TV Review: Arrow

With the debut of its midseason finale, I finally feel like I can comment with some certainty on the new CW television series “Arrow.”  Based off of the DC character Green Arrow, this show delivers not only a faithful adaptation of an underutilized comic property, but just damn good television.  Watching this show, a person immediately wants to make a connection with the ten season long series “Smallville.”  And why wouldn’t they?  “Smallville” was the first time since the Adam West “Batman” television series that a comic book character became a prime-time live action hit.  However, “Arrow”, put on to assuage the hole in a nation of comic book nerds’ television lineup, exceeds the mark.  It is promising to be an even better series in the nine episodes that have aired than “Smallville” ever was in ten seasons.  And I am a huge “Smallville” fan.ARROW_24x36_Posterj

What makes the difference between this series and all the other comic book superhero television shows in the past, is that this rendition takes a realistic perspective on the genre.  It also has a much darker tone.  Where “Smallville” started with Clark Kent going to his first day of high school, cultivating in a small microcosm the seeds of his future self with measured allusions and minimalist, sustainable myth building, then ending ten years later after he’s established himself as Superman and spinning out of the realm of what a television program on a limited budget could portray, this series is able to scale back and focus on stories that can reasonable be told.  Superman is basically a god with the heart of a man.  Green Arrow is a man with the heart and mind of a hunter.  His heroics take place within the limits of science and reason, whereas his Kryptonian counterpart is a being whose very existence flouts physics and human understanding of the universe.  Also taking into account the aforementioned point of Superman’s near godhood, his morals in the show needed to be grounded in the Midwestern sensibilities imparted to him by the Kents or he would lose relatability and pathos with his audience.  Green Arrow, like Batman, being a regular man fighting forces that are on par with his own physical limitations is able to descend into greater depths of moral darkness, which ironically accomplishes relatability and pathos with him in much the same way as Superman’s restraint.  But just who is Green Arrow, you ask?0

Green Arrow is Star City (changed to Starling City for the television show) billionaire, Oliver Queen.  Queen is marooned on a desert island where he must learn basic survival skills in order to subsist until rescue.  This includes learning and mastering the use of a bow and arrow.  The basic myths of his time on the island and the circumstances surround it differ with the telling, but in this series it comes of his father’s yacht The Queen’s Gambit sinking with all hands lost but for the two of them.  In the moment just before reaching shore, Robert Queen reveals to his son that he is involved in a corporate illuminati that has been poisoning and raping Starling City, profiteering off its decay and selling out its citizens.  He gives his son a list of the members and takes his own life so that Oliver can have a chance to live with the finite resources they have left.  Five years later, Oliver is rescued from the island and returns to make good his father’s sacrifice and grant the repentant man absolution in death through his actions.  Enter the “Hood”, as he becomes known.arrowimages10

Donning a green hood and wielding a bow and arrow, he takes vigilante justice to the men and women of the list and coerces them through force to renounce their ill gotten gains, or to turn themselves in for heinous crimes against the weak and powerless of Starling City.  He becomes basically a modern day Robin Hood.  Where the darker edge comes in that separates it from Smallville is how he deals with situations that get . . . sticky.  Halfway through episode one, when he  and his best friend are kidnapped and his unconscious buddy’s life is endangered he breaks out of his restraints and fights his attackers.  Two are shot accidentally by the third, but when Ollie catches up to the third, disarms him, and forces him into submission, the feebled henchmen says, “You don’t have to do this . . .”  Ollie coldly replies, “Yes I do.  No one can know my secret.”  SNAP!  Breaking the man’s neck, Ollie shows that he is not someone that will only take the highroad on his crusade.  If the road gets muddy, he’s willing to get his hands dirty to advance down the path towards righting his father’s wrongs.Arrow-cast-cw

I have stated that Green Arrow is an underutilized property.  There are only a few representations of him that have merit.  I will cite them in chronological order, starting with the seminal Green Lantern/Green Arrow that really set him up as a streetwise left wing voice of the common man, as written by the incomparable Dennis O’Neil and drawn by the equally legendary Neal Adams.  From there Green Arrow languished for a little over a decade until taken up by writer/artist Mike Grell (one of my all time favorite comic creators) who defined the character yet again in quintessential ways, making him someone who could literally exist and stripping away ALL THE CAMP.  The character was taken up afterwards by other creators, most notably Kevin Smith, who wrote him well, but returned some of the camp including the goofy trick arrows that made the series ridiculous back in the day before O’Neil, Adams, and Grell.  I do not include his run or the later run of Judd Winick, which was decent as well, in the list of great runs.  The last great run, cut short by that damn DC Reboot, was that of JT Krul, which once again took away the camp, gave him just regular pointy arrows, and returned the character from a jovial, trash talking caricature back to a haunted soul who finds redemption in the cold role of a modern day huntsman of the concrete jungles.  “Arrow” takes the best of O’Neil, Grell, and Krul, and does what the people at DC have foolishly overlooked in their misguided attempt at rebooting the series.  It makes Oliver a man that does what he does from a genuine, bleeding wound upon his soul that compels him beyond his own selfish desires to do good because he has no choice.  Where the current comic is trite and pathetic, this show is profound and engaging.  This could be owing to the fact that the three producers of the show, Marc Guggenheim, Andrew Kreisberg, and Greg Berlanti were all DC writers and had cut their teeth on the character at one point or another before creating this series.

Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters #1, the gritt...

Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters #1, the gritty redefinition of the Green Arrow. Cover by Mike Grell. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Outside the concept of the main character, the series succeeds because of the masterful way that DC characters, writers, and allusions are folded into the episodic narrative.  Writers Ann Nocenti, Andy Diggle, Mike Grell, Dennis O’Neil, and Neal Adams, among others, have been honored with references made to them throughout the episodes.  Classic DC characters also are popping up like mad. Oliver’s long time lover, Dinah Lance, who in the comics also masquerades as the superheroine Black Canary, appears on the show regularly as Dinah “Laurel” Lance, going by her middle name and championing a pro bono legal aide office instead of fishnets and a leather jacket.  Deadshot, Deathstroke, the Royal Flush Gang, Huntress, and China White have all made appearances as antagonists of the “Hood.”  The final touch that ties the concept up beautifully is the introduction of a black archer popping up in Starling who dwarfs Oliver’s skills with a bow.  If you are a comic faithful you will no doubt figure out who he is.  If not I don’t want to ruin the surprise.  Either way, this series’ first half has been stellar and I lament the hiatus, as this show was an integral part of my Wednesday routine.

Enter Deathstroke the Terminator

Enter Deathstroke the Terminator

Bottomline:  There is real evil in Starling City.  All the greed, corruption, human weakness, and discord that was in the Christopher Nolan version of Gotham City can be found in Arrow’s hometown.  And right from the first episode the proximity of that evil to our hooded protagonist is alarming to the viewer, and totally unknown to Oliver.  Also, in the grand tradition of the show “Lost”,  whenever Oliver deals with a particularly trying moment, we flash back to his time on the island and the horrors he experiences to see how his five year odyssey forged him into the steely figure that can surmount the seemingly insurmountable.  I think I’ve already made the point that this is a phenomenal show.  All that remains is to watch it and find out.

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2 thoughts on “TV Review: Arrow

  1. I usually do not leave many responses, but after reading
    through a few of the comments here TV Review: Arrow Off
    the Panel Comic Reviews. I actually do have a
    couple of questions for you if you don’t mind. Is it simply me or do a few of the comments appear like they are written by brain dead people? 😛 And, if you are posting at additional online social sites, I would like to keep up with you. Would you list of all of your public pages like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?

  2. I appreciate any feedback. Feel free to shoot off whatever questions you may have. I think because I am so ravenous for interaction with my readers I haven’t really noticed anything off about the other commenters, but again that’s just me. This blog is really the only place I do regular postings. I do, however, do graphic novel reviews for “Library Journal” which appear on their website. http://lj.libraryjournal.com/ If you are interested in reading those, click on the link and then type my name (which is Alger C. Newberry III) in the search bar and all the batches of reviews in which mine were published will be brought up. Thank you again for expressing interest.

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