It must be difficult to put out a comic when Hawkeye comes out. But especially so if you also happen to be writing a book starring a blonde-haired archer. That’s a problem Jeff Lemire faces today as he comes onto Green Arrow with artist Andrea Sorrentino today, in the hopes of giving the floundering series a kick up the backside.
Green Arrow as a series and character has struggled for the entirety of this new 52 run. It’s been a fine book, but nothing exceptional – and DC’s decision to put Lemire on the book speaks volumes about what they want to do with the character. Based only on this first issue, he does make up some ground. His approach here is to strip away everything apart from the central character, in order to round Oliver Queen out properly and make him somebody readers can like and follow. His problem is that, once he has stripped everything away – he’s left with Oliver Queen. A not very likeable protagonist, who isn’t very interesting right now. But it’s hard to know if that’s intentional or not.
But leaving Queen aside for the moment, this issue reads like a far more assured step in the right direction than the book has seen so far. Lemire is fairly ruthless is taking out anything he doesn’t see as necessary, and in the process gives Green Arrow a second chance of an origin. He may already have his hood and bow, but wiping away the status quo is a smart way of setting things up for a new run at establishing the character. The story develops nicely enough, and Lemire seems to be planning things ahead well – and he’s backed by some superb artwork from Sorrentino, who inks and colours his own work.
Sorrentino’s work is highly stylised, to the point where he deliberately washes out detail from characters when colouring, in order to make things more about tone than detail. He also makes use of David Aja-style boxes which frame important details not mentioned in the dialogue or narration – such as which parts of the body Queen hits when fighting, or other aspects of the fights which will become important in a page or so. He also chooses to have a less traditionally structured page, throwing inset panels in wherever he likes. Sometimes these flow into the page, but most of the time they are flicked in at random, and cause the reader to have to go back on themselves a few times. His fights are simultaneously carefully staged and hard to follow, and it seems fairly deliberate on his part.
I love it. I really enjoy seeing artists like Sorrentino do what they like on a page, making themselves an indispensable part of the story. The colouring is fantastic, and the off-kilter sequencing is really enjoyable – but I know many will find it off-putting. For me, the artwork goes a long way towards covering come of the cracks in the story.
Whilst the overall story is solid, Lemire’s dialogue is a little heavy on exposition. He sets up a few mysteries over the course of the story, to pay off later, but these are perhaps foreshadowed a little too heavily, and the answers seem obvious as a result. Oliver Queen also doesn’t come across as a particularly endearing central character, seeming fairly generic most of the time as he reacts throughout the issue. This is an issue all about reacting to increasing threats and attacks on him as a person, and yet he doesn’t have a unique or unexpected thing to say about it. He is understandably set on revenge, but he doesn’t say or do anything which isn’t bound by the narrative.
That’s a little harsh. But if comparing to Hawkeye – which, unfairly, I have decided to do – Green Arrow is a series where plot comes first and character second, whereas Hawkeye is the complete opposite. Green Arrow#17 doesn’t offer any surprises outside the central narrative, and the character work is currently bland and unexciting. I love the artwork and enjoy the story, but neither the new or old characters introduced or taken out of the story have much impact on the reader as people. Everybody feels somewhat mechanical and lifeless, serving Lemire’s story rather than living within it.
I do have to say that it looks like Lemire may be setting this up on purpose in order to take the tension and mechanic out of the character, so he can give Queen an overhaul. As a result this may work best as a trade rather than a single issue.
Lemire and Sorrentino’s first issue of Green Arrow is promising, and there is a lot to enjoy. But there’s also a rather thin character in the centre of it all — and until he is developed and improved, the book is going to struggle going forward.