Each week, Big Issues focuses on a newly released comic-book issue of significance. This week, it’s Green Arrow #11. Written by Benjamin Percy (Detective Comics, Teen Titans) with art by Juan E. Ferreyra (New Suicide Squad, Gotham By Midnight), this issue continues one of the best Rebirth relaunches by delivering pulse-pounding action and striking visuals. (This review reveals major plot points.)
Green Arrow is a prime example of how an editorial shift can dramatically improve a comic book series. Andy Khouri stepped on as Green Arrow’s editor for its DC Rebirth relaunch, and the quality has skyrocketed thanks to the remarkable roster of artists Khouri has assembled for writer Benjamin Percy, who is one of the few writers to stay on a title after its Rebirth transition. Percy’s first year of Green Arrow stories suffered from inconsistent artwork and overly verbose writing, but both of these issues have been resolved in Rebirth.
Artists Otto Schmidt, Juan E. Ferreyra, and Stephen Byrne rotate to keep Green Arrow looking sharp on its new twice-monthly shipping schedule, and Khouri has wisely chosen creators with complementary styles so that the artist switches aren’t jarring. It also makes a difference that these artists aren’t splitting duties within individual issues; they may handle different chapters of a storyline, but they are in complete control of the visuals for their respective issues. Percy has adjusted to the higher caliber of visuals by streamlining his scripts to put more attention on the artwork, and it’s very likely that Khouri has played a part in helping Percy refine his writing to highlight the strengths of his collaborators.
When working with a rotating line-up of artists, shorter stories make sense because they increase the likelihood of a single artist handling the entire narrative. After a five-issue opening arc by Schmidt and Ferreyra, Green Arrow has had a series of two-issue stories, with Byrne handling the first, Byrne and Schmidt splitting the second, and Ferreyra taking the third. “Murder On The Empire Express” has been an exceptionally fun action romp aboard the Trans-Pacific Railway, and Green Arrow #11 moves with the momentum of a bullet train as the heroes try to stop an assassin that has pinned the murder of an Arab diplomat on Green Arrow and Black Canary.
Ferreyra has been doing striking work at DC Comics for the last few years with stints on Constantine, Gotham By Midnight, and New Suicide Squad, and every new project has resulted in another major step forward in terms of panel composition, page design, and rendering with both his linework and colors. The most impressive thing about Ferreyra is just how quickly he’s able to produce artwork with so much detail and energy when he’s drawing and coloring all of it, and rather than taking shortcuts, he’s putting in even more work to enhance his textures, create more dramatic light sources, and amplify the motion on the page. Speed is key in a story about superheroes fighting on board a moving train, and the visuals are constantly working to increase the forward momentum.
The very first panel of Green Arrow #11 is an establishing shot of the train rushing along the ocean floor, surrounded by speed lines that continue across the next two panels to establish that sense of motion. The last three panels of the page eliminate the speed lines to create stillness as Ferreyra closes in on Amin Mustafa’s dead body, but it’s just a momentary respite from the chaos that erupts around Green Arrow and Black Canary after Mustafa’s poisoning. There are more shots of the train speeding until assassin Eddie Fyers stops the engine to make his escape, and when the train isn’t in motion, Ferreyra uses dynamic action to keep the energy up. The stakes are raised considerably when assassin Eddie Fyers detonates his explosive watch and ruptures a hole in the tube protecting the railway from the ocean surrounding it, and that rush of water adds another forceful visual element to the page.
One of the action highlights of this issue is the moment when Black Canary takes out five armed guards under the deluge, which begins with a side-view panel showing a five-step sequence of Dinah hitting different moves, and then switches to a front-view to put the reader right in the middle of the fight. The book may be named after Green Arrow, but Black Canary has been the most valuable player in this arc, largely because she’s inspired so many cool visuals from Ferreyra. The last issue had one of the best interpretations of Dinah’s sonic scream with an incredible splash page featuring a tense color contrast and forceful, complex composition, and Dinah gets another awesome splash this week when she rescues Oliver on her newly acquired motorcycle.
This splash is less experimental but equally powerful, showing Dinah and Oliver racing down the track as the hole in the tube gets bigger, letting in even more water (along with sharks and turtles). Ferreyra depicts this image from a low, tilted angle that creates an intense downward slope for the action, dramatically increasing the velocity of the vehicle. The angle, combined with the burst of water and the accompanying sharks, heightens the danger of this situation, which makes Black Canary look like even more of a badass as she rides ahead with a look of unflinching determination. (Meanwhile, Oliver is panicking as he looks at what is behind them.)
Letterer Nate Piekos uses borderless word balloons across all the artists, but they work especially well with Ferreyra, who doesn’t use panel borders. Going border-free is an easy way of giving a comic a more modern visual aesthetic, and it does give Green Arrow a fresher look compared to other superhero titles. Piekos is also very skilled at creating sound effects that are seamlessly integrated into the artwork, matching the weight of Ferreyra’s line and using a variety of different fonts and brushes to evoke the distinct qualities of different sounds. The “KRAKOOSH” effect in that big motorcycle spread increases the force of the water, and Piekos layers it under Ferreyra’s art to place the burst further behind Oliver and Dinah and create even more motion as turtles are whisked past the letters.
The addition of Black Canary to the cast introduces a romantic element that enriches the emotional aspects of Percy’s narrative, and Dinah Lance has been instrumental in making Oliver Queen check his white male privilege. Exploring the complicated ethical territory of a rich white man operating outside the law to pursue his personal idea of justice is a smart direction for this series, and Percy is forcing Oliver to confront his privilege by putting him in conflict with his family name. Eddie Fyers was hired by Queen Industries to kill Mustafa because he was working for peace between the East and West, and peace is bad business for a company that profits on war. This is just the latest horrible thing Queen Industries has done, and it won’t be long until Green Arrow’s next target is the company his family built.