Since taking over DC Comics “Green Arrow,” writer Ann Nocenti and artist Harvey Tolibao have steered young the young hero away from Queen Industries and into dangerous and strange international waters.
Kicking off their run with the introduction of the duplicitous Skylarks and their villainous gene-tampering father, Nocenti and Tolibao’s “Green Arrow” has given fans a more reckless, immature and just plain weird version of Oliver Queen’s world, ending their first three issues with a less-than-victorious Ollie returning to Seattle.
With her first arc behind her, Nocenti spoke with CBR about what country is next on Ollie’s heroic road map, as well as the impact both the upcoming “Arrow” CW show and archery-heavy movies like “The Hunger Games” and “The Avengers” have had on her perception of DC’s bow-wielding vigilante.
CBR News: Your first arc has come to a close, and while the bad guy was stopped, it wasn’t a triumphant, victorious ending for Green Arrow. In upcoming issues, are we going to see him immediately heading back to Seattle, tail between his legs?
Ann Nocenti: No, because you can’t just jump in and get under the skin of a character right away. You have to wear the suit of clothes for a while and figure out what he is, who he is. He was raised in Seattle wealth; it’s a very kind of insulating world, and the people that I know who were raised like him — I think he has a certain arrogance about what he does. He’s got this impulsiveness, of course, and he’s got this recklessness and he’s young. Yes, he ran off with a bunch of chicks and had a good time, which, what 20-something wouldn’t do that? But there are repercussions when you follow a whim just for fun. Out of the trilogy, there are a bunch of actions that are casting a shadow, and in the first three issues nothing will get him down. He loves action and he’s having a great time — somebody sticks a gun in his face and he barely notices it, he gets rid of it. And then a shadow is cast when he realizes that he’s not leaving as the total hero in this story.
At the end, we have him learning things are falling apart in Seattle and there are other arrow shooters in the city. Is that a tease for the Dark Arrows?
Yeah. I mean, I see him as an international player even though he’s not stepping into those boots, yet. I think he is going to grow into being an international player, but Seattle is too small a playing field for him in a way, now, so he gets dragged into a little bit of action with the Dark Arrows, who are basically trying to call him out and mock him for not protecting his city, for taking off. Then, I have him get a glimpse of what’s going on in Seattle and Occupy Seattle and the problems in the United States that have not been his concern because, A, he’s playing with the big boys, he’s got his eye on super villainy, and B, he was raised in insular wealth.
Besides the Dark Arrows we’ve also got Dr. Cognate. From the solicitations’ mention of killer robots and questioning what it means to be human, it feels like it’s maybe continuing your steampunk/cybernetics theme begun with Leer. Is that the case?
You know, I’m not one of those writers that methodically thinks everything out like a chess player. I let my unconscious seep in a little bit. I think that there’s an aura of people being curious about what we should be afraid of now. It’s like in the ’50s, when there were all these movies about mutating monsters because no one really understood what atomic power is; now, you’ve got people spending an enormous amount of time on the internet, kids that I know whose parents are like, “What do I do? I can’t get his head out of the internet!” And there’s bio-warfare, so I think the fears people have now are pretty invisible but comprehensible. I mean, I spend a ridiculous amount of time online. I love it there. The Cognate story is kind of blurring the line between a technological being and a human being. Yes, with Leer he’s kind of mucking with DNA, he’s mucking with the origin of creatures, and that’s going on in labs now. So I guess it’s asking, “What are modern age villains?” trying to hit on themes and things that would represent the fears we have now.
Along with that idea of invisible fears, while Oliver is becoming a more international hero, he will get back to Seattle and see Occupy and real life problems — and one of the big fears people are talking about in the world now is uncertainty and the 99% versus the 1%.
That’s absolutely correct, but I didn’t — he has the social justice history, and the way I’ve been thinking of it is, there’s 60 years of Green Arrow stories, though he’s not a 60 year old! [>em>Laughs] He’s a new guy, but somehow he carries in him the DNA of the 60 years of stories everyone read. Green Arrow was well known for fighting for social justice and street level crime and social problems and things like that. So I think it’s in Oliver Queen’s blood, but since this new Oliver Queen is basically a fresh-out-of-college rich kid. He’s not there yet. I want him to move there, so in issue #11, when he just kind of notices these Occupy Seattle kids and is like, “What are you about?” it just goes into his unconscious. And then I’ll have him fly around the world and have some big superhero stuff. [>em>Laughs] I think when he finally comes back to Seattle he’s going to start noticing more what’s going on in his backyard.
In issue #12 he’s heading off to China — what was the impetus to have China be the start of him jetsetting off internationally?
I was in China this winter and I completely fell in love with the place. It’s a contender. You really don’t understand what a formidable world power it is until you’re there and you see the military pomp and the propaganda and the enormous wealth — and then at the bottom, there’s just extreme poverty. Why I thought Oliver Queen should go is because Oliver Queen is on the cutting edge of technology. He’s inventing new stuff all the time. I’ve been having him invent new arrows, and he’s going to start inventing other stuff. China is crazy for the latest technology, especially surveillance technology so they can spy on their people. They also have a complete lockdown on the Internet. You can’t get on Facebook in China, you can’t get on any social network site, all the news is censored. You have this huge economic power that is obsessed with technology that is trying to keep its people off the internet — I mean, the situation is so explosive, I kind of thought it would be perfect to drop Oliver Queen in the middle of that!
An explosive personality in an explosive place.
Yes! Plus, there’s hundreds of years of kung-fu history, so I’m going to pit him against real ancient kung-fu masters. So, you know, that’ll be fun!
Is there one big villain he’s fighting in the China/kung-fu issue?
There’s a guy named Jin Sang who is kind of a mix of old China and new China. He’s got all his thousand of years of tradition and kung-fu mastery and all that stuff, but he also is the new business model, and the new China business model wants to make money now! I wanted to give Oliver Queen a rogues gallery, a bunch of antagonists that he would leave angry at him. Then you don’t know who’s going to come back — is Leer going to come back? Leer took a sample of his blood, Leer plays with blood, so that could be something. The Skylarks could come back and trick him, and then we have Cognate…
You don’t know what villain will be the right villain, who will come back and back and back and become the main villain. I don’t know, myself. I’ll have to wait and see what feels right. When I was at Marvel with “Daredevil,” I created a whole string of villains and I didn’t know which ones would hit. Then Typhoid [Mary] did and Blackheart did — they were the ones that suddenly felt like they were going to come back.
Speaking of villains, people have been buzzing online a lot about the sexy Skylarks from your first arc. While the Skylarks seemed to be a satire of what a billionaire playboy would think he’d want from women, is it a hard line to walk with characters like the Skylarks between it being a satire of sexually exploitive characters versus actually being exploitive?
Well, like I said, I work a lot from my own consciousness. I don’t know what people have been saying online because I don’t look online that much — you get a lot of hate, you get a lot of people saying, “Where’s Black Canary!” [>em>Laughs] You don’t want to look at that too much, so I didn’t know they were being discussed — somebody wrote a piece that someone sent to me on Facebook defending the exploitative nature of them. That was an indication to me that people thought they were exploitative, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a woman being sexy and being proud of what she has. Feminism is a very complex thing. There are so many levels to it. You’re fighting for equal rights, but you want to fight for equal rights without feeling like you have to stress over what it is that’s great about being a girl! These girls use what they have to go after him, to make him a plaything for their own wishes. If anything, he’s exploited! [>em>Laughs] That’s part of the tradition; he’s like a James Bond character. There is certain genre literary tradition to these things that is fun. It’s fun to be a woman! Also, the Skylarks were playing a role. They were becoming what they knew Oliver Queen would want. They aren’t necessarily that thing; the next time you see them if it’s something different they want, they won’t be wagging their tails all over the place.
They were very honest about being duplicitous once he gets to the base with Leer.
And he doesn’t care! That’s the great thing about him — he just sits there and goes, “Well, it’s been fun so far.” I like that he doesn’t break a sweat. I like that he reveals and seems to thrive in dangerous situations.
Turning to art, the last time we spoke you mentioned you learned Harvey Tolibao loves drawing things with teeth and claws — are more mad creatures for him to play in your upcoming issues?
I think you absolutely have to play to an artist’s strength. Comics and film, these are visual mediums. You want to make sure your artists are having fun. For China, he’s doing the most amazing work where the China stuff is ornate and he’s just going crazy with that stuff. That was part of my thinking when I thought, “Wow, wouldn’t it be cool to take Queen to China.” Because when I was in China, I started seeing the ornate architecture and tattoos and the costumes and the dragon statues, I said, “Wow, Harvey will have fun.” I just took a lot of pictures. He’s really been drawing the most amazing stuff. I don’t want to give him just gritty, urban stories; you want to give him stuff where he can show off.
As you said, comics is a visual medium like film, and very recently we got the news that the CW is going to pick up a Green Arrow TV show — and between “Hunger Games” and “Avengers” —
Everybody’s crazy for arrows!
Did that surprise you and affect how you look at Oliver, or how you think people are going to react to your book?
I must admit, I’m like a recluse. I hide at home and write so I’ve not been that privy to it. I heard there was going to be a TV show, but I don’t know anything beyond that. Another reason I wanted to take Oliver Queen to China is because the Chinese have the most amazing tradition of archery. I’m very interested in why would you use archaic weaponry when there’s such more advanced weaponry out there.
I don’t know why the culture is responding right now to archery; if I were to make a really uninformed guess, I would think there’s just an elegance and a fairness to it. Like how deer hunters say when they want to give the deer a fighting chance, they’ll use an arrow, not a gun. I like that Oliver Queen can design arrows that mean you don’t just pull a trigger and kill someone. They do a bunch of different things — they cripple you, they tie you up, they take something from you — there’s a whole range of things he can do that he can never do with bullets. As our culture gets more technological — I fall apart if I don’t have my computer or my cell phone, and sometimes I don’t like that, being not just addicted to but kind of in love with my technology. I think perhaps there’s this kind of throwback happening to the ’70s — remember the going back to nature movement? People suddenly wanted to learn how to live off the grid and not be connected to power companies. I think there’s an urge to get primitive. In the same way, I think there’s something with using the arrows, and the appeal of Oliver Queen not only having a tech-savvy thing but also this love of fairness in weaponry.
He does say in the first issue that anybody can pull a trigger on a gun.
I think when things in culture hit a lot of people, like a girl running in the woods with a bow and arrow, there’s a reason. People are reacting to something.
Finally, what can you tease or hint what’s going on in the next couple of issues?
The Cognate story is Seattle. Basically, we bring Naomi and Jax back into it, you find out what happens to Oliver’s company. I wanted to ground everyone again. Here, he’s got his footing again, he’s in Seattle with his team and then we explore this notion of Dr. Cognate who makes all these robots. There’s a thread, there’s a female character in that issue that’s somebody who’s going to return because I want there to be more reason to come back to Seattle, and then we go to China after two issues.
“Green Arrow” issue #10 hits stores June 6.