Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Seven Stupid Things That I Totally Hated About Green Arrow: Heading Into the Light

The other day I borrowed a trade from the library to see what I've been missing out on since dropping Green Arrow. It was entitled Green Arrow: Heading Into the Light, and it collected issues #52 and #54-#59 of the Green Arrow monthly series. Two writers are credited, Judd Winick and J. Calafiore, although it never says who wrote what. Likewise, there are four pencillers credited, but the individual issues are uncreddited; Tom Fowler, Ron Garney, Ron Lim and Paul Lee.

The story is roughly the follow-up to Identity Crisis, and features the second appearance of Doctor Light after writer Brad Meltzer’s story retroactively added some tarnish to the Silver Age Justice League, telling us that Light raped Sue Dibny on the League’s meeting table, and they responded by trying to magically alter his brain so that he wouldn’t ever rape anyone again (and they screwed up, turning him into a joke that the Teen Titans beat up regularly).

The plot for this story is roughly the exact same plot for the preceding story arc (collected in Green Arrow: Moving Targets), in which villains hire other villains who hire other villains to mess with Green Arrow and his family in a Byzantine revenge plot.

There are some good points here. I like the fact that Black Lightning guest-stars because, well, Black Lightning is awesome.

I also liked seeing Doctor Light II, the Japanese scientist who was an on-again off-again member of the JLI and was featured on Justice League Unlimited appearing, even though she simply gets brutalized by her namesake (And isn’t it time to change her name, given what Meltzer and DC have done to the original Dixrie Light?).

I liked the idea of Merlyn fighting Green Arrow.

And I always like seeing Connor Hawke, a very interesting and highly unique character in the DCU.

But the good ideas are lost in a terribly pedestrian story that’s overflowing with icky, misogynistic moments, one that features an amoral, unlikeable hero fighting a super-powered rapist.

As for the plot, The Society wants to make an example of Oliver Queen, a.k.a. Green Arrow, because he’s just a normal guy with no superpowers who is still brave enough to stand up to supervillains. (Presumably they decide to go after G.A. instead of Batman because they know Batman would totally kick their asses). Now, they don’t want to just kill G.A., but make him suffer, by destroying his city and killing his family first. Got it?

Okay, so to do this, Slade Wilson, a.k.a. Deathstroke the Terminator (Man, that name makes me giggle every time I type it!), hires Merlyn, who hires Dr. Light, who hires Killer Frost and Mirror Master.

Like almost all of Winick’s Green Arrow run, it’s just a terrible, terrible story. But some aspects of it really stick out as exceptionally terrible. In fact, seven things do:

1.) The IC Mind-Wipes

Looking back at everything that’s happened in the DCU since Meltzer’s Identity Crisis, it’s clear that DC looked at the story as a sort of launching pad from which to relaunch their entire fictional universe and the line of comic books that chronicles the events in it. It lead quite quickly to the “Countdown to Infinite Crisis” period (the 80-page giant that saw Ted Kord take a bullet to the dome, plus the five mini-series that lead directly into Crisis), which in turn lead to Infinite Crisis, which in turn lead to 52 and the “One Year Later” relaunches.

Considering how important the story apparently is, it just boggles my mind how often the later stories that refer to it get points about it wrong.

In this particular storyline, Green Arrow and Flash, are chatting on the Watchtower when Batman stops by to say hi. After he leaves, Flash tells G.A. that Batman will find out eventually (Nevermind the fact that IC makes it pretty explicit that Batman already knows and always has). When G.A. responds, “Find out what?”, Flash says, “That when you mind-wiped Doctor Light, Batman tried to stop you… And you mind-wiped him, too.”

Now Green Arrow and his co-conspirators did not wipe Doctor Light’s mind, as they were said to do (and shown doing via flashback) to the members of the Secret Society of Supervillains. In that case, all the Justice League did, through the agency of Zatanna’s magic, was erase certain memories from the villains’ heads.

But with Doctor Light, instead of removing a memory or two, they tried to, in Green Arrows words, “clean him up a bit,” or, in other words, magically change his personality.

When Batman tried to bust them up, they magically froze him and then erased ten minutes of his memory, enough so that he forgot what he saw them doing.

So they did mind-wipe Batman, but they did not mind-wipe Doctor Light.

2.) Arrowcave v 2.0

Winick and/or Calafiore open one scene with an establishing shot of a skyscraper, and the following caption: “The Steadman Building. Luxury condominiums, currently completely unoccupied. Except for three miles below, in the subbasement.

Three miles deep? Just to put that in perspective, the Grand Canyon is about a mile deep. The new Arrowcave is a full three Grand Canyons beneath an abandoned building in Star City? Did Superman do his human drill thing and build this base for Team Arrow or what? Man, that’s an awfully deep sub-basement.

Later, Mia will be shown running through a door to find Dr. Light there and, later still, firemen will be shown digging them out of the rubble. Though the narration never points this out, I assume those scenes must all take place on the first floor of the abandoned building, because those firemen sure as hell weren’t digging through three miles of rubble.

3.) Doctor Light vs. Doctor Light

An early low-point of this graphic novel occurs when the two Doctors Light face-off with one another; the bad, male Doctor Light shows up to absorb the powers of the good, female Doctor Light.

His first strike rips up her suit and splays her out on the ground, so that throughout the rest of the fight we can see her bare thighs and exposed belly. Now, the torn outfit is a staple of superhero fights, but it’s more remarkable in this particular instance because a) the good Doctor Light has one of the least revealing superhero costumes, one which covers her entire body, even part of her hair, and b) the male aggressor is, in this case, a known rapist.

Winick and/or Calafiore actually draws/draw the comparison himself/themselves, when Bad Doctor Light talks about the fight to Green Arrow later on: “Yes…alost like I raped her, huh? Similar exchange…but I seem to be benefiting more than usual.”

And if anyone feels like making the case that using rape plotlines into superhero comics makes them more adult, sophisticated and better reflections of the real world in which we live, I would just like to point out that this fight scene contains the following sound effects: Breeeoot! Coom!! Tzot! and Breee-ock!

4.) For a Liberal, Green Arrow Isn’t Very PC

I’ve never fought a woman who could shoot ice at me or been held prisoner by a super-powered rapist, so I don’t personally know how stressful these situations are, or whether or not they’ll make a man say things he doesn’t really believe. But I was pretty surprised at the language and epithets G.A. throws around in this story.

Aside from the fact that he wears green, shoots arrows and has a funny beard, the one thing that defines Green Arrow’s personality is that he’s a liberal. So, you’d expect him to be sort of sensitive to offending women and gay people right?

Not so.

Contemplating whether or not to shoot a chemically treated super-arrow at Killer Frost that acts like Greek fire, G.A. narrates, “This stuff is a real bitch. Then again…so is she.”

Sure, he just thought it, but still, he totally called a woman a bitch.

Later, when Doctor Light goes on one of his many speeches about raping, Green Arrow spits, “Sick @##$%% twist…”

Now, that swear word is probably meant to be “fucking,” because there are only a few words that can’t be used in a DC comic book, and fewer still that can be used as an adjective to the word “twist,” which is slightly more polite way than “faggot” to refer to a gay person.

I could see Hawkman or Hal Jordan calling someone a “@##$%% twist,” but G.A.? Really? I’m disappointed.

His current sidekick, Mia Dearden, a.k.a. Speedy, also derisively refers to Doctor Light as a homosexual in the story. After he calls her a “hooker” (which is the first time I’ve heard that word in 20 years), she responds: “You’re dressed like the Good Humor Man at a pride parade and you’re gonna take shots at me?!You’re a feather boa and some chpas away from emceeing a drag show!”

Okay, I admit, I laughed at that remark, mostly because I never thought of the Good Humor Man as gay before, and the mental image of him driving his ice cream truck through a pride parade is rather amusing.

But would a superhero say this? Even a smart-mouthed teenaged superhero? I mean, look at what Doctor Light is wearing—a skintight costume with a cape and his underwear on the outside. You know, like Superman or Batman or every other superhero in the DC Universe! (Speedy, by the way, also wears a skintight costume with a cape).

The comment seems even more out of place when Black Lightning walks in wearing his costume of the time, which has a neckline that plunges all the way to his navel.

5.) Green Arrow is a dickhead

Call me crazy, but I’ve never found superheroes who torture bad guys to extract information all that heroic. I’ve grown accustomed to Batman doing it over the years because over those same number of years he’s been characterized as a psychotic asshole (although the best writers usually find a way to get Batman to scare info out of stoolies rather than beat it out of them, however).

But all of DC’s superheroes have shown a real meanstreak of late, particularly those written by Geoff Johns and Judd Winick, and here we see Green Arrow engaging in a little torture for info. Remember that “Greek fire” arrow? Well he fires it at Killer Frost, setting her on fire, and interrogates her while she burns. Let me say that again: He sets a woman on fire and refuses to put her out until she talks. And remember, this is DC’s resident lefty. I shudder to think how Hawkman would have interrogated her.

6.) No You Didn’t

In the issue Doctor Light narrates, in which he stalks Mia at her school and then follows her home, he tells us, “I discovered all of their identities and raped Elongated Man’s wife.”

While he did do the latter, he didn’t do the former. Elongated Man hasn’t had a secret identity since his, I don’t know, fourth appearance? He was the first superhero to “out” himself and have a public identity. Everyone always knew who the Elongated Man was. And that was how Doctor Light was able to rape Sue Dibny. He didn’t break into the Dibnys’ home, he snuck aboard the Justice League satellite, where Sue was hanging out (If Ralph had a secret identity, he presumably wouldn’t be able to bring his wife to work).

I don’t know that that whole “I discovered all of their identities” bit was about; I never read the original SSOV storyline in which the bad guys discovered the League’s identities (the one referenced in Identity Crisis and JLA story “Crisis of Conscience”), so maybe Doctor Light was one of those villains though, I don’t know—if he was, then he was suspiciously absent from the SSOV line-up in “Crisis of Conscience.”

7.) Doctor Light Can’t Shut Up About Rape

Rape is a horrible, repulsive crime, one that’s so horrible and repulsive that it doesn’t belong in comic books…or at least comic books written by hacks. Why? For the simple fact that a hack can make such a horrible, repulsive subject laughable, and laughter isn’t exactly the sort of response an artist or an entertainment company should illicit from their audience when talking about it.

But as Heading Into The Light reaches it’s climax, Winick’s Doctor Light just cannot shut up about rape. Everything that happens, everything that Green Arrow says to him, he keeps bringing it back to rape.

When G.A. calls him a sick twist, he responds, “Why? Because I rape?”

When he and Merlyn blow up Green Arrow’s house (the second time Green Arrow’s house gets blown up in this book), Doctor Light says, “Oh, poor Ollie…are you feeling violated now? And you thought I was such a rapist? Which would you say is worse, rape of the body or rape of the mind?”

This scene was already rather effectively skewered here. Best part? “Gee whiz, dude! Why don't you just change your name to Dr. Rape and get it over with!”

And now, four totally awesome things about this story arc:

Those, by the way, are four of James Jean's beautiful covers from his time as Green Arrow cover artist, proving that you can, in fact, put lipstick on a pig. They're reproduced in the back of the trade collection but, for some reason, DC opted to slap a Scott McDaniel drawing of the two GAs and Speedy's with bows drawn on the cover, instead of that sweet Merlyn vs. Green Arrow image, which appears with the online solicitation.


Anonymous said...

I can't say that I've ever heard 'twist' as a derogatory word for gay. I'm completely with you on everything else, but with the ellipses there I read that as 'sick $%#@#$ twist... [broken off] ...ed $%$#%." "Twisted" works fine in context.

Anonymous said...

Is it just me, or were most of the DC storylines leading into OYL kind of, well, crap?

Some stories rushed or dragged out too long in order to set up the OYL stories (JLA, Green Arrow, Batman), filler (Aquaman, Flash: I was too distracted by reading all the Infinite Crisis material, but the stories in those last few pre-OYL months were terrible.

Paul said...

Great column!

I only just discovered this blog (how long has it been around) but it's already one of my favorites, and this posting in particular made me jolly because I just finished a column about Identity Crisis and how wrong-headed the whole "let's show people how mature comics are by having Dr. Light rape Elongated Man's wife" thing is.

[I was actually going to review the latest Teen Titans in my column, but your review said everything I wanted to say and did it far more articulately than I could have...]

Anyway, thanks for putting out a great blog...

- Paul

Anonymous said...

I always thought Ollie was more of a socialist.
Furthermore, I'm not quite clear only how being a 'liberal' in your understanding means Ollie shouldn't swear or burn some crazy homicidal maniac.

He may have liberal social views but torturing homicidial maniacs probably still seems like a good plan. He's still not in support of Capital Punishment after all.
Also- why would a liberal not call someone a bitch? She's a homicidal maniac, she probably is a bitch.

And I've also never heard 'twist' used as a word for a homosexual. I'd bet dollars to dudes Ollie was going to say 'twisted' it makes a hell of a lot more sense in context.

I see your point on how Ollie's characterization might be a little off from previous interpretations. I'm not sure I agree, but I certainly see your point. I think my problem with this entry (I love the blog though) is that you may have confused the term 'liberal' with pacifist or 'ubber-polite'.


Caleb said...

Hey everyone, thanks for the posts.

You guys may be right about "twist;" it may have just been my high school lunchroom, and as the first half of "twisted" would make sense. He coulda used a dash instead of an ellipses if that was the case, but maybe GA just trailed off.

And no anonymous, the IC tie-ins/OYL lead-ins were generally pretty awful. At least the Superman, Firestorm and JLA ones TRIED to relate to what was going on in the DCU. In retrospect, I get the sense that the writers and editiors had no idea what was coming next. Like that FLASH story, for example. Surely they didn't know that was going to be the very last Wally West story for the foresseable future?

Paul, thanks! I think I've been doing this for about a year now.


Regarding G.A.'s liberality, I guess I was thinking more of the conservative stereotype of liberal, which would include not just feminism but "feminazism" (to use Rush Limbaugh's term), rigid Political Correctness, wussiness and so forth. I think setting people on fire is a generally unheroic act, but I guess a non-heroic violent vigilante of ANY political stripe could set a person on fire.