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Year of the Artist, Day 337: Mike Grell, Part 5 – Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters #1

by  in Comic News Comment
Year of the Artist, Day 337: Mike Grell, Part 5 – <i>Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters</i> #1

Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Mike Grell, and the issue is Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters #1, which was published by DC and is cover dated August 1987. These scans are from the trade paperback, which came out in 1989. Enjoy!

The problematic treatment of Dinah in issue #2 aside, The Longbow Hunters stands as a tremendous achievement and entertaining comic, back in the day when DC wasn’t afraid to let its characters grow up a little, and it remains my favorite Green Arrow story, even if I haven’t read a lot of Green Arrow stories by way of comparison. Whether you like the way Grell treats Dinah or not, you can’t deny that, visually, this is a masterpiece, and that’s why I’m choosing to finish up with Grell with this comic, which did come out 27 years ago, after all. It’s because Grell is still drawing in this style, so there’s not much of a point in showing anything that comes after this, as good as it might be (and that’s up to you and your enjoyment of Grell’s artwork). So let’s take a look at issue #1, which doesn’t feature any bad treatment of Dinah!

I don’t know how fast Grell works or how much lead time he had with this project, but it’s a giant project – over 130 pages – and it was released monthly (only for three months, true, but still), plus it’s a very dense comic. Grell didn’t color it – Julia Lacquement took care of that – and he was “assisted” by Lurena Haines, which is a nice ambiguous term, but it’s still an impressive achievement, especially when we consider panels like these. No, there’s nothing special about them, but the fact that they look so good without really being all that special is what’s impressive. It’s just Oliver and Dinah standing in the main room of the florist’s shop (Sherwood Florist, which is simple and brilliant), then an exterior view of the new place. But it’s still beautiful. Oliver and Dinah are lit by the slanting sunlight, and Grell does wonderful things with blacks in that first panel, while also hatching very diligently to show the different ways the sun hits Dinah, who’s standing by the window, and Oliver, who’s behind her and therefore shielded a bit. Grell, interestingly enough, puts a lot of foliage in this book where we might not expect it – yes, Oliver ends up on Mount Rainier and Seattle has a lot of vegetation, but just by putting a small tree in the room with Oliver and Dinah is clever, as Oliver always seems to be surrounded by greenery in this comic, reflecting, I imagine, the Robin Hood vibe Grell was going for in the comic. In both panels, we see the nice details that Grell usually brings to his work, and the design of Oliver and Dinah’s new place is keen. We’ll see more of the interior later!

The junkie smashes through the front window (why are superheroes always having things like this happen to them?), and we get this tremendous panel. We get terrific details, as Grell (or Haines, I suppose) draws in every shard of glass, which makes the intrusion even more violent. Grell does wonderful work with the junkie’s face, as he twists it a bit because the girl is on crack and therefore isn’t quite with us. He lines her face very well, and he draws her hair nicely, as it flies behind her chaotically. The inking in this comic, whether it’s Grell’s or Haines’s (and I can’t tell), is excellent – we get a very good sense of the clothing the characters wear and the way shadows fall across their faces and bodies. It’s very nifty.

Oliver gives Dinah a tour of their new home, and Grell once again shows his interest in interior design, as the living space looks like a place where people would like to hang out. First of all, in Panel 1 we get some more nice inking, as the stones of both the Sherwood Florist castle and the house next door look very rugged, which is good to see. Grell then gives us a tour, with some stereotypes thrown in, of course, but one that’s still fascinating. Notice again that he surrounds Oliver with greenery, even if Dinah’s space is a bit more covered, while Oliver has a pitiful plant in the corner. In Panel 3, he remembers to draw in the central tower as Oliver and Dinah leave the staircase, which is nice, and I love the wonderfully Eighties glass table in the middle of Oliver’s room, even though it’s drawn really well. Grell just thinks about these things, about how a living space would look, about how functional it might be, and where to put things. Yes, The Longbow Hunters is part of the trend toward more “realistic” superheroes that DC went for post-Crisis, but where many writers took that to mean they could add more nudity and violence (and this comic has plenty of both), Grell took this to mean that he could examine how superheroes lived on a day-to-day basis. He did a nice job with it.

Perhaps the most famous part of at issue #1 of The Longbow Hunters is the fact that DC allowed Grell to peg Oliver’s age at 43 (which he does on the page after this one) and have him start thinking of himself as a grandfather, as Roy had a kid and Oliver sort-of thinks of Roy as a son. He wants to marry Dinah, but she doesn’t want kids because of the horrible life she and Oliver lead, what with dealing with all the scum of the Earth and such. It’s this kind of thing, and not the more “realistic” villains that Oliver faces in this comic, that makes it “mature,” in my humble opinion. Grell does a nice job on this page with the way Oliver and Dinah talk to each other – they act like people who are extremely comfortable with each other, which isn’t surprising, of course. When Oliver asks Dinah to marry him, her initial reaction isn’t surprise or joy or anger or even repulsion – she stays calm while she thinks of a response. When she does, she smiles as she declines to show that she’s not angry about it, but is still unwilling to marry him. Grell does a nice job keeping Oliver serious without betraying any emotion – he’s so often portrayed as someone who wears his heart on his sleeve, so it’s nice that Grell lets him be calm even after she rejects him. In Panel 6, he places Dinah above him, and he draws her with a somewhat wistful yet understanding face – she knows her rejection hurts him, but like she says in the next panel, she doesn’t know why he wants to get married right now (it’s a measure of how different 1987 was or perhaps how old-fashioned Grell is that Oliver thinks he needs to get married in order to have babies with Dinah). That final panel is beautiful, and shows some of the neat things Grell was doing with the artwork. He uses pencils and white paint to get that wonderful effect (I suppose Lacquement could have painted it), while I have to think he’s even using a different background on which he drew this and then added it in where it needed to go. He does this occasionally throughout the book, and it’s a great contrast to the “regular” art. And, of course, we get the classic “Grell male” in this book, complete with awesome chest hair. Oliver drives the ladies crazy!

I mentioned yesterday that Grell began fooling around with layouts a little more as he got older, and while I’m not going to show too many unusual ones from this book (mainly because he does some gorgeous double-page splashes, but I can’t get good scans from a trade paperback, so that’s the way it is – I found some of the double-page spreads from other issues on-line, and you can see them here, here, and here), this is an interesting one that’s only on one page. Grell, as we saw above, loves small establishing shots, so we get Seattle in Panel 1, then Oliver in his workshop making arrows (while Grell pointedly puts his trick arrows in the trash, which might have upset Greg Hatcher but was part of the trend toward “realism” in the DCU of this time), then the funeral in Panel 3. He draws two facing trapezoids as Panels 4 and 5, which is unusual but not wholly necessary, I don’t think. I mean, it looks cool, but I’m not sure why Grell did it that way. Panel 6 shows Oliver practicing, and his figure intrudes on Panel 4, which is another unusual idea. Grell once again cuts back and forth between scenes, so we get Oliver practicing as Shado kills another person on her hit list. It’s a nifty way to link Oliver and Shado, and Grell does a good job with it.

Here’s another example of Grell doing some different stuff with the artwork. First of all, he draws nice urban blight in Panel 1, as this comic is very much a product of the 1980s, when a lot of cities were in decay (I didn’t go to Seattle until years later, but even as a teenager, I could tell that New York and Philadelphia and Pittsburgh weren’t the greatest places – this comic came out two years after the mayor of Philadelphia bombed his own city, remember). He places those three panels on top of the background drawing, which is something we’ve seen Grell do before, and once again, we see the really nice details in Grell’s art even though it’s dark and he doesn’t have a lot of room – just the fact that he remembers to put the grid of glass above Oliver and the light shining through them on the floor below is a cool touch. The background drawing of Oliver dominates the page, and it’s pretty clear that Lacquement colored it straight from the pencils. It doesn’t really add anything to the story and is used to fill up the space, but it’s just gorgeous, isn’t it? So who cares if it’s a little superfluous?

One problem with Grell’s fancier layouts is that the pages can become crowded, which is too bad. Oliver is tracking the dude who is killing women, and Shado happens to be there as well, so she kills the dude for Oliver. That was nice of her. But while we can easily figure out what’s going on, Grell puts this together in almost an impressionistic manner, with the images simply overlapping to show how quickly everything occurs. The problem is that we have no idea where Shado is in relation to the others on the page – it turns out she’s on a roof behind the killer, but we don’t know that here. So Oliver approaches and thinks that he’s not going to be on time, and Shado kills the killer before Oliver can get the shot off. Meanwhile, the parallelogram panel behind Shado is the killer flashing back to his days in Vietnam, when he first started killing. Meanwhile, the perspective in the panel where we get the close-up of Oliver seems way off – he’s holding the arrow to his cheek, but the arrow looks puny even with the view we’re getting, both because Oliver’s face is that large and because Grell, I suppose, doesn’t want to intrude too much into the panel below it, where the killer gets an arrow through his chest. So it’s not the best layout, although the actual drawing is wonderful. The flashback panel appears to be again colored directly from the pencils, and Grell does this a lot throughout the book with the flashbacks, and they always look great. The way Oliver is reaching for the arrow in the first panel and the way Shado is standing look correct, although I’m not an archer so I don’t know (I can’t remember the blog that used to look at archery in comics – although I will bet Our Dread Lord and Master does – so I can’t cite them, but both of those poses, at least, look correct to me). The coloring in the first panel, with Lacquement using washed-out grays, is pretty perfect for Seattle, and it makes the scene even bleaker than just the fact that a young woman is about to get killed. So this is one of those pages that shows a lot of the good things about The Longbow Hunters but some of the issues with it, too. That’s handy!

Grell doesn’t draw as much as he used to, preferring instead to write, but he does occasionally jump into the artwork pool. I used to own a trade of Shaman’s Tears and though of showing some of that, but I no longer own it, so that took care of that! Still, since 1987 he hasn’t changed all that much, as we can see from this page from T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #9, which is from 2011:

He’s still a good artist, but like many artists, he found a style that worked for him and stuck with it. So it’s time to move on to a new artist!

Tomorrow I’m going to check out another “classic” artist whose career began in the 1970s. He’s an artist whose work these days I don’t really like, and for that I often get excoriated. But I’m sticking to my guns! We’ll see how he reached that style beginning tomorrow, so I hope you’ll join me! Find more artists whose later work I’m not in love with in the archives!

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