We’ve looked at some characters with wildly convoluted histories, but Green Arrow remains one of the most simple concepts out of DC. Much like Batman and Superman, Green Arrow’s origins have remained relatively unchanged since the Silver Age, just updated with the times as they go. Wealthy playboy Oliver Queen has always been the Green Arrow (save for one brief instant) from his Golden Age origins to the present day. Despite his roots being kept stable, he has been changed mainly to distance himself from Batman, who he certainly came to resemble in those early years.
Green Arrow first appeared in the pages of More Fun Comics #73 (November 1941). He was the creation of writer Mort Weisinger and artist George Papp. Weisinger also created Aquaman. Krypto the Superdog, Supergirl, The Phantom Zone, The Bottle City of Kandor, and the Legion of Super-Heroes. Green Arrow was not a businessman but an archaeologist named Oliver Queen who specialized in Native American artifacts and resided in Star City. He had his museum in Star City burnt down by criminals he’d run afoul of and set off for the lost city of Mesa in the American Southwest to find a new lease on life.
In Mesa, Queen met young Roy Harper, a boy whose parents had been killed in a plane crash over this mythical place. The criminals from Star City followed Queen and killed one of Harper’s indigenous friends. Queen and Harper teamed up and used bows and arrows to take out the criminals. They took the monikers of Green Arrow and Speedy and returned to Star City as costumed crimefighters. This origin would be entirely erased by the 1960s with a new one that has remained the standard ever since.
Over time, Weisinger retooled Green Arrow to resemble Batman even more. He had an Arrow-Cave, Arrowcar, and Arrow-Plane. The Star City police used an Arrow Signal to summon the hero. At one time, he even had a short-lived clown-themed arch-nemesis named Bull’s Eye. Arrow also used a series of trick arrows, with some of his more famous being the Boxing Glove Arrow, Flame Arrow, and the Boomerang Arrow. Green Arrow started as a back-up feature in More Fun Comics, headlined in the 1940s by Doctor Fate and The Spectre, both broody and occultish darker heroes. But as Batman & Robin, with their cheerier dispositions, became more popular, Green Arrow & Speedy were given the cover spotlight.
Green Arrow continued to pop in anthology books, taking a spot in Leading Comics (1941) and then settling into a regular place in Adventure Comics that lasted from 1946 to 1960. Green Arrow wouldn’t get his own self-titled ongoing comic until 1983. Even as the Golden Age of Superheroes wound down and other comics genres like westerns and romance became more popular, Green Arrow kept appearing in new stories. Weisinger had a lot to do with this. As he was assigned to write Superboy in Adventure, he made sure to squeeze Green Arrow and Speedy in as a back-up feature. When the Silver Age revivals came around to reboot The Flash, Green Lantern, and others with whole new identities and origins, Green Arrow was relatively unchanged from his basic concept and Oliver Queen persona.
In Adventure Comics #256 (February 1959), Jack Kirby decided to reboot Green Arrow’s origins. This was when Queen became a wealthy playboy. He accidentally falls off a cruise ship and ends up stranded on Starfish Island in the Pacific Ocean. To survive, he has to cobble together makeshift bow and arrows to gather food and fend off danger. He wears a green suit made of leaves to camouflage himself with the jungle. He swims out when he sees a passing boat only to find it’s being hijacked by pirates. Queen uses his archery skills to take out the pirates and realizes he could use these skills to fight crime on the mainland.
A few years earlier, in Adventure Comics #209 (February 1955), Speedy’s origin was also tweaked. He grew up in a Native reservation after his parents died in an explosion. He was mentored by a local chief who raised him to be a great archer. This was tweaked in 1959 to a Native archer named Brave Bow who owed Roy Harper’s father a debt. As Brave Bow’s health failed, he sought someone to be Harper’s guardian, and upon meeting, Green Arrow knew this man would continue Harper’s training. Very little changed about these characters’ origins after this point, and even now, these are the basic backstories for them both, updated for the times.
In 1969, Green Arrow received his most radical transformation to date. In The Brave and the Bold #85 (Aug-Sept 1969), artist Neal Adams gave him a Van Dyke beard and a new costume. Writer Denny O’Neill kept this going in the pages of Justice League of America #75 (November 1969). To go with his new look, Green Arrow got a new status quo. He lost his entire fortune, and while living at the bottom of the ladder, he became aware of the social issues boiling to America’s surface in the 1960s. Oliver Queen became a passionate advocate for the downtrodden and challenged his fellow heroes about their inaction to help the vulnerable.
This continued when O’Neill became the writer for Green Lantern’s major reboot in #76 (April 1970). The book was retitled Green Lantern/Green Arrow and paired the two characters up for what is referred to as the “Hard Traveling Heroes” arc. Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern, served as the voice of establishment liberals advocating for incrementalism while Oliver Queen fought for a more radical, drastic approach. Queen convinces Jordan to stop doing everything the Guardians and the Green Lantern Corps told him and come back down to Earth so he can see everyday problems. The two travel across the United States, witnessing and trying to solve government corruption, racism, pollution, and even a potential analog for the Manson Family.
The most significant indicator that DC Comics was in a brand-new era happened in a two-part story in Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85-86. Oliver Queen checks in on his ward, Speedy, to find his sidekick has become a heroin addict. Queen reels from this discovery, realizing that he has neglected those he loved in recent days. Black Canary, who had become attached to Oliver as a lover, went on to help Speedy beat his addiction. Green Lantern/Green Arrow was canceled with #89. The story was concluded as a back-up feature in The Flash. Green Arrow kills a man and is forced to work through his guilt over this act. Green Arrow would pop up as a back-up feature in Action Comics for a few years until a Green Lantern/Green Arrow relaunch in 1976.
In 1987, a year after the reality-rebooting Crisis on Infinite Earths concluded, Green Arrow, like his many peers, was given a Year One treatment. This was titled The Longbow Hunters and was written and illustrated by Mike Grell. The book was labeled for mature readers and was part of DC’s effort to carve out a niche for adults before the launch of Vertigo. Green Arrow and Black Canary are tracking down drug runners when things go wrong. Canary ends up captured and tortured by the criminals. In response, Arrow loses control and murders the men. The story also introduced Shado, a Japanese-American woman turned masked vigilante. At one point in the story, she rapes Green Arrow and becomes pregnant with his child. It was clear that Grell was going down a much gritter and darker path than the character had ever seen before.
Grell would write the first 80 issues of the Green Arrow ongoing series that followed. Black Canary lost her Canary Cry powers, and Queen was never referred to as Green Arrow. Instead, Grell delivered a more grounded, closer to the real-world approach in his stories. Queen was relocated to Seattle, Washington as well. Along the way, Grell introduced a supporting cast that included characters like Eddie Fyers, a mercenary who started out as an enemy and became an ally to Queen. Grell’s run ended with Black Canary dumping Queen over how self-destructive he’d become during their time together.
After Grell left, DC Comics began folding Green Arrow back into the larger shared universe. With Zero Hour, the tenth-anniversary event to celebrate Crisis, Green Arrow made his return known. His old ally, Hal Jordan, was possessed by the Parallax entity bent on destroying reality and remaking it. Green Arrow fires the shot that kills Jordan, thus saving space & time. Shortly after, Arrow meets Connor Hawke, a young man who turns about to be a son he never knew he had. Arrow infiltrated a group of eco-terrorist, which leads to his death in a plane explosion. Connor took over Green Arrow’s mantle from his father and played out that role for several years.
In 2000, film director Kevin Smith helmed, alongside artist Phil Hester, a reboot of Green Arrow that brought Oliver Queen back from the dead. Hal Jordan has returned as The Spectre, the manifestation of God’s vengeance. Jordan used his powers to resurrect Queen, but it didn’t work exactly. Queen doesn’t have a soul and has to journey to the afterlife to reunite with that missing part of himself. Connor sticks around essentially as a second Green Arrow. Once he was reestablished, Green Arrow has remained a constant in the DC Universe. He married Black Canary only to have that retconned in the New 52, but sure enough, they are now back together as a couple. While other DC heroes are wildly rebooted and transformed, the core of Green Arrow’s character has remained remarkably consistent.