(1983 - four issues, DC Comics)
Writer: Mike W. Barr. Pencils: Trevor Von Eeden. Inks: Dick Giordano.
This mini-series was the Emerald Archer's first self-titled comic...despite having been around since the 1940s. He'd starred in back up features, and shared co-starring credit with Green Lantern for a while, but that was all. That probably made this the longest Green Arrow epic -- at least until the late 1980s when Mike Grell overhauled the character and he landed a second mini-series (The Longbow Hunters) as well as a monthly title. But for the Bronze Age version of the character, this mini-series was it.
The story has Oliver Queen, long since deprived of his former fortune, being invited to the reading of the will of a wealthy widow he was once close friends with but hasn't seen in a while...only to find that he's her principal beneficiary, willed controlling stocks in her chemical company. It doesn't sit well with her kin folk, and pretty soon people are trying to kill him, leading him to suspect there's corruption within the company tied to some sort of international conspiracy.
I could be accused of having knocked writer Mike Barr a time or two before, but recently re-reading this story (I first read it years and years ago) it's very good. Barr is often a guy who seems genuinely enthusiastic about his projects (whether it be Batman, Star Trek, or Camelot 3000) generally, but here, he really makes it work. He seems to have a genuine affinity for Green Arrow, which allows him to infuse the scenes with asides and character dialogue, that makes the moments live and breathe beyond just progressing the plot. Sure, by this point GA had become a slightly watered down version of his Bronze Aged self, lacking some of the political fire that Denny O'Neil introduced into the character in the late 1960s/ early 1970s (modern writers have described him as a Communist, but I think Anarchist is more accurate -- Anarchy in its true, political sense). But there's still enough of the character's quirks -- hot tempered, chilly eating, somewhat childish -- to make him an entertaining, dynamic figure.
The story is basically a mystery, although with lots of action and the occasional super villain dropping by, as well as an obligatory appearance by GA's lady love, The Black Canary (though her role is smaller than one would expect). Barr has tried his hand at mysteries before, with mixed results. But this works well. And it works precisely because Green Arrow seems out of his depth employing deductive reasoning, trying to outwit people who may be smarter than he is. The reader can identify with his humanness, his missteps and goofs as he stumbles his way through, even as it allows Barr to excuse the occasionally half-baked approach to the case. There's also an appeal because it seems less like a super hero story, than a story starring a super hero. The whole idea of the unexpected inheritance and the subsequent mysterious goings on would've made a decent story even if the hero didn't dress in tights and fire novelty arrows.
Perhaps being teamed with the dynamic Trevor von Eeden inspired Barr. Von Eeden isn't afraid to cram as many panels as a scene needs into a page (I counted 18 panels on one page!) allowing a scene to be broken down into as many moments as needed, allowing Barr to indulge in richer exchanges and more textured dialogue. Of course, Von Eeden is also there for big panels, splash pages and the action...just so you don't get impression of an entire series comprised of tiny panels. Von Eeden's eclectic panel arrangement can, at times, get confusing, or bizarre, but at other times it works exceptionally well. At a time when Howard Chaykin (in American Flagg) and even Frank Miller were experimenting with ways to tell a story in comics, Von Eeden was perhaps an unsung part of that movement. Some scenes are confusing, but others achieve a complexity that is quite impressive. Aren't sure which panel goes before which? That's 'cause Von Eeden (and Barr) are trying to portray the idea of simultaneous actions. While other scenes just benefit from Von Eeden's nice eye for telling a scene (like a sequence of GA ransacking a coroner's files). And, of course, he knows how to draw, to boot.
Admittedly, the mystery can be a bit unevenly developed. One moment the widow's death is treated as natural, the next, everyone's talking as if it's assumed she was murdered. And though you have a pretty good idea by the end of what was going on, who exactly did what is a little harder to pin down. And having iconoclastic GA team up, however reluctantly, with a CIA agent would seem to be against the character's nature, as is the casual way GA accepts the CIA agent's use of lethal force (though that may reflect the editorial attitudes that had already muted the character and would eventually lead to Mike Grell's refashioning the character as a more violent figure -- replacing trick arrows with pointy ones). And technically, I think the CIA guy is out of his jurisdiction anyway.
Of course, I often find myself at odds with some of Barr's ethics in his stories, particularly pertaining to violence.
Those moral qualms aside, this is funny, occasionally smart, well scripted, fast-paced, a little off-beat, dynamically illustrated and generally pretty darn entertaining. A somewhat ignored effort, Barr and Von Eeden have a right to be proud of it.