‘The Dark Knight Returns’: Remember The Time Superman Ripped Off Green Arrow’s Arm?

“What are you talking about?!” I hear you cry, “Superman never ripped off Green Arrow’s arm!” Well, quit shouting and listen up, cause you’re only half right.

Though this event was never explicitly shown in the comic books, it’s pretty much accepted as canon that Superman at one point in the DC Universe did indeed physically remove the arm of Oliver Queen — better known as the leftist Robin Hood-styled vigilante, Green Arrow.

'Superman did WHAT?' (Green Arrow - DC Comics)
‘Superman did WHAT?’ (Green Arrow – DC Comics)

But when, and more importantly, why? The answer to these questions might not be as straightforward as you think, so let’s take a dive into comic book history to find out.

The Dark Knight Returns

If you’re a comic book fan the odds are you’ve probably heard of a little graphic novel which goes by the title of , the iconic 1986 Batman imagining which provided a base of inspiration for the DC Extended Universe’s .

Batman returns (The Dark Knight Returns - DC Comics)
Batman returns (The Dark Knight Returns – DC Comics)

The Dark Knight Returns charts the return to crimefighting of an older, then-retired Batman in an even more dystopian version of Gotham than we’re used to. In the DC Multiverse canon, the world in which the events of The Dark Knight Returns takes place is designated Earth-31, while the main Earth is known as Earth-One

The 55-year old Bruce Wayne of Earth-31 left crimefighting behind a decade ago, following the tragic death of Jason Todd (Robin) — but seeing how overrun with crime his city has become he suffers a mental break which triggers the reemergence of the Batman person from within himself, and he returns to the fray as Batman.

The Batman persona is reborn (The Dark Knight Returns - DC Comics)
The Batman persona is reborn (The Dark Knight Returns – DC Comics)

The Dark Knight Returns also features appearances from Superman and, yes, the two do come to blows. The Earth-31 Man of Steel is working with the President of the United States, who takes issue with Batman’s new methods and sets Superman on a confrontation course with the Caped Crusader.

The Earth-31 Green Arrow Loses His Arm

After Batman and his gang of semi-reformed street thugs — The Mutants/Sons of Batman — protect Gotham during a nationwide blackout, the embarrassed government send Superman to take him down.

Around this time good old Oliver Queen — a.k.a. Green Arrow — shows up to offer Bruce some words of wisdom regarding his final confrontation with Superman. But this Green Arrow looks a little different, namely, he’s missing his left arm — a pretty inconvenient thing for an archer to be missing.

Green Arrow as he appears in 'The Dark Knight Returns' animated movie (DC/Warner)

Green Arrow as he appears in ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ animated movie (DC/Warner)

He shows up again in the two-part animated movie adapted from the graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns, also sans arm. It’s never fully explained how or why Oliver lost his arm though, but we can piece together a pretty good explanation by looking at the circumstances surrounding this event.

‘It Still Hurts When It’s Cold’

A few panels of The Dark Knight Returns tell the whole story of Oliver’s arm.

You see, at this point Superman has basically been operating as a government stooge in exchange for being allowed to go around doing his superhero-ing. As seen in The Dark Knight Returns, part of this involves reining in other superheroes when the government feels like they’ve stepped out of line.

Clark warns Bruce off his course of action (The Dark Knight Returns - DC Comics)
Clark warns Bruce off his course of action (The Dark Knight Returns – DC Comics)

We don’t see very much of Oliver Queen at all in The Dark Knight Returns, but what we do see is a conversation between him and Bruce shortly before Batman’s final showdown with Superman, in which they discuss the Man of Steel.

We learn he’s been living outside of America, and Bruce muses on the fact that Oliver is taking a big chance returning while Superman is in the country. We also learn that Green Arrow escaped from an unnamed prison five years prior, and that the government has been covering up his (presumably illegal) activities since then as — Oliver explains — they can’t put out a kill order on him without admitting his existence.

Oliver and Bruce discuss Superman (The Dark Knight Returns - DC Comics)
Oliver and Bruce discuss Superman (The Dark Knight Returns – DC Comics)

While discussing Superman — whom he refers to as “the big blue schoolboy” — Oliver says “I want a piece of him. A small piece will do. For old times sake, you know…” while gesturing to his missing left arm. Oh.

So, Superman Rips Off Green Arrow’s Arm?

Well, it certainly seems that way. Building from Oliver’s statement and actions in this sequence it doesn’t take a whole lot of reaching to infer that this means Superman is the one responsible for his missing arm and incarceration.

Of course, this isn’t the only time Superman has laid the hurt down on Green Arrow. In the Injustice: Gods Amongst Us comic adaptation of the game of the same name — which takes place on another alternate Earth with an undefined designation — Superman straight up murders Green Arrow, reacting as he believes Oliver intended to hurt his parents.

Superman kills Green Arrow (Injustice - DC Comics)
Superman kills Green Arrow (Injustice – DC Comics)

But, look a bit further back in the Earth-One continuity and we find an alternative explanation — although if you like the idea of Superman ripping off Oliver’s arm in order to prevent him from being a vigilante superhero then I guess you can stop reading here.

‘The Trap’

Issues 100 and 101 of Green Arrow Vol 2 — “The Trap” and “Run of the Arrow” — were released in 1995 and are famous for charting the death of Green Arrow.

Green Arrow sacrifices himself to save Metropolis (Run of the Arrow – DC Comics)
Green Arrow sacrifices himself to save Metropolis (Run of the Arrow – DC Comics)

They were written nearly a decade after The Dark Knight Returns was published, but in terms of linear continuity the events of these issues take place many years before the events of the earlier Batman novel.

“Run of the Arrow” deals primarily with Green Arrow’s death, while “The Trap” looks at the events in the run up. In “The Trap” Green Arrow is battling the terrorist Hyrax on a plane headed to Metropolis. An undercover NSA agent triggers a shootout which takes out Hyrax and her men, but also ends with Oliver shot and his left arm trapped on the deadman’s switch of the bio-weapon bomb.

As you’d expect from a deadman’s switch, this means he can’t remove his hand or the bomb will detonate.

This is why we can't have nice things Oliver (The Trap – DC Comics)
This is why we can’t have nice things Oliver (The Trap – DC Comics)

This is where Superman comes into the picture. He shows up and, ever the hero, Oliver tells him to destroy the bomb, an action which would also take out Green Arrow. Superman has an alternate suggestion though, telling Oliver he can rescue him from the situation by amputating his arm. Green Arrow refuses and basically tells Superman to suck it, saying he’d rather die than live with the loss of his arm.

In the Earth-One continuity Green Arrow does die here, blowing himself up along with the bomb to stop Superman from amputating his arm (don’t worry, he’s later resurrected by Green Lantern in “Quiver”). But what about on Earth-31?

Back To Earth-31

As we’ve seen in the DC Multiverse before, many of the universes share similarities, with random events going one way or the other to change certain aspects of the Earth upon which the events play out. The Hyrax bomb incident could be one such event which takes place both on Earth-One and Earth-31.

The DC Multiverse makes things tricky sometimes... (DC Comics)

The DC Multiverse makes things tricky sometimes… (DC Comics)

An explanation for Green Arrow’s missing arm could be that Superman refused to let Green Arrow sacrifice himself here, instead amputating his arm against Oliver’s wishes. It’s his left arm which is stuck in the trap, and his left he’s missing when he shows up in The Dark Knight Returns.

This would explain why Green Arrow later seemingly went rogue and ended up in jail, as The Dark Knight Returns establishes that the government has some tolerance for the criminal vigilantes, it just doesn’t like it when they start showing them up at their jobs (as Batman does by sorting out Gotham).

Furthermore, just before Oliver detonates the bomb that kills him he mutters to Superman “…not going to cripple me… you big blue…” He never finishes this sentence, but it sounds awfully familiar to the nickname he refers to Superman by in The Dark Knight Returns — “the big blue schoolboy.”

Oliver defies Superman (Run of the Arrow – DC Comics)
Oliver defies Superman (Run of the Arrow – DC Comics)

Of course, as we can glean from the conversation between Batman and Superman in The Dark Knight Returns, it could just be that Superman as a government enforcer removed Green Arrow’s arm as an alternative to killing him, making it impossible for the archer to utilize his bow and arrows.

One thing is for sure though, as evidenced by Bruce and Oliver it was certainly Superman who did the damage — and as Batman remarks to Superman during the animated The Dark Knight Returns Part 2, “I’m sure Oliver was all torn up about it too.”

Who knew Batman was such a comedian?

Green Arrow returns (with the goatee) in 'Rebirth' (DC Comics)
Green Arrow returns (with the goatee) in ‘Rebirth’ (DC Comics)

Whats your take on this theory about Green Arrow’s missing arm? Tell us in the comments below, then


MP Staff Writer. Superheroes, comic books, Marvel and DC, film, sci-fi, video games.