Thursday, August 09, 2007

Green Arrow: Year One

Green Arrow: Year One No. 1 & 2 (of 6)
Both written by Andy Diggle
Both drawn & cover art by Jock
Published by DC; $2.99
July 2007

There are virtually no limits to where a comic book can take its readers - and I don't just mean showing green-furred koalas who can shoot laser beams out of their nipples while picnicking on Saturn. How many people know what it's like, firsthand, to bungee-jump the Grand Canyon? Barrel-roll a stealth plane? Dive the Titanic? Seduce a supermodel? Activities that can feasibly be executed in the real world provide excitement a-plenty if your main character has the means of an over-indulgent, thrill-seeking playboy. So, why we learn about the aforementioned escapades of Oliver Queen (Green Arrow to be) while he's sitting on a glacier in the Arctic - essentially, a snowy hillside setting that is little more than a blank, white page - is completely beyond my comprehension. And very, very frustrating.

Subtract engaging art from Green Arrow: Year One No. 1 and there's little else to make up for it. Year One cooks up the proverbial orphan-turned-vigilante-hero origin story. We start with the insanely wealthy Oliver Queen, who has been seasoned generously with disillusionment. His sense of purpose has been strained off long ago and he has been sparingly garnished with interesting minor characters. I'm not claiming that because a storyline is commonplace it has to be mundane, but Year One does more stating than creating. For example, Ollie/G.A. "thinks" (I quote): "My whole life, I've surrounded myself with sycophants and yes-men who'll tell me whatever I want to hear" ...and that's it. There are no actual portraits of that situation. Uh, I'd like know what's it'd be like to be surrounded by "yes-men." It's why I'm reading this comic book. Rather than impose that interior monologue over an image of a boat in the middle of the ocean (bo-oring!), I want to watch some flunky laugh at Ollie's awful jokes, which they both know are not funny. Or show me some asshole egging the Arrow onto buying a meteor crater so he that can fill it with champagne. Anything is better than is nothing.

The only other character fleshed out in Year One is Ollie's one "true" buddy, Hackett, who is straight with him about how empty his life is. (He almost literally tells Ollie just that – "There's something missing in you, Ollie.") When Hackett betrays Ollie, it's not really a surprise – not that I saw it coming - but I just didn't care. In fact, I am betting that you will care so little about that story twist, too, that you won't mind that I didn't issue a spoiler warning just now.

The art in Year One No. 1 aspires to that sloppy, bad-on-purpose style that artists like Ben Templesmith can get away with, but few else can ... and too many try. Yeah, there's the occasionally exceptional panel, but it's difficult to tell if it's attractive on its own, or just standing out from the rest of the scribbles in the book. I do give Jock some props for his skill at drawing hair. There is some nice-looking hair in issue No. 1, especially in the last few pages. Jock really nails that upscale, chin-skimming, frat-boy look that some future CEOs get during their "cut-loose" college years.

Sadly, the transition between issue No. 1 and No. 2 was not very encouraging. At the end of No. 1, Ollie's buddy heaves him overboard in the middle of the ocean. No. 2 begins with Ollie washing up on an island shore. I protest not the degree of improbability in this situation, but its utter lack of adornment. Give me a life-saving school of dolphins! A mermaid! Even a hallucination of Robin Hood would have sufficed. Anything, please! - except for what we get, nothing!

What we do get (finally), looking on the bright side, is some decent character development. There is a stunning description of Ollie's first taste of water in several days. Diggle pens some entertaining reflections on the hoops Ollie has to jump through to survive on the island, even if some moments are sullied by over-obvious and unnecessary observations to the effect of "things are more satisfying when you do them for yourself." The highlight of No. 2 is an dynamic costume-acquiring sequence that is good enough to leave as a vague mention ... so as not to spoil.

Overall, the storytelling improves in issue No. 2. The art is more detailed and the narration switches to present-moment activities rather than just recounting past experiences and summarizing relationships. The effect is amazing. As the ol' design dictates: Simmer your hero with suffering; butter with meaning; and serve with a side of cold-hearted, mysterious injustice.

True to form, the relatively quiet, character-building No. 2 ends with our newly-reborn hero getting back in action. Even though I'd comfortably wager my life's savings on who the villain in this mini-series is, I still might pick it up No. 3 - just to find out what happens. Green Arrow Year One's hardly a shot through the heart, but it doesn't miss the entire target completely.

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