Kingston’s Ann Nocenti takes old superhero to new places

By Chuck O’Donnell

When she broke into the business back in the 1980s, Ann Nocenti unapologetically used the characters in her comics to espouse her political views and make statements about nuclear proliferation, the war on drugs and trickle-down economics.

So it wasn’t surprising that when Nocenti, a Kingston resident, recently returned to comics, she has ended up as the writer on “Green Arrow.”

The man with the audacity to bring a bow to a gunfight stood out in DC’s universe full of omnipotent do-gooders. While Superman and Captain Marvel slugged it out with invading aliens or marauding monsters, Green Arrow could be found railing against racism and drug abuse.

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But since DC pushed the reset button on all its books last summer and relaunched 52 new books — dubbed The New 52 — this isn’t your father’s Green Arrow.

Gone is the goatee, his curmudgeonly personality and some 80 years’ worth of continuity. In the new status quo, Oliver Queen is an impetuous 20-something Seattle-based business tycoon — James Bond with a conscience.

In her quest to figure out this incarnation of Green Arrow, Nocenti says she’s getting close to, ahem, hitting the mark.

“I want him to act his age, yet somehow carry the DNA of all those past stories,” Nocenti said. “He’s got the curiosity, energy and hungers of a 20-year-old. He’s ambitious. He’s confident. He wants to make his mark on the world.

“Yet somewhere in his DNA, by which I mean perhaps some kind of personal, ancestral memory, is a kind of understanding of what previous Green Arrows have done, which gives him, despite his impulsive recklessness, an unerring compass or moral directive.”

Comics were not always in Nocenti’s DNA. She was a design student fresh out of SUNY New Paltz lugging around a portfolio full of paintings and etchings when she answered an ad she found in the back of the Village Voice for an “editorial” position.

“The ad didn’t say what they published, and at first a very nice, personal lady named Dorothy was reluctant to tell me,” Nocenti said. “So it was a delightful surprise, since from her manner I expected her to say porn mags or something.”

Turns out, she was applying to become an editor at Marvel. Even though she had never so much as written a comic book script, she was brassy and hungry and they hired her. In 1982, Marvel published her first story, a six-page story in an anthology called “Bizarre Adventures.”

In a few short years, she had worked her way up the company ladder. When she became the editor on many of the X-Men books, she wasn’t shy about shaking things up in the almost-all-boys club, like when she replaced popular artist Sal Buscema on New Mutants with Bill Sienkiewicz. (Readers eventually approved of the switch).

She sent shockwaves across the industry in 1987 when she was the only one with the guts to succeed writer Frank Miller after his groundbreaking “Born Again” storyline in Daredevil. She jumped on and used her four-year run on the book as a vehicle to explore everything from widespread institutional corruption to mental illness.

“I always admired Ann for her fearlessness as both an editor and writer at Marvel,” said Ralph Macchio, longtime editor at Marvel. “She was an outsider to the business and therefore brought a unique perspective to her work that was both refreshing and challenging.”

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