Review: Green Arrow Vol. 4: The Kill Machine trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The New 52 Green Arrow character has to this point been both billionaire playboy and costumed avenger. Though the execution has been hit or miss, the concept is interesting, a turn from the hero-disguised-as-socialite like both Batman Bruce Wayne and former iterations of Green Arrow Oliver Queen himself; here's been a hero who both enjoys his wealth and his crimefighting, instead of using one as simply a means to the other.

But this is a model that could not last, not in the least because it flies in the face of conventional superheroics, but also because of the juggernaut Arrow television series that takes more the tone of Mike Grell's post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Green Arrow series than Ann Nocenti's recent run. And so a creative dream-team of Animal Man's Jeff Lemire and I, Vampire's Andrea Sorrentino take over with the newest volume, Green Arrow Vol. 4: The Kill Machine.

Lemire does a lot in this book, answering to many masters at once: to some coincidence with the Arrow show, to DC Comics's long-established Green Arrow mythos, even to the New 52 material that came before, when Lemire could have as easily swept that under the rug. The result is imperfect (Animal Man Vol. 1: The Hunt remains Lemire's New 52 masterpiece) but admirable, and certainly lays the groundwork for good Green Arrow stories to come.

[Review contains spoilers]

Jeff Lemire takes a tack in his new Green Arrow run not unlike Geoff Johns's Green Lantern (which is obviously a successful strategy though I tend to think this particular world-building device begins to show its age). Green Arrow Oliver Queen, Lemire reveals, has been unknowingly trained from birth to take his place as head of the Arrow Clan, one of a variety of weapon-based clans that make up the shadowy Outsiders (where you might posit each clan, with their distinct culture and history, as a different hue of cosmic Lantern). This particular mythology for Green Arrow -- that Oliver Queen was essentially fated to his persona from birth -- is revolutionary, for which Lemire should be credited, but those ardent fans of the "urban vigilante" Green Arrow might balk at some of the supernatural elements inherent here, like the mystic totem weapons that belong to each clan. Still, it's a start with plenty of story potential.

The five-part "Kill Machine" storyline (part of an impressive nine-issue trade) uses mostly new characters -- inscrutable guru Magus and villain archer Komodo. But Lemire also weighs the book heavily with characters from DC Comics and Green Arrow lore. I would venture, even, that Lemire recasts old favorites in new roles for the New 52 better here than many other writers have done. Whereas the New 52 Orion, for instance, is basically the same as the pre-Flashpoint Orion, Lemire re-introduces Shado, still an accomplished archer but now no longer a romantic foil for Oliver Queen; rather she had an affair with Oliver's father Robert, and her daughter Emiko is Oliver's half-sister.

More controversial will be Lemire's re-casting of Richard Dragon no longer as a good-hearted "Kung Fu master" but rather as a violent mob boss; but even here, I appreciate Lemire treading new ground with the characters rather than using them the same as in the previous continuity.

But, I was even more impressed that Lemire kept so much of the New 52 material that came before his volume, when he could just as easily have jettisoned it. Indeed Kill Machine is largely disconnected from what came before, but Lemire utilizes characters Emerson, Naomi, and Jax, and even if only one of the three makes it out alive, at least there's a touchstone with "what came before." There's also a striking scene where Oliver imagines a cadre of his previous enemies, including near-forgotten ones from Dan Jurgens's and JT Krul's runs; it may be a minor thing to some but I appreciated the amount of thought Lemire put into it.

In all, the "Kill Machine" story struggles a little bit just because the revelations that Lemire offers about Oliver are so outlandish, and also because Lemire and Sorrentino's Oliver looks and sounds awfully young and stumbles around somewhat haphazardly; the New 52 characters are supposed to be youthful, but Oliver here sometimes looks like a teenager, and he's a far cry from the de facto leader in Geoff Johns's Justice League of America even as Lemire does offer good cross-continuity with that title. The "Shados" story is better, however, and by the time Count Vertigo makes the scene, story and art have meshed especially well.

I found Sorrentino's art on I, Vampire just breathtaking, and I was thrilled to learn that we'd see him on other DC titles after Vampire's cancellation. At the outset I didn't think the art in this Green Arrow volume was as strong as Vampire; many issues are told largely with a green, white, and red color palette, and the flashback scenes that are all black and white and green seemed discordant to me -- I didn't think they reflected Sorrentino's art was well as a more complete palette would. However, Sorrentino absolutely shines in the Count Vertigo issues, as the panels seem to peel off the page (Lemire integrates the "Count Vertigo" Villains Month issue seamlessly, too), and I also liked how Sorrentino portrayed Shado's origin with the aesthetic of an old martial arts movie.

One more qualm about Kill Machine is that by the end, Lemire has effectively set up Green Arrow with a "Team Arrow," all of whom know his identity, and his Oliver Queen persona really doesn't matter to the action at hand. Such was the case with much of the DC Universe pre-Flashpoint -- Superman, Batman, Green Arrow, and the rest were all surrounded by teammates who knew their identities, and the concept of a "secret identity" was almost nonexistent. I liked that the New 52 brought secret identities back into play, and it worries me that Lemire has taken this title down the "no secret" route; that leads, I think, to more comfortable heroes and less interesting storytelling.

Still, a lack of interesting storytelling is not my concern here. In the final pages, and with the advent of Richard Dragon, Lemire demonstrates how the new Green Arrow paradigm he's created can work in both far-flung settings like storming Vertigo's castle and also in ground-level urban superheroics like battling a mob riot. Jeff Lemire's Green Arrow Vol. 4: The Kill Machine is the Green Arrow we want, probably the one we've been wanting for a while through Cry for Justice and Brightest Day and on. Lemire's first outing on Green Arrow is good; I expect it's going to keep getting better.

[Includes original covers, MAD Magazine variant, and two-page "WTF" cover; sketchbook section]

We've looked at Hawkman and Green Arrow, and here comes the third part of the "Hawkman: Wanted"/"Liefeld-verse" triumvirate -- my review of Deathstroke Vol. 2: Lobo Hunt is coming up next.
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  1. Great review, CE. I think your comments about Sorrentino's art were spot-on. Like you, I also enjoyed his interiors for I, Vampire, but was ambivalent about his work here. That being said, the turning point for me was in the final issue during Shado and Richard Dragon's confrontation. There's a moment where the reader sees her from his perspective and all of her body's weak points are highlighted and explained which works wonderfully well. I'm pretty sure that device has been used before (maybe by David Aja in Iron Fist...?), but it was a bit clever, practical for the context, and also gave the moment a bit of a pulp-y feel, which is what Lemire and Sorrentino seemed to be going for at times.

    Lemire's work here was mostly-solid, although there were clunky moments. The Ollie-Naomi-Fyff love-triangle was one and another was the opening page of the final issue, which was essentially a Chris Claremont-style exposition dump. All that being said, I did enjoy the direction the series seems to be headed in and am looking forward to reading more.

  2. I started reading i the other day and have now read the first 3 chapters. So far I like it very much, but I feel like I am missing something.

    I have not read the previous three volumes and know basically nothing about the New52 Green Arrow, except what has been shows in Justice League, Volume 2. So I don't know Q-Core, I don't know Walter Emerson, Naomi, Jax or Fyff. And my problem is, from the story itself, I don't get which of those I should know and which of those are new elements that you are supposed to not know.

    Can someone tell me what I need to read first, to get the picture?

    1. Well, good question. This is kind of the issue with Green Arrow Vol. 4 that I was alluding to with others on Facebook. Lemire's book is more-or-less self-contained, but it does use characters from the earlier New 52 Green Arrow books. As someone who read those, I appreciated it, and to me I thought the characters identities were apparent through context clues, but then again I'd read the other books.

      Indeed, Q-Core, Emerson, Jax, and Naomi all originated in the first New 52 Green Arrow volume (Fyff is new to Lemire's book). Q-Core was the subsection of Queen Industries that Oliver's father left to him when his father died, apparently in a helicopter crash; Emerson is the new CEO of Queen that doesn't like Oliver; and Naomi and Jax are Q-Core employees who work with Oliver as Green Arrow for tech and stuff.

      To that extent, I guess you could say Lemire's book is not self-contained, but it's not like Oliver runs into any enemies from the previous books or that the plots deal with items from the previous books; there's just some characters that carry over. I've probably told you all you need to know.

      You're braver than I am; I tend to be more of a "completist" when it comes to these things, and I'd never dream of starting a series with book four!

    2. Hey CE, thanks for your answer.

      Yes, the characters were apparent though context clues (as you said). For example, it was clear, that Naomi is a Q-Core employee who knows Ollie's secret identity. But I still felt like I was missing some details. Like what's Naomi's relationship with Jax like? Would she die for Ollie? Are Ollie and Emerson friends? Small stuff. But I guess that happens when you start reading a series with volume 4.

      I used to be a completist as well. But when I was still a monthly single issue reader, I got tired of all the fill-ins and buying stuff I wasn't really into. And I think I first started leaving gaps in my collection with Flash. I didn't like the direction the series was taking after Johns left, so I skipped the issues by creative teams I know I probably wouldn't enjoy. And you know what? After that I felt a lot better. And I started leaving gaps elsewhere, too.

      Today I solely read collected editions and I have no problems reading only the stuff by creative teams I like. For example, I didn't get JLD, Vol. 1, but got volumes 2 and 3. I got Batwoman, Vol. 1-3, but will skip volume 4 and restart with Vol. 5. I don't have any problems with that. :)

      I will post again after finishing the Green Arrow collection... I'm only halfway through right now.

  3. I had high hopes for this new creative team on Green Arrow nad I have to say I am not disappointed!

    Before this volume, I only knew the New52-Green Arrow only from Justice League #8, which was radically different than the old one. I love the old GA, as written by Kevin Smith, Brad Meltzer and Judd Winick. He was a mature hero, wealthy, socially minded and on the hunt for fat cats. It took me some getting used to the new version, but in the end, the story Lemire and Sorrentino tell is good enough to make me accept the changes. It's strange, I can't really explain, why I liked it so much. It's probably 'just' great storytelling. Can't wait for next volume.


    1. Only thing that continues to bug me is that Ollie seems so young in this volume and so old over in Justice League/JLA and on into Trinity War. Some of that is Geoff Johns writing him instead of Jeff Lemire, but even Lemire writes "old Ollie" at times. I wonder if that'll even out after Forever Evil on one title or the other.