Green Arrow:
Bold Archer

Green Arrow:
Obscurity and Transformation
Part 1: G.A. in the 1960s Justice League of America

by Allen W. Wright

Green Arrow with the Justice League from JLA #5, art by Mike Sekowsky and Bernard Sachs


The Early Years:  Part 1 looked at Green Arrow in the 1940s through to the early 1950s. The character might not have starred in his own comic book but he did appear on the cover of many issues of More Fun Comics and there were times when he appeared in three comics in the same month - a modest success.

By the "Silver Age" of the late 1950s and early 1960s covered in The Early Years: Part 2, Green Arrow was limping along in back-up features. 

In the ealry 1960s Green Arrow (G.A. for short) was incorporated into the broader DC Universe. After his solo features were cancelled, Green Arrow still appeared in the Justice League of America (JLA for short) as one face in a crowd.

Eventually this meant writers and artists could take chances with the archer in ways they would not with more successful characters.

Part of a Crowd

For the most part the 1960s were not a good decade for Green Arrow. He began the decade with one less comic book than he had previously. The last Green Arrow story in Adventure Comics ran in issue 269 which had a cover date of February 1960, although according to Mike’s Amazing World of Comics that issue went on sale on Dec. 31, 1959.

Green Arrow did join the premiere comic book superhero team the Justice League of America in Justice League of America #4 cover-dated April / May 1961.  

However, in 1963 the Green Arrow supporting feature in World’s Finest comics stopped appearing in every issue and started appearing in every other issue. And then came World’s Finest Comics #140, cover date March 1964 and a story called “The Land of No Return”. The title is almost ironic as it would be the last solo feature that Green Arrow would appear in for several years. World’s Finest reprinted a few earlier Green Arrow stories in subsequent issues, but for new Green Arrow appearances, there was only his role as a member of the Justice League (one of several members) and occasional appearances in team-up comics.  

The Justice League of America was a popular and successful comic book – home to DC’s greatest heroes. But by the time Hawkman joined the team in Justice League of America #31 (cover date: November 1964), it was a crowded home.  

Hawkman joins the JLA in Justice League of America #31, art by Mike Sekowsky and Bernard Sachs

The League had ten members, plus a non-superhero mascot. Not every Leaguer would appear in every issue. Green Arrow needed to up his game to stand out.

In Justice League of America #65 (cover date September 1968), Green Arrow pulled out his most absurd arrow yet – an atomic warhead arrow. Clearly he was compensating for something.

Green Arrow shoots an atomic warhead arrow in JLA #68, art by Dick Dillin and Sid Greene

Green Arrow missed his first big chance to be a TV star. The 1967 TV cartoon series The Superman – Aquaman Hour of Adventure featured short segments from various guest heroes but a ten-member JLA was too much for this show, and so Green Arrow’s presence was not required.

On the other hand, Green Arrow’s sidekick Speedy did appear in the show’s Teen Titans segments. (In the comics, Speedy didn’t become a full-time member until 1969, but the animation studio Filmation hadn’t yet acquired the rights to live-action TV stars Batman and Robin. They needed to the Boy Bowman to make up the numbers for the Fab Foursome.) Speedy was voiced by Pat Harrington best known for his role as Schneider – the seedy, mustachioed building superintendent in the long-running 1970s sitcom One Day at a Time

Speedy appears in the Teen Titans cartoon by Filmation

In his autobiography Filmation Lou Scheimer mentions developing Green Arrow along with a bunch of other heroes who never made it.

Instead Green Arrow would have to wait until 1973 a single episode guest appearance in a first season episode of Super Friends. He wouldn't appear on television again until the 21st century.

Memorable Moments

Green Arrow did have some memorable moments during this period. One came in Justice League of America #57 (cover date: November 1967) with its reduced cast of Green Arrow, Flash, Hawkman and team mascot Snapper Carr.

The three Leaguers help Snapper with his school project on brotherhood. Flash helps an African American in search of a good job, Hawkman and Snapper help a white aid-worker with warring groups in India, and Green Arrow helps a young Apache boy named Jerry Nimo to take pride in his Apache heritage and to stay in school. The comic is well-intentioned, although 50 years later some elements appear stereotypical and problematic.

Green Arrow teams up with a young Apache in JLA #57, art by  Mike Sekowsky and Sid Greene

Green Arrow really captures the reader’s attention in "Operation: Jail the Justice League!" from Justice League of America #61 (cover date: March 1968) when he shows up at the JLA meeting and promptly quits the team. It’s an elaborate rush to flush out the nefarious schemes of Doctor Destiny, a villain who had infiltrated the League.

Green Arrow quits the JLA, art by  Mike Sekowsky and Sid Greene

But Green Arrow’s teammates refuse to accept this. The JLA members decide the best way to flush out the real reason for Green Arrow leaving is for all of them to dress up as Green Arrow.

The members all seem to come up with this plan independently. [That would be perfectly sound reasoning for a DC superhero in the 1960s, no matter how it comes off to more modern readers.] 

The Justice League disguise themselves as Green Arrow, written by Gardner Fox with art by  Mike Sekowsky and Sid Greene

When the disguised Batman goes to his old foe the Penguin, the supervillain gibes that the hero is a “roughhouse Robin Hood”.

Yes, it’s just a reference to the Robin Hood design elements of Green Arrow’s costume. But disguise, misdirection and trickery are common elements in the Robin Hood legend. This issue’s antics seem a bit closer to the outlaw legend than many Green Arrow tales.

Denny O'Neil - New Writer and a New Attitude

The above mentioned stories were all by writer Gardner Fox and artist Mike Sekowsky who had been with the JLA since the beginning. But change was coming, and it would directly impact the future of Green Arrow. A new artist, Dick Dillin, took over the comic with issue 64 (cover date August 1968), and Dillin would stay with the League for the next dozen years. An even more drastic change happened when writer Gardner Fox was replaced. Fox had been with DC Comics since the late 1930s. He wrote some of the earliest Batman stories, and then went on to create the Jay Garrick version of the Flash and the JLA’s 1940s predecessor the Justice Society of America. But by the late 1960s writers like Fox were seen as too old, and they were asking for raises and medical benefits. Soon, writers of Fox’s vintage were being shown the door.

In his place, Dennis or “Denny” O’Neil took over the writing chores of the JLA with #66 (cover date: November 1968). O’Neil was 29 at the time, and had come from working Charlton Comics and Marvel. His first issue is a political satire with Generalissimo Demmy Gog using a morale machine to sap the will of his opponents. It’s clear from early on that something is different. The Justice League decides which cases they should handle, Green Arrow disagrees with his teammates – very loudly. 

Green Arrow argues with the Justice League, written by Denny O'Neil, art by Dick Dillin and Sid Greene
Green Arrow argues with the Justice League, written by Denny O'Neil, art by Dick Dillin and Sid Greene

By the end of the issue the League members had patched up their differences. But it was a sign of things to come. Soon Green Arrow would be known as the JLAer who argues – a lot.

It’s not that readers hadn’t seen fierce arguments in comic books before. They had – just not in DC Comics. Rival publisher Marvel Comics was increasing sales and wooing college students with tales of flawed heroes who bickered. Marvel’s nearest equivalent to the JLA was the Avengers, and that team's arguer-in-chief was an archer who used trick arrows just as Green Arrow did.  

Hawkeye aka Clint Barton was introduced in the Iron Man feature of Tales of Suspense in 1964. When Iron Man’s exploits grab more attention than Hawkeye’s archery demonstration demonstration, the archer decides to become a costumed hero out of sheer jealousy. Unfortunately on his very first case, Hawkeye is mistaken for the crook’s accomplice and he has to go on the run – right into the arms of Soviet spy the Black Widow. The Black Widow manipulates Hawkeye into fighting Iron Man. After a few appearances as a villain Hawkeye reforms and joins the heroic Avengers in Avengers #16 (cover date: May 1965). Almost immediately Hawkeye begins to challenge Captain America for leadership of the team. He also clashes with authority figures like long-time Avenger Hank Pym. 

Captain America and Hawkeye argue in Avengers #25 by Stan Lee, Don Heck and Dick Ayers

Eventually Hawkeye would settle down – and even become a semi-responsible team leader. Jeremy Renner would play him in a number of Avengers-related films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) as well as the Hawkeye TV show on Disney+.

Hawkeye’s trick arrows were inspired by Green Arrow, but some of Green Arrow’s new attitude was inspired by Hawkeye. Although usually Green Arrow was a bit more political in his arguments.

Green Arrow once again got the spotlight in Justice League of America #69 (cover date: February 1969). Green Arrow was framed for a murder and had to go on the run. The outlaw archer encounters some thugs who make several references to the Robin Hood legend. 

Green Arrow fights in JLA #69 by Denny O'Neil, Dick Dillin and Sid Greene

Green Arrow is troubled by his temporary outlaw status. Under the Comics Code, heroes could not challenge the law.

During the course of the story Superman is served a court order from a phony judge demanding that he leave Earth until Green Arrow is brought to justice. Just before he leaves the planet, Superman discovers that the man Green Arrow was supposed to have killed is not really dead. But Superman refuses to disobey the court order and leaves Earth anyway. 

Superman obeys a court order and leaves Earth by Denny O'Neil, Dick Dillin and Sid Greene

In the same issue, bad guys capture Green Arrow, Batman and the Flash and impersonate them. Impersonation is a common enough trope in superhero comics, but it has its parallels in outlaw legends too.

In the 14th century romance Fouke fitz Waryn a knight named Pieres de Brubyle assembles a gang of cutthroats and robberies who pretend to be Fouke’s men and besmirch the hero’s good name. The tales of Fouke (or Fulk) have had a tremendous influence on the Robin Hood legend. The villains impersonate Locksley’s heroic outlaws in the 19th century novel Ivanhoe, and that element has been repeated in numerous Robin Hood movies and TV shows.

Batman and Green Arrow fight impostors, by Denny O'Neil, Dick Dillin and Sid Greene

Kill Green Arrow?

Future comics pros Bob Rozakis and Mark Evanier wrote in support of Green Arrow’s increased presence.

But not all readers were as delighted with Green Arrow’s increased role. In the letter column to Justice League of America #76, Rand Lee of Roxbury, Conn. wrote a letter featuring a speculative review of the as-yet-non-existent JLA #100. Rand alludes to Green Arrow having gone out in a blaze of glory a few speculative issues before #100.

And in issue 77, there’s a long and emphatic letter from Peter G. Haag of Trenton, NJ demanding that they “Kill Green Arrow!”

A letter in JLA #77 asking them to kill Green Arrow

There was clearly a mix of opinion when it came to the Emerald Archer. In the letter column of #72, the editor (Julius Schwartz) responds regarding the possibility of a comic book dedicated to Green Arrow. “From time to time, editorial discussion has centered on shooting a ‘Green Arrow’ into the magazine-firmament – only to have it fizzle out like a fallen star.”

There was a question if enough readers would really support Green Arrow, but there was also an opportunity for change and transformation. Green Arrow was only appearing as a supporting character in comics that fans were usually buying for other reasons. They had nothing to lose if they changed aspects of Green Arrow. DC Comics couldn’t tinker around with any of their truly valuable properties, but with Green Arrow tinker they did.

When the letter demanding G.A.'s death was finally published, it was already out of date. The Green Arrow in Justice League of America #77 was not quite the same character.

In a few short months Green Arrow would be nearly unrecognizable to the character who had gone before – and yet he’d become instantly recognizable to comic book readers (and TV viewers) of today. 

In the next segment we'll explore how these changes took place, starting with Green Arrow's appearances in the team-up comic The Brave and the Bold.

Continue on the next section

PART 2: 1969: THE YEAR OF CHANGE - 1969 is the year that changed everything. Artist Neal Adams gave Green Arrow a new costume and writer Denny O'Neil stripped Oliver Queen of his forture. Also explores the history of Black Canary who enters Green Arrow's life at this point.

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