These days, it seems like everybody loves a hero with a bow and arrow. Marvel is doubling up on Hawkeyes, Katniss Everdeen is still the gold standard for young adult readers, and Legolas will probably always be the coolest member of Tolkien‘s Fellowship. Yet, one could likely argue that none of these characters have managed to achieve ‘definitive archer’ status in the cultural hive mind. That honor, for at least the last decade, has seemingly belonged to Oliver Queen. While Marvel’s early Avengers films became the cause of an industry-changing uptick in comic book movies, it was DC’s costumed bowman who managed to prove television could pull from the same bag. The CW’s Arrow debuted in 2012, and with it came a new appreciation for the titular vigilante. Green Arrow somehow found himself the center of DC’s most successful live-action universe and a genuine nominee for “most popular superhero.” The only problem was that Arrow never really showed fans why Ollie was so special.
Stephen Amell‘s take on Oliver was dark, angsty, and violent. These attributes were explained away by the character’s time on a hellish island, with claims that nobody could go through that experience and not come out the other end bent on revenge. It’s fine when an adaptation takes creative liberties like this with its protagonist, but it can be frustrating when that altered version takes over as “the one people think about” going forward. The Oliver Queen found in DC’s comic books is a jovial romanticist, who overcame a dark past and appealed to his better nature. Arrow eventually leaned towards this concept but never committed. Luckily for all, actual comic books still undertake an existence on store shelves and online libraries. This means parents still have the opportunity to introduce children to their favorite heroes via the printed page, which facilitates a special kind of bonding you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. Author Brendan Deneen seemingly agrees, as his latest retelling of the Emerald Archer’s origin, Green Arrow: Stranded, might be the perfect way to get kids into a hero whose most well-known series isn’t meant for them.
Stranded is likely the softest, fluffiest iteration of the rather tragic Green Arrow genesis we’ve seen yet. To be clear, this is because the comic was designed to be perused by beginner-level readers and not to scar the nation’s youth. However, the reframing of a once-depressing tale as an optimistic story for kids may have accidentally, or purposefully, brought out the best attributes of its title character. Drawn with beautiful simplicity by Bell Hosalla, the plot sees Oliver, at only 13 years of age, survive a terrible plane crash alongside his dad and a fellow father-son duo, the brutish business associate Sebastian and his angry offspring, Tyler. The adults are severely wounded, and Tyler is mostly inept, so Oliver must find a way to overcome his situation. In a traditional account, this is where things would go downhill for the family, with a dying Robert Queen leaving his son to survive alone on an island for years to come. Instead, Deneen puts a more positive spin on the narrative.
Not yet a superhero, but still wearing a green hoodie, Oliver maintains his faith and never gives up hope. The other characters in the story, especially Tyler, are shown to be less than kind to Oliver before the fateful wreck. He is made fun of for lacking guts and skill, demonstrated by his inability to take the life of an animal on what appears to be an important hunting trip. He desperately wants approval from his father, who refuses to give it to him out of some misguided belief that he’ll grow more without it. But even with all this against him, Oliver is not full of angst, or spite, or self-pity. He chooses instead to help those who wronged him, and does so without ever breaking his own youthful moral code. Ultimately, Ollie proves that his heart was simply bigger than his desire to meet the traditional standards of masculinity. For some, this notion may induce an exaggerated eye-roll, but it’s actually exactly the kind of comic book story young boys should be reading.
With Stranded, Deneen displays a redefined type of hero. The type Green Arrow has always been. He makes an effort to prove that you can find ways out of even the most worrisome scenarios without succumbing to violence or anger. In the same spirit that made Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse so wonderful, the message of this book is that a real hero stays true to themselves and always gets back up. Though clearly not the intent, Stranded almost functions as the anti-Arrow. Obviously, it’s strange to compare a short-form comic to a long-form television series, but Stranded soars everywhere Arrow sank. The limited series is a perfect read for any kid looking to get into comics, and does its best to teach all the right lessons along the way.