Thoughts and observations on Green Arrow, classical liberalism, freedom, comic books and matters of social justice.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Boxing glove arrows on a government subsidy

Batman wouldn’t be Batman without the cash. Bruce Wayne would be an angry young man with no vehicle to direct his rage sans the millions. I’d imagine Bruce would be forced to preoccupy himself with paying the bills and staying out of debt had he not inherited his family’s fortune. In any of the mediums Batman appears, at some point in the story he is beholden to his wealth.

What would he do without a batmobile to escape in, a belt filled with high-tech gadgetry to save him, or a bank account that allows such free time in the first place? A guy pulling down $50k a year can hardly afford to travel the globe learning all manner of self defense and criminology. And while a middle class Batman is a fascinating idea to me; it really wouldn’t work, at least not in the situations the character usually finds itself.

Some comic book heroes don’t need money. Superman can live in an apartment all he wants, you’ll never see him enter or exit anyway. There is no call for for a special, defensive suit because he’s invulnerable. But in case he needs help making ends meet there is that arctic fortress filled to the rafters with priceless alien technologies and artifacts; I guess Clark’s rich after all.

Spiderman always had an everyman quality. Many an issue focused on Peter struggling for the cash to pay for more chemicals to make his web fluid. But he did have the genius to come up with an adhesive that can be sprayed from wrist-mounted nozzles and stick to practically anything and everything; why not sell the rights to 3M for a fortune? Peter Parker also has the proportional size and strength of a spider, which is pretty hard to come by.

What I’m getting at is the place of the true “every man” superhero in comic books. I maintain there is a degree of wonder in those characters that you could actually become (well, sort of). Unlike the unreachable powerhouses, these street level heroes hold the allure of quasi-attainability. For many the conversation would now steer back toward Batman, but unless the “many” are crazy rich, I hardly think so.

The Spirit, considered by many to be the first middle class superhero, has a mask, a suit and a tie and that’s about all. He utilizes only his detective skills gleaned from the streets. He does show a tremendous capacity to deal with pain, as he is often beaten, tied, gagged and shot (at least shot at). Darwyn Cooke’s brilliant, and tragically short, twelve issue run on DC’s Spirit title emphasized a chemical compound Denny Colt was submerged in prior to reemerging as the Spirit; which seemingly added to Colt’s resiliency. But the common interpretation is of a regular guy who fights crime on the street with his brain and fists.

And then there’s Green Arrow, in my opinion a wasted opportunity. Queen is Bruce Wayne’s doppelganger until he is lost at sea and Bruce’s parents die. Both men are changed by these events and use them as cause to fight crime in costumes. But the role of wealth in their lives after these points should contrast and cause them to forever part ways and methods.

Bruce Wayne uses his wealth to fund his war on crime. Oliver Queen loses his wealth during his war on crime. At some point during his fall into the middle class Queen is confronted by the plight of the poor and refocuses his attentions to those left in the wake of all those “super” fights. In this way he becomes, and maintains as, the voice against the arrogance of the superhero culture in his world.

Far more compelling is the story of a man whose fight against street crime is waged from a home surrounded by that crime. The Robin Hood motif retains its poignancy when Queen isn’t among the manor born. However, Oliver Queen’s wealth is a crutch for the lazy comic book writer. How else do you get Green Arrow into, and out of, all these super conflicts without cash for transportation and an arsenal of state-of-the-art trick arrow heads?

It is another lazy misconception that to be a good comic book story it must “big” in its scope. Green Arrow doesn’t need to be rigging a mayoral office with giant catapults (Juddiot!), globe-trotting to Amazonian islands, or firing diamond tipped, acetylene torch arrow heads at zombies (Zombies? Argh, Juddiot!). And just because he can shoot arrows really well doesn’t mean he has to be fast enough to catch one aimed at his chest or fire them in machine gun-like, rapid fire succession.

These gimmicks are attempts at making him seem less out of place next to DC’s demigods and other grandiose characters. A more individual version seems correct for Oliver Queen, one that is as “against type” as the character’s views were reinterpreted to be. Green Arrow is a contrasting dichotomy; a wealthy man who loses his wealth, who struggles against modern criminality with archaic weapons, whose very appearance is a throwback to swashbuckling heroes of the past, and who stands in opposition to the mores of fellow “super” heroes while adorned in their brand of attire.

But mostly he’s just shown to be an obstinate, angry, and shrill mouthpiece for the political leanings of his current writer while siding with the ideology of the current “event” storyline; what a waste.

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