Thursday, March 11, 2010

Final Verdict: "The Archer's Quest"

Though I hate to disappoint my two or three loyal readers, this isn't going to be a full on rant about how much "The Archer's Quest" blows and how Brad Meltzer should never be allowed to write another word as long as he lives.   The truth is that "The Archer's Quest" doesn't completely suck.  It's not the worst Green Arrow story I've ever read, and certainly not the worst thing Meltzer's ever written.  It is however, marred by flaws that seem to be trademarks of Meltzer's work. These include bothersome plot holes, a poor understanding of some of the characters he's writing about, and a shocking revelation at the end that comes out of nowhere and changes everything that has come before.
The story of "The Archer's Quest" concerns Ollie's efforts to clean up a few loose ends left after his death.  In order to preserve his secrets following his death, once upon a time Ollie had hired sometime super villain the Shade to retrieve and destroy certain artifacts when the time came.  Unfortunately, the Shade doesn't seem to have done a very good job, so Ollie and former sidekick Roy Harper set out to retrieve the items he missed. 
Other than the fight with Solomon Grundy in the wreckage of the Arrowcave, "The Archer's Quest" is short on traditional super heroic action.  (The Shade? Solomon Grundy? It almost seems that Meltzer would rather have been writing Starman, since he's borrowed two of that book's major players.)  For the most part, it's a character driven tale of a man recently returned from dead and his ex-drug addict turned government agent former kid sidekick reconnecting on a road trip.  The fact is that Meltzer seems to do a little better with this type of story than he does with more traditional super hero tales or crime fiction.  
Meltzer actually does have a pretty good grasp on Ollie's character and the moments between him and Roy aren't that bad. Once I read beyond the first chapter, the bit with Roy temporarily going back to being Speedy didn't really bother me as much as it did previously, though I still think it was a misstep on Meltzer's part. Where he really falls down is in his portrayal of the Shade.  The cultured enigmatic figure of James Robinson's Starman is replaced here by a bumbling fool.  With his powers, Shade should really have had very little problem retrieving the items Ollie wanted from the Flash Museum and the JLA.  Meltzer attempts to duplicate the Shade's dry wit, having him quip "I look terrible in black," when asked why he hired washed up villain Catman to attend Ollie's funeral rather than go himself. (The Shade, if you didn't know, never wears anything but black.) Rather than sounding wrily witty, however, it comes off as kind of stupid. 
Meltzer never provides a satisfactory rationale for why Ollie feels he has to steal back his possessions that are in the care of the Flash Museum and the JLA rather than just asking for them.  When Roy asks him why he doesn't just ask current Flash Wally West for the item from the Flash Museum, he says, "It wasn't his to give."  This doesn't make any sense to me.   After all, by the same token, it wasn't Wally's to withhold, either.  
Reading over the past couple of paragraphs, I realize my complaints may seem a bit nitpicky, but there are enough moments like the ones I've described throughout the story to keep me from really enjoying it.  Besides, if you really think about it, the rationale for the whole story is a bit shaky.  Ollie's goal in making his deal with the Shade was to preserve his secrets after his death, but it seems to me that the people most likely to have been going through Ollie's stuff post-mortem, Roy, and perhaps the Black Canary, already knew his secrets.
In the case of "The Archer's Quest," Meltzer's trademark late in the game revelation casts a new light not only on the story at hand, but on almost every Green Arrow story going back to at least The Longbow Hunters. Given the way Ollie's character had developed in the Grell era and beyond, however, the revelation, that (blogging etiquette requires me to insert the words "SPOILER ALERT" at this juncture) Oliver had known about his son,Connor Hawke, all along and was, in fact, present at his birth, is not completely uncharacteristic and actually makes sense.  What really bugs me about it, though, is the way it just comes out of nowhere on the next to last page with nothing having prepared the reader to learn that this is what the story had really been about all along.  It's a sign of the sloppy, careless plotting that is also a Meltzer trademark.  
The trade paperback collection includes an intro by Senator Patrick Leahy and an afterword by writer Greg Rucka.  Oddly, Rucka's afterword at the end of the book refers to the story "you are about to read."  What's up with that? Does Rucka not know what "after" means? Or did DC find itself with two introductions, and decided to go with the more well known figure to lead the book off and consign Rucka's piece to the end pages?  The second scenario seems more likely. 
So, overall, while I wouldn't actively recommend "The Archer's Quest," I suppose there are worse ways to waste an evening. 

1 comment:

  1. Ray,

    Interesting review. The idea of Roy and Ollie doing some good old-fashioned male bonding suring a road trip sounds like an amusing read, especially for those of us who have emotional investments with these two characters.

    Another reason it makes no sense to me that the Flash (Wally West) would be reluctant to relinquish any museum artifacts is that he and Roy were former comrades in the Teen Titans back when both men were adolescent sidekicks. Of course, I'm saying all of this without having read "Archer's Quest" myself.

    Thanks again for the review. Based on your opinion, I'd be best served reading more of the Grell era Green Arrow stories that I missed the first time around.

    This Green Arrow Month gimick has been a lot of great fun to read. I look forward to your opinion on "Rise and Fall" as that story comes out. Long live the green!

    So much to read and so little time...
    - Jonathon Riddle