This review first appeared at Green Man Review.
To re-invent an ongoing character who has been in existence since 1941 is no small undertaking, although in the case of Green Arrow, aka Ollie Queen, there is a lot of history to draw on — this is not the first time Green Arrow has been re-imagined, not to mention resurrected. (This is an ongoing feature of comics, of course: characters change as new writers and artists take over and want to add their own seasonings to the recipe.)
Green Arrow: Year One by Andy Diggle, with art by Jock, follows the story of Oliver Queen, filthy rich and vaguely socially conscious, who spends the bulk of his time and money pursuing women and adventure. We get our first real look at Queen at a charity auction, where he drunkenly bids $100,000 on a bow owned by a legendary archer. (The opening bid is $1,000.) After making a total fool of himself, he and his sidekick Hackett take off on his yacht. The other reason is that Hackett has also clued Queen into a tax-free offshore investment to the tune of fourteen million dollars. But of course, nothing is as it seems. After discovering that Hackett has not been entirely forthcoming, and a confrontation that became physical, Queen comes to washed up on the shore of a tropical island, starving and dehydrated, not to mention suffering from contusions, lacerations, and a probable concussion. Nevertheless, he survives, making do with the detritus of a burned-out village to clothe himself — and also to create a bow, with solves his food problem. It’s not until later that he discovers the reason that the village was burned.
Brian K. Vaughan starts his introduction to this compilation by noting that, although a few years ago comic fans gave a series five or six issues to prove itself, these days you’ve got to get everything established and your hook set pretty fast. I think this may be the cause of some of the reservations I have about Green Arrow: Year One. The first part of the story suffers from blatant exposition, rendered through dialogue between Queen and Hackett, which always seems as though the reader is being beaten over the head with back story. It becomes more palatable as we find Queen alone on the island with no one to talk to but himself — somehow narration/interior monologue seems more suited for characters trying to figure out their lives and where they went wrong. Otherwise, it’s a good tight story with solid characterizations and enough wrinkles to keep it moving briskly, and enough grit to keep even the most ardent fans of realism happy.
The drawing by Jock is superb, and does as much to establish character as the dialogue and narration, which I find particularly gratifying. Page design is also excellent, and I think I’m seeing some influence from Japanese manga creeping back into American comics here. Jock is not particularly bound by the rectilinear, frame-follows-frame format that has been traditional in Western graphic literature, and although his frames are all rectangles, he displays great freedom in layering and sometimes dispensing with them completely. He’s managed a fluent and energetic narrative flow without ever losing readability. This is enhanced by David Baron’s color, which maintains depth and sets the moods very nicely, and Jared K. Fletcher’s lettering, which is bold and clear without being obtrusive. In fact, the keyword for the visual components of this book is “clarity,” which is a welcome quality in any graphic work.
Except for that blatant exposition at the beginning — and I confess quite readily that I’m partial to a bit of subtlety, even in comics — this is a top-notch offering. Somehow, though, I don’t think I’m going to go digging around for the past seventy years of Green Arrow.
(DC Comics, 2008)