Each week, Big Issues focuses on newly released comic-book issues of significance. This week, they are Green Arrow #17 by Jeff Lemire (Animal Man, The Underwater Welder) and Andrea Sorrentino (I, Vampire, God Of War) and Winter Soldier #15 by Jason Latour (Loose Ends, Django Unchained) and Nic Klein (Dancer, Doc Savage), two issues that outline the paths new creative teams can take when helming an ongoing superhero title.
When taking over an ongoing superhero series, the incoming creative team has the choice to follow the path set by who came before or to break from the past and move the book in a new direction. This week sees significant changes for two solo superhero titles, Green Arrow and Winter Soldier, and the drastically different circumstances behind the creative shifts seem to have influenced which choice each new team has made. Ed Brubaker’s departure from Winter Soldier was amicable, and the exiting writer has given Jason Latour and Nic Klein his full blessing as they continue Bucky’s story. After Winter Soldier #15, it’s clear that Brubaker has successfully passed the torch, with the new team maintaining the tone of the first 14 issues without sacrificing their own unique vision.
There’s no torch-passing in Green Arrow #17, although Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino do set fire to everything that defined the New 52 version of DC’s emerald archer. Oliver Queen has not had good luck in DC’s post-revamp universe, starring in utterly generic superhero adventures that failed to give the book a distinct voice. With the success of The CW’s Arrow and Marvel’s Hawkeye, DC has seemingly realized that there’s a market for stories about hot blonds with bows, giving Lemire and Sorrentino free rein to do whatever they need to get Green Arrow back in the spotlight. That means getting rid of all traces of the ill-advised Q-Core concept that began the series, with Lemire taking a page from Frank Miller’s “Born Again” arc in Daredevil and giving Oliver Queen a new sense of purpose.
Last week I mentioned that plot has taken precedence over character in the New 52, and while Lemire is making strides to better define Green Arrow as a hero, #17 is primarily focused on shock-and-awe moments that reset the status quo. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because this series needed an overhaul, and the first chapter of “The Kill Machine” does fine work erasing the memory of the past 16 months of Green Arrow. The evil CEO of Queen Industries is shot in the back with an arrow and pulled out of a skyscraper window in the first five pages, and Oliver’s best friends, Jax and Naomi, are killed when the new villain blows up Q-Core. Lemire gets rid of the supporting cast so that he can give the title character the attention he needs, and this first arc looks to be about Oliver’s relationship with his father, the mystery of his true birthright, and delving into what exactly happened during his formative years lost on an island. That’s a much stronger direction than the ’90s-indebted, urban-vigilante angle the book had taken under writers J.T. Krul and Ann Nocenti.
The major difference between Lemire and Latour’s situations is that there’s nothing to fix in Winter Soldier. There’s a lot to live up to, especially in terms of Butch Guice’s artistic achievements, but the new creative team was left with a solid foundation to begin its run. Latour and Klein’s first issue of Winter Soldier feels like a natural evolution for the title; Brubaker’s run was heavily inspired by ’60s spy films, and #15 just pushes the cinematic reference point forward by a few decades.
Latour has a firm handle on Bucky’s voice and knows how to structure a suspenseful action-adventurer, but the most surprising thing about this first issue is the humor. After a tense opening sequence in space and a brooding conversation between Bucky and Nick Fury that catches readers up on past events, Latour introduces Joe Robards, a deep-cover S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who serves as comic relief while kicking a whole lot of ass. A Detroit native with a filthy mouth and Hydra brass knuckles, Robards flips off the bad guys after they fall to their deaths and tells Winter Soldier that he punches like a nancy. He’s a bit like Roger Sterling on Mad Men, especially when he vomits and passes out at the end of the issue.
That sense of humor provides the necessary contrast to elevate the stakes of the rest of the story, and the balance of action, mystery, emotional drama, and comedy in Latour’s script is remarkable. Lemire’s first issue of Green Arrow has plenty of the first three, but is lacking in the humor department. That’s not to say that Oliver Queen should be making wisecracks, but humor will prevent the book from getting too dreary, which could easily become the case after the massacre in #17. The book opens with a broken Oliver Queen passing out in the desert, so it’s not very likely that the ha-has will be coming anytime soon, but Lemire’s Animal Man and Frankenstein have shown that he’s capable of inserting moments of lightness into dark, dramatic narratives.
Both Green Arrow and Winter Soldier feature artwork by creators who are handling pencils, inks, and colors, and the results vary in quality. Andrea Sorrentino was one of DC’s big finds of the New 52, and his Jae Lee-inspired artwork made Joshua Hale Fialkov’s I, Vampire one of the publisher’s most visually distinct titles. The influence of Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye is apparent in Sorrentino’s work on Green Arrow, which is going for a more graphic look by playing with panel layouts and utilizing spot coloring. While the coloring definitely sets it apart from the rest of DC’s output, it makes the book look very flat, which is a shame, because Sorrentino’s linework takes realistic coloring very well. (Just look at Hi-Fi’s work on the cover.) The spot coloring isn’t the problem so much as the lack of texture; teaming Sorrentino with a strong colorist would give him more time to work on the characters and backgrounds and give him more opportunities to experiment with ways of depicting action.
In Winter Soldier, the more experimental psychedelic elements of Butch Guice’s artwork have been replaced by Klein’s widescreen visuals, making the book look more like True Lies than Dr. No. Klein’s work on Dancer showed just how well-suited he is to spy thrillers, and the fight sequences in this title are spectacular, with layouts designed to maximize the speed and impact of the action. Klein is handling all art chores, from pencils to colors, and while he shows remarkable skill in all aspects, his coloring is a highlight. A silent six-panel fight is colored bright yellow to emphasize the searing intensity of the quick bar brawl, and there’s a stunning two-page sequence of Bucky jumping into a room of Hydra agents that beautifully utilizes red and blue to make the artwork pop.
Like Guice, Klein includes all the sound effects in the art rather than having a letterer add them in after, and it’s a small touch that makes the transition between artists even smoother. For Winter Soldier, a seamless shift from one team to the next is the best possible scenario, whereas a jarring move from what came before has reinvigorated Green Arrow. In an industry where creative teams are constantly being switched around (especially at DC) and longevity is constantly in question, it’s comforting to see incoming creators begin new runs with confidence and skill.