We’ve all been there. Everyone has been burned by an ex. It feels bad. You feel scared. You don’t know if you can trust anyone again. I get that. We all knew that things were never going to be perfect with Smallville. He said he wasn’t going to be Superman from the start and we said that was fine. I guess we just still hoped things would change but they didn’t and then it ended and we are just left with questions. Why couldn’t he put the damn costume on for more than a second? Why did they have to wait so long to use a real villain? Why did we have to keep calling it Smallville if it mostly took place in Metropolis? And then this nice new show named Arrow comes along and it promises things will be different, but why should we believe it? It’s just the same as Smallville, right? We are just going to get hurt again, right?
I realize that Arrow and Smallville seem very similar and, in theory, they are. They’re both two shows on almost the same network about DC superheroes. There are love triangles and manipulative billionaires and even a black friend who seems to always have the moral high ground on both shows but there also differences. Arrow is its own show and should be judged as such but, from what I’ve heard, is unfairly written off lots of Smallville fans who assume it is just going to be another disappointment. Well fear not. Arrow is not the same as Smallville. It is better. It is even…dare I say…SUPERior. Don’t believe me? I can prove it with the Top 8 Reasons Arrow is Superior to Smallville
8. Arrow is NOT Another Origin Story
One of the problems with the modern superhero genre is that it is becoming predictable. We are familiar with most of the stories and we have a certain expectation of how these stories are supposed to be told. The Green Lantern movie is a good example of this predictability falling flat on its face. We knew that Ryan Reynolds would initially reject the “great power” but then he would learn some lesson and embrace the super heroics. You know why we knew that? Because that’s what happened in Spider-Man, Batman Begins, Iron Man, The Amazing Spider-Man, Hulk, and Fantastic Four. The list could go on but I don’t want to kill anyone’s data plan. We needed something new.
Arrow is that something new. From minute one of the Pilot, Oliver is a hero. He is the Green Arrow, or as they call him on the show “The Hood” and he knows exactly what he was going to use his arrows to do. He’s going to get revenge, the coolest thing since dogs that can ride skateboards. But we aren’t totally left out when it comes to his origins either. They are told to the audience in flashbacks. Each episode contains a parable featuring some lesson Oliver learned on the island where he was stranded for five years that informs his decisions back home. It’s a great storytelling device kind of borrowed from LOST except, in Arrow the flashbacks take place ON the island and no-one is even remotely fat. Sorry Hurley.
7. It’s Also Kind of a CW Parody
So there really isn’t much to like about the CW network if you aren’t a fifteen year-old girl. CW has become known for programs like Gossip Girl, which is about…let’s say drama, and a remake of Beauty and the Beast which should just be called Beauty and the Beauty with a Kind of Scar. For the most part, the CW shows are about the pathetically uncomplicated lives of good looking overprivileged twenty-somethings who become unhappy about how difficult their lives seem to them. How could a show about a vengeful superhero fit in with those shows about complete idiots?
Here’s how: Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow’s alter ego, is pretending to be one of those idiots. Before he became the Green Arrow, Oliver was one of those idiots, but then he got his shit together and now he shoots criminals with medieval weapons. It’s a big improvement but he still needs an alibi, so like Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins, (this probably won’t be the last time that movie comes up) Oliver acts like an entitled ass-hole to trick people into thinking he is busy when The Hood strikes and too dumb to have been The Hood anyway. It is an awesome way to make fun of the CW while on the CW and none of the people who watch the other shows on the network are offended because they don’t realize that people can still make fun of you even if they don’t follow it by throwing a martini in your face.
The reason it’s a “kind of” parody of CW is because Oliver’s girlfriend and his best friend are the kind of idiots I was describing. In fact, there are some scenes with them where the only way you can tell that it isn’t Gossip Girl is that a dude in a green hood is watching through the window. They didn’t do that on Gossip Girl, did they?
6. Cool Villains Are Cool
One of the coolest things about Batman Begins (see how quickly we’re back to that) and its sequels, was that it created a new universe with far more realistic characters than anything we had seen in a comic book movie before. Sure, the X-Men got rid of the yellow spandex, but they still read each other’s minds and shot laser beams. And I’m not saying that I didn’t love more than half of the X-Men movies. I’m just saying that Begins worked because it took the cartoonish elements away and made it a more reality based story. The more realistic characters were ultimately more interesting because they made Batman more relatable and we eventually cared about him more as the series went on. Also, villains who relied more on morality and consequences than ruling the world made it easier to put our hero in danger without raising the stakes too high. Arrow is doing the same thing.
The Arrow villains are all new and de-powered versions of classic villains. Take the Royal Flush gang. In the comics and in several DC cartoons they are a super-powerful bunch of criminals who identify each other by playing card code-names. They are understandably kind of silly. On Arrow the Royal Flush Gang is a totally new group of people: a family who decides to rob banks with guns and hockey masks because Oliver’s father screwed over their dad. It’s not Hamlet, but it’s dramatic and interesting compared to the classic RFG who flew around on playing cards.
Firefly, Merlyn and Count Vertigo got the same treatment. Vertigo was especially good because instead of being an actual Count, the police gave Vertigo the nickname “The Count” after people that used his Vertigo drug had what looked like two bite marks on their necks. That’s pretty damn clever. Smallville, on the other hand, had an episode called “Jynx” that tried to give Mr. Mxyzptlk a new origin as a character called Mikhail Mxyzptlk who could influence luck by speech. Apparently Smallville thinks the 5th dimension is somewhere in Russia.
5. No Superpowers = Less Crappy CGI
There is another reason why the de-powered villains work so much better. In a world where reality TV is taking over because of how cheap it is to produce, scripted action shows don’t have unlimited budgets. Smallville was based around arguably the most iconic character in popular culture, and they could only secure enough budget for two minutes of slow motion CGI per episode (and those two minutes were still pretty rough). Even as the show got more popular, the CGI was never where it needed to be. Don’t believe me? Youtube the fight between Doomsday and Clark. It came at the end of the eighth season and Smallville’s Doomsday still looks worse than the one from Max Landis’ awesome Youtube video. On second thought, watch the Max Landis video instead. It’s great.
Arrow doesn’t have to worry about that because there is very little silly CG in the show. The villains shoot guns and set fires. Every once in awhile the show will throw in some CG arrows or that one shot of the CG island but it is so much more tolerable than what Smallville gave us week after week, because they thought this through. Flying isn’t what makes superhero shows interesting. The characters make the show. So why make a show about a hero that flies when you can just as easily make one about a hero that doesn’t? It’s why S.H.I.E.L.D. will probably succeed and why any new Wonder Woman show is doomed to fail. The philosophers Wu said it best, “Cash rules everything around me”.
4. Arrow is Filled With Comic Book Cameos
Smallville was about Superman, sure, but we all know that any hero is only as good as his villains. Batman has the Joker. Spider-Man has Dr. Octopus. The Red M&M has all those attractive women in the commercials. Who did Superman have in Smallville? Because Lex spent the beginning of the series as an ally to Clark, he wasn’t part of the rogues gallery yet. For some reason, Smallville felt that it had to save almost all of the recognizable villains (Metallo, Brainiac, Doomsday, Darkseid, Bizarro) for the last few seasons. What we got instead was Clark fighting a new meteor freak each week but it felt like a missed opportunity. Why didn’t Smallville use those nameless characters to introduce us to some lesser known comic book villains? It would have been easy. Instead all we got was The Coach That Set Fires and Bug-Boy.
Arrow does not mess around when it comes to keeping the books in the show. Every villain is some player in the DC Comics. Recently, Oliver faced off against his bodyguard’s commanding officer from Afghanistan. He happened to be named Ted Gaynor and shared that name with a very unimportant member of a group of pilots from DC comic’s pilot team called the Blackhawks. Did it matter in the episode? No. Was it fun to look up Ted Gaynor? A little. The point is that they are making an effort to include comic characters and this is true of almost everybody on the show. Walter Steele is the man who took Queen Industries over after Green Arrow goes missing in the comics. Felicity Smoake is a woman that Firestorm sexually assaulted in the comics. Oliver’s bodyguard, Diggle, is named after the writer of the DC Comics series Green Arrow: Year One, which Arrow is based on. That’s deep.
The best example of the Arrow writing staff caring about the comics is how they handled Oliver’s sister. Her name is Thea Queen. She doesn’t appear in the comics at all. Oliver does nickname her “Speedy”, who most of us know is the Green Arrow’s apprentice. We found that out in the first episode and it was pretty cute. It got much better when it turned out Thea just happened to also be involved in some hard core rich-kid drug use. All she was doing was a weird vertigo inducing drug, which sounds like the dumbest drug ever, but she got found out anyway. It was similar to the DC Comics story Snowbirds Don’t Fly, where Arrow and Green Lantern learn that Speedy is a drug addict and help him through his recovery. It proved to be a big moment in comics and hopefully has the same impact in Arrow. If nothing else, I want Thea cracked out on heroin petting a dead cat.
3. The Green Arrow is Morally Ambiguous
Earlier in the article, the point was made that revenge is cool. Everyone knows that. But you know what’s even cooler than revenge? A billion dollars. Oliver is spending lots of his time getting revenge on corporate criminals because crime in the banking industry is a big issue today. If the government can’t even incarcerate someone from a bank that laundered money for terrorists and drug cartels, what is any man supposed to do? Is it okay to rob a bank when your livelihood was stolen? At what point do you abandon your morals and just try to survive? The Green Arrow is known for this kind of thing. In the Cry For Justice comic storyline, (SPOILER) Oliver just straight up murdered Prometheus because Prometheus bombed Star City. That puts him a few steps up the ladder from Dexter and that’s a good thing.
All these questions about survival and justice are far deeper than anything Superman deals with. While Superman whines “Will I fit in with the people I’m protecting?” Green Arrow doesn’t have time for that because he just got thrown off of a waterfall. “What if I have too much power?” sounds like a first world problem compared to “I just got shot. I might die.” Superman having unlimited powers gives him the option to be a boy scout. Green Arrow doesn’t have that choice. He has to make difficult decisions and the right answer is not even always clear to the audience. In one episode he kills guys. In the next, he’s mad at other people for doing it. It isn’t inconsistent writing. It’s moral ambiguity. He also sleeps with girls besides his girlfriend of destiny, Laurel Lance, and that is only going to get better as the season progresses and he meets more than two different girls.
2. Superman is Boring
I am not a fan of Superman’s. Maybe it’s because in my lifetime (mid-twenties) nothing interesting has been done with him except a horrible death in comic books and a very long movie about how he is Jesus. Don’t get me wrong. I respect Superman. He was the first superhero and he paved the way for countless others. He was the Jackie Robinson of superheroes in a time when comics were just mysteries and westerns but there is a reason Jackie Robinson isn’t playing baseball today. He is too old…or he would be if he were still alive. He would be out of touch with the game today. These days the cool heroes are the ones without invulnerability. They are the Batmans and the Iron Men. They are complicated figures. Superman was a cool character when all you had to do to impress people was pick a car up over your head but these days almost everybody can do that. Superman has to bring something new to the table.
Look at Superman Returns. They couldn’t make Superman relatable without giving him a son we didn’t know about. That’s not a good sign. It’s how you know a character is getting stale and the writers are getting desperate. John McClane gets one in his fifth movie. Indy got one in his fourth and I think we can all agree that Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was responsible for breathing new life into the franchise in kind of the same way that a tornado breathes new life into a trailer park. Speaking of tornadoes, in the Superman Returns video game, you fight one. It’s the final boss. Of the whole game. You fight it with your super-breath. It illustrates a great point about Superman: He blows.
The cartoons proved that the only thing that can make Superman interesting is by surrounding hmi with the Justice League, and they’re better off without him, so why not just take the leader of the Smallville Justice League and give him a show? And it’s going great and we owe Superman a huge favor. He is the ugly girl that the pretty girls bring with them to the bar to look prettier except in this scenario “pretty” is stand in for “interesting”. Superman is so uninteresting he made an Aquaman pilot look interesting. Check it out. It’s pretty much what you expect.
1. Arrow is Moving Incredibly Fast
If Arrow were a girl, she would tell you she loves you on the first date. I know what you’re thinking. That’s pretty creepy. She’s like that girl from that meme, right? She’s the Overly Attached Girlfriend. Well think of it this way. What if the girl looked like Scarlett Johansson? That’s not such a big problem anymore, is it? The point is that if a girl is the right girl, you can’t move fast enough and Arrow is the right girl.
Based on the other seven reasons, Arrow is a great show but what makes it an awesome show is that it isn’t taking it too slow. How long did it take for Clark to put the damn suit on? Ten seasons. How long did it take for Oliver to put his suit on? Ten minutes. It was in the pilot. The fifth episode was about Oliver getting arrested and thrown in jail under suspicion of being the Hood so that he could have someone else be the Hood to “prove” it wasn’t Oliver. That was the FIFTH EPISODE! Batman didn’t do anything like that in seven full-length movies. And I’m not saying that Arrow is better than all of the Batman movies. Maybe better than two. That’s still pretty impressive.
Moving fast is exciting because Smallville lasted for ten seasons and Clark barely became Superman by the end. Based on where Arrow started and the pace it’s moving at, the possibilities are endless. Maybe we will get more heroes that fit the show. Obviously a real Speedy and a Black Canary are coming soon but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see The Question, Cyborg, or maybe a poweless Booster Gold in the next season. Hell why not throw in a powered-down Justice Leaguer? Green Arrow and Green Lantern are friends. Maybe he could show up. We probably won’t get a Batman but what’s stopping us from getting Nightwing? Arrow is a fast moving superhero show with an interesting main character and colorful supporting characters. What more could you want?
So just give it a chance. Watch one episode. You won’t be disappointed…unless the episode features the Huntress. She’s kind of dumb. Everything else though, damn good television.
Arrow airs on the CW channel Wednesdays at 8.