Warning: SPOILERS through Green Arrow #42.
The seventh season of Arrow seems ready to bring the concept of the cancelled Green Arrow movie Supermax to life on the small screen. Meanwhile, the monthly Green Arrow comic is tackling an entirely different sort of story involving prisons - one that Arrow seems unlikely to address.
Green Arrow #41 saw The Emerald Archer running an escort mission on behalf of the Justice League, accompanying the convoy transporting a metahuman known as The Parasite to his day in court. Given that The Parasite's energy-draining abilities allowed him to duplicate the metahuman powers of anyone he touched, it was judged that Oliver Queen would be the most able person to contain the situation (without escalating it should something go wrong).
Naturally, something did go wrong, as it was discovered that the DNA contained in a glob of spit was enough to trigger Parasite's abilities. One errant spitball from another super-strong inmate caused The Parasite to start running amok.
As Green Arrow #42 opens, Oliver Queen has tracked The Parasite into the sewers under the prison. Rather than seeking to turn The Parasite into a pin-cushion, Green Arrow tries to talk him into returning peacefully. The Parasite dismisses this idea, telling Green Arrow about the man he was before an accident turned him into The Parasite. And how, despite being promised that the government would try to find a cure for him, he was shoved in a hole in the ground and left to rot by the prison's warden.
Once The Parasite is recaptured, Green Arrow asks to see The Parasite's cell, which is covered with suicidal graffiti. When he confronts the warden over the abusive treatment The Parasite has suffered, the warden doesn't deny keeping the prisoner locked away in inhumane conditions. He defends his actions, however, by pointing out that he is doing the best that he can with a limited budget.
The warden goes on to list the difficulties in running a standard prison, and how those problems are exacerbated by the need to take care of metahuman prisoners. He says the state doesn't given him the budget to provide his guards with a decent health care plan, much less construct a special cell that would allow The Parasite - who can also drain energy from electronic devices - to watch TV without being an escape risk. Green Arrow concedes the point, but says that prisoners "only stay men if we treat them that way. Otherwise they really are monsters... And so are we."
Perhaps the most stunning aspect of this story is the nuanced portrayal of the warden, who resists the usual genre cliches of being a petty tyrant who relishes the chance to violently put his charges in their place, calling them all animals and monsters. This is the expectation Green Arrow holds until he tries to talk to the warden in the same way that he spoke to The Parasite.
This story shows that sometimes there are no easy answers and no true villains - a lesson it is shocking to see delivered in a comic book and one we probably won't see conveyed in the upcoming season of Arrow.
Green Arrow #42 is now available from DC Comics.