Oliver Queen, the “Emerald Archer” protects Star City with an arsenal of tricked out arrows and wits. He fights corrupt politicians, various archer-themed villains, and an assortment of heinous figures. First appearing in More Fun Comics in 1941, creator Mort Weisinger took inspiration from the 1925 movie serial The Green Archer and provided the wealthy, fresh-faced character a number of gadgets, a kid sidekick, and a clownish arch enemy.
By the fifties, Queen would be fighting alongside the Justice League after saving them from an evil alien. This is where a few people believe mistakes on the League’s behalf are made. Superman is a powerful force in the world, Batman is the “World’s Greatest Detective”, Wonder Woman is an Amazonian warrior princess, and other members of the League are the extraordinary figures with unimaginable power; Green Arrow is often compared to Batman or Hawkeye by casual viewers of the character. Because of this easily made comparison, Oliver Queen repeatedly gets misunderstood as an unneeded or useless character in the league. It could not be further from the truth. So then what makes him a necessary hero in the Justice League, or the DC universe for that matter?
“Someone like you will keep us honest.” – Batman
The late sixties saw vibrant shifts in comic books, with Dennis O’Neil pushing for a dynamic edge for DC Comics. This mission sought to shy away for the campiness and conventionality of the decade; ushering in a much-needed grittiness to Batman, the birth of a new hero with artist Steve Ditko named “The Creeper”, and an unsuccessful storyline involving a depowered Wonder Woman. However, O’Neil’s partnership with artist Neal Adams saw the recreation of one of the comic’s oldest characters: Green Arrow.
“At my core, I wasn’t a hero. I was a hunter.” – Oliver Queen
Reappearing in 1969, a new headstrong, and bearded Oliver Queen loses his fortune and does the unthinkable for comics at the time – he becomes a voice for political left-wing views. This provocative stance from Queen brought another much-needed contrast among the DC heroes and cemented him as an important figure within Justice League mythology. This stylistic change mirrored the real world attitudes of the time, with the deaths of courageous and radical political figures like Malcolm X, John F Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr., Queen’s boldness gave an edge and relevancy to the comics that many would shy away from.
“I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it’s for or against.” – Malcolm X
Often paired with the heroic Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), Queen’s new unapologetic opinions for the deprived brought a sense of realism to comics that was mainly seen in Marvel titles like The Incredible Hulk and The Amazing Spider-Man. O’Neil remarks that he viewed Hal Jordan as “an enforcer of the status quo” that clashed with the views of Oliver, a now typical “buddy cop” trope. In the now-famous Green Lantern issue #76, Oliver declares as a political left-wing advocate that a “hideous moral cancer” is rotting the soul of the America and the world: racism. Hal and Oliver then travel the world searching for truth and hope. They encounter environmental devastation, racism, conspiracies against overpopulation, and cults just to name a few. This profound change in the stories saw Queen searching for himself while protecting those who cannot, a true “Robin Hood” in his world.
Green Arrow’s by-any-means-necessary approach can be harsh at times, if not cruel. In the award-winning two-part storyline titled “Snowbirds Don’t Fly” issues # 85-86, Queen’s kid sidekick Roy “Speedy” Harper is revealed to be a heroin addict. After growing an intense disgust for the privileged, and losing his own fortune, Roy’s addiction is the icing on the cake in Oliver‘s difficult journey of self-discovery, resulting in Queen disowning his ward. This action is jarring to some, he did not lose his sidekick like so many others, rather he rejects and abandons them.
“There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time.” – Malcolm X
The events of Roy’s fallout, and unsuccessfully running for Mayor of Star City, saw a change in Queen’s attitude once more. That change came with his forty-third birthday arriving and deciding to leave his home of Star City to relocate to Seattle, the home of Dinah Lance, the Black Canary. In the fashion of heroics, the fight is never finished, as he must track down a serial killer, but is thrown off when Shadow kills the murderer. After a series of events, Oliver does the unthinkable in murder and fails to find peace in life. Naturally, he finds his way out of this darkness, but the trials he must go through are true development.
“This. This is what I am. This is who I am. If I deny it, I deny everything I’ve ever done- Everything I’ve ever fought for.” – Oliver Queen
The power of Green Arrow’s character is his complexity to reflect something within the DC universe that is often overlooked: he is not a founder of the JL, not a part of the DC Trinity, and definitely not a meta-human. He is a man, trying to do some good. He may have no money, no sidekick, no powers, but he has a drive that rivals Batman. That same drive often creates a clash within himself, prompting him to do what is necessary for the greater good. One example would be when long-time friend Hal Jordan becomes consumed with the foul entity Parallax. Jordan’s manipulated body is helpless, and the heroic archer swiftly takes advantage of a weakened possessed Hal, and shoots an arrow in his chest, killing his friend. Another example is when Queen investigated the murder of Elongates Man’s wife, Sue Dibny, and revealing that the League had been tampering with the minds of various enemies to conceal their identities, resulting in an Identity Crisis within the team.
These are only a few examples of Green Arrow’s power and effective weight in the DC universe. His defiant nature makes him adaptable and impulsive, a true asset for any team. Queen represents the ambition to have a voice and freedom against all odds, which may be a reason he is often at odds with very powerful figures like Superman in the Injustice video games, or Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. He will never give up as long as he breathes.