Publisher: DC Comics (Paperback – 1 September 2004)
Series: Green Arrow Vol. 3 – Volume Three
Writer: Brad Meltzer
Penciller: Phil Hester
Inker: Ande Parks
Colourist: James Sinclair
Letterer: Sean Konot
Length: 175 pages
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Welcome back to my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read. For this week’s Throwback Thursday I check out an all-time favourite comic of mine, the third volume of the epic 2001 Green Arrow relaunch, The Archer’s Quest.
The late 1990s and early 2000s were an outstanding time for DC Comics, who produced an amazing number of epic and fascinating comic series that combined brilliant storytelling with fantastic artwork. While there are several great series I enjoy from this period (Teen Titans comes to mind), one of my absolute favourites was the awesome 2001 relaunch of Green Arrow. Also recorded as Green Arrow Vol. 3, this series resurrected the original Green Arrow, Oliver Queen, some years after his death. I have an amazing amount of love for this comic; not only was it one of the first series I ever really got into but it still really stands up after all this time. This is easily one of my all-time favourite comic book series, and the absolute pinnacle of this series was the simple, yet amazingly effective fourth volume, The Archer’s Quest.
While I probably should review some of the proceeding volumes of this series first before talking about The Archer’s Quest (such as the first volume, Quiver by Kevin Smith), I recently re-read this fantastic comic, so it has been on my mind all week. Containing issues #16-21 of this outstanding series, The Archer’s Quest is a brilliant and captivating comic tale that really gets to grips with the protagonist as he embarks on a journey vital to his identity and history. Featuring the brilliant writing of bestselling author Brad Meltzer (author of several amazing thriller novels, as well as some impressive DC Comics), and the artistic stylings of Phil Hester and Ande Parks, this is an exceptional comic which gets a five-star rating from me.
Following his unexpected resurrection after his violent death, Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow, has been returned to Earth, ready to continue the good fight. However, no man can come back from the grave without a heavy heart, and Oliver Queen has more skeletons in his closet than most of his fellow heroes. A chance discovery that the villain, Catman, attended his funeral leads Oliver back to his old friend, Shade, the immortal being Green Arrow trusted to round up certain artefacts of Oliver’s superhero career that could reveal his secret identity.
Discovering that Shade failed to get several of Oliver’s most precious keepsakes, Oliver embarks on a cross-country road-trip to recover them himself. Accompanied by his former sidekick, Roy Harper, Oliver begins visiting some of the locations most important to himself and his career as a superhero. From the ruins of the Arrowcave to the Justice League’s orbiting Watchtower and even the Flash Museum in Central City, Oliver and Roy will attempt to find these items from the past in order to safeguard their future.
However, this will be no simple road trip, as the two heroes encounter some unexpected dangers and surprising opposition, including fellow hero the Flash and the angry zombie Solomon Grundy. Worse, this journey will uncover some dark secrets from the past that Oliver has long hoped to keep quiet. Can Oliver recover his treasures without his friends and family discovering who he really is, or has the past finally come back to destroy this resurrected hero?
The Archer’s Quest is a fantastic and powerful Green Arrow comic that takes the protagonist and his former sidekick on a wild and extremely personal adventure. Before reading this, if you had ever pitched me a comic based around the idea of a recently resurrected superhero going on a road trip, I might have been a little dubious. Well, it turns out that I would have been dead wrong, as Brad Meltzer produced an intense, captivating and emotionally rich narrative that is not only extremely entertaining but which contains some excellent character work, some brilliant references to the classic Green Arrow comics, and which dives deep into the psyche of a troubled and complex protagonist.
The narrative of The Archer’s Quest starts extremely strong, with Green Arrow meeting Superman at Oliver Queen’s grave. This is a fantastic opening scene, especially once Superman hands over a series of photographs of the funeral, and I loved the focus on the harrowing realities following a resurrection. The sombre mood is broken when Green Arrow notices a stranger in his photo amongst his closest friends. This leads him to hunt down Catman, which also reveals the hand of Shade and the revelation that certain items from Oliver’s past are still out in the open. This forces Green Arrow into a road trip, hunting for his artefacts and dealing with friends, enemies and family. The first chapter packs in some much-needed action, as Green Arrow goes toe-to-toe with Solomon Grundy in an epic and brutal fight, that ends with a surprising, and gruesome, win from the protagonist. From there, Meltzer and the artists pile up the emotional and the feels by having Oliver encounter several fellow heroes who he has complex relationships with, while also building up the nostalgia factor, with the reveal of classic Green Arrow items, locations and characters. All this leads to some major moments, from an attempted proposal to a moving and long-awaited conversation between father and son. However, Meltzer saves the absolute best for last with a startling revelation about the past that shows Oliver’s true character and serves as a powerful end to the entire story. This was a beautiful, character driven story, and I think Meltzer hit all the right notes. The pacing is perfect and there is a fantastic blend of action, character development and emotional discovery, which all comes together into one outstanding story. The Archer’s Quest is addictive and dramatically intense from start to finish, I can read and re-read this comic for years (and I probably will).
One of the things that I really enjoyed about this amazing comic is the way in which Meltzer and the artists turned it into a homage to the Green Arrow comics. The creative team spend a substantial amount of time diving back into the history and lore of the character and his comics, working them into the story in very meaningful ways. So many key aspects of the Green Arrow comics are referenced or alluded to in some way, as the characters journey around some iconic locations, including the Arrowcave, to obtain the artefacts. Through this dive into the past, the creative team manage to perfectly capture the various eras of Green Arrow, including the classic Golden Age comics, the grittier Silver Age comics, the road trip era with Green Lantern (which this comic really tries to emulate), and The Longbow Hunters period. This wide range of references makes for a very intriguing and compelling comic, and it helps turn The Archer’s Quest into a must-read for all Green Arrow fans. I loved the clever range of different artefacts that protagonists are trying to recover, including the diamond-tipped arrow from Green Arrow’s first appearance in Justice League of America, his official invitation to the Justice League, and the truck that he and Green Lantern used in their iconic road trip. These cool artefacts really help to ramp up the nostalgia while simultaneously including key modern story elements hidden within. The cool funeral sequence at the start of the comic also allows the creative team to reference and include a vast range of supporting characters and allies from the original comics, with a range of different figures from Oliver’s career appearing to pay their respect. I deeply appreciated the modern analyses and descriptions of the items, locations, complex relationships, character designs, weaponry (why all the boxing gloves?) and prior adventures included in this comic, and it helps to produce a comprehensive account of these iconic events, while also bringing them up to speed with more modern comic lines. You can really tell that the creative team behind The Archer’s Quest had a lot of affection for the preceding Green Arrow comics, and this outstanding comic proves to be an amazing and captivating love-letter to the Emerald Archer.
I deeply enjoyed the epic characters that this amazing comic followed, especially as Meltzer uses this story to dive deep into the psyche and relationships of the protagonists, especially Oliver Queen, the titular Green Arrow. This version of the character is only recently returned from the grave, and this becomes a major part of his identity throughout the comic, driving him to fix some of the mistakes of his past while also ensuring that he never hurts his family again. Thanks to the entire comic being narrated by Oliver, you get some very intriguing insights into Green Arrow’s mindset during this period, and you really get to know who he is and what his motivations are. Rather than some of the typical portrayals of him as a liberal, generic arrow slinger, the creative team attempt to show him as a complex veteran hero, still deeply impacted by his resurrection and uncertain about his place in the world. A lot of The Archer’s Quest’s narrative involves Green Arrow attempting to find pieces of his past that are significant or potentially damaging to him, and as such you get an amazing look into key events of Oliver’s past, as well as his current priorities and concerns. I really enjoyed the storylines involved with him trying to reconcile or repair relationships with his former friends and allies, as well as an interesting development in his romantic partnership with Black Canary.
One of the best things about this comic is the way that Meltzer portrays Oliver as a more morally ambiguous figure, willing to make a deal with a supervillain, lie to those closest to him, and initiating undercover actions to protect identities. There is also some great evidence of the self-destructive tendencies that would be a major defining feature of this series, as well as the complex decisions that affect those closest to him. As such, he keeps many secrets, even from his former sidekick, such as his main motivation for recovering his old truck is to secure the Green Lantern ring Hal Jordan hid in there years ago. However, the biggest secret involves the revelation that he always knew that his son, Conner, existed, and that he pretended he did not know who he was when they first met. This revelation is slowly and cleverly revealed throughout the comic, first with Oliver subtly making the recovery of its hiding place his main priority, and then in the final scenes after he has a heart-to-heart with Conner, when he reveals the secret photo. The narration during this scene sums up Green Arrow in this series perfectly: “You’re a bastard Oliver Queen. You knew. You always knew. And the worst part is…. it’s still your secret.” and the entire sequence ensures you will never look at this character again in the same way. I also musty highlight the great inclusion about Green Arrow secretly coming up with plans to protect secret identities if a hero died. Not only is this vital to the plot of The Archer’s Quest, but it also hints at the great storyline that Meltzer would eventually use in his epic Identity Crisis, which features a proactive team of heroes mind-wiping villains and destroying personalities. This outstanding and layered portrayal of Green Arrow in this comic is one of the defining characteristics of The Archer’s Quest, and I am blown away with this brilliant character work every time I read this volume.
The other major character of this novel is Roy Harper, his former sidekick (now Arsenal), who Oliver calls in to help him hunt down Catman. I really enjoyed the inclusion of Roy in this comic, especially as he had been overly featured in this series (he was mostly appearing in Titans). As such, we had not really gotten a glimpse at the current relationship between former mentor and sidekick, which has always been strained since the infamous heroine incident. The Archer’s Quest did an amazing job bringing them back together again, and Roy really gets into the swing of the adventure, with the two characters getting back into their adventuring groove. However, the comic also deals with the inherent mistrust between the two characters, with Roy upset that Oliver trusted Shade more than him to protect his identity after his death. The two end up working through these issues throughout this comic, and it ended up being a fun and powerful reunion that long-term Green Arrow fans will deeply enjoy.
Aside from Green Arrow and Roy Harper, this comic also makes great use of several other supporting character who either bring the protagonist back to his past, or help to add some emotional weight to the story. This includes brilliant inclusions of two fellow superheroes, Kyle Rayner and Wally West, the versions of Green Lantern and the Flash who were active at the time. Both these younger heroes bear a major legacy that results in some complicated and moving interactions with Oliver. One of the most important is Kyle Rayner, who has taken over the mantle of Green Lantern following the corruption and eventual death of Green Arrow’s best friend, Hal Jordan. Since Oliver’s resurrection, their relationship has been strained, with Oliver having trouble accepting him. This all finally comes to a head with Oliver travels to the Watchtower and encounters the young Lantern, and they have a massive heart-to-heart. The revelations that Oliver has trouble accepting a new Lantern instead of his best friend, as well as the emotional burden Kyle also bears, especially around his first loss as a superhero (women in refrigerators man, that stuff will mess you up), all comes out, and leads to an amazingly moving scene.
I also loved the great interaction that Oliver had with Wally West outside the Flash Museum, after Wally is warned that Oliver is planning to break into it. The two characters have a great stare-down, which sees the usually jovial Flash incredibly serious at Oliver’s attempted trespass. Oliver’s narration about this event is pretty great, especially noting that Wally’s usual short attention span is overridden by his love of Barry Allen’s memory. These two interactions with Green Lantern and Flash are short but extremely powerful, and it was amazing to see the strain on Oliver at being still alive, while the roles of his friends have been passed on to the next generation. Despite the serious nature of these scenes, both had an entertaining ending with Oliver managing to outsmart his younger colleagues: “That old, lying son of a b…”. I also liked the inclusion of Superman at the start of the comic, which was both entertaining, and played into the resurrection storyline perfectly with Superman feeling guilty about not being able to save Oliver when he died, while also being a bit of an expert on coming back to life himself. I also enjoyed the fantastic conclusion of the Flash arc, especially as the entire break-in was to retrieve a costume-filled ring that the Flash made for Green Arrow years before, and which was a nice nod to the great friendship they used to have.
While this volume of Green Arrow does not have an antagonist per se (except for Solomon Grundy and Oliver’s self-destructive behaviour), it does feature a couple of great supervillains in a supporting role. The first of these is Shade, the immortal shadow-powered gentleman who, despite being a villain, gained Green Arrow’s trust years ago, and was entrusted by Oliver to fulfil his post-death wishes (always chose an immortal). Shade is a fantastic inclusion to this comic, especially as his inclusion enhances the implication that Green Arrow is a much more morally grey hero than you would initially believe. The interactions between Shade, Green Arrow and Roy Harper are really good, and I liked the explanations for why he was unable to fulfil all his duties (I wouldn’t want to annoy Jay Garrick either). I also really need to highlight the excellent inclusion of Thomas Blake, better known as Catman, in his first appearance in comic form in years. Catman has always been a bit of a joke character due to his gimmick (which simultaneously rips off Catwoman and Batman at the same time), but in this comic he is shown to be a shell of even his previous ridiculous self, who is looked down on by the entire supervillain community. Hired by Shade as his agent, Catman is hunted down by Green Arrow after attending his funeral, only to show him as an overweight and unthreatening loser. This entire comic paints him as quite the pathetic figure and shows the downsides of being a fourth-rate villain who turned on some very powerful people. While his appearance in this comic was more entertaining than deep, it does beautifully set up his later appearances in such comics as Villains United and Secret Six and serves as his inspiration for becoming the ultra-badass we see there. These two villains perfectly rounded out the main cast of The Archer’s Quest, and both inclusions were fantastic and intriguing additions to the overall plot.
This amazing and complex narrative is perfectly backed up by some excellent artwork from the team of Hester and Parks, who really bring this story to life in exquisite detail. This entire comic is drawn in fantastic detail with some beautiful scenes, fantastic backdrops (including some iconic Green Arrow locations, lovingly brought to life) and entertaining sequences. This includes some brilliant and powerful action sequences, and the artists pay particular attention to the flight, movement, and destructive potential of the arrows. I particularly liked the awesome fight scene between Green Arrow and Solomon Grundy, which was filled with some brutal action in the tight confines of the former Arrowcave and featured some great narration from the protagonist. I loved the character designs featured in the comic, and the classic look of Green Arrow and his companions was great. The artists do a great job portraying emotion on the face of the characters, especially surrounding Oliver and his multiple examples of anguish and conflict. I also appreciated the play of emotion on some of the other characters faces, especially Flash when Oliver arrives at the Flash Museum. Seeing the grim and dark look on Flash’s face as he tries to stop Oliver is really surprising and impactful, and the artists do a fantastic job of showcasing a tense stare-down between the two as the sun starts to rise. However, in my opinion, the best drawn sequence in the entire comic occurs at the front of the volume, when Oliver contemplates his funeral. Shown in a series of polaroids, you see the various grieving mourners and it was fantastic to see several obscure figures from Oliver’s past appear to pay their respect. This beautifully drawn scene is short, but it sets the scene for the rest of the volume extremely well and is an excellent way to start this fantastic comic. I loved the way the comics in The Archer’s Quest were drawn, and they ensured that the outstanding story reached its full potential.
Overall, I have an insane amount of love for this third volume of this classic Green Arrow series, and it comes highly recommended. The Archer’s Quest is a brilliant and powerful comic arc that perfectly combines a clever and nostalgic story, with some intense character development and a fun and enjoyable art style. Meltzer’s narrative in this fantastic Green Arrow comic so damn amazing, and I deeply enjoyed his take of this iconic character. I deeply enjoyed The Archer’s Quest, and it easily one of my favourite comic volumes of all time. I am hoping to review the rest of this Green Arrow series in some future Throwback Thursday series, and I look forward to highlighting all the amazing storylines that were contained in this incredible run.