Thursday, March 4, 2010

Ready To Take A Chance Again (The Archer's Quest)

 This whole GREEN ARROW MONTH stunt was inspired by an e-mail from my friend Adam asking me to recommend to him some good Green Arrow stories, which started me thinking about the Emerald Archer and re-reading my old Green Arrow comics.  One of the GA stories he had read was "The Archer's Quest," the six-part storyline by novelist Brad Meltzer which followed Kevin Smith's run on the character, appearing in Green Arrow (vol. 3) #'s 16-21. I read the first installment of this story when it was originally published and didn't care for it, but based on Adam's recommendation, I've decided to give it a second chance.  So he owes me for anything I break should I end up hurling the book across the room.
To be perfectly honest, when I first read Green Arrow #16, I was predisposed toward not liking it.  Upon hearing that Meltzer was going to be writing the series, and never having heard of him before, I decided to seek out one of his novels.  Thus, I picked up a copy of his then current bestseller, The Millionaires, and spent an excruciating few days reading it.
 As you can perhaps tell from my choice of adjective in the previous sentence, I did not enjoy the novel.  The first, and biggest problem, is the writing, particularly the jarring shifts from first to third person that serve only to make the reader aware of the author and thus take him out of the story.  Then there's the story itself.  It's not really all that bad until right near the end, when there is a ridiculous plot twist that not only makes no sense in and of itself, but also causes nearly every thing that has transpired so far in the novel to suddenly make no sense in light of this development.  I won't say any more in case you want to read the book yourself, however I wouldn't recommend doing that.
This rather unpleasant experience serves to explain why I was in no mood to give "The Archer's Quest," or anything else written by Meltzer, the benefit of even the smallest doubt.  The thing about that first issue that really bugged me is  Green Arrow's former kid sidekick Roy Harper, who at the time was calling himself Arsenal, agreeing to wear his old uniform from his days as Speedy, which is what he was known as when he hung around with GA.  Given all the character had gone through, going back to his drug addiction as revealed in the Dennis O'Neil/Neal Adams run of Green Lantern/Green Arrow, in order to establish an identity as an adult apart from his former mentor, this seemed way of character and a step backwards for Roy.  I didn't even believe that Ollie would have asked that of Roy, even though he can be a sentimental old coot at times.
I did read Meltzer's next DC project, Identity Crisis, and that certainly didn't make me want to go back and finish "The Archer's Quest."  I have to agree with author Doug Woolk, who, in his book Reading Comics, calls it the most egregiously terrible comic ever.  The fact that the identity of Sue Dibny's killer is revealed not by the detective work of her husband, the Elongated Man, and his fellow super-heroes, but accidentally discovered through one of the oldest cliches in crime fiction is actually the least of Identity Crisis' offenses against comics and literature in general.  Woolk catalogues these far more eloquently than I can, and I heartily recommend reading his book, but I'll give it a shot.
Basically, Meltzer portrays the members of the Justice League of America and other members of his cast doing things that are wildly out of character, presumably for the sake of realism and sheer shock value.  The revelation via flashback of Dr Light's rape of Sue Dibny and the subsequent "magical lobotomy" performed by Zatanna which is supposedly responsible for Light's being an ineffectual bumbler in most of his previous appearances constitutes an abuse of retroactive continuity. 
To be honest, there is a germ of a good concept at the heart of Identity Crisis.  Psychically and magically powered heroes have casually messed with people's minds throughout the history of comics, mostly to protect their precious secret identities, and rarely, if ever, have the ethics of such actions been seriously considered.  Here, however, the brainwashing is merely a plot device used to accommodate Light's transformation from third rate villain to "serious" threat. Not to mention that it provided the springboard for a slew of other really bad stories, up to  and including the virtually unreadable Infinite Crisis.
Does every villain have to be a so-called "threat"? What's wrong with having a few lightweight, easily defeated, comic relief villains to give the heroes, and the readers, a  break from all the end of the world angst? Frankly, after Identity Crisis, the character of Dr. Light is far less interesting to me than he was when John Ostrander used him mainly for comic relief in Suicide Squad
Meltzer's issues of Justice League of America, therefore,  could be considered his best comics work to date.  Not because they were particularly good, but simply because they are the only thing of his I've read yet which didn't piss me off. 
I'm planning on getting to "The Archer's Quest" sometime in the next few days, probably this weekend. I'll let you know what I think afterward. 

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