16 June 2009

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Star City, Part II: Green Arrow: Sounds of Violence

Comic trade paperback, 118 pages
Published 2003 (contents: 2002)

Borrowed from a friend
Read June 2009
Green Arrow: Sounds of Violence

Writer: Kevin Smith
Penciller: Phil Hester
Inker: Ande Parks
Colorist: James Sinclair
Letterer: Sean Konot

DC Universe Timeline: Three Years Ago
Real World Timeline: 2001?

(The stories in this book pick up shortly after Quiver. Green Arrow is still reestablishing himself as a force on the streets of Star City, and still coming to terms with his relationships with Black Canary, Mia Dearden, and his son.)

Sounds of Violence collects the second part of Kevin Smith's run on Green Arrow, issues #11-15. Despite containing only about half as many issues as the previous volume, it still packs a satisfying punch. It consists of what are really three separate stories, but all three concern one thing: Oliver Queen's relationship to the people around him. If you read my review of the first volume of this series, you'll know that what I liked was Oliver's depiction as a great hero but a not-so-great man who tries his best. This volume continues that trend.

We're not going to handle these in quite the order they happen in the book; the second chapter, "Feast and Fowl" reignites Green Arrow and Black Canary's relationship, despite both of their wishes. It's a somewhat typical "feisty couple" story; the two bicker a lot and then end up in bed with one another after a workout. I'm a bit confused as to why the news reported that Green Arrow and Black Canary were fighting when they did it all in their civilian identities, but what the hey... I do like seeing the Riddler get smashed to a pulp. Also fun in this story is Green Arrow's fight with Hawkman-- you know that when Black Canary frets the two will be fighting with each other that they will be best buds, but Smith goes on to reverse his reversal in a great moment later on where they do end up fighting. Or rather, it's a great moment if you think women can't speak for themselves in their own relationships and desires, so it's also great when Black Canary knocks the two bickering men out. Though she does it naked, of course. It's a good story, though not really central to the book.

The first chapter, "Ultimate Speedy", is about his relationship with Mia Dearden, the teenage ex-prostitute he took in during Quiver. Mia wants to be the new Speedy, Green Arrow's sidekick, but Oliver doesn't think that's such a good idea; he doesn't want some kid cramping up his style. But as Mia points out, Roy Harper was Speedy to Oliver's Green Arrow back when he was fifteen years old, so what gives? What Oliver realizes as he cleans the streets with his son, new Green Arrow Connor Hawke, is that he likes having a younger person around to show the ropes, likes having someone admire him, likes being a father. But if he's going to actually admit that to himself... he also needs to actually act like a father for the first time in his life, and that means being responsible towards Mia. So no, she actually can't be the new Speedy, as much as both of them want it. It's a nice moment, unexpected in a superhero comic, though I'd worry that Mia's status as a civilian doesn't cause writers to not know what to do with here. I know she became Speedy later on, once Smith was off the title, and I hope it's not crap like when Byrne wrote a whole issue of Alpha Flight explaining why Heather Hudson couldn't be the new Guardian... and then as soon as he was off the title, Bill Mantlo made her the new Guardian because he didn't know what to do with such a unique character. But here, it's a nice little character vignette, showing us an Oliver Queen coming to terms with the idea of being a father for the first time in his life.

This is important to the last (and longest) story of the volume, "The Sounds of Violence". Here, the Green Arrows come up against Onomatopoeia, one of the creepiest comic-book villains I have seen in a long time. This guy's gimmick is that whenever he does something he verbalizes its sound effect first: so he says, "blam" and then he shoots you, "BLAM!" And that's all he says. You can't even see his face; he wears a full-head mask. Phil Hester's art really sells the moments where he just stares at Green Arrow, unanswering. We don't see why he does what he does, either; he's an indecipherable mystery. A simple but disturbing concept. An excellent villain to show the depths of feeling in the Oliver/Connor relationship, as Connor falls victim to Onomatopoeia. The scenes with Oliver and Onomatopoeia in the hospital room together, Oliver's arrow in the villain's mouth as Connor is operated on by desperate physicians, is fantastic. Though one wonders why Oliver just doesn't kill Onomatopoeia anyway, given that he's a known murderer surely going to resist arrest. The story here is simple-- a series of fight scenes interspersed with Ollie's regrets-- but it works really well. Smith has created a compelling set of characters in the past dozen issues, and he really capitalizes on that here.

The only problem I have here is that Onomatopoeia is annoyingly lucky; why can't Green Arrow ever quite get him when he nails so many other people throughout the book with ease. Is he just that good? It seems contrived, unless the villain has super-strength or other powers, but no one ever raises that as a possibility. Why can Onomatopoeia just shoot Connor when no one else can? The conceit of these sort of superhero stories is that the bullets never hit, so it jars when one does for no apparent reason. Things can be random like that in real life; it doesn't work so well in stories. Similarly, I didn't get why Oliver had such a hard time fighting Onomatopoeia, even with help from Black Canary, given the ease in which they took down the Riddler and five goons in the previous story. But it's a small quibble; I'd happily read another story about Onomatopoeia. Wiki tells me that though he never popped up in Green Arrow again, he did make it into a Batman story (also by Smith); I'll have to seek that out.

Sounds of Violence does exactly what I'd hoped the Green Arrow series would do after Quiver: move away from the continuity-heavy background and simply tell good stories about Green Arrow and surrounding characters with the set-up Smith had established. I feel like I don't have a lot to say about this book, but that's because it doesn't have anything big to say about humanity, the universe, or even Green Arrow himself. It sets itself modest goals of telling a cracking good superhero story with strong characterization and snappy dialogue and exceeds those goals well. Though this is the last Green Arrow comic James owns and thus the last you'll see featured in Faster than a DC Bullet, I'm interested enough in the series that I'll be continuing onwards with it, into the trade paperbacks that followed Smith's run on the title.

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.

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