Review: Green Arrow Vol. 1: The Midas Touch trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Even before the DC Comics New 52 relaunch, Green Arrow saw changes from Smallville to Flashpoint. Gone was the activist hippie, old man out-of-time, or unrepentant philanderer Oliver Queen, replaced with a young billionaire playboy, technologically savvy, using his boardroom brains and a cadre of trick arrows to bring down the bad guys. If it sounds like the Dark Knight lite, it is, but that's not necessarily a drawback for those who like their Dark Knight a little lighter.

Green Arrow: The Midas Touch is a compelling recreation of Oliver Queen himself, but struggles to find an equally compelling backdrop in which to place the character (the original creative team of J. T. Krul, Dan Jurgens, Keith Giffen, and George Perez were all replaced after this volume). The volume sets Green Arrow on a good foundation for further adventures, but may not have enough pizzazz to bring many readers back.

[Review contains spoilers]

Green Arrow is a rare title to be a true reboot but also keep its writer, J. T. Krul, from the "old" DC Universe to the new. Krul has successfully written Oliver Queen's adventures in a variety of forms, from urban renegade to supernatural swordfighter, so it's guaranteed the writer has a sense of Arrow's basic voice. Indeed for all The Midas Touch's difficulties, Krul, Jurgens, and Giffen's characterization of the hero isn't one of them -- Oliver Queen is brash, arrogant, and a little cocky, but all likeably so, and at the same time guided by a strong sense of justice and a drive to make up for past sins.

The Green Arrow title tries to take as its central theme superheroics in the social media age. The villains are notorious for advertising their exploits online; the duo "Limelight" are a kind of Paris Hilton take-off whose modus operandi is trashing nightclubs. This is placed parallel to Oliver's Q-Core technology division (and covert spy operation) that takes a liberal view toward things like privacy rights or stealing a boat to catch bad guys -- meant to have a kind of "twenty-first century villains need a twenty-first century hero" vibe.

Unfortunately, what hampers Green Arrow is that the villains just aren't that interesting. The first issues pits Green Arrow against ridiculously-named foes like Dynamix, Supercharge, and Rush, who live-stream their battle with Green Arrow over the internet for no better reason than to be famous. That glory hounds seeking instant fame abound these days isn't news, and Krul doesn't say more with them than that. As opposed to Batman's Court of Owls or Animal Man's horrific dreams, there's nothing in Green Arrow's first issues to leave an impression other than the hero himself.

Midas Touch is also hindered throughout by its artwork. Dan Jurgens and George Perez are a powerhouse team, to be sure, and though both have drawn for DC Comics for a while, neither's work is necessarily dated -- recently Jurgens has beautifully brought back to life his creation Booster Gold, while Perez depicted epic battles in Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds. But Green Arrow's rudimentary superheroics need a more dynamic vision to bring them to life; Perez's Rush and company have generic hair and clothes seemingly plucked from the 1980s, and this only makes the first issues all that more forgettable.

The book improves plot-wise slightly when Giffen comes on in the fourth issue. New villains Midas and Blood Rose are more visually interesting; it also helps that Rose has some connection to Oliver himself, making the plot personal, though this isn't much detailed by the end and the revelation that Rose is a robot only confuses things further. Overall, however, the story isn't about much more than Green Arrow fighting bad guys, and doesn't surprise or genuinely challenge the reader even as Green Arrow himself is a likable protagonist.

Where Green Arrow is the most moving is in its handling of Oliver Queen's double life. It's not so much that Oliver's "night job" keeps him from running his company as that he actively chooses to avoid his Queen Industries work, an interesting difference from the Caped Crusader. To that end Oliver somewhat deserves the ire he gets from Emerson, CEO of Queen Industries; at the same time, the reader can't help but feel for Oliver when Emerson derides him as shiftless, juxtaposed against Oliver's hard work as Green Arrow.

Secret identities had largely been abandoned in the "old" DC Universe prior to the New 52 relaunch, and with it the sweet pain, perhaps specific to comic books, of Lois Lane pining for Superman over Clark Kent or Gothan society snickering over Bruce Wayne's buffoonery.

Green Arrow resurrects some of that, and it makes for strong characterization -- Oliver's pacifist sidekick Jax is a foil with good potential for future storylines, and the reader feels for Green Arrow and Oliver's assistants Naomi and Adrien respectively, even if little screen-time is given to exploring them separate from Oliver himself. The writers here skip over a drawn-out origin story, much as Brian Azzarello did in Wonder Woman: Blood; this is refreshing, but at the same time Green Arrow might have needed it a little more.

After Green Arrow: The Midas Touch, writer Ann Nocenti takes over, marking the third writer the new Green Arrow will have had in less than twelve issues. The aforementioned Wonder Woman: Blood struggled in its conclusion, but it ended on a cliffhanger and Azzarello continues as writer with the following volume. Not so Green Arrow; the next storyline offers more from Oliver, Naomi, and Jax, but for readers looking to trim their DC New 52 buying list, the first DC New 52 Green Arrow volume fails to demonstrate why it should be kept over others.

[Includes full covers, sketchbook section of Green Arrow and villains]

Coming up, we continue in the DC New 52 from the Dan Jurgens co-plotted Green Arrow to the Jurgens-written (and newly cancelled) Justice League International.
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9 comments:

  1. I read the first issue and was kind of disappointed. It felt bland to me, with not a solid enough story to keep me interested enough to add it to my "buy" list. Kind of surprised that Krul left the book so quickly (didn't he say it was so he could focus on Captain Atom?), and if Giffen had stayed on longer then I might have considered giving it another chance.

    Did anyone confirm if Ann Nocenti is staying as the series writer after the #0 issue? Changing the creative teams a couple of times a year does nothing but hurt a series.

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  2. It seems Krul left this book to work on the Superman Beyond digital comic. His first GA issue was pretty underwhelming, but his last two were more entertaining. I'm not sure how long-term his plans for the character were, but none of his successors made any significant changes to the status quo he set up.

    While DC didn't say anything about Nocenti staying on the book (or leaving it, for that matter), they did confirm that Winick is only writing issue #0:

    http://www.newsarama.com/comics/dc-zero-month-creative-changes.html

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  3. Yeah, I picked up the first 3 issues by Krul and dropped it after that. And although the concept was good (what with idea of people taking pleasure in violence on the net, because their safe-and-sound behind a computer)...it all felt 1-dimensional. And the art just doesn't fit into for todays art. It just looks dated beyond disbelief.

    So sad that this is one of the most disappointing titles...

    BUT Judd Winick is writing issue #0. Please god, let the man write GA again. I think his work is under appreciated for GA and most of his other work as well.

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  4. Winick is one of those guys that seems to get a lot of criticisms from the Internet community, but at the same time I (mostly) enjoy his stuff. If he went back to Green Arrow, I would at least consider sampling the title again (and I'll likely buy the #0 issue anyway).

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  5. If you want to know who will be writing green arrow just go and look at some marvel comics from the nineties. That seems to be the direction they are heading: lobdell, nicezia, mackie, defalco, nocenti. Or maybe they will just give it to rob liefield too. I'm not a fan of dc's current editorial direction.

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  6. I was kind of interested in seeing where Hawkman was going until they put Rob Liefeld on the title (that is, I hadn't read it yet, but was willing to give it a chance). It astounds me that he's working on THREE of their books now.

    Wait, how well did Marvel sell in the 90's? Maybe this is a good thing? Oh, they almost went bankrupt? Oops. :-)

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  7. Don't get me wrong, in the 90's I was the biggest Marvel Zombie you could find. If it had an X on it I bought it. I didn't buy a DC comic until JLA #1 by Morrison. I still look back on that era with a lot of nostalgia. When you look a Marvel today they go out and hire some of the best indy creators out there (Brian Wood, Hickman, Remender etc) as well as great established talent that for some reason DC no longer had a spot for (Waid, Rucka). DC on the other hand is bringing back retreads, and why? Because they are friends with Bob Harras and Jim Lee? Unfortunetly DC seems to be going in the wrong direction.

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  8. I don't like this '90s retread trend either, but DC is also trying out some out-of-the-box writers like China MiƩville, Nathan Edmondson, Mike Costa (whose excellent Blackhawks series was the only New 52 cancellation I mourned), Matt Kindt, Joshua Hale Fialkov and Justin Jordan, not to mention the fact that they made big names out of Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire.

    Marvel, on the other hand, seems content with playing a game of musical chairs with its "architects", who are about to trade books once AvX is over, while a terrific writer like Nick Spencer was wasted on a bunch of low-profile books no one cares about.

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  9. I remember a time when GA had more interesting and realistic tone than Batman...
    So far away now...

    (I'm speaking of Mike Grell's GA, which run at the same time Batman was alongside Jason Todd facing sexy80s mimes and Two Face and his colored henchmen)

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