Enter the Lost World of Mike Grell: Part Two

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Mike Grell

Continuing our interview with Mike Grell, who will be accepting his induction into the Wizard World Hall of Legends this month in Chicago. In this installment, we discuss Mike's work on GREEN ARROW, an effort that arguably set the tone for the CW television series, ARROW insofar as Oliver Queen's shift to a more lethal approach in the use of his weapons. (Click here to read part one of this interview series.)

Your work on GREEN ARROW: THE LONGBOW HUNTERS (and the follow-on series) is the first I recall an existing mainstream superhero being given the mature tone -- way before WATCHMEN. As a result, we got some very jarring scenes, including Black Canary's beating that cost her her canary cry (which some readers erroneously concluded, perhaps because she was trailing someone preying on sex workers, that she had been raped). What kind of leeway were you given with this new direction, with a character who had been, up to that point, the guy with the trick arrows and an arrowcar competing with Batman?

Carte blanche. Mike Gold was my editor, and Mike provided the inspiration for the whole GREEN ARROW series in our very first phone call on the subject matter. He called me up and asked me if there was any character over at DC that I liked well enough that I'd be willing to bury the hatchet and come back to work over there after I had gone on to do SABLE and several other things. My first response was, honestly, I thought I did such a crappy job on Batman in the seventies that I'd love to get another shot at the character, just to prove I can do it.

But, just the week before, I had had dinner with Frank Miller. And Frank told me his idea for THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. I said, "When Frank is done with Batman, you can put a period at the end of the Batman sentence for the next twenty years." So far I'm off by ten years and counting, because it redefined the character.

And Gold say, "What about Green Arrow?" I said Green Arrow has always been my favorite comic book character. Always. Still is. And that even counts the [characters] that I created myself. And he said, "Well think about this: Green Arrow as an urban hunter."

And that was it. Six words -- Green Arrow as an urban hunter. We hung the entire series on that one sentence. I came up with the general outline of the plot and told him exactly what I wanted to do with it, and why.

The why is a bit more complex. I was already making a number of changes in the character. For starters, I wanted to move him into the real world, so I could do real world stories, things that actually happen in our daily lives--stuff that you can read about in the newspapers. To that end, I moved him away from the mythical Star City to Seattle.

That move was real simple. I'm a small town boy from a little dinky town a hundred miles north of Green Bay, Wisconsin, and I've only ever lived in three cities in my life: New York, Chicago, and Seattle. I was living in Seattle at the time. I had already done New York as a setting for SABLE. I had gone to school in Chicago and, frankly, apart from the music scene and great food, Chicago doesn't have an awful lot to offer as far as I'm concerned. It's in the middle of the flattest part of the United States, whereas Seattle has mountains, the ocean, rivers, forests...you have everything within a stone's throw, practically. Plus it's parked on the Canadian border--an international port of call, a thriving international community. Great music, culture, arts, theater--everything you could possibly want in that city.

And it has another factor, which is it rains a lot! It's not a constant dump, but it is pretty steady for a lot of months of the year. There's a reason why their Labor Day celebration is called Bumbershoot. It basically starts to get a little damp and drizzly along about Labor Day, and it stops sometimes as late as May or June. I remember one year when I didn't even get to ride my motorcycle until the middle of June.

That's why the hood went on.

The other change that I made in the character was to throw away the trick arrows. Because, number one, the idea of a boomerang arrow just scared the crap out of me. I don't know if you've ever thrown a boomerang. I did when I was a kid. I read all the instructions, and I did it exactly right. It went out like it was supposed to, curved, climbed, and came right straight back at my head. I ducked at the last second, and it hit the building behind me so hard it made a dent! It would have taken my head off. So there's that, and the silliness. But the other thing that I wanted to do was to change the character. Having done Sable, who was pretty much just a blood-and-guts guy, I felt that I wanted would call for Green Arrow to shoot somebody for real.

"On the spur of the moment, instead of shooting the knife out of the guy's hand, he shoots him square through the heart. The reason why? Because the son of a bitch deserves it."

Now, Denny O'Neil had done a story where Green Arrow actually kills a guy. He goes off and withdraws from society, shaves his head, joins a monastery, and swears he will never, ever, ever again take another human life. Well, I couldn't follow that and do the kinds of stories that I wanted.

So I created a situation that would put Ollie into the position where he makes a choice. He's already demonstrated that he can shoot a knife out of a guy's hand; he's done that earlier in the story. So when he finds this guy in the warehouse threatening Dinah--he's got a knife in one hand--he makes a choice. On the spur of the moment, instead of shooting the knife out of the guy's hand, he shoots him square through the heart. The reason why? Because the son of a bitch deserves it.

That's the key moment in the evolution of Oliver Queen. He goes from being the hero to someone who reacts instantly in the moment. And it's not a throw-away moment, either. It's a moment that continually comes back to haunt him. It's a choice that he made, not that he would have done it any differently thrown back in that situation, but it affects his entire life.

And that moment affects not only his life, but his relationship with Dinah as well. That choice that he makes at that moment, it's not a throw-away. There are any number of comic book stories where the hero is shot in one episode and by the end of the story--or certainly by the next issue--he's all healed up and that incident is just never mentioned again. Well, I wanted to show that violence in any fashion, whether you're on the receiving end or the giving end, effects everybody's life.

So Ollie goes through a period of denial at first, and then through what we've come to know as PTSD, and ultimately has to come to terms with it. And it effects Dinah as well, because they've gone from a pretty hot sexual relationship--they were always the hottest couple in comics; I think it was understood that these people were not just partners in fighting crime, they were bed partners. And they go from having this deeply committed relationship, of which sex is a large part of that relationship, to the point where suddenly she can't stand to be touched. It affects them, it affects their relationship, and sets the tone for everything else that happens on down the line.

"I regard my female characters as not just the equal to any of the males, but in general they are often superior in many ways."

So because I had Mike Gold in my corner, when I did other stories later on--one in particular that involved...it was based on true accounts of a lady who was sold across the Canadian border by a biker gang who sold her into a sex slave to another biker gang that shipped her down to Florida. And when she tried to break away from them, to make an example of her, they crucified her. I took that straight out of the newspapers. People who read that story seem to think that it was some sign of a misogynistic bent on my part, and I promise you nothing could be farther from the truth. I regard my female characters as not just the equal to any of the males, but in general they are often superior in many ways. In SABLE, he was pretty much unstoppable and unbeatable until he ran into Maggie the Cat who beat him at his own game--humiliated him, kicked his ass, and left him lying in the dirt. The same thing happened with WARLORD. Morgan was just a macho jerk, and Tara was the one who had the responsibility, the devotion, and the leadership--capabilities that he eventually found in himself too late, but that was the way of it. STARSLAYER, Tamara is actually the pivotal character in the entire story. Yes, the central character visually and everything else is Torin Mac Quillon, but it's Tamara who has the key role in the story.

So when that book came out, it was actually referred to twice in the same week by the New York Times and Time Magazine. They referred to it as--and this is a quote--"borderline pornography pandering to the prurient interests of today's youth."

Sounds like that one was taken right out of Wertham.

It was. It was wonderful, except that they didn't use my name. They mentioned Green Arrow, but...

Mindy Newell, though, they did mention Mindy's name. She was writing CATWOMAN at the time. And Mindy got a phone call from her dad, who was a heavy-hitter stockbroker on Wall Street. And she gets the summons from Daddy, "Mindy, this is Daddy. I'd like you to come down to the office for lunch today." And she's thinking, "Oh my God, here we go." She gets off the elevator in the main lobby, and there's the page from the Times, blown up wall-sized, with her name circled in yellow highlighter about fifty times. She gets a standing ovation from the office, and her dad comes out bringing a big bouquet of roses, and he says, "Honey, I've been on Wall Street for thirty-five years, and I've never had my name in the the Times.

Click here for the third and final installment of our interview with Mike Grell!