Collin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing are taking Oliver Queen out of his comfort zone in this week's Green Arrow #39, starting a two-issue run that addresses the issue of child soldiers raised in a war-torn country.
The story, which is being drawn by artist Marcio Takara, comes after the departure of regular writer Ben Percy on the title and before new writers Julie and Shawna Benson join the title this summer.
Lanzing and Kelly started writing together as screenwriters, but have been collaborating on comic books for the last few years. They spent the last year writing Gotham City Garage, the digital-first title set in an alternate universe, after working on Bat-family titles like Batman and Robin Eternal and Grayson.
Newsarama talked to the writers to find out more about the fictional city of Vahkar, Rhapastan, how it ties into a recent Deathstroke Annual, and who the new supervillain Nothing might be.
Newsarama: Jackson and Collin, this week's issue of Green Arrow goes to the war-torn city of Vahkar, which becomes central to the story. What is this city, and what does Oliver encounter there that drives the story?
Jackson Lanzing: Phil Hester put out a book a couple years back, Deathstroke Annual #2 [in June 2016]. In it, he introduced a country called Rhapastan, sort of a DC equivalent to a post-war, leaderless Middle Eastern country like Afghanistan or the like.
Over the course of the issue, Deathstroke takes out what remains of the leadership in this country and leaves it completely rudderless and kind of in chaos, which is a totally acceptable way for Deathstroke to be in a story.
But we thought, what a great place to put somebody like Green Arrow in there and see what he would make of the wreckage left behind by Slade Wilson.
So what excited us about going back to Rhapastan was that chance to look at the ramifications of the way other heroes or other villains behave, and the way Green Arrow's sense of justice, and his inability to stand aside while injustice is happening in front of him, might drive him to make some really bold and rash decisions.
Collin Kelly: We also really wanted to tell a story that really puts the lens on Oliver Queen. There are some situations, like a more global, political tragedy, where Green Arrow isn't necessarily the right answer but where Oliver Queen can really do something.
So we wanted to tell a story where Ollie could be the best version of himself away from the mask, at least to start the tale.
Nrama: Is this something you guys came up with then and pitched? Or was it from DC?
Lanzing: This came from us. We were brought in around the time that Ben Percy's run was coming to an end. We were big fans of Ben's run and its iconic Star City story.
Kelly: Fantastic story.
Lanzing: But what it did was focus on Seattle, or for a period there, Star City, and what Green Arrow and Oliver Queen brought to that city.
What we wanted to do was look further back at something like the Denny O'Neill stories, and look at how this character operates when he's confronted by the real problems of the real world. Ben was dealing very much with domestic issues, layering supervillains on them. We want to look at, OK, what else out there in the world would Oliver Queen feel a real need to step in and stop?
Nrama: And the answer to that is?
Lanzing: One of the things that's going on right now all over the world is the very real practice of child soldiers and the recruiting from very young ages kids who don't know any better and raised in the lines of war.
We thought that would be a place where Oliver Queen would say, "Absolutely not. I have to stand in the way of this."
But ultimately, one man, especially against an army of soldiers that he can't lift a finger against, creates a really dynamic, interesting conflict that isn't as simple as Ollie firing an arrow.
We really were looking to find a story that Ollie couldn't just solve by shooting a new kind of trick arrow. We wanted to find a way to give him issues that made him demonstrate new growth as a character.
And that's what we thought this story allowed us.
Kelly: And then, of course, as we were telling this story, we found a whole bunch of really exciting ways to introduce a whole bunch of new trick arrows.
Lanzing: Yes, and there is a supervillain in there as well!
Nrama: Can you describe the villain at all?
Lanzing: It's a new character we're introducing named Nothing. He's a supervillain raised in Rhapastan with his own backstory, and actually a direct character tie-in to Deathstroke Annual #2. And to say any more would be a bit of a spoiler.
We're really interested in looking at supervillainy develops differently depending on where you grew up, what your circumstances were and what that's made you into.
Nrama: What does Marcio bring to the title?
Kelly: Marcio's look and feel, the grounding that he brings to it, was just so fantastic. We told him that we needed it to be a dirty, gritty experience while still maintaining the kinetic energy of Green Arrow and what readers expect from a glossy superhero book. And he was able to walk the line creating this book that feels dusty and dirty but still polished and sleek.
It's fast-paced and filled with this incredible kinetic action. We could not have asked for a better partner.
Lanzing: One of the things that's unique about Marcio's ability is his ability to juggle depth of character and cast as well. Over the course of issue #39, you'll encounter a great deal of regular people on the street in the city of Vahkar, Rhapastan. And these people all needed to have their own perspective, their own feel, their own body language and their own emotions.
So we knew this was a challenge, having a lot of people who are all plain-clothed, but we have to ID them immediately, understand where they're coming from and feel for them. And I think Marcio did a really wonderful job there.
Then in issue #40, we end up introducing four very interesting, exciting new characters that play a lot harder into superhero design and feel. And Marcio was able to take a lot of this realism that he's displayed in #39 and run it forward into a little bit more of a super heroic angle in #40.
So by the time we bring it all together, I think it feels like we've really brought you into the world of Rhapastan before then bringing Rhapastan into the world of the DCU.
Nrama: Is there anything else you want to tell people about the two-issue story you're telling in Green Arrow?
Lanzing: We're deeply honored that DC took a chance on us for this character for these issues. Following up Ben Percy is no small feat. And what we're seeking to do here is tell a story that acts as a coda for the emotional journey that Ollie has been on for the past 38 issues, looking at a character that has gone through so much in his city and in his personal life and now is trying to do something on his own to clear his head.
And it turns out to be much more complicated and much more challenging than he ever expected, a little bit like us picking up Green Arrow for the first time!
It's been a real blast, and we've been very heartened to have such a great team at DC to work with on it.