Monday, March 03, 2008

Storytelling Engines: Green Arrow

(or "There Ain't No 'There' There!")

Boy, does Green Arrow have a lot of trick arrows. In 'Showcase Presents Green Arrow Volume One', we see the luminescent arrow, the vine arrow, the lava arrow, the jiujitsu arrow, the heli-spotter arrow, the ricochet arrow, the flashlight arrow, the firecracker arrow, the umbrella arrow, the boomerang arrow, the rain arrow, the cocoon arrow, the jet arrow, the rope arrow, the acetylene arrow, the fountain-pen arrow, the dry ice arrow, the flare arrow, the balloon arrow, the two-stage rocket arrow, the net arrow, the siren arrow, the boxing-glove arrow, the fake-uranium arrow, and in one notable story, the cat arrow, which was an arrow with a stuffed cat on the end.

You tend to notice the trick arrows a lot in a Green Arrow story, and not just because some of them are so ludicrous that you can't imagine them being fired. They're notable because they're really the only thing that is notable about Green Arrow in the 1950s and 60s. The character really doesn't have much of a storytelling engine at all. His character is essentially lifted wholesale from Batman (millionaire playboy who secretly fights crime with a teen sidekick), and indeed most stories begin with Oliver Queen and Roy Harper sitting at home when they see the "Arrow-Signal" in the sky. Star City, his home, is really just a name; there's nothing to give it any real character or sense of place (unlike the moody Gotham, the sunny Metropolis, or even a real-world city like New York.) Heck, Green Arrow doesn't even have his own version of Commissioner Gordon to discuss cases with--he usually just grabs some nameless desk sergeant to get the details of the latest crime. Outside of Speedy, his ward, and Arrowette, who makes an appearance or two (complete with her powder-puff arrows, hairpin arrows, lotion arrows, needle-and-thread arrows, and hairnet arrows, comics being the bastion of Women's Lib that they are.)

He doesn't have any villains to speak of, either; for the vast majority of the stories, he fights counterfeiters, jewel thieves, and the other various and sundry criminals that populate big cities who don't need to put on spandex outfits and give themselves sinister names. In short, pretty much every element needed to fill in a storytelling engine comes up either blank or hastily filled in, sometimes by copying off his neighbor's paper. Which seems odd, at first, since I've been saying all this time that a good storytelling engine is important to a strong-selling book. If Green Arrow is so under-prepared, why is he still around?

The answer is simple: He was a back-up feature. These stories all ran in the back of other comics (usually 'Adventure' or 'World's Finest'.) Meaning that a) they didn't have time to sketch in all the other elements that make up a complete storytelling engine, because they were trying to work in a complete story in eight pages, and b) they didn't need to worry about a complete storytelling engine, because people didn't pick up the book just to read Green Arrow's adventures. The stories could afford to be more formulaic, which saved the writer from having to come up with too many ideas (excepting, of course, for the trick arrows, which is clearly where all the creativity was going.) Green Arrow could afford to be a "generic" super-hero, because he was riding the coat-tails of Superman and Batman.

Later, as he developed his own character (right around the end of this volume, in fact) he developed more of a personality, became more distinctly different from millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne. He lost the trick arrows, developed more of a supporting cast, and today, he's got a storytelling engine all his own. Which is another important point to remember; when you're starting from almost nothing, it's very easy to add these things in later. Easy, and if you want your character to be anything more than a second banana, vitally important.


Caine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Caine said...

Is Canary a part of his Story Telling Engine? Is he a part of hers? I think there is more to this post that I'd love the chance to read at some point...

Morgan said...

Your mention of the characters of the various cities in comics reminded me that growing in New Hampshire, my best friend and I thought that 'midtown' as mentioned in Spider Man was another made up city like Gotham, instead of a neighborhood in NY.

It was doubly odd to find out after living in the city that Gotham used to be a neighborhood as well, before becoming a general term for the city, then falling out of use.