27 May 2009

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Star City, Part I: Green Arrow: Quiver

Comic trade paperback, 226 pages
Published 2002 (contents: 2001-02)

Borrowed from a friend
Read May 2009
Green Arrow: Quiver

Writer: Kevin Smith
Penciller: Phil Hester
Inker: Ande Parks
Colorist: Guy Major
Letterer: Sean Konot

DC Universe Timeline: Three Years Ago
Real World Timeline: 2000?

(Harold Leeds was awarded "Civil Servant of the Year" on April 25, 1999, and it's implied that that was relatively recently. The individual comics making up this collection started coming out in early 2001, so that would make some sense. According to timelines I looked at, Quiver takes place the same year as the death/rebirth of Superman story arc, meaning that seven publishing years' worth of stories take place in the same year. That is insane. This story consistently refers to the events of the "hard-traveling heroes" arc of Green Lantern/Green Arrow, published in 1970-1, as having occurred ten years ago. I have a hard time buying that a story as rooted in its time as that could have transpired in the 1990s.)

In a way, Green Arrow was what started this long comics journey. But that's a long story and one I shan't be getting into right now, but that makes it appropriate that one of the comics James gave me was this, the first story of Green Arrow after his rebirth. You see, Oliver Queen had died back in 1995, thanks to some ecoterrorists, and Connor Hawke, his illegitimate son, had taken over as Green Arrow. But in 1996, during a crisis where the Earth's sun was shut off, Hal Jordan-- who Oliver Queen had previously killed or something-- brought Oliver back to life, though that was not revealed until this story, so I don't know what he got up to in all that time between. If there really was any time between.

Are you confused? So am I, and I've been looking stuff up on Wikipedia and a dozen other websites for the past half-hour trying to get it all straight. But here's the thing-- I hardly ever was while reading Quiver. Despite juggling a complex history that intersects numerous characters and stories, Kevin Smith always keeps the reader from drowning in a sea of continuity, even if there are times where you feel like you're only just barely afloat.

What works here are the characters. My only previous substantial Green Arrow experience was the "hard-traveling heroes" storyline, and this Green Arrow isn't quite that one, but that's a good thing, since that Green Arrow was more a one-note radical leftist mouthpiece for Denny O'Neil than an actual person. Smith's Oliver Queen is a hero, certainly; even as a half-crazed, just-resurrected man he builds himself a rudimentary bow and arrow and tries to stop a mugging, and once he gets his groove back, he's taking on corruption in Star City left, right, and center with some fun sequences. Green Arrow's archery shtick is nice and distinctive; he typically doesn't end up just punching things like many other superheroes.

But Green Arrow's got some problems-- he's got a bit of a habit of running away from responsibilities and messing things up with those he loves: his son, Connor Hawke; his ward, Roy Harper; and most importantly, his love, Dinah Lance the Black Canary. Of course, Ollie can't be blamed for disappearing this time-- he was dead, right?

Actually, it turns out he sort of can, because he's not wholly alive. When Hal Jordan resurrected Oliver Queen, Oliver's soul didn't want to leave the afterlife, as he'd finally found peace there. So the resurrected Oliver has the body and (most of) the memories of the original, but not the soul. It's pointed out that he's fundamentally the same person, but a danger arises from this-- if Oliver's body doesn't have a soul, another soul could easily move in. The book falters a little here, as the existential questions this whole idea raises are somewhat outside the remit of a comic book about a guy in a Robin Hood costume (or at least this comic book about a guy in a Robin Hood costume), so it just tries to avoid them but still gets bogged down in a lot of DC Universe metaphysics.

Metaphysics aren't the only thing going on, though; there's also a serial killer loose in Star City. Supposedly Green Arrow is trying to stop him, but this plotline suffers from two problems. First is that Green Arrow scarcely does anything in this line. It's not his fault, really; halfway through the book and he's just only really gotten back on his feat when the Demon Etrigan shows up and brings in the whole metaphysical thing, and GA never gets a chance to go back to his "mundane" storyline until events come to a head (and turn out to be much less mundane than they'd seemed). The second problem is that the identity of the serial killer is fricking obvious from chapter two of ten at the latest. Maybe Smith thought he was being subtle, maybe he wanted the reader to figure it out, but it's really annoying waiting eight chapters for the characters to catch up. And the eventual explanation of the motives of the killer are convoluted, to say the least.

But the small falterings of the book with crazy metaphysics and crazy killers can be overlooked, because the climax brings it all together. It's not Oliver Queen the just-resurrected soulless husk who has to learn to stop running away from the consequences of his actions; it's the soul hanging out in the afterlife doing nothing but shooting arrows at an ethereal target. That Oliver finally decides to be there for his son. Green Arrow may have not had a choice about his body being resurrected, but he did have a choice about his soul, and it's a choice he makes. It's a great moment when, soul returned, Oliver Queen joins his son in kicking tail and saving the day.

The book also has some cameos from around the DC Universe: Superman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern, the Spectre, Jason Blood, and even Deadman make appearances. Most prominent, however, is Batman. I'm not sure what to think of Smith's Batman-- sometimes he's spot-on, but sometimes he drifts into caricature. But it's real good caricature, so I'm willing to forgive it. The Justice League as a whole suffers from a similar problem (I really think they'd be able to handle Oliver's resurrection better than this), but it's most pronounced with Batman.

Sometimes I also felt a little uneasy about Quiver's portrayal of women. Wonder Woman plants one on Green Arrow's lips when she first meets him, and judging from Wally West's reaction, it's a pretty intense kiss. Well of course she would; what else would an elated woman do but give a man a little bit of tongue? Deadman also gets one off Black Canary in a moment that's played for laughs, even if she does hit him in the jaw for it. And at the end, our serial killer friend also suddenly turns out to like raping teenage girls, seemingly just to up the level of danger a little bit. On the other hand, I have few complaints about Smith's portrayal of Black Canary as a well-rounded, independent woman, as much her own person as Green Arrow. And Mia Dearden is all sorts of awesome as well.

That said, I feel a bit skeevy myself complaining that the only real problem I have with Phil Hester's generally excellent artwork is that Black Canary is just nowhere near as hot as Black Canary should be.

I think the most important thing about Quiver is that though it deals with some crazy continuity, some abstract metaphysics, and some dark themes, is that it never loses its way. This book is about Oliver Queen/Green Arrow, what makes him a great hero and a sometimes not-so-great man, and about how he learns to come through in the end. And perhaps almost as importantly, it's always fun. Whoever doesn't love the boxing glove arrow ought to be lined up and shot.

Note that this originally appeared on my old LiveJournal and included pictures back then. Sadly, the pictures are lost in the mists of the Internet.