When I first saw the promos for Arrow, a show based on Green Arrow, I was skeptic. Sure, Smallville proved you could make a successful comic book adaptation series, but even that show had its very definite lows, the series ending being one for me, even if with Darkseid they had everything going for them to end it spectacularly.
Thankfully, the show surpassed my expectations and put my fears to rest.
The show’s premise is Oliver Queen reappears after spending five years in a remote island after a shipwreck. When he returns he’s different, a different person entirely for those who knew the self-absorbed party boy he’d been before shipping off. Written off as dead, people are surprised to see him come back alive.
In fact, Oliver is a different person from before, more focused, driven and with a clear purpose. To fulfill the promise he made to his father before he died, to make up for his mistakes and clean up their city, Starling City (the comic book version being Star City). And to protect those near to him, as every superhero seems to do, he dons a green suit and hood, straps his bow and arrow and goes hunting for rich corrupt businessmen.
There are similarities between this Oliver Queen and Bruce Wayne, both rich men with a lair full of high-tech stuff, both masking their voices and their faces and going out to fight crime. Well, Oliver only fights a couple of crimes in this first season and mostly because his partners pester him until he does. He does go after a bunch of criminals, but random muggings, not so much. While there are similarities and that might put people off, seeing as their “Batmanizing” Green Arrow, the fact is in his conception back in 1941, the character was very much like Batman, in fact he was the archery-themed batman. It’s only later the character was shifted in tone, personality and focus. So this version of the character is actually quite faithful to its comic roots.
As is typical with such shows, the writing’s hit and miss, with some powerful moments and some weaker ones, but the storylines remain consistently strong during the season, including some DC comic villains in the mix, my favorite of them being Deadshot. Others include China White and Count Vertigo, in this version not so much a vertigo inducing supervillain and more the main dealer and manufacturer of the drug Vertigo.
The season’s underlying plot and the season finale’s main story is fantastic and very well handled and paced and the ending is spectacular, though as with most shows nowadays, it ends with an ulcer-inducing cliffhanger.
Further expanding each episode’s stories are the flashback sequences for Oliver’s time back on the island and while at first one expects a Castaway sort of story, the Past-scenes are in fact very strong and at some points the strongest part of each episode, and complete with its own set of rules, characters, plots and developments. I must admit I was pleasantly surprised to see Spartacus’ Crixus, Manu Benet, playing Slade Wilson aka Deathstroke the Terminator. I’m hoping we’ll see him in the present and not just in those flashbacks.
Steven Arnell does a fantastic job in the show playing Oliver’s many facets, both in the present and the past. In fact, I give him serious points for being convincing enough to make past-Oliver and present-Oliver seem like different people, different versions of the same character, one young, immature and scared out of his mind and the other a mature and determined individual.
The supporting cast does a fantastic job as well, breathing life into the many characters in the show, their performances genuine enough for you to care about these characters, to see the many layers they hide. And while some conversations can go into the hammy territory, they are never cringe-worthy as some Smallville dialogs were during its run.
My favorite performances are Torchwood veteran John Barrowman, aka Captain Jack Harkness, in this show playing the main villain of the story, Malcom Merlyn. Yep, hat Merlyn from the comics, or The Dark Archer, his codename in the show. As far as the first season goes, there are no superhero names, just The Vigilante or “the guy in the hood” for Oliver, with Merlyn proposing Green Arrow during a dinner, only to be shot down by Oliver, calling the name lame, which to me was a fantastic little detail. Barrowman’s participation in the show intrigued me and I was pleasantly surprised when I saw his portrayal of this character. Merlyn comes off charming, witty, intelligent, and motivated and a downright bastard when he sets his mind to it, which is to say most of the season, even more when he’s being subtle. As far as Season One villains go, Barrowman’s Merlyn is in the top 10 and is definitely A-list material. I’m hoping they can top him in Season 2, something very difficult to be honest. My other favorite is Byron Mann, Yao Fei, a mysterious Chinese man Oliver meets during his stay in the island, serving as mentor, friend and even antagonist for a bit.
As this is an adaptation, there are a bunch of nice little touches here and there, a few continuity nods to the comics, such as Thea Queen’s (portrayed by Willa Holland) nickname begin “Speedy” and her dating Roy Harper (Colton Haynes, previously seen on Teen Wolf for 2 seasons), the original Speedy, GA’s sidekick, in the comics. The female lead, Laurel Lance is a reference to Black Canary, Dinah Laurel Lance. Felicity Smoak, Arrow’s hacker and friend, is Firestorm’s mother in the comics. Huntress, Helena Bertinelli, appears in a few episodes with her crossbow in hand.
There are changes to comic book continuity, there always are, as the show can’t fully adapt things as over the top as some of them appear in the pages of comics, and it needs to fully build its own setting, its own alternate universe for its stories to remain unique and interesting, even those that are adaptations of DC-comics ones. On such change are the Merlyns, Malcom & Tommy. The former, the villain of the story, and CEO of the Merlyn Conglomerate and a man with a plan born of his wife’s murder and not “Merlyn the Magician”, a famous archer, inspiration for Oliver’s archery and member of the League of Assassins; and the latter his son and Oliver’s best friend, and until now nonexistent from comic continuity, though he’s been recently added to the ongoing series. His presence is not only as a basis for a love triangle, but also to make the villain that much closer, more personal, to the characters.
This being a superhero show, there are action scenes and fights and a surprising number of parkour segments. While no fight sequence is actually bad, some are rather weak, especially during the first few episodes, but the quality picks up later on. Roy Harper’s fights are a pleasure to see. The parkour segments on the other hand are consistently strong, even more so because Steve Arnell does most of his stunts, so they can just show a complete segment of him running, jumping and climbing Assassin’s Creed style without cutting ahead or using strange shots where most of us realize “hey, that’s the stuntman”.
Arrow returns on October 9th 2013 for its second season and I hope you’ll watch it. I know I will. In fact, you’re still in time to pick up the first season or stream it and get up to date if you haven’t seen it yet.