GREEN ARROW's A Werewolf? BEN PERCY On Metaphors, Politics & OLLIE's Pet Wolf

DC Comics April 2016 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Oliver Queen might be best known as the non-powered archer Green Arrow, but lately in his solo series he's been  sporting new super-abilities that turn him into a werewolf.

Green Arrow by novelist Benjamin Percy with artists Patrick Zircher and Szymon Kudranski has shown Oliver Queen contracting the "Lukos" virus, giving him wolf-like powers (and Ollie's even got a pet wolf to go with it). Percy has been using people infected with the Lukos virus — or "wargs" — to represent the "common man" (versus the privileged uninfected), and now that Ollie's got the virus, he's starting to understand how tough life is for those of us who aren't millionaires.

And Ollie's also starting to like the superpowers that the virus gives him.

Despite the benefits of wolf-like abilities, upcoming issues will feature Ollie racing to find a cure — with guest star Deathstroke. And beyond that? Percy is teasing some " big, crazy, jaw-dropping, hair-raising, eyeball-bugging, asthma-inducing exclamation marky plans" that are "in the works."

Following up on this week's Green Arrow #49, Newsarama talked to Percy to find out more about Green Arrow, his daughter Emiko, his pet wolf and more.

Newsarama: Ben, what was your thinking behind infecting Oliver Queen with Lukos? What does it bring to the story and offer you as a storyteller?

Benjamin Percy: I wanted Oliver to endure a crucible that would make him more empathetic. He’s a social justice warrior, but why? The island is an important and interesting part of his mythology, but I’ve never felt there was a direct line, a causal relationship between his time there and his desire to act as a defender of the common man.

Credit: DC Comics

He’s grown up as the very definition of privileged: rich, white, male, ridiculously handsome, supremely athletic. How do you reconcile that with his mission as Green Arrow? The Lukos disease marginalizes him. For the first time in his life he’s truly disadvantaged. Made into "the other." And maybe, hopefully he’ll become a better hero because of this.

Nrama: Why do you think Oliver was so willing to embrace the infection?

Percy: The first reason ties in to what I already said about empathy. He recognizes that Lukos is both a diagnosis and a cure. He’s necessarily knocked off his pedestal.

The second reason is this: in the early stages of the infection, he feels wildly powerful. His adrenal glands are stimulated, his senses heightened. He’s more than a man. Sort of super. Able to hear the whisk of an owl’s wing, able to manically ice-pick his way up the side of a frozen cliff. The Justice League has traditionally frowned on Green Arrow, viewed him as a kind of bothersome wannabe. This disease makes him feel special and maybe worthy of them. But Lukos will soon overtake him and become more burden than boon.

Nrama: It was interesting in this week's issue that Oliver remembered his mother's nursing after Emiko basically nursed him. How would you describe what Emiko represents to Oliver?

Credit: DC Comics

Percy: He views himself as her father, brother, friend, associate. She’s really the only one he’s got. Henry Fyff is a mere colleague — he’s getting paid for what he does. Emi is not only a swashbuckling badass who can help Oliver on the streets, but a nurturing presence in his personal life.

I’m going to be really annoying now and say I have big plans for Emi that I’m not going to tell you about.

Nrama: So cruel! But Ollie has another companion lately — his new pet wolf. How did you come up with that idea, and what was your thinking behind including it?

Percy: Patrick Zircher put forward the idea of giving Ollie a dog and naming him after one of Green Arrow’s creators, George Papp. I liked the idea and ran with it, developing a supernatural mythology that connected to the Outsiders.

George is also an echo of Oliver. Both of them are divided – wolf/dog, man/wolf—and destined for greater things.

Also: a pet wolf is way cooler than a pet guinea pig.

Nrama: And even after this storyline, might George stick around?

Credit: DC Comics

Percy: I have an Outsiders storyline involving George that I really want to write, but that’s been put on the backburner for good reason: some big, crazy, jaw-dropping, hair-raising, eyeball-bugging, asthma-inducing exclamation marky plans are presently in the works.

Nrama: The cover of Green Arrow #50 features a Deathstroke mask. How does Deathstroke come into the story, and can you tell us anything about his interaction with a Lukos-infected Ollie?

Percy: Deathstroke plays a major role in issues #50-#52. He’s one of my favorite characters — especially for his role in the Wolfman-Perez era of Teen Titans — so it was pure pleasure writing him into the series.

I won’t say too much, because I don’t want to ruin the storyline. Suffice it to say that I’ve created a character called Dr. Miracle, who is essentially a walking inoculation. His blood heals any ailment, a power he guards carefully out of self-preservation. But his cover is blown when working for Doctors Without Borders in Africa. And Green Arrow speeds toward him, hoping to save Dr. Miracle in order to save himself and Seattle. News about the “miracle worker” has spread and Deathstroke has been contracted to acquire him. So it’s a race — and then a battle — and then…things get even more complicated.

Credit: DC Comics

Nrama: Solicitations for upcoming issues also indicate we'll see Tarantula again. How would you describe that character and her relationship with Ollie? What role does she play going forward?

Percy: Ollie has the bad habit of falling in love every time he turns around. He has a history as a playboy, and I’ve included that characterization in this first year of stories, but only because I want to move meaningfully past it. Then readers can appreciate an arc, a change. Tarantula is part of his transition into growing up and settling into a serious relationship. Who will that be with? I’ve dropped hints in several issues. You’ll know very soon, and Green Arrow fans are going to be very, very happy about it. Of this I am certain.

Nrama: Your story gives Green Arrow a darker feel than most superhero books, but that's also because of Szymon Kudranski's art. What's it been like working with him, and what does his work bring to the series?

Percy: Szymon has such a nightmarish vision that’s particularly suited to the contagion arc. His art unsettles me—in the best possible way. It’s at once grotesque and beautiful. Imagine if Freddy Krueger’s glove sharped into pens instead of blades—that’s how I imagine Szymon at his desk, slashing away at his pages with a maniacal laugh. And when it comes to the interplay of light and shadow, I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better combination than his inks with Gabe Eltaeb’s colors. Just wait until you see his work on Deathstroke in #51! Mayhem!

He’s also crazy fast. I’m pretty sure he drinks 50 gallons of Mountain Dew a day.

Nrama: Let's look back at what you've accomplished since you took over the comic book in June. What parts of the character were you hoping to explore with your run? And can you describe how you've done that — and maybe how you're going to continue to do it?

Percy: My touchstones for Green Arrow are Dennis O’Neil and Mike Grell. I’ve been channeling them both, while trying to make the series my own.

DC Comics April 2016 solicitations
DC Comics April 2016 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics

O’Neil made Green Arrow a social justice warrior and his storylines often channeled cultural and political unease. I’ve been trying to do the same. I started off my run with an incendiary three-issue arc directly inspired by the racial unrest in places like Ferguson and Baltimore. I followed this up with a ripped-from-the-headlines story about the horrific cartel wars going on south of the border. And now I’m writing the contagion storyline that draws influence from a wide variety of sources: A.I.D.S., Ebola, terrorism, Tea Party conservatism, the hateful fear of refugees and immigrants. Green Arrow is a relevant character, in other words. He tackles the issues of the day, aims his broadhead at the zeitgeist.

Mike Grell was wonderfully dark and wrote Green Arrow as a street-level hero. There was a gritty realism and a literary flair to his work that I can really relate to. I love top-volume superhero stories, but I don’t think that’s an appropriate aesthetic for Green Arrow. I’m trying to make his world feel like a cracked-mirror version of ours, as Grell did.

As for what I hope to do… Robin Hood is Green Arrow’s canonical cousin. I’ve been reading up on the classic tales, rewatching the Errol Flynn film, even the mulleted Kevin Costner film, because I’m especially interested in writing a neo-classical Green Arrow. I can’t say much more than that (he said coyly) except this: Green Arrow is committed to fighting the man, and yet he is the man. It’s a contradiction I plan to resolve.

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