Oliver Queen is a playboy billionaire with a secret identity as a hero. He has his own cave housing his gadgets, and a young ward working beside him to protect his city. Sound familiar? Originally created as an archery based clone of Batman, Green Arrow is a staple of the DC Universe who forged his own identity outside of his original pitch. Especially with the Arrow tv series, Green Arrow has definitely gained the respect he deserves, but that doesn’t mean his comics are as well read as they should be.
Below, you will find a list of must read stories to get the best understanding of the character. Whether you are new to comics, or just overlooked the character, the focus here is based on understanding Oliver Queen and his life, what sets him apart, and what makes him such a compelling character.
The list is not ranked, but rather presented in chronological order. Allowing you to get a broad view of how the character evolved, however don’t think that you absolutely have to read them in chronological order. The stories presented here come from the Bronze Age, Modern Age and even out of continuity stories. Pick your era, or just the stories that interest you, and prepare to look at Green Arrow in a whole new light.
It is truly hard to sum up the importance of Green Lantern/Green Arrow under the carful hands of Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams. As a core title for shaping the Bronze Age, “Snowbirds Don’t Fly” tackles the problem of teen drug abuse. However, while some stories would use a random one off character, or a background character, Snowbirds focused on Roy Harper, Green Arrow’s young sidekick, as the drug addict. This puts Oliver Queen in a very unexpected position, and makes the reality of watching a friend go down this dark path even more striking.
The characters first major appearance post-Crisis on Infinite Earths, Oliver Queen is now 43 years old. No longer the young playboy in his 20s, Oliver has aged and looks at the world differently than he did before. The Longbow Hunters takes the campy Robin Hood style of his earlier stories, and replaces it with the gritty, street level hero we now love to read. While the story has it’s controversial elements, it set the tone for the character moving forward, just as The Killing Joke did for Batman, and Man of Steel did for Superman. Mike Grell would continue to work on the character, but it’s this 3 issue arc that kick started the renaissance of Green Arrow.
Zero Hour: Crisis in Time (1994)
I will go to my grave shouting about the importance of Zero Hour: Crisis in Time, and a big reason for that is Green Arrow. We mentioned this in our previous Batgirl best of list, but the emotional core that leaves a haunting impression with the reader is created with both Batgirl and Green Arrow. The story involves the displacement and resetting of time in the DC universe after Crisis on Infinite Earths. While many characters experience elements of the past within the story, all of which could be considered extremely touching, it’s the bond that is created between Green Arrow and Batgirl that is both surprising and even more haunting by the stories end. It shows us a side of Green Arrow that does not immediately come to mind, but one that is extremely chilling by the stories final page.
Green Arrow: Quiver (2001)
Oliver Queen has been dead for several years, until he suddenly reappears with no memory of his life or death. Oliver’s memory ends with his early 70s adventures and nothing more. Even under physical examination, Ollie is missing many scars and injuries he sustained in his life. A compelling mystery and a celebration of Green Arrow’s career, Quiver put Green Arrow back in the spot light and gave him the attention he truly deserved.
Green Arrow: Year One (2007)
Based on the title, images of Batman: Year One are perhaps filling your mind, and you’re right, it’s very similar. However, while Batman’s origin has been retold ad infinitum, Green Arrow’s is much less discussed. Thanks to the television series, you likely already know the story, but this is where that interpretation comes from. The young playboy, Oliver Queen, finds himself marooned on a deserted jungle island, without any of the comforts he had come to know. In this unforgiving environment, he creates a makeshift bow and some arrows in order to help him hunt for food and to survive. When things turn deeply sour, its an act of selfless kindness that leads Oliver to open his eyes to the guilt he’s felt all his life for stepping on the underprivileged. Oliver hones his skills and when he returns home, he puts both his new skills and guilt to good use, taking on the name Green Arrow.
Injustice: Gods Among Us (2013-2016)
No, this series is not strictly focused on Green Arrow, but with a series whose elevator pitch includes ‘Joker goes too far, so Superman kills him and becomes overlord of Earth’, would you expect Green Arrow and Black Canary to be the heart of the series early on? Green Arrow in particular is such a striking character within the series. His early interactions with Harley Quinn are a delight, poking fun at some of the details even fans have joked about, without making Oliver any lesser of a character. Even with his fate in the first year, you are crazy to think it is truly the end.
Green Arrow by Jeff Lemire (2014)
Taking place during the New 52, Jeff Lemire breathed new life into the Green Arrow mythology by revisiting his origin and fleshing it out in ways the public hadn’t seen before. Was winding up marooned on an island an accident, or was it on purpose? Has he been the only member of the Queen family to fight crime? Who are the sinister figures pulling the strings in the background? Lemire, currently in the spotlight thanks to Sweet Tooth, provides one of the most interesting and compelling takes on the character in recent memory. If you are looking for an entry point into the character, all that is completely needed to understand this is a basic knowledge of Oliver’s origin. With that knowledge in mind, you will enter a story that is both compelling and sharp in its point.