Update to Arrow SDCC season 3 promo a maker or a breaker. The CW‘s Arrow has managed to create a semi-unique mythology for itself (at times, at its source material’s expense) in the course of two seasons. The over-arching nature of those two seasons, however – centered on Oliver Queen’s (Stephen Amell) past, stranded on a remote island with mentor-turned-nemesis Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett), and how that time impacted his present – seemed to leave the series open ended. With recent news about what the showrunners do have in store for season three, it becomes less a question of what will they do next, and more a question of can they pull it off. For some fans, Arrow‘s third season could be a new high water mark, or an overreach.
Fans got their first look at Arrow‘s third season on Friday, which, in addition to recapping season 2, threw in some snippets from the upcoming season. Foremost among these: Oliver’s new flashback location & the fact that he had past dealings with Amanda Waller (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), his meeting Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh) under less than ideal circumstances, side-kick Roy Harper (Colton Haynes) in costumed action, lawman ally Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne) wearing his higher rank dress uniform, O.G. Count Vertigo (Peter Stormare), a possible Facebook status change for Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) – first good, then not so much – and the return of Caity Lotz‘s Canary (- so about that Facebook status… ).
What happy viewers didn’t get: a few very momentous seconds, later added to that same trailer, teasing what really comes next for Team Arrow. In much the same way that the entire series had been building to a showdown between Oliver & Slade Wilson, hints – some subtler than others – have been suggesting that the longer term game plan had been a build up to an even bigger arch-villain: Ra’s al Ghul.
The Arrow S3 updated trailer:
So why is it unlikely that anyone was really surprised by this? That long term planning, which was really just the showrunners testing the waters, did not go unnoticed by in-the-know fans (the mention of Nanda Parbat, and the League of Assassins, struck a chord), and season 2 seemed to run with the idea. The real impact of the news likely came from the question of whether they’d actually go all the way with it. That, and whether they should.
Having an even more in-the-know fan like Kevin Smith pod-cast talking Ra’s al Ghul’s Arrow casting, with Neal Adams, likely contributed to answers regarding the first question. As for the second: maybe a moot point. The big screen joint DCU project left something of an opening that the Arrow creative team was able to exploit.
Marc Guggenheim on Ra’s al Ghul:
“It really happened very organically in the sense that we had this notion that in episode 16 we were going to reveal that Malcolm Merlyn was trained by the League of Assassins and that’s because that’s because of the comic book. We were like, you know what we’re going to do? We’re going to get away with a little reference about a guy in Nanda Parbat who changed his life. That was just the beginning.
We just slowly started creeping towards it and creeping towards it. Then discussions started happening with DC and then Superman-Batman started getting into clearer focus. The character seemed to be available as far as not being used in the movies. It was a very, very organic progression. That was what was fun for us, just how natural it happened.
We have a really clever way of doing Ra’s this year that is true to the comic-book origins but different from the way Ra’s was portrayed in the Nolan movies. You don’t want to compete with Batman Begins, even though we’ve always said Batman Begins was a big influence on us. We really wanted our Ra’s to be very different — at least our own Arrow-ified version.
When we were talking about Ra’s in the third episode in season two, it was [a question of] how many times should we mention his name? How often should we talk about him? Because he has a lot of power especially on the comic-book side. We didn’t want to over-milk it and overuse it. We not only show you a little hint of Ra’s, we also repeat all the times we mention his name, which shows you how long we’ve been talking about this and thinking about this.”
Personally, I was never keen on the idea of Arrow going all the way with Ra’s al Ghul. Deathstroke was as far as I was willing to go, regarding the larger DCU being brought to Arrow‘s level. Utilizing the Batman universe to enrich contemporary Green Arrow’s is one thing; usurping it is something else.
In the larger scheme of things, however, there are some cost/ risk aspects to consider. Seizing Ra’s may formally isolate Arrow-verse (which will include The Flash spinoff, for starters), dooming it to the same relative irrelevance as every animated DC project prior to Flashpoint Paradox. At least, in the event of the joint DCU’s cinematic success, that is. Arrow-verse’s isolation may, on the other hand, provide insulation from any DCJU failings. Ra’s al Ghul may be Arrow-verse’s ultimate act of independence (looting as much Bat-swag as its quiver can hold), and a final ‘up yours’ salute to Bat-mania & Zack Snyder‘s vision of what the DCU should look like.
Besides usurping the Bat-verse, Arrow has already laid claim to Solomon Grundy, Amazo, Prof. Ivo, and the Suicide Squad, among others. The show didn’t just use them, it abused them. Major DC characters have been killed – and not all of them by character assassination. The argument that the big screen people had no plans for any of these properties (or had already gotten through using them – in the case of Ra’s al Ghul) grants some license. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. did the same with low level characters like Agent Victoria Hand, Garrett, and Blizzard. Of course, AoS is firmly tied to (and by) the Marvel joint cinematic universe; and while this limits what they can do with Marvel properties, it also keeps them from taking to many liberties with them. Then again, those confines may have contributed to the show’s early troubles. Arrow may have benefited from the reverse dynamic. By populating the small screen with more DC characters (recognizable or not) than any live action project ever, Arrow earned quite a bit of its attention as wish fulfillment for a lot of fans.
However I felt about the execution, I really was eager to see a live action Deathstroke in action.
Still, the upcoming Flash series, despite being firmly anchored in Arrow‘s orbit, seems intent on sticking to its own source material – complete with superpowers, and an in-house rogues gallery; so maybe the problem is with Green Arrow, himself. Outside of Merlyn, there really aren’t a whole lot of well known Green Arrow villains. Let’s face it, Green Arrow has always been a true crime version of Batman, and real life street level criminals don’t wind up in rogue galleries. We did get some Green Arrow entourage action, in the form of Speedy/ Arsenal & Black Canary, with word that Ted Grant – aka Wild Cat – is on the way; so it’s not like the property doesn’t have anything of its own to offer.
If I am to reconcile Arrow‘s value as a universe building alternative to Snyderverse, with the liberties it has been taking with other heroes’ characters (you down with OHC?), I guess I’m just going to have to admit that there is a fan-boy purist element to my wish listing. I’m just worried that Arrow will not do Ra’s al Ghul justice. Between Christopher Nolan‘s watered down Ra’s, and Arrow‘s tendency to over customize other people’s toys (OPT?), maybe I’ve just lost faith that any live action version will; but maybe that shouldn’t matter.
Alan Moore has had a semi-adversarial take on comics – or at least, has lamented fans taking the material too seriously. In the notion that some comic book material can’t – or shouldn’t – be adapted to live action (in ways meant to be taken seriously, anyway), he may have a point. Arrow had made it clear, from day one, that it would grounded in reality. No superpowers. This was a limitation that meant the kiss of death for source characters like Black Canary & Count Vertigo. Arrow has managed to carve out a place for itself, despite this handicap, and it may be due to making characters work for the show, rather than the other way around.
It wasn’t that hard to accept Nolan’s Batman characterizations for what they were (components to some damned good stand-alone storytelling), and I wasn’t all that dissatisfied with how Arrow incorporated the characters they co-opted. If they can at least make Ra al Ghul as relevant to Arrow‘s mythology as he has been to Batman’s, then the customization (so far, the League of Assassins has been more like the League of Dark Archers) will pay off for Arrow fans. Green Arrow & Batman fans will be free to take it or leave it.
Purists will just have to wait for the next depiction. I’ve been waiting for the next Green Goblin, the next Lady Deathstryke, the next Juggernaut, the next Venom, the ne – real Mandarin, the next Bane, and the next Ra’s/ Talia al Ghul. There are many more, but my disappointment in such depictions did not get in the way of me enjoying the films they were in (the ones that were actually enjoyable, anyway). “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” an old saying goes (if you think I got the quote wrong, then you may have missed the point); and a show like Arrow is that much more enjoyable if you not only suspend your disbelief, but also canon.
I have resigned myself to the likelihood that The Demon of Arrow will be no more faithful to the source material than Deathstroke was. I think the important thing is that Arrow will sink or swim depending on how well it crafts its own mythology, rather than how strictly it adheres to canon. It can serve its original fans, source fans, or try for both; but in a pinch, should stick to whatever works for itself. If it works, then source fans should just deal with the hand dealt. If not, then there will be another opportunity somewhere else… and maybe a drinking game around which Arrow characters get the source treatment, and which get lip service.
I’m looking forward to the next Ra’s al Ghul; I’m already looking for signs of the one after that. Hey, the source character’s immortal – of course he’s going to keep coming back.
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