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Following its success with Smallville, The CW takes on another DC Comics hero with Arrow, starring Stephen Amell as the famed archer from the long-running series Green Arrow. While Smallville was the retelling of Clark Kent’s formative years as he grew up to become Superman, Arrow tells the story of Oliver Queen, a billionaire playboy who returns home after being stranded on a mysterious island for five years. While there, the former womanizer re-creates himself — morally, ethically and, yes, physically — and emerges as a protector of the city he once loved.
So how does The CW’s effort, from Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim (Green Lantern, No Ordinary Family) and Andrew Kreisberg (Fringe, Warehouse 13, Eli Stone) measure up to the DC comics? The Hollywood Reporter turned to Los Angeles comic book author/expert and longtime Green Arrow reader Siike Donnelly to see how Arrow compares — and differs — from the comics.
For those who look at the character from a distance, Green Arrow and his sidekick Speedy are Robin Hood-esque knockoffs of Batman and Robin. And, at one point, they were. First appearing in More Fun Comics #73 in November 1941, Green Arrow and Speedy were created by Mort Weisinger and George Papp, in part, as a reaction to Batman and Robin’s instant success with readers. Though things like the Arrowcar and the Arrowcave were major focuses in the book at the beginning, Oliver Queen, like all great fictitious characters, took on a life and identity of his own.
Currently, the most successful Warner Bros./DC Comics franchise is Batman, thanks in great part to Christopher Nolan‘s recent Batman trilogy. Those stories are centered on an ideal, a symbol, the very concept of a hero, almost more than the man who is the hero. That’s where Batman and Green Arrow are different. For the Dark Knight, it’s about the mission; for the Emerald Archer, it’s about the man who completes the mission.
The CW’s Arrow has nods to more recent incarnations of the character than his 1940s origin, or his 1970s reinterpretation. The series is stepping into the world that Mike Grell built for Oliver Queen beginning in his three-issue series The Longbow Hunters (1987). Grell, later expanding the series into a monthly title, developed a world for Oliver that didn’t include many of DC’s other iconic characters. Though there were mentions of those characters, if they showed up — like Green Lantern did in one issue — they related to Oliver as a man, not as a superhero. Even Black Canary’s sonic scream was taken away in that series, making her a brawler who occasionally fought at his side.
Katie Cassidy is playing Dinah “Laurel” Lance in the pilot. In a nod to the comics — and her most likely inevitable shift to also taking on the Black Canary identity — The CW’s Dinah works for a legal aid group called CNRI (“canary,” if you will). An addition to her establish back story is that she has a sister who dies on Oliver’s yacht when he gets shipwrecked and a father working as a detective for the Starling City Police Department.
In the comics, various versions had Oliver end up on an island, whether accidental or due to an attack, but they often failed at making the reason for him returning to fight injustice a justified one beyond selfishness. What the show does is add tragedy to Oliver’s yacht ride. People he loves die in the process and his father is ultimately responsible for giving Oliver his mission. Plus, anyone who has read the DC Comics knows about Deathstroke the Terminator, and the fact that his mask is on the island with Oliver implies that Oliver was not alone on that island for five years. Someone was there teaching him, directly or indirectly, how to become a survivor and skilled fighter.
Starling City will be the most obvious change to fans of the comic right after the opening scene of the show. A news report informs us of Oliver’s return and the name of his beloved, yet corrupted, city. In the comics, it’s simply referred to as Star City. Grell took Oliver to Seattle during his run, but it seems the show is bringing fans back to the character’s original roots with its interpretation of the city’s name.
Tommy Merlyn (played by Colin Donnell), a character and rival archer to Oliver in the comics, here is a friend to Oliver though he has a evil streak that includes drugging girls at nightclubs. In the earlier comics, Merlyn was an archer who inspired Oliver to take up the sport, even going head to head and besting Oliver before vanishing. When he returned, it was revealed he had been training with the League of Assassins, which is the comic book version of Ra’s Al Ghul’s League of Shadows from Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy.
Exploring Oliver’s family dynamic is also a new addition to what’s been portrayed in the comics. The character, like Bruce Wayne, had a sort of surrogate family around, but actual blood relatives didn’t pop up until about 1995 in one of the Green Arrow Annuals (also written by Grell) where his father, Robert Queen, and mother, Moira Queen, took Oliver on safari at a young age. They tried to teach him to use a bow and arrow, but he hesitated in using it to kill animals. Later on that trip, his parents are attacked by lions and killed because Oliver hesitates in saving them. Arrow‘s approach to what happens between Oliver and his family is handled much better, making the tragedy seem very real, while also adding a touch of Greek tragedy: You can’t always trust your own family.
One of the biggest differences between the mythos and The CW series comes via Thea (Willa Holland), Oliver’s sister. While Oliver never had a sibling in the comics, Thea’s nickname, “Speedy,” has a deep connection to the comics — the alter-ego of Green Arrow’s longtime male sidekick, Roy Harper. Speedy was one of the first characters in comics — especially superhero — to be written as a drug addict. In the comics, after helping form the Teen Titans, Roy Harper joined a band and got addicted to heroin. Arrow nods to that when Oliver later mentions that the nickname is doubly fitting after he catches her hiding cocaine and pills. Bonus fact: Thea’s name also rhymes with Mia, which was the name of the newer Speedy that Judd Winick introduced during his run on the Green Arrow comics. Mia is one of the few HIV-positive characters in comics today. All told, Thea appears to be an amalgam of Mia and Roy.
OLIVER’S HIT LIST
Several of the names on Oliver’s list also have deep roots in the Green Arrow mythos, notably villains created by Winick and Phil Hester during their run on the series in the early to mid-2000s. Among them: Albert Davis, a millionaire who donated money to museums and who once hired the Riddler to help him find pieces to a ritual that would allow him to summon demons. He begged Green Arrow to kill him, but Oliver refused. Mia, on the other hand, did do the deed, and she was a bit traumatized by the experience.
In the comics, Danny “Brick” Brickwell started off as a henchman and, with brains and muscle, worked his way up to eventually lead his own gang. Hannibal Bates is a Gotham-born man who enlists in a project run by Lex Luthor who aims to give participants powers. Hannibal gets the ability to shapeshift and has gone by the names Everyman and Dark Arrow. David Drayson (a.k.a. Slingshot) was killed by a villain named Cupid in the comics, but before his death was a psychotic cop killer, employing a number of weapons from his sling.
The last name on the list is Lester Buchinsky (a.k.a. the Electrocutioner) a character created by Chuck Dixon and Tom Lyle in 1992’s Detective Comics #644. In the comics, he plays a role in the planting of a bomb that levels Star City.
All told, The CW’s Arrow is fairly accurate to at least one era of the Green Arrow comics, with several nods to other versions and the creators attached to them. (One character in Arrow bears the last name Diggle, after writer Andy Diggle who, along with artist Jock, created Green Arrow: Year One). Only in Grell’s run was Oliver ever this extreme when it comes to killing. While the pilot throws in one or two trick arrows, Stephen Amell‘s Arrow mostly fires simple projectiles with jagged emerald tips. His attempts to reconnect with those he loves (Laurel) and those he’s hurt reveal that he’s as flawed as anyone else, which is one of the few things that separate him from other superheroes. Sure, Batman doesn’t have powers either, but he’s the “world’s greatest detective,” a world-class fighter, and has a million cool gadgets and cars. Oliver isn’t quite as rich, but instead of building an Iron Man suit, he runs around dressed as Robin Hood with a bow and quiver of arrows. That’s what sets him apart from the rest of the superhero universe. He’s clearly a little nutty from his time on the island and he has a moral compass that may not always be on target. While his heart is in the right place, it’s his brain that gets him in trouble. That’s Oliver Queen and the show nailed that better than most recent incarnations of the comic.
Siike Donnelly is a graphic novel author (Rhino and Heaven’s Echo), co-host of comic-themed podcast Nerd Nation and employee at Los Angeles comic book shop Golden Apple. A brain aneurysm survivor, proceeds from his upcoming graphic novel Solestar, will go to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation.
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