Green Arrow and his sidekick Speedy first appeared in More Fun Comics #73 (cover date: November 1941). They were the creation of writer Mort Weisinger and artist George Papp. At first glance you might think Robin Hood was the main source of inspiration. Like the legendary outlaw, these heroes were archers, their costumes resembled tunics and each wore a bycocket – what most people would call a “Robin Hood hat”. But it wasn’t hard to spot another influence – Batman. Batman was millionaire Bruce Wayne. Green Arrow was millionaire Oliver Queen. Batman’s sidekick Robin was his youthful ward Dick Grayson. Green Arrow’s sidekick was his youthful ward Roy Harper. Both Batman and Green Arrow had special cars. Both, in time, developed gadgets. Even Green Arrow’s most prominent foe in the 1940s was an evil clown, just like Batman’s Joker.
With a few exceptions (such as Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman), most of the time, 1940s superheroes fought common crooks – even if those crooks dressed in bizarre costumes and had elaborate gadgets. But sometimes the adventures would be a bit more outlandish. Starting in 1944, Batman and Robin would have a series of time travel adventures. But for once, Green Arrow had gotten there first.
Green Arrow and Speedy first travelled in time in 1942. And their destination, in this and similar stories over the decades, was obvious – Sherwood Forest.
The story opens with Green Arrow and Speedy foiling a crooked professor who had used “insanity pills” to drive people made and then blackmailed their families in exchange for the cure. The mad scientist begs for clemency, saying he’d only turned to a life of crime to get funding for his “time pills” Green Arrow turns Professor Wurm over to the cops, but he keeps the time pills as a trophy of this latest adventure.
The label on the pill bottle declares the pills are “Harmless, but have the power to dispel the illusion of time and let user enter into the past”. It’s just one more trophy to Green Arrow, but Speedy is intrigued by the possibilities. (As Richard Gray notes in his book Moving Target: The History and Evolution of Green Arrow, it’s an “ironic early indicator” of the genuine drug addiction that Speedy would struggle with in the “relevant” comics of the 1970s and later decades.)
The possibilities of journeying into the past intrigue Speedy. He thinks about discovering America with Columbus and practicing archery with “real Indians”. The comics had not yet established an origin for Green Arrow and Speedy, but when they did in More Fun #89 (March 1943) it turns out that Roy had actually been raised and taught by an indigenous person, an aspect carrier over (although much transformed) in later versions of Speedy’s origin. It might seem strange that he doesn’t immediately think of visiting Sherwood Forest, but the idea that Green Arrow was specifically inspired by Robin Hood (no matter how obvious that idea seems) would come much later.
Speedy takes one of the pills, and he finds himself transported from their apartment kitchen to a forest.
Not sure what to do, Speedy spots some men approaching on horseback and plans to ask them for directions. But the men on horseback are Sir Guy of Gisborne and the Sheriff of Nottingham. “Seize the stripling!” The sheriff orders. “His garments proclaim him to be one of Robin Hood’s knaves.” The medieval malfeasants prepare to hang Speedy from a tree, but an arrow whizzes by and cuts the rope.
Speedy is delighted to meet one of his heroes.
The two heroic archers go into battle against the sheriff’s men. Speedy shoots an arrow through the sleeves of a guard, pinning the enemy to a tree. The guard is astonished. “A strange youth! At this range he might have killed me, yet he did not!”
Perhaps the goon isn’t just impressed by Speedy’s skill, but by his morality also. In the movies, Robin Hood would often kill his opponents and the early superheroes dispatched their foes too. But by the time Green Arrow was introduced there were already rumblings that comic books were corrupting the youth of America. Editors decided to be on the best behaviour and cleaned up the stories. While a few criminals did die in the early Green Arrow adventures, it was never the direct intention of Green Arrow and Speedy to kill them.
While Speedy and Robin Hood fight bravely, it appears they are outnumbered. They need help – help that would come from the 20th century.
Back in the present, Green Arrow examines the trophy case, sees the open bottle of time pills and realizes where his ward has vanished too. Taking one of the pills himself, Green Arrow arrives in medieval Sherwood Forest just in time to save Robin Hood and Speedy.
Shooting a rope arrow into a nearby tree, Green Arrow swings into action on his arrowline. It’s a common gimmick in his 20th century adventures, but in the past it resembles Errol Flynn swinging down to say “Welcome to Sherwood!” in the classic 1938 film The Adventures of Robin Hood.
The Sheriff of Nottingham orders his men to continue the attack, but Green Arrow declares “There’s nire than one way to use a bow!” He shoots another arrowline into a discarded helmet, and then swings the helmet into another soldier. The sheriff’s men flee, and Robin thanks his new ally.
ROBIN HOOD: My heartiest thanks! I am Robin Hood, faithful servant of King Richard, the Lionhearted – and a foe of all such as Sir Guy of Gisborne and the rascally Sheriff of Nottingham!
GREEN ARROW: Robin Hood! … Then we’re in twelfth century England!
Robin explains that he found Speedy while hunting for vension. Robin places the deer on his shoulders – just as Errol Flynn had carried a deer in the film – and escorts the two time-travellers to his camp, described as “Robin’s trysting tree, deep in the heart of the greenwood.” The trysting tree is a common meeting place, it’s called a “trystell-tre” in the late medieval ballad A Gest of Robyn Hode.
At the camp, Robin introduces his guests to Little John, Friar Tuck and Maid Marian – the last of these is Robin’s betrothed.
Later, Robin shoots an arrow into a small sapling. He offers to repay Green Arrow for his assistance by teaching him marksmanship. Green Arrow humours the 12th century outlaw. But Speedy demonstrates his skill by splitting Robin’s arrow. And then Green Arrow splits his sidekick’s arrow too.
Robin Hood’s skill with a bow is straight from the ballads such as the archery tournament in the Gest and the ballad Robin Hood and the Golden Arrow. A version of the ballad Robin Hood and Queen Catherin depicts one of the outlaws splitting an arrow in the archery contest, but that version languished in obscurity until the 1990s. What was not obscure for people who would have read this comic in 1942 is Robin Hood aka Locksley splitting the arrow in Sir Wilfred Scott’s popular novel Ivanhoe, the arrow splitting scenes in Howard Pyle’s The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, or when Errol Flynn split the arrow in the 1938 movie.
But Robin Hood hasn’t read those books or seen that movie. He’s astonished by the visitors’ skills and asks them to join his band. Speedy is surprisingly reluctant.
SPEEDY: Join with you? That would be swell! But …. I've heard that you rob people and ...
ROBIN HOOD: A tale spun by such false rogues as those who would have hanged ye! I but force the real robbers of the poor to share their spoils with their victims! My men have sworn an oath to do no mischief to poor men, honest yeoman or courteous knights ... but defend the weak and the poor!
The time-travellers first night in medieval England concludes with another classic Robin Hood trope -- a greenwood feast and a round of song.
The next morning while strolling through the greenwood, Green Arrow and Speedy discover an elderly couple standing over the body of their murdered son. Sir Guy the Hangman emerges and declares that Robin Hood is the murderer -- something the boy's parents back up.
Speedy takes the news particularly hard.
Green Arrow changes allegiances at this point -- deciding to bring Robin Hood to justice, although not for money. Green Arrow may be a vigilante, but he's one who works with the police -- where as in the Robin Hood stories -- cops like the Sheriff of Nottingham and Sir Guy are the enemies.
But the standards of justice were quite different in the 12th century than they were in Green Arrow's home time period of the 1940s. Our hero's hopes of seeing a fair trial seem wildly optimistic. And Speedy himself points out the authorities didn't seem to be interested in fair trials yesterday.
Of course, Robin Hood denies the charges. The Robin Hood of the early ballads may have killed, but the Robin Hood of 1940s comic books was somewhat less lethal. Robin says that Green Arrow can hand him over to his enemies ... if he's defeated in unarmed combat. While playful games or trial-by-combat, such bouts are a hallmark of the Robin Hood legend.
Ever the Robin Hood fan, Speedy seems conflicted about who he should be routing for.
Green Arrow turns the captive Robin Hood over to the guards at the castle. And then finally, our modern-day hero begins to express his doubts about the validity of medieval justice -- a little too late as far as Speedy's concerned.
These doubts are quickly confirmed when the Merry Men turn up to announce that Robin Hood is due to be used as target practice -- no trial necessary.
Speedy exclaims that "It's all our fault!" Green Arrow agrees with the sentiment and vows to save Robin Hood.
Green Arrow shoots up a rope arrow -- his arrowline -- up to the castle battlements and swings across the moat. Green Arrow and Robin Hood fight off the guards.
Speedy and the Merry Men arrive on the scene to help save the day. The Sheriff and his men flee, and Robin is reunited with Marian. Also, the slain boy's parents turn up and say they were forced to lie. Robin Hood is not a murderer after all. I'm sure that this was no surprise to readers, as only Green Arrow truly seemed to question Robin's innocence.
Green Arrow apologizes for believing Sir Guy's lies, and Robin cheerfully forgives him. The Merry Men joyously celebrate the apparent new additions to the merry band. But then suddenly, Green Arrow and Speedy are whisked away back to their own time.
Green Arrow and Speedy find themselves back in their trophy room. One might expect that the comic would raise the question if this medieval adventure was but a dream. But it turns out they returned to the present with an item from the past -- Robin Hood's a dagger. A new addition to their trophy case.
Perhaps readers like the assurance that this story was no mere dream -- that it counts.
And for those studying the Robin Hood legend, this tale counts as well.
The Green Arrow of the 1940s was not inspired by the Robin Hood legend or its potentially rebellious politics in the way that later versions of the character would be. But even so, there were other occasions where the Robin Hood legend came into play. The modern-day archers participated in the filming of a Robin Hood movie. They stopped a Robin Hood historian who had gone nuts and starred living the legend.
But few of these encounters engaged the Robin Hood legend in quite the way this 1942 crossover tale did. We see several Robin Hood tropes on display. But more importantly, we see a distinction between the medieval outlaw Robin Hood and the police-sanctioned mostly law-abiding Green Arrow.
In the Green Arrow’s world the cops were implicitly to be trusted. Not so in Robin Hood’s world. However, while much of the story’s action turns on Robin’s outlaw status, it also downplays it. Robin rejects “rob from the rich” status as a lie and justifies his actions. And we clearly see the crime of murderer is a false one. And while Green Arrow refers to the sheriff and Guy as the law, their willingness to flee their post makes them look more like standard crooks than posted officials.
The next crossover between Green Arrow and Robin Hood wasn't nearly as engaging.
Written by Otto Binder
Pencilled and Inked by George Papp
Green Arrow swaps places with Robin Hood in a tale published a year after Errol Flynn’s film returned to theatres in its 1948 re-release. Green Arrow and Speedy are in London tracking down the jewel thief Monocle Mike, who flees on foot to Sherwood Forest (which is apparently a lot closer to London than in the real world). They track him down and Speedy notices a sign. “Golly! This is Sherwood Forest where Robin Hood and his band of merry archers lived long ago!” Speedy points out another sign indicating Robin Hood once shot an arrow on that spot. “You and your sight-seeing, Speedy!” Green Arrow exclaims. Like the previous cross over, it’s Speedy who is the true Robin Hood fan, not Green Arrow.
The story then flashes back to the Middle Ages, where Robin and Little John spot a knight riding on horseback. Robin prepares an arrow. “I’ll unhorse yon churl and make him reveal where the Black Baron holds my men imprisoned!”
“And so, in the past, and in the present, two arrows are shot from the same spot. One by the famed Robin Hood and the other by his equally famed modern counterpart, Green Arrow! And by the strange workings of fate, there is created a momentary contact between the two arrows in relative space and time!” Green Arrow appears next to Little John, who is annoyed that the baron’s man is getting away. Meanwhile, Robin Hood appears next to Speedy, astonished that Little John appears to have shrunk.
Speedy curses that he can’t shoot Monocle Mike with all the trees in the way, but Robin Hood pulls out a “weaving arrow” that zigzags between the trees. The jewel thief still gets away, and Speedy and Robin Hood follow him back to London. Meanwhile in the past, Green Arrow shoots a rope arrow around a branch, and swings to kick the knight off his horse. He says that the Black Baron is holding the Merry Men in Cragmoor Castle by the Thames River.
Speedy and Robin Hood swing through modern London on ropes. The time traveller laughs off Speedy’s concerns that the experience would leave him dizzy. “What, lad? I who lived in Sherwood Forest? More off the ground than on it? Ho-o-o!” They chase the crooks across rooftops and shoot arrows that snatch the guns right out of the hands of the crooks. They pursue Monocle Mike into a museum, that Robin Hood notices is the old home of the Black Baron. Monocle Mike loosens a crossbow bolt at the heroes, but Robin shoots the bolt away in mid-air. “What was I worried about?” Speedy thinks. “Splitting arrows was Robin Hood’s speciality in the old days!”
Meanwhile, in the past, Little John and “the ‘Robin Hood’ of the 20th century” fight their way into the castle. The Black Baron is taunting his starving prisoners by eating a banquet in front of them. When Green Arrow and Little John burst in, the baron exclaims “Robin Hood!” “No, not Robin Hood. But Green Arrow at your service!” “Robin Hood! Green Arrow! What’s the difference?” The baron asks.
Green Arrow shoots another arrow in the same location that Robin Hood shoots one in the 20th century, and the heroes switch places again in time to capture their respective bad guys. But Green Arrow’s memory is clouded, and he laughs off Speedy’s tale of time-swapping heroes. The tale closes with Speedy imagining that Little John is having similar problems trying to convince Robin Hood of what happened.
Like his previous appearances, the Robin Hood in this story has something closer to a feathered beret than the classic “Robin Hood hat” that Green Arrow wears. And Robin dresses in red – a common colour for the outlaw in various 1950s comics.
Well, I say outlaw, but there’s nothing in this story which would make you think Robin Hood is one. He’s just a medieval superhero. There’s no robbery. No redistribution of wealth. No Sheriff of Nottingham or Prince John. The bad guy is a baron – portrayed much like any 20th century crook. Whereas the 1942 story played on the differences between Robin Hood and Green Arrow, in this one they are the same kind of crime-busters.
PART 2: MORE ADVENTURES IN THE GOLDEN AGE OF COMICS - Robin Hood-themed Green Arrow stories from the 1940s and early 1950s, such as crooks pretending to be Robin Hood
PART 3: ADVENTURES IN THE SILVER AGE OF COMIC BOOKS - Two Robin Hood-related Green Arrow stories from the late 1950s, including a 1959 story where Green Arrow once again time-travels to medieval Sherwood Forest
PART 4: SUPERBOY MEETS YOUNG GREEN ARROW - A 1959 tale where the teenaged version of Superman uses his future knowledge to guide a young Oliver Queen towards becoming Green Arrow, including appealing to Oliver's love of Robin Hood. This could be seen as a forerunner to the Smallville TV series.
PART 5: ADVENTURES IN THE BRONZE AGE OF COMICS: Looks at the 1972 Justice League / Justice Society crossover where the Green Arrow of Earth-Two is stranded in medieval Sherwood Forest and also the 1977 Green Lantern/Green Arrow science fiction story strongly inpsired by the Robin Hood legend.
PART 6: THE MIKE GRELL YEARS - An exploration of the Robin Hood themes in writer/artist Mike Grell's Green Arrow comics beginning with 1987's Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters. This also spotlights the 1989 story where Oliver Queen investigates crime in Nottinghamshire and the 1991 Annual co-written by Mark Ryan where Black Canary has a psychic connection with a Robin Hood adventure
The first meeting of Robin Hood and Green Arrow is available as part of an omnibus collection of tales The 1949 encounter is currently not available in either print or digital editions.
GREEN ARROW: THE GOLDEN AGE OMNIBUS Vol.1 This collection features over 700 pages of Green Arrow adventures from 1941 to 1947, including the character's first appearance, his original 1943 origin story, and also the 1942 story "Robin Hood's Revenge". The volume concludes just as Green Arrow's most infamous trick arrow -- the boxing-glove arrow -- makes its first appearances.
Buy Green Arrow: The Golden Age Omnibus Vol. 1 on Amazon.com
Buy Green Arrow: The Golden Age Omnibus Vol. 1 on Amazon.co.uk
Buy Green Arrow: The Golden Age Omnibus Vol. 1 on Amazon.ca
I began writing these Green Arrow pages back in 2013. In the time since then, a book length study of Green Arrow was published which I've quoted from in the revised version.
MOVING TARGET: THE HISTORY AND EVOLUTION OF GREEN ARROW by Richard Gray. Sequart Organization, 2017. A 75th anniversary look at Green Arrow in all his incarnations, including several interviews. Gray provides good coverage of Green Arrow's Robin Hood connections.
Buy Moving Target: The History and Evolution of Green Arrow on Amazon.com
Buy Moving Target: The History and Evolution of Green Arrow on Amazon.co.uk
Buy Moving Target: The History and Evolution of Green Arrow on Amazon.ca
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