Welcome to "Green Arrow: The Batman Years."
Well, y'see, before Oliver Queen sprouted a goatee, bought a subscription to The Nation and became the fiery, liberal Robin Hood we know him as today he was basically Batman with a bow and arrow. A very derivative, B-level super-hero. He was a millionaire playboy, had a youthful ward (Speedy), an Arrow Car and Arrow Jet and an Arrow Cave. He even answered to an Arrow Signal for chrissake!
It wasn't until Denny O'Neill and Neal Adams got ahold of him that he was fleshed out into something approaching an original character. And that happened after the 500-some pages of stories printed here.
Which isn't to say this first volume of "Showcase Presents Green Arrow" isn't a lot of fun. It is. Because, while he may've been a B-level hero, relegated to backups in "Adventure" and "World's Finest," his strip had A-level creators.
Ever heard of Jack Kirby? Neal Adams (well, yeah, I guess I mentioned him above)? Those are the artists whose works book end the adventures presented here. In between we get hundreds upon hundreds of pages of beautiful art by the severely underrated Lee Elias.
And the stories, most of them six-pagers, aren't bad either. Silly, yeah. Preposterous, surely. But fun. This is Silver Age DC Comics fare, you know.
We get pretty much what you might expect: Green Arrow traveling back in time (on a couple of occasions); Green Arrow squaring off against a gorilla (and a monkey); Green Arrow shooting his boxing glove arrow at innumerable bandits and bank robbers. Surprisingly there's no "Green Arrow in Space" story, but he does have an underwater adventure. And there is one where people living 3000 years in the future send him a quiverful of "super arrows."
One of my favorite adventures is "The Curse of the Wizard's Arrow," in which a carnival fortune teller (trustworthy source, right?) foretells that Green Arrow will kill his best friend (Speedy, natch) with an arrow within the next 24 hours. So, to be on the safe side, GA opts to fight crime in the meantime with... a rifle!
Given the space constraints writers Ed and France Herron, Dave Wood and the others had to work, they did a magnificent job crafting entertaining stories for their young audience. Many tales feature surprising, brain-twisting endings that are very creative and fun.
Outside of Speedy and a couple of appearances by Miss Arrowette (a female archer who tries to help out the crimefighters with her nail file, hair pin and perfume arrows [These were not the most enlightened of times, folks]), there's not a recurring character in the book. No regular super villain to spar with, no friendly police commissioner to visit at City Hall. There are, however, guest appearances by Superboy, Superman, Batman and (very briefly) Aquaman. And we get a reprinting of Green Arrow's first adventure as a member of the Justice League of America.
The stories date from 1958 through 1964. The last two adventures are "Brave and the Bold" team-ups with Batman from 1967 and 1969. That last of these features Neal Adams art and looks wildly different from all that precedes it. It doesn't really fit in terms of style or mood, but it's very nice work indeed.
Also nice are the 10 Kirby-drawn adventures that lead off the book. These were reprinted in color by DC a few years back but look spectacular here in black and white. It's fun to see Kirby in superhero mode a few years before he and Stan Lee launched the Marvel Age.
And, as I said above, the Elias art is the big discovery for me. I've seen a few examples of his work in the past, but this is a treasure trove. All of it is self-inked and very vivid in black and white with gorgeous linework and excellent use of blacks that create a nice sense of space, mood and light. It's a pleasure to behold.
DC should be commended for putting this fine work back into print. With the Showcase "Metamorpho" volume, "Green Arrow" and an upcoming collection of "Elongated Man" stories, the publisher is shining some light on characters that likely wouldn't soon warrant a hardcover, full-color "Archive" treatment.
My only beef is the lower-quality paper being used on these latest Showcase books. The thicker, white stock used on the "Superman" and "Green Lantern" volumes really showed off the art. These new books use the same newsprint as Marvel does with its "Essentials" books. At 500-plus pages for under $18, we're already getting a huge bargain. I'd gladly pay an extra buck or two for better paper.