The CW‘s Arrow City of Heroes TV Show Review. Arrow: Season 2, Episode 1: City of Heroes marked something of a break from season 1. In the wake of Starling City’s devastation, Moira Queen (Susanna Thompson) was imprisoned, her family held responsible for the tragedy by surviving victims, and Queen Consolidated became a target for hostile take over. Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), deeply affected by the destruction of The Glades but more so over the death (and final sentiments) of Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell), had resigned himself to a self-imposed exile, back at the island he was once marooned on. It was on this island, roughly one year after last season’s finale, that John “Diggs” Diggle (David Ramsey) and Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) tracked him down and convinced him to return with them.
“City of Heroes” continued the parallel twin narrative of Arrow‘s first season for its second. The first, to follow Queen’s evolution after the Glades disaster and Tommy’s death; the second, told in flashback, to follow his evolution under Slade’s (Manu Bennett) tutelage, and his relationship with Shado (Celina Jade), Yao Fei’s (Byron Mann) daughter.
Arrow has made a name for itself by breaking from its ties to Smallville; having taken a grittier, more realistic approach to its comic book source material, compared to Smallville‘s over-the-top tail slide. This low-key treatment of iconic heroes and villains, however, had drawn comparisons to Cristopher Nolan‘s Batman trilogy, and “City of Heroes” seemed to bear out those comparisons. In this one episode, we were presented with the return of a prodigal son (for a second time), and said son defending his corporate birthright (and, by extension, the family name) from a hostile take over. Said son was also trained and groomed by a shadowy mentor, during his absence. There was the former love working with a D.A. out to rid the streets of vigilante violence, while copycat vigilantes were going “off message.” Add to this, social inequity used as a tool for both anarchy and organized opportunism, a countdown to “Robin,” and the debut of a mysterious cat-suited woman.
Derivative or not, those were the episode’s high points. Arrow has proven itself an improvement, since Smallville, and stands to gain considerably from Nolan’s influence on current live-action adaptations of DCU properties. The problem is that Arrow seemed cast in what has become something of a CW mold; namely the dumbing down of otherwise serious/ ambitious subject matters for the more superficial fans of, say, Twilight.
As an unabashed derivative of Batman, the classic Oliver Queen was a lone figure, eventually granted a side-kick which eventually led to a dysfunctional father figure relationship. His classic origin was one of self-reliance, while stranded, but the backdrop for his Arrow origins has seemed more like “Skull Island” from The Phantom.The extended network of friends and family, for Arrow, while adding personal and moral complexities to its narrative, also brought certain needless irritants to the mix. Both Oliver’s kid sister, Thea (Willa Holland), and prospective understudy, Roy Harper (Colton Haynes) have authority issues. Thea had written off her mother, given Moira’s role in the earthquake, and Roy had been engaged in vigilante moonlighting- much to Thea’s chagrin. As an item, it was only natural that they leveraged their respective issues off each other, since Oliver had more important matters to attend to; but this just left me wondering why they were taking up spotlight time at all. Roy (Oliver’s side-kick, Speedy, in the source material) and Oliver were too close in age for anything like the paternal nature of the traditional hero and side-kick dynamic. Diggs and Felicity added a “Scooby Gang” element to the show that, while good for past WB shows, like Angel and Buffy , spread the load a little too wide, à la Smallville. Most irritating is the CW’s insistence that all their shows be populated by characters and extras right out of central casting; everyone- foreground, background, young, old, rich, poor- seemed fit and fab, with enough testosterone and sex appeal to solve every kind of problem.
Oliver’s personal issues with Laurel (Katie Cassidy) seemed distracting to me; but her new role with the D.A.’s office brought much potential. Anyone familiar with the characters of Slade and Shado should continue to expect big things from the parallel flashbacks. The addition of Summer Glau, as Queen Consolidated’s would be usurper, Isabel Rochev, was a mixed bag. On one hand, she brought her ultimate poker-face of menace / mystery to the role; but on the other, I found it hard to take her seriously, given her type-cast, precocious juvenile roles, up to now. Hopefully her back story will not only justify but necessitate her casting.
Plot wise, the title “City of Heroes” pretty much summed it up. Although there was some attention paid to the fall-out and suffering caused by the events of the season one finale, the episode focused primarily on how a cross section of Starling City was overcoming them. Oliver defending the company; Roy’s nightly patrols, filling a need left vacant by Oliver; The Hood copycats and their targeting of city elites, like the Queens, as the ones responsible for the disaster- even Diggs and Felicity, risking life and limb to retrieve Oliver in the first place.
They all went to extraordinary lengths to right some kind of wrong, all the while being heroes in their own minds. When their attempt to execute Oliver failed, the copycats hit his club (now run by Thea) and grabbed Thea instead. This, in turn, forced Oliver to re-don The Hood mantle; but having to confront an extremist movement, inspired by his own drastic measures, forced Oliver to reconsider those measures. He no longer wanted to be a vigilante, he wanted to be a hero.
Sure, there were a few nit-pick issues. No one noticed the “Hoods,” as they made their way through the club, in full gear with guns, until the firing started; the copycats easily overwhelmed security during a hit on a city high official but fail to get Queen, even with complete surprise, at a board room meeting. Then there was the copycat leader being convinced that The Hood was going to kill him, after The Hood saved him from certain death. I also happen to think The Hood is sort of ridiculous. I never bought into the notion that a piece of material around the eyes makes for an effective disguise; and The Hood doesn’t even have that- he relies on Raccoon-like mascara and a modulated voice to distract from one of the most recognizable faces in town!
Any series that treats its seasonal bookends as an opportunity to evolve is capable of overcoming its shortcomings. With “City of Heroes,” Arrow promises to embrace even more of its comic book roots. Never mind the Flash (already guaranteed his own show), Arrow will finally bring us a character more worthy of the show… Green Arrow.
BTW, “red boy Roy” (anyone else notice the color coding, on display), unable to control his urge to pummel the city’s night time predators, attracted the attention of a new hero in the city. I won’t say who, but I felt compelled to point out that this DC Canary looked more like a Marvel Cat in black but that’s just me looking out for cosplay canon….