May 3, 2013

Arrow: More Than a Guy Without a Shirt

Who's watching Arrow? Considering the show's popularity and ratings, I bet several of you are. I caught up on the series when it was just a little over halfway through the first season, and I mainlined it from my Tivo. I couldn't help it. Once I was in, I was hooked. Intriguing story, fun characters, action, archery - what's not to like?

A strip this week at the The Gutters reminded me of an experience I recently had in which a guy made an assumption about why women watch Arrow.

I covered the Arrow press room at a convention not too long ago. I sat down at a table of mostly ladies and a few guys (five ladies, three guys - I counted). I'm shy so I tend to keep to myself unless someone initiates conversation, and in this case, I jumped into some conversations about comics. Daredevil came up, and I can't stop myself from blabbing when it comes to him because he's my second favorite superhero. Talk somehow drifted to the new Star Wars movies and most of us engaged - men and women. I include this background because it establishes that hey, some of us ladies at the table like comics and Star Wars.

But then, one of the guys at the table made an insinuation that was something like, oh, ladies only watch Arrow cause Oliver Queen takes his shirt off frequently. I ignored it. But when Colin Donnell (Tommy Merlyn) came over to the table the guy flat out put it in a question, "Besides Stephen taking off his shirt - which is what they're all here for and I'm here for the comic book aspect - what do you find causes the show to have crossover appeal?"

The part of his sentence that made me have to hold back a surge of Hulk rage was him gesturing to the ladies and not thinking any of us where there because we liked the comic or the drama - that we only watch because of the shapely pectorals on display. His tone also was not my favorite.

I'm not going to pretend I don't enjoy Stephen Amell's bare upper torso. He works hard on it, it should be appreciated. The Arrow billboards around Los Angeles last fall featuring shirtless Oliver were enough to distract me from a traffic light. I can't say I had any knowledge of the comic book character before watching the series either, but it doesn't mean other ladies there didn't. I also am not trying to insult women who only tune in for the abs. I know at least one of them who started watching for just that reason. I'm just weary of the lumping. Clearly if one of us ladies only watches it for the skin, all of us must. 

There's more to Arrow than eye candy. Lots more.

As I mentioned, I don't have specific familiarity with Green Arrow. I know just enough about the DC universe to catch some of the Easter eggs the writers include in the episodes. But I don't need the background to enjoy the drama and stories. I appreciate how the creative team waits for stories that fit characters from the comics instead of just inserting them for no other reason than name dropping. Marc Guggenheim confirmed the reasoning at the press room, and I think the appearance of the Royal Flush Gang is a perfect example of how the comics history is woven in without being shoved in your face.

The story of a faltering city and its savior is a classic superhero tale, but it's different because Oliver Queen doesn't shy from taking people down. For better or worse, he kills when he has to and when he feels there's no other alternative. He's not afraid of crossing the line, and he gives himself a lot of authority. That hook is interesting.

Then, the characters. I've seen people take shots at how flat they are. While I admit I don't get everyone's motivations yet (and they're renewed for next season so I don't need to know everything right now), I enjoy how several of the characters shine.

Laurel Lance can take care of herself. Sure, she calls the vigilante for help, but the girl can fight. Her instinct doesn't seem to be run and hide, it's stand up and kick where it hurts. That trait alone is refreshing and the best part is she's not like that because the writers want to add in token "strong female" traits. It makes sense for her character. Her dad's a cop, she often entangles herself legally with Starling City's immoral scum - it's only natural she would learn at least basic self defense. She's brave and determined and she has crazy resolve. But she's also human. She has vulnerable moments, and she makes mistakes. She's well-rounded (yes, I'm using that word) and she's just one of such characters in the series.

I could go on at length about Felicity Smoak. She's my favorite character on Arrow. Who doesn't want to grow up to be her or at least be her best friend? Felicity is the queen of clever but not smarmy or annoyingly arrogant. She knows when to keep secrets. She isn't shy about commenting on Oliver's physique or being blunt with him. Again, she's not bullet proof. Getting used to the way bodies tend to drop when Green Arrow is around is definitely an adjustment period for her. I shouldn't have to point that out, but when it comes to lady characters, series often make the mistake of making them infallible or taking away all signs of femininity. They also don't do go that route - Felicity wears the best earrings and lipstick.

John Diggle is another one to watch. I liked where they were going with him from the moment Diggle told Oliver he wouldn't be his sidekick but he would be his partner. He keeps Oliver grounded and tries to remind of his humanity. I could see him playing a part in steering Oliver towards a more virtuous, less vengeful path. 

Tommy Merlyn has evolved from a whiny, somewhat spineless dude to a man. His complications with Laurel and Oliver pushed him to an interesting place, but Tommy never acts like a typical jealous boyfriend. He channels it in a different way but note there was none of him screaming and going on the offensive with Laurel and Oliver in "Home Invasion" like there would have been in a weaker show.

And of course, I can't forget Oliver Queen. You only have to glimpse from island Oliver to present day Oliver to see the difference. No one has gone through as many changes, and Oliver still has so many ahead because this lifestyle has to get to him. Even if he believes it's right and it's a form of justice, he's killing people. It has to eat at your soul. Plus, he has to wrestle with an insane number of secrets. He has Starling City on his shoulders and even though Diggle and Felicity work with him, they can't exactly relate. Oliver is more than just a rich guy with a talent for archery.

The series has its flaws just like anything else, but overall there is plenty to watch and get into. I don't want to make assumptions like the guy in the press room did, but I bet he likes the show for more reasons than just the comic book history and maybe even for some of the same reasons I enjoy it so much. I hope he's more open minded in the future.


  1. I wish somebody had given that guy a piece of their mind, he probably still thinks that is the case.

    I'm just assuming the worst over here.

    1. If it weren't for the fact that I was in a professional setting and working for another outlet at the press room, I would have politely said something.

  2. I was a fan of Green Arrow since Grell started writing him. I liked the fact he was non-powered and older. So when Arrow started in the fall I watched it.

    I liked all the nods to the comics. I liked the fact he was still non-powered. I do miss the Van Dyke, the domino mask, and him being older.

    I agree with the author, this Oliver Queen is different than most current TV heroes, he is very much willing to kill, and that will become a growing issue for him.

    I only hope that maybe we will see a Hunter Rose Grendel show.

    1. I'm reading Longbow Hunters for the first time soon and am looking forward to reading more Green Arrow comics after that. The show has definitely spurred my interest.

    2. If you haven't read Year One, you should definitely do so. It was really good. The New 52 is spotty until you get to issue 17 with Jeff Lemire taking over. I hear Kevin Smith's run was good, yet have yet to get a copy in my hands.

  3. It's amazing that people can be so ignorant. As though women are somehow incapable of appreciating drama or dialogue as soon as someone's shirt comes off.

    I haven't watched the show yet...I have a habit of waiting to see if a new show will get more seasons before I start watching. I've been hurt too many times! I'm still bitter about My Own Worst Enemy and Shattered being cancelled.

    1. If it helps, they've already been picked up for season two. :)

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