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COMIC FLASHBACK #9: Green Arrow By Kevin Smith

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Kevin Smith. Filmmaker. Writer. Comedian. Podcaster. Entertainer. Director. Geek. If you were to look any of those words up in the dictionary, chances are a little picture of him would accompany the description. Kevin Smith, you do a lot and you are everywhere.

The fact that, so far, Kevin Smith has not managed to bag himself a comic book directing gig on the big screen is something of a surprise. Oh sure, there was THAT one time he nearly wrote for Superman, a project that has now joined the annals of famous, or even, infamous unmade movies and now resides in that special place in development hell, probably zipping martinis with Jodorowsky’s Dune and Vincent Ward’s Alien 3.

Given his love of comics and that he started his career directing lower to mid budgeted movies, one would think Hollywood would have handed him the reigns to a comic book blockbuster by now. Their loss has been the gain of comics and television. Having written for Green Arrow and Daredevil, Smith also recently directed an episode of The Flash, which was brilliant beyond words, and is set to call the shots on an episode of Supergirl, whilst only recently DC Comics reissued in a beautifully packaged trade paperback, all fifteen issues of Smith’s run on Green Arrow.

Reading Green Arrow By Kevin Smith, most of which is taken up with his acclaimed story arc Quiver, is an enjoyable experience. Light, fun, yet existential, with a wicked dark streak running throughout that isn’t afraid to push forward a little bit when it comes to violence, Smith takes many of the elements that makes this character so enduring and shakes them all up into a potent mix. We get light-hearted humour, we get a touch of romance with Black Canary, here more angst riddled than you might think for understandable reasons, plus there is a level of grit here, especially with a storyline involving a serial killer, that could have come out of Mike Grell’s run in the 80s, although the eventual explanation for the motivations and reasoning are pure Smith down to the downright insane use of a monster, one which, amazingly, doesn’t destabilise everything that has come before. In the hands of any other writer it could have been too drastic a turn, with Smith it actually just adds to the fun.

In his introduction, Smith mentions how many were somewhat put off by the high level of continuity and references to previous events from past Green Arrow stories. Essentially continuing after Oliver sacrificed his life during that time Hal Jordan became Parallax, despite the fact that I have yet to read any of that stuff and that I should have been at a loss as to what was really doing on, I have to say, Smith’s writing allowed me to never feel lost when reading Quiver. His exposition and explanations for past events are beautifully handled, and if, like me, you haven’t read any of the Hal Jordan as Parallax story (yes, I’m a bad person and I really need to get through my comic bucket list more ferociously) , then the first few chapters of Quiver actually read as an entertaining mystery where the audience, much like Oliver himself, is trying to work out what the hell happened.

The fact that he hasn’t aged is a lovely idea and Smith’s writing of various characters and their surprise is some of the most delightful and wickedly funny parts of this collection. The eventual explanation as to what happened is amazing, imaginative and something I didn’t expect while reading it. It even asks some deep, philosophical questions about the soul and death, something that can really take you by surprise while reading it because questions like these are the last things you expect to get from it.

The revelation as to the identity of the serial killer at the heart of Quiver’s fifteen issues is shocking and unexpected because Smith has worked damn hard to make us love and respect that character. Only his dialogue for the killer threatens to derail everything only because it’s so nasty and mean spirited, but then maybe that is the point. His use of offensive terminology and downright disgusting use of innuendo ensures you really want to punch this character in the face (don’t worry, I’ll not spoil it). Throw in a cute, lovable looking monster and you’ve got a wonderful piece of icing on the cake.

Green Arrow Phil Hester
Phil Hester’s artwork has a lovely vibe to it that accompanies Kevin Smith’s writing perfectly.

Apart from Smith’s writing, the real star of the show is Oliver Queen himself. Until his recent live action television series starring Stephen Amell (which I would love to see Smith have a hand in writing because if he’s done The Flash and set to do an episode of Supergirl, he really should go for all the DC/Berlanti shows), Green Arrow was a very underrated character. Famous in comic book circles, the character’s proliferation of live action popular culture didn’t really begin until his 2006 debut in Smallville (and I for one actually do have a soft spot for Justin Hartley’s performance) and then reached for a new stratosphere when in 2012, Berlanti, Guggenheim and Kreisberg brought us their Christopher Nolan-influenced (at the time, anyway) take on the character.

For me, this was the Green Arrow I had really come to love, so going back to try and find a way into the comic books, I was always amazed to see how much more lovable, flawed and liberal he was, not to mention rocked a goatee, and all of those attributes are there to see throughout Smith’s entire run. Very engaging, very lovable and yet a man who had made mistakes, Oliver is a great character to spend time with to the extent that, whilst the supporting cast are wonderful too, and these are great characters to be with, Smith’s handling of the main man himself makes it that all you want to do is to spend more time with him when he’s not around. That a key plot twist involves having not one, but two Oliver Queen’s in the one panel makes things even more interesting and downright brilliant.

All of this is backed up by charming and personable art work from Phil Hester, who almost borderline caricatures the characters in his art, but in a way that feels beautiful and reminds one very much of the work of a Bruce Timm animated series. It’s that good. The best comic book art, no matter how good the story is, will always make you stay on the page that little bit longer just to take it all in, and Hester’s work here is no exception.

The recent paperback re-issue also includes issues 11-15 of Smith’s run, taking in a story entitled The Sounds of Violence that doesn’t go on long enough for my liking. Featuring the villain Onomatopoeia (which I had to copy and paste from my search engine because just spelling that gives me and my spell check serious headaches), there is one moment when it looks as if Smith is about to fall into the trap of a “head in the refrigerator”, but he subverts expectations by having the male superhero in question get killed a few panels later.

With his taste ranging to violent murder and simply saying the sound effects he is hearing, I was amazed that any number of the DC television shows on the air at the minute, including Arrow or Gotham, have not used him only to learn that J August Richards’ character in the Arrow episode Home Invasion was in fact a version of this character. With his mask taken up with a target, giving him an odd blank look that is beyond creepy, and his lack of dialogue beyond sound effects words, he is a formidable opponent and I for one could have read ten issues itself centred around this story. Smith even has the balls to go somewhere with it that you wouldn’t expect him to go and inflicts serious damage on someone close to Oliver.

If you have not had the chance to read any of Smith’s work on Green Arrow, I advise you do it now. I mean it. Stop reading, go out and buy it now. At fifteen issues, there is a lot to read here, but, also, at fifteen issues, there isn’t enough of it. So what are you doing still reading this? Go. Now!

Possibly the geekiest man in all of Ireland, I have consumed too many television shows, movies, books and comics to know the difference any more between being geeky and not geeky. Very proud of my geekdom, it brought me together with my one true love, and if that’s not a great reason to be geeky, I don’t know what is. Could also beat anybody in an X Files trivia contest. True scientific fact.