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‘Moving Target: The History and Evolution of Green Arrow’ (book review)

Written by Richard Gray
Foreword by Phil Hester
Includes Interviews with Neal Adams,
Mike Grell,
Chuck Dixon, Phil Hester,
Brad Meltzer, Jeff Lemire
Cover by Louie Joyce
Published by Sequart Organization
ISBN 9781940589169
Released Aug 2017 / $17.99 / $5.99 Kindle


They say you can’t judge a book by its cover.

In point of fact my PDF review copy of Moving Target: the History and Evolution of Green Arrow, by Richard Gray, didn’t even HAVE a cover for me to judge if I wanted to but I found the cover on Amazon.

It’s perfect! Arrows and targets always make for great design work and this image of the encircled, silhouetted Robin Hood being chased off the cover by giant arrows formed out of the negative space between city skyscrapers?

Brilliant! A perfect metaphor for a comic book superhero who has been there almost from the beginning and yet who has been reinvented so many times no one really can pin him down!

Well, Richard Gray does. More or less. His 300+ page book reads like a well-written, well researched, if perhaps overlong “Hero History” from the old Amazing Heroes mag of the ‘80s! Gray’s semi-scholarly approach, complete with numerous footnotes, is regrettable as it adds a somewhat pretentious, vaguely elitist, feel to a subject that almost by definition is pretty down to earth.

Let me just say up front that I don’t watch Arrow on the CW. I’ve seen a few episodes. Just not a big fan. That said, it is, of course, the undeniable popularity of Arrow that has given this book a reason and a chance to exist. But TV’s live-action Oliver Queen is just the latest in a long line of variant Oliver Queens that started in 1941.

Created by later Superman guru Mort Weisinger with artist George Papp, he was originally a millionaire archer with trick arrows, an Arrow-Cave, an Arrow Plane, an Arrow Car, etc. He fought gangsters and costumed villains alike, one of his biggest enemies being an evil clown!

The author goes into more depth than necessary in detailing the relatively bland, obviously Batman-inspired and already contradictory early adventures with boy sidekick Speedy in DC’s More Fun Comics and Leading Comics of the Golden Age.

Switching to Adventure Comics after World War II, the Emerald Archers quietly continued on in its back pages as most of the rest of the four-color heroes from DC and every other publisher fell by the wayside going into the 1950s. Jack Kirby even did a brief but memorable run on the character that was more sci-fi oriented than before!

I first discovered Green Arrow in mid-sixties issues of Justice League of America and The Brave and the Bold where, in both, he usually appeared opposite his inspiration, Batman, and tended to seem superfluous to pre-teen me.

All that changed when Neal Adams came along and gave ol’ G.A. a new suit, a new beard, and a new attitude. And be assured that Neal deserves the lion’s share of the credit, as he himself tells you in a long, in-depth interview contained herein. As always with Neal’s interviews in recent years—a man who really did revolutionize the industry, no question—one finds themselves wondering just how much of his claims to take seriously. To hear him tell it, even new to the industry, he was convincing DC veterans to do things his way every single time behind the scenes.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a fascinating interview, although it typically comes across as more about Neal than Green Arrow. Other in-depth interviews in the book include the controversial Chuck Dixon, novelist and comics writer Brad Meltzer, recent GA custodians Jeff Lemire and Phil Hester and, my favorite, Mike Grell.

After Adams and writer Denny O’Neil almost literally reinvented Green Arrow from scratch in the late sixties, there was a huge burst of popularity and awards for the socially conscious stories that followed. But after a while, that version, too, became a cliché and was relegated once again to short story backups. Another radical retooling needed to be done for the character to survive. That was where Grell came in with his mini-series, The Longbow Hunters, and beyond.

It’s Grell’s dark, violent, urban version more than Adams’ socially conscious vigilante who has kept the character—albeit not always as Oliver Queen—in the public eye in recent decades and inspired the current TV series.

All of this history and background is meticulously laid out in loving detail by the author who, while he ultimately fails to succeed in the thankless task of trying to have it all make sense in the end, his efforts are so informative and entertaining, it doesn’t matter. Sometimes in comics, as in life, the pieces simply don’t all fit together neatly.

There are also some well-chosen color illustrations throughout the untangling of convoluted continuity that leads us more or less up to today.

Overall verdict?

A bit more involved than the casual comics fan who watches the TV series will like but a frustrating joy for those of us who consider Ollie—all the different versions of Ollie—to be an old friend.

Now if someone can just interest Richard Gray in trying to sort out Hawkman’s history! Please!

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