In March, one of DC Comics’ most notorious billionaire crime fighters tackles villainy on an international level, fighting bad guys, madmen, and a sinister sisterly trio named Skylark. That crime fighter is Oliver Queen, the titular star of DC’s ongoing “Green Arrow” series.
Ollie’s life takes a dramatic turn in the second issue of writer Ann Nocenti and artist Harvey Tolibao’s run, when in “Green Arrow” #8 he leaves Seattle and Queen Industries behind to embark on more global adventures.
“I don’t want to give away too many twists and turns!” laughed Nocenti about her first arc, which sees Ollie facing off against brand new villain Skylark, Skylark’s father, and a host of mutating creatures in the far reaches of the icy tundra.
With Nocenti’s first issue, “Green Arrow” #7, just weeks away, the writer spoke to CBR News about her goals for the beginning of her run, dove into the mechanics behind Skylark and her/their father, and discussed her plans for darker story arcs after Ollie’s inaugural three-issue “trilogy.”
CBR News: The last time we talked you said you wanted to introduce a Typhoid Mary level super villain into “Green Arrow.” Is this what you’ll be doing with Skylark?
Ann Nocenti: Not really, this isn’t his big villain yet. I want to ease into him, get to know him. It’s not like when somebody said, “Okay, write Green Arrow,” you hit the ground and know who your character is. You want to run with him for a while, so my first three issues are kind of me figuring out who he is and it’s just straight up action adventure. It’s fun, it’s not too deep, it’s not even all that challenging to him, he’s just being his reckless, wild self, and then the repercussions of the trilogy will hit him hard. The bad stuff is going to go down after the trilogy.
The other thing is, you’re always trying to test your hero. I wanted to give him a rogues gallery and you never know when you’re inventing characters — somebody to fall in love with or somebody to fight with, somebody to hate — you never know which of the supporting cast is going to work. Are you going to like writing them? Are the fans going to like them? Does it feel like a good challenge for Green Arrow? When I was doing my long run on “Daredevil” I would create tons of new characters and new villains and once in a while one of them would go ping! That’s the one! That’s the one your hero is going to have fun with and the one that’s going to have a long road with lots of twists and turns to the story. I feel the Skylarks are going to keep coming back. I feel like they’ve gotten under his skin in a way that means they’re going to be part of his rogues gallery. So what I’m doing is seeding the ground with all kinds of stuff, ideas, characters, and then seeing what works.
So he has this trilogy where he shoots off and he’s just trying to get himself out of the rut that he’s in as a company executive, which is kind of dragging him down. The previous writer [Keith Giffen] established that this guy Emerson, the head of Queen Industries, is kind of driving him crazy. It’s one of those situations where if you’ve ever been in a job where you can’t stand your boss and he’s dragging you into stuff you think is pointless. That’s not a good place for a kick-ass heroic young guy to be! But he’s a good guy, so he kind of stuck with it, and this is previous to me, because he wanted to honor the guy his father chose to take over the company and honor his father’s will that he won’t get control of the company until he turns a certain age. But he’s not having any fun! So in the trilogy at first he says, “Screw that, I’m out of here,” in the way anybody would get sick of their job and leave and try to figure out what to do. Then I can get him away from his environment to figure out who he is, because now you’re just judging him by his actions. I don’t use many thought balloons or captions unless something is really unclear in the story. I want you to say “Oh that’s what he did, that’s who he is.” So he bolts!
But he’s in charge of a city, and what happens to Seattle when he’s gone? What happens to his business when he’s gone? The shit’s going to hit the fan after the trilogy, and it’s just going to be bad! So we give him a little fun and then we season him a little bit because he realizes the repercussions and then he gets hit with a pretty big new villain. It’s like karma, it’s life. In our small little human way, because we are all just humans here, we do something and there are a little repercussion and we go, “Oh no, that person’s mad at me!” In Oliver Queen’s world the repercussions are huge.
You’ve said before you see Oliver as an arrow, shooting off into wild adventures, but will karma and his actions coming back to haunt him be a major theme in your book as much as the adventures?
I think so, because he’s not a calculator. There are heroes who sit there and calculate a plan. You probably have friends who do it, people who make lists and figure out what their move is going to be and wrestle over the ethics and morals of stuff and have ten-year plans and twenty-year plans. He doesn’t have any of that. Whenever I am wondering what he’d do in a scene, he’s an arrow: he shoots from the hip. He just is constantly trusting his inner compass. Sometimes there will be misfires, but at least he fires. I don’t see him ever having a story where he’s thought fifty steps ahead like a chess player.
He’s no Batman, in other words.
No, he’s not Batman! And he’s not driven by pain. He doesn’t have deep pain, he doesn’t have childhood trauma. A lot of superheroes, especially the vigilante types, get the juice from painful moments. Most villains do too. He’s not like that; he’s basically a well-balanced, happy guy! [Laughs]
Switching over to art, you are working with artist Harvey Tolibao who lives in the Philippines. Obviously Green Arrow is going to have a more international feel with him going around the world, but does working with an international artist help you to convey this in the art and not just the story?
Well, the difficult thing is he doesn’t speak English and I don’t speak Filipino. So what I end up doing is, and my editors are a huge help for this, we load a drop box full of reference. We reference everything, so it’s not direct communication, but it’s sort of cool because it’s visual communication.
In issue #8 there’s a whole kind of subtext of steampunk. The reason I love steampunk is because every object in the steampunk world has elements of antiquity, elements of the future, and it all seems to be held together with spit and baling wire. You look at a pair of steampunk goggles and they got the type of wire rims somebody would wear two centuries ago and they’ve got some telescoping feature that hasn’t even been invented yet and then you can see that it’s sort of duct taped together, wired together. What I love about that is that the villain in issue #8, who is the Skylark triplets’ father, he operates way in the past and way in the future except that mentally he’s held together by nothing, like bubble gum. The steampunk visual thing, this I’m telling you is internal. No one says the word steampunk, no one says the future and the past held together by the present, but that’s what I was thinking of and the logic behind putting steampunk in there.
And then it’s just a blast, we find things and put it in the drop box and Harvey looks at it — it’s like having a Christmas box online, we’re always shooting him visual clues to what we’re up to. He runs with it, and he runs with it in whatever way he feels like it, because the artist has to have fun. He has to like what he’s drawing. When you see what the artist draws you go, “Oh, he likes to draw that, I’m putting more of that in the next issue.” You don’t want to keep putting things in you can tell the artist is thinking, “God, I don’t want to have to draw another corporate building full of cubicles!” [Laughs] I had some wild animals in issue #8 and he really got into it, so I said, “Okay, he likes antlers, teeth and claws.” So he can’t speak but it doesn’t matter because we’re communicating through art. He inspires me because I know what he likes to draw, and then occasionally I’ll use Google Translate to send him a cheerful message, “Hey, great job!” Probably he’s getting some garbled version and Google Translate is really inaccurate! [Laughs] But still, it’s an attempt to say, “Hey, we don’t speak the same language, but…” And it’s fun, I think it’s just a different way of working and I like it.
“Green Arrow” #7, the first issue by Nocenti and Tolibao, is in stores March 7.