When Arrow first began its run, two things kept coming up in interviews. The first was that the initial pitch was that they wanted it to be The Dark Knight, the TV show. The second was that they were inspired by the comic series Green Arrow: Year One in the telling of the titular character’s origin story, and even named David Ramsey’s character John Diggle after the comic’s writer, Andy Diggle. That particular name caught my eye, as I had first heard of Andy Diggle in the lead-up to the release of one of my favorite guilty pleasures, 2010’s The Losers. I loved Diggle and Jock’s work on that series, so when I found out they had laid down the origins of the Emerald Archer, I knew I had to read it. As the final season of the Arrowverse progenitor began this week, I decided to revisit one of the best Green Arrow stories ever written.
During the Green Arrow documentary present on the season 6 DVD set of Smallville, several creators mentioned how the Green Arrow was very much like Batman, and those parallels are on display in the opening pages of Green Arrow: Year One. After a trip to Tibet with his bodyguard Hackett, we see Oliver drunk at a charity auction as he bids on a bow and arrow while Hackett tells him about a shady deal. It isn’t long before Oliver is beaten and kicked into the water – betrayed by his bodyguard, who is quickly revealed to be working for drug dealer Chen Na Wei, whom Oliver calls “China White.” Oliver washes up on the island, and the adventure begins.
Anyone who’s seen Arrow or even specific episodes of Smallville season 8 can probably figure out what comes next; however, where Green Arrow: Year One shines is in its execution. Things that the show glosses over are given a full examination here. We get into the isolation that Oliver feels. The worst moments of our lives often show us who we are, and the same is true for Oliver. Despite being alone, we get the sense that Oliver is genuinely free for the first time, and is discovering his calling in life. I particularly love this idea because he takes some ownership of his destiny rather than relying on Yao Fei or anyone else to teach him. All the new skills Oliver develops come to the forefront as he tries to save the inhabitants of the island, of whom he had been unaware. All the ways you think he’ll interact with them are subverted in the best way possible as he learns about people who are from a different side of the tracks and subservient to China White’s whims. Much like Oliver himself, who they were must be left behind if they hope to survive.
Oliver’s perceptions of the world around him change as he evolves from perennial drunk playboy to crusader for justice – social or otherwise. Amid these ideas, there are nods to all of Oliver’s various arrows, many of which we’d seen throughout his time on Justice League Unlimited. However, given Diggle and Jock’s inclination towards the gritty and realistic, it’s handled in a way that is befitting of the billionaire’s circumstances. In addition, there is a cool nod to the Dark Knight Returns iteration of Oliver Queen that I almost thought they were going to lean into more; I was relieved when this wasn’t the case. Perhaps one of the most significant aspects of this book plays into Oliver’s recovery process and how it will impact one of the most iconic stories in the Emerald Archer’s mythos, as well as how he relates to his most notable sidekicks. Whenever writing an origin story, it’s always good to celebrate what makes the character great and provide an entry point for new readers, and Green Arrow: Year One achieves that.
There are a few plot contrivances that pulled me out of the story, however, mainly when Oliver first gets to the island. While the story is great once he arrives, it feels like he gets there for no real reason. Sure, Hackett is incredulous that he shows up, but it just rings false here. That being said, most of Green Arrow: Year One works well, and a lot of that is down to the storytelling prowess of Diggle and Jock. Diggle presents a well-drawn portrait of the Star City billionaire; each word of dialogue feels incredibly authentic and allows the characters to pop off the page. This results in a story that feels very cinematic (much in the same way The Losers felt), to the point where it is obvious why the producers of the CW superhero series opted to use this work as inspiration. I wouldn’t be surprised if this book were to be used again as source material in the future. Jock’s artwork enhances Diggle’s storytelling, giving the tale an epic scope that draws the reader into the world with a desire to immerse themselves in every facet of the story and art. The colorist, David Baron, must also be given kudos here, particularly in issues three and four. Diggle’s words are incredibly evocative, and I love how Baron takes advantage of this fact and further leads us to understand what Oliver is going through, which makes for a far more enriching reading experience than it otherwise would have. This book is a reminder of how crucial every member of a comic book creative team is, and that each member is no less important than another to any given book.
Despite a few plot contrivances, Green Arrow: Year One is a prime example of what can be done when the right creative minds come together with a singular vision. With a great story and fantastic art, it’s little wonder the producers of Arrow used this story as the basis for the early seasons of the show. Hopefully, this book will continue to serve as a guide not only for other media but also for Emerald Archer neophytes for many years to come.