Jack Kirby's Green Arrow 3

With DC Comics now hyping their forthcoming series Green Arrow: Year One, it’s time to take one last look at Jack Kirby’s stint with the character in the late 1950s. Fittingly, let us peruse the final story Kirby provided before seeking his fortunes elsewhere: his own version of Green Arrow’s origin story, published in Adventure Comics #256 (January 1959). This offbeat tale is aptly titled “The Green Arrow’s First Case.”

The story opens with our heroes relaxing at home. Speedy is parked in front of their big yellow TV set, while Green Arrow is enjoying his pipe. Suddenly, a news bulletin throws the adventurous archer for a loop!

Green Arrow makes a startling announcement to his junior partner -- if they don’t head off the expedition, his secret identity will be discovered! They immediately take to the sky in the Arrowplane, darting over the city’s Kirbyesque harbor.

En route to the island, Green Arrow relates his astonishing origin story. Years ago, when he was merely Oliver Queen, millionaire playboy, he was on a voyage to the South Seas when he accidentally fell overboard. (Presumably, he’d had too much to drink, but is too embarrassed to admit it.) Through the remainder of the night, he drifted on the open ocean. Then, come morning, he spotted an island nearby and swam for it. Finally reaching shore, he collapsed in exhaustion and slept. Upon awakening several hours later, he saw that dangerous shoals surrounding the island made a rescue unlikely. Like a modern-day Robinson Crusoe (actually more like Tom Hanks in Cast Away), he was marooned on an uninhabited island. Unbowed, however, he set about seeing to his survival.

(It looks like he shared Bruce Banner’s tailor in those days, what with the purple pants. Anyway...) For some reason, Oliver decided to try catching fish with a bow and arrow instead of a fishing pole. And so, after fashioning a crude archery set, he began training himself in the skills he would need to catch some food. However, he soon discovered the one flaw in his plan.

Thus Oliver began to devise the first of his famous trick arrows, inventing the rope arrow, the net arrow, and even a clever drill arrow, powered by the elastic from his socks!

(Man, he looks like Steve Rogers! It’s freaky.) Using the drill arrow -- with a rope attached -- he managed to snag some delicious coconuts for his supper. Over time, Oliver sought to expand his menu with some real meat. Thus, he created a distinctive outfit from the foliage in order to camouflage himself. Incredible!

Most importantly, however (to the plot, at least), Oliver also kept a journal of his experiences by carving his words into the wall of a cavern, using a primitive hammer and chisel. Little suspecting what fate had in store for him, he recorded his name, the date of his arrival, and all about the development of his bow and arrows and his green costume. Finally, one evening, he was overjoyed to see a commercial freighter anchored not far offshore! He immediately swam for the ship, and for some reason, he took his archery set with him. Good thing, too, for upon reaching the boat, he found there had been a mutiny on board. Realizing he had to defeat the criminals in order to secure safe passage home, he smeared anchor grease around his eyes, “so the deck lights wouldn’t reflect against the whiteness of my face.” His trick arrows made short work of the mutineers, and thus the crimebusting Green Arrow was born!

At this point, the flashback ends as the Arrowplane descends on the island. Speedy understands that if the expedition discovers the cavern, Oliver’s cover will be blown and his secrets revealed. The battling bowmen race to head off the explorers, but arrive too late to stop them! Fortunately, Green Arrow has a sudden brainstorm!

As luck would have it, Green Arrow’s quiver holds his “fake-uranium arrow!” (Yes, that’s right, the ever-useful fake-uranium arrow! Never leave home without it!) He fires it into the ground near the cavern entrance, where it “gives off waves that simulate uranium deposits!” And…

The ploy is successful and the expedition leaves the island without exploring any further. Green Arrow and Speedy breathe a sigh of relief.

Strangely, though, as this panel makes clear, a pair of sunglasses would surely hide Ollie’s identity better than that pencil-thin mask. How Green Arrow has ever maintained a secret identity is inexplicable, and the problem became even more pronounced after he grew his very distinctive chin whiskers in 1969. How many men go around sporting a thick blond Van Dyck beard? It makes Superman’s Clark Kent disguise almost seem convincing by comparison.

Although Jack Kirby left “Green Arrow” and DC Comics after this issue, the feature continued under the hand of veteran artist Lee Elias. However, this origin story was more or less contradicted two issues later in the lead story “Superboy Meets the Young Green Arrow.” Well, Jack Kirby never got much respect at DC anyway. It was at Marvel where he would earn the title “the King of Comics.”

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Jack Kirby's Green Arrow 2

During his brief run on the “Green Arrow” back-up feature in Adventure Comics during the late 1950s, Jack Kirby let his imagination run wild, producing some characteristically bizarre tales, such as “The Mystery of the Giant Arrows” from issue #252 (September 1958).

This is a symbolic splash, fortunately, and we need not worry about Green Arrow and Speedy perishing in the vacuum of space. This also accounts for G.A.’s apparent optimism in the face of impending death as they are whisked above Earth’s atmosphere. Kirby just liked to get things rolling with a spectacular image.

The story actually begins with a quiet street scene in an unidentified city, where the crowds are amazed by a giant arrow which suddenly lands in their midst. Drawn to the scene by a TV news bulletin, Green Arrow and Speedy secure the giant arrow, only to face a new menace!

Pursuing the big red missile in their golden Arrowcar, G.A. muffles its thunderous sonic vibrations with a “cocoon arrow,” then uses a “jet arrow” to deflect it from its collision course with a freighter just offshore! Speedy relinquishes the driver’s seat to Green Arrow as they race to their secret headquarters to fetch their awesome aeroplane the Arrowplane!

Intercepting a third giant arrow, our heroes are surprised when it suddenly explodes into hundred of blazing fragments! Luckily the titanic toxophilites have enough “firecracker arrows” to render the burning shrapnel harmless!

Suddenly, they receive an urgent radio message instructing them to meet Professor Riggles at his observatory! Knowing Prof. Riggles often helps the police, the arch archers speed to the scene, where Professor Riggles shows them what his fantastic wall of Kirbyesque machinery has discovered! Good old Professor Riggles!

The weird figure on the screen is seen shooting a “cable-arrow,” which lands near the observatory! Green Arrow and Speedy race into the sylvan glade to investigate!

After climbing atop the gargantuan arrow (which, curiously, has the cable coming out of the tip of its head), they find themselves suddenly hauled into a brightly-shining light -- the doorway into a strange new dimension! One mystery is solved, but our battling bowmen’s problems have just begun!

The breakneck pace never lets up for a minute as our heroes try to contend with Kirby’s patented brand of pseudoscience in this whirlwind tale. It certainly sticks out like a sore thumb amongst the more staid affairs that DC was publishing in this and its other titles of the time. Kirby was a jagged peg in a smooth hole at DC, and this contributed to his decision to leave the giant publisher to find more creative freedom at one of its struggling competitors -- the then-nameless comic book division of Martin Goodman’s publishing empire, run by the equally frenetic-minded Stan Lee.

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Jack Kirby's Green Arrow

Years before launching the so-called ‘Marvel Age of Comics’ in the early 1960s, Jack Kirby served a stint at National Periodical Publications, better known as DC Comics, which was by far the predominant comics publisher of the time. In addition to a book of his own creation, Challengers of the Unknown, Kirby also contributed back-up stories starring Green Arrow for Adventure Comics.

As ever, Kirby’s distinctive dynamic style shines through in these short features, despite their late-‘50s vintage. In stylistic terms, they can be seen bridging the grotesqueries of his Golden Age output and the idiosyncratic stylization of his 1970s oeuvre.

But enough of the pontificating, let’s get to the pictures!

In Adventure Comics #251 (cover date August 1958), Jack Kirby presents “The Case of the Super-Arrows.” It is the anniversary of Green Arrow’s debut as a crimefighter, and he and his teen sidekick, Speedy, receive numerous gifts from various law-enforcement agencies and other well-wishers. Astonishingly, a cylinder materializes out of thin air, and a disembodied voice tells them it is a token of esteem from the world of 3000 A.D., in honor of “Justice Week.” The cylinder contains at least nine “super-arrows” made with the fantastic technology of the future.

(Apparently, though, Green Arrow misheard the voice and thought it said it was from 3,000 years in the future, i.e. 5000 A.D.)

While testing out the arrows, the heroes learn of a bank robbery in process and leap into Kirbyesque action.

Giving chase in the ‘Arrow-Mobile,’ Green Arrow uses one of the futuristic shafts to freeze the getaway car in its tracks. Even this simple image is somehow pure Kirby.

The bank robbers abandon their vehicle and reveal themselves as ‘Cougar’ Cain and his mob. They attempt to escape with the help of a smoke screen, which the heroes easily dissipate. However, Green Arrow clumsily drops one of the arrows of the future.

Helplessly mesmerized, Green Arrow and Speedy are lucky that ‘Cougar’ Cain decides to merely steal the futuristic weapons and not shoot the heroes in the head and be done with it. Thus, they come to their senses several minutes later, and realize they’ve goofed up big time.

Green Arrow cooks up a cunning plan, in which he relies on his own skill and an ancient arrow from the Battle of Hastings (!) to defeat Cain and the dreaded “paralysis arrow.” When the crooks attempt to hijack a “million dollar gold shipment,” they find the armored car contains Green Arrow and Speedy. Cain fires the paralysis arrow, but G.A. shoots it out of the sky with good old-fashioned marksmanship.

Finally, the heroes decide to stash the high-tech weapons in their secret HQ for safekeeping.

Note: The nine arrows of the future we see are as follows: cloud-seeding arrow, “sonar shaft” arrow, freezing arrow, vacuum arrow, hypnotic arrow, invisibility arrow, anti-gravity arrow, vibration arrow, and paralysis arrow.

Besides the obvious parallels to DC’s own Batman and Robin -- what with the millionaire hero and his teenaged “ward,” the Arrow-Cave and the distinctive Arrow-Mobile -- under Kirby’s hand the pair bear a striking resemblance to Kirby’s own WWII team of Captain America and Bucky. In fact, Oliver Queen is pretty much a dead-ringer for Steve Rogers. Only the details of their costumes and their crimebusting gimmicks differentiate the two teams. I guess Kirby knew a workable formula when he saw one.

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