I've been reading GREEN ARROW comics, another iconic figure who went through an awkward age.
Green Arrow is amusing in that, like Iron Man, Captain America and Thor, he was strictly a B-list character for most of his lifetime and in fact, considering Oliver Queen a B-lister may have been overly generous. He was a Golden Age Robin Hood knockoff whose gimmick was trick arrows -- boxing glove arrows, net arrows, etc. -- he was simply an interchangeable back row member of the Justice League. He didn't even get his own title until 1987 and it's only at this point that Green Arrow became an A-list character thanks to writer/artist Mike Grell.
Mike Grell reinvented Green Arrow as an urban hunter of criminals and carefully sidestepped all the fantasy elements of the DC Universe, instead having Oliver fight street gangs and corporate villains and corrupt government officials. Grell's 83 issues kept Oliver strictly in the real world and avoided any crossover interaction, building a universe of shady espionage agents and assassins and defining Oliver as a street level character who was significantly more human than other comic book vigilantes. At the start of Grell's run, Oliver is over-40 and the aches and pains of his career are starting to wear down on him. He's settled into a relationship with Black Canary. He's lost his fortune and expects to wind down and run a flower shop with the Canary -- except the world keeps calling on him to battle injustice and Oliver thrives on hunting.
This hard-boiled, ripped from the headlines approach to Oliver created a template where he could be the star rather than a superhero with no superpowers who was always overshadowed by the rest of the Justice League. A lot of what made it work was Mike Grell's writing style where he scripted silence, space and devised layouts for artists to make the GA comics a stunning work of visual art. Grell became synonymous with GREEN ARROW -- which was a problem when he decided to move on after a six year run of 83 issues in addition to annuals and a mini-series.
The post-Grell issues reflect a terrible confusion. DC editorial promoted from within, hiring editor Kevin Dooley to become the new writer, and Dooley's writing came off as amateur and unprofessional compared to Grell's. Where Grell's every image and moment was infused with meaning, Dooley wrote interchangeable fight scenes guest-starring the superheroes and supervillains that Grell had locked out of his own run. Dooley accomplished little beyond plunging Green Arrow back into the fantasy superhero adventures and made it quite clear why Grell had avoided them. This ghastly follow-up to a seminal and beautiful run was a critical and financial disaster.
At this point, DC apparently decided that Oliver Queen didn't work. The idea of hiring a more competent, visually oriented writer who understood the medium was apparently not considered; DC had a strange attitude of blaming characters for the creators' lack of ability at the time.
While they did hire more capable writers anyway in Kelley Puckett and Chuck Dixon who immediately raised GREEN ARROW's writing quality from awkwardly incompetent to professional, DC wanted sharper measures. Puckett and Dixon successfully blended a version of Grell's hard-boiled approach with some fantasy elements -- but DC felt it would be best to kill off Oliver Queen and replace him with his son, Connor Hawke, create some buzz, bring in new readers and keep the Green Arrow brand going with a character they felt might be an improvement.
The Chuck Dixon written issues in which Oliver dies are very well-written: Oliver goes undercover to join some eco-terrorists, is sympathetic to their cause but then turns on them when they want to drop a bomb over Metropolis. Superman flies onto the plane and discovers Oliver has re-directed the plane and sabotaged the trigger mechanism, but gotten his arm stuck. Removing his arm will destroy the city.
And then Superman decides he'll cut off Oliver's arm. Free him from the bomb. Fly him away from the plane and save him. But Oliver, refusing to lose the archer's arm that gives his life meaning, makes sure the plane is clear of the city and triggers the explosion, dying to save Metropolis and Superman floats helplessly in the explosion, unable to save his friend.
It's perfect. It's beautiful. It's also unbelievable stupid on DC's part. The egotistical, small-minded thinking there is just shocking: this Kevin Dooley guy, a mediocre to terrible writer, has written mediocre to terrible Oliver Queen comics! Clearly, Oliver Queen sucks and we should get rid of him. The fact that they actually got some decent writers after Dooley makes it even sadder and more unnecessary.
Oliver Queen was dead and... to be honest, it wasn't really a big deal. Mike Grell had been the selling point of GREEN ARROW, not Green Arrow, so a new guy with the same name didn't exactly irritate the readers as much as you'd think. It was a pre-ARROW age, after all.
Oliver was absent from 1994 - 2002 and those eight years may have been a good thing where a character DC didn't know how to handle took a long rest and when he came back, he came back with A-list writer Kevin Smith resurrecting Oliver with fanfare and excitement and a clear role in the DCU as a straightman surrounded by the insanity of a superhero universe. Oliver's appearances on SMALLVILLE exposed him to a wider public, and retroactively, those eight years feel like an epic finish to Ollie's story matched with a period of rest and reconsideration.
But, like I said -- they could have just hired a good writer and a good artist in the first place.