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Jeff Lemire Aims for a More Relatable Ollie in ‘Green Arrow’ [Interview]

If you had a hard time liking the cocky, full-of-himself version of Oliver Queen that’s been trotting around the DC Universe since the start of the New 52, take comfort. New writer Green Arrow writer Jeff Lemire — of Animal Man, Sweet Tooth, Essex County and Best-of-the-Year book Underwater Welder – felt the same way.

Lemire and artist Andrea Sorrentino, most recently of I, Vampire, are taking over Green Arrow with February’s issue #17. One of Lemire’s top priorities, he told ComicsAlliance, is finding a way to bring the privileged Queen down to Earth. Our brief chat also touched on what influenced his noir-tinged take on the title, his plans for a broad mythology, and whether Black Canary or Green Lantern will play big roles in making Queen more relatable. His answers may surprise you.

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ComicsAlliance: I looked at Andrea Sorriento’s preview art for Green Arrow, and it’s certainly a grittier look than what we’ve seen on this title before. It makes me wonder how you’re changing this title’s direction in terms of maybe making it a little darker, maybe give it more of a noir feel?

Jeff Lemire: Absolutely. When I was offered the book, I kind of took a step back and thought about what I might want to do with a character like Green Arrow. My immediate inclination was to take it back in the direction of things like Mike Grell’s run in the ’80s, which was pretty gritty and realistic, or even Denny O’Neil’s The Question, which I really love. It was this crime noir superhero story. Frank Miller kind of started that with Daredevil and what he did with [Batman: Year One]. Even [Brian Michael] Bendis, with his more recent Daredevil stuff. These really great runs on these street-level superheroes treated them in a realistic, grounded way. That’s really what appealed to me about Green Arrow, the chance to do something like that. I thought Andrea — when I tried to get him on the book — I felt like he would be perfect for that just because he’s so grounded in reality, and he uses so much shadow and black in such an effective way. We thought it would be perfect noir stuff, but with a superhero edge.

I felt like the book kind of needed it. There have already been a couple creative teams on Green Arrow since its relaunch, and with all respect to the creators who have already been on it, I feel like it was a book that didn’t really have a voice. It hadn’t found its direction yet. I really wanted to steer it in a new direction. My first issue, #17, is a fresh start for the character and the title.

CA: You mentioned Bendis and Daredevil. That’s an appropriate comparison given that you’re going into this with Ollie Queen having lost everything. That’s kind of a classic Daredevil story. Obviously, this won’t play out the same way, but this seems to be setting up to be a story about a man trying to get some semblance of a life back, and maybe a little retribution. Can you talk about that a little?

JL: The character, to me, is an interesting one. He’s this kid who was born into privilege and he’s going to have everything in the world handed to him. That inherently has a danger of making him very un-relatable and unlikable. The Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow, that people have responded to in the past was much more grounded, with strong political beliefs. He’s a socialist, someone who’s really a street-level hero of the people. I wanted to take him back and try to find that. For me, the whole thing with his wealth, cleaning up the streets and everything, provided a great opportunity for this fallen hero, this legacy that his father left him to be lost. In trying to reclaim that, he’ll actually find out who he was always meant to be, which will be something far different from what he ever thought.

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CA: Does that mean he’s going to go back to the basic roots of the character, what sort of set him apart from other superheroes, where he’s doing that Robin Hood thing where he fights the rich and helps the poor?

JL: Possibly, but I think it won’t be as black-and-white as that. It’s going to a be a much more complicated journey to get there. The way I’m approaching this Oliver Queen, because he’s so much younger than the pre-New 52 version, I’m almost thinking of this guy as… one day he might become that Green Arrow we all love, but he has a lot of mistakes he has to make first. That’s what my stories will be. These trials, these falls, him trying to figure out who the hell he is and what he’s supposed to be doing.

CA: You talked about giving this title its voice, some consistency. You have kind of established your own voice at DC, particularly in the New 52 with Animal Man and Justice League Dark. You’re wrapping up Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. There’s a thematic consistency to those books of being a little bit macabre, supernatural, with some grotesque stuff in there. And you’ve got Andrea coming off I, Vampire, which is also in that vein. Is that coming to Green Arrow?

JL: It’s not gong to be a horror book by any means, but one of the aspects of Denny O’Neil’s Question run that I always loves was this quasi-Eastern spirituality the character had. A little bit of that might seep into Ollie’s journey. There will be a darker edge, obviously, to the character. I don’t think that necessarily means supernatural or horror. I think it just means a more grounded and realistic approach. Overall I’m really just trying to make the character much more relatable. As he is now, even though he went through his trials on the island before he became Green Arrow, he came off as this arrogant, brash guy that, for the most part, I found really un-relatable and unlikable. I want to change that.

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CA: Another aspect of your work, particularly in your collaboration with Scott Snyder on Swamp Thing and Animal Man, is building this big mythology. There’s plenty to be explored on the island and that kind of thing with Ollie. How are you going to dig into that?

JL: That’s exactly what I’m trying to do, create a big mythology around him, his past and his legacy, which involves the island and our new villain, Komodo. I think Scott and I, as proud as I am of what we’ve done of Animal Man and Swamp Thing, one of the mistakes we made, possibly, is that the story about The Rot maybe went on too long. I don’t want to make the same mistake where we’re telling one story over 20 issues. I want to tell a lot of different stories with the character, but with that consistent, larger story underneath it all. So I’m approaching it slightly differently, where the storylines will be between two- and five-issue storylines that are self-contained, but that larger mythology’s running through all of them and slowly building.

CA: So much of Green Arrow’s history has been in connection with other characters, either Black Canary or Green Lantern — particularly, Hal Jordan. Are you going to bring more of that into the book?

JL: When I came on the book, the thing I realized really quickly is that there are three things people really associate with Green Arrow. One is a goatee [laughs]. Two is trick arrows. And the third thing, of course, is his relationships with Black Canary and Green Lantern. I feel like all of those don’t have anything, inherently, to do with the character himself. They’re all superficial things. Too many people identify or define Green Arrow based on his relationship with Black Canary or Hal Jordan, or his animosity with Hawkman. Those aren’t things that are specifically about him, himself. As soon as we get him together with Black Canary or teamed with Green Lantern, we’re just falling back into old patterns.

I’m much more interested in creating a new cast that’s specific to him so that he’s not so beholden to his relationship with the rest of the DC Universe. So I am building a fairly large supporting cast. They’ll mostly be new characters. I don’t really have any interest in exploring anything with Black Canary in my run at all, because I figure once you get them together, they’re just together and that’s it. It just closes off opportunities and story potential for me. I’d much rather start other relationships with him and new characters. One day down the road, if some other writer wants to get him together with Black Canary, that’s still open. You won’t see him and Hal Jordan together. You won’t see him and Hawkman together in my book. You’ll see them together in JLA. The supporting cast I’m building will be much more specific to the story I’m telling.

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CA: Speaking of audience expectations, you’ve got the unusual situation of having a version of the characters you’re writing appearing on national television in the form of Arrow, which we have some fun with every week. Did you think about that show at all as you’ve been writing this book?

JL: Not at all, to be honest. I got the job and started writing the book months before I had seen any of the television show. I knew it was coming, but other than the promo images everyone else saw, I didn’t know anything about it. I really did form my version of the character and my take on him before any of the TV show stuff started. At the same time, it’s a great opportunity for me and it’s really exciting just in that, the more people that are aware of the character and the more interest there is in him is going to help our run, commercially, so that’s nice. But I’m definitely not beholden to anything they’re doing on the show. I’m not having to watch the show to make the comic more in-line with it or follow storylines, or anything like that.

Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorriento begin their run on Green Arrow with issue #17, on sale February 6 in your local comics shop and digitally from ComiXology.

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