Method ➢ Worldbuilding, Narrative | Industry ➢ Game Design



Oliver Queen and the Outlaw of Sherwood Forest

More In Common than Longbows and a Love for Green

The title of Emerald Archer refers to DC’s Green Arrow as easily as England’s national hero, Robin Hood. In this essay, we identify just how deep this comparison goes, looking into his publication history, personal backstory, supporting cast, and his adoption of leftist values in the 1970s.

Picture a man, clad in green, armed with a bow and arrow. He calls himself a champion of the poor and destitute and an enemy of the exploitative ruling class of the land he has chosen as his domain. If you are a fan of classic literature and mythology, then you probably recognize this as Robin Locksley, a.k.a. Robin Hood, the former Earl of Huntington, protector of Sherwood Forest, leader of his Merry Men, and enemy of the Sheriff of Nottingham.

If you are more of a comics fan, you would be forgiven for thinking first of Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow, member of and benefactor for the Justice League, CEO of Queen Industries, and local vigilante for Star[ling] City. It’s in no way a controversial or even astute observation to claim that the DC hero resembles the mythical outlaw, but given the discourse generated by his role at the center of the CW’s “Arrowverse,” it’s curious how little examination that idea gets. There is more to the comparison between Green Arrow and Robin Hood than their color scheme and weapon of choice. Their individual histories, both in and out of continuity, their respective supporting casts, and the shape their callings take are clearly tied to one another.

Which Camp Are You in?

Robin of Locksley himself is inspired, much as Oliver Queen would be in turn inspired by him, by an earlier archer. In some versions of the lore, Locksley and his merry men actually come to Will o’The Green’s aid.

There are ultimately two camps when it comes to pedantic reductions of the Green Arrow. There’s the obvious “he’s just a superhero version of Robin Hood,” or the more involved but equally dismissive “he’s just Batman with arrows.” These are both generally true but miss out on a significant portion of what makes his character great. What’s more interesting is that these two ideas were actually integral to the character’s creation.

When he was introduced in More Fun Comics in 1941, the character was actually a play on the then-recent serial The Green Archer, based on a novel by Edgar Wallace. Creator Mort Weisinger combined these ideas to create the idea of an archery-themed version of Batman [ 1 ]. In the character’s early years of publication, he was a very thinly veiled analogue for Batman, complete with his own Arrow Car, Arrow Signal, a boy sidekick named Speedy, a clown-themed nemesis named Bull’s Eye, and even an Arrow Cave. It was similar right down to his alter ego as a wealthy playboy.

In 1999’s JLA 80-Page Giant #2, this was revealed to be an in-universe decision of Queen’s, done out of admiration for the Dark Knight. “I’d heard Batman had a car. And a plane. And a cave. So guess what? Green Arrow had a car, and a plane, and a cave. And he had about as much use for them as Greenpeace had for Big Oil” [ 2 ].

Seeking Clarity

Back in the Golden Age when he was created, this was not much of an issue, but as the more characterization and continuity focused Bronze Age approached, the overlap became something of a problem. Imagine a world where Frank Miller never published The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One. A world where the gimmicky, cheery Batman of the Silver Age was allowed to evolve with the medium to become a more fleshed-out character. That is exactly what happened with Green Arrow.

When Batman was re-envisioned as a dark, brooding vigilante, riddled with psychoses and obsessions, this left Green Arrow to fill the role of the privileged, swashbuckling gadgeteer, slowly expanding his history and his characterization to become a character very different from Batman, both in his presence in the DC Universe and on the comic page itself.

The author who deserves the most credit for this update to the two characters is probably Dennis O’Neil. Prior to Miller’s reimagining of Batman as a grim and tortured urban legend, O’Neil shifted Batman from the campy 1960s portrayal to focus more on his status as a detective, writing such seminal and influential stories such as The Man Who Falls and The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge.

Quite a few men, over theatrical productions and the emerging media of film, have played the hero of Sherwood who so inspires Oliver Queen.

These centered around mysteries and went on to influence such things as the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy as well as the less known but equally acclaimed stories like One Bullet Too Many and There is No Hope in Crime Alley. All of these stories treated Batman as an investigator not unlike Dick Tracy or Philip Marlowe, with the added gimmick of his costume and gadgets aiding in his crime-solving.

On the flip side, O’Neill was also responsible for updating Green Arrow in 1969, when he had the character lose his fortune, become an advocate for left-wing politics, and essentially brand himself as a hero of the poor and downtrodden. A few years later, this led to an acclaimed team-up feature between the Emerald Archer and the other green superhero in the DC universe—Green Lantern. Green Lantern was established as a conservative but open-minded military man, eager to help those in need but also respectful of the laws and institutions that were already in place. “He would be a hot-tempered anarchist to contrast with the cerebral, sedate model citizen who was Green Lantern” [ 3 ].

Character Comparison

Armed with the knowledge of where the character would end up, let’s examine Green Arrow in comparison to Robin Hood. Both are phenomenal archers who wear green, sure, and both have similar taste in hats, hoods, and facial hair.

In terms of background, many versions of Robin Hood have suggested that he was either the son of a forester, or a nobleman who abandoned his wealth in order to become a druidic outlaw. This latter origin lines up nicely with O’Neil’s decision to remove Green Arrow from his fortune, updating Sherwood Forest with the urban jungles where the impoverished of 1970s America would reside.

Green Arrow also became less of a crime-fighter under O’Neil, with a number of scenes in the Green Lantern/Green Arrow team-up featuring him acting against the law or discussing with Hal Jordan how they can work outside the law to achieve their goals. In fact, in a number of O’Neil’s scenes, Queen compares himself to Robin Hood, often citing him as an inspiration. In 1989, Mike Grell worked this into Oliver’s origin for Longbow Hunters, with a scene that takes place “on a yacht party Ollie is throwing, he mentions to Hill that as a boy he used to practice archery and pretend he was Robin Hood” [ 4 ].

Robin Hood didn’t only influence Green Arrow, though. His sidekick, Roy Harper (a.k.a. Speedy), also has elements of Robin Hood’s history worked into his. The son of a forest ranger, Roy Harper comes from a less-privileged background than his mentor, making use of the other Robin Hood origin. Besides this, he bears a lot of resemblance to other characters in Robin Hood lore.

His penchant for red and status as a younger ward to Green Arrow makes him most resemble Will Scarlet, who, after Little John, might be considered the best known of Robin Hood’s Merry Men, having appeared in one of the oldest known ballads, A Gest of Robyn Hode. Some versions of Will Scarlet consistently portray him as younger than the rest of the Merry Men.

How old the others were meant to be depends on the specific ballad and personal interpretations, but suffice to say that while the Merry Men were canonically adults, Scarlet was often just barely of age for the time period, if not an adolescent. This lines up nicely with Roy Harper, whose age fluctuates from early to late teens before he abandons the mantle of Speedy.

Harper’s choice of red for his costume, while likely chosen so that the colors would appear clearly in the original four-color images of the comic, also relates to Will’s preferred color of choice, as evidenced by his assumed last name (the character’s birth name was Gamwell, according to Robin Hood and the Newly Revived, the origin for the character) [ 5 ].

In many ballads, including the aforementioned origin, Will Scarlet is described as being a nephew of Robin Hood. While this wasn’t uncommon in the Golden Age of comics—it occurred frequently in Disney’s Duck comics, such as Scrooge’s nephew Donald, or his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie, and was also prominent with the Flash, whose sidekick Wally West was the nephew of his longtime fiancée and thus, effectively, his nephew as well.

However, it’s curiously absent with Green Arrow and Speedy, who are never described as blood relations. Also worth noting is how Roy Harper became Speedy. In More Fun Comics #73, Roy performed at an archery contest that Green Arrow was judging, and Oliver was so impressed that he took him on as a sidekick. While this doesn’t necessarily reference any specific Merry Man, it was a common occurrence for Robin Hood to attend contests of physical prowess and sports, usually in disguise.

On many occasions, he or other members of his Merry Band would recruit the most talented athletes in the contest. This is an alternate origin for Will Stutely (sometimes written as Will Stukely, often confused with Scarlet), as well as the usually used origin for Gilbert Whitehand, dating back to Howard Pyle’s The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, where he competes against Robin Hood in an archery tournament, and, as the only one to match him, is invited to join the band. “Thryes Robyn shot a bout/And alway he slist the wand/And so dyde good Gylberte/Wyth the Whyte Hande” (sic) [ 6 ].

Take from the Rich, Give to the Poor

But the similarities between Green Arrow and the outlaw of Sherwood Forest go deeper than just their aesthetics and the inspirations for supporting characters. The overall theme of Robin Hood—taking from the rich and giving to the poor—is essentially the divide between left-wing and right-wing politics.

While several actors have portrayed Green Arrow himself, Stephen Amell’s turn likely will be an enduring impression on the character.

In 2001, an anti-poverty organization based in London even coined the term “Robin Hood tax,” which recommended heavy taxes on the wealthy, which would then be used to lower the cost of living for all citizens, but disproportionately aid the less wealthy [ 7 ]. While the terminology originates from Britain, similar bills were proposed by leftist politicians in the United States as well, namely by Tom Harkin and Bernie Sanders, in the “Let Wall Street Pay for the Restoration of Main Street Act” of 2009 (H.R. 4191 [111th]) [ 8 ].

These types of bills are often opposed by right-wing politicians, and it’s this dynamic that fueled Denny O’Neill’s beloved Green Lantern/Green Arrow series. O’Neill’s dedication to examining the then-contemporary political divide between the liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans helped to push Oliver Queen in more of a socialist-leaning direction, and, thus, made him a lot closer in philosophy to Robin Hood of Nottingham.

Needless to say, it’s likely no coincidence that this new direction coincided with artist Neal Adams’ addition of a Van Dyke beard to Green Arrow’s design. Green Arrow makes this comparison himself in the series’ second issue, Journey to Desolation—“Today’s fun and games puts me in mind of another bowman… name of Robin Hood! He didn’t dig tyrants, either!” [ 9 ].

Oliver is right—he is in exactly the position that Robin Hood would have found himself in the American Midwest. The story features the villainous owner of a mine, Slapper Soames, who exploits the miners in town, knowing that there is no other work available for them.

Tellingly, Soames is not presented as an intimidating villain, but as a sniveling, foppish man who is easily defeated by the superheroes when they confront him, his only secret weapons being some gas grenades and a turncoat among the miners. This puts him in line with Prince John, who, when used as the villain to Robin Hood and his Merry Men, is rarely a respectable villain, using manipulation to keep the peasants in line but never able to stand a direct confrontation. He also bears some resemblance to the Sheriff of Nottingham.

The Sheriff is often portrayed as a bit more intimidating than John, but he essentially serves the same purpose. The Sheriff strong-arms the citizens of Nottingham so that they have no choice but to pay his absurd taxes, a portion of which he keeps for himself. That’s not unlike Soames’ methods in Green Lantern #77. A closer analogue may be the unnamed “bully boys” that Soames has hired—explicitly ex-Nazis—who often carry out the actual violence in Soames’ name [ 9 ].

This is not the only time we see Green Arrow align himself with the famous outlaw, though. Two issues later, in a story titled Ulysses Star is Still Alive, Green Arrow and Green Lantern get into an argument over how they can support a Native American tribe’s claim to some land when all legal record of their ownership has disappeared. “If you want to break the law—go ahead! But count me out!” Green Lantern says, to which Green Arrow responds, “That I will do gladly!” [ 9 ].

The issue goes on to feature Green Arrow disguising himself as the ghost of local Native American hero Ulysses Star. If there’s one talent Robin Hood is known to showcase, almost as much as his archery skills, is his ability to disguise himself. This can be seen in Robin Hood and the Golden Arrow, which adapts and expands on the classic story from A Gest of Robyn Hode where Robin Hood disguises himself as a monk to participate in and win an archery contest.

This disguise is so effective that, although the contest was held as a ruse to lure Robin Hood out of hiding by the Sheriff of Nottingham and King Richard, no one is able to recognize him until they see his prowess with a bow and arrow. This sequence was actually adapted in the Disney’s 1973 Robin Hood, which featured a cast of anthropomorphic animals. Robin Hood, a fox, disguises himself as a stork to enter the contest.

Going back to Green Arrow’s campaign as Ulysses Star, it ends up being very effective, convincing both the white businessmen and the Native Americans he wishes to inspire with his costume. The only person who is not explicitly fooled is Green Lantern, largely because he had advance notice that Green Arrow would try something in that vein, but even he never says that he knows who Ulysses Star is.

Green Arrow’s eagerness to take up the cause of the Native Americans is also very clearly in line with the idea of a modern American Robin Hood, as the original character was based on a tradition of noble woodsmen who protected the lands and the people who resided in them.

In the controversial Longbow Hunters storyline, Green Arrow is very vocal about his admiration for the folk hero, going so far as to open a flower shop with long-time love interest Dinah Lance, named “Sherwood’s Florist.” As pointed out in her essay The Influence of Robin Hood on Green Arrow, Celina Drum states that “he asks himself in difficult situations what Robin Hood would have done which reveals, once again, his admiration and desire to be like the legendary hero” [ 10 ].

In Paul Creswick’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, Robin Locksley is actually inspired to take on the identity of Robin Hood based on another archer, identified as Will o’ th’ Green, who robbed him when he was a youth traveling through Sherwood Forest. Robin then challenged him to an archery contest but was unable to impress the robber.

“Robin alone was sad; the fact that the robber chief’s arrow had flown more near a woodman’s mark than his own rankled within his breast. Ah, but a time would come when Master Will o’ th’ Green should see better archery than he now dreamed of. And Robin should be the master who would teach the lesson.” [ 11 ]

In this case, that archer is to Robin Hood what Robin Hood is to Green Arrow—a conceptual inspiration for the image that he would take on to wage his war on corruption.

However, there are stories featuring Green Arrow that have little to no connection to the legends of Robin Hood. These stories, perhaps unsurprisingly, tend to be less popular, often ranking fairly low among critics.

Not Always Popular

Among the less-beloved versions of Green Arrow is the alternate universe version present in Earth 2: World’s End, which chose to interpret his empathy for Native Americans as the main takeaway from Denny O’Neill’s version, turning him into a historian with a focus on Native American history who took up archery out of admiration for American Indians. This version was killed off after barely a year of publication (Earth 2: Society #16) [ 12 ].

Besides this outlier, in other variations Oliver Queen has also run for mayor (twice), has died and been resurrected, and, in Longbow Hunters, he was raped, resulting in a son who would guest star in his comics in the mid-2000s, learning archery from his father [ 12 ]. While these stories weren’t exactly reviled, they do represent a departure from Green Arrow’s roots.

Jason Serafino of Complex considered Ann Nocenti’s run on Green Arrow fairly disappointing, ranking it as No. 4 on his list of The 10 Worst Comic Books of 2012 [ 12 ]. While there were a number of factors leading to the book’s inclusion on Serafino’s list, he was particularly disappointed with her lack of interest in the character’s social awareness, citing Nocenti’s much more popular 1986 run on Daredevil (another hero who occasionally mines Robin Hood mythology).

He wrote, “She brought social awareness and real-life issues to the book […]. So when she made her return to comics with Green Arrow—another character with a history of social relevance—there was hope that Nocenti would bring the character back to prominence after the launch of the New 52 all but destroyed him” [ 12 ].

While Serafino’s description of the New 52 version of Green Arrow is perhaps a bit strong, he is hardly the first person to express distaste for that version of the character. Many critics have described the series as a half-hearted attempt to make Oliver Queen resemble the version present on CW’s Arrow, abandoning his leftist political roots in favor of blind pandering for the fanbase. This is ironic because, while certainly less openly political, Arrow has never shied away from the concept of Green Arrow as Robin Hood.

Enter the Arrowverse

In fact, if anything, the series’ references to Robin Hood have only become more blatant. For starters, the first few seasons never name Queen’s alter ego as “Green Arrow.” While he’s eventually dubbed Arrow, he’s also often referred to as “the man in the hood,” or sometimes just “The Hood,” a reference both to his choice of headwear and also the character’s inspiration [ 13 ].

The series opens with Oliver Queen returning to the city where he was once local royalty, after being shipwrecked for five years after an attempt on his life by a rival corporate magnate. Again, this harkens to the versions of Robin Hood that describe him as the former Earl of Huntingdon, many of which feature him leaving Nottingham for a time, only to return and vow to take up the cause of the oppressed peasant class.

Similarly poignant is the presence of John Diggle, the Arrow’s right-hand man, who can be seen as an analogue for Little John. They share a first name, and depending on the writer, Little John’s last name has been given as either “Small” or “Little.” In the latter case, it does have the same cadence, rhythm, and sound as Diggle’s name. But the similarities go beyond the superficiality of name and role in Queen’s life.

Oliver and Diggle are prone to falling out, getting into arguments over trivialities that lead them not to speak to one another, sometimes for full episodes, and occasionally longer. While a popular trope in modern media, present in everything from sitcoms to Harry Potter, this dates back even to the ballads of Robin Hood, notably Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne, where Little John encourages his friend to hide in the trees to avoid an oncoming stranger, to which Robin takes offense and threatens Little John with violence. As the ballad reads,

“It is noe cunning a knave to ken,
And a man but heare him speake;
And it were not for bursting of my bowe,
John, I wold thy head breake.”
But often words they breeden bale,
That parted Robin and John;
John is gone to Barnsdale,
The gates he knowes eche one.” [ 14 ]

At the end of this stanza, John storms off, and is later captured and needs Robin Hood to rescue him. Diggle and Oliver’s fights are not quite as immature. While they bicker in almost every episode, the minor fights are not what splits them up. Diggle does leave Oliver’s employ, however, on a number of occasions.

One comparable instance, which almost seems to pull its details from Guy of Gisbourne, is in Episode 20 of Season 1, “Home Invasion.” During the episode, Oliver chooses to protect love interest Laurel Lance after her apartment is broken into, and fails to back Diggle up in an encounter with Floyd “Deadshot” Lawton, leading to the deaths of four agents.

Diggle himself nearly dies at the hands of Deadshot, but in his own words, “I’d be pulling these triggers right now, except there’s nobody paying me” [ 15 ]. Diggle confronts Oliver, and at the end of the episode, turns in his resignation, telling Oliver that “the only thing you have to stop me from going out that door is an arrow” [ 15 ].

While it’s questionable how coincidental these similarities are, the details still line up pretty closely, and where they do not distinctly mimic those of the classic tale, they mirror them. Guy of Gisbourne is generally identified as a hitman for hire, and in the original ballad, is said to have been hired to kill Robin Hood himself. Deadshot is also a hitman, and appears in numerous episodes throughout the series, killing people for payment.

Guy of Gisbourne is sometimes identified as one of the few archers who can keep up with Robin Hood, and Deadshot is a marksman of comparable skill to Green Arrow. It’s also worth noting that both Guy of Gisbourne and Arrow’s version Deadshot are killed in their first appearance, although Deadshot is revealed to have survived by the end of the season.

That said, given Guy of Gisbourne’s popularity as part of Robin Hood’s rogues gallery, he could also be said to have “survived” beyond his first appearance. In the original ballad, Little John encouraged Robin Hood to let him deal with Guy of Gisbourne by himself, and it was Robin Hood’s refusal to do so that drove a wedge between them.

In Arrow, John Diggle resents Oliver’s choice to let him handle Deadshot by himself. Robin Hood issues a threat of violence to Little John, causing him to leave, while Diggle tells Oliver that only a threat of violence could prevent him from leaving. And finally, Robin Hood must come to Little John’s rescue at the end of the tale, while, in Arrow, Oliver requests Diggle’s help in the next episode, leading to their reconciliation. The story arc plays out like a loose adaptation of the Guy of Gisbourne ballad, updating the details to match more closely with modern values, perhaps so that the characters don’t come off as illogical or childish.


No one can deny that Green Arrow is meant to be a modern take on the character of Robin Hood. While different writers will choose to emphasize or downplay the similarities to the heroic outlaw at will, the stories that have resonated most clearly tend to make the character closer to his inspiration, such as Denny O’Neill’s use of the character during his run on Green Lantern, or the Arrow TV series that has popularized the character for modern audiences. Indeed, versions that drift away from these roots, like the New 52 reboot of the character, tend to be met with lack of interest at best, and critical revile at worst.

To call him “the poor man’s Batman” is, when analyzed, an accurate statement, as he really is a counterpart to Batman to whom economic inequality and the abuses of capitalists is more important than personal vendettas and tragedies. It’s about more than just a man in green doing trick shots with arrows. Green Arrow has dedicated himself to supporting the poor and destitute, and, like Robin Hood, will take on anyone who he deems to have failed his city.


  1. “Robin of Locksley himself is inspired, much as Oliver Queen would be in turn inspired by him, by an earlier archer. In some versions of the lore, Locksley and his merry men actually come to Will o’The Green’s aid.”
  2. “Quite a few men, over theatrical productions and the emerging media of film, have played the hero of Sherwood who so inspires Oliver Queen.”
  3. “While several actors have portrayed Green Arrow himself, Stephen Amell’s turn will likely be an enduring impression on the character.”

With a BA in English from the University of Massachusetts and his service in the public library system, Marcelo Gusmão’s considerable experience has served him and this endeavor well. Since joining Steam-Funk Studios in 2018, he’s demonstrated a blend of exacting, finely honed analysis, boundless creativity and skillful interpretation, all framed by a vigorous joie de vivre for all things nerd culture. A key member of SFS’ Intermediate writing and editorial staff, he’s penned several series.


  1. Kistler, Alan. “The History of Green Arrow from Golden Age to ‘Arrow.’” Comic Book Resources, 3 Dec 2012.
  2. Kistler, Alan. “The History of Green Arrow from Golden Age to ‘Arrow.’” Comic Book Resources, 3 Dec 2012.
  3. Basdeo, Stephen. “Green Arrow: A 21st Century Robin Hood?” Here Begynneth A Lytell Geste of Robin Hood, 6 Jun 2015. Archived at Accessed 9 May 2021.
  4. Drum, Celina. “The Influence of Robin Hood on Green Arrow.” Modern Myths, 1 Mar 2015.
  5. Child, Francis James, ed. “Robin Hood and the Newly Revived.” Child Ballads No. 128A. Reproduced at Accessed 9 May 2021.
  6. Hahn, Thomas, et al. Robin Hood in Popular Culture: Violence, Transgression, and Justice. D.S. Brewer, 2000, pp. 55.
  7. “About War on Want | War on Want.” War on Want, War on Want, 7 May 2021,
  8. “H.R.4191 – 111th Congress (2009-2010): Let Wall Street Pay for the Restoration of Main Street Act of 2009.”, Library of Congress, 3 December 2009,
  9. O’Neil, Denny. “Green Lantern/Green Arrow.” Green Lantern Nos. 77, 79. DC Comics, 1970.
  10. Basdeo, Stephen. “Green Arrow: A 21st Century Robin Hood?” Here Begynneth A Lytell Geste of Robin Hood, 6 Jun 2015. Archived at Accessed 9 May 2021.
  11. Creswick, Paul. Robin Hood and His Adventures. Independently published, 2020. Web, ch. II.
  12. Serafino, Jason. “10 Worst Comic Books of 2012.” Complex, Complex Media, Inc., 20 Dec 2012.
  13. Arrow. Created by Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg. CW Network.
  14. Warner, Charles D. “Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne”. Library of the World’s Best Literature, Ancient and Modern: Vol. 3. Hansebooks, 2018, pp. 1313.
  15. Sokolowski, Ben, Beth Schwartz, et al. “Home Invasion.” Arrow S01 E20, Berlanti Productions, 24 Apr 2013.