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NOV
7
10 MOS

Is 'Arrow' the Best Live-Action Superhero Show Ever? (Opinion)

This new quartet of Marvel shows hitting Netflix -- and ABC's "SHIELD" -- could learn from The CW’s adaptation of the classic DC Comic Green Arrow, which has been firing on all cylinders.

Arrow, CW
"Arrow"

It’s probably safe to say that when Arrow premiered in October 2012, expectations were moderate. Even though archers had been making a comeback -- thanks to The Avengers’ Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) -- Green Arrow was never high on fans’ most-want-to-see-on-television list. And Oliver Queen as a character always felt a bit like Batman’s spoiled cousin: Rich kid goes through trauma, trains in the far East, returns to his city to lead his family’s corporation while donning a mask to fight crime.

But Arrow came out of the gate swinging -- and it doesn’t hurt when you have a guy with Stephen Amell’s abs working out with his shirt off, like, every episode. It recast Queen and his cast of characters in interesting ways. It gave him real trauma -- five years on an island, tormented by the death of his father and the young woman he dragged with him on a doomed pleasure cruise -- and real drama. He was driven, haunted, and when he finally made it back to Starling City, he was a stranger in his own land. And it all worked. The producers leaned into the Green Arrow mythos, took what they wanted and left the rest. So we got classic comics characters like Black Canary, Deathstroke, Deadshot, Count Vertigo, the Huntress…even the Royal Flush Gang. They went deep, and it paid off. The world is rich, the characters have depth, the stories have emotion and pathos, and things blow up real good. By arrows with explosives on 'em.

Q&A: 'Arrow' EP Previews Oliver's Rocky Road to Hero, New Antagonists and Season 2 

Which is, really, more than anyone can say for any other live-action superhero show, well, ever. (You will note that I’m specifically saying “live-action,” as Batman: The Animated Series and Justice League would duke it out atop that list.) Of course, the competition isn’t all that fierce: The '60s Batman, Wonder Woman, M.A.N.T.I.S., The Flash, The Incredible Hulk, The Amazing Spider-Man, Blade, Superboy, Birds of Prey, even Smallville. Some of them may have had their moments -- after all, in 10 seasons, Smallville would have to, simply by the law of averages, deliver some entertaining television -- but none of them have sustained a real, consistent quality. (And, yes, Heroes had one legitimately great season -- which was all but erased by the seasons that followed.)

You'll notice that I didn’t include Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD in that list. It is still finding its footing, locating its voice. But where Arrow is telling a serialized story, driven by emotion, starring a diverse cast of characters, each of which has their own motivations and scars, Agents of SHIELD…isn’t. By design. It’s as though SHIELD is running away from its comic-book roots instead of finding ways to embrace them, while subverting them.

Could Agents of SHIELD find its way? Will Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist and Luke Cage be what viewers want them to be? Sure. If Marvel lets them.

Marvel may rule the big screen -- and Thor: The Dark World is set to conquer this weekend -- but Arrow is single-handedly winning the superhero-TV space.

E-mail: Marc.Bernardin@THR.com
Twitter: @marcbernardin