You Should Be Watching “Arrow”

I’ve been enjoying the Marvel movie renaissance as much as the next geek, but I’m a DC guy and proud of it. DC has had renaissance of its own that far exceeds Marvel’s, albeit on the small screen. Thanks to the sure hands of Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, they have created the most fully realized adaptations of any comic book characters to date: Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, The New Batman/Superman Adventures, Batman Beyond, Krypto the Superdog (entertaining and underrated), Justice League, and Justice League Unlimited, as well as a fun Duck Dodgers revival, which had some DC fan-service. (Witness “The Green Loontern.”)

DC animation also gave us Teen Titans, the sorely-missed Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Legion of Superheroes, a slew of feature-length animated films (some of them, like Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, superior to almost all the live action fare), and a decentish Green Lantern show. (I didn’t like The Batman at all, however.)

Smallville ran for a decade and was quite good, and now Arrow is filling the gap left by Smallville, including using Luthor Manor for Queen Manor. (Near the end of Smallville‘s run, a pilot was shot for Aquaman but it didn’t get picked up, for the very sound reason that no one gives a crap about Aquaman. The best use anyone has made of him, ever, was John DiMaggio’s voice work in Brave and the Bold. And this.)

I’d argue that DC’s achievement is the more impressive one, since we’re talking about hundreds and hundreds of hours of continuity-based entertainment using a format closer to the original medium. Animation certainly fits better with comics than live action, as does the serial storytelling potential of good television. Indeed, I think the Batman animated series is the finest superhero adaptation ever, and Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill are the best Batman and Joker.

When Smallville went off the air, it left a superhero sized hole in the CW schedule, quickly filled by Green Arrow. The title was shortened to Arrow when the film version of Green Hornet failed and executives decided it was because people hated the word “green.”

Oliver Queen is not anyone’s idea of an A-list superhero, even though DC keeps pretending he is. He’s Batman with a bow in a Robin Hood costume, tricked out with silly accessories like a boxing glove arrow and a sidekick named Speedy.

Despite this, he’s carved out his own niche as DC’s voice of liberal doo-gooderism, which is appropriate because of the whole “Robin Hood” thing. Neal Adams and Dennis O’Neil reinvigorated him in the 70s with a strong series of team-ups with Green Lantern, a little long on the preachiness but still entertaining. In recent years, the comics went off the rails a bit, although Kevin Smith did an acceptably decent job with him. Only in the animated series and in Smallville did he really show some potential.

The CW Arrow series messes with the continuity quite a bit, but most of it works pretty well, and it’s giving the character a depth he’s lacked. With the exception of the actress playing Laurel Lance (who’s rather bland), the cast is strong, grounded by an effective performance by Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen.

Since this is the CW, it’s full of too many pretty young faces and soap-opera digressions, and would benefit from the addition of older performers. Smallville had the likes of John Glover, John Schneider, Annette O’Toole, and Terence Stamp to give the proceedings heft among gleaming teeth and blow-dried hair. Arrow has Paul Blackthorne as Detective Lance and … that’s about it, except for rare and brief appearances by Colin Salmon, who seems to have made a career out of doing a lot with small parts. John Barrowman (of Torchwood and Doctor Who) had an important part in Season 1, but he’s not likely to return.

Despite this, the series is turning out good superhero action laced with moral depth. Arrow charges back to Starling City after missing for five years and starts killing the hell out of bad guys, instantly becoming Public Enemy Number 1. Following the loss of a close friend, he vows to kill no more, and struggles to be a better hero for a city in dire need. When Black Canary enters the storyline, we see the trials of people attempting to overcome their sins and find forgiveness, while also fighting for the right.

It’s not a heavy show, and I don’t want to overstate the moral qualities: it’s still 42 minutes of a guy in green leather shooting people with arrows. But amidst the fun it manages to tap some of those deeper elements lurking at the heart of good superhero stories.

For DCers, Season 2 has been rolling out the fan service big time. Season 1 gave us Merlyn (sorta), Felicity Smoak, Huntress, a pre-Deathstroke Slade, a pre-Speedy Roy Harper, Deadshot, and China White. In only 6 episodes, Season 2 has already introduced or named-checked Black Canary, Brother Blood, Amanda Waller (played by a tall, skinny actress; just … no), The League of Assassins, HIVE, Bronze Tiger, Professor Ivo, Ra’s al-Ghul (mispronounced, as usual, “Roz”), and Dollmaker. Roy Harper gradually is becoming a sidekick, and we’re starting to see what drives Slade to become evil. It’s already stronger than the first season: more assured, more tied to DC lore, with characters settling into their performances and excellent supporting turns by Blackthorne, David Ramsey (Diggle, a new character), and Emily Bett Rickards (terrific as a smart, funny Felicity Smoak).

You don’t even need cable to watch it. We cut cable last spring and stream all the episodes on Hulu. I think all of season 1 may be there. I know it’s all on Amazon and Netflix, and well worth catching up. Give it some time. Like any show, it takes a while for writers, actors, and production to settle into a good working groove. If you don’t like superheroes, this won’t change your mind, but if you liked Smallville and want a something a bit less high-school and a little more mature and darker, Arrow is a great choice.

About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • victor

    While I wasn’t sold on the pilot when it first aired, we stuck with it and “Arrow” has become one of the shows we most look forward to every week. The cameos from the various Stargate alums are fun, too. I also like how they’re setting up the new “Flash” series in the show this season, though I guess they’ve decided against going the backdoor pilot route (through “Arrow”).

    Totally agree with you on Batman: The Brave And the Bold. We still miss that show.

  • Thomas L. McDonald

    Brave and the Bold should not have worked: campy silver age tongue-in-cheek should have blown right up in their faces. But it was done with a love and understanding of the source material, and it was just so much fun.

  • Gary Chapin

    I love it, Batman and Green Arrow being lowered into a giant vat of acid, labeled “ACID.”

  • Paul Schumann

    Was at a friend’s place and Arrow was onscreen. Didn’t realize Summer Glau was in it!
    Slade as Deathstroke was featured in the latest Arkham game. Haven’t played it yet but he seems like a cool villian. I never read comics – almost all my knowledge of DC is anyone featured in the 90′s Batman Animated Series.
    Anyway thanks for the heads up. The adverts I had seen last summer were not enticing at all. Maybe I’ll give it a shot after all.

  • Thomas L. McDonald

    Summer Glau just joined as a non-canonical character. Not sure what they plan to do with her. Deathstroke was played very effectively as the villain in Teen Titans (voiced by Ron Perlman!), but because it was a kid show, they couldn’t use “death” in the name, so he was just called Slade.

    Why, yes, I do know too much about this topic. Why do you ask?

  • victor

    Ron Perlman’s Slade was pretty excellent. The guy they got playing him on Arrow is also excellent. Hopefully Summer Glau wasn’t brought in by CW to kill the show off or anything like that. Lately, she’s been the sci-fi equivalent of Ted McGinley (who Batman:TBAB actually DID bring in on the final episode to properly kill off the show). When Glau comes on as a regular character you know the show can’t be long for the world (“Firefly”, “The Cape”, “Alphas”, “Dollhouse”, “The 4400″, that Terminator show, etc.).

  • Jakeithus

    Nice to see more people talking about Arrow. I stuck with it through Season One, despite a couple of weaker episodes, and that has paid off immensely in Season Two. I look forward to it every week, and have yet to be disappointed this season. The numerous shout outs to a wider DC universe has been great, and the first mention of Ra’s al Ghul had me floored. (As an aside, with my first real exposure to him coming in Batman Begins, I much prefer the “Raz” pronunciation over “Raysh” (I’ve heard Raz is how you would pronounce it in Arabic as well)).

    Like you, I am a DC guy first and foremost, and while Marvel may be further ahead in their creation of a shared movie universe, DCs television and video game offerings are light years ahead (the Arkham series are my favourite video games of recent years). I’m excited to see where the future goes with the Flash, and with the upcoming Gotham TV series having so much potential in my mind.

  • Thomas L. McDonald

    Yes, I wonder about The Curse of Summer, too. She was pretty good in Terminator and Firefly, though.

    Ron Perlman is never not excellent, even when he’s being sucked into a kaiju larva maw. (We’ll just pretend Beauty and the Beast never happened.)

  • Thomas L. McDonald

    I don’t know where the “Raysh” pronunciation first started, but it seems like it’s been DC lore forever.

    I’m very curious to see what they do with Barry Allan. They’re already seeding the plotline with talk of the particle accelerator. It will be the first time they really do a “super” in the series, which sticks pretty close to the possible (eg, Canary’s electronic scream). I’m not really sure how they’re going to integrate it with the (relatively) naturalistic tone of Arrow.

    I’ve given both the Arkham games awards and think, hands down, they’re the best hero games ever. Also, heavily derived from the Dini-Timm series (same voice actors).

  • Jakeithus

    It’s possible in your busyness, you’ve missed the 3rd Arkham game, Arkham Origins. Not being made by Rocksteady, it doesn’t have quite the polish or freshness that Asylum and City had, but in my opinion it has the best story and by far the best boss fights of the 3 games. It also features Deathstroke heavily, which is a huge plus for me, as he’s become a favourite of mine through Arrow and by playing Injustice. Worth checking out if you have the time.

    The inclusion of super powers in the Arrow continuity will be interesting to watch for sure. The Flash is fairly tailor made for TV, unlike someone like Green Lantern, as great as a Green Arrow/Green Lantern team up might be for comic fans.