow) Queen’s story continued in the regular comic. Mike Grell was still the writer, and supplied many memorable covers, but the art chores were initially handled by Ed Hannigan. Dick Giordano and Frank McLaughlin impressively inked it.
At that point in his career, Hannigan was well known for his creative covers, often slicing and dicing logos to create eye-catching compositions. And his five issue Batman arc launched the long-running Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight series. His follow-up series, Skull & Bones is a fantastic treasure, albeit regrettably overlooked by too many fans today.
Hannigan’s art set the tone for this middle-aged superhero in Seattle. The hero, Green Arrow, grappled with thrilling adventures that were more down-to-earth than other DC comics of that time. Grell’s Green Arrow stories included a healthy dose of spy thrillers, in the vein of a Ross Thomas (also popular at that time), but so many of the stories dealt with issues like runaways and gay bashing.
The protagonist, Oliver, didn’t really even call himself Green Arrow in this series. No one did. There was a sense that some folks in his community, knew him as a vigilante or as that “Robin Hood guy”. Seldom did anyone refer to him by his super-hero name or even consider him a super-hero.
Grell wrote the series with a sense of urgency that seemed to have the feel of what would have been the very best show on TV, had it been on TV at the time.
A Man Apart From The Crowd
Ollie was one step away from the rest of the commingled DC Universe at the time. He no longer seemed to encounter his old buddies like Hal Jordan or Barry Allen. Or even his frenemy, Carter Hall.
As a longtime fan, I did miss those friendships I had been reading about in the DC mythology. I just heard a great episode of The Word Balloon Podcast. The host, John Siuntres, interviewed Jennifer DeRoss, the author of Forgotten All Star: A Biography of Gardner Fox. I always had enjoyed Fox’s writing, and he seemed to be an impressive person. One thing that she spoke about, that has stuck with me, was Gardner Fox’s belief that friendships among men are extremely important. And those old DC heroes always had deep, no-nonsense friendships. If a team-up adventure started with, say The Flash and Green Lantern having dinner and then stumbling across a mystery or crime, that all seemed perfectly natural.
So, while the Grell Green Arrow series never reinforced Oliver Queen’s long-standing DC hero friendships, it did provide a groundbreaking examination of a mature romantic relationship. Throughout the series, there’s a focus on Ollie and longtime girlfriend and crime-fighting partner, Dinah Lance, aka the Black Canary. They love and bicker and struggle and support one another.
As a recent empty nester, Ollie & Dinah’s relationship seems all the more relevant to me now. Certainly, it is more relevant now than when I was a twenty-something reading these for the first time. (Please note: my wife and I seldom go crime-fighting on school nights.)
Over time, the series meandered a bit. It all seemed to sag at one point, despite artwork supplied by one of my favorites, Jim Aparo. Eventually Ollie was “killed off” and replaced with his estranged son. Those issues, with stellar artwork by the likes of Rudolfo Dimaggio and Doug Braithwaite; two artists whose work we sadly don’t see much anymore, are fantastic in their own way. A totally different flavor but still delicious.
A Treasure from a Bargain Bin
What a treat it was for me to find several issues of this fantastic series in the bargain box at one of the nation’s oldest comic shops, Comics For Collectors. The owner of this wonderful shop in Ithaca NY, was looking to move some old comics at ridiculous prices, so I scooped up a bunch of these Green Arrow issues at an astounding “5 for a dollar” price. I felt like a criminal as these books are treasures. My plan is to ‘spread the love’ and give them away after I read them. (Don’t worry, I have my copies safely stored in my own collection.)
But hey, I don’t mean to discourage you from buying this upcoming Green Arrow Omnibus. A great way to support creators we love and appreciate is by actually buying their stuff. And your bookcase probably needs the workout too.