When most folks think of Jack Kirby at DC Comics, they think of the Fourth World and Kamandi, the older fans might say the Challengers of the Unknown or the Newsboy Legion, or even the Sandman. Would anyone say Green Arrow? But it’s true, for seven months in 1958 the King gave us a Green Arrow unlike anything we’d seen before, and it could have been even wilder. Meet me after the jump for Jack Kirby’s The Green Arrow!
Batman with a Bow
Let’s be straight here, once upon a time, way before the CW television series, Green Arrow sucked. He was Batman with a bow, and was nowhere near as cool as that might sound. He was a millionaire with an adopted ward sidekick, had a cave, a car, an arsenal of gimmicks in his quiver (as opposed to on his belt), a signal in the sky, and even a clown arch-foe.
Somehow Green Arrow had survived the Fredric Wertham purge, and miraculously retained two back-up features, one in Adventure Comics and one in World’s Finest Comics, but the stories were banal, they were just plain awful. But then again in the post-Wertham era, there wasn’t all that much going on, of which Green Arrow was among the least of the superheroes remaining.
Along comes Jack Kirby, who had been doing Challengers of the Unknown for DC Comics but was looking for more work. Editor Mort Weisinger, a control freak at times and a real don’t-rock-the-boat guy, offered Jack Green Arrow. He jumped at it, and went to work, reading all the Green Arrow stories I suppose he could stand and planning a strategy to make this the best new feature out there. But that was Jack, he loved a challenge.
Folks who remember Jack’s return to DC after the Marvel Age know what I’m talking about. The King took work at DC after being snuffed out of profits and ownership at Marvel Comics, he was eager to prove his worth, and asked specifically to be given their worst selling title – Jimmy Olsen – the Fourth World was born, and the rest is history. More than a decade earlier, with Green Arrow, Jack had similar intentions.
What Could Have Been
The King immediately conjured a concept which would propel the Green Arrow to a realm so far from Batman it would make the caped crusader’s head spin. Jack imagined sending Green Arrow and Speedy into outer space, and away from all the accessories that labeled GA the boring and banal Batman with a bow.
Mort Weisinger nixed the idea, thinking it too far out for readers, who to him, were just kids anyway. He knew what was best for them, after all he had gotten Superman a successful TV deal, how could he be wrong? Mort put Jack on art with writers Dave Wood and Ed Herron, and even Batman co-creator Bill Finger. For a taste of what space Green Arrow might have been like, the gist of the first stories remains in “The Case of the Super-Arrows” written by Kirby and in the Dimension Zero two-parter.
The Elegant Eleven
So for most of 1958 we were treated to eleven tales of the Green Arrow drawn and sometimes co-plotted by Jack Kirby and inked by his wife Roz. They were all a mere and yet packed six pages long, and were pretty amazing, a brief bright spot in otherwise boring career of the pre-Neal Adams Green Arrow.
“The Green Arrows of the World” from Adventure Comics #250 – This tale was written by Bill Finger, one of the real creators of Batman (along with Gardner Fox and some guy named Bob Kane), and nothing says that Green Arrow was Batman with a bow than the recycling of an actual Batman story. Modern readers might recognize the concept from Grant Morrison’s Batman RIP, but it goes back several decades.
Like Batman, Green Arrow has fans and imitators across the world who have become crime fighters like him, and from time to time they get together and have a convention as the Green Arrows of the World. Their membership includes some difficult stereotypes, but of their time. There’s the Bowman of the Bush, the Phantom of France, and the Bowman of Britain by name and about a half-dozen others.
Heavily rewritten by Kirby, the idea of a wolf in the fold is added, bad guy ‘Counterfeit’ Carson has taken on the identity of one of the Green Arrows to get close to the real thing and exact his revenge. One nice touch is the British Arrowcar, which I’d love to see again.
“The Case of the Super-Arrows” from Adventure Comics #251 – This would have been Kirby’s ‘pilot episode’ for the feature and introduces some science fictional elements not usually present in the Green Arrow stories of the past. On the anniversary of Green Arrow’s start as a crimefighter, admirers from the future send him the gift of super-arrows, which he uses in his current cases, not knowing what they might do. New and fun.
“Five Clues to Danger” from World’s Finest Comics #96 – This one is fairly typical of the time but is important as Jack Kirby begins to define his design on Green Arrow, specifically the domino masks so thin that they look more like glasses, and with less importance placed on secret identities in these stories, the masks themselves may as well be glasses.
“The Mystery of the Giant Arrows” from Adventure Comics #252 – I first saw this and its second part in reprint during the 100-Page Super-Spectacular era, and I loved it. Xeen Arrow, who doesn’t appear until the sequel, was such a refreshing character and so out there compared to any seen before in GA stories.
In this part of the story, Star City (was it even called that at the time? Here it’s simply referred to as ‘the city’) is under siege by giant arrows falling from the sky. Each one is gimmicked out like Green Arrow’s. Finally one shows up that is tethered from beyond, when it’s pulled back, Green Arrow and Speedy are taken with it to another dimension. To be continued!
“Prisoners of Dimension Zero” from Adventure Comics #253 – In today’s day and age, it might hard to express how rare the concept of two-parters were in comics back in the day. If they happened, it’s notable they occurred in main features, not back-up stories like this. Jack Kirby was innovating as much as they would let him, even with simple stuff like this.
In the part two, our archers come to Dimension Zero and meet the aforementioned Xeen Arrow, the giant Green Arrow of that world, whose arrows and those of giant children, have been coming to our world. After helping the mile-high Xeen Arrow stop thieves on his world, Green Arrow and Speedy are sent back home. This is an amazing tale, packed with so much in its six pages, I wish we had gotten more.
“The Menace of the Mechanical Octopus” from World’s Finest Comics #97 – This one is simply visually exciting, as the story itself is lacking, as Green Arrow matches wits and weapons against some nameless thugs and their giant flying mechanical octopus.
“The Green Arrow’s Last Stand” from Adventure Comics #254 – This one is a real oddity, and sooo not politically correct. Green Arrow finds himself in a lost valley full of possibly time lost Native Americans on the warpath. No matter the content, it’s great to see Kirby do some of his western art despite what brought it about.
“The War That Never Ended!” from Adventure Comics #255 – This is another action-packed adventure, and topical too, as Green Arrow and Speedy are shipwrecked on Tongi Island in the South Pacific, only to find Major Tayako and his men still fighting World War II against the Americans.
“The Unmasked Archers!” from World’s Finest Comics #98 – This one is just Silver Age silliness that Weisinger probably loved, Oliver Queen and Roy Harper trying to prove they’re not the Green Arrow and Speedy. It would seem that Kirby had less rewrite privilege on the World’s Finest stories than he did in the Adventure ones.
“Green Arrow’s First Case” from Adventure Comics #256 – We had already seen Green Arrow’s origin once, and while only a few details are changed, this is the one that folks remember. Even the later Mike Grell retellings of this story, and the five-season long origin in the TV series Arrow pale in comparison to this one told in just seven pages.
I think this is the definitive origin story of Green Arrow. It is so good that it was published in the 1970s book Secret Origins of the DC Super Heroes alongside that earlier Golden Age origin. There is simply no comparison, and this story has the most Kirby look to it. He was finally getting his groove with the characters.
“Crimes Under Glass” from World’s Finest Comics #99 – This was another lackluster adventure with some exciting visuals, but otherwise fairly pedestrian, proof that Kirby could make even the most banal tale sparkle with his art.
That was just a taste of Kirby’s Green Arrow, and the mind boggles what could have been. Weisinger was so against what the King had managed to slip into the strip, he finally had him removed. Mort Weisinger got what he wanted, the same old banal Green Arrow he had before, and the character languished in boring obscurity for another decade when revitalized by Neal Adams with a beard, a new costume, and a new attitude of social consciousness. Jack went on to create the Marvel Universe. You tell me who won.
These stories were finally compiled in a small square bound volume in 2001, called aptly enough The Green Arrow by Jack Kirby, with an introduction by King expert and comic book writer Mark Evanier. It’s probably one of my favorite Kirby books this side of Kamandi, and well worth hunting down the next time Arrow gets you frustrated, or any time really, highly recommended.