Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The King And Ollie

Although, as Mark Evanier relates in his book Kirby: King of Comics, he may have objected when Stan Lee pinned the title on him, Jack Kirby truly was the "King of Comics" and his influence can be seen in almost every super-hero title being published today. That includes our honoree this month, the Green Arrow.  
During the late fifties, the comics industry was in trouble.  Many publishers were going out of business and it was just not the right time for a new player trying to break in to the market.  Thus, having failed with Mainline Comics, his joint publishing venture with longtime collaborator Joe Simon, Jack Kirby found himself working once again for DC Comics.  There he created The Challengers of the Unknown and was always on the lookout for new assignments.  Eventually, he was given the assignment to draw the Green Arrow features appearing in World's Finest and Adventure Comics by Jack Schiff, his editor on Challengers.  
Before a falling out with Schiff forced Kirby to leave DC, thus paving the way for his return to what would soon become Marvel and the creation of the Marvel Universe with Stan Lee, Kirby would draw eleven  six page Green Arrow stories to appear in World's Finest and Adventure Comics over the course of a few months in 1958.   A couple of years ago, all of these stories were collected in a slim trade paperback entitled The Green Arrow by Jack Kirby. The book also included, as all collections of Kirby material are apparently required by statute to, an introduction by Kirby's friend, former assistant and biographer Mark Evanier, which, by the way, was my major source for many of the facts presented in this post (the opinions are all mine). 
Kirby always thought big and never did anything half way.  So, when given the Arrow assignment, he set himself the task of taking the character from third stringer to star.  To that end, wrote a story intended to launch Green Arrow in a new direction and, hopefully, straight to the top.  His story, entitled "The Case of the Super-Arrows," was intended to take the Green Arrow series in a more science-fiction oriented direction. In that story, Green Arrow and his sidekick Speedy, on the anniversary of the beginning of their crime fighting careers, recieve a gift of high tech "super arrows" sent  back in time by admirers in the year 3000. 
Green Arrow already had writers, however, but Kirby was allowed to tweak the already written scripts he was handed and given a hand in co-plotting new stories. One story that, although credited to writer Dave Wood, obviously has Kirby's fingerprints all over it, was a two parter that from Adventure Comics.  After investigating a series of giant arrows falling on Star City, GA and Speedy find themselves trapped in an alternate dimension where everyone is a giant.  They soon encounter GA's extra-dimensional counterpart, a bow slinging crime fighter called Xeen Arrow.  After aiding Xeen Arrow in capturing some crooks, they enlist his aid in getting back home.  This is a wild and very entertaining story full of outlandish ideas.  In short, classic Kirby.  In a way, it also reminds me of something Grant Morrison might write today.
The new direction, though, never caught on and was, in fact, quite unpopular with DC's editorial staff, especially the Arrow's creator, Mort Weisinger.  Most of the stories that Kirby illustrated, therefore, were fairly standard, and somewhat bland, tales of Green Arrow and Speedy rather easily defeating  a nondescript lot of garden variety bank robbers and thugs.  
Throwing in my two cents, I honestly think, despite my enjoyment of the "Dimension Zero" tale, that Kirby was off the mark this time.  He was right that Green Arrow was in need of a shot in the arm, but his solution wasn't the right one for the character.  Green Arrow doesn't really work in a science fiction contest. What Green Arrow really needed was a personality.  He needed to stop being a bow slinging Batman clone and become a unique character in his own right. That revitalization would not occur until Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams got their hands on the character a decade later.
Perhaps the most important story, from a historical standpoint, of Kirby's run on Green Arrow is one of his last.  "The Green Arrow's First Case" finds GA and Speedy racing to beat a scientific expedition to Starfish Island, which just happens, as the name implies, to be shaped like a starfish (Don't ask me why, since it has no importance to the story).  Years earlier, after falling overboard during a sea voyage, Oliver Queen had washed up on Starfish Island.  While stranded there, he made a bow and taught himself archery in order to survive, fashioning a variety of trick arrows to help him perform various tasks. Eventually,  a freighter anchored itself off shore. Swimming out to it, Oliver discovers that the crew has mutinied.  After using his archery skills and trick arrows to thwart the mutineers, Ollie hitched a ride back to civilization.  Upon his return, he continued using his new found mastery of archery to fight crime as the Green Arrow. 
While on the island, however, he had kept a journal, chiseled in stone on the wall of a cave.  This is why he must beat the expedition to Starfish Island if he wants to preserve his secret identity. 
The origin story told here is a completely different one from thae one originally presented in a 1943 issue of More Fun Comics.  However, allowing for modifications and updating over the decades, it remains the origin in place to this day. (I'm planning a later post looking at just how GA's origin story has evolved. It'll appear sometime after I get around to reading Green Arrow: Year One.)
Even though, and it's not Kirby's fault, most of the stories are pretty lame, if you're a fan of either Kirby or Green Arrow, or, like me, both, it's worth spending the six bucks to get this book.

1 comment:

  1. great review. i didn't know about this book (or kirby's work on GA at all). six bucks looks like a steal. evanier needs to keep getting paid so he can do "news from ME" for free. fine by me. owen t. vlorblog.