How ARROW Has Saved The DC Universe

Posted: June 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

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I love DC Comics. I always have. Sure, the Stan Lee era of Marvel Comics introduced us to more relatable characters with physical or social flaws in the lives of their secret identities – therefore grounding the medium with a little bit more realism – but the DC lineup has always harkened back to the more fantastical sense of wonder and whimsy that began with the golden age. Yes, they’ve rebooted their continuity a couple of times and cleaned up some of the plot holes that are bound to crop up over the course of 70+ years but for the most part they’ve stayed true to the notion that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

That said, DC has had a lot of trouble trying to transpose their material to media outside of comic books. Despite the fact that Warner Bros. has owned DC Comics for a number of years now, they never particularly seemed interested in the idea of a shared universe in film or television. So the result is a series of films and shows of varying creative styles that don’t work together. Mostly to mixed, or often negative, critical results. It wasn’t until Disney bought Marvel Comics and started producing a cohesive film universe around the properties not already licensed to other studios that resulted in the groundbreaking blockbuster The Avengers that DC and Warner Bros. woke up. Now, following last year’s release of Man of Steel – the Superman inspired film from director Zack Snyder – Warner Bros. is building a shared DC film universe leading towards a Justice League film. The next movie slated is the recently titled pseudo sequel to Man of SteelBatman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. The film reunites the MoS cast, including Henry Cavill as Superman, as well as introduces audiences to Ben Affleck’s new take as Batman and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman.

But is that enough to build a DC Universe on film? Marvel and Disney released five films over the course of four years that introduced you to characters and built a universe before The Avengers came to fruition. Is reverse engineering really the way to go? Especially with characters that aren’t as well tested with a medium outside of comics? Personally I, as well as many others, thought Man of Steel was mediocre at best and laced with a magnitude of problems. It definitely isn’t the jumping off point that I’d imagine a strong DC Universe sprouting from.

I speak my mind (I’m a blogger, after all) but I’m not one to speak ill of people. So I hope the following doesn’t come off that way. But it seems to me that the biggest problem facing DC and Warner Bros. with their attempts to get stuff off the ground in film and television is the person most directly associated with them: David Goyer.

David Goyer has been attached as writer and producer on many comic film and television properties including the Blade trilogy, Christopher Nolan’s mega successful Dark Knight trilogy, Man of Steel and next Fall’s NBC series Constantine. As a comic book scribe himself you’d think he’d be more inclined to develop more faithful adaptions of such beloved characters. However, each new film seems to be one controversy after another. The fallout from Man of Steel is still being felt, though it has calmed down considerably in recent months as the Internet’s attention moves on to other material such as Star Wars: Episode VII. Goyer recently gave an interview where he made some rather negative remarks about beloved DC Comics character, The Martian Manhunter, referring to him as “goofy” and saying that he’d re-envision the character as a form of genetic experiment in alien DNA cloning.

Harsh as that may seem to some, it actually raises a point I’ve considered for quite a while. As much as I love DC Comics characters and their golden age backgrounds…most of them don’t translate well to film. Film is a medium where people still expect a certain level of realism. The movies where people are told to “shut off their brains” and just “enjoy the show” are often the ones with the most negative feedback. In movies and television your fantastic worlds of Gods and Monsters still needs to have a grasp on reality or else the whole thing just falls apart. That’s the trap that most DC Comics characters unfortunately fall into.

Does that mean you keep putting your properties in the hands of someone who recognizes this fact and, instead of creatively working with the handicap, persists to shape and mold a new canon to his liking? No. David Goyer is a talented writer and I’ve enjoyed a lot of his work. I like the Blade movies and the first two Dark Knight films were quite good (though I’m aware he only served on the story for The Dark Knight). I’m interested to see where Constantine goes, as well. Though I wish they’d change the name of the series to Hellblazer. There’s nothing profane or inappropriate about that title and it would help sell it to those who disliked the Keanu Reeves film. I feel, though, as a writer he’s better suited for material that he doesn’t find fault in.

There are creative ways to handle what doesn’t work without altering it completely. One doesn’t need to remove Kryptonite or the Fortress of Solitude because they seem dated or corny. There are ways to make them work. And getting back to the main point, writers/producers Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim have done just that with one of DC’s most difficult characters, Oliver Queen/Green Arrow, with the hugely popular CW television series Arrow.

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Much like other DC properties adapted to film and television as of late, Arrow is a grim and realistic take on what many once called the Robin Hood of the DCU and a cheap imitation of Batman. For years in comics, Green Arrow just didn’t take off with fans as much as other characters. It wasn’t until the mini series, The Longbow Hunters, that he really started to find his footing as a character. Using Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy as a template, Berlanti and Guggenheim have crafted a dark, realistic and intriguing world for DC’s emerald archer, which has been captivating TV audiences since day one. And they haven’t done it by throwing away the character’s 50+ year history and starting over. They honor the source material. They keep what works and they find creative ways to work with anything that doesn’t. The result is an intriguing web of justice and revenge with fresh new takes on even some of the most underrated and overlooked characters from across the DCU.

Stephen Amell leads the series as Oliver Queen; a character – previously depicted, dare I say, a bit more flamboyantly by Justin Hartley on Smallville – haunted by the things he had to do while trapped on an island for five years and now driven by the desire to fix the problems in his city as caused by his father and a literal list of other accomplices. Amell’s performance is dark and focused with just enough as-needed naivety to throw the unsuspecting off his trail. It’s a pretty masterful blend of hero and alter ego similar to Christian Bale’s Batman/Bruce Wayne.

Rounding out the cast is Katie Cassidy as Dinah Laurel Lance (mostly referred to as Laurel); David Ramsey as Oliver’s bodyguard-turned-partener, John Diggle (a character made up for the show but who has become so popular it’s my understanding that he’s been introduced to the comics); Willa Holand as Oliver’s sister Thea “Speedy” Queen (inspired by Mia Dearden from the comics). A bit of a departure, yes, but the family dynamic makes for much better drama than Oliver’s awkward mentorship of a young prostitute. Plus Holland really knocks the performance out of the park in the back half of season two when shit gets real; Colton Haynes as Thea’s boyfriend/street thug/super powered apprentice, Roy Harper; Susanna Thompson as Oliver and Thea’s mother, Moira; Emily Bett Rickards as Team Arrow hacker, Felicity Smoak (kind of the Barbara Gordon/Oracle type without the wheel chair); and Paul Blackthorne as antagonizing detective-turned-inside man at the police, Det. Quentin Lance.

The series is beautifully shot for a television show and the action sequences are intensely choreographed, but it’s really the stellar performances all around that make this show what it is. Everybody is top notch and brings their A-game every time. Even when Katie Cassidy’s screen time was sacrificed to advance the overall story in season 2, she did the absolute best with what she had and I now find myself rooting for her again following season 2’s epic finale and I can’t wait to see what happens with her (SPOILER ALERT it looks like she’s finally going to take her place as the true Black Canary).

Arrow has also introduced a wide variety of characters from the DC Universe mythology including classic Green Arrow villains such as Count Vertigo (depicted on the show as The Count, dealer of a deadly narcotic called Vertigo) Merlyn, the Dark Archer (played by sci-fi fan favorite actor, John Barrowman) and Shado. As viewers we’ve also been treated to fresh new interpretations of Firefly, The Royal Flush Gang, Dr. Ivo and an amazing storyline centered around Brother Blood. But best of all we’ve had an ongoing story with Deathstroke, played to a terrific degree by Manu Bennett, that completely overshadows the previous – and very inappropriately cast – version from Smallville (Michael Hogan from Battlestar Galactica).

Arrow has proven to be so good and a hit with fans that it has left many wondering if Stephen Amell would crossover to the upcoming Justice League film to help round out that roster, as he is already so well established. This has been a very popular notion and I, myself, was even a huge supporter of it. So much so that I wrote a blog completely dedicated to why it should happen here. But then two things happened that made me go back on that notion. 1) season two of Arrow aired and 2) at its conclusion we got the premier of the up-front trailer for next year’s spin-off series, The Flash.

What started off as a self contained family drama with a vigilante punishing those responsible for the corruption of a city quickly became the kick-off point for the most successful adaptation of the DC Universe outside of comic books. Suddenly, with season two, the series decided for forgo it’s humble beginnings of a Green Arrow-centric universe with no superpowers or meta human threats. It introduced the idea of super strength as created from a WWII experimental serum harnessed by the Japanese (not quite the same as the Captain America serum, though the similarities can’t be overlooked). It brought it in Barry Allen and showed the beginnings of his run (pun partially intended) as the Flash with a particle accelerator explosion. That very same explosion is how The Flash justifies the sudden existence of meta humans. It’s a very simple and affective means of writing powers into this established universe that was originally centered around realism. Plus, if you watch the trailer for The Flash (and have read The Flash: Rebirth by Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver) then you’ll catch a glimpse of Professor Zoom (aka The Reverse Flash) which even implies the existence of time travel if they stick to that storyline.

Arrow and The Flash are everything the DC Universe needs and they’re not doing it with movies. Television is just as valid of a medium as films and, in my opinion, much more appropriate for the DCU landscape. Movies tell a story in 90 minutes to 2 hours and are predominantly based on flashy action sequences and violence with little to no character development because it just isn’t necessary. That’s why the Marvel movies work so well in that medium. People know the characters. They get – in the span of only a few minutes – that Tony Stark has a heart problem, Steve Rogers is a patriot and man out of his own time, Bruce Banner has anger issues and Thor is…well…Thor. Once that is set up they full embrace the beat ’em up that is sure to follow. Those same physical and social flaws that make the characters so relatable in the comics also help to avoid any time spent on development in the movies. DC superheros don’t get that luxury. They are so fantastical that it’s their personal lives and moral beliefs that make them so interesting.

Green Lantern (ironically also from Berlanti and Guggenheim) had a lot of promise. The story was almost there. But the character has a rich and intricate background. The film needed to be at least 30 minutes longer for story development but instead it was 90 minutes of super stylized action sequences. It just went too fast.  Man of Steel was just action. They didn’t even bother with story. Jor-El fought for god’s sake! Lois Lane discovering that Superman was Clark Kent occurred in a three minute montage of “investigative reporting” even though she had absolutely no paper trail to follow! Then before you knew it half of Metropolis was destroyed.

DC characters need time to develop.

So with that in mind, I propose to you that DC not be so intent on building a shared universe in movies. I mean, yes, the Justice League movie is happening. There’s obviously no stopping that. But don’t try to make that THE shared DC Universe. Especially since it isn’t too likely to go as far or be as intricate as the Marvel films. It’s highly unlikely you’ll be getting Ben Affleck to sign a 6 to 9 film contract as Batman. Go ahead and do your thing with those movies for as long as you can. But let TV be it’s own separate entity. Arrow and The Flash ARE the new DC Universe. Let’s see how far we can take that. Bring in more superheroes for guest appearances and spin-offs. Kord Industries has been referenced frequently. I’d love to see what Arrow does with a Blue Beetle guest appearance. Amanda Waller was introduced in season two and has more appearances slated for season three. Let’s see what a Checkmate series could do and how it’s superhero/espionage activities can stack up against Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD.

The possibilities are endless.

The ball is now in your court: Warner Bros., The CW and Team Arrow. Let’s see what you’ve got.

I leave you with this brief look at some of the great characters we’ve been treated to so far with the hopes of many more to come.

DCU-Characters

 

But that’s not all! This blog is…wait for it…

a TWO-PARTER!!!

So in true comic book cliff hanger fashion…

…TO BE CONTINUED…

 

 

 

 

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Comments
  1. […] again and welcome back! You may have seen my previous blog here about how the CW television series, Arrow, and it’s forthcoming spin-off, The Flash, have […]

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