One year ago, even the most ardent fan of the character would have been hard pressed to declare Green Arrow one of the rising heroes in the DC Comics line. But with a hit TV series under his belt in The CW’s “Arrow” (the character’s second small screen run in recent years) and soon a place on the highly touted “Justice League of America,” the Emerald Archer has more heat behind him than he’s had in years. And DC hopes to capitalize on that this February 6 when it adds the creative team of Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino to its monthly “Green Arrow” series with issue #17.
The acclaimed cartoonist behind projects like the just completing “Sweet Tooth” and writer behind series like “Animal Man,” Lemire my be bringing a different audience to the book than have already been on board with the superhero serial, and Sorrentino’s work on DC’s “I, Vampire” has earned him a reputation as one of the different, darker artists working at the publisher. Combined, the two hope to take Oliver Queen back to a more realistic, street-level feel.
CBR News spoke with Lemire about the tone he hopes to strike with the series, and below the writer explains why he came around to the idea of “Green Arrow,” how the work of Mike Grell and Denny O’Neil influence his run, what it will take to expand the supporting cast beyond familiar faces and why he still hasn’t seen “Arrow.”
CBR News: Jeff, it was announced you were taking on “Green Arrow,” I was struck to hear that you initially weren’t interested in writing the character. Now that he’s much more in the zeitgeist with the TV show, was there something that really made the character kick over in your head where you felt like this was a story you really wanted to tell?
Jeff Lemire: It was a couple of reasons. It’s no secret that I was a huge DC kid. I grew up reading DC stuff, but Green Arrow was never a character I read or felt any connection to or read a lot of his stuff. There were tons of characters I’d love to write, but he wasn’t one of them. At the same time, I’d talked to [Co-Publisher] Dan DiDio at San Diego about doing a new book, and I didn’t want to do another horror book. I’ve been doing horror stuff since the New 52 started. And I don’t want to abandon that, but I did want to do something maybe a bit more grounded in the DC Universe. When he suggested Green Arrow, I kind of went. “Oh. Green Arrow.” [Laughs]
At that point I hadn’t seen the television show, so that wasn’t really a factor. But what I felt was that he was kind of a blank slate where I could do a real street-level/crime/superhero story with him. Some of my favorite superhero comics are Frank Miller’s “Daredevil” or Denny O’Neil’s “The Question” or even Brian Bendis’ “Daredevil” from the early 2000s. I thought doing one of those kind of books -Â not copying them but doing something in the same vein with the same tone – really appealed to me. “Green Arrow” in a lot of ways seemed like the perfect vehicle because he’s that street-level kind of character. So once I tapped into that, the wheels started turning, and I got really invested in him.
Weirdly, my older brother has gone back and bought a bunch of the Mike Grell issues of the series from way back, and that seems to be the closest “Green Arrow” run to the kind of thing you’re talking about. Did you go back and research that or the other eras of the character, or did you try to come in clean?
Whenever I get one of these characters, I try to read everything and anything I can with them before. I want to know what’s been done and what elements I like and what excites me. I’d read all the Grell stuff when it was coming out when I was a kid, and so I reread that whole run, and I felt like that was the closest to what I wanted to do. It was the most realistic and grounded, and it made Oliver Queen this hero of the people. He didn’t use trick arrows or any of that stuff. He was more of a hunter of the night kind of guy. That really appealed to me. And the other thing I really hooked into, again, was rereading all the Denny O’Neil/Denys Cowan “Question” stuff. Those people were really the things I looked to when I was getting my grounding and my story underway.
There are a few different versions of Green Arrow from loner vigilante to liberal mouthpiece. Are you playing up any one specific element?
It’s interesting. It’s not a first issue, so I had to take what they did in the first 16 issues into account. I couldn’t just reboot everything again. I read that stuff to see where the character was at, and some of the specifics I had to take into account. When I read what had been done so far, for me personally, I found that the version of Oliver Queen in the New 52 universe wasn’t that relatable or likable. He supposedly had gone through this ordeal on the island that had changed him, but the character to me still seemed very arrogant and brash and privileged. He was essentially the kind of character that didn’t appeal to the reader in me. [Laughs]
But I embraced that and took that as my starting point. I thought I could take that character and completely break him in half. That would force him to look at himself and rebuild himself. That was my starting point. And since this version of Oliver Queen is much younger than he was pre-New 52, I’ve kind of assumed that he’s the same guy we all loved before the relaunch but just at a much earlier stage of his life. Through the different adventures I put him through and obstacles and trials he’ll have to overcome, we’ll see him slowly becoming that brash guy with a social conscience -Â that self-made hero that I identify with. We get to see that journey over the course of my run, hopefully.
Andrea seems like an artist who follows right along in that superhero crime tradition you mention like Denys Cowan or Alex Maleev. Did you write this story with him in mind?
I asked for him, yeah. Once I figured out the kind of story I wanted to tell, I started looking for an artist who would fit that. I didn’t see anyone else at DC that was more appropriate than him. His stuff is so gritty and realistic, and he uses shadow and black so effectively that I thought he was the perfect guy to capture that tone I was after. So I requested him and was really thrilled when he agreed to do it. When the pages started coming back, I was even more thrilled because he tried some really innovative stuff. I had some ideas myself for creating a kind of visual language around the character and the title, and Andrea took those initial ideas of mine and expanded them ten-fold. His layouts specifically on the first couple of issues I think are going to open people’s eyes. They’re very different from what he’s been doing on “I, Vampire” and really innovative.
You’ve spent a lot of time on the books you’ve done for DC expanding the world of the character at hand. “Frankenstein” comes to mind with new ideas and characters. How do you approach Green Arrow’s world that has some familiar elements but also can have people going, “Who are Green Arrow’s villains again?”
There’s a mix there. There were a couple villains existing that I liked who I felt could be reinterpreted or reimagined in some way. And I wanted to create some new characters that were specific to the stories I wanted to tell. We’ll get a bit of both in terms of the villains -Â it’ll be both new and old. And in terms of supporting cast, I wanted to create new characters specific to this story and this version of the character and not to rely on the old standbys of Black Canary and Green Lantern. I wanted a new supporting cast to build this guy’s world fresh. I didn’t want to just fall back on a lot of the pre-New 52 ideas of who he is and who he hangs around with.
Are you also playing with the fictional city aspect of “Green Arrow” by playing with Star City at all?
Actually, the New 52 version of Ollie is set up in Seattle, and so I won’t get to use Star City. That’s kind of cool to me to use a real place. I used San Diego in “Animal Man” and it kind of grounds things, which especially in this book is important and effective for me.
Like you said, #17 is not a first issue, but it is your first issue. How are you trying to set a new status that can carry you through the opening arc?
Part of the challenge for me as the writer of this book coming in at issue #17 but with a totally different vision for what it is was to try and marry what had gone before with what I wanted to do. But I wanted to do that in a way where #17 is totally accessible to new readers. Anybody who hasn’t been reading “Green Arrow” up to now doesn’t need to worry about going back and figuring out what’s going on. You get all the information you need about what’s happened so far and where I’m going. Hopefully it’s really accessible and can almost be treated as a #1.
And with “Arrow” on TV, are you watching along or staying away from it so as to not make too much crossover?
I probably should not say it, but I have still not watched the TV show. [Laughter] I mean, I started writing the book in July, and at that time the show hadn’t started. So I was well into my third or fourth script by the time the show launched, and I had a pretty specific idea of what I wanted to do. It wasn’t really going to matter either way. I’m certainly not beholden to what they’re doing, and I don’t have to make this book more like the TV show or anything like that. But from what I’ve heard and seen of the show, people who like that will probably be able to enjoy the comic in that it’s a little more grounded and not a fantastic, Silver Age superhero comic.
So then no trick arrows on the way?
There are trick arrows, but they’re more practical, realistic kinds of things. They’re a bit more useful than boxing glove and chewing gum arrows or whatever. [Laughs]
“Green Arrow” #17 ships February 6 from DC Comics.