Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Bat-Mite versus Green Arrow?

I'm on to you; I've sussed you out.  Through the power of literary detection and multi-dimensional logic, I know that YOU have secretly taken over DC:


DC's Cheerleader-in-Chief

What other explanation can there be?  Who else could 
(a) come up with such ridiculous ideas to 'improve' and 'help' DC's classic heroes,
(b) have the power to make it happen at the snap of his fingers; and 
(c) be shocked when it doesn't work out?

(d) Who else would give Bat-Mite his own comic?

One of the latest targets of Bat-Mite's unique brand of 'help' is Green Arrow.

In case you haven't been following on the television, Ollie Queen's bow-wielding vigilante has been experiencing an all-time height in popularity, serving as the epicenter of a renaissance of comic book superhero shows.  There's been some solid criticism of the show's third season being too dark, and the producers, taking it to heart and encouraged by the lighter tone of successful sister series "The Flash", have vowed to let the show lighten up a bit in its fourth season (including Ollie rebranding himself from "Arrow" to "Green Arrow").  

So at the same time, DC, under the direction of Bat-Mite, naturally decides to make Green Arrow The Comic Book....

a horror title.

Well, we all agree: Green Arrow could certainly use a hand.

They've hired  (dashingly handsome) award-winning Ivy League author Ben Percy, who intends to turn it into a macabre/horror book.

Now, I have only read one thing by Ben Percy; his Batman comic with the plane of dead bodies. I liked that story a lot, so I have zero issue with Percy himself or his writing.

Also, I'm a big horror fan (film, not novels, but I'm not a novel reader).  

All that said: going macabre/horror with Green Arrow is a pretty wacky idea, Bat-Mite.  It almost sounds like a prank, even though Percy sells it well in a recent interview.  

I suppose "Green Arrow is the new Batwoman", that is, a Batman-copy who traffics in horror / macabre/ supernatural stories.  One the one hand, Batwoman has shown that that can work (until Bat-Mite decides you can't get married and yer comic goes down the tubes).  On the other hand...Green Arrow?  Hitting Hannibal Lecter / Jason Voorhees / Chthulu in the face with a boxing glove arrow?  That is so laughable I just might go for it (just like Bunnyman and Semisuper Clark).  
But, as a general rule, when an established character suddenly gets completely transplanted into a different genre (such as the Atom or Aquaman becoming sword'n'sorcery, or Martian Manhunter and Dick Grayson and Aquaman becoming spy titles), it's a sign of desperation, an admission that you've given up on the character.  During the District of Columbia's mass gentrification of the last decade of two, we became familiar with the term "facade-omy": gutting out and replacing a building's innards completely but keeping just the very outside for appearances' sake as a sop to history.  That's exactly what's happening to characters in these circumstances. Instead of being regentrified, they are being regenrefied.  

I'll say this for Percy: he's not afraid of WORDS

Apparently GA's new sidekick is the Purple Prose Slinger.

Novelists seldom are; I think maybe people who write comic books SHOULD be a bit more afraid to use words.  And Percy plans to use ALL the words apparently. On every page. Not sure that's a good fit with Green Arrow.  But who am I to argue with 5th-dimensional imps?

One thing, however, will sell me:

Ollie's next genre: tentacle porn.

If this cover means we're going to get a grim'n'gritty redux of THE OCTOPUS, I will TOTALLY be there for that.


Anonymous said...

About "Grayson" as a spy title: it's an unlikely move all right, but what makes it work is that it's still Dick Grayson being his Dick Graysoniest, even when everyone is trying to tell him not to. He's never been more sensational, not even in 1940. If you haven't read issue 5, please do, you'll like it.

On the whole, though, I see your point. DC forgets what makes its characters work and tries all sorts of gimmicks that don't pay off. Green Arrow has been hit harder than most by nu52; there hasn't been a run that was all that good in the nu52, and there have been like a half dozen of them. Even Lemire's run, as praised as it was, stood out primarily because it ended the ruinous Nocenti run (totally called that one BTW); perhaps DC should look at pre-nu52 Oliver Queen to find at least a few different versions worth emulating. "Green Arrow: Year One" remains a pretty good starting place if anyone cares to go there.

There's a difference between professional writers and fan fiction authors, or at least there ought to be. I don't know if DC understands the difference.

Anonymous said...

... I'd like to underscore how Dick Grayson remaining Dick Grayson is not just a concept but the CENTRAL concept of "Grayson". Very early in issue 1, Dick is getting into a tussle with a bad guy, and he grabs ahold of a gun. What does he do with it? He throws it like a Batarang, of course.

A marvelously concise illustration of how this is about Dick Grayson refusing to be corrupted by spy requirements, which we'll see over and over and over.

John said...

In a lot of ways, I think the problem with these issues (and the third season of Arrow) isn't that the changes in tone and milieu are bad (Batman can freely travel between detective stories, kung fu movies, vengeances of insane gods, horror, comedy, espionage, and parades without anybody really caring) as it is that writers at DC often forget their characters' "mission statements."

For example, when I look at Arrow, I can't help but notice that every single character--Ollie, his family, his friends, his enemies, and probably Roy's cleaning lady--are all atoning for mistakes they (or someone they care about) made or a loss they blame themselves for. They can be grim (Lance) or goofy (Ray) about it, but that's their life, or at least the aspect they share with us. It informs everybody who so much as drives through Starling City...except the League of Assassins.

The League has no motivation. They're all--including Ra's--off-brand Klingons whining about Honor and Prophecies; maybe they take contracts, but we never see it. And they stick out like sore thumbs. The exceptions are Nyssa and Maseo, who are (surprise!) atoning.

In the comics, Ollie never had that. So, he never makes any sense, usually just going with the Bat-flow or having sex with women. Personally, I'm surprised he isn't dead with an old friend trying to replace him in a giant suit of armor. Wordy horror tentacle porn? It's a cry for help.

But Dick Grayson does have a mission statement, trying to get out of Batman's shadow without being disrespectful to his legacy. It's unique and distinct (if mopey when Marv Wolfman is around), so he can be a spy, a cop, Batman's replacement, or anything else and still work. It's one of the reasons I think that (and you've said similar things) Aquaman rarely works: His mission statement is very much an ocean-going cowboy, but they keep trying to make him King Arthur of Camelot-under-the-Sea, with a sometimes-insane wife, an ancient curse, a sometimes-secret evil half-brother, a feral upbringing, explanations of why there are mermaids, a murdered son, a weakness to not being in water, a hook for a hand, a sword, death, a doppelganger, godlike powers, and apparently whatever half-assed idea comes into any writer's head. Superman cares about people, so all the navel-gazing about Krypton, romancing his cousin, turning into the Sun, exiling himself into space, executing Kryptonians, giving up heroing, and so forth just comes off as nonsense.

So, long story shor--

Anonymous said...

"In the comics, Ollie never had that [the whole 'atonement' thing]."

In the nu52 he does! And it's garbage. Apparently he tried to use his bow to stop a hijacker once and it ended up with an explosion that killed lots of people. Surely that makes Green Arrow a better character, right? Right?

John said...

I actually meant a real motivation that informs his stories. Superman is a symbol of what we can all be (but with powers). Batman avenges his parents' murders. Green Arrow...never had that in the comics.

The show makes that reasoning the centerpiece of the show, layering a particular theme (atonement) differently for every character they introduce. Ollie by himself (the pilot episode) was actually pretty boring, but the ensemble all singing the same tune in different keys (to borrow an obvious metaphor) works.

That doesn't mean you can just say that Ollie is sad that he screwed up once, and suddenly it's interesting when he and Slingshot fling improbable crap at each other.

Bryan L said...

"suddenly it's interesting when he and Slingshot fling improbable crap at each other"

Bad example, John. I submit that it is ALWAYS interesting when he and Slingshot fling improbably crap at each other. I'm down for 22 pages of that any day of the week.

Bryan L said...

Or improbable crap. That too.

SallyP said...

Seriously? Well, I wasn't reading Green Arrow before, and I'm sure not going to be reading it now.

Ollie to me, just isn't Ollie unless he is calling Hal a Nazi or something.

Scipio said...

I hear you, Sally. But we should remember that the Ollie you treasure (?) was the result of exactly this sort of 'bold new direction' and was huge departure from his previous incarnation.

And anyone who knows Ollie through the television should wouldn't even recognize the guy you're talking about!

John said...

Fair enough, Bryan.

By the way, in paging through the entry, the actual horror of the comic finally sunk in: The enormous Microsoft pointer-arrow on the tunic pointing at Ollie's shoulder! I'm pretty sure my brain blocked it out the first time, because it's so stupid I assumed it was supposed to be creases in the fabric as he twisted and was impressed.

But a big, green arrow across Green Arrow's chest as an insignia? No. Way. Luthor wearing Google Glass looks less stupid. This is beyond Bat-Mite and well into evil-omnipotent-Cary-Bates-from-Earth-Prime territory...

CobraMisfit said...

I think what we need is a dark and gritty hero who has suffered a major tragedy in his/her past and shuts out friends and loved ones while droning on and on in random monologues in their quest to finally defeat their cephalopod arch-nemesis....waaaaaaait a second.....

Mark said...

I'm less on the "TV is the answer" bandwagon than some of you. When the new 52 was launched, DC was doing exactly that: trying to give people the TV-popular Green Arrow, the GA from Smallville.

Picking up on John's point about motivation - I might rephrase that as point-of-view. I think for any book to succeed, it has to have a clear point of view on the character and the stories it is telling and, given the crowded marketplace, that point-of-view needs to be something that feels somewhat distinct. I think Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams gave Green Arrow that distinct identity - and since the character was written as older than his contemporaries, it held up even as politics changed by giving him an anachronistic vibe.

The problem with Arrow influencing TV is that the TV show has basically injected Batman DNA's into the character (which, admittedly, isn't "wrong" since GA is a Batman-derivative). That works fine for the TV show - in a universe that never had Coke, maybe RC Cola is the market leader - but it doesn't work as well in a universe with Batman.

Thanks to DC's big digital sales, I recently caught up on the Lemiere/Sorrentio run, which definitely captured the TV series vibe but without being a slavish imitation. But that approach didn't improve the books sales.

Arrow has a pretty small audience (it's a CW show) [As an aside, Supergirl on CBS - a network that doesn't grade on a curve - will be an interesting ratings test]. Arrow is also only an okay TV show. When everything works, it can be a good show (but so far has not proven it can be great), but the quality average is still pretty middle-of-the-road. Again, that's when looking at the show on its merits and not grading on a curve (aka measuring it against Smallville). Even Flash, which I really enjoy, gets by on tone and charm more than craft or story structure.

I'm pretty skeptical that the TV shows have anything profound to say about the comics. You have teams of writers who get to start from scratch, pick & choose & adapt from a whole universe of intellectual properties, produce only a single episode at a time, have a limited number of episodes per season, and the show can alter the status quo because it will eventually come to end - they aren't perpetual narratives. And the CW shows are still young; it will be interesting to see what the shows look like in Season 7 or 8 or 10 - very few shows can sustain their quality over the long run and even fewer improve with age.

I'm happy to be wrong, but I don't think live action TV is going to be the gateway drug to get new readers hooked on comics. But the shows, along with the movies, are doing a great job of norming superheroes as a genre along side crime or horror or sci fi, which will hopefully insure some longevity in the mediums.

Anonymous said...

"I hear you, Sally. But we should remember that the Ollie you treasure (?) was the result of exactly this sort of 'bold new direction' and was huge departure from his previous incarnation."

His previous incarnation was ... what, a utility belt with somewhat longer range? At least cantankerous, liberal Oliver Queen gives us scenes like this:

And that's from a dumb videogame tie-in. I would be very happy if nu52 Green Arrow had the same moxie.

Bryan L said...

"But a big, green arrow across Green Arrow's chest as an insignia?"

It's an important part of his branding, John. Otherwise, how would you recognize him? He can't wear his cute little Robin Hood hat any more, and it's not like he carries a big bow and wears a quiver of ... oh, wait.

Anonymous said...

Green Arrow, the pre-nu52 comic book version of him, is defined by his motives and personality (stop laughing, Scipio!) as much as his skill with a bow. The O'Neil/Adams through Grell GA is a guy who went from being a rich playboy to losing everything to having white liberal guilt kick in as middle age approached. If he is atoning (beyond doing so because of a specific incident, as when he accidentally killed a criminal and ran off to a Buddhist monastery), it is for being rich. He has a temper and a sense of humor, he messes up (repeatedly, just ask Dinah). Eventually, he gets older and more conservative and relaxes his stance on killing before realizing he's gone too far and letting himself die.

Then he comes back younger and less conflicted and decides to only star in bad comics for the next 15 years and counting.

Arrow gives him different... everything. The Smallville version actually felt more like the Ollie I knew than the current tv incarnation. I liked the Lemire issues but DC can't seem to decide if they want him to mirror his tv counterpart or be part of the greater DCU. I haven't read the latest version and don't really care; my preferred GA died in the '90s.

I'm all for successful, sustained reinvention*, however. I never cared about a Barbara Gordon Batgirl until the Burnside stories. Initially, I considered the nu52 Black Canary a misfire but I really dug the 1st issue of her new series. If they can pull a Batgirl with Green Arrow, I'll be happy. I'm not holding my breath, though.

- Mike Loughlin

* Given your points about constantly reinventing Aquaman, I wonder if even the new nuBatgirl & BC will last more than a year.