Thursday, May 25, 2017

Solving the Merlyn Mystery

If you are like me, the Green Arrow villain "Merlyn" has always mystified you.  'Malcolm Merlyn' is, of course, a fixture on television's Arrow (and the second season of Legends of Tomorrow).  Mostly this seems to stem from some sort of Satanic pact made by actor John Barrowman that everyone (but me) will love him, no matter how bad at or inappropriate for a role he is.

CW asks a lot of me.  They ask me to believe Barry Allen could become so evil at some point that he wouldn't pompadour his hair.  They ask me to believe that Josh Segarra, who sounds like the illegitimate child of Ray Liotta and an Italian restaurant in Queens, is a genius litigator, deceiver, schemer, and supervillain.  They ask me to believe that Caity Lotz is awake.

But trying to make me believe THIS guy is a threat to, well, anyone is the hardest thing the CW asks of me:

EVERY time he says something like "I YAM the head of League of Ass-ass-ins, you know" in his Snitty Bank Manager Voice, I laugh.

His teeevee threat level aside, "Malcolm Merlyn" is, like most of the secondary characters in the CWverse shows, loosely based on one from the source comics: Merlyn the 'dark archer'.

It's still true: the best indicator of any character's lameness is their Who's Who illustration.

Merlyn debuted in November 1971 (JLA #94) in the stupidly named "Where Strikes Demonfang?" (titling stories in the Marvel-style of faux-Shakespearean/epic prose was a big thing in the '70s). A (painful) synopsis follows:

A sniper, M'Naku, has Aquaman, the Batman, and the Green Arrow in his sights. At the last second, the Green Arrow sees the sun glint off the barrel, and scatters the heroes. The Green Arrow disarms M'Naku, while the Batman attacks. Once M'Naku is subdued, Aquaman interrogates the would-be assassin. M'Naku reveals nothing. The Sensei, of the League of Assassins, angered at M'Naku's failure, tasks Merlyn with carrying out the assassination. 
Television anchorman, Clark Kent, is out on assignment, tasked with filming a news documentary on pollution. Kent asks the Atom to accompany him, as his assignment will take him near to Porttown, where Aquaman, the Batman, and the Green Arrow went missing. Merlyn disables Kent's news van. Kent confronts Merlyn, as Superman. Using specially designed arrowheads, Merlyn subdues both Superman and the Atom. Merlyn assassinates M'Naku. 
The trademark arrows, and distinctive laughter, tip off the Green Arrow to Merlyn's presence. Earlier in his career, the Green Arrow faced off against Merlyn, and lost. Aquaman, the Batman, and the Green Arrow track Merlyn to an abandoned house. Suddenly, Aquaman collapses from extreme dehydration. Using his size and weight control belt, the Atom disables the arrow immobilizing Superman. The Batman submerges Aquaman in a fountain, until the King of the Sea recovers. 
The Batman suspects that the Deadman has taken possession of Aquaman's body. The Green Arrow is caught inside a vacuum tube. The Batman hurls a batarang at the tube, to no effect. Still recovering his strength, Superman, and the Atom, hitchhike to Porttown. Spying the Green Arrow's dilemma, Superman hurls the Atom at the vacuum tube, shattering it. The Green Arrow squares off against Merlyn. This time, the Green Arrow is the victor. 
Having failed to assassinate the Batman, Merlyn flees, knowing that the League of Assassins will be coming after him for his failure.

The version of Merlyn always  In more than just a 'Stupid Bronze Age" way.  Why name a dark archer after a ...medieval wizard?  Why does he look like, well... a geek?

In fact he looks remarkably like another JLA villain, Headmaster Mind, who had debuted unspectacularly in 1964.

Sometimes you don't need a Who's Who page to tell how lame a character is.

You remember Headmaster Mind (whom I've written about here before); he was a 'professor of crime' who taught criminals how to be successful, even against such foes as the Justice League members.That's why he looks like a professorial stereotype. But why on earth would Merlyn look that way?

And then I discovered this:

More Fun Comics #75 (1941) , in case you were wondering.

And it all clicked into place.

The reason that Bronze Age Merlyn looks like a evil professorial type ... is because that's what he originally was.  That, kids, is "Professor Merlin" who runs a crime college in the third Green Arrow story.  

"Crime college/school" is one of those inevitable concepts that comics CANNOT let go of.  Given enough time, every hero will find and fight one.  Why? Who can say.  Perhaps it's the tension intrinsic between crime, usually though of as an occupation for the ignorant, and schooling, or society's fear that criminals, properly focused on self-improvement, could be unstoppable. Me? I think comic book writers just have some unresolved issues with their teachers.

When Professor Merlin does capture Green Arrow (which is almost immediately) he chooses to spend time tickling him.  Which isn't fey AT ALL.  Then he ask Ollie to throw in with him and be his partner and rule the world with him.  Then Ollie says no because Merlin's type can't last long enough. Then Merlin says, "I'm tired of playing with you!"

"What happened to Speedy? Usually Speedy is the one who ties me up and tickles me with a feather!"

Then, in a scene too embarrassing even for Green Arrow, Ollie is saved by a motorcycle cop who pulls Merlin over because his tail-light is busted.  "The law will get you soon," indeed.  

In Green Arrow's first story, his foe, Ezra Sampson, dies (as we saw).
In Green Arrow's second story his foe, The Voice, is caught.
In Green Arrow's third story his foe, Merlin, escapes.

And that is the key.  Merlin is Ollie's first villain that gets away. And then becomes the first villain to return.  Merlin was Green Arrow's first recurring villain in his rogues gallery (aka the Crime Carnival).  So when writers wanted to make a basic recurring archenemy for the newly-revised Bronze Age version of Green Arrow they took the most basic concept -- an anti-Green Arrow, an evil archer -- and simply lay it on top of Ollie's earlier recurring foe -- Merlin.  

It was a dumb thing and lazy thing to do, of course, and resulted in a character that doesn't make a lot of sense.  But at least now I understand WHY.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


We left Green Arrow at what was obviously the end of his first story:  arrows have been shot, Ollie had been catapulted in a burning building, the mystery had been solved, the bad guy had been revealed and caught.

Would've gotten away with it, too, if it hadn't been for those meddling archers and their catapult.

But if you think that's the end of the story, well, then, you simply don't understand one of the most powerful forces in the DCU:


The now-unHooded Claw, revealed as tiny Ezra Sampson, simply jumps out a window and runs away laughing at Green Arrow all the way.

If only Ollie and Roy had some sort of non-fatal medium-range weapon handy.

Everyone sing!  
"Arrow fails, Speedy bails, Batman rolls his eyes; 
the Arrowplane's quite insane, Ezra Sampson got away!"

Sampson heads toward the city limits, which is an urgent problem, because apparently Ollie's vigilante license isn't valid outside his municipality.  Kind of like a notary.

Ollie's vehicle grows larger with each panel.  That's why at some point the DMV notified him he could no longer call it a 'car' and it became "The Arrowplane", even though its less able to fly than a tank is.

So Ollie shoots out a tire on Sampson's car as a simple safe way of halting his getaway.

To the degree that "Oliver Queen steering the Arrowplane with his knees" can be considered "safe".

Ollie seems oddly insistent that this is a permanent solution and Sampson seems to have a strange symbiotic relationship with his car, since he cries out in pain when its tire is shot.

How did Lichtenstein miss this panel? It's beautiful.

The Sampsonmobile glides to a gentle stop and Ezra finally gives up gracefully..


HOLY ****!

Do NOT fail Green Arrow's city.

Holy CRAP that was horrible and grim. Welcome to the Golden Age of Comics, kids.

Green Arrow: facilitating failure since 1941.

Ollie keeps the cartoon bomb as a souvenir, presumably because a coffin-forming mass of twistled and tangled steel doesn't fit neatly into his curio cabinet.

I am DYING to know what those other trophies are from. And how many people died to put them there.

NOW ends the case of the Namesake Murders. Until next month, kids, enjoy this teaser panel of Ollie shooting an arrow through a man's hand, blood gushing from the wound!

I hereby declare "Crime Carnival" as the official moniker for Green Arrow's rogues gallery.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Green Arrow Loves His Cartoon Bomb

When last we left Green Arrow, Ollie was dashing to his local dealer because he was out of marijuana.

No wonder the writers moved him to Seattle.

Okay, actually, he was there trying to stop the next History Club member from being murdered by fire (in emulation of the death of Jean D'Arc).  Since there's not a moment to lose, Ollie does the logical thing (if you're Green Arrow):


Don't worry, Ollie; I'm sure those little red gloves will protect you.

Fun fact: the unofficial multiverse name for this universe is 'The Only One Where Green Arrow Survives".

Since this is Ollie's first adventure he hasn't yet invented awesome devices like the fire extinguisher arrow, the freeze arrow, or the personal lubricant arrow.  So rather than try to put out the fire he does an extraction on its intended victim.... Green Arrow-style!

Oh, god, this is going to be something stupid with ARROWs, isn't it...?!

Yup; it's something stupid with arrows.

Wanna bet that Green Arrow's 'signal' to Speedy was screaming "NYAAAOHMYGODI'MONFIIIIIIIIIRE!"?

Ollie practiced that joke for WEEKS.
Speedy is a true enabler.  Eventually, I'm sure he get tired of this sort of thing and invents the ladder-arrow. In fact, even in this first Green Arrow story it's becoming clear that Ollie is basically Inspector Gadget and Roy is Penny, running around trying to keep Green Arrow from killing himself and secretly solving the case without Ollie noticing.

The list of 1001 Things Green Arrow Can't Afford includes "butlers" AND "Bible camp".
And 'four-wheel drive'.

Note that at some point between panels, the "Arrowcar" became "the Arrowplane".  Probably the point at which Ollie became unable to keep the front wheels on the ground.

Truly thoughtful villains match their victims, crime scenes, and cartoon bombs to the hero's color scheme.  Remember that on St. Villainstime Day!

Boy, the Hooded Claw sure is an efficient villain!  Our heroic bowmen arrive JUST as the cartoon bomb is about to explode, bringing the entire building down on Samson (and them).

But this is, after all, The Only Universe Where Green Arrow Survives, so they manage to put out the bomb with a well-placed Acme water cooler. I mean, arrow.

Ollie is the world's luckiest superhero. At least, until Child Services catches him.

Samson saved, GA takes the bomb back to his Manhattan apartment, where by holding it and using his arrow-senses he hopes to divine the identity of the killer: "Eenie-meenie, chili beanie... the spirits are about to speak!"

High on the list of 1001 Things You Don't Expect Green Arrow To Say:
"But let's go visit Socrates."

This is, you'll note, 'the most puzzling case' Green Arrow has ever encountered. That's certainly true from our perspective, since it's his first case.  Of course, as previously noted Green Arrow is also puzzled by shoes with laces.

So, obeying the Magic Eight-Bomb, the Brave Bowmen arrive just as the Hooded Claw is trying to make Socrates drink poison (because god forbid you should kill anyone non-thematically).  

But then again, isn't "I'm getting out of here!" the general reaction to Green Arrow?

Then, in a panel guest-drawn by M.C. Escher, Green Arrow shoots the Hooded Claw in the leg (FINALLY!).

"Just as I thought....arrows are nearly useless in fighting crime!"

Now we learn why the Hooded Claw wears a big hat and pointless cape: so that Ollie can more easily do his "pin you to the wall with arrows like a dead butterfly" schtick. Yet another reason Killer Moth needs to be moved to Green Arrow's rogues gallery.


Turns out the Hooded Claw was one of the History Club members, who was killing off all the others (and faked an attack on himself) to cover up his embezzlement of what could not possibly have amounted to more than $10,000 from the Club's treasury.  

No WONDER Scooby-Doo teamed up with Green Arrow.

Once that's revealed, I'm sure the Hooded Claw goes to jail, the case is closed, and the story is over...

OR IS IT?!?!?!?

Next: It isn't.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Fingers and Feet

It's five o'clock! As stupidly planned, the Green Arrow takes his place among the men responsible for the 'namesake murders' of members of the History Club...

Estimated time it took for Ollie's disguise to fail: four seconds.

This villain would make a GREAT game-show host!  "Our next contestant on Wheel of Misfortune is Frank D'Arcy of Manhattan. But first, a word from our traitor, Green Arrow!"

But... Green Arrow's a master detective and master of disguise! How is this possible?!

Ollie gets fingered!

Add "decadactylism" to the list of 1001 Ways to Defeat Green Arrow.

I'm not sure which to make fun of: the fact that Muggsy pretty clearly had ten fingers in the previous illustration of him we saw yesterday or that Green Arrow is stupid enough not to notice that the man he's meticulously disguising himself as had only nine fingers.  

Fun fact: humans will notice the number of fingers you have BEFORE noticing that you are wearing greasepaint over a black domino mask.

Also, I'm going to ignore the fact that Ollie wore greasepaint OVER A DOMINO MASK. Because, really, what else would you expect Green Arrow to do?  I will, however, wonder at the fact that Our Villain doesn't just shoot Ollie in the leg. Why, oh, why doesn't anyone ever just shoot someone in the leg? It's very effective and seldom fatal.

Speaking of Our Villain, with his business suit, pointless drape-cape, mask, and oversized hat... of whom does he remind me? Oh, yes! I know:that villain of villains, THE HOODED CLAW!

"Ollie Queen,  heir to a vast fortune, is in perpetual peril from his fortune-seeking guardian, Sylvester Sneakly, who unknown to him is really the Hooded Claw."

It's pity it's NOT the Hooded Claw; he would be a huge improvement over most of Green Arrow's villains.  Ollie really deserves a villain who can laugh at him rather than expend energy trying to take him seriously.  And almost nobody laughs at you better than the Hooded Claw.

Fortunately, Team Arrow pretty much planned on Ollie screwing this up, and Junior Arrow is just outside and ready to save the day (and Ollie) again.


Truly, Ollie taught Roy everything he knows: screwing up and getting caught.  Then, in true Hooded Claw fashion, Our Villain sets up a pointless death trap (rather than just shooting our heroes) which Ollie uses as excuse to make a snotty cutting remark (EXACTLY as Penepole Pitstop would).

It's astonishing how funny/accurate this is if you read it with the voices of Paul Lynde and Janet Waldo.

Amazingly, Green Arrow manages to extricate them from the chintzy deathtrap by relying on one of his most impressive inabilities: his inability to tie his shoes!

Ladies and gentlemen, Ollie Queen's foot.

I suspect that Oliver has a much looser definition of 'fresh air' than you or I do.  Try to not think about what Oliver "I Became a Hero By Getting Shipwrecked" Queen's feet smell like; I just assume he's the Philoctetes of the Superhero Set.
Also try not to notice that that's Ollie's right foot, but Ollie's left shoe.  This is what happens when billionaires don't hire butlers to make sure they put their shoes on the correct feet.

Since the Hooded Claw (yeah, I'm just going to call him that) helpfully told Green Arrow who the next victim was going to be (even though he knew there was a traitor in their midst), Ollie has the info he needs to race to the potential victim's home in his giant Pikachumobile.

Ollie HATES guys who bogie at parties.

Till next time, estimate how many miles per gallon the Arrow car, which is the size of a Manhattan hostel, gets.  Probably the reason that billionaire Ollie can't afford a butler.

Next: We find out whether they are too late.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

"A Green Arrow! Crashing through the window!"

Activated by a radio announcement, Green Arrow launches himself into action at the History Club in the least sensible way possible: ejector seat.

"This is faster than using the stairs... and a 1000 times stupider!"

Include 'window bars' in the 1001 Ways To Defeat Green Arrow.  This scene shows one of the secrets to Green Arrow's success: he continually does more life-threatening things to himself than his foes do.  "Rig up an ejector seat that will hurl GA out of his car and into the side of building" is a GREAT villainous plan for doing in Green Arrow... it's just that Ollie beats them to it.  No wonder there are no good Green Arrow villains; what class act would want to compete with Ollie's self-imposed "Jackass" stunts in endangering himself?

I love the fact that members of the History Club don't even think to say "WTF, why are you crashing through our window and who's going to pay for that?!"  Remember, Green Arrow is already a world-wide figure and well known in Manhattan; they expect this kind of pointless destruction and stupidity from him.  He's like Naked Guitar-Playing Cowboy.

So, rather than complain, the members of the History Club simply introduce themselves with exposition ("intropositioning" as we have termed it) as quickly as possible, before they start dying:

Frank is clearly named after one of history's greatest men, Marcy D'Arcy.

The History Club is (of course) populated only by successful men with surnames of famous historical figures.  That is, it's the kind of club that exists only in the DCU.  All adult clubs in the DCU have the same purpose: for their members to be murdered.  One by one.  "Joining a club" is the number one method of suicide in Golden Age comic books; you will be killed; your family will still get the insurance money; and your killer will be caught (or will die ironically).  

Usually, clubs have some stupid theme that serves as the red herring.  You know the drill: murder victims all have X in common. "Why is the killer obsessed with killing Xs?"  And then it turns out that only one or two of the victims are the real targets, the other murders are just 'to throw the police off the trail'.  "To throw the police off the trail" is the number one cause of murder in the DCU (and most murder mysteries).   

If Green Arrow is ahead of you in thinking, you are going to die very very soon.

Sure enough...

Well, there's a shock.

Yes. Leonard, Green Arrow is trying to trick you. Because he's a thematic psychokiller who wants to shoot an arrow into your heel. In front of witnesses.  You completely deserve to die, dumb-ass.  If Green Arrow wanted to kill you, he'd just give you a ride in the Arrowcar and catapult you into the side of a building.

Someone from across the street shoots at Green Arrow (like ya do), which is made remarkably easier by the fact that Green Arrow already destroyed the window with his pointless entrance.

"electrocuted: killed (or injured) by electric shock"
You're welcome, Ollie; and stop yelling.
So, Green Arrow does what seems like the perfectly logical thing if you're Green Arrow:

True story: last night, I lost sleep trying to imagine how Green Arrow could be any stupider.

shoots a tight rope across to the other building and slowly walks across it toward the armed man who just shot at him.  You can almost feel the despair of the wannabe Green Arrow villain whose plan was "I'll force him to walk a tight-rope high over a city street toward an armed gunm--GODDAMMIT, ARROW!"

Fortunately the kid in the yellow hat got bored sitting in the Arrowcar and decides to catapult up, knowing full well that GA's had almost 3 minutes to put himself in mortal danger.

"GA,look out for the skylight...!!!"
"OW, my shin!
*kee-rash* YAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa...."
Indulge me; look at that man; how many fingers does he appear to have? Remember your answer because this will be on the test.

A pigeon coop. Really, I don't have the strength to comment on that.  

So, this guy -- lazily named "Muggsy Smith" -- tells them he was under orders from his masked boss, whom he was going to meet at 5pm.  Ollie decides to take Muggsy's place at the meeting.  Rather than, say, call the police.  Because he's Green Arrow, and disguising himself as Muggsy is the choice that's a thousand times stupider.


"I'll be waiting outside the hideout...just in case you eff this up like an idiot."
"Thanks, Red-Leg Kid!"


Next: What goes wrong.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Green Arrow, ab ovo in medias res etc. etc.

Let's start at the beginning, shall we?

Brian Cronin has already kindly explained to the world the crowded field of Arrow-named characters into which Ollie Queen was born.  Author Paul Gustavson's "The Arrow" was the most comparable to Green Arrow; unlike the others he was a contemporary, urban, wealthy, archery-based vigilante in a hood.  As Jon Berk put it, 
"The Arrow was a little hard to warm up to.  He was a sullen and taciturn character that dealt with wrong-doers in a straightforward and, often, deadly fashion.   When he did speak, his words were as cold as his shafts of steel: “Don’t anyone move or I’ll seal your doom forever” "
I hope CW is sending Gustavson's estate a weekly check.

But "The Arrow" was too dour a character to be popular with the comics readers of the day.  On the "Little Audrey/The Spectre" scale of grimness, he was nearly a solid "The Shadow".  How did Green Arrow survive instead of him? The Green Arrow did the smart thing: aped Batman in every possible way.  Let's take a look at his first story!

Before I make fun of Green Arrow -- and I'll be doing a lot of that -- I must assert strongly and with no irony that this is a kick-ass logo and should be brought back exactly as in (except in green).

That narration panel contains the entire story.
It's like a solicit, only less spoilery.

That's GA's first splash panel. In case you're too young to know what a "splash panel" is, it's like a miniature 'cover' for a comic book story, but one that's inside the comic book.  They were all the rage when comics included more than one story.  Like covers, they weren't part of the story or even something that necessarily was going to happen IN the story. They were representations, sometimes highly symbolic, of what the story was about.

When you see this panel you can assume that:
  • Green Arrow and his sidekick are absurdly costumed vigilantes who bring quivers to a gunfight;
  • bad guys still can't shoot to save their lives:
  • crooks LOVE their hats.

So, our story begins with some unusual murders in Manhattan:

Golden Age efficiency in storytelling!
Three panels = three murders, with theme clearly established by talking out loud.

Note that Green Arrow doesn't live in a vague "the City" nor in a fictionopolis; he lives in Manhattan.  Man-hat-tan.  The next time you are in Manhattan, you think about that.  Think about Ollie tooling around 1940s' Manhattan in his giant-ass Arrowcar that's the length of a NYC block and the width of a subway train.

First and last time you will ever read
"Speedy, the Cyclone Kid"

It's not just that Green Arrow and Speedy do their justice thing in Manhattan; they LIVE there.  Together.  In an apartment.  Which is, um, not at all odd, Child Services Representative, why do you ask?

In an early start to a GA tradition, Ollie is desperate to avoid fighting crime and to indulge in sybaritic leisure.  With Roy and what appears to be some kind of stringed paddle.  Which is not at all odd.

et cetera, et cetera is the most honest thing I have ever read in any comic book.

Patrol is for other heroes.  Ollie only dons his fighting togs when something newsworthy becomes unavoidable. And what togs they are!

"No, you don't get your OWN costume.
You get MY costume, resized and recolored by photoshop, because BRANDING.
Who do you think you are, kid, the Sensational Character Find of 1940?`"

Red&Green+Yellow was THE go-to heroic color combo in the Golden Age.  I have always assumed that most comics creators were Jamaicans.  

Note (particularly if you are a film-maker) that there is no hint of an origin story here. Quite the opposite.  We enter Green Arrow's career in medias res, like you would any epic. If you want to fill in his backstory later, you have years to do that.

Five, if you use a wig.

When we meet him, Ollie is already Green Arrow, already  known throughout the world (*snort*), already has a sidekick (who is already living with him), already is naming his adventures and taking time off from them, and already (improbably) has a tunnel underneath his apartment building that already leads to...

"Super-streamlined"? That monstrosity is less aerodynamic than a Borg cube.


Next: we get the jump on Ollie.