Review by Ian Keogh
The Trial of Oliver Queen represents the first of the longer volumes reprinting the remainder of Mike Grell’s 1980s/1990s run on Green Arrow, and the title story is actually the final of four two part tales.
Ed Hannigan and Dan Jurgens split the pencilling duties. Hannigan has been the most impressive artist on the series to this point, and that doesn’t change, but Jurgens, primarily known for superhero work, surprises by being able to slot well into a less exaggerated style. It’s a touch for light comedy that’s needed over his début as Grell casts Oliver Queen as Seattle’s good Samaritan, aiding with an assortment of minor tasks while making deliveries for Dinah Drake’s flower shop. It’s a clever story, working well on its own, but even better in setting up the concluding chapter in which Green Arrow has to figure out who’s attempting to assassinate him and why.
Anyone who knows Grell’s other work will recognise the thinly reconfigured character of Jon Sable in ‘Seattle and Die’, and the path he might have taken had he not been able to overcome the tragedy in his life. It’s the best story in the book by some distance, not because the remainder is poor, but because Grell really digs deep for a powerful and utterly convincing presentation of someone who’s lost it all, and what that can let loose. It’s better appreciated with the knowledge of the journey Grell’s dragged Green Arrow through since the series started. It’s beautifully understated, but Oliver Queen could have been Archie Leach, and aware of it, Grell plays that out later in the book.
Unfortunately separating those stories is the tale of women exploited in strip clubs, which leads into highlighting the problem of modern day slavery. If only it contained a hint of the previous subtlety. Any point Grell’s script has to make is seriously undermined by Jurgens revelling in the chance to draw what for DC is adult material and revisiting and expanding on the mistakes made when Grell himself drew The Longbow Hunters. Perhaps this gratuitous scene was detailed in the script and Grell’s compounding the earlier error, and if so, it’s needless provocation. There’s a good twist, a couple in fact, but what on Earth were they thinking?
The title story also hinges on a twist, but one that’s front-ended. It opens with two servicemen’s conversation about their impending retirement, and we all know how that plays out in action thrillers, right? Grell also knows, commenting about it in his script. It might be thought that running Green Arrow through the same cycle of tragedy as occurred in the earlier story might be even more potent, but it actually drops short. The problem is firstly one of Grell’s own making by ensuring his stories mirror the real world as closely as possible, and secondly the rod for the back of a monthly publication schedule. People who hit rock bottom aren’t going to be pulled out of it by a couple of days camping with a mate and venting some anger. An action title being what it is, no-one’s going to accept the reality of someone spending months dragging themselves back from the abyss, and that being the case, and having dealt with a variation on the theme earlier, perhaps Grell would have been better advised leaving well enough alone. The police scenes are good, however.
This is very much a book of two halves, with the opening four episodes as good as any to date. Blood of the Dragon continues Grell’s Green Arrow.