Comics, like other storytelling mediums, have often been used to address a range of political issues, such as immigration, gun control and climate change. Superheroes have been used as symbols for different movements, but few characters have stuck to their political and philosophical principles quite like Green Arrow.
Oliver Queen has emerged as a voice of liberal activism and social change. A self-proclaimed ‘defender of the little guy,’ Green Arrow is a superhero who wears his liberalism on his sleeve.
Ollie’s political views have become as integral to him as his bow and quiver. His transformation from spoiled rich kid into social justice warrior makes him unique among his peers. Understanding Green Arrow’s politics is essential to understanding who he is as a person.
From Batman rip off to left-wing advocate
In 1941, Oliver Queen debuted as a poor imitation of Batman. Both characters had similar stories of coming from rich families and using their wealth for crime-fighting. Anyone remember the Arrow Car and Arrow Cave? The less said the better.
The idea that Ollie was modelled on showed potential. Queen based himself on Robin Hood, a man who supposedly stole from the rich and gave to the poor. This image juxtaposed sharply with Ollie’s privileged upbringing.
In 1969, Neil Adams and Dennis O’Neil unlocked the character’s true potential by having him lose his fortune. By losing his money, Ollie had to learn to survive by his wits and build himself up from nothing. He also grew a van dyke goatee, an image that has long been associated with counterculture movements. In the process, Green Arrow became a left-wing advocate and a mouthpiece for the underprivileged.
Defining Green Arrow’s political views
Green Arrow’s political views were at the centre of the series he shared with Green Lantern in the 1970s. Adams and O’Neil compared Ollie’s social street justice mentality with Hal’s conservative approach to law and order. Green Lantern took on the universe ending threats, while Green Arrow represented the everyday problems that people faced.
During the series, I’d say Green Arrow embodied classic liberalism, in the sense that freedom is important and responsibility is shared by everyone. Ollie wanted Hal to see the need to address the smaller issues of starving children and small-time crooks. He managed to get his friend to look beyond the authoritarian perspective of the Green Lanterns Corps.
Over the years, Green Arrow has been labelled as a ‘Commie’ and a ‘Marxist’ particularly in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. This was brought up by Peter Sanderson in an interview with IGN.
“Miller uses the bearded, politicised version of Green Arrow as Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams reworked the character at the time of transition from the Silver Age to whatever we may call the period that followed. (O’Neil and Adams made Green Arrow into a 1960s liberal activist; in DK2 Miller pushes Green Arrow to a leftist extreme, making him a Communist. Well, Green Arrow is supposed to be a modern-day Robin Hood, so that arguably would make him interested in the redistribution of wealth).”
It should be noted that this was an alternative version of Green Arrow. At his core, Ollie’s political motivation has come from a place of wanting to make a difference for people who cannot help themselves.
Green Arrow’s political views make him unique because he’s one of the few superheroes to stand by them in the face of unpopular choices. This set him apart from Bruce Wayne, who is a representation of the capitalist system. Ollie has criticised and opposed the people who are cut from the same cloth as himself, knowing that he will face disapproval.
A brilliant story that focuses on Green Arrow’s radicalism is Judd Winick’s Crawling Through The Wreckage. In the story, Star City has been devastated in the wake of Infinity Crisis and Ollie has taken it upon himself to become the mayor. Ollie views it as the position of ‘the man’ that he’s been fighting against for years, but he takes the job to affect positive change.
“There is always much talk among ‘rabble rousers’…among dissenters…among those who choose to swim against the tide. The talk of ‘The Man.’ ‘Sticking it to ‘The Man.’ ‘The Man holds us back.’ Depending on the context, The Man can be anything from the status quo to a high school principal. But in general, The Man is the establishment. The law. And those who enforce it. Or make it. So what becomes of the rabble rouser, the trouble maker, the rebel when he becomes The Man?”
As mayor, Ollie chooses to legalise gay marriage, which ruffles the feathers of the old money conservatives who built their fortune in Star City. During the night, he patrols the slums in costume and is even willing to team up with the villain Brick to protect the impoverished. This is an example of Green Arrow’s flexibility when it comes to promoting social reform. He willingly overlooks Brick’s prior convictions and works with him temporarily to make a difference.
In this sense, Green Arrow has embodied principles of Stoicism, which teach active participation in the world, especially in relation to politics. Many of the Roman Stoics such as Marcus Aurelius and Seneca came from privileged backgrounds and they used their platforms to take a stance in the politics of Roman society.
Queen could also be compared to the Stoic radical Thrasea, who vehemently opposed the regime of the emperor Nero. While their political perspectives may have differed, Green Arrow and Thrasea shared a similar goal of opposing corruption and embraced their philosophy to fight for what they believed in.
A political conscience
What makes Green Arrow interesting is the dichotomy between his identities. Oliver Queen is meant to represent the capitalist agenda of big money, expansion and wealth. Green Arrow is a symbol of activism, freedom and anti-authoritarianism. The two personalities combine to create a character with many contradictions and it’s so damn entertaining.
Green Arrow’s political perspective makes him one of the bravest superheroes around. He’s willing to stand up for what he believes in and sacrifice himself to protect the innocent. His status as the political conscience of the DC universe is undisputed.