DC's Latest Takes on the Green Arrow Universe are Hit or Miss

DC's new Justice League series has missed the mark, but Gail Simone's Birds of Prey is off to a good start

Green Arrow writer J.T. Krul is rapidly becoming the Nicolas Cage of DC Comics' stable of talent. When he's good, he's really quite terrific. When he's bad, though, he might as well be wearing a bear suit and screaming about bees. Take his controversial Justice League: The Rise of Arsenal miniseries, for example. Thankfully nearing its fourth and final issue (scheduled for June 23), Arsenal is a prime example of just how wrong things can go when a talented writer goes to self-indulgent extremes.

Picking up after pivotal events in James Robinson's brilliantly conceived but poorly executed Justice League: Cry for Justice, Arsenal focuses on Green Arrow characters, particularly former sidekick Roy Harper through the days following the loss of his right arm and the death of his young daughter, Lian. Both were taken from him by a supervillain known as Prometheus, who murdered tens of thousands in his attack on Roy's hometown, Star City. In the days following the tragedy, Roy prowls the ruined city in search of vengeance and heroin (mostly just heroin), with brief pauses to get high, kick the snot out of criminals, and discover that he's impotent when he can't have sex with a woman he's just beaten up with an extension cord.

Here's the thing, though. In spite of the fury surrounding Roy and Oliver Queen's current dismal situations, Arsenal isn't bad because of its content. The Green Arrow titles have long been DC's grindhouses, full of drug use, murder, torture, and any other unpleasantness you can name. The great Dennis O'Neil made Roy a heroin addict way back in 1971, and Mike Grell's The Longbow Hunters saw Ollie put a very real arrow through the chest of one of Dinah Lance's tormentors. So, even though Green Arrow fans are indignant over the sordid events currently playing out in what's left of Star City, it's really not that far removed from ordeals the characters have already been through. Superheroes are nothing if not resilient—even the dead ones usually get better.

So it's not the controversial content that makes Arsenal a bad book—it's the shoddy execution. The writing is clumsy and trite, full of tin-eared dialogue and ridiculous situations that play out like a Kroger Babb exploitation flick. (Try smack, kids, and you, too, could end up fighting your fellow junkies over a decomposing cat.) Even the art, by the usually competent Geraldo Borges, is second-rate. Borges puts plenty of energy into the splash pages, but everything else feels thrown-together and flat.

Krul might be stinking up the place with The Rise of Arsenal, but he's faring significantly better with Green Arrow. The last few issues of Green Arrow's ongoing series have laid the groundwork for the title's relaunch, which will begin with Green Arrow #1 on June 23. This latest story arc, titled "The Fall of Green Arrow," certainly isn't a lighthearted one–Ollie Queen has been publicly unmasked, jailed, dumped by his wife, and tried (and acquitted) for murder—but it sets the stage for what is shaping up to be a very promising reboot of the Emerald Archer, who has taken up residence in a forest that has mysteriously appeared in the heart of the ruined Star City. Federico Dallocchio's overly-digitized interior art doesn't stand up to Mauro Cascioli's terrific covers, but it's serviceable and dynamic enough to keep up with Krul's fast-paced storytelling.

Of all the Green Arrow family, though, it's Dinah Lance who is currently faring the best. DC has relaunched Birds of Prey, and the new series gets off to a terrific start with a first issue that reunites Black Canary, Oracle, Lady Blackhawk, and Huntress. The first of a four-issue arc, the debut pits the Birds against an extortionist who is somehow privy to intimate details about every superhero—and villain—who is currently operating. Hawk and Dove, fresh from their Blackest Night resurrections, are also tossed into the mix, but their role is still up in the air. Gail Simone's script is heavy on both dialogue and narrative captions, but the writing is so brisk and witty that it never feels overly wordy. The interior art by Ed Benes, which falls on just the right side of cheesecake, is complex and cinematic, making the most of all three planes of each of Benes' tightly composed panels. Benes occasionally has trouble conveying movement during the fight scenes, but his tableaux are undeniably gorgeous. Birds of Prey #1 isn't just the best of the new batch of Green Arrow-related titles; it's one of the best books DC has put out so far this spring