Part of the mission statement for Benjamin Percy's Green Arrow relaunch when DC's Rebirth initiative launched in May was to bring the politics back to the book. Now, DC's solicitations suggest he might be taking on the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.
As part of an effort to reach the widest possible audience, The New 52 had downplayed Oliver Queen's left-wing politics and focused on other elements of his personality, not unlike what happened on The CW's Arrow. When Rebirth came around, though, one of the things that Percy seemed to be saying was that being a political animal was so engrained in Oliver's persona that removing it left the character missing something that hadn't been replaced.
On sale March 15, Green Arrow #19 sees the Emerald Archer and his former sidekick Arsenal going up against...well, it's not exactly explained, but without larger context? It sounds a lot like the Dakota Access Pipeline project.
Here's the solicitation text:
“Orphaned as an infant and raised on a Navajo reservation, the superhero Arsenal returns to his adopted home to defend it from a violent militia hired by…Queen Industries?! Oliver Queen’s company has been up to no good since his supposed death, but Green Arrow is on the scene to make things right. Unfortunately for Ollie, he’s the last person his former sidekick wants to see.”
The Dakota Access Pipeline is a oil pipeline currently under construction and meant to stretch from North Dakota to Illinois. Concerns about its environmental impact have led to protests on and off since its announcement in 2014, although a recent standoff between protestors led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and representatives of Energy Transfer Partners, who are overseeing the construction of the pipeline, had become the most visible, and created a flashpoint for controversy. The Standing Rock Tribe claims that a number of recent pipeline accidents reveal an unacceptable level of risk to their drinking water under the current path. They had attracted the support of thousands of other activists from other Native American tribes and non-tribal allies, including numerous celebrities.
A court had refused the Tribe's request for an injunction to prevent construction, and when the government asked ETP to voluntarily pause construction so that they could conduct a more extensive environmental impact study, ETP refused. The Army Corps of Engineers eventually brought an end to the lengthy standoff by issuing a new study instructing ETP to alter the current route, saying that the environmental risk was unacceptable.
The current status is that the government insists the path must be changed, but Energy Transfer Partners are unwilling to change it. Given the heated rhetoric the company has directed at the Obama Administration several times during construction it's likely they will appeal the Army Corps of Engineers' decision once President-Elect Donald Trump takes office next month. The actual extent of U.S. President Barack Obama's direct role in the Army Corps of Engineers' investigation is unclear, as is (obviously) the extent to which Trump will choose to be involved in the process. In the past, Trump has said that he would "absolutely" approve the pipeline as-is, although that was before the decision by the Corps of Engineers.
There is no direct 1:1 parallel between what is described in the solicitation text for Green Arrow and what's going on in Iowa. Still, the imagery of "big business versus Native Americans" is likely to beg those comparisons with many readers.
It's uncommon, but not at all unheard of, for mainstream superhero comics to take on real-world issues by presenting a thinly-veiled alternative version of events. Generally -- as is the case here, if indeed this is meant ot be a stand-in for Standing Rock -- one side of an issue will be more nakedly evil than in real life. This provides a clear "bad guy" without getting bogged down too far in the murky waters of conflicting points of view, while allowing the writer to comment on the real-world scenario at least somewhat.
As one might expect, such storylines tend to be divisive among fans. A few years ago, a letterer on Captain America took heat when a group of evil, anti-government extremists were depicted as carrying signs featuring actual Tea Party slogans. Marvel apologized, and the letterer said that he was not a political person, but had just googled anti-tax and anti-government slogans online and used those to fill the scene. A 1980s original graphic novel that depicts a Lex Luthor biography whose cover homaged Donald Trump's The Art of the Deal has caused arguments whenever it has circulated online since Trump began his Presidential campaign.
Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams's Green Lantern/Green Arrow run in the 1970s was one of the earliest series to directly take on contemporary events, including racism, environmental issues, and more.
The first draft of this story erroneously referred to the DAPL as a natural gas pipeline, rather than an oil pipeline. We regret the error.