Playboy, ne’er-do-well, egomaniac, thrill-seeker, imbiber. These and other choice words can be used to describe our “hero” Oliver Queen before his transformation into Green Arrow in the miniseries “Green Arrow: Year One” by writer Andy Diggle, artist Jock, and colorist David Baron. These three creators (along with letterer Jared K. Fletcher) collaborate in order to weave a yarn that poetically brings the reader on Oliver’s journey to becoming a superhero. When the reader first meets Oliver, he is on a journey for no other reason than because he can and because he’s rich. It’s a rich man’s jaunt. When stuck on a snowy mountain, he simply calls in a helicopter. When his other journey begins on a supposedly deserted island, Oliver has entered an entirely different world. His journey is one of survival and becoming the man he was meant to be: a good and moral one.
The contrast between these two journeys is beautifully depicted in the contrasting opening panels of the first and second issues. The first issue’s opening panel is white and devoid of any object. The second panel appears to be a green tip of an arrow. The third panel, however, reveals the arrow to actually be the orienting arrow of a hand compass. We then see a compass in the fourth panel and Oliver and his employee/friend Hackett looking at the said compass. Once the page is turned, a double page splash depicts a desolate white wasteland of snow and a narrow path leading over a deep crevice. Oliver says, “You just have to view every obstacle as a challenge.” The arrow is ingenious use of symbolism and foreshadowing, as well as the barren, yet ominous wasteland these two “explorers” have set out upon. The reader knows Oliver is going to become a hero, yet the use of such symbolism in the art and colors transform the story into something powerful here and throughout the book. Oliver’s life, up to this point is a barren land devoid of any meaning and direction, with words and art getting that situation across to the reader.
In the similar opening of the second issue, the reader views, yet again, a page with five panels. Like the first issue, the first panel here is completely white. However, this time, the panel has Oliver’s thought: “…am I dead?” Through the following four panels, a stranded Oliver begins to realize he’s alone: “At first everything’s just a blank. I don’t even know who I am…let alone where I am.” Diggle’s words here and elsewhere reveal the poetic nature of his writing and how much depth of character he reveals through Oliver’s thoughts and actions. Diggle lays bare Oliver’s thoughts beautifully. Once again, when the page is turned, there is a double page splash of an immense island with greenery surrounding what appears to be a mountain smack dab in the middle of the island. Focus on the back of Oliver’s head lets the reader know that this “challenge” will be much more challenging and transforming for Oliver than the rich man’s journey he so easily escaped from in the first issue. His money can’t save him now. He must find a way to survive and, through his journey on the island, discover the soul of Oliver Queen.
Jock expertly expresses this soul of Oliver through his eyes. In many panels throughout the book, Oliver’s eyes come alive and express the many feelings he goes through on his journey, such as fear, anger, sadness, and warmth. The repetition of Jock’s focus on eyes, along with other recurring motifs (such as panel layouts), add to the reader’s sense of immersion into Oliver’s journey of the soul. In one particular “eye”-focused page, Oliver is going through an opium haze. Because of a particularly nasty broken arm, he must partake of opium in order to dull the intense pain. Baron’s colors are particularly exquisite in this scene, with Oliver’s face green and his mouth seeming to inhale the blue “essence” of his friend Taiana (which happens to only contain her eyes). The island is a haunting pink and a native totem stares out ominously below him. Then, in a panel within this splash page below, Oliver’s eyes and brow are all that are within view. Sweat drips down his brow and his eyes are wide with terror.
One particular scene on the island showcases the synergy between writing and art. In four pages, Diggle, Jock, and Baron demonstrate how a simple scene can evoke so much beauty. Oliver spots a plane and decides to send a flare arrow to get its attention (yes, thankfully there are some nice moments with “trick” arrows in the book). The first page has four panels, with the first and third showing Oliver and the plane in shadow against a stark white background. The second and fourth (which is also last) panels have Oliver’s face in shadow. Then (once again with those eyes), Jock and Baron bring out the outright terror in his eyes peering through the shadow. A man fires at Oliver from the plane, with the gunfire appearing as if alive and lighted a particular way by Baron that brings out a brightness that appears to pop off the page. Diggle adds a touch of humor when Oliver says, “Huh. Maybe it’s a private beach.” The last two pages are splash pages, one with Oliver facing the reader and the second with his back to them. In the first, Oliver says he would have run in the past. Now he is “a hunter”. And he sure is, with a steely look and his hands on his bow and arrow. The breathtaking sunrise on the horizon peaks out behind him, heralding the dawn of a new man. The last splash page shows Oliver from behind, with his physical build shown in the detail of his calves, arms, and stance. This confrontation is only one of many scenes that are molded to create an impressive book.
Each page in “Green Arrow: Year One” is a work of art. One mark of a classic story is the enjoyment one gets in rereading it more than once. Like “Batman: Year One” by Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli, this book embodies the spirit and essence of its character and his journey. Diggle’s story may be a simple one, but that isn’t the point: it’s character. And Diggle, Jock, and Baron flesh out Oliver Queen and bring him to life. The character has an arc that brings him from one vastly different point to another. Diggle begins the story with an enormously flawed individual who ends up a hero that is given moments where the reader will get chills and might actually cheer out loud. If Green Arrow was not one of your favorite characters before (or even your favorite), he will be now.
Green Arrow: Year One
Written by: Andy Diggle
Colors: David Baron
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Publisher: DC Comics
Original Publication Date: 2007
Pages: 160 pages