A year ago around this time I had my first comic book review published on this website. It was for the Green Arrow: Quiver story and ever since I thought it would be neat to commemorate the event with a review of yet another Green Arrow comic. Today, we’ll be looking at a seminal Green Arrow tale from the 80s and the reason why is twofold.
1) With the three-part story The Longbow Hunters, and his subsequent 80 issues run, Mike Grell reinvented Oliver Queen in such a way that it would become an influence on future writers tackling the adventures of the Emerald Archer and on how the character is shown in other media. The recent TV show Arrow really takes after Grell’s work.
2) Recently, people have come to question how women are treated in comics. Mainly, these questions are on the subject of rape and the handling of the trauma that comes after. Should it be shown? How should it be shown? Do writers use it as a crutch when they can’t think of another way to show a woman in danger? Shouldn’t the medium be over such a crass exploitation of women? While not completely agreeing or disagreeing with the critics, I would like to put forward that The Longbow Hunters is an example of rape being handled with the respect it deserves.
Before we go further into the second point, let me just take a moment of your time to set the stage.
Part One of The Longbow Hunters open with Oliver Queen (Green Arrow) and Dinah Lance (Black Canary) moving into their new Seattle digs. There, Ollie, shown by Grell to be in his early forties, reminisces about an old mentor of his, real-life archer Howard Hill, and on his past adventures. Queen believes he lost touch with his primal hunter nature, the same that helped him survived on the island he was marooned on in his origin story, when he started using trick arrows. With the mysterious Seattle Slasher now claiming his 18th victim, Ollie decides to get back on the streets armed with a longbow and some real arrows and a new hooded costume made for him by Dinah.
Of course, trying to claim back old glory is never as easy as it sounds and Green Arrow is in for a life changing ‘’adventure’’.
And that’s when we come to the ‘’rape’’ of Dinah Lance.
See, while Queen was out looking for the Seattle Slasher, Dinah was on an investigation of her own, tracking down drug dealers. This resulted, in part Two, in her being captured and left at the mercy of a possibly insane sadist who proceeds to torture her for information and because he enjoys it.
I didn’t exactly lie when I said she was raped. There is no penetration, but she is bound, almost naked and made to suffer the whims of a man who enjoys the power he has over her. It’s the most ‘’rape’’ Grell could get away with working for DC Comics in 1987.
The question now is why I believe this is a story that gives rape the respect it deserves?
Because of the aftermath. Because trauma that such an event generates is dealt with.
1) Seeing the woman he loves in mortal danger, Oliver Queen throws the superhero rules away and kills the torturer. It happens swiftly, so much so that Ollie will only register it as having happened in part Three. This will haunt Green Arrow for all of Grell’s 80 issues run and until his death in issue 101 of that series.
2) Following this, Dinah will lose her sonic scream power for a good ten years or so and will completely lose her ability to have children. But beyond the physical scars, what Grell will explore in his stories with Dinah are issues of victim’s rights. Yes, Dinah will become an advocate for the cause, bringing her, in some ways, closer than any superhero has ever got to the people we see them save month after month.
This is why I believe The Longbow Hunters treats the issue with respect: Because it affects both characters; because it is not simply used to put some unknown civilian in danger and get the hero to save her; because the resulting trauma is dealt with.
Some might say I’m wrong, that the fact it happens to such a strong female character as Black Canary is demeaning, that it turns a hero into a victim.
To these people I say: ‘’OK, it’s a valid point. Grell could’ve created a new supporting character to explore these issues, but I still think it has more impact when it happens to a protagonist.’’
Now, if some people say Grell did not treat the issue with the respect it deserves, well…We’ll have to disagree, because when the rape of Sue Dibney, the Elongated Man’s wife, in 2004’s Identity Crisis ultimately becomes a plot point that pushes the story forward, putting the focus something else, and is never mentioned again, not even by Wonder Woman, I think this three-part story comes out on top.
There is much more to Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters that what I’ve written about here. I could go on about the unique art style and the way Grell arranges the panels on the pages and how, despite the heavy tone of the story, there still moments of humor coming from a man who dresses up like Robin Hood, but I’ve kept you long enough.
DC has slated a collection of the first 6 issues of Grell’s 80 issues run for an early December release, making it a great quiver stuffer for those still hungry for more after reading this story.