Review: Green Arrow Vol. 2: Triple Threat trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Green Arrow Vol. 2: Triple ThreatI've been pretty high on Green Arrow these past couple of days, having enjoyed two especially good episodes of the CW's Arrow, "The Odyssey" and "Dodger." (Even if "Dodger" is the worst. supervillain. name. ever.) Ann Nocenti's Green Arrow Vol. 2: Triple Threat does nothing to hurt my enthusiasm for Arrow, but certainly if DC Comics wants to attract Arrow fans, Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino's new run can't come soon enough.

Nocenti's stories here are chaotic and confusing, as is Harvey Tolibao's artwork. Moreover, as loosely-defined as Green Arrow Oliver Queen is after just one previous volume (JT Krul, Dan Jurgens, and Keith Giffen's Green Arrow: The Midas Touch), I don't think Nocenti fundamentally understood the new Green Arrow in these pages, or she took him in a different direction than the previous writers intended, which also dampened my enjoyment of this book.

[Review contains spoilers]

The New 52 Green Arrow is more billionaire playboy than the old DC Universe's grizzled activist, and there's nothing wrong with that given how down and dark the pre-Flashpoint Green Arrow had become. But though Krul, Jurgens, and Giffen's Oliver Queen was young and irreverent, he wasn't completely disinterested in his late father's Queen Industries; in issue #3, he challenges the company to create more meaningful products, and in issue #4, he suggests his assistant Jax begin a video games division at Queen's Q-Core (for the purposes of helping Green Arrow, but still, it's a project). The reader understood that Oliver shirked his Queen Industries as a ruse, all the better to mask his use of Q-Core's technology for fighting crime.

But the first pages of Nocenti's Triple Threat have Oliver musing how he hates memos, how running a tech company should be "fun," and how he wishes he could live solely as Green Arrow. If the third part is on character, the first two suggest, disturbingly, that Nocenti has believed the lie; rather than portraying Green Arrow as a billionaire pretending to be a playboy to mask his superheroics, Nocenti's Green Arrow is an actual billionaire playboy superhero -- a spoiled rich kid who fights crime rather than live up to his responsibilities. This might be worthy of exploration, but Nocenti's Oliver is irreverent to the point of unlikability -- Nocenti later blames Oliver's decision to quit his company on mind control, but the damage to the reader's opinion of the character is well done by that point.

The greater difficulty with Triple Threat, however, is the clumsiness of the storytelling. The first four pages of the book are Green Arrow standing around talking to himself, including quoting lines from King Lear, and then that the story's villain just so happens to turns out to be named "Leer" and have three daughters. Why exactly Leer wants his daughters to kidnap Green Arrow is never quite clear, nor -- after Arrow escapes with one of Leer's daughters -- is it why Arrow suddenly seems more concerned with capturing Leer's escaped mutant bear than stopping Leer himself.

There's also often a disconnect between Nocenti's script and Harvey Tolibao's art. Tolibao, though an experienced Marvel artist, struggles from the beginning, as when Green Arrow and Skylark fight in the first issue and often seem to be looking past one another or standing back to back. Toward the end of the second issue, Nocenti's dialogue has Leer telling his daughters to go after the escaping Green Arrow, while Tolibao's art has Leer dragging one of the daughters backward. In the third issue, Green Arrow spits in a saloon, seemingly for no good reason, and only on the next page does Tolibao reveal the "No spitting" sign, totally botching the joke; Nocenti doesn't make it clear, however, why Arrow should want to insult the saloon patrons anyway, so the confusion just compounds.

The next chapter is a one-shot story with a guest artist, and then in the final three issues, Oliver flies to China to try to bargain back shares of his company from corrupt businessman Fang. The details, again, get muddled -- Fang seems to want Queen's facial recognition technology to get out from under the strict government, which wouldn't seem such a bad goal, but Oliver balks, Fang's thugs attacks him, and later Oliver plans to return as Green Arrow just to beat up Fang for having attacked him. When Oliver goes back, Fang suddenly has the ability to resurrect his dead relatives for protection (despite that he didn't know Green Arrow was coming), and Arrow has to lure these spirits to another graveyard where the bodies of ancient warriors just so happen to have recently been unearthed, so the two groups of spirits can fight.

Though having Green Arrow battle to regain Oliver Queen's company is a better use of the character, Nocenti gives Arrow an "arrow gun" for a good part of the arc instead of a bow and arrow, which feels a little far from the character in just his second volume. The Chinese superhero Suzie Ming that Nocenti introduces serves mostly for exposition (it's a shame things didn't line up so Nocenti could use Katana here). On top of Jax and the character Naomi, Nocenti gives Green Arrow a third handyman/jack-of-all-trades, Jimmy Crew, and it's rather astounding that Nocenti doesn't have Oliver blink or even question that Naomi has revealed his secret identity to another person.

I haven't read anything else by Ann Nocenti, whom I know to be a popular Marvel writer, and I can't speak for her other work. I do, however, have good faith in Jeff Lemire after his Frankenstein and Animal Man, and so I'll simply say that I'm looking forward to the Green Arrow/Hawkman/Deathstroke crossover in the next Green Arrow volume, and then I'll be glad when Lemire's stories start.

Aside from all Green Arrow: Triple Threat's other problems, the paper here is pretty thin, perhaps to fit in thirteen seven issues (#7-13) instead of the originally-solicited twelve six (#7-12), and it caused my copy to warp almost immediately. Sometimes a book just doesn't work, and this is one of those books.

[Includes original covers (maybe one variant I couldn't place), sketches by Totlibao and Freddie Williams]

Next week, the second volume of the New 52 Batwoman; tomorrow, the next in our series of Saga of the Swamp Thing reviews. Thanks!
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  1. I didn't know they were dumping Nocenti's entire run (Hawkman crossover issues included) in a single volume. I guess DC wanted to get it out of the way so they could start collecting Lemire's run as soon as possible.

    At first, I liked how quirky and out there the book became under Nocenti's direction, but she never got a good handle on Oliver Queen as a character, which is something she admitted in a recent interview.

    What really put me off from the beginning was Tolibao's ugly, confusing and overly busy art. It's like he always chooses the worst possible camera angle on purpose. Freddie Williams II's art at the end of Nocenti's run wasn't the best, but I could at least tell what was going on in each page.

  2. Oops, I just noticed I skipped a paragraph when I first read the review, and its says the rest of Nocenti's run (and Winick's #0 issue, I assume) will be collected in the third volume along with the Hawkman and Deathstroke crossover issues.

    I got confused because the second-to-last paragraph says the book collects thirteen issues, when it actually includes seven.

  3. Sorry for the confusion shag -- it's actually that the book used to collect to issue twelve, but ultimately collected to issue thirteen instead -- so, seven issues when it was originally scheduled for six (I've fixed this in the post). Ordinarily I'd be for something like that, but not if it means such thin paper.

    This review was getting a little long so I cut a paragraph about the one-shot in the book, but here's what that paragraph said (director's cut, if you will):

    "Nocenti follows the three-part 'Triple Treat' with a one-shot issue in which Green Arrow encounters a woman who believes she's a robot, and frees a group of cybernetic slaves. In the end, Green Arrow attends a 'Robots Anonymous' meeting (complete with a sign above the door that actually announces 'What happens in here, stays in here') for people who obsess about exchanging their body parts for cybernetics talks about 'wear[ing] metal sometimes,' and actually seems to be considering whether he needs the group's help. The moment doesn't make sense in terms of the book or what we know of Green Arrow so far; Nocenti seems perhaps to be asking the audience to consider our own beliefs about self-medication, technology, and body modification, which hearkens back a bit to Green Arrow's first volume, but the moment is so disconnected from the book itself as to feel flat overall."

  4. For what it's worth, Nocenti has mentioned (someone might even say bragged) in interviews that she knew absolutely nothing about Green Arrow coming into the series, which would explain her lack of handle on the character. Unfortunately, there's another volume to slog through until Lemire comes around.

  5. As someone who has read Jeff Lemire's Green Arrow, even if one issue has been released thus far, his Oliver Queen is 10x superior then all 16 issues of New 52 Green Arrow. In fact, it pretty much ignores all previous issues before it, so you can argue Lemire's GA is a reboot.

    And Lemire's GA feels (and looks) a lot like the grittiness and noir feel from Andy Diggle and Jocks own Green Arrow: Year One. And I love GA:Year One. As well as the notion Lemire's comic feeling more like the CW's own Arrow television show.

  6. Thanks for this review. I've been keeping an eye on Green Arrow since the relaunch (and indeed before that) but haven't bought a GA comic since Year One.

    I had hoped Nocenti would be able to do something worth reading but it seems that isn't the case. I would always flick through it at the store but be repulsed by the art, it seemed so busy and murky.

    Thanks for reading this so I don't have to and fingers crossed that Lemire is as good as we hope.

  7. So I might still be the only person in the world who loved Nocenti on this.

    What a strange, quirky, clumsy comic indeed, complete with divisive artwork I found absolutely awesome and colours that are straight out of the proverbial fever dream.

    I loved the use of Leer and the triplet sisters, as well as the rather melancholic one shot with robots anonymous. That almost wasn't a superhero comic anymore and I get how offputting exactly that could be to many readers (and obviously has been, seeing as how on the comics internet Nocenti turned from "The magic writer who invented Typhoid Mary" to "Worst writer since Chuck Austen" in about six months time).

    Also, taking on copyright issues in China, even when it's by a businessman who can resurrect the dead - here is actually a writer who is willing to tackle issues that we deal with today in her funnybooks. Same with her take on everything from neuro enhancement to plastic surgery in robots anonymous. I can see why a target audience for this would be hard to find but I do think her themes and references are actually quite sophisticated. And, you know, on top of that it's all totally whacky and following some kind of dream logic while three other things happen off-panel in between issues. Which I guess is why the hunt for the polar bear never became clear to you. And why this will forever be one of those small personal favourites that no one will ever agree on for me, I guess.

    And by the way, first time commenter here, I'm normally way to lazy for participating - but I really enjoy the site, please keep going, I'll surely keep (mostly quietly) reading!

  8. Appreciate immensely your comment. Indeed there's a certain "down the rabbit hole" aesthetic to this book, and maybe if it was "adventures of rich super guy" and not "my current favorite of the week Green Arrow," I might feel differently. I don't think it made it into the final cut of the review, but at one point I praised Nocenti for letting some things happen between the issues instead of spelling everything out for the reader.

    As I mentioned, I know Nocenti has a good reputation. I'll try Katana; maybe a character with a little less established backstory will be a better fit.

    Comment again some time.