The Girl Loves Ink | Academia, Green Arrow, and the DC Multiverse

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but when I was an undergrad with no idea that my eventual academic journey would lead me to a Bachelor of Arts that wasn’t English, I took a graphic novel class. Okay, that’s not totally true—I signed up for the graphic novel class initially because, during my very first semester, my husband and I spotted it on the potential classes to sign up for, but he didn’t have the pre-reqs, and my green freshman self definitely didn’t have the pre-reqs, so we gnashed our teeth together for a little bit and then went back to pondering how I was going to get around campus in a wheelchair. (I’ll finish that story now: it wasn’t pretty, but I made it work.) Fast forward to a few years and who knows how many changes in my major, but fall semester was upon me, and I finally had the pre-reqs to take the graphic novel class—and it was there! For the first time since I was a freshman, it could be signed up for—it was a Friday class, but it was going to be worth it. That was kind of the dream, wasn’t it? Taking a college course on comic books—various friends on various continents were various shades of green with envy.

The class changed a lot for me.

My relationship with comics prior to that class was, I’d say, one of the average reader: I read the stories, I enjoyed my favorite characters, and it didn’t go very far past the surface. I could tell you that my favorite comic book character was Jean Grey and that my husband was a massive Batman fan, so I was starting to become a Batman-verse fan myself, but that was as far as the conversation went. That graphic novel class showed me that not only was I missing out on a wide variety of titles and stories, but that I had dismissed characters because I thought they weren’t for me or, worst of all, they weren’t Marvel. (I can’t even imagine thinking that now. Ugh.) It also taught me that comics were something that could be handled in the same way that students of English are taught to handle novels…you know, those book things that don’t have any pictures in them. After that class, I was, and still am, unable to consume a comic without looking at it through the lenses of an English student. I wouldn’t change that for the world. It has opened a world of comic book enjoyment that I would have never known existed.

I wrote my very first critical essay on Snow White from Fables and her growth as a character from a damsel to the kick-ass Director of Operations that I fell in love with, and then my next paper was on the gender representation of Jean Grey in X-Men 1602, where she is presented as a boy until her final moments—there’s a whole interesting conversation on homosexuality in there, too, because both Angel and Cyclops are still attracted to her in the 1602verse, even though her appearance is heavily androgynous and a very dramatic departure from her normal appearance. My final paper for that class was an extension of my paper on Snow White and looked at more of the princesses that appear in Fables. Later, towards the end of my undergrad, I did my English capstone paper on Jean Grey –30 pages of academic discourse on Jean Grey and The Dark Phoenix Saga.

Some of my favorite conversations about comics have been strictly academic, and I have made some great friends because of it. I’ve also read some great things because of it. So, when Moving Target: The History and Evolution of Green Arrow by Richard Gray popped into our inbox, I got excited.

The cover to Richard Gray’s “Moving Target: The History and Evolution of Green Arrow.”

After all, my beagle is named Oliver (after Green Arrow’s alter ego Oliver Queen), so a chance to read others’ critical work on Oliver Queen sounded like an amazing idea to me. Now, I have to admit, I didn’t get on Green Arrow fandom until I saw the Arrow television show—I think that was because someone, at some point, told me that Green Arrow was the poor man’s Batman, so I invested time in Bruce Wayne and dismissed Oliver Queen. Well, let me tell you, it was super hard to dismiss Stephen Amell’s pouty face and the general dramatic feel of Arrow, but when Gossip Girl is something you regularly watch on a nearly annual basis, you kind of acquire a taste for drama. So naturally, when I paged through the essays in Moving Target, the first thing that caught my eye was the chapter dedicated to Arrow and Green Arrow’s other on-screen appearances.

So, that is where we shall begin.

I grew up with Smallville—as far as I’m concerned, that was where the superhero show began. I remember coming home from school at some point in middle school, throwing my backpack down, and watching Superman struggle through high school. I didn’t even like Superman yet, but I was glued to my television. Arrow, however, was the most successful in paving the way for other shows featuring a “real life” take on superheroes, as the essay points out the numerous television shows that came in Arrow’s wake (283). The essay touches, eventually on a criticism that I’ve thrown at Arrow: it strayed from Green Arrow’s list of villains and dived shamelessly into Batman’s, more specifically Ra’s Al-Ghul and the League of Assassins (287). It was at this point that Arrow almost lost me. Talia Al-Ghul is one of my top three Batman villains, and Arrow does not include her in Oliver Queen’s tango with the assassins, instead casting the character Nyssa Al-Ghul in Talia’s role, doing Talia things. But it works. It also allowed Arrow to venture deeper into the comic book lore.

Which was something that I think it was in desperate need of: you can only keep comic fans interested in something for so long when veering away from anything that resembles canon.

Stephen Amell in "Arrow."
Stephen Amell in “Arrow.”

What Arrow managed to do, as the essay points out, is create something that could stand as an equal to Green Arrow’s character in the comics, but not be an identical twin (291). The use of television to tell the story of a character that is as shifting, and shifty, as Green Arrow was, I think, still a great idea—even if Oliver Queen’s existence on the small screen, as we know him, means that he will either be on the silver screen in a form that will be unfamiliar (à la Flash in the upcoming Justice League movie) or will never make an appearance at all. This is a place where DC’s choice to keep its television and silver screen universes separate, instead of intermingling them like Marvel has done, will wind up hurting them in the long-term. I’ve only recently (I say recently, but I mean within the last five years) have come to appreciate what DC brings to the comic book table, and I am genuinely let down that the Justice League movie does not feature a Green Arrow or a Green Lantern—moreso Green Lantern, because Hal Jordan is a founding member of the Justice League.

One thing that the chapter touches on that cannot be argued with is this: “Grateful fans would have been no doubt happy to see Matt Ryan back on screen, having only been given 13 episodes of Constantine by the television gods” (294). This quotation doesn’t need context, doesn’t need to have anything to do with Arrow in the grand scheme of things—it was just nice to see Matt Ryan again doing what I think Matt Ryan was born to do: be John Constantine (in the flesh, I mean—I’m still not even half sold on the animated series they’re doing Constantine, even if Matt Ryan is still its voice). Something that I think DC did very well, something that Marvel is now employing for its cinematic releases, is the use of the comic book to tie in the story that happens off-screen, between the seasons, by introducing the Arrow comic series tie-ins. I feel like I’ve touched on the potential that exists by mixing the comics with their on-screen counterparts and this chapter goes into great detail on exactly how that is being executed. For example, the characters of Felicity Smoak and John Diggle, creations that were made strictly for the show, found their way into comic book pages (295-296), and DC Universe canon outside of the Arrow comics, in successful Harley Quinn fashion.

DC’s embrace of its multiverse theory allows all of these versions of Green Arrow to run around, allows all of them to be important to the generation that birthed them, and does not box in the writers of any version. How they continue to navigate the Multiverse as they introduce new corners of it in the DC Extended Cinematic Universe is going to be a gymnastics performance to watch, for sure, but as Moving Target points out, “It’s all real” (296).

Moving Target: The History and Evolution of Green Arrow is published by Sequart, and is available for purchase now through retailers like Amazon (who is still having that awesome deal involving a free Marvel title on Kindle with the purchase of a hardcover or softcover graphic novel), and is a must-own for any fan of the Emerald Archer in any of his incarnations. | Catherine Bathe

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