Here at DC Histories, we try to make sense of the continuity that perplexes, befuddles, and intimidates. We discuss what worked and what didn’t. This week, we’re talking about the modern Robin Hood, Green Arrow.
When Green Arrow first debuted in 1941, he was little more than a Batman clone. In his very first adventure in the pages of More Fun Comics #73, Oliver Queen jumped on the scene with a teen sidekick, a ton of money in the bank, an underground lair, and something called the Arrowplane, which was actually a car. No backstory was given as Oliver donned his Green Arrow outfit and hit the city streets in an effort to combat evil.
Just how Oliver was related to his teen sidekick Roy Harper wasn’t established here. It just seemed natural for a superhero to have a young person hanging around. Why Oliver fought crime and why he choose a bow-and-arrow as his trademark were open questions.
An explanation as to how Oliver and Roy got to where they were finally came in 1943. In his first origin tale, Oliver was actually a Native American archaeologist. After venturing into an untamed wilderness, Oliver stumbled across Roy, who had survived a plane crash which killed his parents. The pair joined forces to defeat a group of criminals in the area using Oliver’s knowledge of the bow. After claiming a nearby treasure hoard for themselves, the pair moved to Star City as rich men. From there, they used their skills with the bow to fight for justice.
Over time, Oliver began to differentiate himself from his superhero colleagues. His use of the arrow gimmick became a near obsession. Few, if any, of his arrows had an actual arrowhead. Time and again, Oliver used different weapons like the Balloon Arrow and, most famously, the Boxing-Glove Arrow.
While Jack Kirby was penciling Oliver’s stories as a back-up feature in Adventure Comics, a change to Oliver’s origins was given. Though it was completely different than the story originally given, this tale has basically remained Oliver’s origin story ever since.
After falling off of a ship while out at sea, rich playboy Oliver Queen washed on shore of a seemingly uninhabited island. There, he learned that he needed to struggle to survive. For the first time in his life, Oliver actually had to work for something he needed. Towards that end, he fashioned a makeshift bow and some arrows in order to hunt effectively.
Only by mastering his improvised weapons was he able to live. When he observed a ship coming nearby, Oliver swam out to meet it. The ship was undergoing a mutiny. Oliver’s timely intervention meant that no one died. After making it back to the mainland, he kept the hero lifestyle going.
Though there have been several updates to this story over the years, the basics remain the same. In the excellent Green Arrow: Year One, one of the recent comic retellings of Oliver’s beginnings, he again found himself on an island, but this time it was teeming with drugs and slave labor. Only by disrupting these operations was Oliver able to leave the island.
In the early 1960s, the biggest heroes in the DCU teamed up to create a new super hero team. Oliver wasn’t immediately invited. Perhaps founder Batman was still a bit put out by Oliver’s similarities to himself. However, when the Justice League of America was in a bind, Oliver stepped up and saved them all with his Diamond-Tip Arrow, a rather expensive addition to his crime-fighting arsenal. Immediately afterwards, Oliver was made the first member added to the JLA since its inception.
The Emerald Archer remained a part of the Justice League off-and-on for the next fifty years.
Oliver’s popularity began to wain. Perhaps his appearance was deemed silly by readers. Perhaps his gimmick of arrows was thought to be lame. Whatever the case, Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams felt the need to drastically change the character in 1969. In the pages of Brave and the Bold #85, Oliver gained a goatee and lost his red gloves. He also gained a bit of visual pizzazz by now having more than one shade of green in his costume.
Around the same time, Oliver got a much needed infusion of personality. Suddenly, he became the left-wing member of the Justice League, eager to spout off about his distrust of authority at the drop of a hat. This was also the time in which Oliver lost his fortune. This fall from the grace of society’s social heights caused Oliver to argue in favor of the little guy. He tended to be more concerned with matters on a street level than a cosmic one.
This new temperament of Oliver’s meant that he was a great foil against characters who, by their very nature, saw things from a larger perspective. Towards this end, Oliver famously teamed up with Hal Jordan, the second Green Lantern, on a road trip across the United States. Oliver feared that Hal’s powers kept him above the fray and from really seeing what was happening in the world.
The two, along with a Guardian of the Universe, took off to explore the world. Together, they ran into all types of real world problems including racism, cults, and drugs. This last storyline involved Oliver finding out that his young adopted son, Roy, was a heroin user. He didn’t take it well.
A superhero, even a sidekick, with a drug problem was something readers hadn’t seen before. It was a jolt to Green Arrow’s status quo and caused Oliver to rethink how he interacted with his adopted son. He would never be the perfect parent, always quicker to find fault with others than himself, but Oliver at least was aware of Roy’s problem. Over time, he would help Roy steer clear of his addictions.
Throughout this time period, Oliver was in a mostly steady relationship with Dinah Lance also known as Black Canary, another member of the JLA. The pair were a fun couple. While Oliver had a reputation as a ladies man, he did care for Dinah and, more often than not, Dinah was around for Oliver’s solo stories as he jumped around between the pages of other heroes’ comics. When Oliver was granted his second miniseries in 1987, Dinah was a major supporting character. While she was constantly at his side, Dinah didn’t love the darkness that had seemed to creep into the world.
The Longbow Hunters was written and illustrated by Mike Grell. In the pages of this miniseries and Oliver’s first ongoing series that immediately followed it, Grell put the Battling Bowman through his paces. Oliver was suddenly a part of a darker world and found himself fighting evil serial killers and assassins who lived by their own codes of honor. Seattle, the city that Oliver had recently moved to, appeared to have more complex problems than the Star City he’d left behind. As though to reflex this new dark edge to his life, he took on a slightly different costume. This time, a hood was added to allow Oliver to hide in the shadows a bit easier and for his mythological inspiration to be a tad more obvious.
100 issues after his first solo series debuted, Oliver found himself in trouble. After infiltrating an extremist group, he discovered that their master plan was to detonate a massive bomb in the heart of Metropolis. Oliver was drugged and attached to the bomb on board of a plane. If he attempted to free himself, the bomb would go off. Even with Superman there to lend a hand, it didn’t seem as though Oliver had many options.
Superman proposed that he remove Oliver’s arm with his heat vision. That would keep the bomb from going off and save Oliver’s life in the process. It would cause him to essentially become the version of himself seen in The Dark Knight Returns and Oliver didn’t take too kindly to that option. When he knew that the plane was far enough away that it wouldn’t hurt anyone on the ground, Oliver detonated the bomb, which killed him instantly. His remains were atomized. Superman witnessed Oliver’s death first hand and relayed the news to the rest of the superhero community.
That should have been the end of it. Oliver was completely dead. However, the Green Arrow name lived on. While Roy had taken the name Arsenal and was spending time with the various Titans groups, a biological son of Oliver’s came on the scene. Named Connor Hawke, he was also a master bowman. Oliver claimed to have no knowledge of his son before his death. However, years later it would be revealed that Oliver had been contacted by his son’s mother just after he’d returned from the island that inspired him into being a hero. Sadly, he had his stubborn streak of being an absolute asshole even after taking up the Green Arrow role.
While Connor had been forsaken by his father early in life, he still forgave Oliver. Becoming Green Arrow was one way that he did just that.
As seems to always be the case for superheroes, death didn’t keep Oliver down for long. Six years after Superman personally witnessed Oliver’s death, a disheveled and ratty looking homeless man with a flare for a makeshift bow was found living on the streets of Star City.
After being taken off the streets by Dinah, Roy, and Connor, the truth behind Oliver’s resurrection was revealed. Just before Hal Jordan sacrificed his life to save the world, he was powered by the entirety of the Green Lantern Power Battery. His powers were nearly infinite at that point. Life and death meant little to him. Because of that, he was able to find all of the billions of atoms that had once been Oliver Queen and reconstruct them into a living, breathing person. However, he didn’t attach Oliver’s being to the new body. That meant that this resurrected Oliver was an incomplete thing, a living person without a soul. After realizing this problem, this new Oliver traveled to the afterlife and pleaded with his old self to rejoin him on Earth.
Eventually, soul and body were reunited and Oliver Queen, flaws and all, was back in the DCU.
Over the next few years, Oliver found himself as the head of a little collective. Shortly after he returned from the dead, Oliver took in a young girl named Mia Dearden, who took up the bow like her mentor. Over time, Mia took the name Speedy, as it hadn’t been used in years. Connor continued to go by the name Green Arrow, but he was referred to by his real name more often than not. Dinah also stuck around. They, along with Roy, were now an extended family.
It seemed only natural that Oliver asked Dinah to marry him soon afterwards. She agreed. Their engagement was a short one and ended when the pair were married in front of nearly every single hero in the DCU. Connor, having lived and trained as a monk for most of his life, officiated the event.
It was really a magical event drawn by the great Amanda Conner. While supervillains did crash the event, it was still a wedding to remember.
As tends to happen with superhero marriages, this one crumbled. After Prometheus, a madman who had faced off against the JLA on numerous occasions, detonated a bomb in the heart of Star City, Oliver found himself beyond rage. The bomb killed Roy’s daughter Lian in the blast along with thousands of other innocents. Oliver methodically tracked Prometheus down and killed him with an arrow to the head.
This murder broke the foundation that Dinah and Oliver had built their marriage on. She left him after the truth came out. Alone, Oliver kept himself confined to Star City.
During the Brightest Day story, a forest sprang up in the star pattern that Prometheus’ bomb had left scarred across the city. Oliver became the protector of the city and its new forest, rarely leaving it during his next series of adventures.
That’s where Oliver was left before the New 52 reset everything. Now, Oliver has found his story completely different. Though he was once again isolated on an island, Oliver returned to Star City as a young, rich man. He’s now lost all of the baggage that had accumulated onto him over the past few decades. No longer did he have a son or a surrogate daughter. Now, he’s his own man again, although Roy Harper appears to have been his sidekick at one time or another in the distant past.
Oliver’s status quo is currently changing up. He’s lost all of his money and it looks like Jeff Lemire is going to be putting the newly young hero through a new series of problems. Here’s hoping that this latest change-up can bring some much needed new life to Oliver. He’s a great character and deserves to have great stories told about him.
Jeff Reid calls green arrows at traffic lights “Ollies.” It makes his wife roll her eyes. Get more insights like this on Twitter.