For those of you not in the know, CW’s Arrow is a prime time action series based on the DC Comic character Green Arrow, who was created in 1941 created by Morton Weisinger and drawn by George Papp.
More Fun Comics #73 November 1941
You can be forgiven for not knowing who the hell that is, since he’s not exactly the most prominent superhero in American media. Green Arrow started out as an obvious ripoff of Batman: he was a billionaire playboy orphan who used his athleticism,technology,and guile to fight crime. Except instead of having a bat gimmick,he used the much more subtle Robin Hood motif. Good choice.He even had an Arrowmobile (which would make Freud drop his cigar), and a sidekick called Speedy (who later became a heroin addict. Seriously).
While at first his choice of costume was merely due to his use of the bow, his character became revamped in the early 1970’s to have left-wing politics reflective of his Robin Hood motif. In the series Green Lantern Green Arrow, he became a liberal counterpoint to the conservative Green Lantern. The success of the series popularized this version of the character.
Green Lantern Vol 2. #76 April 1970
Due to his origin,it would be easy to assume that Arrow would be a differently-hued The Dark Knight ( 2012 ), yet it manages to avoid just that. Don’t get me wrong,there’s plenty of thematic overlap ( a corrupt city government, morally ambiguous heroism, etc ), but much of it is inherent to the subgenre, which the series has an intriguing take on.
Quick recap: billionaire Oliver Queen ends up stranded on an island during a cruise with his father, which he later manages to escape from due to a passing boat after several years. He comes back with a certain set of skills that makes him dangerous to criminals. Unlike most superhero tales, he doesn’t take an interest in bank robbers or gangsters and instead begins a crusade against the corrupt one-percenters of Starling City. His father, a corrupt businessman himself, decides to make his son promise to avenge his sins and those of his peers. He gives him a list of men who have perverted the lives of Starling’s residents, which Oliver uses as a hit list.
The list provides an interesting alternative to the conventional superhero crusade: most heroes have a more emotional relationship between their impetus for heroism and their methodology rather than a more pragmatic one. For example, Spider-man fights crime because he feels responsible for the death of his uncle,which is a fairly childish sentiment since he didn’t actually kill him in any of the interpretations of his origin. At worst, he was as culpable as a bystander to any crime. Batman’s vigilantism is driven by anger and fear at a faceless and nameless criminal element. Batman thinks of his antagonists as “superstitious and cowardly lot” who prey on women and children in the corners of the city for kicks. Neither one of these guys have any real sociological observations about what causes crime or how to rehabilitate criminals, they’re just excercising a thankfully beneficial pathos. While Oliver is initially motivated by his father’s death, he has the benefit of also being given a clear dictum of how to make to make lemonade out of really shitty lemons. As such, he has legible antagonists, Starling’s evil fat cats. In one episode, it’s brought to his attention that a string of violent bank robberies have taken place in the city. His response is succinct: “It’s not my problem. These robberies are the symptoms,I only care about curing the disease”, which also unintentionally sounds like the tagline of Sylvester Stallone’s Cobra.
His crusade resonates well in a post “March on Wall Street America”. Class conflict is as prevalent as ever, just look at the firebrand that was Mitt Romney’s 47% speech. Rich dudes make easy targets in today’s political climate, making him truly a modern day Robin Hood. While the character has had left-wing connotations for awhile, Arrow is the first time he turns out into basically a strong arm socialist. Despite a few liberal lectures, comic book Ollie was perfectly content fighting the same rabble all other heroes do. Hell, in his first Justice League appearance,he stops a convenience store robbery ( which also happens in Sylvester Stallone’s Cobra; it’s as if they’re the same guy ). This is important for the sake of a series, since Ollie can’t just be a generic crusader if he’s to carry his own series. Given him a unique motive separates the show from the legion of other superhero series.
In addition to warring against the bourgeoisie, Arrow’s protagonist also surprisingly has no compunction about violating the “no kill” policy. In the first episode he snaps a goon’s neck without a thought in order to protect his identity, establishing his lack of interest in preserving the lives of his enemies. His threats to those on his list are cut and dry: reform or die. Arguably, this is part of the pragmatism of Ollie as compared to other superheroes. Anyone,who’s familiar with comics knows the idea of a superhero killing people is nothing new, it’s actually quite old considering that pulp heroes like the Phantom killed guys all the time in pre-Depression era comics. The only reason why later superhero comics avoided this was because it was illogical to kill off a compelling antagonist, which would be the narrative equivalent of General Motors selling a flying car for only a week. Despite this, I would hesitate to call the character a throwback to a less censored time and instead state that it’s a logical narrative choice for a realistic series. What’s the point of having a bow and arrow if you’re not dropping bodies? There is none. I guess Ollie could knock guns out of the bad guys hands ala Blazing Saddles but that would probably stop working the minute he fights guys with more than one gun. While Ollie is is inspired by a superhero,the world he lives in doesn’t include the likes of a Superman or a Captain America, so there’s no compelling moral reason for him to not use lethal force. If you’re going to use violence to solve problems, there’s no reason to stop at broken bones (An ideology he shares with,you guessed it, Sylvester Stallone’s Cobra). This cannot be a coincidence). Arrow’s Ollie reflects the development of his comic counterpart, who recently killed a super-villain called Prometheus in Justice League: Cry for Justice (2009-2010). Both counterparts of Ollie honed their abilities for survival, which rationally included killing. Whereas Batman had the luxury to have years to hone his abilities in a safe environment, Green Arrow had to learn them in a dog-eat-dog world. Therefore, he applies the same methods to vigilantism.
Justice League: Cry for Justice #7 April 2010
In addition to being a great adaptation of the comic character, the series also works Green Arrow’s origin story into a ( so far ) competent myth arc. For those not familiar with script-speak a “myth arc” is simply a plot that spans an entire series ( think the mystery of the island in LOST ). As with most hour dramas, Arrow‘s myth arc begins in ambiguity.
The comic origin of Green Arrow is almost completely the same as the series,a boy is stranded on an island and uses archery and other skills to survive. In the series, most of what happened on the island is left intentionally mysterious. This is kind of necessary when you consider just HOW many skills Ollie has been said to have learned while castaway, which includes archery ( duh ), stealth ,parkour, and martial arts. The expansion pack nature of the island is pretty convenient, since the writers have another thing to compel the audience to continue to watch consistently. And lets be fair,it also allows them excuse for awhile how ludicrous of a scenario the series is: a twenty year old billionaire just happened to survive for seven years on a hostile island while maintaining his sanity and enough muscle mass to do cool ass shit like this:
Chances are,if this plot really happened he would have probably returned looking more like this:
The beauty of myth arcs though, is that it gives writers a lot of time to stall when it comes to tying things together, which can either be really good or really bad. Ask fans of Twin Peaks (1990-1991) whether or not they felt satisfied by the “conclusion” of the series. Or LOST. It’s a gamble to put so many eggs in one narrative basket. Without spoiling anything, the series suggest a conspiracy so massive, you’d think Herbert Hoover arose from the grave to concoct it with the Illuminati and Light Yagami. Since the series is still quite new, one just has to wait.
Overall, Arrow is a great series and a great adaptation of a fairly obscure comic character. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t some of the CW crap that’s common to all of their shows ( the trite love triangles, for instance ) but I grew to overlook them. Hopefully the series can be used as a model for future comic adaptations.
Green Arrow Vol. 3
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And finally:the best scene from Sylvester Stallone’s Cobra