Book One: The Hunters
Synopsis: Newly arrived in Seattle to start a new life, Oliver Queen (Green Arrow) and Dinah Lance (Black Canary) have little time to settle into their domestic lives before trouble beckons their vigilante alter-egos to take a bite out of the Emerald City's crime scene. For Dinah, it's a girl high on crack that comes crashing through the window of Sherwood Florist. For Oliver, it's a Jack-the-Ripper wannabe who is slicing his way through the prostitute population. To make matters worse, the 40-something Oliver confronts the fact that his ward, Roy Harper, now has a daughter, making him something of a grandfather. He asks Dinah to marry him, and she refuses, saying their lives are much too dangerous to inflict upon a family. The next day, Oliver tracks the Seattle Slasher to the abandoned Undertown section of the city, discovering that the killer is a disturbed ex-tunnel rat from the Vietnam War. The Slasher jumps Oliver and gets away to apparently kill again, but a mysterious female archer with an elaborate dragon tattoo on her arm shoots the slasher, then a passing motorist before vanishing.
Yeah, But Is It Good? In a word, excellent. The art is fantastic, easily one of the best painted comic layouts ever. Grell skillfully portrays the humanity of the main characters, which is all too often lacking in superhero comic books. Grell also has Oliver abandon the absurd trick arrows that had become Green Arrow's trademark (the boxing glove arrow in the trash can is priceless) in favor of broadheads, giving the title a more serious tone. The plot too, is more realistic than standard comic fare, something that might be taken from today's headlines. Newcomers to the character are filled in on all the pertinent background through clever use of a photo album, and the entire set-up builds to an intriguing cliffhanger.
Significata: Published 1997. First appearance of Green Arrow's hooded, medieval costume, designed by Black Canary. First appearance of Shado.
Book Two: Dragon Hunt
Synopsis: Shado, the mysterious archer that killed the Seattle Slasher at the end of Book One, is revealed to be the daughter of a Yakuza agent that was incarcerated in a Japanese-American Internment Camp in Idaho during World War II, where American soldiers--led by a man named Mangor--forced him to reveal a major cache of Yakuza gold. Dishonored, the agent killed himself in atonement, but his shame then fell upon his daughter, who (when she came of age) was charged with killing those who dishonored her father and the Yakuza. The passing motorist she killed was one of those soldiers, who, along with Mangor, used the stolen gold to build a financial empire. Oliver tracks Shado down--or rather, Shado lets him find her--and fares poorly in the confrontation, while an innocent bystander is killed by one of Shado's stray arrows. Nursing his wounds at home, Oliver hears on the news that Iggy Brown--the drug supplier Dinah had been investigating--was found dead, mutilated, earlier that day. Panicked, Oliver races to the dockside warehouse--owned by Mangor--Dinah suspected the drugs were being distributed from. There, to his horror, he find Dinah tied up, tortured, on the verge of death with a sadistic old man preparing to finish the job--slowly--with a butcher knife. Without hesitation, Oliver kills him, along with the others in the drug lab, including one of Shado's intended victims. For her part, Shado saves both Oliver and Dinah by shooting an overlooked drugrunner.
Yeah, But Is It Good? Even better than the first book. The graphic nature of Oliver's rage is nothing less than shocking as he instantly changes from a playboy hero that had never willingly taken a life to one that would sacrifice everything to save the woman he loves. Critics have blasted Grell for the "rape" of Dinah, but her suffering isn't glamorized, and isn't minimized--the full impact of what she went through is felt for years to come in the following regular Green Arrow series. Of a more immediate nature, it is the pivotal event in Oliver's life. Crime fighting stops being a game, and becomes deadly serious. Oliver, too, becomes deadly serious, and while he still champions the underdog, he has far less respect--or mercy--for those that do evil. Disturbing and shocking, this is still one of the most powerful comic issues ever printed, and it only works because Grell succeeds in making the reader believe the characters are living, breathing people.
Significata: Dinah Lance, aka Black Canary, loses her sonic scream superpower as a result of the torture, and is rendered sterile. During their confrontation, Shado tells Oliver "You haven't the eyes of a killer."
Book Three: Tracking Snow
Synopsis: After seeing to Dinah's well-being, Oliver hits Seattle's tattoo parlors to get a lead on Shado. He discovers her tattoo is the work of Yakuza master tattooist Horiyoshi, and that she is obviously high-ranking in the Yakuza organization. Shado, in disguise, meets Oliver outside the shop and gives him information on how to meet her. The map coordinates she gives take Oliver 6,000 feet up the north slope of Mount Rainier. There, Shado confronts him and tells him the drug dealers that hurt Dinah are led by the man she is hunting, Mangor, who must die by her hand. Oliver refuses to cooperate, still clinging to his old ethics, and Shado disappears into the forest as a helicopter approaches. The helicopter is carrying CIA agents, who are bringing in a shipment of drugs for Mangor to distribute, with the proceeds going to finance the Contra rebels in Nicaragua. Oliver saves Shado by shooting a sniper (Eddie Fyres), and the two proceed to break up the meeting, laying waste to just about everyone. Mangor escapes, and a surviving CIA agent disposes of the cocaine and leaves the drug money--$350,000--with Oliver, apparently to buy his silence. Oliver returns to civilization and confronts Mangor, who, in true megalomaniac fashion, confesses everything with bravado, since Oliver plays by the rules, and has no evidence. Oliver, though, enrages Mangor by claiming to have a witness that'll lie about Mangor's involvment in the death of Iggy Brown--the dead dealer from Book Two. Mangor pulls a gun to kill Oliver, but Shado, perched on a crane outside the office window, shoots Mangor, fulfilling her duty. Oliver returns to Dinah, still hospitalized but recovering, and tells her that the torturers are no more, and concludes it by announcing "I got a hell of a raise today."
Yeah, But Is It Good? A satisfying conclusion to the series, Grell shows that comic books don't need spandex-clad, steroid-laced alien invasions to tell a good story. The CIA drug deal, in fact, was a plot idea Grell had developed back in the early 1980s, well before any news of the Iran-Contra scandal broke. Needless to say, his proposal back then was dismissed as "too unrealistic," but in The Longbow Hunters it added a strong level of verisimilitude to the story. On another level, it reenforces the Green Arrow/CIA conflict alluded to in Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, and sets the stage for several run-ins in future issues of the regular series. And the infamous Eddie Fyres, with just a walk-on part here, later comes back to wreak all sorts of havoc on Ollie's life. There's a depth and history established in this book, and the two preceding it, that really made Oliver Queen a real character, setting him even farther apart from the Batman clone he started out as in 1941. Dinah's suffering also sets the stage for future stories centering around victim's rights, and is awkwardly paralleled later on when Oliver is the victim of torture, and rescued by Dinah. Of all the must-have of DC's graphic novels--The Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, Kingdom Come--Mike Grell's masterpiece The Longbow Hunters needs to be included in that same group.
Significata: The first appearance of Eddie Fyres. Oliver comes into possession of $350,000 in drug money, which will eventually cause him no end of grief. On Mount Rainier, Shado tells Oliver, "I once said you haven't the eyes of a killer. They've changed... as have you. You can never go back. Nor can I."