Fleeing the Funnybook: A Review of Arrow
- Friday, October 19, 2012
It's ironic that recent super-hero films (e.g., the Dark Knight trilogy), though using all the standard comic book paraphernalia-- caped hero, iconic lair, super-villains-- nevertheless worked very hard to convince us that these things could actually happen. Does this reduce the essential absurdity of the costumed do-gooder? I don't think so. In fact, I think it underscores the unreality, and not in a good way.
As producers look for new ways to keep the comics cash cow producing, we're seeing more attempts to distance their product from the exaggerated reality of the comics. Take, for example, the depiction of the characters in series like No Ordinary Family and Heroes. Here, people gained amazing abilities and had wild adventures but never adopted costumes.
On Smallville, Tom Welling played a character (some say the term "hero" never fit) most fans recognized as Superman--born on Krypton, X-ray vision, farming foster parents, etc. But he never wore the costume until the last few minutes of the last hour of the last show--ten years after the series began. Of course, many have remarked on the irony of a series increasingly loaded with DC Comics lore, including costumed heroes that actually flew, while Clark Kent neither wore the one nor did the other.
All of this is to introduce the thinking behind the latest comics hero's translation to the small screen, Green Arrow. The first clue that the CW producers are fleeing the funnybook comes with the title itself, Arrow, not Green Arrow. Executive producer Andrew Kreisberg puts it bluntly: "Even though it started from comic book origins, it's a very real story. There's no capes, there's no super-villains." (I can almost hear another producer from more than a decade ag "No flights, no tights.")
So, if it's not a comic book come to life, then what is it? So far, it's a fairly good action-adventure series with strong elements of crime drama and the CW's patented young-love-and-angst.
Oliver Queen is shipwrecked along with his father, the latter of whom doesn't survive the ordeal. Queen spends five years on an island, becoming a skilled bowman and vowing a vow not unlike young Bruce Wayne's, i.e., to scour his city of crime.
Upon his return to Starling City, he assumes a dual identity—wastrel by day, green garbed nemesis by night. As Alan Kistler notes in an article for Comic Book Resources, his costume is basically just a hood and some sportswear with a little bit of paint on his face. As a disguise, therefore, it leaves something to be desired. Luckily, however, Queen is fast on his feet and keeps to the shadows. He also displays that amazing ability all TV heroes possess, to wit, having been knocked silly, to get up at the last possible second, avoiding capture and exposure.
His mother (played by Susanna Thompson) has married his father's business partner, a move that doesn't endear her to her son. Worried about Oliver, who doesn't want to play nice and take over the family corporate empire, she hires a bodyguard to watch out for him. The bodyguard is an ex-military man who eventually forms a friendship of sorts with his charge. I'd say this John Diggle has the makings of a first-class "Alfred."
It's a good thing too because Queen doesn't score so well with the rest of the cast. His sister hates him for not being there when she needed him. His ex-girlfriend is attorney Dinah Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy). She might possibly one day turn into GA's inamorata from the comics, Black Canary—if she can get over thinking him a jerk. Her police detective father is determined to arrest this Robin Hood-style vigilante. It doesn't help that Dad hates Oliver's guts, blaming him for the death of his other daughter who went on that same ill-fated boat trip.
Stephen Amell does a good job of playing his character according to the modern super-hero playbook: dark, brooding, conflicted. He's in great shape (one reviewer joked that Amell's abs pretty much have their own supporting role) as befits a crime fighter. Yet, as the haunted Oliver Queen, he flexes some acting muscle as well. At times, he's quite vulnerable, dogged by guilt (through flashbacks, we learn that he was cheating on his girlfriend with her late sister), at others, he plays the shallow rich kid to disgusting perfection. The contrast reminds me a bit of Tyrone Power in The Mark of Zorro: foppish no-account by day, force-to-be-reckoned-with after hours.
Having established the setting and the characters in the pilot, the second episode examines the price Oliver Queen must pay in order to remain true to his vow. As he confesses to his father's backyard grave marker, in order to honor his memory, he must besmirch Dad's good name. The episode ends by throwing a veil of suspicion over his doting mother.
Fans will be happy with the insertion of China White, a female villain from the comics. But then, as Smallville proved, fans will be happy with most any bone tossed at them. Non-fans should be pleased with the action and tension of the series. For now, it's a fairly decent compromise between comic book fantasy and real-life, or, at least, realism.
Sigh. But what nonsense really! In the end, it's still a story about a man who dresses up in a silly costume and shoots arrows at bad guys. Let's face it; that's about as far from real-life as, well, a super-hero.
Meanwhile, look for the CW/Warner Brothers to continue to distance itself from super-hero tropes for as long as possible. Green Arrow is pretty helpful source material in that regard. Since the hero has no special powers (other than the usual charmed life), it lends itself quite well to the current down-and-dirty approach to otherwise colorful heroes.
It just happens to take away a lot of the fun too.
*This Review First Published 10/19/2012
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