Green Arrow:
Bold Archer

When Green Arrow
Met Robin Hood
Part 6: The Mike Grell Years

by Allen W. Wright

Oliver Queen admires his Robin Hood painting, from Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters by Mike Grell


The Green Arrow that we met in Part OnePart TwoPart Three and Part Four was very much your standard superhero in the same mold as Batman, except that he wore a Robin Hood costume. Wearing a Robin Hood costume did invite more stories where he met Robin Hood through time travel or people impersonating the outlaw. 

However, in 1969, Green Arrow was reshaped. He got a new costume, grew a beard, and developed a new attitude. Now Green Arrow was an argumentative social crusader -- a bit more like Robin Hood. Part Five explored two Robin Hood themed stories from the 1970s. One of those tales was drawn by Mike Grell.

In 1987, Mike Grell wrote and drew the new prestige format mini-series Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters that reshaped the hero once again, this time as an urban hunter. It was followed by an ongoing Green Arrow comic book, of which Mike Grell wrote the first 80 issues.

Robin Hood concepts were explored more than ever before in the Grell years. We'll begin with an overview of the general Robin Hood themes, and then move into issues with specific Robin Hood appearances.

Robin Hood in Mike Grell's Green Arrow

Comic books in the 1980s

Comic books used to be a mass medium -- purchased by children at every convenience store, drug store, newsstand and other locations open for the general public. The nature of these outlets meant that most comic books were subject to scrutiny and censorship, mostly signified by the stamp "Approved by the Comics Code Authority" that appeared on the covers.

But in the 1970s and more so in the 1980s, a new distribution market opened up -- direct sales to comic book specialty shops. Stores only dealing in comics and related material would make their orders non-returnable, allowing publishers to take more risks on their comics.

Also, comic books were now appealing to an older market. The Marvel Comics of the 1960s and Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams's Green Lantern/Green Arrow comics of the early 1970s appealed to the college crowd, as did the growing underground comic book trend. 

The new comics specialty market place allowed small publishers to thrive with comics catered to an older market. One such example was First Comics. They published Jon Sable, Freelance, writer/artist Mike Grell's comic series about a bounty hunter.

Even the big publishers got into the market with comics only for the comic book specialty market, such as 1986's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by writer/artist Frank Miller. This four part mini-series depicted a retirement age Batman in a dystopian world. It was ironic, violent, clever, thematic, unleashed. And it was published in a new format -- on thick, solid, glossy paper. DC would call it "prestige format." 

And Green Arrow made some appearances. He was a one-armed outlaw with a grudge against the government lackey Superman.

Oliver Queen stirring up trouble as Superman and Batman fight in The Dark Knight Falls

Frank Miller's comics were groundbreaking, and DC Comics wanted more of the same. They hired editor Mike Gold away from First Comics, and Gold tapped Mike Grell to come back to DC.

Gold offered Grell Batman, but he refused. After Frank Miller, no one would be able to top that for decades. So, then Mike Gold suggested doing a prestige format mini-series about Mike Grell's favourite character -- Green Arrow. Grell had drawn the Green Arrow back-up features in Action Comics and also the second run of Green Lantern/Green Arrow in the 1970s. He'd even written some of the Green Arrow stories, along with writing and drawn DC's mega-hit The Warlord.

But did Grell really want to step back to write and draw the archer again? Gold had the perfect pitch for him: "Green Arrow as an urban hunter."

Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters #1 cover by Mike Grell

Meet the New/Old Green Arrow

Among the changes that Grell made was to age up Oliver Queen. No, he wasn't the white-haired, bald-on-top old rebel of Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns. But he wasn't the eternal 29 years old of the classic superheroes. Ollie celebrates -- or perhaps laments -- his 43rd birthday in the first issue of the Longbow Hunters. And every year in the follow-up regular series, he'd continue to have birthdays each year - his 44th birthday in issue 10 and his 45th in issue 21. Oliver complains how his friend Hal (who longtime comic book readers would know as Green Lantern) never seems to celebrate birthdays. 

But Oliver and left the world of superheroes behind, and entered something closer to the real world. He'd even throw away his fancy trick arrow -- once the dominant feature of the Green Arrow stories. This new, older Oliver felt the gimmicks were holding him back.

Oliver Queen throws Green Arrow's trick arrows in the trash, art by Mike Grell

Instead he'd switch to the standard pointed arrows, which he'd shoot into criminals hands, legs, and in the climax of issue 2 of The Longbow Hunters, Oliver would put an arrow straight through a criminal's heart. The Seattle Slasher had chained up Dinah Lance (aka Black Canary) and was torturing her. As Grell made clear, Oliver could have stopped the slasher without killing him, but he chose to kill.

Superheroes do not kill. But then Oliver and Dinah weren't truly superheroes any longer. Not in the hands of Mike Grell. We never see any costumes aside from Green Arrow and Black Canary's costumes. Oliver remarks how the press dubbed him "Green Arrow" against his wishes. While his superhero name is briefly mentioned in the first issue of The Longbow Hunters and a flashback origin mini-series, Oliver Queen does not refer to himself and is never called Green Arrow in the 80 issues of the regular Green Arrow comic that Grell wrote from 1988 - 1993.

There's no mention of the Justice League. Guest star Hal Jordan is merely Hal, not Green Lantern. And there's not one word in the Mike Grell written comics about Black Canary's sonic powers. Oh, other writers would attempt to reconcile Grell's comics with the larger DC Universe and say that the Seattle Slasher damaged her vocal chords. But in Grell's world, she never had any superpowers. There was no such thing as super powers.

Oh, and Seattle Slasher? That's right. Our heroes had moved from the fictional, ill-defined Star City to the real-world city Seattle. Dinah even designed Oliver a new costume with long puffy sleeves and a hood to help him cope with the rainy, chilly Pacific northwest weather. The revised costume made Oliver look even more like Robin Hood. 

Dinah, the Black Canary, had owned a flower shop right from her earliest appearances in the 1940s, but her new Seattle location had a Robin Hood theme to it.

Sherwood Florist in Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters by Mike Grell

Oliver Queen and Robin Hood Nostalgia

Yes, Oliver and Dinah lived in a castle-like building named Sherwood Forest. 

Yes, it was kind of obvious who the newcomers to Seattle were. Even the blonde wig that Dinah wore as Black Canary (or sometimes just for big evenings with Oliver) couldn't keep their identities secret, In issue 10 of the ongoing series, a villain chuckles "How many guys in this town do you think fit your description? What -- it was supposed to be a secret?" When the anti-hero says the same thing in issue 11, Oliver ditches his mask -- the last superhero trapping.

The most memorable item the Sherwood Florist building, in their living quarters above the flower shop, is a painting of Robin Hood. 

Denny O'Neil's Green Arrow identified with Robin Hood as two left-wing rebels fighting against oppression. But Robin Hood means something a bit different for Mike Grell's version of Oliver Queen.

DINAH: Sometimes I think you love that old painting more than anything.

OLIVER: Not the painting -- what it stands for. A time when things were simpler, life was sweeter ... and death further off.

Oliver and the Robin Hood painting, a reflection of how times have changed, by Mike Grell

The Robin Hood painting triggers Oliver's reflections on his origins of Green Arrow. He remembers his childhood love for the film The Adventures of Robin Hood, and how he met its real-life archer Howard Hill. 

And it wasn't just Oliver who would see the Robin Hood connections. On his first night out as Seattle's protector, witnesses view him differently. The crooks seem him as a terrifying monster. But the people he saved remember Oliver as a charming Errol Flynn Robin Hood.

Witnesses describe Green Arrow differently in The Longbow Hunters by Mike Grell

The sense of nostalgia would carry over to the regular comic book series. 

Oliver would sing the 1950s Robin Hood TV theme when practicing archery. When Ollie and Dinah having kids in issue 34 (July 1990), Robin Hood and Maid Marian aren't far from their minds.

Ollie and Dinah discuss Robin Hood like baby names, written by Mike Grell with art by Dan Jurgens and Frank McLaughlin

Sadly, Oliver and Dinah can't have children. 

And their domestic bliss is disrupted when Oliver is framed for committing a terrorist act -- all part of a shady government cover up. Also wrapped in the conspiracy is Eddie Fyers -- an assassin for hire whose shifting allegiances have caused Ollie grief since The Longbow Hunters. In her 1997 conference paper on Green Arrow and Robin Hood, Sarah Beach refers to Fyers as "a sort of anti-Little John".

Oliver Queen falsely accused of terrorist, written by Mike Grell with art by Mark Jones and Bill Wray

Oliver Queen -- Outlaw

The headline proclaims that Oliver is a "self-styled Robin" -- again a reference to Robin Hood. Ollie goes on the run -- an outlaw like the person he self-styles himself after. 

And while living underground -- literally, in the Seattle Underground -- Oliver encounters Marianne, a young beggar who is something of a fantasist. She's devoured tales of princesses, trolls, knights and heroic outlaws. She's too well-read to fall for Oliver's attempted alias of Robert Huntingdon (a variation of one of the many real names for Robin Hood).

Outlawed Oliver Queen tries to use the Robert Huntingdon alias, by Mike Grell, Mark Jones and Bill Wray

The attack and frame-up was part of a plan from rogue US government agencies to seize control of the Panama Canal and score a propaganda victory for the United States. Oliver's vigilante status already made him an outsider if not an outlaw. It made him to perfect fall guy for the scheme. 

Oliver, along with Marianne, Fyers and Shado (a former member of the Yakuza - and another recurring enemy/ally throughout the Grell run) expose the corrupt elements. But how high does the corruption go?

The American president George H.W. Bush may not have known about the scheme, but he was willing to reap the benefits. In a meeting on Air Force One in issue 39 (November 1990), Oliver expresses his outrage at the president.

Oliver Queen vents his rage at President George H.W. Bush by Mike Grell, Denys Cowan and Shea Anton Pensa

One of the core elements of the Robin Hood legend for most of the 20th century was "Good King" Richard the Lionheart. This absent king would return to England and overturn the abuses of Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham. The historical Richard I wasn't quite as virtuous as his literary reputation would have suggested. The 1976 film Robin and Marian and the 1984 TV series Robin of Sherwood depict a King Richard who is not pure and heroic.

Writer Mike Grell and artists Denys Cowan and Shea Anton Pensa's depiction of the US President is of a similarly flawed man. Oliver tells Bush I to "Kiss my ass ... sir!"

To get ahead of any evidence that Oliver could release against the government, the President releases a statement regarding the criminal activity of his agencies and promising to do better. 

Oliver's name is cleared. But his "traitor" status was front page news. The news clearing his name was far less prominent. Having lost the trust of the people, Oliver left town for a world tour of self-discovery and adventure.

He wandered across the Canadian border and onto a film set -- part of the prolific Vancouver film industry that would in decades to come play host to TV series about Oliver Queen. Ollie befriends the Irish stunt co-ordinator, in part by showing off his ability to split an arrow.

Unfortunately, Ollie's friend turns out to a member of the IRA with quite the legend. When an RCMP officer describes this supposed Scarlet Pimpernel like figure, Oliver compares him to Robin Hood. 

Oliver Queen discusses a Robin Hood like figure -- a terrorist by Mike Grell, Denys Cowan and Bill Wray

"If Robin Hood was a terrorist," the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Officer responds.

Oliver let his friend go, but then travels to Ireland to stop him from assassinating Prince Charles and Princess Diana, what was to be a final memorable end to his legend.

When Oliver does return to Seattle, he is framed by a corrupt cop, 

He is offered Howard Hill's old longbow from filming The Adventures of Robin Hood. It's the start of an adventure that takes him to Japan. Oliver tries to impress a master of Zen archery with his ability to split an arrow in Robin Hood style. The Japanese archer.dismisses it as a "foolish to waste an arrow." Just then Shado enters and splits Oliver's own arrow.

When he returns to the United States, Oliver gains an aspect of the Robin Hood legend he never truly had before -- a group of Merry Men, a group of Marianne's friends from the street.

Oliver's Merry Band, by Mike Grell, Frank Springer and Pablos Marcos

Dinah quips "So ... you finally found yourself a Merry Band, eh?"

Unfortunately, the merriment doesn't last long. Dinah's relationship with Oliver fractures when she catches Marianne kissing him, and he doesn't break away. It's a last straw in their relationship. Earlier she had discovered when Oliver was injured and delirious, Shado had slept with him -- fathering a son.

And enough tension comes in Grell's final issues. King County has a new sheriff Ned Mannix, and this one doesn't like vigilantes. He has Oliver Queen arrested.

Oliver Queen and the Sheriff argue over justice vs. the law

The tension between justice and the law runs throughout Mike Grell's run on Green Arrow, In Grell's final issue, Oliver receives another warning from the new sheriff. He replies "I'll keep it in mind, sheriff ... But it wouldn't be the first time someone like me has operated just on the edge of the law." Clearly Oliver is still thinking of Robin Hood.

Grell touches on central issues at the heart of both the Robin Hood legend and that of action heroes like Green Arrow.

One of the key debates in Robin Hood scholarship since the 1950s has been about what does Robin Hood represent? Is he siding with the peasants in a variation of the Peasant's Revot of 1381 -- seeking to transform society? Or is Robin Hood just eliminating the corrupt elements from society -- not transforming the system, but just getting rid of the bad apples.

Grell raises the same questions when he retells Green Arrow's origin in the Secret Origins comic and then in more expanded form in the 1993 mini-series Green Arrow: The Wonder Year. A newsreader asks "Is this modern-day Robin Hood a symbol of the return to old values or a further extension of rebellion against authority?"

reen Arrow: The Wonder Year, issue 2 by Mike Grell and Gray Morrow

As we've seen, Robin Hood themes are coming throughout Mike Grell's time on Green Arrow from the first issue of The Longbow Hunters to the 80th (and Grell's last) issue of the regular Green Arrow comic book.

And yet, Grell's Oliver Queen operates in a different world than the Green Arrow of previous years. Time travel and other such tricks should have no place in the reality that some fans and editors have called Earth-Grell. However, there are some exceptions.

Below we're going to look at the issues where the "Hooded Man" appears, and I don't mean Oliver Queen.

Cover to Green Arrow #25 by J.J. Birch

"Witch Hunt, Part 1"

Green Arrow #25 (October 1989)

Written by Mike Grell
Pencilled by Trevor Von Eeden and J.J. Birch

Inked by Michael Bair

This is the first of a two-part story that takes Oliver Queen to England, and also contains an element of magic -- or at least belief in magic -- that is a departure from the usual comics in Grell's run.

Hunting a Witch

Hunters armed with shotguns march through the forest  The hooting owl circling above them gives a warning cry to their intended prey.

Their quarry is a  young woman wearing a hooded robe. She stands in a grove of standing stones carved with runes, seemingly giving a blessing to a woman and child. The owl lands and seems to send the young woman a psychic message.

By the time the hunters arrive, the young woman had fled and the grove stands empty. The hunters continue their pursuit with dogs. The woman turns and appears to win the dogs over to her side by spellcraft.

Rowan controls dogs with seeming magical ability, by Mike Grell, Trevor von Eeden, J.J. Birch and Michael Bair

Magic seems far outside the realm of the corrupt government officials, petty criminals, homophobic gangs and other crimes that have appeared so far in the comic. Mike Grell will explore the spirituality of the Indigenous Peoples in a later issue.

Having escaped her pursuers, the young woman enters the grounds of a mansion. She's confronted by an angry old man -- her grandfather.

The man swears he'll put a stop to what she's been up to. The woman responds "I didn't choose this, grandfather. I was chosen."

The old man will not hear of it -- shouting that this evil killed her mother. The young woman counters "Evil is in the minds of ignorant men."

He will won't listen. And vows to stop her. He raises his cane to deliver a beating.

A bigoted old man dies, by Grell, von Eeden, Birch and Bair

Just as he prepares to strike, the old man clutches his heart and falls to the lower level. The fallen body is covered in blood, much to the woman's horror.

It's a tense opening, conveyed more by the art than the words. Many of the pages are wordless.

Meanwhile in Seattle

Oliver Queen walks through the city reflecting on how autumn is his favourite time of year. Halloween is fast approaching, and Dinah has decorated Sherwood Florist up as a haunted castle to raise money for a local charity.

Dinah goes through the junk mail that Oliver so casually dismissed and flags a letter for him. It's from an English solicitor named Geoffrey Dunston who wants Oliver to investigate a client's death. Oliver doesn't care -- he's not a private investigator, and certainly not for lawyers. That's when Dinah draws his attention to the postmark -- from Nottingham, an English city associated with Robin Hood.

Dinah Lance, Oliver Queen and a letter from Nottingham by Mike Grell, Trevor von Eeden, J.J. Birch and Michael Bair

Turn the page and there's a two-page spread of a jet plane in front of the Houses of Parliament. It looks it's going to land in the River Thames. The image is more representational than literal I'm sure.

But the point is made, the charms of Seattle in autumn can't compare with a change to visit Robin Hood Country.


Well, not quite. More precisely, it's welcome to the customs line at Heathrow Airport. It's an experience that lasts six to eight days, or so Ollie jokes to the solicitor who meets him at solicitor who meets him at the airport.

In his London office, Dunston explains that Alec Hawthorne was an old friend -- almost a surrogate father. They served together in the army, and he's been the family solicitor for 20 years. Dunston was even with Hawthorne's son when he was killed in Cairo.

He explains that his son's widow Gwyneth and their baby Rowan. The solicitor says that Hawthorne loved the young child "despite the fact that she showed sign's of her mother's ... disorder."

Oliver Queen listens to the solicitor's story, by Mike Grell, Trevor von Eeden, J.J. Birtch and Michael Bair

Rowan's mother was Welsh and practiced Druid rituals -- including healing. She was unhealthy and died young -- possibly from performing rituals in the wet and the cold. When Rowan followed her mother's traditions, the grandmother became afraid she unlocked some kind of evil.

The solicitor is sure the old man's death is due to natural causes. But Rowan has fled to the woods. He's worried what the local hunters and witchfinders will do to her when they catch her.

Dunston doesn't think she's evil -- although he thinks her beliefs are a sign of mental illness.

That's why he hired Oliver -- a hunter of men -- to find her and keep her safe from the guns. He offers to drive Oliver to Nottinghamshire, but "the hunter of men" wants to drive himself. 

Oliver Queen drives into Sherwood Forest, by Mike Grell, Trevor von Eeden, J.J. Birch and Michael Bair

Welcome to Sherwood

Oliver drives down a road with a collection of trees on both sides. He stops a passerby to confirm he's on the road to Nottingham. He is. And then, Ollie asks the question he really wanted to ask, the one that would flag him as a tourist. "And ... uh, where would I find Sherwood Forest?"

He's disappointed to learn that the sparse collection of trees IS Sherwood. "Not at all the way they make it out in the cinema. But then, that's progress, I suppose."

Oliver doubts it.

And yes, Sherwood Forest in the real world did not quite preserve the majesty seen in Hollywood versions of the legend. In a way, this is Grell using a bit of real-world history to deconstruct a legend. Just as in other issues, he deconstructed Green Arrow's origin -- ascribing elements like pirates to mere tall tales.

But Grell's Green Arrow is still not quite our world, and Oliver comes upon something you wouldn't see in the real Sherwood Forest.

The Blue Boar Inn by Mike Grell, Trevor von Eeden, J.J. Birch, and Michael Bair

The Blue Boar Inn is the tavern from Howard Pyle's 1883 children's novel The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood. The Blue Boar would be on Grell's mind as he illustrated an edition of Pyle's novel in 1989. 

Oliver has a drink in the pub -- the Robin Hood fan in me hopes it was brown October ale --, books a room for his indefinite stay and then asks directions to the Hawthorne estate.

One of the Blue Boar's patrons feels compelled to offer Oliver a warning about the forest that there are forces he doesn't understand.

John Constantine and Oliver Queen by Mike Grell, Trevor von Eeden, J.J. Birch and Michael Bair

The chain-smoking man with the cryptic warnings is John Constantine star of DC comic book, John Constantine, Hellblazer. Constantine's appearance here is just a tip of the hat to another "mature readers only" comic that's set in England.

The characters would meet again in 2015 episode of Arrow, when John Constantine, played by actor Matt Ryan, from the cancelled TV series Constantine repays a favour to Oliver Queen played by Stephen Amell. In some ways, the roots of the Arrowverse can be seen in this cute cameo.

So, there's a light trace of the Robin Hood legend in this issue. The outlaw hero isn't mentioned by name yet. But there's more to come in part two.

Cover to Green Arrow #26 by J.J. Birch

"Witch Hunt, Part 2: Ollie of Sherwood"

Green Arrow #26 (November 1989)

Written by Mike Grell
Pencilled by J.J. Birch

Inked by Michael Bair

The title of the second chapter "Ollie of Sherwood" references the 1980s TV series Robin of Sherwood. Although most of the North American readers wouldn't know it by that name, as it aired on Showtime and PBS under the plainer title of Robin Hood (reverting back to the UK original title for the DVD and subsequent releases).

It's a version that casts Robin Hood as the servant of a Pagan god, the perfect reference for a Green Arrow story that features a Pagan character.

Tales of Help and Harm

The patrons and staff at the Blue Boar Inn are suspicious of Oliver asking after the Hawthorne estate. They've had enough trouble with "that witch".

The bartender explains how the local squire Mr. Hawthorne had been an important figure in the community, offering many loans to the locals. Now that he's dead, they're not sure what's going to happen. And yes, they do think that his granddaughter Rowan might be in touch with magical powers, as Hawthorne had been so unflappable otherwise.

Oliver Queen in the Blue Boar Inn, by Mike Grell, J.J. Birch and Michael Bair

Again, Oliver is warned that he just doesn't know what he's facing. And again, he laughs it off. Grell's Oliver Queen isn't quite the one who hangs out with aliens and magicians in the Justice League.

Oliver finds the seemingly empty Hawthorne Estate and investigates. He picks up the cane that Hawthorne was holding during his heart attack -- the one he was going to strike Rowan with.

Oliver investigates the Hawthorne Estate, by Mike Grell, J.J. Birch and Michael Bair

As Oliver explores the estate's greenhouse, he discovers he is not alone. Hawthorne's solicitor Geoffrey Dunston is there as well. He knew Rowan well and hoped to be a calming influence.

Oliver says that Rowan's visited the estate often. The plants and have been watered and some of the herbs harvested. Dunston is shocked at the suggesting that Rowan is "continuing her practices." "Witchcraft? You can't believe that!" "No," Oliver corrects the solicitor. "Healing." Many of these plants are medicines.

Oliver tastes the greenhouse plants, by Mike Grell, J. J. Birch and Michael Bair

Oliver tastes one of the plants -- parsley. Although he can barely taste it through the garlic taste that he figures must be left over from the pub food at the Blue Boar Inn.

Dunston is worried about the angry townspeople and feels it's best if Rowan is placed under psychiatric care for her protection.

Oliver plans to follow her trail, although he offers no guarantees of what happens when he finds her.

Oliver Queen prepares to follow Rowan's tracks, by Mike Grell, J.J. Birch and Michael Bair

The original pitch for the Mike Grell era was "Green Arrow as urban hunter", but here we see that like Robin Hood of old, Oliver Queen can also hunt quarry in a forest.

Oh, and speaking of Robin Hood...

Oliver Queen aka Green Arrow enters Sherwood Forest by Mike Grell, J. J. Birch and Michael Bair

The Legend, Tale Of Times Gone By

Oliver enters what's left of Sherwood Forest, and he reflects on the legend. "You can almost feel them in the trees. Robin Hood. Marian. Little John. Tuck." He wonders where they are now.

And to Ollie's surprise, a voice answers him "Where they have always been ... in the heart of the greenwood."

Hern tells Oliver Queen about Robin Hood, written by Mike Grell, art by J.J. Birch and Michael Bair

The voice belongs to a horned man. The spirit tells Oliver that "The days of the longbow are all but gone." But then he adds "But here in the greenwood they live on. With each new spring they are born again in the heart of the Great Mother."

And then, the spirit shows Oliver what he longed to see. Robin Hood and his band, just as you'd imagine them to be.

A vision of Robin Hood and the Merry Men by Mike Grell (writer) and J.J. Birch and Michael Bair

The spirit says "They were my sons, they are your brothers ... I called them as I called you. Their choice was the same as yours... Adventure and death, or boredom and contentment. For the bold"

And then he assures Oliver, "One day the trees will speak your name."

The spirit says he was awakened by one who hasn't forgotten the old ways.

Hern reveals his name to Oliver Queen, written by Mike Grell, art by J. J. Birch and Michael Bair

And the spirit finally reveals his name "Hern the Hunter."

Shakespeare fans will know Herne the Hunter as the spirit that is supposed to haunt Windsor Park in The Merry Wives of Windsor. But Robin of Sherwood fans will know Herne the Hunter as the shamanistic Lord of the Trees who guides Robin Hood. One of Robin Hood's titles in the 1980s TV series is "Herne's Son" -- more spiritual than literal but it would appear that Oliver Queen is on the same spiritual family tree.

This scene is brief, and yet more powerful and evocative than previous stories which tried to argue that Robin Hood and Green Arrow were two of a kind. 

Besides Robin of Sherwood, there are reflections of John Keats poem on Robin Hood and Alfred Noyes's Song of Sherwood. And there are traces of Peter Beagle's novel The Last Unicorn and its animated adaptation when the bumbling magician Schmendrick conjures a potent illusion of the fictional outlaws.

Various mythic writers such as Margaret Murray and Robert Graves fit the Robin Hood legend into the mythic framework of that Grell does here. 

Once Hern vanishes, Oliver's vision become more fantastical, not less. He sees a fairy castle and a giant dragon. Has the no-superheroes Oliver Queen of Mike Grell's comic taken a trip to the Land of Fancy?

The person who Oliver asked directions from in the previous issue finds a delirious Oliver, muttering movie quotes. He curses the "bloody yank tourist." And then Rowan arrives and offers to help. 

She checks Oliver's eyes and finds them bloodshot.

Rowan finds a drugged Oliver Queen, written by Mike Grell, art by J.J. Birch and Michael Bair

The Truth Reawakened

Oliver wakes up in a cave with a roaring fire. Rowan explains that he was drugged.

He explains that he knows she didn't have anything to do with her grandfather's death, and asks her to come back with him. She agrees, but not this night. It's All Hallows Eve and she has much to do.

"And I suppose you're going to ride a broomstick," Oliver says sarcastically.

Rowan explains her beliefs, written by Mike Grell, art by J.J. Birch and Michael Bair

Rowan speaks of her beliefs. Magic is the term for what people do not understand. And superstition has been used as a tool to oppress women. Rowan believes that "The land and the people are one." Perhaps the movie quoting Oliver recognizes it as a line from John Boorman's movie Excalibur. And right now, people are hurting the land.

She leads Oliver through the forest, showing him that the plants that harm and the plants that heal grow side by side.

They come to the standing stones. Unfortunately, the witch hunters are there as well. And so is the solicitor Geoffrey Dunston.

The hunter is horrified that Rowan is friendly with her dog. He intends to take care of her, but Oliver puts an arrow down the muzzle of the shotgun. And he reveals the true villain of the tale.

Oliver Queen catches the true crook, by Mike Grell, J. J. Birch and Michael Bair

With Rowan locked away in psychiatric care, Dunston would take over the estate. That was the motive.

As for means and opportunity, it's the same reason why Dunston thought the "hunter of men" would fail and he brought back up. It's the old man's cane. The one that Oliver touched earlier with his bare hands, but which Dunston handles with gloves.

Oliver guesses that the tip of it has been coated with dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO), a chemical used in the treatment of arthritis. DMSO is absorbed through the skin, and it leaves the strong taste of garlic -- like Ollie had experienced earlier. 

But anything mixed with DMSO is also absorbed. Oliver suspect it was mixed with LSD. That would give the powerful hallucinations that Oliver had in the forest, but it would also burn itself out before any autopsy.Hawthorne was slowly poisoned, blaming Rowan for his hallucinations.

So, does that mean that Robin Hood, Hern and the rest were merely the product of a bad acid trip? That there's no magic in this world after all?

Rowan is shocked that Dunston did this. She doesn't care for money. She would have let him had this. But the solicitor had a son's love for Hawthorne, and he's resentful it wasn't returned --  that he was treated as a mere employee. When Dunston threatens Rowan, it's as if the forces of nature come to her defence.

The villain dies - perhaps by nature's revenge, by Mike Grell, J. J. Birch and Michael Bair

The dog springs to Rowan's defence -- slamming Dunston against the standing stone. This stone has stood for centuries. And yet, now it cracks and shatters. It falls on the evil solicitor. crushing him to death. As if the forest has passed judgment. 

With the truth revealed, the local witch hunters apologize for acting in fear and ignorance. There is the hope of reconcilation.

And then Oliver shoots an arrow, as a "thank you". The ghostly image of Hern appears and seems to accept the tribute. 

Was this just a final trick of the mind? Or is there true magic in the world after all?

Oliver Queen pays tribute to Hern, by Mike Grell, J.J. Birch and Michael Bair

In This Strange Land

In many ways, this tale stands apart from the rest of Grell's run. It takes place in England, not in Seattle. There's the hint of real magic. And yet, Indigenous spirituality and drug-induced experiences appear in other tales. So, it does belong very much in the Mike Grell canon, although it would leave a slightly distorted view if this was the only Mike Grell Green Arrow story you read.

Also more than slightly distorted were the portrayals of the English characters and geography. They published some criticisms in the Sherwood Forum letter columns of issue 30.

A letter in the Green Arrow letter column complaining about issue 25. Street address and postal code removed.

The most obvious and intentional shout outs to Robin of Sherwood are the title "Ollie of Sherwood" and the appearance of Hern[e]. And yet, the Robin of Sherwood fan might find themselves thinking of three episodes in particular.

In "The Witch of Elsdon", Guy of Gisburne punishes a woman who spurned him by trying her and her husband as witches. The skeptical Sheriff of Nottingham knows better, but he does promise to free the "witch"'s husband if she uses her knowledge of herbs and medicine to poison Robin Hood. In "Lord of the Trees", Gisburne hires mercenaries to disrupt a pagan festival in honour of Herne. The Abbot of St. Mary's cautions him "You leave well alone, Gisburne. Or you may find the old gods aren't quite as dead as you think." And then in "Rutterkin", Robin Hood's uncle frames a mad woman as a witch -- part of a plot to implicate Robin Hood's father the Earl of Huntingdon in the poisoning of King John. Mad Mab seems a harmless old woman, but in the end of the episode as she sings to her pig, she adds the verse "Death take you now." And the traitorous uncle Lord Edgar is struck dead. Then she says "Unlock" and the cell door springs up.

Mad Mab was played by Annabelle Lee, the wife of series creator Richard Carpenter who wrote all three of those episodes. But another person from Robin of Sherwood who would join Mike Grell the next time Oliver Queen came to Nottinghamshire. As you'll learn below.

Cover to Green Arrow Annual #4, art by Mike Grell

"The Black Alchemist"

Green Arrow Annual #4 (1991)

Written by Mike Grell and Mark Ryan
Art by Shea Anton Pensa

1991 was the 50th anniversary of Green Arrow. It was also a big year for Robin Hood. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves starring Kevin Costner premiered in theatres in June of that year, and it was one of the highest grossing films of the year. (Although Robin Hood connoisseurs might recommend the film Robin Hood starring Patrick Bergin that premiered on the Fox TV channels in May 1991 as the better Robin Hood film of that year.)

The extra special annual this year features both Oliver Queen and Robin Hood. Although they don't meet, they do look a lot alike. And this tale does feature a different coming together of Green Arrow and Robin Hood. Mike Grell is joined on the writing duties by actor Mark Ryan, who is best known to Robin Hood fans for playing the role of Nasir the Saracen on Robin of Sherwood.

What Happens In Annuals, Stays In Annuals

Part of the comic book tradition at both DC and Marvel are annuals -- extra-sized issues sometimes with bonus content. 

The Green Arrow annuals always stood apart from the regular Mike Grell Green Arrow comics. For one thing, the first three annuals (1988-1990) weren't written by Mike Grell, but by Green Arrow's former writer Dennis O'Neil. Grell's Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance lived in a world without superheroes or science-fiction adventure (except the one time Travis Morgan from Grell's Warlord series stopped by). But the 1988 annual features crossover between Green Arrow, O'Neil's Question comics and Detective Comics starring Batman. The 1989 and 1990 annuals also crossed over with The Question.

The 1992 Annual was written by Sarah Byam and features Batman -- part of a storyline where various superheroes had been corrupted by the supervillain Eclipso. 

The final annual during Mike Grell's time on Green Arrow, 1993's Annual #6, was written by Grell, but it was part of the Bloodlines stunt. Each annual featured the creation of a new super-powered hero. At the end, Ollie declares he's going to pretend that none of it ever happened.

Green Arrow vows to pretend like the events of the annual never happened by Mike Grell and Mike Collins

While that approach is never outright stated in Green Arrow Annual #4, one could assume that if Ollie and Dinah knew the true events of the story, they'd also just pretend they never happened.

But fortunately for us readers, the story did happen. Or at least some of it did.

Ollie and Dinah drive through Nottingham, written by Mike Grell and Mark Ryan, art by Shea Anton Pensa

Return to Nottingham

Ollie and Dinah drive through modern-day Nottingham. She experiences the same sense of disappointment that Oliver did on his first visit. Where's Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone?

There's still a bit of romance left in the comic book version of Nottingham at least. Their accommodations have a tower dating back to the 11th century grange -- it forms the bridal suite. The steadfastly unmarried couple check in under the names Mr. and Mrs. John Smith. 

Dinah's captivated by the portrait of a woman with dark curly hair that hangs in the suite. Oliver seems to pay it no mind.

He goes to check out the local libraries to see if there's an distant branch of his family tree in Nottingham -- the purpose for their visit. Dinah goes shopping and picks up a strange pendant. It has wings and two intertwining serpents -- like the caduceus. 

Dinah looks at a magical pendant, art by Shea Anton Pensa

Back in the bridal suite Dinah admires her new purchase. But just then, she hears a voice from the painting "Reach into the well. Remove the poisoned bade from my heart."

And with that Dinah slips into unconsciousness -- and into another world, another time.

Dinah Lance is summoned to the past, written by Mike Grell and Mark Ryan, art by Shea Anton Pensa

Who Awoke to Find Herself in the Past

Our raven-haired heroine wakes up to the sound of commotion outside. Things have changed. She's now garbed in medieval finery. She is not herself.

She goes to the window to see what's happening.

Time-tossed Dinah aka Marian looks out the window, art by Shea Anton Pensa

Outside there is a fierce and pitched battle. The soldiers are struggling with bloodthirsty outlaws. And the outlaws are her side.

Yes, it's the Merry Men.

Double-page splash to Green Arrow Annual #4, depicting the Merry Men, art by Shea Anton Pensa

Just then a maniac with a sword -- who we'll later learn is called Sir Gilburt -- bursts into her room declaring that if he can't have her --no one will. But before he can act on his threat, the menacing figure finds an arrow in his neck.

In the doorway, stands her rescuer. He looks a lot like Oliver, except in medieval clothing.

Marian is rescued by Robin Hood, who looks a lot like Green Arrow. Art by Shea Anton Pensa

Welcome to Sherwood

Her rescuer takes her to the outlaws' camp, set up by a giant oak tree that is drawn to resemble the tree that 20th and 21st century tourists to Nottinghamshire would call the Major Oak -- a tree often touted as Robin Hood's headquarters.

The woman is confused -- seeing a flash of her rescuer in modern-day garb as well as his medieval clothes. He is both Oliver and not Oliver.

Robin Hood introduces himself to Marian, script by Mike Grell and Mark Ryan. Art by Shea Anton Pensa

The man introduces himself to the dark-haired woman using a variety of titles -- such as "son of the great forest god Herne" and "both angel of mercy ... and of death." But for his actual name, well, you've already guessed it. It's Robin.

Robin Hood introduces himself, as Herne's Son, among other things. Written by Mike Grell and Mark Ryan

As mentioned above when discussing the last time a version of Herne appeared in Green Arrow comics, Robin Hood was nicknamed "Herne's Son" in Robin of Sherwood -- the very show that writer Mark Ryan had appeared in as an actor. 

Robin introduces his band of outlaws. Theyre pledged to hold the forest safe from Prince John until the true king returns. 

Robin starts by introducing his right-hand man -- Little John, just as those familiar with nearly any version of the Robin Hood legend would expect. 

However, Will Scarlet and Friar Tuck's dialogue sounds almost exactly like the banter TV viwers would expect to hear from Ryan's old TV co-stars Ray Winstone and Phil Rose in those parts.

Will, Tuck, Much and Rassan - Merry Men. Written by Mike Grell and Mark Ryan with art by Shea Anton Pensa

Robin refers to Much as his cousin. Usually there's no family connection between Robin and Much, but in Robin of Sherwood, Much was Robin's foster-brother.  And then, there's Rassan -- a Muslim member of the Merry Men. Movie fans would be introduced to Morgan Freeman's Azeem that summer in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the wise Moorish member of Robin's band. But Morgan Freeman's character is quite chatty -- not the "rarely says a word" character presented in this comic.

However, in Robin of Sherwood, co-writer Mark Ryan himself played Nasir, the ex-assassin Muslim member of the band, who did indeed rarely speak. Well, if Hollywood is going to rip off Mark Ryan's character for their film, why shouldn't Mark Ryan rip off his own character. (Although one online Green Arrow fan -- unfamiliar with Robin of Sherwood, it would seem -- felt this perceived borrowing from Prince of Thieves to be an unforgivable sin.  Perhaps as a Muslim member of Robin's band has continued to appear in many later Robin Hood films and TV shows, he'd be less shocked today.)

When Robin mentions the nasty knight they killed -- Sir Gilburt -- intended to take a wife, the raven-haired woman is visibly distressed. She has no real memory of that. She searches her memory to give Robin a name. And when she finally introduces herself, it's not as 20th century woman Dinah Lance, but as Marian. 

Marian introduces herself to Robin Hood, written by Mike Grell and Mark Ryan, with art by Shea Anton Pensa

Yes, you probably guessed that twist -- and why I was being so cagey about avoiding mentioning her name after the time-slip occurred. 

Robin says the famous line from the Errol Flynn film the same one Oliver quoted at the beginning of the tale -- "Welcome to Sherwood."

What unfolds has little to do with Green Arrow -- it's a Robin of Sherwood adventure, although perhaps pushed even more into the realm of fantasy fiction than the TV show did.  

An evil skeletal "Black Alchemist" poisons the local well. Meanwhile, the Sheriff of Nottingham is outraged that he has to play host to a Welsh Marcher Lord -- or should I say, Marcher Lady, as his guest is a violent warrior woman Ariana.

The TV series previously had Marian (or Marion as it was spelled for the TV show) rescued from an unwanted marriage, evil sorcerers poisoned the land, and yes, the Sheriff and others played host to violent warriors from Wales. 

It's a twist to make the Welsh psycho a woman, however. Perhaps it's a call back to the historical warrior Boudica of Roman Britain times. It's a canny move on Mark Ryan and Mike Grell's part as it creates a villainous counterpart to Marian.

Mark Ryan also adds a female counterpart to Herne the Hunter, when Robin finds himself summoned by Ellen of the Wells.

Ellen of the Wells written by Mike Grell and Mark Ryan with art by Shea Anton Pensa

Ellen explains "Herne and I are brother and sister. We are the land, the stone and the water." She warns Robin that a black alchemist is poisoning the land, and Robin must stop him or the land is poisoned forever.

The Adventure Continues

The Merry Men scour the land, witnessing the devastation brought by the Black Alchemist's poison. 

Marian receives guidance from Ellen and plunges her hand into the well, withdrawing the Black Alchemist's cursed dagger. 

Marian pulls a cursed dagger from the well, written by Mike Grell and Mark Ryan, art by Shea Anton Pensa

A second dip in the well heals Marian's hand, and she and the Merry Men head to other wells to remove the Black Alchemist's enchanted poisons. 

Ariana prepares to leave Nottingham. Sir Guy of Gisbourne appreciates the warrior's beauty while the sheriff is dismissive of it. The characters don't physically resemble the actors Nickolas Grace and Robert Addie, but their relationship (and the sheriff's implied homosexuality) is once again a callback to Robin of Sherwood.

Ariana speaks to the Sheriff and Sir Guy, written by Mike Grell and Mark Ryan with art by Shea Anton Pensa

Ariana captures Marian and some of the Merry Men.

Meanwhile, the sheriff discovers Ariana's treachery and that they've all been poisoned. The Sheriff of Nottingham dispatches Gisbourne to get an army from Prince John to fight the Welse traitor.

Ariana plans to use Marian as a sacrifice to enact her evil, and she rips the talisman from Marian. It's the talisman that Dinah Lance had bought back in the present day.

Ariana grabs Marian's pendant, written by Mike Grell and Mark Ryan with art by Shea Anton Pensa

Ellen of the Wells guides Robin and his remaining band to rescue Marian. Guy of Gisbourne arrives, but he ignores Prince John's orders and lets his hatred of Robin Hood get the better of him. 

As Robin Hood struggles with Sir Guy's forces, Ariana throws herself and Marian into the well -- similar to Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty plunging into Reichenbach Falls. 

Ariana and Marian plunge into the well, written by Mike Grell and Mark Ryan and art by Shea Anton Pensa

Robin screams "No!" as Marian and her foe plunge into the well.

And then, Dinah Lance wakes up back in their luxury Nottingham suite.

Dinah awakens in the present, written by Mike Grell and Mark Ryan with art by Shea Anton Pensa

Back in the Present Day

Dinah figures she slipped and hit her head. She writes off her experiences as Marian as nothing but a dream. 

But then Oliver repeats the same words as Robin Hood -- causing her to wonder.

Dinah remembers her experiences in the past, written by Mike Grell and Mark Ryan with art by Shea Anton Pensa

The story strongly implies a spiritual connection between Oliver Queen (aka Green Arrow) and Robin Hood.

But then cleverly Grell and Ryan subvert expectations by casting doubt on any biological connection between the two archers. All Ollie could turn up in the city's records is that he had a great-great-grandfather who was a horse thief. Hardly the stuff of legend. We're back in the non-super-powered, non-magical world of "Earth-Grell." 

Oliver Queen finds that he's related to a horse thief, written by Mike Grell and Mark Ryan with art by Shea Anton Pensa

Or are we? For reflected in the window of the antique shop is the ghostly image of Ariana laughing in victory. Was it a mere hallucination? The events of this annual are never referred to again, so readers will never know.

The annual's letter column assures us that comics have not heard the last of Mark Ryan. And that's true. Decades later Mark Ryan and Mike Grell would go on to collaborate on the graphic novel The Pilgrim. But originally they had planned to collaborate on a 1993 Robin Hood series called The Hooded Man that would have continued the mythic Robin Hood adventures depicted in this annual. DC Comics felt that the 1990s public was done with Robin Hood and didn't pick up their pitch.

In some ways, this annual feels a bit like a television episode that branches away from the main characters to focus on the guest stars, intended as a back-door pilot for another TV show that may or may not get picked up. It is a Robin Hood story with a Green Arrow and Black Canary framing device.

It is interesting in that they make Marian a parallel for Black Canary. Dinah and Marian had been sidelined in the earlier adventures. And while this Marian does not have the skill with the sword and bow of her TV counterpart, she does take an active role in combating evil.

The End of An Era

After Mike Grell left Green Arrow, the character was re-incorporated into the DC Comics' superhero universe. Oliver died, went to Heaven and was resurrected by cosmic being. It's hard to get further away from the normal realism of the Grell era than that. 

And a lot of subsequent writers borrowed Robin Hood tropes. Judd Winick would introduce a corrupt chief of police as an enemy -- his name? Nudocerdo -- a name assembled for the Spanish words for Knot and Ham (more accurately, pork). It's a tip of the hat to the Sheriff of Nottingham. And the Arrow TV series introduced John Diggle -- his first name apparently a reference to Little John. And those names are more subtle than others that Green Arrow would meet.

You would think with the Robin Hood connections that writers Denny O'Neil and Mike Grell established combined with the science fiction and fantasy tropes of the "DC Universe" we'd continue to see time travel adventures between Green Arrow and Robin Hood, but so far, we haven't.

Continue to the Previous Sections:

PART 1: TIME TRAVEL ADVENTURES IN THE GOLDEN AGE OF COMICS - Covers when Green Arrow and Speedy met Robin Hood in a 1942 comic book and the 1949 adventure where Green Arrow and Robin Hood swapped places

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

Sources and Where to Find These Comics

The 1980s-1990s Green Arrow run by Mike Grell has been reprinted in two volumes by DC Comics

GREEN ARROW: THE LONGBOW HUNTERS SAGA OMNIBUS VOL.2 BY MIKE GRELL et al. The collection includes the Longbow Hunters mini-series and the first 50 issues of Mike Grell's ongoing Green Arrow series as well as a story from Secret Origins. This collection includes the Witch Hunt storyline where Oliver visits Sherwood Forest.
Buy Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters Saga Omnibus Vol. 1 on
Buy Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters Saga Omnibus Vol. 1 on
Buy Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters Saga Omnibus Vol. 1 on

GREEN ARROW: THE LONGBOW HUNTERS SAGA OMNIBUS VOL. 2 BY MIKE GRELL et al.  The collection includes issues 51-80 of Mike Grell's ongoing Green Arrow comic, Green Arrow Annuals 4-6. The Brave and the Bold mini-series, the Shado mini-series and the Green Arrow: The Wonder Year mini-series and more. This collection includes the annual co-written by Mark Ryan where Black Canary time-slips into a Robin Hood adventure.
Buy Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters Saga Omnibus Vol. 2 on
Buy Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters Saga Omnibus Vol. 2 on
Buy Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters Saga Omnibus Vol. 2 on

CRISIS ON MULTIPLE EARTHS: BOOK @: CRISIS CROSSED (2022 Edition) This collection features team-ups between the Justice League of America and the Justice Society of America. It includes the Seven Soldiers of Victory team-up from JLA #101 with the Merry Men. Other team-up stories include Crisis on Earth-X which was loosely adapted into the TV story on Arrow and related shows. (Pre-2022 Collections put this story in volume 3.)
Buy Crisis on Multiple Earths Book 2: Crisis Crossed on
Buy Crisis on Multiple Earths Book 2: Crisis Crossed on
Buy Crisis on Multiple Earths Book 2: Crisis Crossed on

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 covers much of the same territory..

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
Buy Moving Target: The History and Evolution of Green Arrow on
Buy Moving Target: The History and Evolution of Green Arrow on

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