Another String to Ollie's Bow: Diggle talks "Green Arrow: Year One"

Fri, March 30th, 2007 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

Think you already know Green Arrow's origin? Think again. Writer Andy Diggle is re-teaming with artist Jock to create the six-issue "Green Arrow: Year One," which the writer hopes will do for the character of Oliver Queen what "Batman: Year One" did for Bruce Wayne. Diggle took a moment to talk with CBR News about his take on Green Arrow's origin and about why he thinks modern-day updates of super hero origins are absolutely essential to keeping said characters relevant in the 21st century.

Andy, you're not someone readers associate with superheroes, but DC Comics Executive Editor Dan Didio has said that you and Jock wanted this project. What made it such a must have? What is it about Green Arrow that appeals so strongly?

Usually it's the DC editors who come to me and ask, "How would you like to revamp Adam Strange" or whatever it is, but "Green Arrow: Year One" is the first DC project I've initiated myself and brought to them. I wanted to dabble in the DCU again and I was running through a mental list of the iconic heroes trying to find a character or an angle that caught my interest. It occurred to me that Green Arrow's origin story was long overdue for a wash and brush-up.

It just has everything going for it: "The Losers" team reuniting for an action book with a fan-favorite DCU character. Jock and I really wanted to get together again on a character with proven and well-established fan appeal, but where we'd still have enough wiggle-room for our own personal brand of extreme-yet-plausible action. Redefining Ollie's origin story for the 21st century seemed like the perfect fit.

The next question has to be asked: why does Green Arrow need a new year one story? Isn't his origin and past pretty much straightforward and explored?

Well, you could have said the same thing about Bruce Wayne before "Batman: Year One," couldn't you?

Allright, that's fair.

Bob Kane had already told Batman's origin story; did Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli really have to tell it all over again? And of course the sensible answer is, "Sure, why not?"

Origin stories should categorically not remain unchanged across the decades. They were written for the children of the 1930s and '40s, not grown adults of the 21st century. If we didn't revamp and update origin stories, Batman would still carry a gun and Superman wouldn't be able to fly!

The fact is that each new generation wants their heroes redefined and reinvigorated - because the alternative is backwards-looking nostalgia and creative stagnation. Our pop-culture icons should be men of tomorrow, not yesterday. You have to keep reinventing them, keeping them fresh, making them continually relevant to the changing modern world.

Green Arrow first appeared in the pages of "More Fun Comics"
For you, what's the appeal of Green Arrow? Some see him as a poor man's Batman or a liberal hippie, but obviously you see more depth in him.

Having just written my first Batman story, I can tell you that I like Ollie a lot more as a human being. Perhaps that's because he's clearly somewhat emotional, flawed and fallible, like the rest of us. He's only human. Bruce Wayne is so obsessively trained and so rigidly self-controlled, it's pretty hard to empathize or identify with the guy. But Ollie's just like the rest of us. He has emotional depth. Maybe he's kind of an asshole, but he's our kind of asshole. I'd have a beer with Ollie any day.

So, what's this book about exactly? What can we expect in Green Arrow's first year?

It's all about the time Ollie spends washed up on a jungle island, where this formerly spoiled and petulant billionaire brat finds himself forced to learn archery skills just to stay alive. When he discovers that the island is hiding a dark secret, he finds himself hunted by gun-toting opium farmers. And along the way, his eyes get opened to some of the social issues that he had previously been dismissive of. He gets a first-hand education in desperation, a down-to-the-bone understanding of how the other half lives. So it evolves into a "hunted man" action thriller in the classic mould of "Rogue Male," "First Blood" or "The Most Dangerous Game."

Okay, you'll have to excuse the fanboy question: is Oliver Queen a metahuman in your book or just a regular guy? Which do you prefer and why?

He's a more-or-less ordinary guy who must hone an innate but undeveloped natural-born talent in order to survive an extraordinary situation.

Anyone who's read my work can probably tell that I like writing "plausible" heroes. Arbitrary superpowers just make it too easy to get out of tight spots. Whenever I read a superhero book, there's always this little voice at the back of my head asking, "Why doesn't he just vaporize the gun with his heat-vision? Or tie a lamp-post around the bad guy at super-speed?" It seems like a lot of the time, superheroes have to forget they even have powers, just to try and inject some kind of phony suspense or false jeopardy into the story.

I prefer my heroes to be underdogs from the outset. You gotta root for the underdog. Adam Strange, Lenny Zero, The Losers, Ollie on the island - they're all underdogs.

Over the past few years, Green Arrow has been brought back to life, become mayor, been a major player in events such as "Identity Crisis" -what aspects of the character do you feel are unexplored?

How did he develop that social conscience in the first place? That's the key for me. I'm interested in exploring how he went from being a rich, self-obsessed asshole to a rich, self-sacrificing hero.

That's the great thing about origin stories; you can give the hero a genuine character arc, whereas in "current" stories, his personality is more-or-less set in stone, which is less interesting to me. We know what the present-day Oliver Queen is like; we know how he'll react in a given situation. But back at the beginning, he was a very different guy. You don't necessarily know which way he'll jump. And sometimes he'll jump in completely the wrong direction. That's drama. You can say something real with that.

In "The Losers," you presented some strong political views from both sides of the spectrum, without pulling punches. Can we expect the same blunt discussion of sociopolitical problems in "Green Arrow: Year One?" Will we see the origin of Oliver Queen's political stances? It seems odd for a rich boy to be so liberal, when that's not often the case.

"The Losers" was about going out into the world and confronting its problems directly, face-to-face. Taking a stand, saying, "That's enough." But in "Green Arrow: Year One," the island itself acts as the world in microcosm.So Ollie's views on, for example, hunger, or drugs, or social intimidation, are formed and challenged by what he sees and experiences on that island. It's a personal story, not a soap-box. It's all Ollie, all the time.

Green Arrow is a character very much about redemption and equality in the world. Do you think we lack such crusaders in the real world? And do you believe in redemption being achievable or true equality being something that the world could ever sustain?

I absolutely believe in redemption being achievable. Our world is full of self-sacrificing heroes who devote their lives to helping the poor and the needy. They just don't wear spandex and run around on rooftops; they're more likely to wear the badge of a charity organization like Oxfam, UNICEF, Save The Children, Medecins Sans Frontieres... you get the picture. Those guys are out there right now, risking their lives to save total strangers. That's real heroism.

Do I think the world could sustain true equality? Sure, the world could sustain it, but human beings couldn't, because we're too selfish and petty. We don't like to share. We look out for number one and the hell with the little guy. That's why we need the heroes.

We've seen you writing very real world, high action tales in the past, so will writing superheroes show us a different side of Andy Diggle? Do you adjust your writing style for this kind of book?

The great thing is, I haven't had to adjust it at all!I'm writing this with the same gleeful love for crazy action set-pieces that went into "The Losers." If there is a book I've had to adjust my writing style for, it's "Hellblazer" - pretty much the polar opposite of an action book. So it's been fun adding another string to my bow - if you'll pardon the pun.

Re-teaming with Jock has to be a blast. How would you compare this collaboration to the one on "Losers?"

It's great, we've clicked right back into the old groove. It's been too long. This project is like the perfect distillation of everything we learned doing "The Losers" together, all boiled down into six perfectly-formed issues. We both want this to be something we can look back on in years to come and be proud of.

What new side of Jock, artistically, do you think we'll see in this book?

His backside! *(ba-doom tishh!)*

Uhhhh…

Seriously though, I don't know if you'll see so much a "new side" to Jock's work as a refinement, a distillation of everything he's best known for - his great eye for page design, iconic images, and high-impact graphic storytelling.

Green Arrow's been gaining some traction in the mainstream thanks to his appearance on the TV show "Smallville." Have you checked out those appearances?

Nope. I'm more of an HBO kinda guy.

Gotcha. Finally, there's this idea out there that British scribes have a beef with superheroes or don't see them as all that great. What's your opinion on the superhero genre? Any particular likes or dislikes?

I don't think Brits hate superheroes necessarily; we just don't understand why they dominate the American market to such an extreme degree. Why isn't there the same broad spectrum of genres in American comics as you get in American film and TV?

Y'know, maybe there are potential readers out there who might pick up a comic if it was only about something - anything! - other than guys in circus tights whining about their burden of responsibility. And I think the runaway success of Manga sort of proves the point.

So us Brits look at that and we think, sure, superheroes can be cool - but to the exclusion of everything else? Why should we be so narrow-sighted? One of the towering strengths of the comics medium is that you can tell any kind of story - so why limit yourself to just one?

Of course, to answer this question you only have to look back at the moral panic of the '50s and the creation of the Comics Code Authority, which utterly decimated the hugely popular crime and horror comics of the day, and left little but bland, spandex-clad soap-operas in its wake. But that's another story.

If "Green Arrow: Year One" does well, any chance we could see you and Jock on other superhero books or perhaps more Green Arrow projects?

It's certainly possible. The choice of artist I work with is actually becoming more important to me than the choice of character or title I write. I just want to work with good people. You can only imagine how soul-destroying it must be to put months of blood, sweat and tears into a story, only to see the artist make a total pig's ear of it. But yeah, I'd write fucking Dazzler if Jock was drawing it.

CBR's Emmett Furey contributed to this story.

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