One of the more interesting aspects of mainstream superhero comics is the persistence of the characters and their universe. The most well known and beloved have had their stories told for upwards of 70 years. So when a superhero franchise is “rebooted,” there’s not just quite a big pair of tights to fill; you have decades of material to draw from, wink at, or completely ignore.
The CW’s Arrow shows us their version of Oliver Queen. Long-time DC fans – and even some casual readers – peg that name as belonging to the original Green Arrow, though there’s more than a whiff of Connor Hawke in Stephen Amell’s stoic and measured delivery. The first episode maintains the most oft referenced origin – a billionaire playboy who finds himself struggling to survive after being shipwrecked on a seemingly deserted island. Whether or not Ollie was truly isolated is one of many questions raised right from the start, and the opening scenes have a reference that should make most fans of the comic grin despite our customary cynicism.
Some of the nods to fans are subtle. John Diggle can only be a hat tip to 2007’s Green Arrow: Year One author Andy Diggle. The scene in which Ollie’s little sister Thea is affectionately referred to as “Speedy” provided a chuckle, but their insistence on driving the point into the ground by repeating it abolishes all charm. If you’re an old fan you get it, and if you’re not you don’t. The experience should be pleasant either way. To shove these sorts of references into the spotlight makes it awkward for everyone.
The tone of the series is dark, with Arrow already making some ethically shocking decisions. It seems to pull most of the late 80s/early 90s Oliver, particularly the Longbow Hunters. That isn’t my favorite arc, but it leaves a lot of room for character growth and depth.
And here’s where the show displays real potential: there are whispers of the different roads Oliver could take. For a character that was originally created to mimic and monetize the success of Batman (“Billionaire playboy with gadgets, eh? Let’s make a blonde one!”), Oliver Queen became extremely complex. There are hints of familiar emotional struggles, abandonment, seeking to mend familial and romantic bonds while feeling compelled to keep those depending on him at arm’s length, ethical lapses sparked by trauma, and perhaps even a hint of Ollie’s magnetizing political fervor.
Characters Dinah Lance and Tommy Merlyn are plucked directly from the comic, albeit as versions mostly unique to this universe. At this point, they’re the most bland and disappointing aspect of the show. I really have no idea what they think they’re doing with “Laurel” but as it stands she’s a poor copy of Christopher Nolan’s creation, Rachel Dawes. Turning one of the most important pieces of what makes Oliver Queen the man he is into a hollow version of an already hollow character from another movie doesn’t bode well.
John Diggle and Thea Queen, however, are both an utter delight. Diggle stands as some much needed levity, and appears to be both a natural foil and potentially loyal companion for Ollie. With so many questions of who’s on what side of right, or if that side will even be made clear, Diggle already stands to be utilized as a sort of moral compass for the audience as well as Arrow. Thea presented the only sincere character in the whole thing, reacting to her brother’s death and rescue with genuine grace and strength.
I have no idea what they’re thinking with Moira Queen. I half expected at any moment for her to retreat to some dark corner of the mansion to conference with her talking mirror, fingers tented, cackling maniacally.
As a show on its own, it’s fun. They’ve obviously invested more than you’d normally see for a superhero series from a budget perspective. The addition of some parkour-style aerials is not only rad to watch, but also lends some credibility to the idea of a rooftop vigilante stalking the city. Likewise the fight scenes are stylish, and the entire thing is dripping with eye candy; from Amell’s bewildering abs to Katie Cassidy’s pursed pout, there is something here for everyone to enjoy.
When well-known and long-loved comic book characters shift between mediums, there’s a lot to unpack and decide what might come along. It seems to work when the best storylines are tapped, recalling moments in the narrative history that express the essence of the character in a new or interesting way. There’s a delicate balance to maintaining enough of a weighty past without confusing or averting newcomers. It’s difficult to judge from a single episode something that is and always has been serialized, but so far I’m not entirely convinced Arrow understands that balance. Right now, the most that can be hoped for is a fun ride as we see where this new incarnation decides to lead us. There’s some potential, and at the very least it’s obvious everyone involved is taking this project very seriously.
What did you guys think? Let us know in the comments!