Jul 02 2015

Review: Green Arrow #42 – “The Night Birds Part 2: The Panopticon”

Green Arrow #42 - Green Arrow on a motorbike by Patrick Zircher

Is it better for a superhero to pick up speed or slow down for a while? The latest GREEN ARROW gives us a little bit of both.

Green Arrow #42 (2015)

Green Arrow #42 (DC Comics) - Artist: Patrick Zircher

Writer: Benjamin Percy

Artists: Patrick Zircher, Gabe Eltaeb

Letterer: Rob Leigh

PublisherDC Comics

Rating: 8.5/10

More info

One of the things that was apparent from last month’s latest soft-relaunch of GREEN ARROW was a desperate need for some status quo in the world of the Emerald Archer. Novelist Benjamin Percy aimed to do this by firmly rooting the character back in his old stomping ground of “real world” Seattle, albeit with a dose of the supernatural added to Mike Grell’s legacy of the urban hunter. It’s the latter that understandably proves to be the most incongruous, even for a character that’s continually evolving from battling bowman, to outspoken liberal, urban hunter, resurrected hero, and television star.

“My dog.
My sister.
My city.
My responsibility.”

When we left Green Arrow, he and half-sister Emiko were perturbed to find a growing darkness creeping across their Pacific Northwest home. Bodies were showing up, which is significant in a city that rounds out the bottom ten murder rates in the US, and the “street” is trying to warn them about the “Night Birds.” When Willis ‘Big Dog’ Coleman, the unofficial mayor of the impoverished Pennytown district, the city responds with a plot lifted straight out of Robocop with the development of the robotic Panopticon, an automated drone that dispenses punishment rigidly. Meanwhile, an albino man pulls the strings in the background.

As even the briefest of descriptions shows there is a lot going on in the latest issue, and some elements are more fantastical than others. Yet despite the stated horror elements that the author wants to introduce, Percy has still hit on some of the fundamentals of the character. “The Night Birds” arc might involve a red-eyed albino leading an army of robotic cephalopods, but it is still essentially a story about social justice, a  staple of the character since the “Divided — They Fall!” issue of Justice League #66 (November, 1968). There are issues of race represented here, not to mention a protest movement in the very city that had the infamous 1999 “Battle of Seattle” WTO protests. The Panopitcon robots themselves are not just a clever-clever reference to 18th century philosopher Jeremy Bentham (named checked in the book by Emiko), but could also be seen a dual piece of commentary on the use of drones on domestic soil or the excessive use of police force as seen in Ferguson and Baltimore in the last year. Just as he did in Green Lantern/Green Arrow run, his numerous backup stories of the 1970s and 1980, and of course Mike Grell’s run, Ollie is finally dealing with social issues again.

Green Arrow #42 (DC Comics) - Artist: Patrick Zircher

The previous issue had been more about Oliver Queen without the hood, and in Percy’s sophomore issue,  As a result of Ollie’s redesigned costume can be seen more clearly for the first time, complete with a new-look “Arrow Cave” that’s a cross between its television counterpart and some rich dude’s man cave. It’s a fairly straightforward design, with a big (you guessed it) green arrow on the chest in case anybody overlooks the pointy things he keeps aiming at people. With the exception of the Panopticon, a cross between Black Manta and Doctor Octopus, everything in Zircher’s Seattle is grounded, from the functional nature of Ollie and Emiko’s apartment to the police precinct or a man simply eating a burger. Anyone who has been to or lived in Seattle can attest to the fact that colour artist Gabe Eltaeb‘s muted palette is perfectly appropriate for the region, and Zircher’s deliberate inks accentuate the growing darkness. At times brutal, including a Panopticon ripping the arm off a hungry child, the art is equal parts restrained and jaw-dropping epic in the case of Ollie finally confront the robotic menace.

Percy is still (re)building the elements, and not all of them gel together seamlessly. On the one hand, bringing Jeff Lemire’s Emiko back to being a core member and conscience of Team Arrow (after the interim writers Andrew Kreisberg and Ben Sokolowski pretended she didn’t exist) gives the book a whole new tone, one we haven’t seen since the relationship between Mia Dearden and Ollie in Judd Winick’s pre-Flashpoint run. We’ve even got a dog on that team ow too. Setting up a dichotomy between Ollie’s brand of street justice and the less judiciously applied automated kind, Oliver Queen fighting giant robots doesn’t seem like a natural fit. Yet GREEN ARROW has constantly adapted to what was required of it, and time will tell if this new direction is one where all those pieces come together.

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  1. Review: Green Arrow #43 – “The Night Birds Part 3: The Hood” » Behind The Panels

    […] us through a course in first year political science, introducing Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon last month, while having the villain espousing Malthusian population checks this issue. This philosophy is […]

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