Review: Green Arrow: Year One trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, December 29, 2008

[This review comes from guest blogger Jonathan Atkins:]

Green Arrow: Year One is a re-telling of the origin of Green Arrow by writer Andy Diggle and artist Jock (real name Mark Simpson) that tries to do what Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli did for Batman to its title character. Although it might not be quite up to the standard of the sublime Batman: Year One, this is still a fresh and convincing new start for a long-running superhero that serves as an excellent way for readers unfamiliar with Oliver Queen, the man underneath the Robin Hood outfit, to get a good grasp of where he comes from and what he’s all about.

Like Mike Grell before him, Diggle seeks to ground Green Arrow in a world more like our own, but does so in a way that does not completely jettison previous interpretations of the character. Frank Miller did the same with his origin story for Batman, and it is an effective technique as it helps to humanize a superheroic protagonist and makes them more accessible for a new reader. Daringly, however, Diggle makes the decision to eschew Green Arrow’s future stomping ground, Star City, in favor of basing the entire narrative around Oliver Queen’s time spent marooned on a remote island in the Pacific Ocean. It’s a brave move and one that pays off in spades by focusing the action and allowing the title character to really take center stage – and when a protagonist undergoes a change as radical as Queen’s, it’s character development that you want to see.

From the very clever first page, which shows the green arrow of a compass spinning without a true direction at magnetic north, we see a future Green Arrow ultimately find his own direction over the course of a convincing narrative that never once strays off the introspective path set for it. Diggle doesn’t let the character stuff get in the way of telling a rollicking story, however, and fits in some twists and turns and explosive scenes to stop the plot’s pulse from getting too relaxed. Some slight social relevancy is unobtrusively worked in as well, foreshadowing the politicization of the character by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams in the seventies and providing some brains with the ballistics. A slightly silly villain, the oddly named and appropriately dressed China White, seems a little out of place amongst the cast of the collection. Although she might be essential for the sake of the story, contrasted with the real villain of the piece – a treacherous employee of Queen’s – she pales in comparison.

With a mixed medium, it’s no surprise that comics can only get so far with strong writing before the quality of the artwork becomes an important factor in the overall quality of the finished product, but fortunately the art team of Jock and David Baron shoot straight and true throughout this collection. Jock’s jagged pencils are stripped of any unnecessary clutter, lending the numerous action sequences a truly kinetic quality and perfectly conveying the speed of the obligatory storm of flying projectiles that are always accompany of a Green Arrow adventure. David Baron, the colorist, does a great job of establishing the backdrops for the story with lush but instantly distinguishable environmental tones that do not take anything away from Jock’s work.

My only other real issue with Green Arrow: Year One not previously mentioned is that some parts of the plot are stormed through with an unsatisfactory swiftness in order to reach the keynotes in the tune Diggle wants to play. In particular, it would have been nice to see a little more of Queen’s transformation from playboy to master archer; as the one issue used to cover this never really conveys the desperation of his plight or the time that passes, although this was probably because Diggle didn’t want to lose his readership in the story’s original, serialized form. That sort of efficiency sums up Green Arrow: Year One really: as a story it’s utterly fat-free and does everything it needs to do without any unnecessary grandstanding or complication. And, although a reader might sometimes crave a little fat to pad a good story out, too much is ultimately a bad thing (especially for a monthly title) and this is competitive collection for the reintroduction and revitalization of a typically B-list character.

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More reviews on the way! Everyone have a safe holiday and a happy new year!
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