Named for a socially conscious, character defining, if often incredibly strange and silly, run from the Seventies, Benjamin Percy’s latest arc, “Hard Traveling Hero”, has seen hits and misses. Green Arrow’s run in with the Flash a month ago left me cold, while his encounter with Wonder Woman in Washington D.C. was a pretty fantastic encapsulation of the character and his modern status quo. As Ollie travels down the Justice League membership list, he has a chance to break that tie as he meets with Metropolis’ one and only hero: Lex Luthor.
Benjamin Percy’s name holds a lot of stock thanks to his back to basics revival of Green Arrow since the start of the Rebirth initiative. He’s managed to take this character, an obvious Batman rip-off who embraced liberalism and gritty seriousness just enough to feel obnoxious and silly for much of his publishing history, and make all the conflicting, dated elements work together for the modern day, and done so without standing in the shadow of Arrow.
That character sense and ability to balance differing interpretations of classic ideas have done wonders for this series. Perhaps more than any other, for better or worse, Green Arrow has really felt like a rebirth of DC’s classic tone. So how exciting is it to have that writer take a shot at Lex Luthor? The answer should be ‘very’.
The plot that brings Ollie and Lex, two billionaire idols of the DC Universe, together is effective, if simple. After the ruckus that a LexCorp battle suit caused in D.C., Ollie very reasonably believes that Luthor is in bed with the Ninth Circle. To be honest, if it weren’t for the complications of coordinating such a ploy between editorial offices at DC, no amount of circumstantial evidence would fully erase my suspicion that any indication to the contrary was simply a masterful gambit on Lex’s part. But what follows suggests that he did turn them down, as the malevolent banking cabal goes after Luthor in the one place he’s vulnerable, his employees.
The story banks on the appeal of a Green Arrow/Superman crossover as well as the appeal of that being a ruse to disguise a Green Arrow/Lex Luthor crossover featuring Superman. Percy writes an iconically familiar Luthor. He radiates power the way that an untouchable supervillain CEO would have to and when he speaks you know that there must be some truth, some diverted brilliance, in his voice. The fact that Lex and Green Arrow bantering in an office can be so arresting is a testament to the strength of Percy’s idea and his writing chops.
And it’s not just that Percy is obviously familiar with Lex. There’s a fundamental understanding of his place in a story. Shout outs to Sherlock Holmes will take you so far, but his cordial tone, the excitement he gets when presented a chance to outdo Superman, those can carry a scene, and do. And more important than any one line or action is the cleanness of the concept. Though some corners have to be sanded off, Percy builds a striking visual into a story that brilliantly fits around its three leads. This is a story that features Luthor and Superman perfectly and makes the most sense with Green Arrow as an instigator.
Speaking of Superman, Percy writes a truly wonderful rendition of the Man of Steel, the kind you only find in those rare, enjoyable guest appearances where conveying the entirety of a character needs to be done immediately and succeeds. Percy’s Superman is the perfect blend of incredibly capable and truly earnest. He has amazing powers to help the world but every act, however large or small, is clearly done because he sincerely admires humanity.
A small five-panel interlude sums him up completely and demonstrates the artistic and narrative strengths of the issue.
I also love that Percy avoids so much of the usual criticism of Superman by taking him back to his roots and making him a problem solving superhero, rather than some brawler. Admittedly, Percy doesn’t have Superman solve the problem himself, but that’s what makes it an effective team-up story. The situation succinctly explains why Superman isn’t fixing everything himself and why he meets the other characters when he does.
But, despite how seamless the plotting can seem, that’s largely because so much of the story is stripped down to basics. There’s really no escaping it: Green Arrow #28 is really goofy.
There are just a huge number of time-saving devices and shallow explanations that reveal where the issue has been patched up. From quick lines that don’t hold up to scrutiny to satisfying but unusual character moments, there’s plenty to pick at here. Hokey hacking dialogue and over-grand pronouncements stifle scenes.
As is his wont, Green Arrow lectures Lex Luthor on business and Luthor, that’s Alexander Luthor III of the Prime Earth, thanks him for his insight! And introducing some unnecessary mind control tech weakens the overall plot and seemingly only exists to provide a quick way out, undercutting the impact of the main characters.
But, where these could be hugely damaging for most comics, Green Arrow #28 shrugs them off like minor misteps. Part of that is the art, part of it is the draw of the core ideas, but much of what allows for this is the fact that it feels like it was a conscious choice.
Here, in Metropolis, the Silver Age never really ended. Archvillains still save the day when confronted with actual evil, men in capes still save you with a smile and a wink, arrows still effortlessly pluck people out of the sky. Adventures still wrap up within a single issue and hope triumphs over despair.
Though Superman plays a secondary role compared to Wonder Woman or the Flash in previous issues, the hope and optimism he embodies suffuses the page. And, yes, that’s cheesy and unrealistic, especially in an issue that could be quite dark and isn’t afraid to give you little glimpses of what if it went that way. But, if you can accept that this story only wants to go down that path so far, it can be lovely to briefly believe that a man can fly.
The one place where I will nitpick is in the story’s depiction of suicide. In this one regard I feel that the choice to turn away from a darker ‘Lex Luthor’ story for a more hopeful ‘Superman’ one is awkward. The aforementioned subliminal malware simultaneously justifies and weakens the concept of The Ninth Circle’s ‘suicide attack’, neither fitting with the Lex nor the Superman tone.
Moreover, the heroes’ words to the affected citizens feel trite and without weight and that’s a serious missed opportunity. Superman’s “every life can be redeemed” in particular feels odd before he’s given any reason to think that his jumper feels ashamed rather than crushed by life or any other reason that people look for a way out. It reads patronizing and generic, and it doesn’t jibe with the empathetic version of Superman that Percy writes elsewhere.
The Rebirth Green Arrow has also stood out because it has insisted on looking fantastic nearly every issue and a huge portion of that comes down to Juan Ferreyra. Fueled by Ferreyra’s watercolor panels, GA #28 possesses an immediacy and punch that its eager, animated linework couldn’t convey otherwise.
The level of detail in Ferreyra’s panels is impressively variable. At times you can see the grain of Green Arrow’s bow or the tarnish on his arm guards, but Ferreyra can also pull back and give us the stark simplicity of Superman’s costume and smile while still filling in the details with lighting and composition.
There’s a sense of motion, especially in the lightning-fast Superman, that proves essential in a story split between a static office and moments spent at terminal velocity.
Admittedly, the extreme definition of Lex’s face can occasionally skew towards some exaggerated expressions, but the combination of clever composition and breathtaking watercolors makes this issue a visual treat.
The color palette is particularly notable for incorporating primary colors rather boldly. The yellow skies above Metropolis might sound a bit extreme, but they feel beautiful and unobtrusive, presenting a natural backdrop for Ollie’s Green attire and Superman’s classic colors. The preeminence of red, blue, green, and yellow give the entire issue a bold ‘comic book’ aesthetic that only plays into the willful throwbacks of the script.
Green Arrow remains stunning to behold in issue #28, and a trip to Metropolis allows Benjamin Percy to tell a story about three of DC’s biggest personalities. Percy’s plot is fantastic and he gives it license to explore its darker themes while still pulling it towards hope. At times the issue’s brevity and optimism can feel very silly, but never enough to obscure Percy’s intentions, and the feeling of conscious throwback to the wide-eyed stories of comics past is appreciated. Though the dialogue is hit and miss, Green Arrow’s abundant character and wild ideas tips Hard-Traveling Hero the right way and gives us a memorable vacation in the process.
Green Arrow #28 is currently available in comic shops.