Thursday, May 05, 2005

kevin smith's 'quiver'

You know, I've never been a tremendous fan of Green Arrow.

As superheroes go, he's not particularly remarkable. Oliver Queen is another billionaire playboy industrialist -- like Tony Stark, like Bruce Wayne, like Daniel Rand and like Marc Specter, to name a few -- who uses his fortune to finance a career of vigilantism. His schtick is that he's a peerless archer, a modern-day Robin Hood.

Queen has no superpowers, but because of his money he can buy trick arrows, like Hawkeye. Because he's in the DC Universe, Green Arrow usually associates with the Justice League, although I have vague memories from when I was younger of a title that he headlined specifically with Green Lantern.

I've been reading the collection of  Kevin Smith's "Quiver," and it's enough to spark my interest in the character.

For starters, he is easily the most radically liberal superhero I can think of. He is the only superhero whom I can picture actually calling the police fascists, chewing out the City Council for closing a youth center, and even telling off Aquaman for having elitist royal attitudes.

But beyond that, this comic is just a solid introduction to the character and his history.

Oliver Queen died after the events of "Zero Hour," a 1994 DC companywide event that grew out of the death of Superman two years earlier. Superman's death was followed within a year by the appearance of four separate heroes each of whom might be a resurrected Superman. One turned out to be Kon El, his clone; the second, John Henry Irons, the superhero Steel; the third, Superman with a mullet; and the fourth, the supervillain Cyborg.

During this period of four Supermen, Cyborg destroyed Coast City, where Green Lantern lived in his civilian capacity as Hal Jordan. Driven insane with grief, Jordan tried to use his power ring to remake the universe so that Coast City was restored. In the end, it was Oliver Queen who killed his friend.

Queen himself died not long after on another adventure, and into his shoes stepped his son Connor Hawke, himself a skilled archer but one who did not use gimmicks like boxing glove arrows.

The mystery of "Quiver" is why Oliver Queen is alive again, and to an extent whether he even really is Oliver Queen. He has no memory of Coast City's destruction, cannot believe that Hal Jordan is dead, and is stumped when he first sees a cell phone. "What, do you think you're Batman?" is essentially his reponse.

It's this search for an explanation that drives the comic, and the reactions other members of the Justice League have to his unexpected return that make it interesting. Batman not only is suspicious of Queen's apparent resurrection, he provides some of the most cutting commentary about how derivative a character Green Arrow is, down to the Arrowcave and Arrowmobile, and even Arrowmobile.

The comic's momentum falters as the explanation for Queen's return begins to emerge, though it recovers as the story works toward its conclusion. It's a fun read, but it does beg the question: Is it really necessary to bring a hero back from the dead?

One of the things I've liked about D.C. Comics is that they haven't been pulling these penny-a-piece resurrections, except with Superman. The roster of dead superheroes, and the succession of their sidekicks and namesakes, has given the DC Universe a sense of history that Marvel lacks. Not only was Oliver Queen dead and someone else assuming the mantle of Green Arrow, there was a new Green Lantern in the Justice League after Hal Jordan's death, and a new Flash as well.

No one seriously expects members of the Fantastic Four to perish in the line of duty, or the Avengers; and if a hero does die, you know they'll be back soon enough. Even the villains recover from death. The Green Goblin had been dead for more than 20 years before he came back at the end of Marvel's ill-advised Clone Saga. That makes the menace of death much lower and the theatrics of superheroics much cheaper. There's no risk to what they do.

But in DC Comics, the death of Oliver Queen until now meant that there were real stakes for Connor Hawke's efforts with the Justice League. The fact that Kyle Rainer was the most recent and last of the Green Lanterns told him that he had reason to be afraid. Jay Garrick was still alive and powered as the Flash, but he was also in his 60s or early 70s. Wally West knows not only that Barry Allen died saving the universe, but that as the Flash he's responsible for a legacy that goes back before he was born.

Bringing heroes back from the dead cheapens their sacrifice, and erodes that sense of a grand and proud history. Kevin Smith has taught me to appreciate Queen as a character, but not that he was worth bringing back from the dead.

Copyright © 2005 by David Learn. Used with permission.

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