[WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for “Green Arrow: Rebirth” #1 and “Green Arrow” #1.]
It’s a strange time for fans of the Green Arrow: while it had once seemed that only a third-string superhero like Oliver Queen was considered a safe bet (or small enough risk) to adapt into a TV show, The CW’s Arrow soon became a hit, raising the emerald archer to the upper echelon of known DC Comics characters (to the mainstream, at least). But as fans of the character rejoiced that star Stephen Amell and the minds behind the show had made the underrated vigilante a household name, the conversation around the show, and hero, soon got a bit more… heated.
Not every season, villain, or creative decision will win over every fan, and the direction of the show has become somewhat cloudy – with even Amell conceding Arrow strayed from its strongest components. What a strange environment, then, for “Green Arrow: Rebirth” – the return to the hero’s core values and identity, as part of DC’s company-wide “Rebirth” initiative – to be released into. With such a return to the core of the character, and the TV show only four season in, you might think the two heroes would have plenty in common – and you would be wrong.
In fact, as observations (or accusations) of Arrow being essentially a co-opting of Batman history continue to fly, DC’s “Green Arrow” #1 shows why Oliver Queen is, was, and truly should be the Dark Knight’s opposite, in nearly every way that counts.
The Arrow/Batman… Discussion
By now, anyone watching Arrow has likely heard or taken part in a comparison between the TV hero and Gotham’s own vigilante: both scarred millionaire playboys, both donning masks and false voices to fight crime, and each realizing a life split in two can’t be a happy one. In all honesty, the comparisons didn’t even begin as a criticism; for many, Arrow was the Batman TV show that Warner Bros. would never allow to be made with such a high-profile character reserved for the big screen. But swap out Bruce Wayne for Oliver Queen, and proceed.
That in itself is more in keeping with the character’s roots than casual viewers might actually realize, since Green Arrow was created as a direct ripoff of Batman to begin with. Sure, he took his uniform and weaponry (and crusade) from Robin Hood, but with a sidekick, an Arrow Car, and an Arrow Cave, the similarities were hard to miss even as the first stories were being published. We’re not saying that the original creative teams would copy famous “Batman” stories, or steal villains outright, but as the two non-super-powered costumed vigilantes fighting evil with the Justice League, Green Arrow and Batman had more in common on the surface than readers could ever overlook.
But as Arrow began lifting more and more characters and arcs from the “Batman” mythology – relying most heavily on his Rogues Gallery, and even casting Oliver in Bruce Wayne’s role in Ra’s al Ghul’s master plan – the comparisons turned to criticism, accusations, and (admittedly clever) contempt. So as The CW show went on its summer break, there was no better time for the “Green Arrow” comic series, itself having taken some visual and character cues from the successful TV show, to remind readers of who Oliver Queen really is – and more importantly, why fans loved him in the first place.
Green Arrow: Rebirth Returns To Its Roots
The return to the most beloved, familiar, and meaningful aspects of the Green Arrow story actually began in “DC Universe: Rebirth” with Geoff Johns offering commentary on the Oliver Queen/Dinah Lance relationship. Like the CW series, the New 52’s array of younger heroes had kept Arrow and Canary apart – a fact Johns used as evidence that everyone, including they themselves, could sense something wasn’t right. After all, the bond shared between Oliver and Dinah is one of the strongest in the DC Universe, having effectively raised Roy Harper as their son, and having actually gotten married.
It was seen by many as Johns pointing out the shortcomings of the New 52 as a whole, but regardless of intent, less-than-happy fans of Arrow read even more meaning. And when “Green Arrow: Rebirth” from series creators Benjamin Percy and Otto Schmidt finally saw the two butt heads, then lips, it was clear exactly how “Green Arrow” would be returning to its roots – goatee included.
Now that “Green Arrow” #1 has arrived, picking up on some subtle jabs made by Black Canary in their first encounter, Percy’s larger story is being put into action. It’s a story that won’t just take Oliver back to his roots, but away from the Arrow incarnation: establishing him as the anti-Batman once again.
You might think that the similarities between Oliver Queen and Bruce Wayne would lead them to see eye-to-eye: both wealthy boys, thrust into terrible circumstances, and realizing their life’s mission now required they don a mask and stick to the shadows. The thrust of the hero’s “Rebirth” storyline even includes a secret society, whom Percy has compared to Batman’s “Court of Owls.” But the truth, as any DC fan knows, is that the two more often stand opposed, than together. The reason? Their politics.
In the most politically-charged environment America has seen in some time, Percy knows the controversy courted by describing his Oliver Queen as a “social justice warrior” (a term often used sarcastically). But from his earliest days, Oliver Queen has been exactly that: a wealthy man who learned to care for someone other than himself, and uses his status and and wealth to left wing, liberal ends (believing that all people, regardless of race or class, are inherently equal and that excessive differences in wealth, power or status among citizens is against human nature, and unjust).
Whether you agree or not, that belief and worldview are what Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams used to lift the character from a Robin Hood/Batman knockoff to a true champion of the people – first those of Star City, then Seattle, Washington. And it’s what set Oliver Queen and Bruce Wayne as opponents, not allies. And in “Green Arrow” #1, no time is wasted in showing Oliver Queen thinks – and operates – in ways Bruce Wayne could never imagine.
Yes, as shown above, Green Arrow offers money to both police officers (who have already been paid off before) and the dock worker turning a blind eye to human trafficking. It’s Black Canary who voices the objections that, one would assume, most heroes, including Batman would also have: these men allowed a crime to take place, or are relied upon to use their authority for good. Where Batman might see these people as worthy of intimidation, Oliver takes a more pragmatic approach: if money is what causes them to do evil, pay them more to do good.
It’s another – far more subtly – difference between the two millionaire vigilantes: Batman’s ideology (yes, he most definitely has one) relates to the ‘nature’ of crime and humanity, fighting the crime bosses or authorities using the power entrusted to them to take advantage of the little guy. As a leftist and pragmatist – someone who, unlike Batman will ‘question everything’ – Green Arrow has no such qualms, and traditionally, would view the fact that anyone wields power over the little guy (or that there are little guys) as the problem.
However, any sense of optimism or sentimentality justifying Oliver Queen’s sympathy is also ruled out: yes, the dock worker only took the money because his son was ill – but the cops just wanted some extra encouragement.
Although humanitarian aid and charity has drifted slowly from modern depictions of Bruce Wayne (maybe a mention of “donations” here and there), and are almost entirely absent from Arrow, they’re important elements of Oliver Queen in the comics. Percy returns to that side of the hero when Canary sees nothing but Oliver’s wealth, which the millionaire claims really can buy happiness: a women’s shelter, a local youth baseball park, and a soup kitchen all bearing the Queen name. With the money also funding his superhero enterprise, Oliver clearly believes that money makes the world go ’round – so trading it to “encourage goodness” shouldn’t be any different.
With two issues down, the new “Green Arrow” is as much about money as modern “Batman” stories aren’t. Not just what it can buy, or what good (or evil) it can do, but how much it blurs those lines. Green Arrow pays off a guilty man to earn his honesty. Batman would have had him locked up (in what Oliver believes is a factory to create career criminals). Who is right? Batman who believes the nature of the world is unchanging black and white? Or Green Arrow who sees that money can corrupt, but blames the money, because the system – not the people – is broken?
What seriously complicates the issues is that Ollie is still rich and powerful, when his philosophy – and Black Canary – claims he shouldn’t be. So it’s no coincidence that Benjamin Percy has hinted that this “Reborn” Green Arrow may soon give up his fortune… willingly. Oliver can be best summed up the same way he himself describes his dinner on the very first page of “Green Arrow: Rebirth”: “a bit rich, but otherwise good.”
Why It Matters
The point here is that neither Bruce Wayne or Oliver Queen are “right,” they’re just philosophically opposed. And it’s an opposition that a powerful figure like Batman – and the reader, and future viewer – needs. Because as much as the two might seem the same, they represent two very different views of the world. Superman may be seen as Batman’s opposite, but he’s really only the opposite kind of superhero: proud, optimistic, hope-inspiring, and beloved, where Batman is traumatized, pessimistic, and terrifying. Green Arrow, on the other hand, is the opposite kind of person: he came from similar circumstances as Bruce Wayne, faced similar trauma, and sees completely different enemies when he looks out at the world.
Where Bruce is steadfast, passionless, and distant, Oliver is reactionary, passionate, and above all, craves the relationships the other might view as weakness or collateral damage. In other words, they embody the two basic ways most people would respond to a social crisis – while embodying the forces each of them contend with: Bruce, the upper class that views criminals as the disease, and Oliver, the champion of the poor who fights the system that made them so.
Frankly, the kind of character who can get into a heated argument with Batman about humanity, about the responsibilities of society to its poor and its powerful, and actually lead them both to tell the likes of Superman or Wonder Woman to butt out is something to be treasured. It can be all too easy to view the men on the surface and deem them interchangeable, but to do so (as has definitely been done before) is to miss out on the potential that the new “Green Arrow” series is capitalizing on.
Oliver Queen is not Bruce Wayne. Green Arrow is not Batman. And the story that shows why is only beginning…
Green Arrow #1 is available now.
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