Green Arrow Vol. 5: The Outsiders War improves on their already-good Green Arrow Vol. 4: The Kill Machine. In some ways volume five is equally as revelatory as volume four, but the book's biggest surprise comes mid-way through, not at the end, such to make the story feel more balanced, less weighted down by character-changing information dumps, interesting as they are.
Outsiders War also uses the Batman: Zero Year tie-in better than a couple of the other books have. There's flashbacks aplenty in this volume, so the "Zero Year" issue fits right in, and serves to depict a seminal moment in Oliver Queen's life, with Batman's presence being mostly incidental. The tie-in connects directly to the "Outsiders War" storyline, and further it kicks off the good amount of fan service that Outsiders War offers Arrow fans (and later, long-time Green Arrow fans).
Given that Lemire and Sorrentino's run feels like it's hit its stride this volume, it's both shocking and disappointing that Outsiders War might be their last full Green Arrow trade. There's only about four issues left after this, and it remains to be seen if DC will collect those on their own or with the new team. This is a good book, and a run that's over far too soon.
[Review contains spoilers]
Lemire gave the sense at the end of Kill Machine that this new book would be about a Seattle gang war, perhaps with the Outsiders conflict festering in the background before it returned a volume hence. Instead, Outsiders War is really a direct continuation of Kill Machine, with the gang war as the B-plot slowly coming to a head. I don't mind this at all (assuming Lemire actually gets to tell the gang war story); the Outsiders material is gripping and gritty, but it remains just a little off what I want a Green Arrow story to be about, and if Lemire wants to tease out the urban gang war story a little longer, such to underscore its relative importance vis a vis Green Arrow fighting mystic warrior clans, fine with me.
As well, by keeping Oliver with the Outsiders and away from Seattle, Lemire offers a sideline spotlight on one John Diggle of Arrow fame. Lemire drastically altered long-time DC character Richard Dragon to be a super-enhanced mob boss in the New 52, and at the end of Kill Machine it seemed he'd be introducing Diggle on the wrong side of the law, too. But the "Zero Year" issue puts readers immediately in familiar Arrow territory: John Diggle as bodyguard for Moira Queen, and later working with Oliver and learning his secret identity.
It's a great bit of grafting by Lemire to take the already-untold story of Oliver Queen and Arsenal Roy Harper's falling out and add Diggle to it. We immediately understand that Oliver and Diggle's Arrow-type partnership translates exactly to the New 52, and at the same time Lemire makes perfectly natural why Diggle hasn't appeared up to this point. The comic's Diggle is not TV's, but neither is he so different as to be unrecognizable.
That "Zero Year" issue also delves into familiar-but-new territory by depicting Oliver's return from the island where he was stranded. Outsiders War goes back to the island both in present day and in flashback, with a "flashback to the island" device that will also resonate with Arrow fans. Given all the armored, muscled assassin-types that Oliver fights in this book, it seems almost reasonable, even obvious that Deathstroke might appear, but that's too on-the-nose for a book already serving new and old fans well enough.
Those "old" fans get a nice nod in the appearance of the not-actually-dead Robert Queen. First, since Queen Sr. has been historically dead in any number of continuities, I appreciate Lemire treading new ground in showing us perhaps the first-ever encounter between Green Arrow Oliver Queen and his father. But at the same time, Lemire and Sorrentino depict Robert Queen with the classic Green Arrow Van Dyke beard, and it's not at all hard to imagine that the New 52 Oliver might one day grow out his chin fuzz in homage to his dad. It's a nice reminder, in the midst of something new, that the old days are gone but not forgotten.
The "Outsiders War" itself has something of a Magnificent Seven feel to it, as Team Arrow plus special guest star Katana and others come together in Prague to fight the Outsiders. The story gets a little wobbly in the penultimate chapters -- the Outsiders weapon castes are up to no good, but Oliver seems to seek them out without really knowing this beyond that Shado, whom he doesn't trust, told him so -- but the final arrow shoot-outs (plus fists and spears and swords and what have you) are well worth the price of admission. I appreciated too that Lemire didn't wrap up the story neatly with Oliver leading the Arrow clan, but rather that Oliver's final decision, young and headstrong, is to walk out in a huff and leave it all behind him.
Lemire and Sorrentino do especially well in the middle when Oliver and Shado have to fight the Shield clan on the island. "Shield" would seem perhaps the least dangerous of the clans, but Lemire quickly disproves this; Sorrentino often makes the battle scenes in this book his own by going small, with many little intricate panels, where other artists might go widescreen. I worried in my review of Kill Machine that the warrior clan tribe system (like multi-hued Lantern Corps) might get tiresome, but Lemire does well in detailing mainly just the Shield clan and letting the other tribes come out more subtly.
In all -- lead story or subplot, flashback or present day -- Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino's Green Arrow Vol. 5: The Outsiders War emerges just about flawless, surely better than the New 52 Green Arrow stories that preceded it, and toeing well that fine line between telling a good story and paying deference to the Arrow show that surely buoys it. This creative team has accomplished something good, at least; I'm glad Lemire remains with DC on Justice League United, though Sorrentino's departure for Marvel is a significant loss from DC's artist stable.
[Includes original and uncolored covers, Andrea Sorrentino sketchbook (including the astounding "enlightenment" spread)]
We're going to catch up with some Earth 2, next week.